Pam’s Lost Days: Part One

“I fucking hate it here. I hate everyone. I don’t want to talk to any of these people. Everyone is eating Fergburger and drinking some strangely-colored-concoction from McCafe or Starbucks and ice cream from Chocolates Patagonia and they are constantly shoving shit in their mouths and they are carrying shopping bags from expensive clothing stores and they’re fucking glued to their stupid smart phones and selfie-sticks and they are all so fucking self-involved and fake. I saw this fat little Asian boy waddle around with a two-liter bottle of coke. Like who the fuck gave that to him?

“I had one of those nights last night. I was just walking around sober, well I was kinda stoned, but I was sober and I just realized I need to leave this city. It’s so different to sit by the lake and watch everyone walk by at night. You realize everyone is trying desperately to get laid. The guys walk in groups of four with skinny jeans and collared shirts and man buns and undercuts and one of them wears a tie and sunglasses and they smell like an orgy of cologne. The girls are slathered in makeup and squeezed into tight dresses. They all look like fucking Barbie dolls and I don’t understand why a human would want to look like that. Everyone had a shower this morning and everyone is fucking smiling and laughing all the time.”

“Sean. What are you talking about?” she says.

“Fuck this place. I’m leaving as soon as my van gets fixed. And what are you doing?”

“I’m just hanging out.” She shrugs.

“You’re completely broke. You have no money and no job and only Adara is working and she has to pay for everything for all four of you. What are you going to do? Resort to prostitution?”

Sean. Stop. Don’t point your anger at me. I didn’t do anything to you. You need to let the anger go. Just close your eyes and just forget about it. Just accept everyone. Everyone doesn’t have to be like you.

“We like being here. We never went to university. Going out and drinking in a city like this, this is all new to us. I had a soy chai latte yesterday and I sat on the green and just looked around and the sun hit the clouds by the mountains and I just thought it’s so beautiful here. I like it here.

“I spent a lot of time in nature back home and I would just be with the mountains and the trees and fields and be there all the time and I would love the world and love everything and when you love nature you realize that people are the product of nature and then you learn to love all of them too. You need to find an element you connect with, mine is the sky.”

“OK, but what about reality? You spend so much money here and you aren’t making anything. You can’t keep this up and just rely on Adara providing for all three of you. That’s not fair. She is cleaning toilets and businesses and shops and driving everyone around and that’s not fair to her.

“Fuck, you’re so much younger than me. We are so different. We need different things.

“I’m so selfish. I always come to you with my asshole thoughts and my shitty moods and I bitch and complain and you always know exactly what to say to calm me down. I’m just frustrated with myself.”

She rests her head on my arm. And we stay silent for a few minutes.

“You can’t do this to me. I don’t feel good after talking to you. This doesn’t feel good. Maybe it’s time. Like we talked about last week.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. We talk about it every week.”

“It is.”

“Ok, I’ll leave on Monday.”

I return to the city the next day to busk.

It’s Saturday after five and the best spot in town, by the wharf in front of Pog Mahones, is vacant. The outdoor tables by the pub and the café next door are all full. The Kiwi guitar player and singer who plays with a microphone and amp is laying in the grass with his purple-haired girlfriend. Maybe he played earlier or maybe he wants to play soon, but I’m taking the spot. Convoys of Korean and Chinese tourists in brand-new, brightly-colored walking shoes and rain jackets walk by armed to the teeth with cameras around their necks and in their hands.

I’m feeling alone and confused with my life. My twenty-eight-year-old travel mate, Pam, is overheating and she will only let me drive her around town so that means I will have to hitch-hike back to the Rafters Road campsite 30 kilometers out of town. And I was pretty nasty to Serena last night. I think we might actually part ways this time.

Great time to play music and sing for a bunch of strangers.

I start to play “Coming In From The Cold” and I’m thinking too much. About everything. I miss a chord change because it’s busy here and it’s Saturday night and people are drinking at the pub and the other busker who usually secures this spot is lying in the grass and he can hear me and I’m sure he is judging me. I’m tense. I power through it and I’m probably the only person who realized I missed a chord. I’m too self-aware. Playing and singing requires complete focus and detachment from the world. There is only the music.

The purple-haired girl walks by me and then circles back and says, “You sound great.”

I keep playing and playing. I get to “Waiting In Vain” and a well-off looking businessman in a collared shirt walks by like he had a few beers. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a 20-dollar note and casually drops it in my case without making eye contact or breaking his stride.

I start to play “Jammin’” and a stag party group staggers up and they all start dancing. The rest walk away but one keeps dancing next to me and a child drops in a dollar and he says, “See! I’m helping.”

I finish the song and he gives me a five-dollar note and a fist bump and says, “Cheers man. You play that pretty well.”

I count 15 Asian tourists who take a picture or video without dropping.

After an hour or so, a couple from the pub walks up with a fiver and the woman says they really enjoyed listening to me and the man says, I like that you don’t use a mic and amp. None of that fancy shit.

A man walks by and throws a cigarette into my bag even though I don’t smoke.

The bagpipes guy shows up down the wharf and he’s so loud you can hear it from the other side of town. He drowns out my voice and my guitar and the balloon tying walks up to me with a brown club he just made and he says, that’s for you to take that guy, out and he does a bashing motion before he tucks it into a strap on my guitar bag.

Even if I play well and get a decent amount of coin and compliments and funny interactions, I usually finish a busking set feeling defeated. There’s always an excuse. Maybe my voice is feeling gravely and strained or my calluses break and I wince at the pressure from the steel strings grinding against the now delicate flesh of my fingers. Sometimes I can play for a half hour and be completely ignored. That’s just part of the game. But today I finish in a better mood than when I began and I decide I deserve a burrito from Caribe.

My mouth burns from the delicious blend of beans, rice, veggies, sauces and spices. I head to my van. Pam is parked down by the lake until I can get her fixed, and I exchange my guitar for my backpack. Now it’s 9:15 and I realize if I want to get a lift back to the campsite, I need to hurry the fuck up. It’s Saturday night and it will be dark by 10. Summer in the south.

I walk away from the center of Queenstown, where it is easier to get picked up. I stick out my thumb and wait. After ten minutes, Bruce picks me up.

He has a trim build with grey hair and a tidy moustache. I’d say he’s in his fifties. He has the cleanliness and attention to detail of an ANZAC veteran. He’s headed to Frankton, about six kilometers. That’ll do.

