The rain slashed against the windows all night. Was it wind making it sound heavier than it is or will the rivers we have to cross this morning respond by becoming impassable?
No way to know until we leave. I slept poorly because my feet were on fire with sandfly bites. Maggie gave me an antihistamine before I left Nelson, so I popped one in the middle of the night and the itch finally calmed down, but I’ll need to get some medicine – if we make it to Arthur’s Pass today.
The hut is cold and damp. No stove here for warming and drying. The Kiwi and Austrians were up and out early and now I feel nervous about getting out. At least I have plenty of food left in case we’re trapped.
I must say that I am incredibly lucky on this trail – blessed, gifted, charmed – whatever word you want to use, I feel some power providing for my needs as I navigate the rough and varied terrain that pushes me to my physical limit as well as manage the psychological challenges of taking on something this huge. Tomaš and Alessio entered this drama right on cue and were true to their word, sticking close by when things got tricky.
Two older Kiwis – shame on me, Jill is exactly my age! – are not worried this morning at all, noting there was only a few millimeters of rain overnight, not enough to raise the river levels ahead.
So we eat in the dim light, then pack up, put on rain gear and head into the mist. The trail is a rock-filled stream up to the pass with many chicken-wired boardwalks placed over wet areas, a welcome change from yesterday’s walk. It’s easy at first, cruising actually, until the first crossing.
The anticipation turns out to be greater than the reality. Yes, I step on stones with gallons and gallons of water pouring over, fast and furious, but I have the gist of how to step in, or balance on the big rocks, and move through.
What does challenge me are the downhill portions over slippery roots, slanting rocks and diving down like a roller coaster. I touch roots like well greased handles and slowly lower myself. Then, I shoot right back uphill trying to make up for my careful stepping as Alex follows, politely allowing me to go first.
The familiar feeling of being a burden returns and I dwell on what Alex will say later, something to the effect of, “Guiding a middle aged lady was not what I signed up for.”
But then I tell myself something a very wise person once told me – what people say about you is none of your business. It’s a funny axiom, that at first seems to mean ‘mind your own affairs,’ but after some contemplation I realize is more about not trying to control people, just be who you are, act with integrity and let them develop whatever impression they choose.
Alex doesn’t have to walk with me if he doesn’t want to.
So maybe my fear of inconveniencing people or asking for too much is about something else. I want to do this hike alone – I am doing it alone – but I need help sometimes. It’s not a sign of weakness or poor planning, it’s actually smart to know when it’s better to walk as a group. For example, Lauren, the Kiwi came up alone yesterday, but this morning with rain, she walked with others.
There’s so much for me to learn about myself on this walk, I’m truly amazed at how much gets thrown at me every day.
We go up and down again, crossing side streams and hopping over boulders sheared off the sides of high mountains, their summits beginning to appear as the sky clears.
Alex and I talk about his work in wineries and free lifestyle, three years away from Florence with no home. He tells me he likes to walk with people and sometimes to walk alone, and is pleased to stick together. He also tells me can always pick out the American hikers – carrying small backpacks and in such a hurry, they make no time to stop and talk. I feel competitiveness from certain hikers – many of them Americans – but I’d hate to think I’m projecting my own on them or that I’m in a big hurry.
How do I ‘hike my own hike’ and have it be enough for me? I like that I went really far some days on this thru-hike for a variety of reasons like avoiding a group of ten hikers or positioning for good weather – I like that I can go far when I want to. And at least I think I do it for me not to be the fastest or the strongest middle aged woman on the trail.
Today’s shorter walk ends with a long boulder strewn river bed, four crossings of a braided Bealey river and then the highway across train tracks. Just like that this section ends.
The guys walk the six k’s off trail to Arthur’s Pass where our resupply boxes await pickup and I get a ride with Tom in a vintage Chevy, on his way home from a car show in Christchurch. He wants my pack and sticks in the boot to protect his pristine interior and refuses to take any other riders.
I get to the DOC office and there’s a package for me from Will including a note he’d like me to deliver to his best friend who just happens to live in White Bear Lake, Minnesota plus a cookie and lollies – dispatched immediately – and a card telling me to remember “knowone (sic) has walked a step for you.” Funny that Alex tells me the same thing.
I immediately begin calling motels and hostels for a place to break, but everything is full due to a race – the runners we saw on the Deception River? Not sure. The trio that left first this morning got the last beds.
I make a call to Steve on the off chance he knows someone in the area. Ten minutes later, Jane calls me offering the use of her bach – or cabin – for a few nights.
She graciously allows me to include my friends who saw me through these last days. So after a big meal in town of steak pie, fries and salad, we make ourselves at home in this cozy, comfy 1950’s bungalow with wood stove and long drop. Music is playing and we cook up eight packages of noodles and wash them down with strong Czech liquor Tom has squirreled away in his resupply. Tomorrow the weatherman promises rain and I will sleep through it on a well earned zero day.
I am floored by Jane’s generosity, for Steve making that fortuitous phone call, for Alex and Tom staying close, for everyone that has helped me on this trail. There’s a sentence in the Psalms that captures what I feel as I close my eyes now – my cup runneth over.