Make your own trail

Last week I almost hit a sales clerk in the face with a snow boot. But let me start from the beginning.

I met my friend Ryan, who you may remember as the guy who buys elaborate Asian greeting cards, for a tour of Australia that took us from Sydney to Melbourne and back again. Among other things, he wanted to hike Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak at 2,228 meters. It’s a relatively simple trek if you do it during the summer when the trail is clear of snow and easy to follow. But if the girls who control the town’s supply of snow boots have anything to say about it, hiking it during any other season is only a good idea if you’re trying to get killed.

“The trail is officially closed,” the head clerk told us the day we arrived in Thredbo, a small town at the base of the mountain. “It’s completely covered with snow and there are no markers to guide you.”

This warning only seemed to further peak the interest of Ryan, who was dressed like a walking Patagonia ad in two of the four ski jackets he had packed for the occasion.

“We highly recommend you hire a guide,” she continued. “The weather changes suddenly and it’s easy to get lost. We don’t patrol the trail, so if anything happens, you need to contact emergency services to arrange a rescue yourself.”

As the person who would have trouble finding my way back to the hotel from the rental shop – a trip that involved precisely zero turns – this made me nervous. But before I could say as much, the clerk launched into a speech about bringing along a GPS, topographical map, and enough food for two days.

“If you have a smart phone, you can use it as a compass,” she added.

Ryan, who still seemed remarkably unperturbed, waited a few beats and then replied, “Or you could just use a compass.” As if to change the subject, he added, “This is Nova. She needs everything.” It’s actually a pretty fair way to introduce me most of the time, except that with all the talk of doom and gloom, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to rent anything anymore.

“Give us one minute,” I said to the clerk. “We need to discuss our plan,” – which was my way of excusing myself to accuse a friend of trying to kill me and then arguing over whether or not I would complain about being cold once he was in the process of doing it.

“You’re really skinny,” he said. “I don’t want you to crap out.”

That quote isn’t central to the story, but I put it in anyway because I want it on the record that I lost 20 pounds over the summer and I’m down two dress sizes. I was pretty thrilled with the results up until that point, when I learned that I now looked like someone who would have trouble walking up a hill. Since few of my readers will turn to me for seasonal hiking advice, let me hijack this post and make the theme about something else entirely: If you’re going to change anything about you, your appearance or your lifestyle, then do it for you and don’t worry about what anyone else has to say about it.

Top of Europe. #travel #travelgram #switzerland #topofeurope #jungfrau

A post shared by Nova Halliwell (@adviceineeded) on

By the time Ryan and I returned to the counter, the girls on the other side had switched positions.

“How can I help?” the new clerk asked before taking the entire conversation from the top. It was enough to try anyone’s patience, but especially Ryan’s since he was now sweating through both of his ski jackets and had picked up a topographical map as a prop.

“We’re going to do it tomorrow,” he told her. “And we both need hiking boots.”

“We don’t rent hiking boots,” she replied.

“I called two weeks ago and they said you did,” he answered.

“Well…” she considered. “We rent snow boots. I guess you could walk in those.” Then, without an ounce of self-awareness, she went on to describe the boot’s weight, color, tread and material. Just when I thought she was out of things to say, she added, “It’s like a waterproof Ugg. But less of a slipper.” At no point did she offer to simply show us the shoe.

Ryan, who was the most exasperated I have ever seen him – and that includes earlier in the day when, for entertainment, I insisted that the dingo he spotted on the side of the road was actually a beagle – finally cut her off and asked, “Can I please just see the boot?”

“Oh wow,” I smiled, when she returned several minutes later holding a single black snow boot. “That’s pretty much what I was expecting.”

They’re snow boots,” I hissed at Ryan as she walked away. “I wonder if she even knows what an Ugg looks like.” He didn’t answer. Nor did he take advantage of what was clearly a perfect set up for mentioning the beagle. I assume he was too busy thinking about how he was going to kill us on a mountaintop before the weekend was out.

All of this talk of boots turned out to be for naught because the following day delivered torrential downpours and high winds, making it all but impossible to even attempt the summit. With nothing else to do, Ryan and I waited out the storm and spent what very well could have been our last 24 hours on earth riding a water slide at the local leisure center and celebrating the 600 words I wrote about fuel cells, which, coincidentally, is 598 more words than I have any business writing about them in the first place. The highlight of the day was when Ryan – thanks to his tremendous collection of active wear – was mistaken for a ski instructor and we were given the staff rate at the local bar.

If the ski shop of doom was right about one thing, it’s that the local weather does change quickly. When Ryan and I woke up the following morning, the sky was bright and clear. We had a beautiful day to hike.

Over at the rental counter, we found a whole new team waiting to terrify us. The new clerk warned us no less than three times that the trail was not visible, that we wouldn’t be able to find it without an expert guide and, in the off chance we did, we were all but certain to die on it.

“I need to be clear,” she lectured. “It’s easy to get lost. We’ve had people go missing up there and they were never found. Never.”

Ryan and I nodded.

“We don’t patrol the trail,” she reminded us. “So if you get lost, you need to call emergency services yourself. We are not liable for you.”

We nodded again.

“And you will be charged for any unreturned equipment,” she added.

“I think we’ll be fine,” I snapped, snatching a pair of hiking socks out of her hand. It was a haughty move, considering that I still needed her to rent me for a pair of snow pants. In her expert opinion, I was a size small because my legs are “quite petite,” which again, has nothing to do with anything, but I’m adding it in the hopes that when Ryan reads this, he’ll learn a thing or two about positive phrasing.

Incredibly, after all the hemming and hawing about boots two days prior, we were surprised to learn that the shop didn’t have a pair to comfortably fit either of us.

“Don’t wear any that are too tight,” another clerk sighed. “They’ll cut off your circulation…”

The loss of both feet seemed to be a serious risk to take, but since we probably weren’t going to make it back down the mountain anyway, Ryan and I went ahead with ill-fitting footwear. Because what’s one more obstacle between friends on a death march?

As you probably guessed by now, we made it to the top – and, more importantly, we made it back down again. The weather held and it was a beautiful day. I didn’t get cold, but I was slower than usual, which makes me question if measuring success in terms of a dress size is a good way of doing things. (It’s not, but that’s a whole other post.)

Instead, I’ll leave it at this: In the end, the details don’t matter. You won’t care about the hassle of renting boots or waiting out a day of rain or taking an extra hour on the way up. You’ll only remember that you did it – and, if you’re lucky, who you did it with.


Trying a new thing, in which I will freely publicize an awesome business, blog or creative endeavor submitted by a reader. First feature: Smart Ass and Sass, a subscription gift box service made especially for snarky people. Perfect for all the assholes on your holiday shopping list. Check them out here.

Have something you want to promote? Leave me a comment with all the details. Only rule: If you’re featured you have to pay it forward.



  1. Oh my what an adventure! You look marvelous my Dear!!!!! So happy to hear of your adventures, they seem like something out of an”I love Lucy” show! Take care and know I can’t wait for the book!!!!

  2. Hahahahaha I love that they just kept warning you over and over. Not that its something to take too lightly but come on people give it a rest! Looks like an amazing hike!

    • Yeah – I get where they were coming from, but it was still a little over the top. Thank goodness we made it back down… I’d hate to be charged for not returning those hiking boots.

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