I wake up to a five-note song, a slight variation on Gershwin’s first prelude. I answer with the second line, but I’m utterly ignored. The moon was bright as I slept on soft grassy comfort. We both awoke to a weird creaking in the shelter, but neither bothered to investigate.
Rain seems to be a thing of the past – for now. The dock has stairs, so loading is expected to be manageable. The question is if high tide might fight us as we paddle into town.
I count 400 steps as I carry down two barrels from the high water mark of the 1990 flood. Granted, they were mincing steps on the steep muddy path, but that was some flood none-the-less.
We load and push off for more big bends in the river. The tide seems to push us some and rapids are “so yesterday,” but the chocolate river continues to entrance, bending around itself. We laugh spotting a magnificent house on a hill only to wind around it for 8 km and come to its backside.
Soon signs of the city creep onto the river – a busier road, children playing on a rope swing, a staging area for a future suspension bridge – and we arrive at the holiday park with a big welcome sign marking 1370 km. Andrew and I unload for the last time, divvy up the food and put our packs back on. I spend some time talking to Richard and Irene, then walk into lovely Whanganui.
A trail angel named George offers me a room tonight and his home is a few blocks from the trail. I cross the railroad bridge and then cross back on another bridge past old houses with Victorian gingerbread and up a rise that looks out on the town and river.
George meets me at his driveway leading to a beautiful space with several pieces of outdoor sculptures amongst native plants. It begins to rain as I arrive and he tells me Rob would like to give me the whakatau, a traditional Maori greeting.
I am called into their living room, invited to sit, then presented with a tremendously reverent and personal welcome filled with descriptions of this place I am coming to love – the mountains I have just walked on and the river I have just paddled. I am so touched by this beautiful gift, I cry.
We eat and talk, laundry is done and they put new laces on my nearly worn out La Sportivas. I receive a tour of the gardens and outdoor living spaces, noticing they have hung an American flag on the pole in my honor.
I share with these generous, loving men my hopes for the walk and my fears. Also how I want to see if I can walk the length of a country and savor each piece with curiosity and inquisitiveness, admitting how difficult it is not to compare myself with others and to instead simply be satisfied with what I am doing.
They tell me they will follow me and that I can call them any time and I believe them. They are more than trail angels. They are my guardian angels.