30-Hour haiku and photography ultra challenge

Date: 22-23 April 2017
Time: 30 hours
Venue: Mt Ruapehu foothills

A while ago Gerry mentioned that he is looking into ideas for research projects for work. Always up for a challenge of sorts, this endurance photography session immediately came to mind, and Gerry was happily on board. I thought it would be interesting to see what happens, creatively, when you get sleep deprived. I was also curious to know if I could stay awake for 30+ hours, something I have last done as a lazy as bum art student, cramming to get everything ready for the exams. 

The plan: Gerry was to take a photo (only one, no retakes or fixing flops) every five minutes for 30 continuous hours, amounting to exactly 360 photos in total. To keep myself busy, I would take a photo of him every 10 minutes, as well as write a haiku. So I would total 180 portraits of Gerry and 180 haikus, as well as taking happy snappies, cooking, cleaning, feeding, etc. Can anyone spot the problem right there?

We decided that Mt Ruapehu would be the perfect spot. I can’t remember how it came to that, but I’m glad we did. We left Palmy on Saturday morning, thinking we will park at the Ohakune Mountain Road carpark and walk anti-clockwise on the Round the Mountain track for a few kilometres until we find a nice spot to start this adventure. Preferably somewhere where we would be alone and away from civilisation. But on the way there, we decided that walking from the Desert Road side might be nicer. What’s the use of a mind if you can’t change it. We weren’t sure which road leads to the Mangatepopo Hut and ended up accidentally taking the Tukina ski-field road instead, which turned out in our favour.

After parking, we started walking along a 4wd track up a massive hill for three kilometres until we reached the Round the Mountain track. Following the track anti-clockwise and having this great valley below with Mt Ruapehu towering in the back, we decided there and then to veer off of the track and just walk straight towards the mountain. We could see a stream coming from the mountain and thought that would be the ideal setting. We had everything we needed with us so all that was required was water, and the valley we were heading into looked perfect for the job. We pitched the tent, walked for a bit in all directions “checking out the scene”, before putting on all our warm clothes, pouring a tipple and firing up the billy for dinner.

By nine we were in our sleeping bags. It was very cold and I couldn’t bring myself to go out for any sort of ablutions. Even my minus 15-degree sleeping bag wasn’t up to the task and Gerry ended up wrapping his down jacket around my bum. Granted, the sleeping bag is at least 18 years old and as they say, after eight years the down starts to break down and don’t fluff up as much anymore. Be that as it may, we spent a very cold night without much sleep.

By 5:30am the billy was going again for some much needed hot coffee before the start of our ‘project’ at exactly 6am. Gerry got himself ready for his endeavour, and that was also the last time he set foot in the tent. Everything went well during the day, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the night would bring. At this time of year, we have roughly twelve hours daylight and twelve hours darkness, which is a challenge in itself. Apart from it being pitch black making photography more challenging, it was also bitterly cold. And with only about 1.1 litres of fuel for the camp stove, I was trying to pace our drinks and food consumption evenly through the 30 hours to make it last.

Gerry was going strong and I was surprised at how I wasn’t sleepy until very late into the night. Or rather, early the next morning. I watched the water droplets form into ice on the south side of the tent, while the damp on the northern side of the tent, including the ceiling of my “den” (a space I built in front of the tent with rocks, the tent front flap and a tarp), started to drip onto everything. And from firing up the stove every so often for hot food, coffee, cup-o-soup, tea, etc, the damp started to drip onto everything. And every time I got in or out from my den, I got more wet from the condensation and ice on everything.

I was cold despite a lot of clothes. I’ve had it much worse on other occasions, however, so by comparison this was probably not as bad. But, for a huge part of the time, I wore a polyprop vest, thin down jacket, fleece top (with hood), as well as a super-duper thick Mountain Design down jacket top layer. For bottoms, I wore thick fleece-type underpants and a ski/snow pant on top of that. Two buffs and two beanies (as well as the hoodie), two pairs of socks and thick gloves (which had to come off whenever I tried to do anything, which was most of the time).

