Before I could hike Mt. Doom, I had to conquer Lake Taupo and its hostel, The Tiki Lodge. The Tiki Lodge became our group’s Hotel California as we waited for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing—host to Mt. Doom—to open. After three days of purgatory the hostel released us to the mountain with good grace and the parting gift of Naomi.
Naomi is a Welsh English literature major on holiday in New Zealand from her study abroad program in Sydney which she’s doing in conjunction with her university in Ireland. At nineteen, she’s hitch-hiking NZ alone, staying in hostels and in strangers’ houses who invite her in and catching rides with people like us, who happen to be going in the same direction, in this case: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Though hundreds do the Crossing every day, very few people attempt Mt. Doom. Its formidable slope and lack of standard path, utterly lacking solid footholds, are enough to intimidate most. At the top of the climb, steam rolls over the rocky edge and a precarious walk around the slim ridge reveals volcanic-heated rocks, a large patch of snow, and the red crater of Mt. Doom. Surfing down was the highlight of my journey thus far. I’ve never felt so formidable, so euphoric—rocks tumbling past me, inertia unstoppable, my balance shifting second by tilting second as I charged down the insane slope. Exhilarations galore!
But I’m missing the real story. My dad calls my current state sensory over-load. I’m so bamboozled by beautiful vista after vista that I’m in danger of missing the details that make them beautiful. One amazing moment crowds the previous out of the way like old Korean ladies jockeying for a seat on the subway. One day I see the low rolling hills of Hobbiton and the next, I’m hiking volcanoes. The next is a ferry and the next, a silver-gold coastal road before green-laden mountains followed by glaciers and waterfalls and fjords. On and on and somehow I feel more tired than ever.
Naomi, the welsh girl with us, read an essay once about travel. Title and author were long-forgotten, but the main point stuck with her: the best places you travel aren’t the most amazing or even the most memorable. The best places are the ones that touch your heart and feed your creativity. They are the places with enough magic to swell your soul and leave you breathless for even a moment.
Enough wordy wandering. What I mean is this:
Mt. Doom was amazing, but Naomi took my breath away. I think it was her bravery, the way she embraced the prodigal son of life with an attentive smile.
She has a dorky, lilting laugh and white-blond hair. She likes rainy days because they make her feel creative and thinks miserable Irish mornings are perfect because they mean a cozy cup of tea with friends afterward. She wants to raise a family in Ireland eventually, but she feels silly that she’s already found her favorite place in the world so soon and intends to continue traveling. She likes Harry Potter, worries about having a job after undergrad, and she misses her young step-brothers.
She disappeared before I thought to say goodbye—hitching a ride with a couple of Asian girls on our shuttle from the mountains. I’ll never see her again, like I’ll never hike Mt. Doom again. But unlike Mt. Doom, I feel like I owe her something.
“Thank-you” sounds trite, and an ode seems sycophantic or untenably romantic. Perhaps I can simply wish her well here on this silly little blog, and pray that she continues to inspire others the way she has, unaccountably, inspired me.