Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

On Missing the Super Bowl

February 6th, 2020

On Missing the Super Bowl

One January day in 1967, my family gathered in Lacey and Margaret Boyer’s basement around a grainy black and white television with a rabbit ear antenna to watch the NFL/AFL Championship game, the first Super Bowl. The result was as expected. No team from the upstart AFL was going to beat Green Bay. I was 10 and found Lacey’s workshop immediately adjacent to the television more interesting. In those days, TVs were usually located in out of the way places. They certainly didn’t belong in living rooms. I remember a 4 foot wooden octagonal beam with metal screw tops nailed on the faces. Screwed into the tops were pint jars containing different size nails, screws, and bolts. When spun it seems to contain an entire hardware store fastener aisle. At halftime I went to the driveway to admire his Karmann Ghia, the closest thing to a European sports car to be found in our rural town. As for the game itself, the outcome will out, Lombardi and Stram coached with the passionate masculine intensity one expected from coaches of that era. There were no instant replays or Jumbotron, few camera angles. The game viewed on the screen was more or less the same static shot a viewer in the stands would have. Still, there was a sense in that basement room that something special was happening. Ever since—for 53 years— I have found my way to a television to watch the game. Every year until this one.

Two years after that opening game, the first celebrity football player, Joe Namath, wearing white football shoes, a long fur coat and Brut aftershave (maybe the Brut came a little later) guaranteed an AFL victory, something preposterous on the face of it. He and the Jets delivered, and the modern league was born. In the years since it has transformed from game to spectacle. At some point I realized watching yearly had become a personal tradition that had to be upheld regardless of inconvenience. The year the Panthers played the Patriots, I was in a French ski lodge, where in the middle of the night the desk clerk tuned the lobby television to the game. He and his English friend watched the first half, asked some questions about the rules, then bored, they drifted off. 

When I was young, it was never difficult to find that television. One of the linebackers of the dynastic Steelers teams of the 70s went to the local prep school coached by the man who lived across the street. All the kids in the neighborhood took up the Steelers —  Bradshaw, Harris, Swan and Stallworth, and of course the legendary Steel Curtain defense. They have remained my team. Following those years, the television spectacle exploded, and the day for many became more about the halftime show and commercials than the action of the field. Viewing parties involved complicated bets about events unrelated to the game itself, and the halftime shows became increasingly elaborate and finally preposterous. The year the Bears finished out their magic season (coached by Mike Ditka doing his very best throwback coach imitation), a friend invited me to his lake house. He had a satellite dish and we watched on the Armed Forces channel, so instead of commercials featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales, we were treated with PSAs warning about stealing government pencils. I longed for some of the spectacle that year. 

The quest for the game has sometimes been more difficult. My job often takes me to New Zealand in January, so I’ve had to get used to Super Bowl Monday—mid-morning to be precise. In the early 2000s I could usually find a nearly empty sports bar open for the game, but as the century has progressed, the crowds have grown, requiring early arrival for good seats. Spending a Monday morning drinking beer and watching a game is a peculiarly Kiwi thing to do. One year I wandered into a likely viewing place and sitting at one of the tables were some vaguely familiar faces. Ryan Adams and his band The Cardinals were in Wellington for a concert, so a friend and I watched an amazing game with the band and some of the roadies. Their namesakes that day lost in the last minute to the Steelers. An exciting game for any football fan, for a Steelers diehard it was pure joy. 

When not watching every Super Bowl, I spend much of my time long-distance hiking. This year I find myself in Tasmania on game day. I wanted to tramp their “Overland Track,” generally regarded as the best seven day walk on the island. It requires a reservation for the start day, and the only one available put me in the middle of the bush at kickoff. A few years ago, I would have cancelled and found a sports bar in Hobart, but instead I decided to call an end to the streak. I was torn between a lifetime’s commitment and a game that is increasingly difficult to love. The game day activities verge on the ridiculous. In many ways the sport has passed me by. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still the Baltimore Colts, the Browns are not the Browns, the Ravens are and they should be back in Cleveland, Miami and Seattle are just expansion teams, the Rams have always played in LA, and whenever the Redskins play the Cowboys I still hope they both lose.  

Then there is our increasing awareness of the physical and mental toll the game takes on the professionals, as well as the legions of university, high school and little league players who look to the Super Bowl Sunday as a career goal. All of that was brought home one day in class when a student, an offensive lineman on the University’s team—a bright engaging person—looked at me and said he would have trouble participating for the next few weeks because his “brain was bruised.” 

