All my gear is neatly laid out as I wait for the sun to peak out over the trees. He’s almost there. The tent is wet and it’s cold, so I hope to dry it before packing. I usually just get up and pack it wet, but the day is pretty straightforward and I don’t need to set off early.
Chloe told me last night she does not like Americans, mainly because of our politics and attitudes. I know she was upset we cooked venison, but deer – and all mammals besides two kinds of bats – were foolishly introduced to New Zealand, a paradise where they have no natural predators and are a menace to the birds and the bush.
It’s a bit rich for us to determine who lives and dies since people are also a menace to the bush, but in this forest, we are the stewards. The deer will have to be killed anyway, they might as well be eaten in the process.
Anyway, she’s up and gone and might want to avoid me, but it’s two more nights to resupply and she has no fuel. We’ll see how that goes.
I am not deeply offended that someone judges all Americans as a whole. I think we’ve created a mess that will take decades to turn around – and yet we still call ourselves ‘exceptional’ with a kind of swaggering arrogance.
There is so much to love in my country – the superb arts, scientific and entrepreneurial worlds – but there’s also so much I feel embarrassed about – expensive wars, a government that protects the richest among us, a president who calls journalists the ‘enemy of the people,’ and on and on. New Zealand is not necessarily a better place, though. There are fewer people here but problems are still exist, just on a smaller scale.
Mist is rising from the grass and the alicoop. I feel lonely this morning. It will be three more days to the next town no matter how far I walk today. It’s in Taumarunui that I set up my canoe plans and strategize for the alpine cross. But I can’t do anything now, so have to find a way to settle into the rhythm of my footsteps and stay open to discovery. That’s not easy for me, someone who likes to have control.
And I’m also having trouble forging ahead. My body is fine, the weather is stable, and this trail is easy. It’s my spirit grappling with going on and on. Tomorrow I’ll reach the 1000 km mark. I’ve come so far, but still there’s so far to go. I tell myself to work it out while I keep walking.
I knew this would be hard. But it feels hard in ways I didn’t expect. I’m alone a lot and so much walking feels like I’m just trying to get somewhere.
Just when I’m feeling the most sorry for myself, I come upon a stump house built when a newly married guy threw his brothers out of the house. It makes the Bog Inn look like a palace.
I cross rapids on a bridge and learn that the whio is one of the only ducks with squishy bills and umbrella toes that fish in fast water. They’re rarer than kiwi. Forty three bird species have been lost since people arrived here, and hard work is being done to save the rest. I see a man freedom camping by the river and five bikes pass me.
I learn of the parable of Harawe the Giant, exiled because he was fat and lazy. He learns to provide for himself after the trial of being out in the forest. As I walk, I try to perfect whistling birdcalls. One sounds like the downward arpeggio from Holst’s Uranus.
I pass the huge trail lodge and find some shade for brunch. A big guy with a huge camping spread and the sweetest, softest dog gives me two beers. “If it ain’t buck, it’s bull” reads the label. Trail magic has chased these blues away. Even with two beers and all that venison last night, I’ve tightened my hip belt to its max.
Finally, I’m out of sun and in a shady, close-in forest. I do feel a bit spoiled having complained about rain and cold, and then when the sun comes out, to complain about being too hot. I change my shirt and get out the sunglasses which have bern buried for days. There’s no road access until the end. The birds are loud and the river far below is getting louder.
I spy color in the forest. It’s Chloe, fast asleep. I appreciate that she was direct with me. So many times, people don’t like me and just ghost me with no explanation. It hurts to be told I’m not liked, but at least I have all the facts and can deal with it. It releases me to move on. The not knowing why is the worst. I leave her a hello in the trail with my walking stick.
I cross the longest and highest bridge of all over the Maramataha river – 141 meter log and 53 meters above the gorge. It was either climb down with all that timber or build a bridge. Good choice, guys. The cables have to be pre-stretched and lowered in place my helicopter.
I learn that hunting is the cheapest way to control invasive mammals, but hunters don’t want to eradicate them all since they love the sport. Also that short-tailed bat boys, have to sing for the babes. Fair enough.
It’s hot and I’m in a rain forest, but the rhythm of my feet is ‘Wolcum’ from Ceremony of Carols. I meet Vera and Chloe on the trail and we all push on to get more kilometers on this clear day. But first I acquire two liters of water out of a stream, climbing through thick thorns. Water is heavy, the sun is hot and it’s been a long day.
Just as I cross the last swing bridge before ‘camp #11’ I notice several bikers down below on the rocks. They’re bathing in the pools around the rapids. Yes, please, I’ll take some of that!
Chloe and I both head down and go as far under as the cold water allows. Friends, a hot shower with soap is incredible, but a cold swim in churning water after a long slog is divine.
After that, it’s only one kilometer to the ‘camp.’ Vera snagged the one flat tent spot and Chloe and I decide to share the little cabin, sleeping on the floor like so many other TA hikers before us. That solves one problem of the morning’s soaking wet tent. Now let’s just hope there isn’t a resident mouse.
I start to sing and Chloe tells me to be quiet. OK, out I go, setting in a wide spot on the side of the trail. Rain, dew and the elements be damned, I’ve got a room of my own. Chloe tucks in and I walk back to the waterfalls in the gloaming, bridge all to myself.
The day started out sad and lonely, and with my feeling overwhelmed with the hike. When I shared dinner – and chocolate – with Chloe, I realized that there are things arising on this hike that need to be addressed. This week it’s about control over plans and events that are days away. I feel nervous and unsure how it will all piece together, but I can’t do much about it at this moment – and I’ll miss out if I dwell too much in the future.
Bathing in the rapids was a surprise and gift at the end of the day, as was my beer trail angel and hiking with these two very independent, willful women. They exhibit self reliance and confidence and say they at least believe things will work out. Actually, they are surprised I’m nervous. I believe they are walking at the same time as me to teach me to believe in myself to make good decisions and that things will come together. I have come so far and done so well, why would they not?
Just now, the goddess’s watercolorist splashes pink in the western sky.