I’ve never been very outdoorsy. Being in the nature messes up your hair and the lighting is so harsh. You trip over reapplying lipstick. There’s cow poo and cows. I’m scared of cows. And you have to be so alert all the time: look out for avalanches, weather, cliffs … so many things can kill you and I’m the kind of woman who falls down a bank going for a pee. For safety reasons, I probably should be on one of those harness/tether things parents used to put out-the-gate children on up until people started giving them disapproving looks and the wild ones were set free, making cafes hell.
Also not ideal in an alpine surrounding: I’m a dreadful over-thinker. When everyone else is doing the end of class chill out bit in yoga: “my feet and ankles, my whole body, is completely relaxed…” my brain is out on the ledge, screaming. All the women in my large Irish catholic family are like this. Emotional hair-triggers. Passionate, hard work. You can always tell a Burrell husband, he looks like he needs a transfusion of haemoglobin, stat. Wild-eyed with trying not to set her off, loved to a nub of a man.
Born under the sign of Pisces, I’m happiest in/on/under water. Pisceans cry a lot, we are watery pools. Immersion in a buoyant fluid suits us, its amniotic, comforting. I like to be beside the seaside. The shushing quietens the constant monkey chatter of my brain. The mohawked mountain man (MMM, not to be confused with the Mighty Mongrel Mob) is not so keen on water, unless its frozen. He is one of those wild children, unleashed. I hold onto the arm rest of his truck a lot. Sadly, by the time you read this, he will probably be dead. It won’t necessarily be my fault: his hobbies include downhill racing, back country snowboarding, alpine climbing and wakeboarding. He’s not long for this world, bless him.
In the meantime, there are some adjustments/allowances to be made on my part: MMM has a penchant for peaked caps and BMX bikes and listens to trance, which is a kind of headachy dirge enjoyed by bearded transcendental sex therapists in bead necklaces. He likes nothing better than climbing up a mountain and basically falling back down it all day long, attached to a board made of bamboo and birch. He’s younger, of course. Shist-faced and feckless.
The taking-a-younger-man-as-a-lover-post-divorce cliché is a thing (and has been long before French author Collete wrote Cheri) because after all the boo boo a woman needs a fun love, someone who makes you laugh, dares you to do things you normally wouldn’t. Get towed behind a jet boat on water-skis, for example, dislocating your elbow. It isn’t serious – younger men live lives of churn and chaos, they own posters, not paintings, and dressing up is finding a clean t-shirt in the pile on the floor – but it’s not meant to be serious, just good for you, like time in sunshine. Too long in this particular sunlight though, and you know it’ll be a closed coffin and a eulogy using the phrase, “died doing what she loved.” But that’s a problem for another day.
“Grab a backpack, lace up your boots and lets head into the hills, Lisa,” said no one ever, until Queen’s Birthday weekend when MMM decided to take me up the steep bits. “Welcome to my world,” he sang. John Grenell would have been horrified. We travelled in a gun metal grey Torana called ‘Stella,’ her keyless entry a coat hanger, her emergency supply kit a duct-taped packet of mac and cheese from 1998. As we started up the track to Mt Aspiring we passed a family of four, a loaf of bread swinging from the back of mum’s pack. The kids looked absolutely miserable, sick for Xbox. Larkin might have had a point. As for me, I saw a world of possibilities; striding along rosy-cheeked, singing Edelweiss, with a pair of those walking sticks, staying in DOC huts, eating boil-in-bag-meals and being stinky in a worthy manner.
Alps to ocean via the newly opened Rhyme and Reason brewery in Wanaka, (where the Joy Rider is drinking now) Oamaru to the Catlins is 294 kilometres. We took two days, drove 979 kilometres, arrived sideways and covered in mud. “I’ve been to the mountains,” I told the ocean. “We eat mountains,” said the waves. “We fill you up,” said the peaks. Everybody’s looking for something.