He says he lost his wife in Fiji three years ago and he just remarried last year and he is finally starting to find happiness in life again. I tell him my story including that I lived in Alice Springs for a year and he confirms my earlier suspicion and says he used to be in the New Zealand Air Force and they used to fly into Alice Springs before heading to Korea. As I get out of his sedan, he says, Let me give you my book. And I say, Oh, cool, let me give you this. I reach into my backpack in the same pouch with my weed, grinder, rolling papers and knife and I look inside and think this is a bad pocket to reach into in a stranger’s car but I give him one of my shitty business cards with http://www.storiesfromadrifter.com scribbled in sharpie.

I head to the end of the roundabout. I stick out my thumb and wait.

I take a look at the book Bruce gave me. It’s more like a pamphlet. It says, The Rescue and has a picture of a helicopter on the cover. I think it must be about his career in the Air Force but, no, it’s about how everyone sins and Jesus is like a rescue helicopter that saves you from burning in a lake of fire and brimstone for eternity. Accept him as your only God, or else. It’s terrifying.

Now it’s dark and I wait for fifteen minutes until a ute pulls over. We didn’t bother with exchanging names but he tells me he is an arborist.

“Yeah, mate, I cut trees,” he says.

I say, Ahh, perfect, maybe you can answer a question for me. There is a huge line of trees down the road with, “SAVE ME,” signs taped to them. It would be a real shame to cut those down. They really make the road.

He says, Yeah, there’s a power line over them and it would cost ten-thousand-dollars a year to maintain them and the property owner doesn’t want to pay it and neither does the council. I think they are getting saved though. And yeah, they do really make the road.

He’s only going to the Arrowtown turn off, about five kilometers more and I tell him I’m going to the campsite on Rafter’s Road and he says, Oh yeah, I heard there’s a 21st birthday out there tonight, you gonna get pissed?

I say, Nah, that’s where I live.

He says, Yeah, I was invited but I’m not gonna go. All those guys do heaps of drugs.

I wait at the Arrowtown turn off and try to catch a ride but after about 30 minutes it’s getting properly dark and cold and windy all I’m wearing is a T-shirt, trousers and ill-fitting, slip-on sandals and no one is stopping because it’s 10:30 on a Saturday night and I have long curly hair and a beard. I’m 17 kilometers away from home.

It’s too cold to just stand there, so I start to walk to keep warm and I try to stick my thumb when cars drive by but it’s a highway with hills and curves and no streetlights and it’s 11 on Saturday night if anyone see’s me, I will only be a strange flash in their headlights and they will think I’m a crazy person. Maybe I am.

I arrive at the second turn off to Arrowtown and there are two streetlights, the first on the road, and I sit under them and thumb for a ride now that I am partially illuminated. But there are no takers. I take another look at Bruce’s book:

Where will you NOT go because of sin?

“Surely you know that the wicked will NOT possess the Kingdom of God. Do not fool yourselves, people who are immoral or who worship idols or are adulterers or homosexual perverts or who steal or are greedy or are drunkards or who slander others or are thievesnone will possess God’s kingdom.’ 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Maybe you also get drunk sometimes. Do you?

Because God is so holy, just and righteous, He has to greatly punish those who disobey His Commands.

The Bible, for example, even tells us exactly how many liars will face this terrible punishment. Would you like to know what this punishment is, and who is to go there? We will have look.

What the fuck? This is weird, Bruce. I thought God was supposed to love everyone.

I have to keep walking because I’m getting cold standing here in my T-shirt. Up ahead I see cars switching back and forth down the hill from the Cardrona ranges. The junction is just ahead with two more streetlights. I sit there and wait for cars but no one stops and now it’s midnight on Saturday and I roll a joint because I don’t think I will be getting picked up tonight. I’m still 12 kilometers from home.

I walk down State Highway 6 into the darkness and the stars glow above me.

The Milky Way is a mirror image of the road and I am following the burning gas balls in a journey through space and time. The silhouettes of the hills make everything seem so simple. Just a black foreground and a clear sky full of present and past space gods to accompany the sliver of a moon. There’s Orion and the two pointers and the Southern Cross. I’m in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m far away from home. I’m alone with the night.

My frustration and anxiety of not getting picked up starts to fade away and I think this is actually quite pleasant.

I light the joint and no cars go while it burns.

I’m lost in thought and suddenly a space ship zooms past me with a burst of light and wind and sound and I stumble into the brambles.

My senses are supercharged and I realize that I have now entered survival mode and I have to walk 12 kilometers because now I smell like weed and it’s 12:30 on a Saturday night and no one is going to pick me up and what if a cop drives by and see’s me and then stops and smells me. No more thumbing.

The road dips into a valley and I walk down into a bubble. Cold air creeps up from my exposed feet up to my exposed arms and my face. I’m walking into a lake. I’m underwater and it’s chilly down here.

OK, Sean, survival mode. This is what you live for. This is exciting. Lets take inventory. I have one-liter of water, a bottle of wine, three bananas, four figs and a chunk of baguette. Plenty of water and food. I’m wearing a T-shirt, trousers and sandals. I’ll have to keep moving to maintain body heat and I wish I brought my running shoes or hiking boots and then I take off my sandals and walk on the smooth part of the road where the tire tracks wear down the rough asphalt and I realize that feet are the best shoes ever made because they are a product of millions of years of evolution.

Oh, look there’s a trail. The Queenstown Trail. Bruce told me he rode here on his bicycle today. I get off the road and disappear into the forest and foliage and trees surround me and the stars are out tonight. They pour over the tops of the black hills and I feel like I’m in a video game. This must be Fallout: New Vegas. The ground is dry and the plants are brown and prickly. All I’m missing is theme music.

Critters scatter into the trees as I make my way down the path. Rabbits, possums and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are my favorite. They scramble around our tents at night and they wander around and they are spikey but so gentle and calm and they have the cutest little faces and when you get close they tuck their head in like a turtle.

Something growls at me from the woods and I’m scared for a second because it’s dark. Luckily, this is New Zealand. There is nothing dangerous here. This is not Australia.

The Queenstown trail starts to turn away from the road and I think I need to get back to the highway. But first I should pause to drink water and eat a banana because maybe my brain isn’t working properly and I’m just running on adrenalin and survival mode. And I have cottonmouth.

Once I’m back on the road I see that I have come face to face with the AJ Hackett Bungy Bridge. I have to cross this monstrosity and I don’t want to get caught on there with a car coming so I take off my sandals and run.

