Earlier this year, after completing a 450 kilometre trek over 30 days with my stepson Valentino, I (and especially Rosa) had been disappointed by the performance of our $200 trekking shoes, which had begun to fall apart within three weeks. By the time we returned to Auckland, the rubber cladding at the front of my shoes had come unglued and drooped outwards, like the tongues of a pair of thirsty dogs. At the shop we bought them from, our complaints fell on deaf ears.
So, today Rosa and I went into Macpac on Vulcan Lane in Auckland City. Valentino and I had unloaded a ton of cash there a year ago while gearing up. The manageress greeted us with warm whimpers of expectation.
Alas, she was to be disappointed. Rosa fixed her with the kind of steely look that told her, "Don't mess me around."
I sat back and watched the performance.
Rosa said, "My husband's walking the Te Araroa. He needs a pair of boots. Can you guarantee a pair that will last?"
To her great credit, the manageress said she couldn't. In fact, she counselled that it may take as many as four pairs to walk the trail.
I could see Rosa digest the information. "At $500 per pair, that would be $2000 just for boots!" she exclaimed. When she gets over-excited, she adopts an Irish accent.
"Lord help us, you'll be the ruin of me!" she cried, rounding on me.
"Well, I don't need them," I said helpfully.
The manageress, who had observed this exchange with bemusement, tactfully excused herself and made for the stock room where she had just remembered some urgent business.
So, that was the end of the new boots idea, may it rest in peace.
What I do want to tell anyone contemplating anything from a day's tramp to one of many months, is that you really don't need to spend a prince's ransom to get onto the trail cheaply, safely and above all, now.
Here's how you do it.
Frequent "op" (for "opportunity") shops (or "good will" stores in the USA).
We've been doing it for years, ever since we became penniless students while studying hypnotherapy and nutrition in the UK just as the GFC struck.
It's just amazing what you can find, given a little time, imagination and cultivating relationships with the staff. Tell them what you're after and if they find it (and they nearly always do), they'll put it to one side for you.
So, for my journey, here's what I'm taking from op shops:
- Glasses (near perfect prescription, sturdy steel frames) $5.00
- Walking shorts (perfect condition, lightweight, fast drying) $1.00
- New Balance trail running shoes (near brand new, perfect fit) $7.00
- Columbia rain jacket and trousers (brand new) $20.00
- Black merino wool jumper $3.00
If I'd bought all this new, it would have cost about $900 instead of $36.
The rest of my gear is all well-used and around ten years old.
One of my favourite items of clothing is a long-sleeved running shirt made of some super-wicking material called "Coolmax". I found it in the "goody bag" after completing the Annapolis 10 Mile Road Race back in 1996. I wore it for two marathons afterwards, countless cool weather runs and many tramps. That shirt has history and I love it like a brother.
You really don't need to spend a fortune on expensive high-tech gear to have a safe and enjoyable time on the trail.
Go cheap, go safe and above all, go now.