The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, and dignity.
On day 99 of my thru-hike of the Te Araroa, I completely lost it.
It was a combination of utter exhaustion walking a non-existent trail – the rocks hurt my feet and the grass is taller than my head! – being overheated and hungry, and having spent the night in a hut with a couple of unfriendly Kiwi trampers.
I turned on video to capture this very real moment of just how difficult thru-hiking can be on all parts of our person – body, mind and spirit.
It cracks me up looking back from the comfort of my air conditioned studio that I laugh at myself, even when crying so hard the snot is leaking out of my nose…
Fungus was certainly among us when Richard and I walked the Kepler Track in New Zealand’s South Island. Seeing these pictures again brings back for me all those long walks through the bush – especially its rich pungency.
Follower Thomas taught me a new word – “petrichor” – which refers to the pleasant odor that fills our nostrils after the first rain following a dry stretch, a heavenly scent indeed. If only I could offer up a scratch-and-sniff…
I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself.
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.
As much as I love the alicoop, it is so nice to sleep in a bed – though my dreams were filled with memories of mud and tussock fueled by a wee hangover. Tea and eggs get me out the door as Ian takes me back to where I left off, but not without grabbing a bright orange, high-vis vest from work for me to wear in the final stage of road walking.
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.
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.
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.
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.