I walk by the sign that reads, “You are now entering Gibbston: Valley of the Vines.” I expect thematic music to greet me into the new realm. I’m back into the video game and my morale is high because this is fun and I never do a nature walk like this at night unless I put myself in an extreme situation. It is beautiful and I don’t feel cold at all. Now I’m on top of a plateau and it is flat and the stars are really out tonight.

This is a perfect night.

I hear party music ahead and the trees are illuminated on the right side of the road and I think it might be the 21st birthday party because I’m stoned and I forget that I still have miles to go and that’s on the wrong side of the road. I run down the smooth tire groove on the road and my feet feel like they are being used how nature intended them to be used and my legs are happy.

I get close to the music and two men are walking down the path toward the road. They are talking loudly and using a flashlight and if I keep walking will walk right into each other and this is a very strange coincidence on this highway at this hour 30 kilometers out of Queenstown.

I hang back for a few seconds and slow my pace and let them go in front of me. Their flashlight blinds them and they can’t see me. They turn it off once they are on the road and I soon I catch up with them.

“Hey guys,” I say from behind and try not to sound like a weirdo. Which I am.

“Hey!” one of them says with a slight slur. “Who is that?”

“I’m Random Guy walking down the road right now,” I say because that seems like a normal thing to do.

“Hey! Random Guy!”

I tell him I’ve been walking for about 15 kilometers so far. Since the first turn off to Arrowtown.

“Shit. You’ve done well, Random Guy.”

“I’m Timbo and this is Ant. And besides Random Guy, who are you?”

“I’m Sean,” I say.

“Well, this is strange to see on a New Zealand State Highway. What a great night, Random Guy. Look at these stars. Wow.”

Ant chimes in.

“Want me to tell you some stuff about the Southern Hemisphere?” he asks and I say of course.

He says the top star of Orion’s belt is called Puanga in Māori and it was a very important navigational star for the Polynesians who first sailed to New Zealand.

“Where are the two pointers?” asks Timbo. We look around at the perimeter of the sky because that’s where it is found early in the night. It’s somehow always the first constellation I see. Now they are directly above, at the apex. “There is it.”

The Southern Cross.

I tell them I’m used to seeing Orion the other side up. In the Southern Hemisphere you see more stars below the belt, like the Southern Cross, and in the Northern Hemisphere you get more of the top half of Orion and constellations like the Big Dipper.

They ask me what I’m doing here.

“I’m traveling. Busking for now,” I say.

“Oh, what do you play?” Timbo asks.

“I play guitar and sing,” I tell them. “Bob Marley and classic rock.”

“Oh yeah! We saw you today. The guy with the bagpipes was drowning you out,” Timbo says and I want to ask them what they thought about my playing but I don’t.

We are getting close to my campsite and we hear voices.

“No way are there more people on the road! This is a fucking New Zealand State Highway not a footpath!” Timbo says.

There is a group of six ahead. They look like the type of people who just went to a 21st birthday party.

Timbo greets them all.

“Did you guys come from Rafter’s Road?” I ask.

“Huh?” they reply in unison.

“The campsite?” I clarify.

“Yeah, Yeah, are you going to the party?” they ask us.

“No, I live there,” I say.

“Well, there’s a rave in your house, bro,” one of them says with an accent that is not kiwi but I can’t place it but I think it sounds European.

They all chime in at once and bitch and complain about how there are no drugs and they ask us if we have any drugs and they say drugs at least ten times all together. The arborist who picked me up was right.

Now there are nine people standing on the side of State Highway 6 at 2 am.

“Sweet, there’s our taxi!” one of the partygoers says.

“No…that’s a cop,” Timbo says exactly what I’m thinking.

He swings around and rolls down his window.

“Do you guys have a ride?” the police officer asks.

He must be a magical policeman because at that very moment the maxi cab pulls up and the party people say, Yeah, right there and the cop says, Ok, Have a good night. And then he drives off.

“Ok, Random Guy, let’s go,” says Timbo. “What a night! We got random guy, druggos, a cop, taxi and these stars.”

I pull out my bottle of wine and say it’s time for celebration. I pass it around a couple of times.

“Thanks,” says Timbo. “That’s very kind of you.”

I get to my turn off and we part ways.

I hear the music coming from the campsite and I’m so happy to be home I run down the gravel track.

The Irish girls are sitting in front of their tents and Aoife says, “Sean Dolan, where did you come from?”

I tell them about walking 17 kilometers and about hitch hiking and Timbo and Ant and everything.

Two guys sit down with us and it appears that they have been taking to the four girls all night because the drunk Canadian acts like I’m blowing up his spot.

“Look at all these long-hair cunts,” he says. “Fucking hippies.”

Then he pees right next to our tents, a very long drunken pee, and I say, “Hey man, that’s kind of rude to pee right there.”

And he says, “What are you gonna do, fuckin’ American.”

“I’m going to tell you that that’s rude to pee right next to our house,” I say and then he tells me to fuck off.

Serena and I don’t have a tent because we usually sleep in my van but she is taking a holiday so we just pull out our sleeping pads and bags into the middle of the campsite and fall asleep together. Sleeping under the stars is refreshing.

The sun comes up and we move to the other side of the tree to escape the early morning heat.

I tell her that the Canadian guy was a real dick last night and she says, He was just taking the piss and he’s really funny we were talking about Trailer Park Boys earlier. But she doesn’t understand. He was talking to four girls all night and then I show up at 2 am and sit next to Serena and I know what he was thinking.

We drift back to sleep and Tarik says, “Hippie.” I look behind me and he is crouching by his tent under the wire clothesline.

It is Sunday and we are sitting on our blankets making coffee and porridge and talking and laughing.

I show everyone the book Bruce gave me.

Tarik reads a page aloud in his German accent and asks me how to pronounce adulterers and, What does covet mean?

Ivan says, “Sofie, Corazon,” and Sofie replies, “Ivan, mi amor cerido.” And she’s wearing a black bikini top and denim shorts with her short blonde hair because it’s a beautiful sunny day and they are making bracelets and necklaces and earrings out of string and seashells and beads.

This campsite is so beautiful. All of us here together. This is a special moment.

We are sitting in the shade on the hot day and we all say we aren’t going to town today and Tarik holds up The Rescue and reads, “Remember and keep the Sabbath Day Holy.”

“HVD,” Serena says. “It’s an acronym. Translate it.”

