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The Sturges Chronicles II

This is part two of an e-mail from Dustin and Rachel Sturges on their travels through New Zealand. At last we left Dustin, he had just survived a stormy night-camp with 100mph winds.

As we met the next huge valley, the clouds dissipated and the wind picked up to around 90mph. All of the semi-clear little streams we had crossed yesterday were raging, whitish-brown rivers. Gary and I locked arms, moving one at a time across several crotch-high, very fast moving streams, trying to get to the far side of the valley.

We finally, after a nearly disastrous crossing, ended up on an island looking at the last, fastest, and biggest river we had to cross. After a few false starts, we decided there was no way we were going to get to the other side with the waist-deep water moving at 30mph and the wind doing 90 in the same direction. We took a last look at the end of the trail, an eternal 100 meters away and surveyed our options. Though it wasn’t raining on us, it was pissing on the mountains.

While we were thinking, the island we were standing on got smaller and smaller. Gary spotted a hut on the easier side of the river, so we went for that. The problem was that the river had risen six inches while we were deciding, and the stream that had almost drowned us on the way in was deeper and faster.

We leap-frogged out, until almost halfway across the twenty-foot wide stream. We were very unstable and up to our waists in water. Gary was behind me and yelled to go back. It was too late. My feet were already being taken out from under me, so I let go of his hand, staggered two more steps towards the far shore, and toppled into the freezing water. My 60lb pack did not, as I feared it would, pin me immediately to the bottom; and as the current swept me along, I was able to claw my way to shore.

I dragged myself out of the water and immediately stood up. Gary was on the other side of the river still standing on our diminishing island. I tried to yell something encouraging through my chattering teeth, but all that came out was, “I soaked my damn cigarette!” and something like a maniacal laugh.

Gary, seeing that he had no choice but to cross made two false starts, each time staggering back towards shore. Then, seeing me becoming hypothermic in the gale force winds, went for it. He made it almost halfway across before keeling over and swimming/crawling towards shore. I, no longer being of sound mind or body, did the only thing I could do: follow him down the river on the shore screaming, “Swim mother f**ker, Swim!!!” He followed my advice and beached himself through no small effort.

Saying almost nothing to each other, we set off at a marathon pace for the hut. When we reached the hut, we found it in general disarray. It was a sheep shearing station. I assume it is on this side of the river because the sheep are smart enough not to be persuaded to cross the damn thing. As it was, the hut was filthy and covered with some kind of chemical powder. The yard was, however, in the sun and sheltered from the wind.

We hung everything we owned on the fence to dry, and made coffee. Everything dried and the weather cleared.

Our current situation is this: The girls are coming to pick us up tomorrow and we are out of food and coffee and completely sick of being here. If the weather holds, we should be able to cross the river on foot. If not, I am going to try and swim it, towing a rope. It can’t be more than 50 feet wide, and I’m fairly sure I can do it. I’ll be carrying the dry pack with a plastic bag of (hopefully) dry clothes and the inflated wine bag. If I don’t make it, I’m sure this will be found once the water drops. Give my wife and my family all of my love. Life has been great and hopefully these last few lines have been unnecessary. Guess we will see.


Last night was one of the longest nights of my life. We were out of wine, so after we packed up, we had a cup of coffee and settled in. The sky had begun to cloud over again and we were pretty tense about the morning. I couldn’t get any sleep thinking about that huge milky river roaring past me. I spent the night listening for rain.

This morning we awoke to cloudy skies and building wind. We couldn’t tell if it had been raining up in the valley, but it looked like it was going to soon. We cooked the last of the coffee over the tuna can and quickly broke camp. By the time we reached the river, the wind had died down a little and we were able to pick our way across the mile-wide water system without a problem. The water had gone down a few feet. When we crossed the very last waterway we were so elated that we walked back into it for a picture.

We are now sitting by the side of the road, waiting for Rachel and Sharon. The girl that gave us directions passed by with a herd of sheep and said that she forgot to tell us it was the second big valley. Oh well, we were dumb for not having a map. There’s always next time.

Wow that took a long time to write. Since then we went into Christchurch, got a flat, and fixed it. Went climbing above Christchurch, car battery died, we walked back into town for another. Went shark diving on the West Coast (in a cage)—pretty cool. Went back to the north island—head gaskets blew while en-route to Nigel’s. The damn van is now having a rest in Nigel’s back paddock. We found a company that wanted their rental van returned to Auckland from Wellington, so we are doing that. We are leaving for Thailand early, the 25th. It would cost too much to hang around Auckland for two weeks. I’m writing this from Lake Taupo on the north island. I think we’re going bungee jumping today.