I’ll probably track down a TV to watch the big game next year, but my streak is broken, a pause that has prompted me to think hard about the game I have invested so much in. Not the television extravaganza, but football as pure play. What I remember best is from those early years: a cold winter Sunday, gathering at the field next to the town’s tennis courts. Kids of different ages, sizes, and abilities pick teams. Running, passing, catching, tackling, we roll in the mud — laughing. 

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 23

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania  Day 23 Lake St Clair to Launceston

Woke early and on stepping out of my bunkhouse room I encountered a wombat— he just stared at me for a bit, then shuffled off. On my last day in the bush I finally see the animal responsible for all that scat I’ve been dodging on the trail for three weeks. Later in the day I also saw an echidna. Used my camp time to get everything in order— did laundry, scrubbed up cooking gear, rinsed out tent, etc. Now officially off the trail for next two months or so then the next walking adventure begins.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 22

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania  Day 22 Narcissus Hut to Lake St Clair 17.5 km

Early up as a fellow trekker was banging about the hut cooking area. Pulled all my stuff together and took off before 7. It was a quant day— 17.5 km and wanted to arrive in time for lunch before (hoping to) catch the Overland a day early.  Early 5 km section OK, but the middle to later was perhaps the best rain forest of the trip—it moved from old growth eucalyptus—some massive trees— to young and then a dense to fern forest with a Jurassic Park look. Very lively space. One section about a dozen Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos squawking with the same sound as two trees rubbing together. They exhibited classic territorial behavior—calling loudly, swooping close, following and perching nearby calling loudly and aggressively until I passed some unknown boundary.


Later I bumped into my friends from York who were struggling a bit but in their last 10 km (saw them later safe at the visitor center.  I strode it all out making the best time of the trek, arriving at noon and got something to eat and a pint. I had hoped to get on bus a day early but no luck. As it turned out, staying was pleasant. I booked a bunk room which was similar to those at NOC or Furneau Lodge on the NZ Queen Charlotte. An afternoon with lots of beer and pizza on deck, talking to many of the of the people I had crossed earlier—very gratifying. Early to bed (one with a mattress though I needed my sleeping bag.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 21

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania Day 21 Pine Valley Hut to Labyrinth then Narcissus Hut 14 km

Slept in a bit as I’d planned to spend two nights here. The others got off early even though it was very cold and still overcast. Packed a day pack and ventured up the mountain about 8:30. More mossy rainforest then a steep wet climb including walking straight up a cascading waterfall. It was a short hike but took time because of terrain and the trail was easy to lose. The skies cleared, and from the lookout I could see clearly the main peaks dusted with snow and many lakes below.

In the distance around the edge of one of the mountains I could make out Lake St. Clair, the end of the Overland. The way back down was a little painful on the new knees and old muscles, but I got back to Pine Valley a little after 1:00 and decided to pack up and head on to Narcissus Hut. Pine Valley is a gloomy hut and I couldn’t face another night packed in there (it was filling rapidly). The hike out included more moss and some magnificent old growth— trees so big you wonder how anyone could have ever thought to cut them down. A few old friends at Narcissus Hut, nice walk along the lake looking for platypus. Early to bed zzzzzz

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 20

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania   Day 20 Bert Nichols Hut to Pine Valley Hut 11 km

Snow! Woke to a snow globe view (for all you northern hemisphere folks, it is the middle of summer here). Rain poured all night, shifting to freezing rain and snow mix in morning. Just planned to walk three hours today to Pine Valley Hut which is off of the official overland Track but a popular place for some day hikes. I’m two days ahead of schedule and the weather is supposed to break tomorrow, so I plan two nights there before heading down to Lake St Clair. The walk out was strange— the terrain was beautiful, though the trail was pretty much an ankle deep stream the whole way. It was just freezing, but when the sun peaked out, it would be hot. Then of course another band of precipitation would come on with wind, and I’d get the gloves back on.

The track up to the hut was a flood plain with some very fast moving rivers well out of their banks. Crossed a couple of swinging bridges which were very kiwiesque.  Most striking though were the odd moments when, in the middle of a eucalyptus/nothafagus rain forest matted with moss and overtopped stream banks, the sun would blast through even though the snow and sleet continued to fall. Everything would light up green and sparkles in a positively surreal scene. But then I would have to slog on in the stream as to stop would bring on the pure cold of mountain water.