“Oh shit, it’s Valentines Day! Do you want to walk to the river?” I ask, but I’m pretty sure she broke up with me the other night but we are travelers and everything is fluid and we are together right now and that’s all that matters.

We sit on our favorite rock cliff overlooking the intensity of the crisp, clean and green Kawarau River. We drink her water untreated and swim and bathe in her glory.

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The Mighty Kawarau.

“It’s so true what you said about finding happiness in nature. When I was walking last night and being in nature and staying at the campsite today an just hanging out with friends and making food and sitting outside. I am so happy. Everything is perfect right now. It’s impossible not be happy out here. When I’m in the city it’s always costing money and everything is confusing.

“I’m sorry about what I said the other night. I was stuck in Queenstown for three days and I was going fucking crazy and I missed the freedom of driving Pam wherever I want.”

“Do ya know, like, that’s what’s wrong with cities,” she says. “Not enough nature. Nature is so important. It reminds us of life and our meaning.”

She is five years younger than me but she is wise and compassionate and grounded and beautiful. She cares about everyone and she talks to everyone and listens to everyone’s’ problems and is full of love.

We hug and sit there embracing each other even though I think we sort of broke up and we might not be together after this.

I need some time alone with Pam and she needs time alone with her friends. Just some time alone. To think and digest life.

“It’s like you said,” she tells me. “It’s not sad. It’s happy because it’s a new beginning.”

I remember those feelings.

You get in the car and everything is packed and organized and charged and clean and you can’t wait for that moment when you say your last goodbye and give your final hug because all you can think about is the new adventure waiting for you. It’s sad, but you will make new memories and meet new people and see new places. I don’t want to leave my friends. But I need to be alone.

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Prohibited

Queenstown Lakes District Council

Private Bag 50072, Queenstown 9348

 

To Whom It May Concern:

 

I was born on January 22, 1991. It snowed that day in Albany, New York.

Twenty-five years later – against all odds and expectations – I find myself traveling around New Zealand. On this day I am in the quaint tourist village called Queenstown. I woke up in my van the following morning to find a $200 ticket for prohibited freedom camping.

The day started in Wanaka. It is peaceful and easy to live there, with a low–cost DOC campsite alongside a magical river where we can swim and be refreshed. I could not stay there, however. It was my birthday and I am required by the Gods – old and new – to celebrate this ancient tradition on the anniversary of my exiting my mother’s womb.

In the early afternoon, I drove from Wanaka to Queenstown to meet up with some friends.

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On top of the Crown Range overlooking Queenstown.

Queenstown is beautiful, but in that beauty is chaos. Tourists and buses crowd the city and money is sought at every venue, bar and retail outlet.

Money rules here. Money is king.

Tourism is New Zealand’s top export. People come here from all over the world to experience the robust natural landscapes and easy-going human residents. Judging from the countless adventure tourism options in this area, I’m sure Queenstown collects its fair share of that revenue.

I too have paid my fair share to this industry. Before I arrived in New Zealand last June, I lived and worked in Australia for a year, mostly in the remote outback town of Alice Springs. I arrived in Australia with no money. I worked long hours in the hospitality industry. I saved money knowing that I would be venturing to New Zealand, where the pay is much lower and the natural beauty much greater. There I would travel more and work less. There I would spend most of the money I made in Australia.

On my birthday I was anxious. I was frustrated at the lack of camping options and the expensive prices and limited availability of accommodation. I made the bold decision to park my van in the Queenstown Gardens knowing that I would return there to sleep in the early morning. It was my birthday and I wanted to have fun and I didn’t know what else to do. I took a risk and for that I am sorry. I did not dump any waste – human or otherwise – and I did not cause a menace. I simply slept in my van with my female companion instead of driving drunk to the DOC campsite 12 kilometers away.

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Pam in action.

I woke in the morning to find the ticket on my windscreen. My first reaction was to simply ignore the fine and join the approximately 900 tourists who chose the no-payment option in 2014, according to the NZ Herald article titled, “Hundreds of tourists dodging $200 freedom camping fines.”

I only received one Birthday present this year. I complimented the duo playing guitar and singing pop songs at World Bar and told the beautiful singer that it was my birthday. She asked my name and then dedicated the next song to me.

It was “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. I nearly cried. Maybe because I was drunk. I then rejoined my friends and danced the night away.

Now, I implore you, human who is reading this letter at the Queenstown Lakes District Council, I beg thee from the very depths of my soul and I promise I will never again sleep in my van in a prohibited zone:

Would you find room in your heart to forgive this ticket and follow T. Swift’s motto and shake it off?

Thank you for your time.

 

Sincerely,

Sean F. Dolan

Len’s Land

They are eating vacuum-sealed, dehydrated Fettuccine Alfredo flown in from California, sitting on folding chairs outside of their rent-a-van covered in a tiger mural. They are still hungry when they join me on my yoga mat. I’m slicing onions, garlic and cabbage with shoulder bacon waiting for a hot skillet by candlelight with my iPod on shuffle.

Americans. Fresh off the plane. Always in a rush.

We first saw each other at a scenic cove overlooking the eternal meeting place of blue-green water, forest-covered cliffs and smooth-stone beaches. We greeted each other and kept driving. I start down the unsealed road to the East Cape, the most easterly point in New Zealand and home of the most easterly lighthouse in the world, when I see their van behind mine. Awesome, I’ll have some cool people to hang out with tonight, I think to myself.

Isolated land and sea.
Isolated land and sea.

The drive is filled with cows and calves grazing unfenced on both sides of the gravel road. I have to stop to encourage the little ones to get out of the way.

You're very cute. Now please move.
You’re very cute. Now please move.

I see the hills reflect off of a still pond and I have to pull over to take some pictures. Their van stops next to me and he says,

“Are you looking for the same campground we’re looking for?”

I tell him I’m going to the lighthouse. I’ll see you there?

I didn’t know about a campground, I just wanted to check out the lighthouse to see if I could camp there for easy access to sunrise. Unfortunately, it is private land so I told them I plan on walking to the top tomorrow morning for sunrise. They agreed with my plan so we drove the slow, scenic six kilometers back to the campground, which was just a paddock with a spigot and an outhouse.

I’m excited to meet them and they want to learn about me. Britney and Tim lived across the hall at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were both planning on traveling to New Zealand and when they met each other, they thought it would make sense to split the costs and go together. They are sleeping in a van about the same size as mine and they aren’t having sex. Weird.

