The cows have moved this morning and are grazing literally in Irene and Bindie’s backyard. I strip down and take a soak in the hot tub, the sky a watercolor brush of grays and blues.
A sale is on in town at the tramping store and I hope to find a better hiking shirt. The next section will be without shops, so have to stock up. Irene eats way smarter than me while hiking and I plan to let her advise.
And does she ever! Healthy food organized in little packets, nutritional yeast, LSA power-blend and protein powder, mash, couscous and tuna. No more candy – at least for now. Then a sale on Icebreaker at the Bivouac outdoor store and I get a proper shirt that won’t smell after one day. Score!
I’m on my way, Hamilton industry giving way to countryside, Pirongia looming ahead of me, blue peaks jutting into slate blue-rimmed clouds. I pass the 800 kilometer mark (just about 500 miles) which someone has whited out to say 80, feeling accomplished and strong.
It’s hot in this bowl between mountains. New Zealand lives under a hole in the ozone and that explains my long sleeves, trousers and hat. I look longingly at the trees in Taitua arboretum with air conditioned cool already reaching me. The park is filled with roosters, their crows echoing up and down the winding tree-lined paths. I get a little lost.
The trail cuts into an easement between two fields, overgrown with huge spiky arms snaking through the fence to snag. Black clouds build on the mountains, more mud in the making. Beautiful countryside but hard walking the chewed up path of thousands of cow hooves.
I stop in shade for lunch and marvel at the pastoral loveliness. Meat and protein shake on this menu. I am feeling better already as I meet a busy road, but only for one kilometer before arriving at the Backyard Bar and Eatery in Whatawhata – pronounced fahtahfahtah. Santana is cranked, a tattooed couple – one, purple hair and halter top, the other long gray ponytail, beard – wave as I set up my tent.
Kim welcomes me, “We’re not allowed but we like to know you guys are safe,” as she invites me to the eponymous backyard to make myself at home, which I do next to the stage. Sadly live music only on Sundays, so I kick back in the surfboard lounger and sip a ginger ale.
But then tattoo couple buy me a beer and we solve all the world’s problems – and then some. Pete and I getting lost in the weeds over bike trails and traffic and Jules and I sharing what it means to be true to yourself and find your own voice. She even gives my sore muscles a rub that feels like heaven. She reminds me of my sister-in-law, Letty.
Vera and Tracy arrive and it’s three solo woman hikers from far flung countries all loving this adventure, loving our solitude and loving the quirky people we meet. My birthday is in a few weeks, so we toast in advance on this glorious summer’s evening.
I’m cuddled in the alicoop at 8:30 with a beautiful din surrounding me and tomorrow’s plan to find myself at Pahautea hut on Pirongia before it rains.
I leave you with this thought from a follower:
“As the old rock and roll poet once advised, “Keep on walkin’, don’t look back”. That said, I will borrow this thought from AA: during a long, tough, steep, mountainous climb, it is alright, once in a great while, to turn around and look back, just to see how far you have come. Then, get on with it.”
I feel so fortunate to have been given this moment to have all these experiences – the tramping, the people, the fears and old issues that arise as I walk, the mud, and the gift of knowing that each treasured moment is mine forever. I can take them out, polish them, study from all angles, smile a little, maybe sigh, and move forward to the next surprise.
This was a short day because I spent time with Irene, shopped and lingered over a smoothie before lumbering on with a fully resupplied pack. But it was just the right size to bring me here to this perfect place and the amazing people I met for the first time and those I reunited with today.