 

The hut is older, a bit damp and cold, but it has an old coal stove that takes some of the edge off. Outside the smell of burning coal reminded me of the old days as a child In Woodstock when people’s furnaces still burned Valley Builders and Supply coal. Some climbers are here waiting for clear weather for some climbs as well as some folks from the crew I’ve been trekking alongside for the past few days.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 19

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania    Day 19 New Pelion Hut to Bert Nichols Hut 18.2 km

One person I spoke with last week claimed that it rains on the Overland Track 300 days per year. My experience thus far has been pretty much that proportion. Today demanded flexibility, as the weather report was varied (for the next days as well). In keeping with this trek, my morning departure time keeps growing later— today 8:00. People rustle about early but take long to pack up. My ritual is long established and efficient, so I’m always ready to get going early unless, as in recent days, I delay for coffee. Part of my motivation is the pure pleasure of walking out of camp alone while the morning mist is still rising, always a magical moment and lost when the sun gets high.  Today there was no danger of the sun burning off any mist— the rain was steady and sometimes hard. The A plan was to hike about 4 km up to the saddle between Mt Pelion and Ossa, drop pack and climb one of them. Ossa is highest in Tasmania but Pelion looked more inviting on the map. Neither were inviting today as visibility was about 10 yards.

 

So I pressed forward on a well-formed track across a moor with occasional blasts from the wind and rain. I soon passed Kia Ora Hut, the official target for today, as  the mountain climb was to take up much of the afternoon. Instead I opted to push for Bert Nichols (which was much the same distance as the previous two days except for a side trip to an amazing and powerful waterfall.

The falls were impressive but more so once again were the moss covered rain forest— still dominated by eucalyptus and nothafagus.  Stopped for many pictures—just all green! The latter part of the day climbed up out of the  Mersey river valley up through a pass and down into another watershed. Though not quite the Gottard Pass, it’s still a fascinating moment to transition from one watershed to the next—the ecological shifts are sometimes subtle, but important. Different flora because of new soil composition, moisture, angle of the sun and wind. A short but rooty descent into the new valley soon brought the hut— like  New Pelion, Burt Nichols is very spacious, but the weather front has made it very cold. Everyone was sitting shivering in most of their winter layers (it is still summer here) and snow is predicted.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 18

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania   Day 18 Windemere to  New Pelion Hut. 17 km

The rain roared on the roof all night, regularly waking me, so when 6 rolled around I was ready. A problem with hut hiking is you have to be in other people’s diurnal rhythms. Some folks started rustling around so I decided it was ok to pack up. Was still drizzling and today’s walk was a short time, so I made coffee and relaxed a bit before leaving—the crowd is very companionable, so the early morning was pleasant. One couple got off early, I followed soon after. There was an adventure race on the track today— runners doing all 80k in a day, rushing through puddles, sliding down rocks. Didn’t look much like fun. Once I passed the first hiking couple, I looked forward to a day of trail solitude, but was instead interrupted every five or ten minutes by feet pounding up behind me (so I’d hop to the side of the trail). This went on until at least 10:30. All were jovial, but I missed my quiet misty morning hike.

Most of the morning that mist was heavy—all I could see was the immediate forest (so I laughed at a side trip for a scene overlook). The trail gradually descended to the Forth River (lowest point on track) through a nothafagus rainforest with amazing moss-covered trunks and fallen logs (some huge eucalyptus mixed in). Dozens of little streams crossing the trail in the midst of it all—straight up magic.  The day was billed as 5 hours, exactly what it took and I found myself at an incredibly nice (and spacious) hut by lunchtime. 

Just before it, several large eucalyptus trees had fallen and were being split up for firewood. The most intense wine-like smell was rising up from the splits. The aromas on this track are striking, reminding me how pure the air is here, with the wind blowing off Antarctica. Got settled, hung everything up to dry, ate a big lunch and wandered to the original Pelion hut, a copper miner’s shanty with four old wooden bunks. Looks straight out of New Zealand’s South Island old huts. The one here is a museum piece, the ones In NZ I slept in.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 17

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania  Day 17 (Jan 31) Launceston to Cradle Mountain park

