The girl asks me, “What are you going to do now?”
“I’m not sure”, I reply.
“I know what you should do.” She nods confidently. “You should go for a swim!”
I’m reluctant. “I don’t know… I don’t want to get my clothes all wet.”
She laughs at me. “Silly! You don’t wear clothes in the water. Clothes are for the land!”
I nod. “I suppose that’s true.”
Today I wake up early to the sound of a rooster triumphantly cock-a-doodling outside. Good thing, because the stupid alarm app on my phone is good at two things: not actually emitting any form of alarm when you set it, and crashing. The clock next to my bed was unplugged and un-set when I arrived at the room. I succeeded in turning it on last night, but couldn’t figure out how to set it, no matter how many combinations of hitting or holding the “set time” button with any other button. Thank god I don’t have to do such challenging tasks in my day to day job, or I’d be toast.
The weather is one notch upgraded today, from overcast to mostly cloudy. It’s a kilometer long walk from my motel into town for a breakfast and coffee that actually comes a little close to the wire. I need to be at the helicopter tour place by 9:15.
I finalize the booking in the office and get to talking with the attendants while we wait for the other passengers to show up. They ask me where I’m from, and that inevitably evolves into the revelation that I work on rockets out in the desert. Everyone is impressed. I mentally mark another tally on my social scorecard. To my credit, I never use the word “rocket scientist” to fish for extra kudos. I just say aerospace engineer.
The woman who booked my flight is a tall, tanned Argentinian woman in her 30s. She asks me what city I live in, and I say “Lancaster”. She goes “Oh yeah! My sister lived in Palmdale for a while. I’ve been out there before. It’s hotter than I expected over there.”
Holy crap. What a small world. Even here in the corners of the earth, I meet people who know 10th street west in Lancaster, CA. Unbelievable.
Soon the other passengers arrive for the flight. A 20-something asian couple, which were not very talkative (possibly a language barrier thing) and two youthful young women who I learn are sisters traveling together from Sydney. The asian girl wears huge designer sunglasses and applies lipstick before we get in the van to take us to the helipad. She wears a black cap that says “Boy” on the front of it. Oh, fashion….
We’re ferried down the road to the tiny helipad where we meet our helicopter, a Eurocopter Squirrel, and our brave pilot, Gary. I ask for the front seat, and after a brief discussion about my true weight in kilograms compared to the other passengers, they decide to grant me the honor.
The chopper smoothly lifts off the ground, and Gary brings us around over some clear farmland before turning towards the valley leading up through the clouds towards Fox Glacier, Mount Tasman, and Mount Cook. I’m beaming with delight at the views.
Once we break through the cloud barrier, we are able to see clearly all the rugged mountain terrain under a bright sunny sky. I took some video here too, but I can’t upload it directly without paying for a “premium” wordpress account.
I’m surprised by how close we fly to the terrain as we loop around the mountains before we head towards the glacier.
I find the furrows and patterns in the mountain snow to be fascinating. The deep, raw fractures look like the snow was scarred by a giant claw.
We pass over the ridge and end up gently hovering above Fox Glacier itself.
Gary hasn’t been very talkative this whole flight. Occasionally he points out a landmark, but for the most part he just flies the bird and talks back to the other traffic in the area. Soon, he reduces power and we come down for a gentle landing on the bright white roof of the glacier.
Finally with a lot less noise to contend with, I’m able to talk to the other passengers. The aussie girls allow me to practice my group selfie skills with limited success. They’re sisters on a two week holiday and the taller one is joining the navy in just a few weeks. Power to her!
I talk to Gary as well. When I ask if the legends surrounding him are true, he merely lights up a cigarette, takes a long hard drag as he gazes silently into the Glacial abyss, and says “Legends and fairy tales are for children. When you’ve seen the things I’ve seen… you don’t believe in fairy tales any longer…”
It’s very sunny and surprisingly warm on top of the glacier. The snow is composed of thick, coarse granules that melt quickly in your hand. Pretty good for snowballs once you pack it all down.
Soon, we take off again, and Gary starts showing off with some high-g turns.
We descend back down through the glacial valley towards the township and the end of our journey. I spot a small herd of cows that remain completely unphased by the whirling blades of our tremendous flying machine.
