For Olson, the offseason is one big hike
Seattle reliever travels New Zealand's famed 33-mile Milford Track
Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Garrett Olson knows there are many paths in life, and he definitely tried a new one this offseason -- hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand and taking in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.
An amateur photographer and adventurous sort, Olson spiced up his winter with some fly fishing in Montana, an interesting photo shoot with teammate Felix Hernandez for ESPN The Magazine in Seattle and a trip to Australia for a friend's wedding, as well.
But without question, the highlight of his offseason was the 33-mile trek on one of New Zealand's Great Walks that opened his eyes to the beauty of nature ... and the beast of lugging a 50-pound pack that included his trusty camera and three lenses.
Olson, 27, and hiking partner Michael Cooper -- a former ballplayer and high school buddy -- slept in huts along the trail at night and took in the mountain lakes and waterfalls and gorgeous views on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island during their four-day venture.
It was Olson's first major backpacking experience, and he learned a few things, including how to pack lighter next time and what to expect from the swarms of sand flies that beset them at times on the trail. But he also discovered a part of life that appealed to him on the far side of the world from his California roots.
"I've stayed in enough Westins and Sheratons and Four Seasons that I don't need to see that when I travel," Olson said. "It was nice to experience something a little more casual. Plus it was a great way to meet people.
"We ran into people from Australia and Canada. We met a couple from the U.S. who quit their careers and went down there to be a bartender and construction worker and get away and live simply and just enjoy life.
"I can't say I'm at that point," Olson said with a laugh. "I'm pretty locked in with what I'm doing. I'm pretty content. Baseball isn't a bad gig. It's an awesome game and it's given me the opportunity to take trips like that."
Olson said the hike wasn't too strenuous, other than his feet getting sore and his back and hips hurting as time went on from the pack carrying his food, gear and sleeping bag. But he came away with newfound respect for hikers as well as some ultra-marathon types who journeyed the same trail in faster fashion.
"We were stopped along the side of the trail on the third day just taking a break and about five guys ran past. They were running the trail in one day," he said. "I've never seen anything like it. This was 33 miles, up and down mountains.
"That's a whole different culture. They looked like athletes," Olson said. "We were just struggling to get to the next hut."
Olson, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound left-hander, made the hike in November so he'd have plenty of time to get ready for Spring Training, where he'll be working toward his fifth Major League season. He spent two years with the Orioles before being traded to Seattle in '09.
He and Hernandez, his American League Cy Young Award-winning teammate, were featured in an ESPN The Magazine "movie edition" this winter posing as the John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson characters in "Pulp Fiction." With several hours of makeup work, the two transformed into dead ringers for Vincent and Jules from the Quentin Tarantino film.
"That," said Olson, "was awesome. I was in Montana fishing when they contacted me, and I thought it was a joke at first. It turned out to be really fun. Just for them to put that one picture on that page in the magazine took about five hours.
"We did the shoot on Halloween night in a studio in Seattle, and it was perfect."
For Olson, it was interesting being on the other side of the lens in a photo shoot. He enjoys taking pictures with his own Nikon D700, though admits to just learning the craft.
"I do love taking pics, but I am very amateur," he said. "I like to dabble in a lot of things, but photography is one of the bigger hobbies I have. I like landscape photography, and it was really beautiful down there in New Zealand. All I had to do was point and shoot. That landscape was definitely not my creation. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time."
Olson lists traveling and exploring, photography and fly fishing as his biggest current non-baseball interests. A year ago, he took cooking classes during the offseason, and he thinks he might try culinary school at some point in his life.
But with Spring Training looming, there is no question that baseball is his sole focus now as he trains daily in the Fresno, Calif., area in advance of heading to Peoria, Ariz., where Mariners pitchers and catchers report for duty on Feb. 13.
"I've reflected on my trip and looked at some of my pictures now and then, and it's awesome," he said. "Those are some good memories, and it's definitely an area of the world I'd love to get back to some day. But now, it's all business since I got back. I've put in a lot of days to get ready. It's time for baseball now."