When Peter Jackson brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to film, it was not just the storyline that mesmerized me but also the geography. The landscapes were gorgeous, topologically a far cry from the Illinois flatlands I was familiar with. Despite the admiration, it wasn’t until four years after The Return of the King released that I realized how much mountain air mattered to me, and only a chance trip with friends fourteen years afterwards did I get to visit New Zealand, home of Middle Earth. I arrived in NZ on a Sunday after two twelve hour flights with a wearying border control in between, a seven hour layover, and a ten hour time zone adjustment. After a day of flying and during which I literally left winter for summer, Auckland welcomed me with bright and sunny skies and a quick check of my hiking boots to make sure I wasn’t bringing in foreign soil.