Tim has long California hair and he lives two minutes from the beach. He is studying engineering and he works for some technology company. I assume he is well paid because he is able to take a three-week holiday to New Zealand.

Britney is graduated and is now working at REI, which explains why she brought along the backpacking meals-in-a-bag and why she is going on about her “Campsuds” when I say I’m going to wash my dishes.

After sitting and talking over the candle, we part ways and I fall asleep early to prepare for the next day. They said they would join me for sunrise at the lighthouse.

I woke at 5 am, brushed my teeth and flashed my lights at their van. No response. The lovely young Czech couple next to us shows signs of life. I give a double honk as I leave the campground, hoping Britney and Tim won’t be far behind.

I drive faster than I usually would on a gravel road with cows, calves, sheep, lambs and horses grazing unfenced in the dark. But I can’t wait to lie down in the grass with my camera on my tiny, flexible tripod to take a long exposure of the purple hues of early dawn.

The first picture of the day.
The first picture of the day.

The Czech man crests the hill with his GoPro recording every second. They don’t speak much English but we don’t need to speak much to share such a special and beautiful moment. We are at the edge of the world witnessing the first sunrise together.

While the boyfriend is on the other side of the lighthouse taking pictures, I ask her where they are from and how she likes New Zealand.

She says they wanted to get away and travel and see beautiful places, and she was surprisingly eloquent with her limited English. I wish I knew more languages so I could have a full conversation with people from all over the world.

Then it was time for them to leave. They said Goodbye and then I said Goodbye. They were very happy and polite and not like the Americans.

Britney and Tim never made it to the lighthouse. By the time I returned to the campsite, they were gone.

They were probably driving all day. Meanwhile, I had a relaxing day of preparation and adventure. I cooked bacon, eggs and toast with blueberry jam over two cups of coffee, waxed my leather boots, sharpened my hand-forged knife gifted from my step-mother, mended holes in my merino wool underwear and socks, and packed my bag for a long walk.

I set off toward the paddocks and forests away from the coast, and as I’m walking out of the campsite, the farmer drives in. He kills his engine and motions for me to come around to the driver’s side.

“Kia Ora,” he says.

“Kia Ora,” I reply.

He tells me his name is Len and I tell him my name is Sean.

Chill.
Chill.

“Kia Ora, Sean,” he says as we shake hands. His are callused, hard and dry.

“Nice to meet you,” I reply.

I ask him if he lives out here, Yup, the homestead is down by the lighthouse. I say it’s beautiful and isolated.

“Very isolated. My neighbor is just down the road, about four k’s,” Len says.

What a life.
What a life.
Epic Sheep.
Epic sheep.

He says I look like a keen photographer, and I do with a full backpack and camera slung from my shoulder. I say I’m headed out for a walk and I’m wondering if this is all private land and if he minds if I wander around.

Without hesitation he tells me it’s fine.

I assure him I will shut all the gates behind me but he doesn’t seem to care at all at the thought of some random tourist tramping through his land. I’ve realized the importance of having a camera in hand. You can go anywhere if people see that you are just a photographer. As I walk away, though, I’m a little surprised that he didn’t tell me where his bulls are. I know they are out there so I’ll have to tread lightly.

He heads down the road a bit to shift his springer mob, the cows that are calving soon – and the only herd that are actually fenced in – and I open a gate and close it behind me and walk on his tyre tracks.

Len setting up his temporary fences.
Len setting up his temporary fences.

There are paddocks with wire-less fence posts on either side of the road. On one side, the paddocks end at the beach, and on the other, they end at pine forests and native bush.

I follow his track to the edge of the forest and jump in. The pine trees are planted in neat rows, like every pine forest in New Zealand, and this helps me to not get lost. Where the pines end, the native bush takes over and I’m overwhelmed by its thickness. There is a bloated, decomposing cow in a ravine. I realize if I keep going forward I will get lost in the dense forest or I’ll fall or something bad will happen and I’ll end up like the cow so I turn back. I decide to walk along the road but then I see a logging track and decide that would be perfect. This is obviously not Len’s land, but he said I could go anywhere and I doubt there is anyone out here right now.

I think this means, Do Not Enter.
I think this means, Do Not Enter.

I walk down the path and practice my stealth skills so I can sneak up and capture birds with my time traveling device. It is futile. The birds have been evolving for thousands, or millions, of years and they fly away before I have time to draw and shoot. But my stealth skills still work on humans.

After walking as silently as possible for about 90 minutes, I turn a corner up a hill and see a small all-terrain-vehicle with three people standing around with coffee and smokes. They think they are alone out here so I don’t want to frighten them. I walk much closer than I expect before they notice me. I say, Hello. The Maori man facing away from me jumps. I say Kia Ora, I’m sorry, I’m just going for a walk. The man on the side of the vehicle is rolling a thin cigarette and asks me where I came from. Uhh, the end of the road, I’m staying at the campsite, I tell them. This is a very isolated area and they don’t understand how I made it up here on foot.

He says I’m not allowed to be up here, “We don’t give a shit, but the site manager would.”

He says there is a wild bull out here somewhere and I should be careful. I tell them Len said I could go anywhere and they all laugh.

I decided my best course of action is to head back the way I came so I don’t get caught here in the dark of night where I’m not allowed to be with a wild bull lurking.

I’m extra careful to listen for oncoming trucks and I look for places I can jump to stay out of sight. But I’m alone.

I make it back to the road and walk into the unfenced paddock and head toward the beach. A small group of cows and calves run away from me and I see a big black cow with its head down by the boundary fence.

Human! Run!
Human! Run!

I sneak behind the big cow expecting it to hear me or sense me in the way that only animals can but it keeps its head down in the grass.

It looks... big.
It looks… big.

I make it to the boundary fence and – by force of habit from working on Digger’s farm – I check it for electricity with a blade of grass. Of course there’s no power so I straddle the wire fence up to my crotch and step over. I walk in front of the big cow, now on the other side of the fence, and it finally acknowledges me.

It lifts its head. It is broad and heavy and powerful. His body is a mass of muscle and I realize, Holy Shit, I just walked a few meters behind a bull. I’m either really lucky or really stupid or this bull was just really hungry.

Menacing.
Menacing.

Cows can be controlled and guided while bulls are unpredictable. They don’t care how confident you are, they will charge you and pin you against a fence without thinking twice. On my first day milking cows at Rian’s farm one of his monstrous bulls hulked through the shed, after the girls were milked, with the swagger of Gregor Clegane. They are terrifying.

