I got a note from a follower named Tom who says, “You and your hiking odysseys personify today’s word.”
The word is ‘actuate’ (AK-choo-ayt) verb tr.: To put into motion or action; to activate; to motivate. [to hike]
The message goes on to quote poet Lauris Edmond.
“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.” Edmond lived in Wellington, NZ, but any place can be your own headquarters of the verb. It has to be. There’s no other choice — life is not about being a spectator but a participator. To be. To do. Do be do!
I am so moved by this note as I sit in my little campsite, soft grass, no rain and no sign of other hikers just yet. I’m not doing much – or actuating anything really. Rather I’m looking at the view of the winding Waikato over the green valley, so calm that even from this height, I can see the still reflection of trees from riverbank to water.
A huge, shapely cloud lazily sails past, seeming to wonder if it should sprinkle or hold it all back. The mountains are pale blue far in the distance, a raptor whirrs by, I’ve massaged lotion into my feet working so hard to bring me here and I wonder if it’s ok to crawl into the alicoop before 8 pm.
I guess I have actuated some things, this hike which required a leave from my job and saving money and having a kind of vision. Then each decision I make, like how far to go today. It is within my capacity to have walked the entire traverse, head down and meet my friend, but this grassy spot is so inviting and 29 km for the day – especially with a good portion on tramping track – is plenty far.
I don’t know if a hiker or two will appear from the bush in the next hour. It’s quite possible my lovely solitude will be interrupted, so I am soaking it up as long as it lasts.
There is something of life in backpacking – you are never entirely sure what’s ahead. Sure, you can read blogs and research, but to know just the right site in which to set camp is usually a mystery. Do I stay here or move on for something better is a question I wrestle with, even once I decide, I have to turn off that nagging wondering if I’m missing out on something better.
I did make an educated guess because the next lookout is the summit of a very popular hike – from the other side, on stairs. It is likely crowded now, even as I prepare to turn in. Also, another hiker mentioned to avoid the spot because it is a helipad and could get very busy!
So what I will actuate in this moment is to accept my little spot as just the one for me right now. It’s important at this time, but will be part of my past very soon, so I will enjoy it for all it has to offer and delight in what is here and now.
And just like that, I get a spectacular, fiery sunset.
Turns out no one came to my sweet little site. I heard a few creatures rustling about, so it’s best – at least here – to keep food inside the alicoop. No rain, but heaps of dew. I put her away always soaking wet though she dries fast later in the sun.
It’s back – Raetea-level slip-n-slide, puddles suck in your foot next to the roots. I’m down before the first half k, mud soaked undies. Good thing I stopped when I did; this is slow going. It’s better technique to just plow through, trying to hop from one root to another is a risky venture.
An overgrown tangle of dew-heavy plants whip me, even gorse scratches across my face, the odd spider web sticks to my eyelashes. A tui greets the morning and I wonder if Messiaen knew their oddball robotic song – squawk, flute, computer.
I reach the top and indeed it’s crowded with chuffed – and spotlessly clean – runners. Two lovely kiwis take a video of me jumping in the air glad to be (finally) out of the bush, then airdrop it to me for instagram. We laugh at my muddy visage, even my ass is a caked mess. And it’s stairs all the way down 373 meters, so I do what any self-respecting thru-hiker would do – I run!
I race past a quote from Fred deVito, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” A sweaty guy in a Houston Rockets T passes me then a guy who asks if I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, his kid works at Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City. I had no idea they had a branch besides New York City and the White House.
I cut off a few steps to a splashy waterfall, tempted to wash though it might make my shoes more slippery.
Houston Rockets catches up with me. He weighed 280 and has been slowly walking the TA to slim down. A lovely person telling me way more mud awaits my feet. But now it’s town walking, starting with Ngaruawahia.
Smooth reggae is cranked in front of the tattoo parlor, a few well covered patrons advertising the work, a gaggle of small children in bright green safety vests hold hand and walk by. I risk a sparkling duet and a Cheers ‘krim’ soda as a reward, $1 each. An old man rides his motorized chair directly in the roundabout with a two-cargo truck patiently following.
I pass a sign explaining the name of the town and range. It comes from a huge wedding feast for a marriage which was at first not approved of, but the parents were won over through their stomachs. I’m almost ready for Hakarimata – let the food pits open – myself.
I am on a spectacularly well planned bike path – Te Awa – along New Zealand’s largest river. Even though I’m so far left I’m practically in the grass with about three meters to pass, some bikers still yell, “On your right.” like I might lunge in their path. <sigh>
I meet a few keen Kiwi walkers who know all about the traverse I just did and tell me my camp spot is a firebreak. I tell them about the bountiful toilet paper blooms and they say it’s all TA walkers. Super ashamed of us just now. I pack it out, easy enough.
A stunning bridge and public art on the bike path. A kiwi is spraying gorse before it “takes over the entire country.”
I find a lovely shaded picnic spot to tear into a curry wrap – messy, hot, unsubstantial. It’s a failed culinary experiment. The Waikato moves fast next to me. I learn that Hamilton is one of the only urban areas to support bats, New Zealand’s only native mammal. Also that fresh water mussels live to be thirty and spend those years cleaning the river. I spy a trash can and recall meeting an AT walker who said he loved them. Now I know why as I unload my burden.
I pass massive Fontera, processing 7 million liters of milk per day. I do like my thick shakes, maybe one when I reach Hamilton. Cows graze right to the gates.
The bike trail goes all the way to Hamilton where Irene picks up my filthy self promising a beer, a hot tub, ice cream, dinner, laundry, conversation with some cranked American rock at her fantastic rambling farm house. Hoping my first friend in NZ joins me for a week on the South Island in January.
Life is good.