The day opens with low hanging mist. I have to put on rain gear to pack the tent, studying the little coffin shaped dry spot in the grass that was my warm body a few moments ago. It’s a modest day’s walk, so I have plenty of time to dry my gear before packing it away on the canoe trip. I will stay in huts along the way. A small luxury, but if the day is dumping rain, it will be well worth it.
The path today is a country road doubling as a cycle path. You know you’re in farm country when you come across a jug in the middle of the road with ‘stock’ scrawled on it. I pass a barn and the shearing is on, hits of the ‘90s this time, backbeat pumping incongruously against the pastoral backdrop.
I look down a steep gorge to rapids on the Retaruke River just as a truck passes me with four red canoes, Johno, Karen’s son who made fun of me for being a “nudist,” at the wheel heading to Whakahoro. Those are ours!
My footsteps here are perfect for “For unto us a child is born” from the Messiah. It’s a bit hard to whistle the melismas, but fortunately my critical audience is made up of cows.
I get to the Blue Duck cafe and pay way too much for lunch, but it’s delicious and there’s a cozy refuge from the baking sun where I sort out audio and drink gallons of water. Three soft calves with long lashes and knobby knees feast on clover in the nearest paddock.
Our site is delightful with covered eating areas, water, toilets, flat grass. I paid for a bunk, but the alicoop needs to dry off her morning dew and I’ll probably sleep better outside unless the complaining sheep next door keep me up.
Ah, so nice to have choices and to be with lovely friends, and to have found Tom’s crush, Eline, again. She’s never hiked in her life and has done the last seven days alone. Just went and did it, she tells me, to prove to herself she could.
I eat and the sun goes down with a perfect temperature in the gloaming. A tui sings a cracked melody with a question mark at the end as I cross Lacy’s bouncy suspension bridge over my new ‘trail’ for the coming days – the Whanganui River – slow and muddy here at Wade’s Landing under a half moon.
Alexis has taught me to use my trail app to plan the coming weeks to Wellington. I don’t have to hold fast to a schedule, but at least I have a rough idea of how far I’ll plan to walk each day and where I’ll stay. I feel powerful making plans and this – along with Eline’s courage shared so generously with her million dollar smile – gives me courage.
She tells me she also loved doing the walk in its proper order, and doing all of it – although she did skip that one road walk, as well as the excitement and anticipation of arriving at the national park on foot. Like me, she was confused with all the choices of how to manage these last few weeks, but decided to go with her heart and take a chance on weather for the crossing.
I must say it helps me tremendously to meet another single woman sorting it out on her own. And if Eline can do this – a Dutch novice with English as a second language – so can I.
Now it’s time to tuck in. The sheep are really complaining, but it’s so constant I hope it starts to sound like white noise.
Good luck with that, al.