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TA Day 45, Whakapapa River to Te Porere Redoubt – 35 km

Tongariro National Park looms ahead and Blissful hopes for good weather.
Tongariro National Park looms ahead and Blissful hopes for good weather.

Gray and ominous this morning; foggy, but no rain. Obviously I’d like ideal weather for the crossing – and my birthday this Friday – but there is something cool walking overland to the national park and having it reveal itself.

Walking is such a metaphor for life. Unless it’s a race, you can’t really rush it. You set your pace and then walk every step to where you’re going. It goes as it goes. David is gone when I’m up and then I’m next. I am not particularly fast, but steady. And this is uphill for the first several hours.

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TA Day 44, Taumaruni to Whakapapa River – 25 km

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.

– Søren Kierkegaard

A crush is a livestock handling system, but has a different meaning with these modifiers.
A crush is a livestock handling system, but has a different meaning with these modifiers.

The day starts in a familiar way – rain. Extra loud on the container that I share with Bojan, Marko, Alexis and David. It’s always good sleeping on a ‘bed’ – actually a kiddie mattresses – and bonding over all our stuff spread about.

I forgot to mention that I at least attempted a surreptitious rinse in the river yesterday afternoon. Later, when one of the sons picked me up from a second attempt at resupply, he comments, “So you’re the nudist, eh!” If seeing a glimpse of a middle aged lady is your big thrill, I say, “Good on you!”

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TA Day 43, Ongarue to Taumarunui – 27 km

Lawn art along the road walk to Taumarunui.
Lawn art along the road walk to Taumarunui.

Up early just as the sun is coming up, it’s my favorite time of day. I’m conflicted about this group of hikers, but so confused about the coming days, I’m glad I found them. The weather is going to be awful and I’ll need to do sections out of order. Likely we’ll all canoe for seven days on the Whanganui together.

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TA Day 42, Timber Trail to Ongarue campsite – 26 km

Tiny waterfalls drip refreshingly down from the cliffs onto the trails.
Tiny waterfalls drip refreshingly down from the cliffs onto the trails.

Good decision to sleep in the tent, so cozy and much less dew this morning. Tuis call each other over the fog-filled gorge.

This particular portion of the trail emphasizes how strange it is to wake up, pack all your belongings, throw them on your back and walk. It’s simple and focused, and I am a bit fanatical about each item packed in the same place, so I don’t leave anything behind. I need every single item I brought with me.

The mist is down looking out over the vast expanse of bush from the Timber Trail.
The mist is down looking out over the vast expanse of bush from the Timber Trail.
Original tramways were carved directly into the cliffs and are slowly eroding with each rain.
Original tramways were carved directly into the cliffs and are slowly eroding with each rain.

It’s cool this morning, no one on the trail yet. Perhaps it’s because my weight is less as I eat through my food, but the feeling of why I love walking is returning – the wonder that my legs can carry me to new sights and sounds and it’s slow enough I can really take in each one – the sound of the stream crescendoing as I approach, the ferns daintily reaching out from the steep sided cut railway bed I walk on, the rock dangerously teetering in a spot we’re warned not to stop.

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TA Day 41, Harrison’s Creek to No. 10 Camp – 33 km

The Timber Trail is built on old logging and hauling lines, so is easy to walk.
The Timber Trail is built on old logging and hauling lines, so is easy to walk.

All my gear is neatly laid out as I wait for the sun to peak out over the trees. He’s almost there. The tent is wet and it’s cold, so I hope to dry it before packing. I usually just get up and pack it wet, but the day is pretty straightforward and I don’t need to set off early.

The remnants of a shelter built in a stump. If it kept them dry, it was a success.
The remnants of a shelter built in a stump. If it kept them dry, it was a success.
Every day on the Timber Trail was sunny and cool, even the shadows of tree ferns captivated the senses.
Every day on the Timber Trail was sunny and cool, even the shadows of tree ferns captivated the senses.
Chloe taking a nap in the bush, the birds as company.
Chloe taking a nap in the bush, the birds as company.

Chloe told me last night she does not like Americans, mainly because of our politics and attitudes. I know she was upset we cooked venison, but deer – and all mammals besides two kinds of bats – were foolishly introduced to New Zealand, a paradise where they have no natural predators and are a menace to the birds and the bush.

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TA Day 40, Ngaherenga campsite to Harrisons Creek – 27 km

From the trig on Mount Pureora looking towards the snowy summit of Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano I will pass in two weeks.
From the trig on Mount Pureora looking towards the snowy summit of Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano I will pass in two weeks.

I wake up to an absolute cacophony of bird song, the wildest yet. We’re at about 500 meters and it is cold and damp, but – fingers crossed – clear.

