Epilogue

To: Mark Weatherall, Chief Executive of the Te Araroa Association

The only dedicated road sign on the entire length of the TA near the Rakaia River.

Kia ora, Mark.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me by phone on that cold, blustery and rainy day last March as I holed up in Otautau after an upsetting encounter with an aggressive male tramper. Your calming voice and sensible advice helped me complete the trail in Bluff full of joy and big smiles – a trail I set out to walk four months earlier from Cape Reinga. I am forever grateful that you pointed me in the right direction and sent me on my way feeling strong again.

When we talked, you asked that I share with you a few ideas about how the trail might be improved. I have had the opportunity to talk with trail friends as well as Kiwi trampers to come up with a few ideas that would not cost a lot of money or manpower, but might offer an opportunity for the trail to succeed in even more potent ways.

Epilogue

TA Stewart Island

I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself.

—Emma Stone

The main goal of this five-month leave from work and life has been ticked off the list and there are a few days left before Richard arrives, so I fill the time by leaping over to New Zealand’s third island.

I’m tired – supremely grateful not to be injured or otherwise damaged – but tired to the bone physically and emotionally. While hiding out in Otautau to get behind a couple of trail jerks – I should mention we call those helpful to walkers ‘trail angels’ and this is my polite name for the opposite – I do something positive and forward thinking and schedule huts on Stewart Island’s great walk beginning the day I plan to finish the TA. It’s a short and easy hike and my feeling at the time is this is just about the extent of what I can handle. But I am supremely on the fence about it all. I’m the most fit of my life and now have full-on New Zealand tramper cred. A great walk means crowds – less fit crowds.

But I don’t have enough time for the nine days of the Northwest Circuit and besides, people warn me of ‘heaps of sandflies’ and epic mud. Frankly, my stomach turns at the thought of another week of noodles and tuna to power more bush bashing. But still I’m unsettled heading across Foveaux Strait, a gnawing feeling accompanying growing sea sickness that at the end of my hike, I’m wimping out.

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TA Day 126, Riverton to Invercargill, 33 km

Again stars were working overtime, but in the grassy dip set aside for Te Araroa tents, dew built up on the alicoop and I felt a chill overnight. Packing up is always interesting with a sopping wet tent so I retreat to the game room/kitchen for tea until the sun makes an appearance.

The Swedish boys smoke and relive the most recent muddiness while we organize at the picnic table. I realize they have no idea what real mud is having not walked the North Island. Friends, I survived New Zealand mud and blissfully happy it’s in my past now. Or is it? On the heels of the finish in Bluff tomorrow, I’ll head to Stewart Island after one of the wettest summers in some time. Maybe I haven’t had my fill.

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TA Day 125, Colac Bay to Riverton, 24 km

Stars are shining when I poke my head out of the alicoop, though clouds crowd in as I stroll to the beach to wake up. Initially I intended to wait until the tide was going out, but once I got on the beach, I change my mind, risking getting pushed onto soft sand but figuring morning light makes hard walking worth it.

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TA Day 124, Martin’s Hut to Colac Bay, 24 km

Ian and Wendy are up first, speaking in whispers, their lights aiming down. My head is mere inches from the roof pitch – and Antonie’s head. Last night, I clipped bags to a beam so they wouldn’t clatter to the floor when I turn on my side.

Antoine and I eventually jump down. He cooks on the little table, me on the floor. Gabriela stirs and we talk about the places on the west coast I need to add to Richard’s and my itinerary.

It’s a late start for me, nothing is dry and the air is chill, but everyone reports the next section is muddy for only the first half hour to a 4×4 track. I know it will be a long day, but confident I’ll fly through this final day of the trail in forest – and mud.

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TA Day 123, Merivale Road to Martin’s Hut, 29 km

I can see stars when I wake up, but fall is settling in and it’s pitch dark now. I organize and pack, turning the little space heater on full and sending Richard a packing list while eating some Puhoi yogurt. It’s time to go once the sky lightens and I say goodbye to this sweet, funny little hotel that kept me safe in its embrace for these past days.

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TA Day 122, ‘zero day’ Otautau

I only have a few things to share from this very lazy day of reading, writing, editing, eating and giggling at the Railway Hotel, my odd – but ideal – respite.

Jenel posts this ad on social and it resonates because I am called ‘crazy’ today by the cute checkout girl at the Four Square with blue and purple hair when I tell her how far I’ve walked. She means it as a compliment already offering congratulations with still five days to go. Friends, I’ve got this.

I don’t wear headphones while hiking. It’s not my style to distract from what I’m doing as if just trying to get through the k’s. Besides, I love all the sounds I’ve heard on this long walk – birds I’d never heard before but are now friends, the wind and the water, my shoes getting sucked into the mud, cows and sheep.