For those of you who fly conventional aircraft. Good news! Fox Glacier also has an airfield, and now that they’ve extended the runway, you have a whopping 10 feet of length at your command!
We land and say our goodbyes. The tour is over. Gary must follow his own road. As I walk away from the helicopter, Gary calls out to me over the sound of the rotor blades spinning overhead.
“Hey kid!” He shouts as the engine spools up. I turn and lock eyes with his hard, steely gaze. “Keep the shiny side up.” With that, he guns the throttle and ascends up into the sky, never to be seen again.
Back in reality, we pile into a van driven by an Irishman named Barry. He has to go pick up some more customers as well. We all get to talking, and I mention I’m from America, just north of LA. “Oh? Whereabouts?” Of course, I say “Lancaster” and of course, Barry says. “Oh yeah! Lancaster! I was stationed out at Fox Field for a while workin’ for the power companies. There and Victorville and Bakersfield. I know the whole area.”
I mention that I grew up in Rhode Island, and of course Barry says. “Rhode Island!? Lovely place, that. A real gem. I’ve got a good buddy in Providence running his own chewing gum company.”
Are you freaking kidding me?
We live in a strange, beautiful, and very very small world my friends. This town of Fox Glacier can’t have more than a hundred or so permanent residents. Per capita, I bet there are more people here who have been to the Antelope Valley than most places outside of America.
Barry and I talk on the curb for a good long while before he finally has to go back to work. This morning has been a true pleasure, from the amazing sights to the people I’ve met. Before I walk back to my motel room I pick up some more coffee and a magazine from the “general store” here in town.
I actually crash for a bit once I write half of this blog entry. I notice today that the knuckles on my left hand (clutch hand) feel sore and perhaps a little swollen. My whole body enjoys the cat-nap, though, and when I awake I’m ready for a late lunch and more adventure.
I ride just a couple kilometers down the road to Lake Matheson and get some tasty mushroom risotto for lunch. It comes with a fun garlic-basil pesto that adds a splash of color and flavor to the otherwise simple dish. I can’t see lake Matheson from here, but there’s a couple kilometer long trail that loops around it, and the trailhead starts here.
It may not be the smartest choice since I have all my riding gear to carry with me, but whoever told you I was smart is a liar. It’s not long before I’m working up a very healthy sweat. The air is still, humid and warm making it difficult to reject heat back into the world. I cross a bouncy suspension bridge and notice lines of foam in the water marking stagnation points and recirculation zones in the surprisingly laminar flow.
I have some fun with the macro setting on my camera, taking some close-up shots of the plant-life while I test the total water absorption capacity of my shirt and jeans. The answer is: a lot.
Halfway down the trail I climb a wooden staircase to an overlook for the lake. There I meet a charming family of four: A Dutchman husband, an American wife, and two adorable and playful little kids. The kids wear green shirts and are trying to hide in the plants. the man asks me loudly with a wink. “Hey have you seen the rest of my family? They were around here but I seem to have lost them.” Playing along, I shake my head. “No, I’m afraid not.” This kids both jump out and shout “Boo!” at me, laughing and running around the small deck.
The family lives in Perth. They moved there from Borneo just last year. I learn the american woman actually lived in Midland, TX for a few months back in the 90’s. She said it was just as impossible to find a place to live then, and called a friend’s couch her home while she was there. We all take turns taking pictures for eachother and have a great time conversing while the kids scramble about with a seemingly boundless supply of energy.
As I hike away, the two kids come running after me down the path screaming “Byyyyyeeeeeee”. I can’t help but laugh at the truly happy and innocent moment.
On my way back snap a few more shots of the scenery.
I’m happy to finally make it back, as by this point my clothes are completely saturated with sweat from the exertion and the humid air. I ride back to the motel and wash off with a cold shower and down a powerade I had bought earlier.
Today has been a fantastic day, filled with natural wonders and great people, enhanced by the fact that I can take it easy with nowhere to ride to until tomorrow. I hope you all have enjoyed the blog today. Tomorrow, I head upwards along the western coast some more, with the town of Punakaiki as my final destination.