Author’s journey of self discovery
Napier-born woman confronts family tragedy in Pakistan and returns home to cycle across country
It was a phone call that changed the trajectory of Napier-born, Sequoia Schmidt’s life – one which informed her that half her family had tragically died. And now almost five years on, she is keeping their memory alive by immersing herself in what was her father’s greatest love – mountaineering.
On July 27, 2013, her father; Kiwi mountaineer Marty Schmidt and her 25-year-old brother, Denali Schmidt had their lives cut short when an avalanche struck their camp on the world’s second-highest mountain, K2, on the China-Pakistan border. They planned to become the first father-son duo to reach the mountain’s summit.
In the wake of their deaths and after watching a Facebook post by Swiss climber Mike Horn, which depicted human remains, she got an emergency visa to follow the path taken by her father and brother, and to ultimately recover their remains.
And although the remains were not those of her loved ones, the trip was something she said she needed. The diary she kept during the 16-day trek became the subject of her first book, Journey of Heart: A sojourn to K2, published in 2015.
The 27-year-old entrepreneur lives in Los Angeles where she runs her publishing business Di Angelo Publications and hadn’t been back to her home country for 10 years after leaving Hastings for Houston, Texas.
However, that all changed last year when she decided to return to her homeland and reconnect with her roots. It is this journey which is chronicled in her latest book; Changing Gears: Ups and Downs on the New Zealand Road, in which she cycles the length of New Zealand.
“My first trip to Pakistan really took me out of my comfort zone in a whole different level and threw me into this super intense situation; both physically, mentally and emotionally and when I finished that trip I came to the realisation that I shouldn’t be afraid to go back to New Zealand … I shouldn’t be afraid to face the memories of my past and I shouldn’t be putting them in the back of my mind, I should find a way to confront them and work through them,” she said.
Sequoia’s relationship with her father was tumultuous and it is something she grapples with to this day.
“The first book I wrote touched on that quite a bit, on having that complicated relationship and the second book really comes to try and understand a little bit more of who he was and the decisions that he made and to just respect him as a person,” Sequoia said.
“I think that that is something we all go through when we transition from our adolescence to our adulthood and that understanding that our parents are just human beings and they are trying to do the best that they can and when you are a kid you don’t really get that.”
“Sadly it’s something that I realised after their death and it is also something that allows our relationship to continue growing even though he is no longer alive – I can still learn life lessons from that relationship.”
Despite moving 17 times to 15 cities, across four different countries by the time she was 14, she had attended Havelock North Intermediate and Hastings Girls’ High School in the region.
“Going back to Hawke’s Bay was a big deal for me and I knew it was going to be a huge thing just because I had so many memories there and I hadn’t been back since my dad and brother died.”
“There are a lot of memories, but if I had to sum it up, I would say it was really cathartic to come back to Hawke’s Bay especially on a bike and doing something physical,” Schmidt adds.
Sequoia began her journey and found that she connected with much more than the land where she is from.
The people she encountered along her way and the flashbacks of her distorted childhood, paired with the aloneness that can only be had on a solo excursion of self-discovery, led her to understand much more about herself and her strengths than she realised when she began, “I have this sense of pride in knowing that they would be super happy and super proud of me for all the stuff that I am doing.”
Join Sequoia for an account of her emotional and physical journey, with a presentation from her latest book, a talk, book signing and a Q&A session at the Napier Public Library from 5.30pm this Thursday.
Photo caption – Sequoia Schmidt details her journey through her home country of New Zealand in her latest book; Changing Gears: Ups & Downs on the New Zealand Road. Inset: Marty and Denali Schmidt. Photos/Supplied.