Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Ride of the Rings

A couple weeks ago we made a trip the nearby city of Queenstown. Queenstown attracts adrenaline junkies from all over the world in search of their next thrill. Whether it’s skydiving, bungee jumping, paragliding, or zorbing (rolling in a giant plastic ball down a hill – kind of like a hamster. Yes, people pay to do this.) Queenstown’s got it. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet saved up enough to take part in any of these activities. No, this trip we participated in a much less intense, if not dorkier, activity. We rode The Ride of the Rings.

Just north of Queenstown, in an area appropriately named Paradise, we visited several film sites of The Lord of the Rings trilogy while riding horseback. Since arriving in New Zealand, Cody had been adamant about visiting as many LOTR sites as possible. Though I may not share his passion for the films, this trip proved to be one of the coolest things we’ve done. And as usual, I cannot say enough about the natural beauty of this country.

After several days of rain, the day of The Ride turned out to be a gorgeous sunny day. Our spirits were high during the van ride from the stables to the location of The Ride. As we neared Paradise, it became obvious why this land would be a film director’s dream. Crystal-clear glacial waters, emerald rolling hills, picturesque snow-capped mountains: no computer imaging necessary. We learned then that Paradise had also been used for the recent X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. Remember the scenes in which Hugh Jackman is hiding on the farm of the elderly couple…or more specifically, the scenes in which he is running through the fields naked? Turns out naked Wolverine was sprinting just meters away from the Battle of Isengard. Needless to say, this piqued Cody’s nerdy-ness to the max.

The Ride lasted about two hours and took us past the locations of fight scenes between Aragorn and the Ura’kai, to the edge of the forest of the ents, and the mountain in which they placed the digital image of the Tower of Isengard. (My apologies to our non-nerd readers. Like you, I found the naked Hugh Jackman scenes much more interesting.) And though we didn’t actually see any sword-wielding hobbits or elves running around, we were in the presence of one movie star. Oscar, the horse I rode that day, starred in the final LOTR film during the Battle of Gondor. Our guide explained that the director originally planned to use roughly 2,000 horses for this scene in which the Knights of Rohan charge towards The Forces of Mordor. But when that proved improbable, he settled for 200-300, which would then be made to look like 2,000 using digital imaging. Since the 200-300 horses would be copied and pasted and appear several times in one shot, they had to be “average-looking,” meaning average size, black or brown, and no distinguishing marks. They also had to be able to stand the loud noises of the battle scene and not be disturbed by the other hundreds of horses around. My baby Oscar made the cut and appears 10-20 times in a single scene.

We had such a great time on The Ride of Rings. But this wouldn’t be our last trip to Queenstown. In fact, we were back the very next weekend.

The following week we requested three days off for Thanksgiving and our 10k race. We may be in another country, but we were looking forward to spending the day honoring the American tradition of cooking all day and more importantly, indulging. Turkey isn’t common here but we managed to locate one in a grocery store in a bigger city a few hours away. And it only cost 45 bucks! We spent the whole morning preparing our first turkey as Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. We knew this year’s Thanksgiving wouldn’t be quite the same but we were determined to make it feel as normal as possible. We also prepared mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls (alright, they were store-bought), and apple pie (“). (They don’t sell pumpkin in a can here; otherwise we would’ve definitely included pumpkin pie!) While we waited for our bird to finish cooking, we sipped beers and watched a couple football movies. It almost felt like home. Almost.

When the food was finally ready, we stuffed ourselves in true American style. We were so proud of ourselves. Afterward, we crawled over to the couch and promptly passed out in front of the TV.

The next day we headed back to Queenstown. We planned to spend the night as our race was held there early Saturday morning. When we arrived Friday afternoon we did some Christmas shopping downtown (oddly enough, I have never actually been shopping on “Black Friday” back home but it seemed strange that we weren’t surrounded by mobs of people pushing each other out of the way for Tickle-Me-Elmo.)

We went to bed early that night and awoke with butterflies in our tummies the next morning. Fortunately, it was another beautiful sunny day. At the race site, we signed in, received our numbers and looked around nervously at the other racers. I was positive that everyone knew immediately that we were amateurs. (We were the only ones in cotton t-shirts – that is, the only ones without fancy polypropylene sweat-wicking workout gear.) I was terrified and certain that by the time I crossed the finish line everyone would have already packed up and headed home. But there was no backing out now.

I ended up competing in the 5k as a couple injuries had hindered my training. (But I’m determined to complete a 10k in our next race!) Cody completed the 10k in just over an hour. Neither of us cared about our times, we just wanted to do it.

Afterwards, we both felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. So we decided to reward ourselves for all our hard work. This of course meant oversized cheeseburgers and beer. De-lish.

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