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.
The piece resonates with me as this entire long walk has dredged up so much of the past – even recent past as I ruminate over events earlier in the walk – and I want to come out of it with some semblance of peace.
The author suggests we manage the negative manner in which we talk to ourselves by imagining our greatest mentor and how they would speak to us. I smile thinking of this last section and how I spent a good deal of time, especially on the hard river walk, encouraging and congratulating myself in turn, “Take it slow, you’ve got this, nice work,” as well as reminding my struggling little self to look around and soak it in.
Today I have a fairly flat walk along the Hawea and Clutha rivers to Lake Wanaka. Easy, but still a good number of kilometers. Just as I get ready to leave, Russell marches over with his bright orange pack cover and says he’ll see me on the trail. I leave soon after, low clouds hanging in the mountains and a few raindrops hitting my sleeves, not enough yet for my raincoat.
The river is sparkling turquoise and fast moving, scary actually, swollen and tumbling. I come to a truly wild wave in a perpetual state of turbulence and realize this is by design. A sign tells surfers not to wear leashes – for their own safety – in this whitewater park built for kinetic moves on a stationary wave platform like spins and cartwheels. No one’s out now, but it’s exciting to see the power – the kind I’d come to expect on river crossings though this is far too deep and far too swift.
Russell is talking to an attractive woman ahead and I walk by. The trail is filled with rabbits zinging past at sharp angles, their holes everywhere. It’s a sweet deal to be a Kiwi rabbit with absolutely no predators.
I feel sad Russell doesn’t talk to me like he does to that woman. I can’t imagine what I’ve done to make him dislike me. People call me brave walking the length of New Zealand, but I feel brave not fitting in at all and still hiking.
Russell quickly passes me and I realize I’m triangulating – telling you how I feel rather than him, the one I have the issue with.
I have to hustle to catch up and use my sticks to push faster til I catch him. I ask if I might talk, telling him I’m confused because our day on Waiau Pass was one of the best of the hike, but it seems he doesn’t like me.
He tells me it was me that was cold last night, and I say because of what he said in Tekapo. Russell says he has no memory of that. He likes my company and Waiau was his favorite day of the trail too. Teasing is just his style.
But he apologizes and then I cry. I tell him it’s hard to be middle aged on this hike and he agrees some of the younger ones are all about themselves, not even buying a hut pass while using the resource. He says he wishes he’d asked what was wrong, but also that at the end of the day, this journey is our own and I ought to take ownership. I feel better immediately – and feel that kinship again with someone doing this thing for all the right reasons. “It’ll be over before you know it, and then what?” he asks, as a challenge.
We cross a swing bridge in silence, camp and rodeo grounds and walk to Albert Town where I have a snack and he heads on, turning to thank me for speaking up and promising he’ll ponder things.
I feel slightly ashamed like I might have let it go. He tells me I read too much into things, but I counter that is deflecting responsibility when someone is hurt. I don’t hold a grudge for a misunderstanding but I have a right to have feelings that needed sorting.
I slowly follow Russell around the fast-moving Clutha – apparently one of the swiftest in the world – deep and a shocking emerald green. A man with two retired show dogs asks me about my travels and a Canadian takes my photo as bikers and walkers fill the track. The air has a menthol smell I can practically taste.
When I reach Lake Wanaka surrounded by greener and lumpier hills than the previous lakes, I come upon a sun dial, its quadrants reading – passion, beauty, laughter, love and squeezed in for good measure, shine on.
Confronting Russell leaves a crack in the facade of my character – I’m not put together entirely, but vulnerable and damaged. In Japan, when a porcelain pot is cracked or chipped, an artist might practice kintsugi by repairing it with precious metal. Rather than hide the fix, it’s highlighted. My face shows creases from laughing and crying, from radiant joy to frustrating sorrow. I don’t want to hide those stories, so I let my honesty do its work and keep walking.
The mountains still have small clouds hovering about their tops; the sun heats up the morning as I trace the lake coming to modern homes in metal and glass, then a park where I make a peanut butter sandwich and call my friends to say I’m on my way. Boats of all kinds are anchored offshore, Hobie Cats on wheels parked at the marina as children in matching red swim safes line up with single sailboats for a lesson. Wanaka is rich with restaurants and shops, I have my picture taken in a giant concrete hand, soft to the touch.
Andrew and Kerrie are childhood friends of our au pair from when I was three. My bounce box awaits at their lovely home with a view. Kerrie greets me with homemade bread, avocado and eggs and I share stories of the trail with her and youngest daughter before Andrew and Aussie houseguest Harry return.
We get on famously, touching every subject from politics to tramping – or bushwalking in Australia – mindfulness to climate science. We discuss my mindset while thru-hiking and how I am managing to savor the experience and grow from it too. Like Russell’s comments, they help me hold the journey without and within and make it mine. We discuss my writing and Andrew points out how much our lives are like picaresque novels – just a series of happenings with no plot. Yet we try to give them into meaning.
It’s true that while things happen, I am in them, living and feeling the event. Later, I want what happened to fit into a shape, to be the jigsaw puzzle piece I’m looking for, to bring all the other events along in a string of event-beads.
I think that’s when I regret or second guess what I’ve experienced, because most often the experience is just what it was, nothing more. I did my best in the moment and now I’m in a different moment.
One thing I can say about today, though, is I have no regret speaking up when I was hurt and clearing the air. Meaningful puzzle piece or not, it was the right thing to do.
And I’m happy.