I sleep well outside. It’s cooler and the stars come out, diamonds displayed on black velvet. There’s no relief from the swarming sandflies. Did I mention they bite? The painful, itchy welt shows up three days later so you have a hard time blaming any one fly.
It’s not long before I’m packed and off where the nasties stay far away from me. I cross a one-person-at-a-time suspension bridge over the Pelorus river then leave the river after Middy hut and go straight up the ridge through beech forest to Rock hut. It’s humid, the cicadas crackling like a live wires after a storm. Staying ‘under my breath’ my pace slows.
Time loses meaning on a thru-hike. An hour slips past, then another. I stop to take huge gulps of ‘pink’ – a bright electrolyte mixed with filtered river water. I like to hike early because it’s cooler and the whole day is in front of me to do whatever I want with it. Wind is gently blowing in the tree tops.
I stop at Rocks hut and see friends have passed through. I eat the rest of my salami, fill the water and head to Browning hut along a saddle. It’s a lot of hard work for virtually no view this far, though giant mountains peak through the trees. Maybe I should count my blessings I’m not hiking in direct sun.
I come to a special spot of dappled light on moss and lichen-covered boulders – Hobbit Haunt. Just now, a cool breeze dries me off and I hold out my arms like a cormorant.
At a huge blowdown, I finally see the monster range. No snow, but lots of scree on the summits.
Big mountains to my left, ocean to my right on Totara saddle. Wind is up and I run into two TA hikers I met on the way to Wellington. The American gal is pretty unfriendly behind her radiant smile. The only thing she said to me on Kaukau when the end of the North Island was in sight on a brilliant sunny day was, “How did you get ahead of us?”
Or maybe she’s just boring.
All these young people pair up and I march on alone most of the time. I’d like a ‘hi, how are ya?’ once in a while. But then later I pass her struggling on the steep downhill.
Oh, maybe it’s that she’s just tired.
I really need to chill on being so judgy.
I think about this theme of being alone and finding very few companions that want to hike with me, that check in on me. These last days, while the weather’s been good, I feel strong and brave and self-directed. I ask for advice, and some is critical, like the Kiwi at the hut who told me the trail would go straight up after Middy and the ridge had absolutely no water sources. I observe too, and try to ascertain what sort of changes I can make, like watching TA hiker Rob sketch out his plan for the coming range and Pierre doing shorter days fully resupplied, then building k’s as the food runs out. Ultimately, though, every decision is my own.
With no one that I’m paired with, I need to rely on my wits and in turn, be accountable just to myself. Sometimes it causes fear so overwhelming, it’s physical, closing off my throat. I can’t breath. I can’t speak.
When I first started hiking solo, I remember being unable to close my eyes at night. I felt terrorized by every sound, and every thought. In time, it passed and I am most comfortable in my little tent, cuddled in with my quilt. I close my eyes immediately and sleep well.
Perhaps my fear of the unknown will pass too. I can prepare, assess risk, plan an escape and then simply let go. I wonder if learning to manage things on my own is one of the lessons of this long hike.
As I reach Browning hut at 480 meters, I run into Floris and Marjelain! “No way!” says Floris to which I reply “Way!” I’m so happy to bump into them right before they plan to continue and I plan to go to Nelson.
A huge washout takes the trail down to rock hopping and weird down climbing. I cross the incredibly refreshing Hacket creek several times as I head to the car park and notice plastic envelopes on the trees – wasp bait stations. Another introduced pest.
The good news is this short track out – which I’ll take right back up in a few days – is a flat superhighway. I fly down to another swing bridge just as a man begins to cross.
It’s my new friend Steve meeting me exactly at the end! A Minnesotan-classical-music-lover-tramper now New Zealand citizen. He just happened to stumble on the article about my leave to hike posted on MPR’s website and invited me to visit and we become fast friends stumbling over each other to share stories and ask questions.
Steve and Maggie have a lovely home on the Maitai river. We visit the restored old town and have a fantastic carb-heavy meal including an ‘NPA’ – Nelson Pale Ale – a local brew that uses hops from Nelson, famous for their popularity world wide. The conversation doesn’t stop until we all finally have to succumb to sleep. I’ll have a chance to challenge my intellect and artistic side while here and make a side trip to famous Abel Tasman park before I’ll need to get back on trail.
A spectacular sunset crowns this superb day of powerful hiking and wonderful views. Aside from very itchy bites, I’m feeling well and proud of the distance I managed over this past week – while still savoring the views, both expansive and intimate.
But now, it’s time to rest my body and dream of more trail to walk by a woman discovering her stride.