No greater high than climbing a glacier in New Zealand …

… unless it’s going on a spaceship somewhere. Haven’t done that yet, but wouldn’t mind …

Even though this particular adventure was more than 20 years ago, it ranks right up there in terms of physical achievement. At least for me.

Mind you, I was once one of those remedial gym kids in high school. Those of you growing up in the 1960s might remember President Kennedy’s fitness push.

When you consider the emphasis that’s being placed on that stuff today,  JFK was sure ahead of his time. We had to do some kind of leg and back lift on the forerunners of weight machines. My scores were in the basement so I was assigned extra sessions to work on my back and leg strength.

And I was a klutz with a capital K. My dad, the baseball coach, used to watch me play softball, much to my delight and horror. He dubbed me Hard Knees Lippstone because the ball would bounce off my knees before I ever had a prayer of catching it.

Even though I’m not physical, I’m still very physical. Not the marathon type — I don’t like to walk unless there’s something captivating to see. Then, I never stop.

As it turns out, I did come to develop love affairs with gyms all over the world (yes, came to like those weight machines that I had to pay for), and was very faithful. Always liked the way that kind of exercise made me feel; you know, the whole endorphin-rush thang.

Here’s the lowdown on my glacial encounter. I was living in northern Australia, near the Great Barrier Reef for a time as a freelance writer. I was on sabbatical from my job as an editor at a news magazine in DC (the one that ranks the colleges and the hospitals).

And I had met a guy in Cairns. I thought I was in love; but actually, I was in love with living in Australia. No pictures that I saved, anyway. We were all wrong for each other.

His name was Salvatore; he was an Italian-Australian who roamed around the outback, troubleshooting for an oil company; and, being from a close-knit Italian famiglia (leave it to me to go all the way to Australia to meet someone I could have met in Nu Joisey), wanted a boatload of kids.

I was a big-city Jewish-American gal who still wanted a career, not kids. Once I realized I wasn’t on vacation, and was really living in the outback with sugar cane, crocodiles and Land Rovers with stick shifts on the wrong side; and (think Crocodile Dundee) I was closer to New Guinea than Sydney,  I was totally miserable.

I did score several intriguing freelance assignments, including one from Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine: Write about New Zealand’s South Island. At the time, I had no idea where that was.

I found out the hard way. What should have been about a four-hour flight turned into a crazy odyssey. Here’s why:

Black lines trace nutty route; red line shows how close Australia and New Zealand really are.

Because I was flying Cathay, everything had to go through Hong Kong. So instead of just crossing one little ocean, I had to fly from Cairns down to Sydney; up to Hong Kong and then down to Auckland, New Zealand.

In those days, I confess: I didn’t have a camera. This was way before Photoshop, and I thought pictures and cameras were a pain. I was used to committing my memories to memory, or having someone else who was photo-happy take pix. As for my stories, the pictures were always supplied by someone else.

I did save a photo of me perched on the glacier because I couldn’t believe it.

This shortened excerpt from the story:

The strip of coast between the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps turns out to be a cross between Tahiti and Switzerland; an incongruous jumble of tropical rainforest and alpine hamlets set against snowy peaks.  This is the home of the celebrated glaciers.

Even as I am trying to roll up the sleeves on my baggy yellow raincoat,  I must confess I still don’t know exactly what  a glacier is. I also wonder why we need raincoats, since it’s a sunny and soothingly mild afternoon. Lacing up the [heavy to the point of feeling like I’ve got bowling balls strapped to my feet] hobnailed boots, I feel like a firefighter with orthopedic shoes.

By the time we reach the approach to the glacier, it’s raining and raw. There, nestled in the mountains, it looks like some giant frozen waterfall from  a sci-fi film. Even though it appears immobile, it’s moving all the time.

Chris, our nimble guide, explains it is constantly being fed by the rainfall that freezes at these high elevations as soon as it hits the ground. We will explore the base. That means first plowing through streams and rocks of every dimension — the debris left in the glacier’s wake.

The pointed walking stick may have been designed for ice-walking, but I try to jab it into the slippery rocks.

The jagged boulders leading to the glacier are so steep, I clutch Chris’ s hand for support. We approach the ice shelf.  Chris uses an ax to carve steps out of the glassy surface. I try not to think about the crevices above and possibility of avalanches, switching concentration to my heavy feet.

Anxiety grips me again on the way down. Finally, we’re back on terra firma, grimy with perspiration and mud. Having relieved my aching ankles of the cumbersome boots, I’m almost floating. It’s a feeling fueled by the natural high of having conquered such a rare natural wonder.

I still remember how heavy those boots were.

Here’s the rest of the story if you’re interested.

This entry was posted in Australia, Game for almost anything, New Zealand, Where would you like to go? and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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