Music, though, is with me always. I sometimes sing or whistle, though more often, I hear my favorite pieces in my head. This piece has walked with me over the last few days and is a bit of a theme song.

The rain pours. Missile-like hail the size of marbles clatters on the tin roof of a shed outside my window. It thunders, one of those long, drawn out Waikato type booms, all in clouds.

The best part of today is how much I laughed. Facebook, Stephen Colbert, emails from friends have all got me giggling. Keep sending the good stuff!

A German tramper named Julia arrives and tells me after working in a very misogynist country – Switzerland – she can shrug off weak, bullying men. I like her. We’ll cross paths tomorrow in the final muddy bush, and then it’s the coast all the way to Bluff.

It’s supposed to be sunny and will be a big day tomorrow, so off to sleep.

<bang sticks for luck>

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TA Day 121, ‘zero day’ Otautau

I tossed and turned last night, waking momentarily to see a waning gibbous moon perched on a cloud.

My day is one of fresh vegetables and talking through the last few days’ unfortunate events with a police officer and the chief executive of the Te Araroa Association to gain clarity and consider my options going forward.

But it’s also a chance for me to get centered and grounded and regain ownership of what I’m doing – and choose how I want to end this odyssey. Will I allow bullying and intimidation to defeat me or will joy and gratitude permeate my spirit?

Only I get to decide.

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TA Day 120, Birchwood to Merrivale Hut, 28 km

I wake with the others in the bunk room, a bit groggy and hung over from the drama of the previous evening. Life goes on for this group of hikers and supporters even though they leave me feeling depleted. The weather is supposed to clear today, so I decide to get up, pack up and walk to take advantage of sunny skies while I can.

Helen asks if I’m ready for today and I tell her I too have a caravan full of food and comfort and a support team following me every step the length of New Zealand. Though you – my team – is ‘virtual.’ I feel your spirit and am buoyed by your collective cheering me on. Helen looks a bit dumb struck and so I thank her for her kindness and walk out the door into a morning filled with a pink sky and promise.

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TA Day 119, Lower Wairaki Hut to Birchwood, 36 km

Rain fell all night. I am so happy that I stayed in a hut, tucked into my bunk with my quilt keeping me cozy. Russell is up early getting his rain gear assembled, the sky still dark. Pete ambles out of bed and we all shuffle about preparing for a big day ahead to take on the final ridge of the trail, said to have spectacular views, though they’ll all be in mist today.

I nervously make tea and organize gear, my humming annoying the men. I don’t like wet and cold. I have reasonably decent gear, but my feet will be wet all day and I tend to get chilled. I also don’t know exactly what’s ahead and if I can handle it. I feel safer with the men.

Russell has taught me that this rain is not really considered rain in the New Zealand sense of the word, just ‘showery squalls.’ But it’s cold and everything is damp. He says the trail is not through with me yet. It’s going to smack me around a bit before it says, “You’ve earned it, well done, now go home and hug your family.” My family won’t get here for another few weeks and I need lots of hugs right now. I have about five more days after today and I’ve had about enough of getting smacked around.

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TA Day 118 Lower Princhester Hut to Lower Wairaki Hut, 31 km

I’m awakened by birds peeping in that silver flute tone of theirs, the sky barely light. I am more of a morning person than Tony, though he races outside for wood and builds up another roaring fire.

I really enjoyed sharing the space with him – good conversation and laughter. I take a picture before I go with his ‘sombrero helmet’ made especially for the unforgiving New Zealand sun and I’m on my way.

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TA Day 117, Mavora Lake to Lower Princhester Hut, 22 km

A clear, windy night gave way to a rainy, windy night. Even with piles of rocks, one stake slips out and the alicoop caves in until I emerge into the blustery night in my undies and reattach her.

I am warm and cozy inside, but at around 5 the rain let up and I saw a chance to make my escape. First I let the air out of the mattress, then hustle into my clothes before stuffing the sleeping bag. This morning, I put on all the rain gear so when I pack the tent, I won’t get soaked.

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TA Day 116, Taipo Hut to Mavora Lake, 27 km

The stars were electric last night, even as the super moon made a grand entrance, lighting up one stray cloud in the crook of high peaks. First, just a silver tint, then as though someone turned on an inner light before the mountains gave birth to a bright candle-glow-yellow orb, slowly taking over the sky.

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TA Day 115, McKellar Hut to Taipo Hut, 28 km

It’s a night shared with smokers, door slammers and snorers, but it turns out to be pretty fun in a new, large hut – replete with flush toilets – filled at capacity with trampers, though not a single TA hiker but me. Good conversation and energy.