Having to wash dishes in, or fetching water from the freezing cold mountain stream, turned into another challenge. But the most difficult part was to get Gerry to find time to eat and drink. I would be searching for him (also having to take a photo of him every 10 minutes) while he’s roaming the valley, so ended up regularly running backwards and forwards between the tent and wherever he was. Taking food or coffee or whatever to him, holding it as he can only eat or drink small bits between composing and taking the next pic every five minutes, before making my way back to the tent or stream to wash dishes etc. Sadly, it all proved too challenging and I couldn’t keep up with my haiku’s and photos, and therefore stopped at 139, shortly after 23 hours in.

However, Gerry was going strong and we had some fun in the night playing with the fairy lights to create fireballs and stuff. Some light entertainment to keep us going. 🙂 I was amazed at how he managed to just get on with it right until the 30 hours were up. Five minutes can feel like an eternity when you have your scene all sorted out and are ready to take the photo, but when you’re searching for your next subject, time flies by in the wink of an eye.

It was watching Hunting for the Wilder People that made me decide that writing haikus on this trip would make for a nice challenge.

A haiku is a short Japanese poem. It consists of three lines with a 5-7-5 pattern, measured in the English language as syllables. Each poem will, therefore, have 17 syllables. They are also known as mood poems, don’t use any metaphors, and the lines rarely thyme. Usually, they also have a seasonal reference.

Following below are my haikus, depicting the moments in time out in the cold desert.

Six Dawn Early start
A cold night in the mountain
What will the day bring

Cold cold freezing cold
Fingers numb Snow-capped mountain
Can’t wait for warm tea

And icy light breeze
Morning star and silver moon
Tea is almost done

Busy little stream
Yo La Tengo in my head
Too cold for a pee

Turquoise and orange
Is the early morning sky
Gerry on his knees

Waiting for the sun
Frozen droplets on the tent
My toes are still numb

this is a great memory
What are we doing

Shadows long and tall
How are we going to make
The next thirty hours

Frooze balls for breakfast
The sun has started to melt
the ice on our tent

Alison to start
Don’t you weep pretty baby
The sun is out now

Losing my marbles
And the day is still brand new
One and a half done

The sun’s shining bright
Will we make it through the night
Why not fly a kite

Photos and haiku’s
Three hundred and sixty and
Hundred and eighty

Haiku haiku eh
A photo every five
Minutes of the day

The sun is so warm
It is hard to believe the
Night was so damn cold

Now that it’s sunny
A hot brew in my tummy
Life can’t be better

Up close she looks small
The highest mountain of all
on this wee island

There’s no need for rhyme
They come a dozen a dime
Spider on his web

Once upon a time
A man caught a fat big fly
In his glass of wine

Anti-clockwise on
To change the camera lens
for a macro shot

What am I doing
Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue
The morning sky hue