Ronny Creek to Windemere  Hut 18.5 Km

The group from the Arthouse Hostel nearly filled the Overland Transport van that took us first to a little town called Sterling for breakfast, then on to the visitor center for the incredibly popular park. We were all there to hike the Overland Track, generally considered Tasmania’s finest.  Unlike the beginning of Port Davey where I just hopped out of the van and started walking, the prep for this thing is intense. The overland driver is full of information and tips but also is clearly in the business of selling or renting a whole range of equipment he just happens to have in the van— and he moved a lot of merch. The visitor center is all business, with detailed briefing about how to comport yourself on the track. There was a lot of information, some perhaps exaggerated. The first hut—today’s target was not available so the option was to hike down a steep slope to a nice but fairly far off the path camp, or have a big opening day by pushing on to Windermere, technically the second day’s target. The other factor everyone was pushing was a major weather front on the way which was supposed to bring high winds, lots of rain and later cold. Getting caught a couple hours out on a plain could be a problem. I opted to hold the decision until I got to the crossroads.

Got on trail (actually boardwalk) at 11, and soon was heading up a steep incline that brought small waterfalls, large lakes and incredible views of Cradle Mountain and its assorted junior peaks. There was the usual press of dayhikers in the first 5 or 6 km, gradually their voices faded after passing the fork for the path to climb Cradle (given weather warnings it seemed prudent not to take a 4 hour detour on an exposed ridge). Then it got magical— the uplands are founded on hard stone with a wonderful heath burbling with little pools and streams, what the Scots call a burn.  I felt like I’d been transported to the Cairngorms—smack dab in the middle of a Nan Shepherd book.

The air was clear so I took lots of pictures, and as I found myself completely alone, I wandered a bit, looking at the plants. The wind picked up later and so did my pace. I had pretty well planned to stop at the substitute hut but just before I got there I passed two women who said many people had trouble with the steep path down. I then met a ranger and consulted. She said the path to Windermere was well maintained and I decided to make a run for it, getting to the hut just moments before the skies opened. Rather than tent, I ended up in a very crowded and noisy hut, but it was well out of the weather. Lots of interesting people including a Kiwi who hiked Nepal with buddhist monk and a wonderful Scottish couple (David and Vanessa) who have a small farm in the northernmost part. Will consult with them about springtime Scotland treks.

T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 16 Launceston

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania   Day 16 Launceston


Yesterday I boated the gorge, today I walked it. Up over the zig-zag trail, past a beautiful recreational park with a huge pool, across a 100+ year old swinging bridge and back down the other side of the gorge.  Not a difficult walk, but full of surprises. The basin is incredibly popular with cable trams carrying people across, several cafes, and lots of kids out enjoying a hot sunny day. I relaxed a bit on an overlook deck, trailed by peacocks who put up with all the young children screaming and chasing after them. Stopped for a heavy lunch, first red meat I’ve had since I left Atlanta— want to be well-fed for the beginning of the trek tomorrow.


T. Hugh Crawford

In Tasmania Day 15 Launceston

February 6th, 2020

In Tasmania   Day 15 Launceston

A day to organize and wander a bit. Woke up early but, while my German roommates slumbered on, I stayed in bed gorging on YouTube accounts of US politics (something I’ve been trying to avoid and happily so). Main tasks today were to take care of some emails, then find a good coffee shop. There were plenty but Sweetbrew was on the shady side of the street and turned out to be the right choice. Great staff—epitome of the openness everyone from Tasmania continues to show. A wall mural told the story of the discovery of coffee because of dancing goats. I’m a little embarrassed I never asked why the Atlanta local coffeehouse chain is called that— sometimes my own lack of curiosity confounds me. Launceston is apparently home to the oldest yacht club in the Southern Hemisphere and was once a major seaport until they stopped dredging the waterway. Not that many years ago, the ferry from Melbourne docked here instead of nearer the coast in Devonport. There is an inexpensive river tour lasting an hour and includes a run up the gorge, an amazing narrow rock fault the Esk runs through. It was low tide and we scraped a bit a mud but made it up. The Tamar banks are littered with old abandoned boats— dredges, ferries, freight boats, but they manage to look quaint rather than degraded. On one point were a series are large grain silos like the ones Charles Sheeler painted in the US.

With the abandonment of the port, they were transformed into an upscale hotel— pretty dramatic repurpose. Downstream we passed many dead willow trees, signaling salination in an area that should be fresh water. Got my food for the trek squared away, made a big pot of lentils for dinner, and wandered back downtown for a bit, spending most of the evening reading Bruce Chatwin. Tonight my roommate is a wonderful Croatian named  Marenko who currently lives in Sydney and is here looking a real estate with his son—a delightful man. It was a quiet but productive day.

T. Hugh Crawford