- Arts & Entertainment
- Health & Lifestyle
- Bits & Bytes
- Events calendar
Head to the hills!
I do not, I think we will all agree, mince my words and if I am dissatisfied with somewhere or something, I do not tarry to say so. The Lisa McGonigle No Bullshit policy, if you will. While I’d like to think that this adds an emotional honesty to my work, on the flipside it also means that I’m occasionally chastened and embarrassed about things I’ve previously put in print. Case in point: a few months ago, in my March column, I decried my adopted home town of Dunedin, saying what a terrible place it was and how I couldn’t wait to leave. In the two months since, however, my feelings having mellowed considerably towards Dunners, and I must now concede that, well, I was far too hasty in writing it off. For shame!
While the calm and sunny autumnal weather with which we’ve been blessed has certainly helped matters, the main factor in my astonishing volte-face has been taking up mountain-running. Dunedin is a harbour city, encircled by hills, and although I’ve lived here for bang-on two years and have run hundreds if not thousands of kilometres in that time (seriously, I’ve put in some heavy-duty marathon training of late), until recently I’d always stuck to the tarmac (albeit hilly tarmac) rather than heading off-road. The peaks around Dunedin, as far I was concerned, might allow for some mellow overnight tramping, but I largely bypassed them in favour of the main spine of the snow-covered Southern Alps.
But! In the past few months, since my roommate took me on a gut-busting run up part of the Pineapple Track (so called not on account of any bounteous tropical fruit growing along the side, but because the first settlers to Dunedin snacked on tinned pineapple while out walking), I’ve become a total trail-running junkie. Flagstaff, Swampy Summit, Mt Cargill: oh how you lift my heart. I can’t believe I lived in Dunedin for so long without heading up there before. It’s like falling in love with someone you’ve known for a while but had never particularly taken notice of before, or not in that light anyway. You gaze upon them anew, with this silly besotted smile, unable to believe they were right there all along.
Masochistic a hobby as it might sound, mountain-running, I’ve found, is both incredibly gruelling and incredibly calming at the same time, as rather than struggle against the discomfort, you have to just accept it and relax into it. When distance running, I go through an involuntary emptying out of the mind; I’ve heard this state elsewhere referred to as “flow”, wherein you become so entirely focused on the present moment that everything fades out of mind. It’s like some very strange form of yoga I suppose, and sometimes when running, similar to yogic mantras I find myself fixating on a certain word or phrase, repeating it over and over - yes, occasionally even out loud. (I’m hoping I’m not the only person who goes a bit doolally like this on long runs.) In addition, like many a ski-bum, I am not conventionally religious, but have a sense of the divine, or a higher power, or forces bigger than myself, or whatever you want to call it, as manifested in the glory of the great outdoors and being up in the hills under my own power, be that through running or skiing, feeds body and soul like nothing else.
So! Given my new-found zen and zeal, I’m changing the focus of this column, and instead of continuing to dwell on the migrant experience - or, as the Saw Doctors sang, “all those muddled-up problems of living on a foreign soil” - I’ll henceforth be focusing on the here and now and showcasing the New Zealand outdoors at its finest. To quote from The Wizard of Oz, “if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard.” (I’m taking a somewhat figurative approach to this, treating the whole of the lower South Island as my backyard.) Up next month, a report from the Three Peaks, a 26km mountain race which - as the name might indicate - goes up and down three of the peaks around Dunedin. Was it as insanely demanding as it sounds? Watch this space.