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.
Clouds eventually moved in as birds cackled on cue and after midnight, raindrops hit the alicoop. I hate getting up in rain, but the hut is nearby, so I haul everything to the porch and pack up as the rain eases and the sky turns pink.
Kiwi Roy is off first, then Cheeseman and I say goodbye to the Aussies, walking together his idea to hit the swollen streams as a team. I don’t feel I need an escort, but it’s nice to be looked after as we change in and out of rain gear, dark black sky ahead threatening, but ending up no more than drizzle.
The landscape is magnificent, very Western looking as we sidle the edge of a river valley, stepping in and out of rocky rushing streams, some indeed deep and powerful. The trail is up and down, but nothing like what I’ve walked on the northern half of this island. It’s wet and muddy, I’m soaked to my knees but happy for the streams to wash off mud mixed with cow poo – and happy too for my walking sticks which I use like a four-legged animal.
The light is flat adding to the moodiness of this vast and lonely space, the sun wants to appear, flashing on the snaking river for a moment before hiding in the clouds.
I am so happy I walked the Routeburn alone – that I even figured out how to do it alone – and got myself this far. Bernd and I speak a bit about being away from family and what this walk has meant to us. He is far more practical, taking six months to walk plus vacationing in between sections, his wife at home with less time off. He’s never hiked before and says this will likely be his last hike. I’m impressed he’s so sanguine as we take a break at Boundary hut and I make us some tea while he smokes a cigarette. I often feel overwhelmed and uncertain, like I don’t deserve to be here. He laughs at my crying that very hot day about a month ago when I couldn’t set my tent in the hard-as-granite earth. He is matter-of-fact about everything, stating his plan and setting out to make it happen, not getting started too early in the morning, but moving fairly quickly. I wish I had his confidence.
He’s aiming for a hut today, preferring four walls, a mattress and benches to his tent. I follow along not wanting to mess with rain again though it feels too short a day. Although we’ve set off together, we don’t really walk together even if we keep within sight, as I lose myself in the view and my thoughts, as well as watching my step in the really wet parts. They don’t last long before we come to a four-wheel drive track that makes for easy walking – except when having to avoid massive puddles. The track rises above another valley with a coiling river meeting Mavora Lake, hundreds of grassy mounds like hairy Dr. Seuss characters from this height. Several signs are posted – with threatening looking wire fences as a block – to respect the environment and stay on the track. Evidence of willy-nilly off roading abounds, scarring the landscape, though this track too is deeply rutted and eroded.
I tell Bernd one thing that’s happened on this walk is I’ve discovered who is most important in my life and that I really miss Richard. Again, practical, he responds that’s only natural to miss home. Agreed. I definitely didn’t come on this walk to get away from home or work out any issues, but I am surprised how walking clarifies how much I love my home – even as I build my self reliance walking alone.
It takes us practically no time at all to reach Casey’s hut where Bernd will spend the night. I visit for only a moment before deciding to head on further and camp on the lake. We promise to catch up in Te Anau if possible and he hands me a pile of granola bars before I walk another 10 kilometers towards the campground, hoping those building clouds don’t dump rain on me before I get set up.
Thinking more on the subject I realize I’m surprised by how this long walk focuses like a laser what matters most to me – and which things need adjusting. There are people in my life who trigger me, usually by what they say, sometimes by what they do, into a kind of fruitless spinning of wheels. Even though I feel frustration when connecting with them, rather than disconnect, I tend to react – more often over-react – and keep the cycle going. It all feels manipulative and co-dependent but I can’t say if it’s purposeful on their part, likely it’s just the way we are with each other. I want things to be different but as I puzzle over it walking along beautiful Mavora lake, I realize controlling my reactions is likely the only way things will change. I don’t know how things got this way, but these interactions wear me out. I feel drained of energy and out of focus but I know that blaming does no good. It’s me that has to change, by not needing to be right or to tell them all about themselves, but to have confidence in my own integrity and the wisdom to know when to make space.
I come to a grassy spot on the lake looking back towards the mountains and sit down for some food, the sandflies quickly finding any exposed skin. There’s a fire ring, but I decide to continue on a bit more. Two Germans pass with a tripod and tell me about fifty people are camping at the end, which sounds like fifty too many to me. I find another wee spot in the trees a few kilometers ahead and decide this is for me, setting the alicoop with loads of rocks to hold her down and smiling at my ingenuity after Bernd reminded me of my teary mess-of-a-self the last time I tried to set the tent in an awkward spot.
The Germans return and laugh too, saying I must really want solitude. They figured out I’m walking the TA and tell me they walked the first two days from Bluff before realizing they hate hiking. You kind of have to love hiking to walk this far. We take a few pictures and they wish me luck as rain clouds move in and I make a quick dinner, eating inside the tent.
A Kiwi NOBO passes and seems happy and fit, hardly the confused one I tend to be. She tells me the upcoming section is lovely but encourages me to skip the official trail and walk the road as the track is absolutely awful after the second swing bridge. It’s a shame they didn’t get it right. I’m not in a hurry with just over 200 kilometers to go, but I’m losing patience with poorly planned, poorly executed and poorly maintained trail. Yes, the TA Association made an effort to get us off the road, but failed in creating a decent alternative.
But all of that worry is waiting for me tomorrow. The rain passes quickly and the sun is now sparkling on crashing waves hitting a stony beach as the wind picks up and tests my alicoop set up.
It’s early, but better to be inside with a superb view safe from the ‘heaps of sandflies’ crawling on the netting. I’ll take into my sleep the confident and grounded hikers I’ve been with today and the meditate on the self assured woman I am becoming.