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The four-hectare boot camp: Finally, a gym membership that works!

Living on a four-hectare boot camp is perfect prep for the Heaphy Track.

Dead tree squats, chainsawing circuit and Little Bo Peep class – finally, a gym membership that works!

Over the years, I have donated thousands of dollars to Auckland gyms. I’m sure there are many of you who get excellent value from your gym membership – zumba, circuit, spin or weights – but I was a client who paid up and didn’t wear out the equipment.

My workout failed to work out, due to a basic conflict between my heart and my head. My heart wanted to be in a body that pumped iron like a piston. My head would love to sit atop such a powerful machine, but it baulked at shifting a total of, say, 1000kg in one gym session for no immediate, practical result. Not to mention the tedium. I got more exercise out of extricating myself from complicated gym contracts than from using them, but I paid a price for being unfit.

Eight years ago, I joined some friends in Golden Bay to walk the Heaphy Track, through Kahurangi National Park to Kōhaihai near Karamea. Back then, I was based in Auckland and spent most of my day in a padded office chair. To complete the Heaphy’s 78.4km, I would need to walk more than 115,000 steps, but never did I don Lycra and earplugs to join the heels and wheels on Tamaki Drive for a training run.

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Our second day of the track was 24km from Perry Saddle Hut to James Mackay hut. It was mostly gravel or boardwalk, not the forgiving earth of the forest. By km number 17, every footfall was an agony of the ankles. I was the slowest, so I endured the pain the longest.

I was determined that would change when I moved to Golden Bay, a mecca for trampers. I joined a party on the Kill Devil Pack Track. Once again, I was slow. It was kindly suggested I seek easier walks with other beginners. Ouch.

I hung my tramping head low. I briefly joined a real gym, but it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I own a four-hectare boot camp. There is just one client and instructor – me – and I seldom know the class format in advance, which keeps it interesting.

Heavy rain often brings the Ditch Digging Class; it’s great for the core and quads. A strong, sustained wind may necessitate the Dead Tree Squats: picking up pine cones from fallen heroes. There are knee bends that involve chainsawing smaller branches into manageable pieces, followed by Wheelbarrow Work, great for the quads, lower back, arms and hands. There is some brain gym required in deciding the best approach, and even mindfulness, which is extremely fashionable, in stacking wood.

Occasionally, there is Dead Sheep Burial Class, good for the back and forearms, albeit not for the heart. For an evening warm-down, Little Bo Beep Class wanders the sheep back to their paddock.

Recently, I joined a group of frighteningly fit-looking Auckland ladies for my second tramp of the Heaphy. I had four months in which to train and a pack-load of good intentions to do three walks a week. I did six in total. I was too busy chopping firewood, digging ditches and painting the kitchen.

But my feet remembered that long, 24km day. Forewarned is forearmed or, in this case, forefooted. I splashed out $130 for inner soles and padded socks. As I said to the salesman, it’s not what you would pay for a life raft on the showroom floor but what you would pay as your mast sinks beneath the waves.

The inner soles worked. And it turns out all that digging and chopping and wheeling and stacking has worked on the inner soul, because I marched the Heaphy at the front of the pack.

Finally, a gym membership that works.

This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of North & South.

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