As I’m getting over how lucky I am, I see a self-contained Britz caravan trying to find the perfect spot to park for the night.

A new friend appears in the distance.
A new friend appears in the distance.

When I return to the campsite, I approach them. They are from Switzerland, on a two-month holiday.

I love the Swiss. They take their holiday seriously. When I was a waiter at the Overlander’s Steakhouse in Alice Springs – the real “Outback Steakhouse” – we had to place flags on every table to show the assortment of nationalities. Every night we had at least one table with the square red flag with white cross. They travel often and travel well. They don’t fly to the other side of the world for a measly fortnight.

Unlike the budget travelers I meet, who are usually a year or two or three younger than me, this efficient couple went for the camper with room enough to stand, cook, clean and have wild sex. He hasn’t shaved in four days and his English is more practiced than that of his wife.

She says with a hard accent that their car locks automatically and they have been locked out before so if it happens again they will come sleep in my van. We all laugh with the joy of meeting strangers in a strange land.

We tell each other how long we are here, the second mandatory question among travelers. I say two months is a good chunk of time, they aren’t in a rush and they can see most of the country without driving for seven hours a day. He says, Wow, a year. He says I have the best way to live. Work and little, travel a lot. He’s right.

There are difficulties, however, like finding a balance between going on adventures with wild animals, wild humans and wild landscapes and sitting down at my laptop somewhere with power and Internet to write about said adventures.

And what book should I read next?

When the Swiss couple leaves the next morning, we share a happy, hearty wave. I love the Swiss.

After another relaxing morning of seaside breakfast and yoga, I leave the East Cape and think about Britney and Tim.

They didn’t see the first sunrise and they didn’t meet Len and they didn’t trespass through crown forest and sneak behind a bull or see the sunrise the next morning with magical horses grazing through the campground beneath the magical sky. I can’t blame them, they don’t know any better. I’m on a completely different schedule than them. I can afford to spend two nights on the Cape and then spend three nights at a motor park in Gisborne to wash my body and my clothes and renew the Warrant of Fitness for my van and buy contact solution and thread and darning wool.

New Zealand, you are amazing.
New Zealand, you are amazing.

Len is the luckiest man in the world. He owns the most easterly land in New Zealand. He spends his days with his sheep, cows and horses. His animals are happy — they graze freely and babies stay with their mums — and he is happy. He can go fishing or collect shellfish from the bountiful sea. And he can stop to talk to travelers who come to camp on his land.

I’m glad I decided to tour Eastland instead of heading straight to Gisborne to sit in the library and write all day. Adventure comes first. Blog comes second. You gotta have priorities in life.

Freedom

From sunrise to sunset I am required to traverse New Zealand’s narrow, winding roads and stop at every scenic overlook for at least a half hour and watch the endless supply of travelers cycle through to take a quick selfie.

The three Canadian girls in a rented Jucy Campervan at Hot Water Beach are touring the North Island in just two weeks. Poor souls. A Honda Civic hatchback with a couple from Switzerland and Germany appear. He is here for a year but she is going home tomorrow and we all groan and tell her not to leave. Never leave.

They are everywhere.
They are everywhere.

I stop at the next spot and I think I’ll just stay here for a bit and put on a cup of tea and cook up some noodles and drop in a few eggs and the organic kale I picked up at a booth on the side of the road somewhere along the Coromandel Peninsula. I might as well read another chapter of the Hobbit and imagine I’m traveling with Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves. I wish there was more danger and adventure in this world, but I am content being armed with a camera instead of a sword.

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Not the first time I’ve met wild chickens at a rest area.

I can do whatever I want. I have no obligations and no one to worry about but myself. I can’t imagine being in the group of six Germans divided among three minivans at the campsite last night. It’s hard enough deciding how to spend my day, where to sleep and what to eat for myself.

The boots I bought in Ireland two years ago have betrayed me. My feet feel the morning dew as I walk through the Wentworth Campground. Useless. I spring for the leather Kathmandu hiking boots with Vibram soles. They make me look like a weekend warrior. In a few years the leather will be seasoned and they will have taken me to places I can’t imagine.

Morning walk.
Morning walk.

I sling my hand-me-down Canon over my shoulder and stick my GoPro in the cargo pocket of my brown travel pants and walk though the thick, fern-covered native bush or maybe I’m strolling along a serene beach where the local elderly have been admiring the same sunset for seventy years. The beauty of this place is never ending. And everyone says the South Island is where all the amazing landscapes are found.

I feel the compulsive need to sift through the hundreds of pictures I take everyday and pick out the 42 best shots to share on Facebook. What did travelers and writers do before social media? How did they share what they were doing? Talking? Photo albums? How arcane. What would Henry David Thoreau Tweet from his hut on the Walden Pond?

So many thoughts cloud my mind as I drive down the expressway to Te Puke. I haven’t blogged in eleven days. Wait a second, I’m pretty sure this side of the four lane divided highway is one way. Is this cunt driving on the wrong side of the road? Jesus. The station wagon in the lane next to me pulls behind my van to let the Idiot pass. We give each other bewildered looks once he’s gone.

Bugger Auckland, I can barely stay in a small, coastal city like Tauranga for more than a few hours. Anywhere that forces me to pay or parking is too big. I like Te Puke, where a sign in the library reads:

Dress Code: No gang patches. No gang insignia. No pyjamas.”

Two Maori’s sit next to me playing rap music from their Samsung.

Wait a second, you may be asking yourself, I thought Sean was supposed to be covered in cow shit and breaking fence posts with the tractor. How every perceptive of you, Dear Reader, and thanks for paying attention. Let me take you back to the penultimate day of August…

It’s 5:15 in the morning and I’m sitting in the international arrivals area of the Auckland Airport. A little girl yells “Daddy” and runs to give him a hug. A group of Chinese business men stop to take a picture in the area marked by yellow lines that reads, “STAND CLEAR.” Leigh’s flight is delayed by an hour so I have to sit here and watch families and loved ones reunite. OK, she should be here by now. I get a text:

Sean, I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. My luggage is still not here :(“

After nearly three hours, she sneaks up behind me and grabs my beard. It’s weird seeing her after 73 days apart but after a few hours together it’s like nothing has changed.

