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TA Day 127, Invercargill to Bluff, 34 km

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.

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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.