To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.
– Søren Kierkegaard
The day starts in a familiar way – rain. Extra loud on the container that I share with Bojan, Marko, Alexis and David. It’s always good sleeping on a ‘bed’ – actually a kiddie mattresses – and bonding over all our stuff spread about.
I forgot to mention that I at least attempted a surreptitious rinse in the river yesterday afternoon. Later, when one of the sons picked me up from a second attempt at resupply, he comments, “So you’re the nudist, eh!” If seeing a glimpse of a middle aged lady is your big thrill, I say, “Good on you!”
Now we get a briefing for our five-day canoe trip which starts after six days walking. The people at Taumaranui Canoe Hire are amazing. Karen is on the phone and handling people and gear and reservations all day long with aplomb and yet she still had time to offer to wash my clothes and take me back to the store in town when I felt I didn’t have enough food for the nine days to come. I was overwhelmed and confused when I arrived, and this family pulled my worries away and calmed me right down.
It also looks like I’ll have a canoe partner, a young American I met in Auckland – and in the pouring rain, naturally. It’s all pulling together, though my battery didn’t charge in the night so I’ll need to tend to that now and start walking late as there will be little chance to charge it in the coming days.
But the good news is I have a stunning view and a safe – and dry – place to land while I delay. Friends, this trail continues to surprise and provide.
A follower sent words from Tolkien a few days ago –
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
He writes, “The second line reflects your journey, I think, and the rest of the poem reflects your approach to this hike. Like Strider, you have a purpose.”
I muse on my purpose each day – actually every step. Sometimes it’s as simple as discovering if I am even capable of managing a thru-hike of this proportion, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually, all the challenges of bad trail, less than exemplary companions and erratic weather.
But then I find that what really challenges is that I am faced with myself each day. My friend, the arctic explorer Lonnie Dupre, tells me that he knows he can handle the worst conditions imaginable, but before attempting Denali solo he was most afraid of managing being alone, dealing with his demons with no friends and loved ones within reach to offer solace and balancing.
What I am attempting is not even in the same ballpark, but Lonnie’s concerns resonate. I still have to pull it together and move each day. I have to make choices and control my emotions and reactions. I have to manage the unknown. What I’m discovering in this second month is how to do that, how to be that friend to myself that I have longed for as I walk.
That’s not to say I don’t recognize the incredible generosity I have experienced here, kindness that has helped me immeasurably and is deeply humbling. Kindness I hope – and plan – to pay forward. But I spend far too much energy on the negative, on things I can’t change like people I don’t like. It was an act of courage for me to sit with the boys in the grass under the trees yesterday and realize I could go with them now, I only need to ask.
I also spend too much time worrying over slights and hurts rather than allowing them to wash over. When Henry told me to talk to the mother yesterday, I kept hearing, “Everyone is walking their own walk. Forgive when it’s time to forgive.” It’s not me who brings on poor behavior, that’s just my interpretation. But it doesn’t have to be.
Finally off on a late start, the air heavy with humidity, sun filtering through low hanging gloom, all I hear is my steady breathing as I head uphill into rolling green. Deer perch above me in an enclosure. New Zealand is the largest exporter of farm-raised venison, a fact I learned on the Timber Trail.
I talk for a moment to a handsome horse wrangler and double check I packed my electronics. Worrying about what’s in – or out – of the pack burns up kilometers. I wonder why I’m a naturally nervous person. Somehow being a beginner and not the expert causes me stress and self doubt. Richard tells me I am getting more skilled each step I take and aren’t we all? I have trouble seeing more than a few days ahead and this decision-making is troublesome. But it’s deeper than that, like if I’m not the expert now, I don’t deserve to be here. It doesn’t leave much room for mistakes and learning, does it?
A man whistles signals as his dogs move cattle. In another paddock, cows run down the hill to check out this walker in their ‘hood.
Over a huge hill, then down again to a small town mostly catering to mountain bikers on the 42 Traverse. I ask a man to fill my water bottle and if he’ll sell me a beer. His 14-year-old kid, a mechanic apprentice in orange and blue coveralls, proudly hands me an ice cold Corona, “No charge.” It goes down well after a long walk. The rain comes just as I leave town, but dries right up for me just in time to set up the alicoop in this spectacular spot right on the Whakapapa river. Dinner is made and we’re all here – plus an English couple doing sections out of order – sitting on a lovely bench built just for us hikers.
I cross the bridge to wash up, climbing down to boulders smooth by flooding. Just as I dip in my toes, two whio swim across – rare blue ducks who can fish in fast moving water. I consider it a good luck sign. Perhaps the weather will stay calm as we move into the Tongariro.
I am so happy to be with this lovely group, all tucking in for the night at 7:30. No matter the weather, the company is good and the walk was wonderful for me today. I am not an expert, but I get by. Sweet dreams, friends.