She is from the Philippines but she recently earned her Australia permanent residency, thanks to her skills and reliability as a chef at the Casino where I was a barista and bartender. Dating a girl from a third world country is exciting and full of surprise. I never know what to expect and she makes me burst with laughter and joy without knowing why. Tagalog, the Filipino language, doesn’t use gender specific pronouns so she regularly mixes up her he’s and she’s.

Once she finishes the two years left on her contract with the Casino, she will be an Australian citizen with a blue passport. Apparently people from third world countries have maroon passports, which restricts travel. If you have a blue passport, you can enter many more countries without needing a visa or extra paperwork. I’ve never thought about the color of my passport.

The Philippines is corrupt, she says. After typhoons, for example, the government receives international aid money and most of that money doesn’t actually go toward helping people in need. Also, the wages are abysmal compared to Australia. Instead of a solid hourly wage, workers are paid by the day.

“omg, the traffic here is so insane!! i can’t stand it. Look at the red lights… Everywhere!!!!”

In order to travel, she went to culinary school for two years and then applied for an internship in the US, and then in Australia. Now she has accrued six weeks of holiday and is spending one with me and five with her family. It’s good to have an excuse to leave the farm behind and travel around this North Island of New Zealand.

First we went to Northland to camp on Uretiti Beach then down to Waitomo to take a tour of the famous glow worm caves. There were options to do adventure black water rafting, tubing and abseiling but I just wanted the simple tour of the caves guided by a soft spoken Maori who ended every sentence with “aye.” He says it takes 500 years for a stalactite to grow one inch, aye. Then he takes us on a twenty minute boat ride through the glow worm cave, aye. The American Dad in front of us with crew cut and brand new hiking boots — Now I’m like him — sits the wrong way.

“You’re facing the wrong way, mate,” he tells him, aye.

The glow worms will stop glowing if we make any noise, but the Spanish family that barely speaks any English keeps chatting and our guide says, “Shhh.”

The boat comes to an opening with nothing but green, glowing orbs above us, and our guide stops the boat for ten minutes and we all sit in silent awe. It is peaceful.

I realize now that it’s a losing battle trying to write about every day and every experience we had on this trip. I could write thousands of words, but no one wants to read that. So here are some pictures:

We attempted, and failed, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
We attempted, and failed, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The filming location for Mordor and Mount Doom.
In the middle of five days of rain and high winds.
In the middle of five days of rain and high winds.
We sought refuge at the Mangatepopo Hut and then turned back to the carpark.
We sought refuge at the Mangatepopo Hut and then turned back to the carpark.
Then we stopped at some pine forests and I called the courier to send Leigh's luggage to the farm house.
Then we stopped at some pine forests and I called the courier to send Leigh’s luggage to the farm house.
We stopped at a thermal spring outside of Taupo.
We soaked in a thermal spring outside of Taupo.
DCIM100GOPRO
It was hot and refreshing.
We ran into some real Kiwi celebrities, Jono and Ben, goofing around in Taupo.
We ran into some real Kiwi celebrities, Jono and Ben, goofing around in Taupo.
They were goofing around in Taupo a few days before sailing a bouncy castle across the largest freshwater lake in Australasia.
The next day, they sailed a bouncy castle across the largest freshwater lake in Australasia.
DCIM100GOPRO
Next it was off to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to see geysers, craters, sulfur caves and boiling lakes.
I didn't know the Earth could look like this.
I didn’t know the Earth could look like this.
No trip to New Zealand is complete without visiting Hobbiton.
No trip to New Zealand is complete without visiting Hobbiton.
Bilbo's house.
Bilbo’s house.
On Leigh's last night we watched the sunset from the top of the Kaimai Range.
On Leigh’s last night we watched the sunset from the top of the Kaimai Range.
Beautiful spot.
Beautiful spot.
The Whakatane Rugby team joined us.
The Whakatane Rugby team joined us.
They were drinking beers and sitting in my van with us and being hilarious.
They were drinking beers and sitting in the van with us and being hilarious.

On one of the last nights we had together sleeping in my van, she asked, “After I leave, is this the end?”

It was like she was reading my mind. We had already said goodbye when I left Alice Springs and it was really hard. I didn’t think we would see each other again. She has two years left in Alice Springs and I am living a life of travel and adventure. I need to be free.

I feel like I’m a puzzle piece in your life and one day you will be complete and I will be so happy for you.”

People underestimate her because her English isn’t perfect and she is small and soft spoken. But she is smart and intuitive and cheeky and funny and when she says things like this I realize how incredible she is and how lucky we are to be with each other right now. She understands me and she believes in me.

She is 23 and she is young and she wants to be free. After two years of learning and developing her skills as a chef, she will be a talented Australian Citizen with the entire world and all of it’s food ready to be diced, sautéed and plated. One day I will dine in her 5-star restaurant.

She asks me if it is hard to always be leaving. The emotions come in waves. I’m anxious in the process of making my preparations and saying my goodbyes. But once I’m packed and charged and on the road, it’s pure euphoria. I can stop at hostels to find work if I want or I can keep camping and traveling.

As we drive to the airport, she says, “It’s so hard not to cry because that’s all I can do.”

The second goodbye was easier for me. When I left Alice Springs I was leaving a steady job, my best friend from back home, an easy life in the outback and my girlfriend and I was heading to a new country where I had to start all of that over again. This goodbye is different. She is the one who is leaving and I  know what I’m doing.

I’m not sure if this is the end, but I’m so glad you joined me.

…And now I’m alone with the road and the wild chickens and the travelers and the sunset. This is where I’m supposed to be.

The Alternate Universe

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep, clang, clang, clang.

Uh oh.

As I down shifted into fourth gear to stop at the tollbooth outside Tauranga, the engine stalled out. This wasn’t one of the regular stalls I had become accustomed to on frosty mornings. The temperature gauge had been slowly rising and I had been looking for a place to stop since I entered the motorway seven minutes ago.

I roll up to the tollbooth with the engine silent and a trail of smoke following me. I hand over a two-dollar coin and try to turn the engine over. Crung, crung, crung. The poor old lady in the tool booth shuts her window to escape the smoke and jumps in the adjacent booth. I realize this isn’t going to end well.

I scoot out, get down real low, and push my van through the boom gates with one hand on the steering wheel. Once I have some momentum I hop into the driver’s seat try to start it again using the old trick from Little Miss Sunshine. It’s not happening. But suddenly my van lurches forward.

“Steer to the side,” I hear from behind me. A young tradesman wearing a high vis jersey magically appears to give me a push.

