Being alone is, we know, the best chance you have to be yourself, which is in turn the seed of integrity and of any possible originality.
My little lair in the beech forest was so dark overnight, bright stars shone through the tops of the thick canopy. It was slow start, but eventually things begin to glow as I pack up for my day’s walk.
The trees gives way to tussock right away, but the trail is well defined – completely different to what I’m used to on the TA. The morning is absolutely silent but for wind through the grass and numerous babbling creeks feeding the east branch of the Ahuriri River, the main section of which I’ll cross today, causing me to feel a bit jittery as I’m now walking alone.
At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough.
The stars were spectacular overnight and I slept deeply in my little single bed in the Hobbit House. It’s a lazy morning on Denise’s porch – typical Kiwi with an enormous outdoor living space under a corrugated plastic roof. I lose myself in an armchair as Kačka and Kuba call home.
What a surprise this moment is. I purposely stop here to experience extended hospitality and it’s so natural and relaxed, Denise and her daughters off to school and telling us to just close the door before we leave. Scooby puts his dark chocolate nose under my free hand, nuzzling out a scratch behind the ears.
I slept poorly last night with all the rustling about, phones going off and generally being stressed out knowing I need to slow down and enjoy, but somehow unable to just yet.
So many friends responded with incredible words of kindness and encouragement when I posted my breakdown video on social media. It is the real, unvarnished me simply wiping out – almost like a child who missed nap time. I was tired, hot, hungry, dirty, sore and fed up with the poor state of this trail.
But the truth is, this is the first time I’ve done something this big. I’ve walked trails of hundreds of miles, but this is thousands – and my life as a radio host seems so far away now as I completely immerse myself in this life choice right now of ‘full time pedestrian.’
How can I possibly know how to act or pace or be in this situation until I am fully in it?
Ah, the stars last night! Twinkling diamonds on black velvet, the milky way a gentle twist. The morning opens with low mist in my hollow and a few chirpers. I eat the last of my noodles for breakfast.
Contrary to Alan from Dunedin’s prediction, the day opens crystal clear, ready for our eyes to take in some of the Te Araroa’s best views. Two late arrivals, one claiming a top bunk – thankfully, quietly – and the other setting a tent – pounding in what seemed to be ten or fifteen stakes, but all settled down soon enough as we all hope to get an early start.
The morning begins with the Kiwi couple talking, rustling in their plastic food bags and letting the door bang shut – over and over. Is it just an oversight, as the sun is not yet up and the four of us TA hikers are still sound asleep.
Alan and Carol from Dunedin – the gal even coming to Saint Paul to run the Twin Cities Marathon – it seems, resent us.
The wind dies down and the possums come out, climbing the tree above my head and chattering to each other. Neil told me it was a furrier in the 1930s who randomly freed captives, causing an intractable nightmare on New Zealand’s birds. I pull everything inside the alicoop.
It’s cool and the stars are bright. The sun pinkens the mountains on a clear morning. Fog gathers on the river we’ll soon cross. Tom is up early wanting to hitch down the road to a small mountain used in The Lord of the Rings. I eat quick and pack up as we head down an absolutely dead quiet road.
It’s cozy on my bunk as the sky begins to lighten. I’m up first heading to the longdrop on a cold, crisp, clear, and still morning. I worry that Tom will have too much pain in his swollen ankle – not an injury, rather overuse – and he’ll need time to rest, or worse, won’t rest and then have real problems.
I leave a note that says I’ll meet him at the road and to take his time, I certainly will and then I’m out before the sun peaks out. It’s easy tramping at first and gives me the kind of breathing and not having to look at each step to allow me to mull over my life.
I tend to use these moments to argue with someone who’s not here, to come up with just the right rejoinder and close all arguments in my favor. For the past several days, I’ve had almost precisely an identical conversation, anticipating bad news when I return. I stop myself mainly sick of going around and around in circles, but it also occurs to me that I don’t need to choose bad news – especially before it happens. I don’t have to be the victim in the story I tell. I can instead be the champion.
