Day 106, Stodys Hut to Hawea, 22 km

The cure for loneliness, is solitude.

—Marianne Moore

Waking up this morning felt like a new start on a new day. My muscles rested from the river sidling/up-and-down nightmare and I even sang “Que sera, sera” with my NOBO hut mate, Helen. How can I not feel better?

It’s so apt I’ll see Mount Aspiring today once I reach the ridge. I am aspiring to finish my first long thru-hike, but also to find my ‘pace’ and learn to hike my own hike – on this trail and for the rest of my life.

I forget to mention that the young Kiwi gal who joined us last night also had a bit of attitude towards the randomness of the trails. She thinks people just walk somewhere a whole lot and that becomes the way, with no thought as to it being the best way for hiker or the land.

We talked a lot about the numbers walking – they also ran into the massive group of nine, all American ‘ultralighters’ who actually got into trouble when the rain really dumped and the hut was full, two girls apparently shivered in a corner absolutely soaked and on the verge of hypothermia. Does DOC has plans in place to manage the overuse of resources, the crowded huts, the group size, I wonder. Some permitting system will need to be put in place, but who would enforce it? She says very few Kiwis even know the trail exists at the moment, wait until it gets popular.

I feel courage and strength from this group as I wave goodbye and head up to the top, glad I got a head start on the steepest, most eroded section last night. Here, it’s an old farm track and easy walking, though uphill and I’m breathing hard.

I have a weird talent for uphill. It’s hard, for sure, but I move well and can control my breathing. It’s exhilarating and one of the aspects I love most when backpacking. Sometimes bad thoughts push out, but other times, like now, I feel awake and alive, energized. I hope I recall this feeling when I take my last breath.

A pert and smug American approaches heading north with her slightly overweight boyfriend. She’s certain they’ll hit Tin hut tonight. I tell them it’s long and hard ahead and will slow them down to which she gives me a patronizing tight little smile. Well OK, then, but don’t say you weren’t warned when you’re cursing and crying in a few hours.

A young man carrying a Granite Gear bag like Olive Oyl passes all smiles, polite and lovely. From the Czech Republic, he’s my third Thomaš! After we pass, I take the spur to Breast Hill summit.

I set my pack against a rock and place my tiny thermarest seat in front creating a little armchair for the view. Lake Hawea a deep blue with farmland crowding its edge, where I’ll be later today. The rock here is sharp, layered and shifted up. From here is not the way down, one cliff upon another. Behind me is the deep valley cut by the Timaru, nearly – but to quite – impassable, a memory of sidling and killer up and down sending a shudder through my bones, very happy to have that behind me. The lower peaks have eroded gray summits above dun green grass leading to the treeline, right where I slept soundly in the alicoop. In front of me are the Southern Alps, blue at this distance with massive glacier catching the sunlight. Mount Aspiring a dollop of chocolate kiss, slightly askew and far too steep for much glacier.

It’s cold and windy, with calm spells drawing in the sandflies – yes, even at 1578 meters with no water or sand, for that matter, in sight.

I soak up the scene, send a selfie to Richard and check in with my friends in Wanaka to alert them a tired, dirty tramper will be on their doorstep tomorrow. They have graciously told me to come when I can, which tells me they understand my predicament of not always knowing when I can go fast and when slow due to weather and conditions.

The sky is gray, but the range clear. I can’t stay long, so I take photos and commit to memory this moment. I am so lucky to have the view at all and especially to myself.

I sidle those brittle slanted rock outcroppings, little windows to the view opening and closing. A beautiful British hiker approaches, enjoying the view as much as I am. She says she’s in no hurry, loves the ‘pastely’ colors and quite enjoyed the hefty climb to this spot. I fall a little in love with this girl, wanting her good nature to rub off on me.

And isn’t that how we become who we are, by imitating and borrowing traits we admire, manners of speech, ways of interacting, an easy smile, a kind word. I will never see her again but something stays with me.

The trail hits a cutoff for a hut but I turn out towards the lake and begin a slow, rollercoaster like descent, up and over every knob – like the Tararuas without the mud – on a narrow ridge, slowly working my way down.

It’s dusty and a carpet of with rocks and sometimes not loose rocks that need to be climbed with hands. It’s 900 meters down, though I often go back up to eventually go down, and very slow careful stepping.

The sun is intense, the wind dying as I leave the tops, but so exciting to be in this aerie environment, truly like a rollercoaster as I approach the next drop and only see an edge to nothingness.

Finally I come to a set of maybe 30 zigzags taking me down a hot bowl before a road, then a track along the Hawea lake. But not before a snack in the shade. Two more northbounders ask about water before I walk this lovely path from the bach-filled Gladstone to the even more bach-filled Hawea, some funky and tiny but all filled with massive windows facing the mountains like so many bugs’ eyes.

Informative explain how the town is working hard to replant native beech and kanuka to attract native birds and skinks. I forget to mention a resident skink – nearly translucent in my headlamp – padded over the intentions book at Tin Hut. I never saw any mice and I was pretty sure this fella wasn’t going to try and nibble my food.

Eventually I arrive at the hotel offering camping and a good deal on food and only barely adequate wifi. The wind picks up and knocks over the alicoop as a few raindrops fall. Coming towards me from a little camper is Russell! I’m less effusive this time and he tells me I’m burned and to be more careful, then seems to apologize for the luxury of sleeping in a camper and how slow he’s going before walking away. It makes me sad we can’t talk about the trail and share our experience. I wish he wasn’t troubled by his progress, but it explains some of his past comments.

I see no other hikers and I’m happy to be here, thinking if things get too wild weather-wise, I’ll decamp to the lounge.

It’s early, but I’m bushed and ready to cuddle in the alicoop hoping my weight keeps it in place while I dream about this last section and how many beautiful things I saw – as well as think about tomorrow’s long, but easy walk to Wanaka before I hit the track built by country star Shania Twain – kinda cool, huh?!

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