Gerry is looking
For his next great photograph
Spiders rocks water

The ice has melted
Soft sand in the harsh desert
I’d like more coffee

Have to force one out
Snowy mountain ice cold stream
What’s this all about

If this was a run
I would be halfway through a
marathon by now

It was my mother’s
Birthday yesterday and I
Was in the mountain

Why is it so hard
To find a rock to sit on
Thinking of Swiss chard

This is a haiku
Five-seven-five in a line
Syllables that is

The sun in my back
Rock stone snow is all I see
No I am lying

Where did Gerry go
All alone in the desert
just my thoughts and I

Evidence is there
We are but a speckle here
In this vast landscape

Tiny little birds
Are following us around
Where is the olive

Time is on my side
Three doors in rites of passage
Where are we going

Life is a sad song
It is winter all along
The watchtower

Lying on the ground
The sun shines brightly on you
Where to point and shoot

Mount Ruapehu
What a pretty sight to see
Up jumps the cricket

One fifth through the run
If it was a hundred miler
Must be time for lunch

Cheese and salami
On corn cakes will see us through
On a winter noon

The Kaimanawas
Where the wild horses roam free
Thirsty for water

The cleanest water
Straight from the mountain belly
Fill my heart and soul

On the horizon
Like galloping wild horses
Clouds came rolling in

Where will all this lead
This is not an ultra run
But a test no less

Seven hours in
Contemplating the subject
Flies eat morsels food

Aim focus and shoot
Searching for the next angle
Powerful mountain

Panoramic view
Earth sky mountain high above
This is what we do

Tiny little bug
Take a photo take a pic
Never to be seen

Not another soul
Just the two of us alone
And the cold desert

The three muses sing
No other loving baby
Washing in the stream

How strange is this day
An ominous ski helmet
In the barren land

Footprints in the sand
We had not alone tread thus
Someone else was here

Just the two of us
Maybe it will start to snow
Cold cold winters night

Desert it may be
But there’s life in abundance
Fly away with me

Green moss everywhere
Near creeks and streams seeking life
This is desert land

How cold will it be
After dark tonight will we
Make it out alive

Little waterfall
All day long you beckon us
Now we see you clear

This million wee legs
A spider and her babies
Hope the tent is closed

Up the creek we go
Spot a green fern on the way
Got to get away

Why can we not stay
Clouds are gathering behind
Wind chill must be null

Cold is streaming in
Eyes and nose are watering
Need to start the stove

Soon it will be dark
We are so far far away
Another picture

Night is drawing near
Imposing rocks towering
Way above our heads

Come quick come quickly
A white snake between the rocks
Bite it in the tail

Blue sun sky white cloud
Will we make it through the night
You worry you die

It’s hard to keep up
Writing cooking making tea
I can see my breath

Coffee nice and warm
How many cups will we have
Til the crack of dawn

The sun’s setting fast
Nothing good ever lasts eh
Whisky will not help

Endurance built it
Oh when will we run again
Over rolling hills

Cold earth under me
Hope the wind can stay away
In my den I’m warm

With green tarp and stone
My shelter is completely
Haven in the cold

Rough is this here land
Tough and rumble no ones friend
How long has it been

Blurry mountain not
Manfrotto strong and sturdy
That’s how you do it

Approaching twelve hours
Not even half way there yet
Will be dark real soon

My ears are glowing
What happened to the sunblock
I applied today

As darkness wraps us
The horizon is light blue
How cold will it be

Not much sleep last night
Twelve hours until morning light
Maybe clouds tonight

Cup-a-soup so good
Darkness all around us now
Let the games begin

Damp wet cold dark night
You’re so far away from me
I am not sleepy

No moon just darkness
Except for my face which is
Glowing in the dark

Double socks two pants
One a snow pant made for cold
It’s been a long day

My pretty sunshine
Super duper down jacket
In the cold cold ground

I lose track of time
In the mountains so pretty
But what can I say

Need to start din-dins
Salami beans onion and mash
Will we be warm though

Can’t wait for morning
Why do I fear the darkness
Mountains all around

Need to fetch water
Very very icy cold
The stream in the dark

Mice ants and spiders
Scorpions and snakes you get
Fish river canyon

Damp rise from the ground
By morning it will be ice
Another cold night

Zigzag booby track
Don’t you dare to break a leg
Food is on the way

Homegrown beans still hard
How long before we can eat
Stove pot kerosene

Dear God up above
Please protect us through the night
We are but a speck

Homegrown beans still hard
It’s been a hard day’s hard night
Hope time flies quick-smart

In freezing waters
The dishes must be washed
The night is still young

We had fun with lights
Fairy lights make twirls and curls
Tired we will be

Eight hours before dawn
What will get us through the night
Cold cold winter night