I am a tiny bit cranky as I enter the timber trail, the finest podocarp forest in New Zealand. Folks showed up at 10:30 lights blaring on my tent. I yelled at them to knock it off, mainly so they knew it wasn’t party time. Then I wonder if I should have said anything, and rather just let it go.

Chloe says the lights were in her eyes, but I woke her up. I guess too it’s hard for me because I am walking all of this trail and I feel criticized by the others who skip large sections insinuating I’m trying to prove something. I simply want to walk it all and I’d prefer to feel celebrated or at least understood. I don’t think I could get to Bluff and say I walked the Te Araroa when I actually didn’t. All this hardship of rain, crappy trails, and this morning’s cold is part of that experience.

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TA Day 39, Mangaokewa Road to Ngaherenga campsite – 33 km

A cold snap was supposed to quell the rain, but King Country is the wettest part of New Zealand.
A cold snap was supposed to quell the rain, but King Country is the wettest part of New Zealand.

More and even more rain, but finally the sun is up and the sky is pink. I am starting to doubt my capacity to complete this trail if the rain and mud continue. The misery of wet feet is seeping into my soul. Thank the goddess for a respite with these trail angels, Allan and Marianne.

What’s happened to stop the rain is a cold snap, but it’s supposed to move on in the coming days. It will be a long, possibly boring day on road, but at least easy walking and no mud!

Black clouds chase me, a half rainbow in the middle as I go up a steep grade. Nope, the rain is not really stopped as it just starts pouring again, but all I can do is just keep plodding along in it.

It's a long boring walk on a country road, but the landscape is fascinating.
It’s a long boring walk on a country road, but the landscape is fascinating.
Cows everywhere amongst odd cone-shaped hills.
When the clouds finally lift, so do my spirits.
When the clouds finally lift, so do my spirits.

And then, just like that it clears. The air is cool and delicious up this high. Maybe the storms will moderate. In Te Kuiti a guy offered me a ride past all this. Marianne told me she saw me on the road and is usually the one to pick up hikers but thought this time, “Walk on!” She was surprised when Alan had me in his car heading up the hill to their home. There’s something in walking it all. You sometimes feel like hell, but then again, there’s a sense of accomplishment and invariably, things will change. It can’t rain forever, can it?

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TA Day 38, Mangaokewa Reserve to Mangaokewa Road – 17 km

Lambs greet me in the front yard of my trail angel hosts.
Lambs greet me in the front yard of my trail angel hosts.

What an extraordinary place to wake up to. I have a virgin forest, thick and impenetrable, across the river. Soothing rapids run all night. Birds are everywhere and the sun is finally beginning to show itself down the canyon.

I love that I pushed myself and came here, even if my clothes are damp from yesterday’s sweat and some things are getting a bit of a funk from the lack of sun. There’s time for drying later today, and I’m loving this cool campsite all to myself.

I adore being alone. Am I an introvert? A little. It feels a natural fit talking on the radio and to audiences. I enjoy time with friends and family, but there’s nothing like sitting here dirty and damp, but feeling mostly ok and enjoying this magical place on my own terms – and my own schedule. It’s the quirkiness of the chairs, tables, poop-shovel and even a fully inflated inner tube contrasted with the natural wonder of the NZ bush.

A very kind farmer leaves a sign when the crossing and the surrounding river bank is impassible.
A very kind farmer leaves a sign when the crossing and the surrounding river bank is impassible.
The beautiful bright green hills of King Country with cabbage tree and the Mangaokewa River.
The beautiful bright green hills of King Country with cabbage tree and the Mangaokewa River.
An old fashioned bit of hardware that still holds the gate in place. We were asked to ensure we closed all gates when passing through private land.
An old fashioned bit of hardware that still holds the gate in place. We were asked to ensure we closed all gates when passing through private land.
Chairs awaiting campers at a bend in the river.
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TA Day 37, Waitomo to Mangaokewa Reserve – 31 km

Crossing a narrow swing bridge, barely big enough for one and her over-stuffed backpack.
Crossing a narrow swing bridge, barely big enough for one and her over-stuffed backpack.

It rains at night, a constant, loud volley of water bullets on the alicoop. I’m dry and snug as the morning begins, bird song and fog. I feel nervous of the weather. Will I get downpours today? Will I be warm enough? There are many hikers behind me, so I feel safe.

It is important to have options, a bailout. I hope to go further, but if rain inundates, I can stay in the next town about 10 miles away. For now, there’s just wind and no rain.

I enter very wet muddy farmland with hard to follow track leading into a field with an ‘intimidating bull.’ I hear some loud mooing and grunting and hope he’s distracted.

No bull, but Dutch Tom shows up and we use two heads to navigate this mess. I step ankle deep in mud.