Strangely enough the only thing that brought me to Tauranga is my AA membership that is now my saving grace. If you buy any 28-year-old vehicle it’s probably smart to sign up for a service that provides free roadside assistance, tows to the nearest workshop and a free eye exam at an optometry chain with the nearest location conveniently located 45 minutes away from where I’m staying. I was on my last set of contact lenses and my prescription had expired so I decided to take advantage of the latter. An eye exam turned into an excuse to take a day off of work on the farm to drive over the Kaimai ranges to see the coast and the short-but-sweet Mount Maunganui.

IMG_2426
The breathtaking beach below the mountain.

It was a great day until I started to drive back to Matamata. Now I find myself on the side of the road by a tollbooth on the phone with the Automobile Association. Raj is on the scene 20 minutes later. He takes a look at the engine.

It’s hot,” he says in a thick Indian accent.

He instructs me to start up the engine with some revs. He wants to check the radiator cap but we would have to wait until it cools down.

“I recommend you don’t drive this vehicle. It might be a couple hundred dollars to fix it now, but if you keep driving you can blow the head gasket.”

I don’t know much about cars but I know when to trust people who know more than me. He says if I chose to drive it home, then the AA won’t be liable to help me if it dies.

I take a seat in his van loaded with Hindu relics and car batteries while he calls the office.

“Hello Lisa, how are you, love?” he says smoothly with a big smile. Raj hooks me up with a tow back to Tauranga and I search for a hostel in town on his oversized Samsung smartphone.

I wait in the New Zealand winter. Eventually a tow truck backs up to my van and out jumps a burly Kiwi man.

“Howzit?” he says in a deep, cheerful voice.

“Not too good right now,” I explain what happened.

He bends down to connect the winch and his short shorts stretch to reveal the majority of his ass crack. When the van is loaded he looks around and doesn’t see anyone here to pick me.

“Where do you go from here?”

“I’m gonna stay the night at a hostel down the road from the AA workshop.”

“Then I guess you’re riding with me,” he says. “Do you have fleas, lice, mites, bedbugs or any communicable diseases I should know about?”

“No.”

“Neither do I, hop in.”

He drives like a maniac. He powers through a wide roundabout that I would normally negotiate in second gear in my van. His CB radio buzzes.

YO CUZZIEEEE,” he yells to his work mate.

I hear a gargled response.

“Roger Roger, Churrrrr Brotha. Catchya.”

I can’t help smiling. I forget about my car trouble and just enjoy the situation I’ve somehow found myself in.

We quickly arrive at the shop, which I am surprised to find is still open at 8:20 in the evening. The mechanic drives my precious off the tow truck and into the shop. It still runs, but there’s no way it would make it over the steep climb through the Kaimai’s. He tells me I’m second in line for tomorrow morning so it shouldn’t be too long.

I walk a couple of blocks down the main drag of Tauranga to the quaint Loft 109 hostel. There’s a friendly English couple making dinner in the kitchen and two guys playing cards and drinking a half empty bottle of whiskey in the living room. I remember seeing them on top of the mountain earlier, and hearing American accents. The older of the two gave me a very strange, familiar feeling, like I’ve met him before. But I’m on the other side of the world in a small coastal town in a tiny hostel and quickly forget about the crazy notion.

I check in, find my room — there’s only six — and walk across the street to grab a lamb kebab with garlic yoghurt sauce. I return and take a seat at the dinner table with my new friends.

“Where are you from?” the older American, Will, asks.

“Virginia.” He looks shocked.

“What part?”

“Fairfax.” The shock grows.

“We’re from Montgomery County.” Opposite sides of D.C.

We talk about where exactly we are from and how crazy it is that we all ended up here. Me with my eye exam and broken down van. Them on a short holiday around the North Island. Will and I are the same age and graduated university the same year. He asks me to tell my story.

“After I graduated I worked on Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for Governor.”

His jaw drops. I realize where that strange feeling came from when I first saw him on the mountain.

“Region two,” explaining what part of the state I worked, knowing he was there too.

I fucking worked on Terry McAuliffe’s campaign!” he yells across the table.

“Get the fuck out of here! I was a DFO for Rob Hamilton in Fairfax Station,” I say in this strange encounter.

“I was a fucking DFO in Centreville!” That’s just down the road.

Rocking the McAuliffe tee in Alice Springs.
Rocking the McAuliffe tee in Alice Springs.

After we get over how insane it is that we, two Deputy Field Organizer’s for Terry McAuliffe’s campaign two years ago, met at the Loft 109 hostel in Tauranga, New Zealand, I mention that I’ve been out of the American media loop for 13 months. They fill me in on a few major issues and then me their story. 

The younger brother, Chris, just finished a study and work abroad program in Sydney. Before taking the long flight back to the states, Will decided to meet his brother in New Zealand and tramp around for a brief twelve days. I think how only an American would travel across the world for that short of a holiday. That’s probably his entire year’s worth of leave.

After the McAuliffe campaign he scored a job for Martin O’Malley, Governor of Maryland. Last year, O’Malley was replaced by a Republican, but Will stayed on the staff and fell in love with this new, real fiscal conservative. Most Republicans in America are social issue zealots but this guy actually knows what is best for his people and focuses on the economy. Then he delivers the zinger, the Governor was diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer and has around eight months left.

I suddenly realize the extent of news, culture, movies, TV shows, commercials and advertisements I’ve missed out on. How many “Jake from State Farm” and “IDK my BFF Jill” jokes have been programmed into the minds of every American in the past year? It’s going to seem like a foreign country by the time I return.

I regale the American brothers and the English couple of my experiences on the cow farm. How the payout for milk solids is at a six year low and most farmers won’t make any money this year. How cows are fucking idiots. How annoying is it to change the rubber wear on the milking cups. How frustrating it is trying to get the calves to drink milk.

Will tells me I’m the first genuine traveler he’s met on his trip.

I’m glad my car broke down. If I safely made it back to the farmhouse in Matamata, I would probably smoke weed and play Minecraft before going to sleep. In this alternate universe where Clifford, my big red van, got a bit too hot and forced me back to Tauranga, I had a much more interesting night. I met Raj, the extremely helpful AA roadside assistant, Gazza, the exuberant tow truck driver with the ass crack, Shannon and Ben, the kind English couple eating roasted chicken, potatoes and frozen veggies, Chris, the young Michigan University frat boy who came from Sydney, and his older brother Will, my long lost field organizing comrade.