Happy Hobbit Trails
It's a proudly and profoundly nerdy road trip. The pair, both hardened JRR Tolkien fans, decided to hike between the two most famous locations in Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy and his upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. The idea came to Shawcross when he read a shooting location list online. He said, "Everybody knew where the Hobbits were filmed, but I saw on that list the location of Mount Doom. I never knew it was a place that they had filmed, I thought it was all digital, I wonder how close the two sets are, because that's the probably the closest real world trek that we have to the one that we saw in the movies." It turns out that, in real life, the two locations are a lot closer than their onscreen counterparts. "For some reason, I thought, I could do 120 miles. Hey, Chris, you like these movies. Can you do 120 miles?"
Er, guys? Didn't you hear Boromir? "One doesn't simply walk into Mordor."
The idea snowballed into a full-fledged trip to New Zealand. Demarais had worked with fellow UT grad/erstwhile Oprah favorite Zach Anner on his travel documentaries, but neither he nor Shawcross had ever really hiked anywhere. "We're definitely more the computer person, video game body type personality," said Demarais. His one night under a canvas as a kid at camp trumped Shawcross' zero hiking experience, but that scarcely prepared either of them for six and a half days across the rolling hills and rising volcanic slopes of the South Pacific nation. "It was a rude awakening," he said. Still, Anner proved an inspiration to them, especially on those low moments when the appeal of public transport or a friendly lift beckoned. Demarais said, "He's in a wheelchair. If he can do a travel show, then we can do it."
Even with Hobbit garb, walking sticks, tents, two waterproof cameras, 12 camera batteries, 500Gb of SD memory cards, and, of course, fake hairy feet, the duo still depended on their New Zealand cameraman/quarter master/general savior Nick. "He's half the reason we made it as far as we did," said Shawcross. "He's definitely in much better shape than we were, and knew the land a lot better, and could push us and keep us going."
Demarais added, "He's definitely much towards Aragorn or Strider, rather than Gollum."
The duo deliberately avoided roads and easy routes, keeping instead to paths and river beds. This drew some curious looks from the natives. Demarais said, "Every time we'd run into people, it would be farmers and hikers, and when we'd explain what we're doing, people think we're crazy." It didn't help their case that the pair didn't wash or have a change of clothing across the whole week-long excursion. "By the end of it, we looked like crazy homeless people."
And were all the blisters and miles of trudging across fields and forests on the other side of the world? Demarais said, "The scenery is everything you think it would be, and then some."