What an extraordinary place to wake up to. I have a virgin forest, thick and impenetrable, across the river. Soothing rapids run all night. Birds are everywhere and the sun is finally beginning to show itself down the canyon.
I love that I pushed myself and came here, even if my clothes are damp from yesterday’s sweat and some things are getting a bit of a funk from the lack of sun. There’s time for drying later today, and I’m loving this cool campsite all to myself.
I adore being alone. Am I an introvert? A little. It feels a natural fit talking on the radio and to audiences. I enjoy time with friends and family, but there’s nothing like sitting here dirty and damp, but feeling mostly ok and enjoying this magical place on my own terms – and my own schedule. It’s the quirkiness of the chairs, tables, poop-shovel and even a fully inflated inner tube contrasted with the natural wonder of the NZ bush.
I’m sitting in one of those chairs carefully doling out my food to last these more remote coming days. I fell so many times yesterday, I think that must have been how I cracked my phone. It’s the protective covering that’s damaged, so maybe a worthwhile purchase. This is my mini-computer, communication device, map, and solace so I really need it with me.
At first, when I solo hiked, I was afraid to close my eyes at night. Now, I just try to be very careful and make good decisions. I pushed it a bit close last night, but had an hour or so to spare of light. I also carry a personal locator beacon or PLB with an SOS button in case I’m in real trouble. It can’t always locate GPS in the forest or this river canyon, so that’s something to consider.
The sun won’t hit me for a while, but I’m going to pack up and press on soon. Argh, looks like rain is coming.
Just a few drops, then it clears as I negotiate fallen trees on steep black clay, a bit less slippery since no rain last night. My shoes are just starting to shred and I have a hole in my socks, saving the dry pair for sand fly protection in camp.
It’s like a reality show, added to the crumbling balance-beam-walking trail on sharp edge, the greasy mud, the wet bogs, and fallen trees – thorns; big, juicy, grabby, shred-the-shirt-and-draw-blood thorns.
And then I’m out on pasture, kind souls offering an alternative to the briar patch, and I slowly cross a log in mincing steps. Back in the forest, it rains a curtain outside the pines. Finally, I’m up and out on a panoramic vista, having a snack and trying to dry rain gear.
But it’s back again on the muddy track by the river, I come to a eucalyptus grove – tall, straight – interspersed with dreadlocked palms. The understory is a tunnel of gorse, another well-intentioned transplant that found no competition and steadily spread in an ugly, tangle of sharp edges.
I come upon a superb campsite – shelter, water, even a clothes line. I sit at a picnic table with lunch and wonder if it’s too early to stop.
The trail is a country road and I feel like a little wind-up walking machine. Toshi and Tom catch me up and we’re all headed to the same mid-point tonight. The breeze dries my pants and my dampened spirits.
I stop a farmer in a huge truck loaded with sheep. “Your dog!” as I see a head pop out under the wheels. Turns out the animal’s in his little house under there. The nice farmer offers a ride but no beer.
I think about why I’m doing this walk. I have a good life, awesome husband who makes me laugh and is always interesting and curious, and I love my work. I guess I wanted to see what if felt like to do a long thru-hike before my feet wouldn’t let me anymore.
I also was getting caught in the grind and needed something to shake it up and give me a new perspective. Nothing like a total change of scenery and carrying everything on my back for five months to break the cycle.
Now I think I sprung a leak in the water bottle as the back of my leg is getting damp. Everything is breaking down just now – shoes, socks, phone, the pot cozy. I hope that I manage to hold out a bit longer.
Just then, a trail angel appears and tells me to meet him at his driveway and he’ll fix me up with a two liter bottle and some duct tape. Meanwhile the trail notes say ‘zilch traffic’ on this road.
When we meet, I ask if I might camp on the lawn and you know what? These incredible Kiwis – Alan and Marianne – take me in, have me sleeping in the caravan, let me wash my clothes and myself, feed me and even take me out on the Polaris for some work. I do my part, opening and closing each of the many gates of the many paddocks.
What a superb location in the hills with views all around. Alan and I visit the ‘hotel’ to pick up Finn and Karen, a huntaway and a heading or eye dog, to move the sheep. Those beautiful, muscular creatures absolutely live for their farm work, running alongside most of the time, up and down the huge hills, Finn barking and racing after the sheep to move them along then cooling off in a trough.
I learn that merino only live on the south island and these sheep are raised to eat. I learn that the cost to shear the wool is a break even with what’s earned selling it. I learn that paddocks are a more recent idea to rotate the grasses being chewed. I learn most New Zealand beef – they raise cattle too – are eating only grass. I learn yearlings need molasses in big tubs.
My hosts have been here for about sixteen years and are very involved in their community as volunteers. They are kind, funny, interesting and generous and I am incredibly lucky to be ‘camping’ here tonight after a day with lots of rain and mud.
Marianne points out that the problem with the Te Araroa is that no one ir really assigned to look after the trail. It explains my frustration over the past two days of an overgrown, crumbling and slippery path leading sometimes the wrong way. I don’t mind hard work, but oftentimes this trail is such a mess, it burns up all your energy.
I tell them I think the TA should require permitting and possibly even work. They could house hikers and feed them in exchange for a week of trail maintenance – kind of like TA ‘woofers.’ Then we’d have a sense of ownership and pride.
Just now, it’s dumping buckets of rain. I know the non-stop damp is getting to me. Starting tomorrow with mud-free socks and pants is a real gift. I’ve been totally dry in my tent, but my backpack has been in a constant state of moist for a week and I’m ready for it to end.
A long day tomorrow if I’m to make it to the beginning of the Timber Trail. There’s talk of biking it – stay tuned!