TA Day 94, Hamilton Hut to Harper River Camping Area, 20 km

I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy, as I go walking along the same river.

— Zhuangzi

I’m up late for me, but it’s a short day to the campground and after that, the trail ends at an impassable river requiring a pre-arranged – and expensive – ride, or risking a hitch. The sun turns the clouds mauve, the top of the gravelly mountains, orange.

The puzzle needs to be finished and we play ‘word of the day’ before leaving at 9. My word is ‘the.’

The trail is along – and through – the Harper river, with multiple crossings and searching for some indication of the track on rocky, tussocky terraces between thorn bushes and brooding mountains. Floris, Marjolein and Jess – pronounced ‘Jiss’ – catch me and we navigate together flat, but surprisingly hard to walk on terrain. It’s not just grass, but bushes filled with ghostly webbed chrysali, and tiny, bright orange butterflies fluttering from flower to flower.

We get lost in a thorny nightmare, with sticky plants casually grabbing at our clothes, one drawing a spot of blood. Once we’re in, there’s no backtracking and we are finally ejected on a 4×4 track. A waterfall in three parts feeds the river. I see fish and tiny creatures in their watery home. Mountains ahead still have snow pack.

We stop on a grassy bank shockingly free of sandflies, but blazing hot in the sun, the wind offering only minimal relief. Food is shared – cashews, pretzels, chocolate – as we long for a proper salad.

Next it’s a complex and massive river delta, stream upon stream rushing to find the shortest and fastest route to the river. I step into the deliciously refreshing cold rush, then onto banks of wild rose, faded pink and abundant. The mountains look on as I search for my own route through the jumble of rock and thick growth, the orange poles showing up exactly when not needed, after the messy bits and once the trail is obvious.

An aggressive, new, do-not-mess-with-me electric fence enclosing absolutely nothing at the moment hems us into a narrow strip. It’s windy and getting hotter. I feel totally enervated wanting to lay myself completely in the stream.

I reach a quarry with a large garage and vehicles, a few houses are scattered about and I find the ‘campsite’ with faucet, long drop and large piece of grass in the blazing sun. The ground is so hard, it’s nearly impossible to set the alicoop. The others come to the rescue, piling rocks and holding her in place while I get organized.

It’s a mini shower at the faucet before a couple drives by in a camper, a kayak strapped on top for Lake Coleridge, impossibly turquoise and off the trail. I ask if they might have a beer to sell. They go one better and give us a bottle of cabernet to celebrate 2200 kilometers walked.

The picnic table has been tipped to create maximum shade and we wait for the sun to go down before we dare enter our hot, airless tents. Food is made and consumed. There are at least twenty TA hikers at this site. Loads of room, but it feels like far too many. Naomi did not look happy when I told her there’s a total fire ban in place. She has bragged that her monstrous posse loves making the monstrous bonfires.

The good news is I’m in the alicoop in the shade now, flies buzzing outside longingly, but unable to get at my flesh. I haven’t been in my cozy space since the Pelorus River over two weeks – and a lifetime – ago.

It’s a few minutes past 8 and I love hearing the voices of my friends from my supine position. I still feel pretty alone on this hike, but I know I can join in their energy if I want to go to town tomorrow and taste civilization. Except for the heat and the flies, I’d like to keep walking since I’m carrying so much food still left over from packing extra days for the hard sections these past weeks.

Again, I need to remind myself to put my trust in the trail and believe that things will make sense tomorrow as I get closer to the road and a possible ride around the ‘hazard zone’ of the river. For now, it’s sleep in my coziness and so much joy that the trail itself dictated an easier day just when I needed it.

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