The wild wind blew open the door of the hut, even after we placed a rock to hold it shut. I love the rattling sound, the gusts sending shivers through the tiny structure.
Tom manages to sleep through anything, though I think he closed the windows sometime in the middle of the night. I went outside, but the sky was cloudy so no stars. Our little perch feels like something out of Lord of the Rings. The landscape is enchanted, the sky pink above the mountains. Even the loo has a view.
Such a lovely night with brilliant stars and later a crescent moon on her side. People arrive late and release their dogs next to the no dogs allowed sign. At least they moved further down the way and got quiet fast.
People make me feel safer, but too many make me feel crowded. I have released myself to whatever happens today, but I am the first to leave the camp site.
I know the joy of fishes in the river through my own joy, as I go walking along the same river.
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.’
Alessio and I close up the bach, pack up and head to the road by 7 to hitch rides – me back to where I left off two days ago as Arthur’s Pass is not on the trail, and Alex to Christchurch.
What fun sharing the space. He has a great mix of music we played through the evening while I read and he made his hitchhiking sign, accidentally leaving off the ‘H’ so he cut an extra piece of cardboard for one letter. I suggest he’ll get picked up by someone who enjoys a good sense of humor.
I slept in late on this well deserved break day staying at a friend of a friend’s bach – pronounced batch – or cabin in Arthur’s Pass. Alessio made scrambled eggs, baked beans, toast and hot chocolate which got spiked with a bit of Tom’s slivovice, a Czech home made plum brandy.
The rain slashed against the windows all night. Was it wind making it sound heavier than it is or will the rivers we have to cross this morning respond by becoming impassable?
No way to know until we leave. I slept poorly because my feet were on fire with sandfly bites. Maggie gave me an antihistamine before I left Nelson, so I popped one in the middle of the night and the itch finally calmed down, but I’ll need to get some medicine – if we make it to Arthur’s Pass today.
The hut is cold and damp. No stove here for warming and drying. The Kiwi and Austrians were up and out early and now I feel nervous about getting out. At least I have plenty of food left in case we’re trapped.
I must say that I am incredibly lucky on this trail – blessed, gifted, charmed – whatever word you want to use, I feel some power providing for my needs as I navigate the rough and varied terrain that pushes me to my physical limit as well as manage the psychological challenges of taking on something this huge. Tomaš and Alessio entered this drama right on cue and were true to their word, sticking close by when things got tricky.
My alarm goes off at 5:30 playing Billy McGlaughlin’s Finger Dance on full volume, but it’s still dark. I can hear the river churning, like my stomach with stress. It’s a long day ahead and once I enter the Deception River, I have to see it through.
Though I have an out because in 13 km of rocky terrace, we’ll reach a bridge to the highway. The Austrians headed there last night for an advantage on the river bed – which follows and is 14 km of hard walking – but I slept very well in the hut, so maybe it was worth stopping here.
The moonlight filled the tiny windows of the hut as I slept. The first morning I’m not flying out of bed, but we have a shorter – yet harder – day ahead.
Things don’t start well for me. I am afraid of the river crossings ahead and Alex and Tom are a bit unclear about whether they’ll wait for me at the hard parts. The Austrian couple leaves together and Žaneta is with Sergio. I begin to feel old and unwanted, not enough of a babe for anyone to look after.
The morning begins cloudy, chilly, but no rain. I am up first, packed and ready to leave this over-stuffed hut. We plan another long day to make some space from these characters that arrived and took over late yesterday evening in the pouring rain. Sure, it’s all ‘part of fabric’ of a thru-hike, but gee whiz, they were loud! Nine – or was it ten? – drenched backpackers storming the shelter just as we were quieting down to sleep.
It rains all night and I wake up so glad I walked both passes in reasonably good weather and that I went all out to get this far with only a four-hour walk out today. Hopefully I can cross the swollen rivers.