I am fairly certain — or maybe “resigned to the fact” would be more accurate — that this entry is going to mark a turning point in the written account of my journey. One day, when I’m back Stateside and reminiscing about the times I went glacier hiking or rock climbing or rode motorcycles across Vietnam, someone will inevitably interrupt my reverie with the following: “Yeah, but remember that time you wrote about frisbee golf? What was up with that?”
And I’ll probably reply with something like, “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, I was in Queenstown for a while.”
That’s the thing about long-term travel: every single day can’t be all penguins and elephants. You don’t wake up morning after morning and decide you can scrape together enough cash and derring-do to try skiing or paragliding. Especially once you’ve settled down somewhere for more than a few weeks, daily life – even in a foreign country – does still become daily life.
You oversleep because there’s no rush to see it all before you leave. You’re more than OK with gloomy, wet days because you can wait them out by the fireplace with a cup of tea and a new book. You can turn down nightly invitations to go out partying with the latest cast of characters to pass through your hostel because you know you’ll have a million more chances. You can look back over a week of afternoons diligently making beds and updating bookings at the hostel, evenings cluelessly delivering curries and naan to tables at the Indian restaurant around the corner, and realize you don’t necessarily have a ton to write about. Except, maybe, that time you hilariously injured an innocent bystander while playing a non-contact sport and then jumped into a lake in your skinny jeans.
In order to tell you how this happened, I’m going to have to tell you about frisbee golf. I seem to remember frisbee golf being immensely popular – if “mandatory participation in junior high P.E. class” is a qualifier – for about one week in 1993. The idea is that it’s just like golf, but it’s played with frisbees instead of balls: you start from designated “tees,” take shots of varying difficulty levels, and try to get your disc into metal baskets that act as “holes.”
I can only begin to tell you how huge frisbee golf is on the South Island of New Zealand. There are full “18-hole” courses. There are shops all over Queenstown that rent out special discs for the day. There is an army of stone-faced young men traversing the parks with special messenger-style bags in which they’ve filed a dozen frisbees — one for putting, one for long shots, others for Lord Knows What — and comparing disc models and personal-best scores with strangers they happen across on the course. There are, I’ve heard, several people who supplement their incomes by donning scuba gear and trawling the bottom of Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu for lost frisbees, then selling them at a profit.
And then, on occasion, there’s me, trotting along behind whatever hostel coworker has naively invited me along for a day on the green. I am inevitably “behind” because it takes me at least four throws to get my frisbee to go the same distance my friends can toss theirs in one. This is not because I throw like a girl, but because I throw like someone whose arm spontaneously turns to tapioca in the split second before each release of the disc. It’s not unusual, when someone asks me if I can see the basket I’m aiming for somewhere across the vast expanse of lawn and forest, for me to respond: “No, but it doesn’t matter.”
My aim is atrocious. If there is a thicket of trees to be avoided, I’ll be ricocheting my frisbee from trunk to trunk in no time. If there’s a boulder on the green, I will fail to clear it time and again. And if there’s an innocent bystander nearby, chances are I’ll make them regret the day they decided to spend a sunny afternoon in the park.
In short, I have about as much business hurling objects long distances on the “green” as I would holding a knife and scalpel in the O.R. But the wonderful thing about frisbee golf — and Queenstown residents in general, really — is that they are by nature just so darn low-pressure and encouraging. I can skid a disc along the dirt, hearing it scrape listlessly along the gravel in a bored and slow-paced crawl before it dies five feet from where I’ve thrown it, and my coworkers will praise my effort. Parents will good-naturedly tell their small children to watch me throw, despite my protests that seeing me launch one of these things might actually scar these children, permanently, in the coordination department. There’s no one sour-pussed enough to tell me that I should really get off the field before I hurt someone.
So when, a few days ago, I saw two women lying on their backs in the grass nowhere near where I was technically aiming, I somehow knew, subconsciously, that I’d manage to hit them. As the frisbee left my hand and one of the women splayed her knees apart, I had immediate visions, premonitions even, of the frisbee making the most awkward and inappropriate landing possible. I watched as the disc arced up through the air, made a hard turn left, and turned spinning on its side like a pinwheel before sailing between her knees like a field goal and hitting this poor, unsuspecting woman right in the crotch. And the thing is, I was too unsurprised by the whole incident to do anything besides just laugh hysterically. My coworker, in a more typical reaction, later told me he’d instantly prayed to God to be swallowed by a hole in the earth.
You might think this was the point where I packed it in and headed home. You might believe my good fortune at this woman’s quickness to laugh the whole incident off would have been enough to make me call it a day. But no, I kept playing. I kept playing even as my shots kept knocking off trees and grazing the ground. I kept playing as my frisbee went rolling down hills. I kept playing until my disc sailed off into the frigid winter waters of Lake Wakitipu.
When you lose a frisbee in the lake — when the tree branch you’ve found to fish it out just won’t do the trick and when there’s no one dressed in scuba gear in sight — you, unfortunately, have very few options. I tried to roll up my pants, but was foiled by fashion as I realized my favorite skinny black jeans were tapered tightly around the ankle. I tried to shuffle the floating frisbee towards me with a flip-flop, but instead kicked up a cloud of aquatic dust and had soon lost the thing in the murky depths. So I had to wade in. Up to mid-femur. In my favorite skinny jeans. The jeans I used to wear to Lower East Side clubs and on first dates, the ones I used to pair with a cropped blazer and ankle boots on non-Fridays when I felt like ever-so-subtly flouting the business-casual dress code in my office. The jeans I now awkwardly walked home in, soaked past my knees, while I contemplated how I’d suck less the next time I tried my hand at frisbee golf.
Yep, things have changed a bit.