My ears are alight
The headlamp strap is too tight
Time for more coffee

Kerosene please last
Us through the wintery night
Blood back in fingers

Alone in the dark
Help me make it through the night
Chocolate and coffee

Don’t go too far dear
No time to take a wee break
The desert is cold

How I wish this was
Rather a hundred miler
Endurance for sure

Keep on keeping on
Long still is the night ahead
Time waits for no man

What am I thinking
Chock n block and chocolate block
What’s the difference

To run run run run
To run run away from you
Into the mountain

Where did the clouds go
Not many to start off with
Just crisp mountain air

Seven shooting stars
Follow the star trails tonight
What will we do next

I have to wonder
How many souls are in tents
Tonight in this cold

We have to be mad
Ice drops covering the tent
And yet here we are

Over halfway through
Now to test our stamina
Very cold very cold very

What to photograph
In the middle of the night
I have been colder

What is this madness
Tomorrow night we will sleep
Like newborn babies

Sleep monster don’t come
Only six more hours to dawn
The ground is frozen

Four layers clothing
Two down jackets not enough
Dusk will also come

How cold can it be
Let me count the ways tonight
Sing song ding-a-long

How cold can it be
Minus seven minus ten
Maybe even more

The Michelin man
If only I was orange
New moon dark dark dark

South side frozen stiff
North side of tent dripping wet
How weird is nature

Haiku psycho poem
Snow wind on the mountain top
Go fly to the moon

Surely this won’t last
Thirty hours of haiku
Hope to last to dawn

Time please fly please fly
Don’t you wish your life away
Only for tonight

A pain in my neck
Stay away you have to stay
Noisy stream all day

Cold cold cold cold cold
How easy to just give up
Sleep beautiful sleep

I have no more words
It is hard to imagine
How to stay awake

I can see each breath
So cold so very very
Where is my mojo

Sunday night Monday
I wonder what will happen
Four hours from now

My legs are frozen
It is so bitterly cold
Earth sea sky but why

We might just make it
A billy with hot water
For another brew

Good morning sunshine
How difficult can it be
This is not too bad

For good neck cover
A hoody is a great thing
Snowy mountain high

What will we run next
On road off road long or short
Only time will tell

Two-thirds through darkness
Bhuja, nuts, tea and olives
Biltong and marshies

Just a few more hours
Til dawn have us excited
Jump for joy jump jump

Do not close your eyes
You are not asleep for sure
Cold wind coming in

Obscuring the stars
Clouds are rolling in from east
Will it bring the rain

Starting to see things
Did that stone just move a bit
Sleepy sleepy head

Four in the morning
Help me make it through the night
No more words from me

Once upon a time
There was a crooked donkey
Hee haw hee hi ho

Why do we need sleep
Sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep
Tomorrow will come

Thirty hours long
Taking photos and write poems
Will we reach the goal

Yellow sickle moon
Rise up on the horizon
Yawn yawn yawn yawn yawn

No more words is there
Haiku hiatus my friend
Take my word for it

Come quick dear sun come
Brighten up the day and smile
Like I know you can

It is hard to sit

And this is where it bolted to an abrupt end. It just so happened. Boiling water for coffee and again for soup not long after, finding Gerry in the dark, freezing my butt off, being sleep deprived, resulted in the slip-up. And on top of that, being completely preoccupied with the fact that it was still dark long after six, while I was 100% sure it was light the previous morning before six, contributed to the fact that before I knew it, I missed a few haikus. I think I just lost my marbles there for a bit, angry at the sun for not rising quicker. Amazing what lack of sleep can do to your mind.

I then roamed again with Gerry for a bit around the valley, before starting to pack up. The idea was to stay another night, but we were cold and dirty and weren’t thinking straight, so I got things ready to make our way back to the car as soon as Gerry took his last photo by 12 noon. Although we were only about five kilometres from the car, the heavy packs, rocky terrain and hill, made sure we got a good workout.

When we do this exercise again (yes, we will most certainly do it again), we’ll tweak and streamline a few things. As is often the case with doing something for the first time, this was a huge learning curve.

We had a lot of food and snacks left over as I was certain we would be ravenous throughout the night. But not at all. I didn’t have much of an apatite, and I realise now that to keep your nutrition and hydration up throughout the night during a 100-mile event, will be a challenge. This exercise was partly to see how we might go at the staying awake part of a 100-miler. With only two off-road 100 mile events in NZ (that I know of) – the Great Naseby and the Northburn – we’ll try to give one or both a try next year maybe. Just to be able to stay awake is 90% of the battle won, so I figured this sort of thing would be good training for a 100-miler. 🙂

But now first to get motivated and get back on the road. Coming back from nearly nothing is going to be hard work and a lot of effort. Especially having to work on my strength and mobility. I’ve realised that for me to do any form of long distance running in the future will take much more effort than just going out for a trot around the neighbourhood most days of the week.

2 thoughts on “30-Hour haiku and photography ultra challenge

  1. #117 is my favourite.
    A very very interesting project! such fun too!
    There is also another 100 miler- a small event Round the mountain in Taranaki in Nov- I did the mini ultra which is half way around for 80km and couldn’t imagine 160. Still I bet one day I do it 🙂

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