Just putting my things up now and preparing to face a few more hours of mud until a road walk and – you guessed it, more mud! Plus a walk through a long stream-as-trail.
I must say, as birdsong fills alicoop, my quilt is perfect. It got down to 8 celsius and I was snug and warm.
But my gps is a huge power suck but I would never go in that muddy accident-waiting-to-happen area without SOS capability.
Oh, and camp shoes. So many ultra-lighters say don’t bother. This middle-aged wannabe asks how good y’all felt in the NZ bush without ‘em?
But now I’m packed, fed, heeded nature’s call and have to contend with my trail runners and socks. ‘Just do it’ runs through my mind. And you thought I was having a nice walk in the forest? ha!
Irene tells me she needs to walk 24k per day to get to Kerikeri, where she’ll head home. Also mentions a hamburger awaits if we get down this mountain in time. Sounds good just now. It’s food that keeps the weary thru-hiker moving forward. Brits Rowan and Rebecca joined us after dark in this wide grassy part of the trail. He has no reservations mentioning how many sweets they packed. We’re kindred spirits. Bye-bye Whole30.
Slowly working my way towards farmland. No less muddy, but fences appear, a stile, four abalone shells nailed to a tree.
In fact, the mud is worse. A halfway-up-calves soul-destroying indignity of ooze.
I fall down flat on my bum with a loud “Noooooo!” Mud and wet oozes into my panties. Invasive gorse lines the trail reaching out to scratch me. I’m proud that I hike in long sleeves and long pants. When will this forest end?
Then as suddenly as it starts, it’s over. Opening to fields and hills beyond. A dried cow-pie welcomes me to this gentle slope. I was only just then asking myself if I could handle this. There’s no warmup for the Te Araroa, neither physically or psychologically. It makes me wonder if it was all worth. The ‘it’ being the leave from my work and all the risk and confusion that fostered.
Funny how a dry, grassy slope in cool air lifts the spirits. Soon a road, heavy caked mud falling off my feet with every step. Cattle greet my “Moo!” and a horse lets me stroke her soft, redolent face. About a dozen dogs begin barking when I’m still 10 minutes up the hill. English Jane and Richard make breakfast by a stream as I push on. Long strides now for the blissful hiker.
I come upon a sweet camping area for koha (donation) and rinse off in the river. The mud is thick like gumbo and I have to sit down in the water and scrape it off.
Next, road walk.
Long, endless, verge-less road walk. It’s lovely here, but Kiwis drive fast. Only a few k to a hamburger, I keep telling myself.
Really? You needed to pass right then so you were centimeters from flattening me? Nice. Calm down, Al and don’t forget to face traffic. Walk on right.
Ah, the Mangamuka Dairy. Just in time. This is the local hangout. Richard and Jane catch up and the phones are charging.
The trail turns up lovely Omuhatu Road towards the forest. Under the bridge is access to deep water for my Sawyer squeeze and another plunge. Irene and I talk about our families as cows look on.
A farmer comes down to the gate with a dog perched on back of a 4×4. He tells me she’s called Penelope. When I say her name, she leaps off to come for a hello, until he calls her back to work, barking in the cows to milk. Another fellow comes by in a motorbike; muddy boots, shorts. He’s a Milk Sharer. Owns the cattle and borrowing the land. Woofers would be those working the land for a week’s pay and rent.
Soon I turn up the hills into the forest. Signs everywhere to tell us to stay on the track to not spread Kauri Dieback.
Irene reveals to me her relationships with family members, some controlling, some impossible. It resonates. She says she has broad shoulders. Some see her cool and aloof, but she does not feel that. Just so busy with own life to get drawn into drama. I wish I had some of Irene in me – and I see why we didn’t connect at first.
Up and up we go through magnificent Kauri, but on road giving me a chance to see beyond my next foot placement. Walking in this peaceful forest at 4:00 is quite the contrast from last night’s panic to find a suitable grassy bit as the sun went down.
I take a detour to the giant stump which is a bit of a let down. I can’t tell if what I see is blocking the true stump, but one look past into the muddy darkness turns me back towards tonight’s camp spot just ahead.
Apple Dam Camp is a wide grassy spot in the bush. Birds surround us, Belgium Bram and Aussie Andi are here, with an added bonus of a perfect little washing stream, cool on my tired feet as I scrub out the last of the thick pasty mud on my socks and toenails. It’s just after 5, but I am already lying down.
It’s at the end of a day I think I have the time to mull over my ‘purpose’ but I find I’m far too tired to do more than make a meal, send this missive and figure out how I’m going to walk over 30k tomorrow.
No rest these first days for the weary.