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.
On Main Street I put my thumb out to return to the trail 20 k west. Car after car passes me even as I smile and say, “please!” Finally a little white car pulls up with Connie in a flowery top at the wheel sipping coffee and taking last bite of a muffin. She tells me she saw me on her way to the cafe and decided to pick me up as she passes the trail on her way to school.
She offers to get me coffee, too, while suggesting her colleague take me to Colac Bay and just skip the Longwood Forest altogether, “I mean, why do you bother?” I thank her for the offer but tell her I’m happy to walk as we both glance towards the mountainous forest, black cloud swirling around the summit.
I have to pass by the container hut as I begin walking up the gravel road and shudder a bit remembering the last time I was here. I ponder on the part I play in this drama and how I might be creating the opportunity for someone to bully me. I think of myself as outgoing and nice, but nice is different from kind. When someone is kind, they are acting from a place of security and abundance. They have enough inside and out to be able to give freely. On the other hand, a nice person is someone who is insecure. They are not giving from a place of abundance, but are trying to be liked and included. Their sense of their own worth is contingent upon what people think of them.
I definitely want affirmation and validation and on this hike have often felt like I can’t fit in. When I’m scared or nervous about what’s ahead, my neediness is more acute and I probably come across as clingy. But in this more anxious state, I also let down my guard, allow boundaries to be crossed and exhibit more vulnerability.
For someone uncomfortable with their own vulnerability, it must be annoying and appear open an opportunity to take advantage. When I was told, “Everything isn’t always about you,” it was a red flag that this person isn’t managing to get their own needs met.
I stop to put on rain gear as it begins to drizzle. A rainbow appears above a paddock of equal opportunity grazing – sheep, cows and deer.
The birds are singing full throated in this part of the forest as I begin to climb steadily. The track is not beautiful, just gorse and overgrowth pressing in on giant puddles and mud. A young man in a bivy surprises me just off the side in the trees. He promises to catch me on the trail and I immediately feel better going up not quite so alone.
Eventually I reach a single track and enter a beautiful mossy forest. So many of these goblin forests have seen my feet and yet I still feel excitement entering with green in every shade covering whimsical shaped trees and air full of oxygen. This area was once mined and we’re warned to stay on the track to avoid open shafts and eroded water races. I see none, but do see lots of mud – epic, deep, slippery, North Island mud that takes over the entire path. To avoid it is pointless, so I step through, trying to at least miss the deeper sections as my testing pole goes in up to the handle.
The rain drips loudly out of the trees. Snow gathers in patches on moss and in the crook of tree roots. I am ascending, but it’s easy going.
At a summit, the trail comes into an open patch of tussock, mysterious and lonely in the mist. I love it here. The light is flat, but the long brown grass glows and the flax bobs in the wind. I hear a low rumble and see the summit antennae when I’m practically on top of them, two DOC workers parked nearby. They laugh at me emerging from the fog and say it wasn’t supposed to rain, which makes me laugh as the rain revs up as if on cue.
They give up on their job of spraying the invasives and pass me on the way down an eroded road that takes me to a quarry and another single track heading right back up.
I think this bullying incident affected me so deeply because it reminded me of the way my dad treats me. I’ve never entirely trusted him, someone I’ve desperately wished would validate and affirm me. He seems to be proud of me and several times, has understood my deepest longings and provided for me, like when he and my brother bought me a professional model flute when I was 16. But then he turns around and says something dismissive or undermining. It’s subtle and confusing. If I ask why or what did you mean, he denies it or at the very least, deflects saying he’s sorry I feel that way and speaking about his success as a dad in third person.
At the same time, my dad always seems friendly and supportive of others, but not me. It sets up a dynamic where I feel I don’t deserve good things in my life – and a bottomless pit of neediness to be acknowledged.
The trail passes more goblin forest peaking in and out of open tussock and absolutely brimming with mud. My feet are wet and cold, my fingers too, and I move fast to keep the blood flowing. I always feel nervous I might succumb to the cold. No one is here and I could get lost or disoriented in the mist. I come out on an open area in rain and wind, coaxing myself along with the kind words I needed the other day, begging the rain to stop and focusing on which of the many false summits is the real summit. This is when I realize that I am out of my comfort zone and yet, I’m here alone and making progress. As much as I would prefer a partner to hike with in these risky conditions, I would much rather be my own best friend, holding my hand and gently prodding me through and delighting in this mysterious place than walk with people who don’t have my best interests at heart.
I finally see the trig emerge in the mist, and the trail gradually turns left to head down to the hut. Just as I reach a saddle above trees, the view opens up below, first of farm fields and then of a huge, sandy beach curving around and pointing towards Bluff! I take in a sharp breath, laugh and cry at the same time. It’s still days away, but the end of New Zealand is in front of my eyes.
It’s misty, so not the best picture, but I wave goodbye until tomorrow and head into the trees – and more mud. It’s the worst of the day, mucky and deep, but either I’m used to it or it truly is shorter than other trails. Annoying and miserable, for sure, but easy enough to manage as I work down to the final hut of the hike.
Martin’s Hut was built for hunters in 1905. It has newish bunks and brand new pads, even though the tiny hut is full of holes and seen better days. Three people are already inside, an absolutely delightful Kiwi couple (hooray!) and a Belgian with little English, whom I sleep head to head with on top. Julia and Lucas arrive but decide to camp down the track. A German arrives later and curls up on the floor. Clothes hang everywhere like a Chinese laundry, our gear is stowed hanging up high on hooks to discourage mice. A spectacular trail angel left a cooler of goodies in the back. We’re all tucked in by 7:30 as it’s cold and there’s nowhere to sit anyway. The energy and consideration from this group in this final hut of my walk has me feeling so happy. This is exactly how it should be.
I pushed my limits today, and loved feeling strong and capable. The easy banter, curiosity and camaraderie feels normal and natural. That desperate queasiness of unfulfilled needs my dad fostered in me – triggered by the recent unkindness that seemed designed to undermine – disappear in this hut because I’m respected as an equal and treated with the same consideration I show others. If I take anything away with me on this hike, it might be to choose wisely who you let inside.
And now I’ll close my eyes in this very tight communal space, an experience so unique to New Zealand. We’re safe from the elements in a democratic space where money, education, age just don’t matter anymore, just a group of trampers who walked hard in rain and mud looking for a safe place – physically and spiritually – to rest our tired bodies for tomorrow’s adventure.