I suppose it’s a bit odd to snag a zero day when I’m just two days from finishing the North Island, but when Julian and I drove back from Taranaki on New Year’s day – passing through lovely Whanganui – I found I was still absolutely shattered from our spontaneous sunrise climb. So I just had to give my friends George and Rob a call to ask if I might crash at their place for the night.
They welcome me back and insist I sleep in late and feed me highly nutritious meals accompanied by a summery sparkling wine. They are absolutely lovely people, talking and laughing with me, watching more awesome Maori TV together, and even offering me the Veet left here by a male French Te Araroa walker to melt the hair on my legs – obviously one of the subjects of so much laughter. I am restored in so many ways and tomorrow they’ll drop me right back at the very spot I left off in Paekakariki.
As I approach the end of the first half of the trail – and the start of my third month walking – I reflect on how the North Island, while filled with beautiful scenery and views, was less a hike in the traditional sense, and more about meeting amazingly generous people.
In my short time here, I have found myself taken care of by strangers in ways that did in fact restore something deep inside me, something damaged, barren, in need of just that right amount of TLC. New Zealand is teaching me about giving and sharing, turning my sometimes self-centeredness on its head.
And so much of the kindness I’ve received has been with a typically Kiwi casualness – no big production, no keeping score, just a sense that this is how they do things. My responsibility, then, is to graciously pay it forward, which I will.
I get a lot of business out of the way today like organizing my ferry ride to Picton and on to Ship’s Cove where I’ll start the Queen Charlotte track. I also begin to wrap my head around where to send resupply, who will hold my bounce box on the South Island, what I need to buy in Wellington and what to see while being a tourist this weekend. I am far more grounded as I cuddle in now since the TA does requires lots of mini plans-within-plans.
Thankfully, I’m not injured or in pain, just a little bruised from loads of slips, my toenails permanently stained by mud, my skin tone a bit darker on the parts of my bony frame where my pack rubs, and my hands and face tanner than I want them to be.
I think the reason I have managed walking this far is that in my normal life, I walk every day. I walk to work and back in all weather and walk the neighborhood, to stores, yoga, the train, etc. It doesn’t sound like much, but I think it helps me know my body really well. It might be why I don’t mind walking the entire trail, even the boring bits, because I do it all the time.
A follower wrote me to share his watching a special on the Camino in Spain. What struck him were two comments –
“One: What is bad for the ego is good for the soul. Two: The Camino begins as a break from your life, and then you come to see that the long walk IS your life.”
Ain’t that the truth. A full time pedestrian seeing life’s challenges and joys in each step.