Just about to set off. The sun is out but I’m nervous getting back on the trail. I bought way too much food and the next section requires carrying water. It’s going to be slow going, though the trail notes say it’s ‘easy tramping.’ That’s me!
But with all the rain, this ‘river walk’ is a hellsacpe of overgrown grass soaking me to the skin, their tiny seeds dotting my pants, slippery mud ascents and descents, and bogs up to my knees. Beautiful? In a certain kind of way, but it’s hard and slow walking.
And storm clouds are building.
I arrive at the Whangamarino Redoubt, high above the Waikato river. There was a major battle here due to the good sight lines.
But then it’s all doubling back confusion because the TA signs are invariably placed after the turn. I go under graffitied bridges, a homeless man sleeps in his car next to a rotting possum. I wonder about my sanity walking this trail. My GPS says I am on the route, but it’s a heinous overgrown shitshow next to the freeway. Do you even want people in your country, I wonder. Feels like a nightmare of tall weeds and loud traffic.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind hard hiking, but this area is overgrown, ugly and dangerous. Perhaps one day of weed whacking, or a reroute not on the central north-south freeway littered with garbage might be a thought. It’s actually insulting how awful this is.
And then, just like that, the trail appears heading into the countryside – and it’s beautifully signed, too. There’s a hard fence to open and I give myself a shock. I spy a farm house just in case this storm building in front of me hits. Here comes thunder and many more electric fences to negotiate.
I make a wrap with meat and cheese against a tree with a sprawling trunk I can sit on and keep my pack from the cow muck. The trail now is quiet, solitary, next to the Waikato River. A few raindrops threatened, but just birds and sunshine now.
I swear and finally cry at the first section today – no one but me to hear my complaints – and I then I finally figure it out and move on. Turns out I had it in me to deal with the less pleasant portions. And maybe that’s what it’s about today, that not everything is bliss and that’s ok.
Sometimes it’s throwing your pack over an electric fence while trying not to get shocked and/or roll into cow poo. Sometimes it’s a ridiculous ‘path’ through tall weeds on twist-your-ankle ground right before the good stuff. Sometimes it’s just a sandwich with your feet in mud to get the energy you need for the next part.
A Polish couple arrives just as I finish, so I share a ginger candy and give them the tree. The trail leaves cows and heads right to the grassy riverbank making me think of the cult film “Night of the Hunter” when the children escape Robert Mitchum down the Ohio river.
It’s back to uneven muddy walking with yellow irises above my head centimeters from another shock as I follow the fenceline. The puffy cumulus just sail by without letting go off their wet cargo, tiny lizards scurry out from where my feet fall.
A grassy area opens up and I walk without needing to look down at my feet. And suddenly, it’s sublime. I’m walking through the New Zealand Game Bird Habitat Trust Wetland Project. Bulky willows kiss the water’s edge; a shady cottonwood crackles with the breeze.
It’s still a long way but the empty road is easier walking than the electric fence mine fields. Here, an entire avenue of cottonwoods wave, cheering me on. I’m tired this afternoon and sink into doubt about finishing this trail. The white farmhouse I pass reminds me of my in-laws in Texas and I feel better.
But I’m here in Rangariri with all new people. The beta was a bit off in that there is no camping at the pub and Cathy’s pie shop is closed. The Dutch tramper, Vera, hands me her phone and I call Cathy and set up camping on her lawn for all of us plus a breakfast pie to share at 7:15 am sharp. I feel kind of amazing just now, setting things up for me and sharing with the trampers.
We’re set up and cooking and my dinner choice is a total disaster. The vermicelli feels like nylon twine and the spices are extremely hot. I reach my tiny knife to cut bite sizes.
I love this group – Dutch, Swiss and Polish – all sharing the exact same frustrations I dealt with today. I am surprised and delighted to be ‘normal.’ One of the kayak boys shows up by himself and says hello to me, using my name. I’m touched.
Now the entire sky is pink. I’ve put on my orange puffy and crawl into the alicoop, but not before Cathy of the pie shop shows up and offers me a glass of wine. Life is indeed fine.
Good night and sweet dreams for tomorrow’s adventures.