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.

I take a really hot shower. My body is holding up well but discolored on my hip bones, both side and back, like permanent bruises where Olive Oyl has rested for weeks. My feet have only two unsalvageable toenails threatening to fall off, but no blisters at this late stage. I do have a weird heel pain I completely ignore because it’s cause is overuse and there’s not much I can do about that now but stop and rest. Over the years, I’ve watched my feet become my mom’s – gnarled and misshapen from arthritis. They have taken me so far. Millions of steps on sand, through mud, keeping me upright in roiling rivers, nimbly avoiding roots, crashing scree slopes and smashing tussock, ‘sidling’ and up and down on repeat, marching on tarmac, sidewalk and long, lonely gravel tracks.

Choosing trail runners allows me a certain contact with the earth. Sure, boots might be more rugged, but they’re heavy and clumsy. On this walk, I feel the earth as it passes under my feet, holding it momentarily before I move forward, likely never to return to this exact spot again. Have I caressed and savored the moment long enough? Will it stay in the memory of my soul – and soles?

One of my closest friends whom I’ve known since we ran stairs in our boarding school dorm writes panicked pleas in all caps warning me to take threatening behavior seriously and keep myself safe. That is the first question I’m asked today, if I feel safe. My suspicion is that having removed myself from the situation solves the problem for me and for Russell. He won’t pursue me to settle some score. He’ll move forward, finish the hike and live the rest of his life.

That might be precisely why it was so difficult to leave yesterday. I couldn’t bear his having the ‘last word,’ ultimately controlling the situation and forcing my action. I wanted my well-deserved – at least in my mind – denouement where we come to an understanding, apologies are made, and everything works out in the end. Failing that, I wanted justice where he’s told his behavior is not ok, that he feels shame and at least a taste of the humiliation I feel.

But life rarely gives us the opportunity to be judge and jury. Most often we’re left in an unresolved fog that niggles. We second guess our motives and actions and try to parse things out hoping to find enough satisfaction to process and let go.

It was useful to discuss things with professionals, to let them consider, as the TA becomes busier and tensions rise, more incidents of this kind are likely. It also provided me a reality check. I am not over-emotional or ‘psycho’ in calling the behavior out of line. But what can be done about it aside from absenting myself and starting again in a few days?

I walk to the Salvation Army and try on a few scarves, then dig through the book shelf for some distraction, picking a spy novel. At the Four Square, I buy vegetables and yogurt from the Puhoi Valley where I kayaked the river and camped on the ranger’s lawn three months ago. The next morning we crossed the rocks at low tide, the water an unbelievable shade of aqua, the pools filled with creatures and shells, light glowing on folds and creases carved by millennia of waves.

I decide not only to walk to Bluff, but to walk on further south, which requires another ferry crossing. Yes, there’s more! Across the Foveaux Strait from the Te Araroa terminus lies New Zealand’s third largest island, Rakiura or Stewart Island. There’s a ‘great walk’ – short and easy compared to what I’ve done – but none-the-less I book both huts to stretch it out, reserve a bed at a Backpackers and sign on for the first catamaran the morning after my planned finish of the TA.

Committing to a date makes me a little jittery, but the beauty of ending on March 4th is just too perfect. March forth! Inertia kept me glued to that wooden bench yesterday – one could say stubbornness too. It’s risky to stand up and walk away, to get out of the rut, to change the channel – but if we don’t, we miss an opportunity for something else. What that something is, we can’t know. It hasn’t revealed itself yet. That little trickster demands we make the first move. It’s the parent of a bratty terrible-two-year-old – no effort, kiddo, no reward.

I return to the hotel for food and MTV groove. No one seems to mind I park myself here for a few hours using the wifi to look up self treatment for heel pain and scroll through social media. As I head back to my scruffier hotel, music fills the alleyway. The boys in the band are practicing, in flannel shirts taking a mini break so Dave – on rhythm guitar – can grab this audience-of-one a cider. If it wasn’t for the distinctive Kiwi twang, I’d swear I was in an Iron Range bar.

Now that I have made my move and the TA after-party is scheduled, I’m going to have to walk to Bluff. But patience Olive Oyl, the alicoop and my nearly shattered La Sportivas, tomorrow calls for hail and thunderstorms, so another ‘zero’ is likely.

I may need to buy another book.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. Nice choice to go to Stewart Island. It’s very beautiful and the only place in the world you can see Kiwi (the birds that is) walking around in daylight. Just in case you haven’t been given the heads up already: prepare for mud and get the most effective insect repellent you can find. The sandflies are legend down there (just what you wanted to hear, eh?!)

  2. Allison, if you’ve read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” he talks about exactly the same irritations on his AT thru-hike. He and his partner would split off into town for a zero day to get on a different nightly hut cycle from a group they wanted no more of.

    As far as the TA being a misfit collection of road walks and poorly marked & maintained trails, infrequently dotted with stunning gems that perhaps make it all worthwhile, you’ve just described the North Country Trail, which passes through Minnesota. The NCT is little more more than road walks, dreams, maps, a bureaucracy, many build-it- and-forget-it sections of trail, and a few life changing, stunning gems like the Superior Hiking Trail and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. These gems are managed by standalone organizations and volunteers and draw people in with their splendor.

    You’re doing something very few people ever do. I’m not surprised it’s difficult. You’re not just talking the talk, you’re walking the walk!

    1. I’ve heard that the ADT (American Discovery Trail) is the same poor way. A bunch of dreams and a patchwork of various trails with nothing connecting them.

      1. ugh 🙁
        I had a superb conversation with the TA ceo yesterday and understand how hard it is for them, feeling compassion for what they’re trying to accomplish. Going forward will be tough. I am glad I walked it and came here. So many extraordinary experiences which I have a record of!! 🐥👣🎒

    2. Bill Bryson is my hero! It was very hard to be a single woman and be hanged up on. It’s pouring rain now and I hate to think of being holed up in a hut with them!
      I had a feeling NCT also had these issues. Farms and private land are in between. But I am so glad I walked this in spite of a few cranks. Changing my life! 🐥👣🎒

  3. You are NEVER alone out there! I don’t know how many readers you have, but they could easily take out Russell! I think I could do it myself!
    The comment above is wonderful. Your blog makes us all THINK and then think some more. . . a great, unexpected exercise.
    March forth! . . . . while I prepare myself for TA withdrawal.😩

  4. From the git-go – that’s how it’s pronounced in South-of-70 Ahia [Ohio], Alison – you note that you “Live to Hike,” and, at this point in the proceedings, we mere readers might conclude that you Hike to Live! And like the “Hikes through Life” we all make during our time on earth, yours is filled with the literal hills and valleys the rest of us metaphorically traverse. Your TA diary, with it’s picaresque characters and amazing settings, is similar to the “journey motif” found in so many pieces of literature, from “The Odyssey,” to “Canterbury Tales,” to “Don Quixote,” on to “Gulliver’s Travels,” through “Huckleberry Finn,” and on and on. And my point? You got a novel on your hands!! I mean, look: ya have great structure and theme, spectacular settings, conflict, good guys / bad guys, a subjective narrator, and eventual TRIUMPH!! Just sayin’! Seriously. Cool. Stuff. Thank you!

    1. ha! you are so right. it would just be a boring travelogue without drama. ‘hike to live…’ new motto?!? 🐥👣🎒

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