The sky is clear and even as it gets light, one star still winks at me. I have tea with an Aussie wreck diver then head out for a long, mostly flat, walk on roots, rocks and lots of water – lots and lots. The Greenstone river is roiling, but so are all the creeks feeding it while crossing the trail. In fact, the trail itself is now a creek and frankly, any low spot is pooling. Loads of boots were drying by the fire last night which now seems utterly pointless. This is an environment where your feet will be wet most of the time. It’s best to wear quick-drying shoes – like trail runners – and just plunge right through, which is what I do all day.

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TA Day 114, ‘detour’ Routeburn River to McKellar Hut, 38 km

It rained all night. I am dry and warm in the alicoop, but I don’t think I can hike an alpine trail of 32 kilometers in pouring rain. For the first time on this odyssey, I’m stuck.

I try to be practical and think through every possibility as I remain snug and fat raindrops hit the tarp with a splat. I could wait in my tent until it stops or pack up and try to hitch back to Glenorchy, then return when it stops and continue. But when will it stop, I wonder. I just don’t think I’ve got what it takes to hike it.

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TA Day 112, Roses Hut to Arrowtown, 24 km

The stars did not disappoint. I checked often through the night, the nearly full moon lighting up this wild landscape. Only after it set, did twinkling commence.

I’m a bit in between now – longing for my own bed and big bathtub, but I don’t want this hike to end. And that’s definitely true for this beautiful section shared with such lovely people. It is so nice to be with considerate and kind people. We don’t walk with each other and we’re here for our own reasons, but there is a gentle caring and looking out for each other that is so refreshing.

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TA Day 111, Fern Burn Hut to Roses Hut, 17 km

Walking is the natural recreation for a (wo)man who desires not absolutely to suppress (her) intellect but to turn it out to play for a season. All great (wo)men of letters have therefore been enthusiastic walkers.

—Leslie Stephen

I’m awakened by one of the Czech’s alarms. He has to scramble down from the top bunk to turn it off as it’s his phone and on the table. I’m surprised by the tune’s sweet nature.

Clearly an accident as he crawls back in his sleeping bag and, even though getting light, everyone else just rolls over for a bit more rest.

I eventually emerge and pack to go, the very sparse clouds turning pink. The morning is chilly and I’m ready for three big climbs – and descents.

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TA Day 109, ‘zero day’ Wanaka

Pink sky in the morning, hiker take warning. Good thing I planned a rest day as the clouds move in, shut out the mountains and it begins to rain.

I am happy to have the day for only a few tasks like sending on my bounce box to Invercargill, resupplying for the next section, changing out the shoe laces and taking in calories.

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TA Day 108, side trip! Rob Roy Glacier, Mt. Aspiring National Park

Pink light glows on the mountains and glaciers. A perfect sky for a day trip. Harry and I have been assigned to the lunch making squad – cheese, hummus and avocado sandwiches, chocolate and nuts and a few exploded hard boiled eggs.

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TA Day 107, Hawea to Wanaka, 25 km

It rained nearly all night on the alicoop in this odd carved out campground above the hotel. Self-contained vehicles hemmed me in, but most everyone tucked in early enough.

I read an interesting article about regret before I closed my eyes. The author used a phrase,

‘counterfactual thinking’ to describe the ‘what if’ stories we tell ourselves. We simply can’t know the ending had we made a different choice, so regret can become a wheel-spinning exercise if we don’t tell ourselves we can always take a different perspective on an event, one being that all experiences have some positive value.

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TA 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?

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TA Day 105, Tin Hut to Stodys Hut, 27 km

A perfect sleep in a perfect, tiny historic musterer’s hut opens with pink clouds and orange light on the grassy hills. The wind is up, moving those clouds fast over the saddle I’ll climb soon, but first, the loo with a view – for real, as the door is unhinged and laying on the ground.

I notice I lost the bracelet Joan gave me before I left for New Zealand. I feel sad and can’t figure out how it came off. It’s a 4-oceans beaded bracelet and was not only a charm for my hike, but a connection to my closest friend. It’s so hard to keep everything together on this long hike.

Canterbury

TA Day 104, Freehold Creek to Tin Hut, 30 km

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.

—Patricia Hampl

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 103, Twizel to Freehold Creek, (29 km) + 6 km

At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough.

—Toni Morrison

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 102, Tekapo to Twizel, (54 km)

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?

Canterbury

TA Day 101, After Washdyke Stream on Richmond Track to Tekapo, 26 km

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 100, Royal Hut to after Washdyke Stream, 26 km

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 99, Crooked Spur Hut to Royal Hut, 16 km

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 98, Potts River Bridge Car Park to Crooked Spur Hut, 17 km + 14 km

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 97, Manuka Hut to Potts River Bridge Car Park, 33 km

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 96, A-frame Hut to Manuka Hut, 28 km

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.

Canterbury

TA Day 95, Harper River Camping Area to A-Frame Hut, 32 km

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.

Canterbury

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.’

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