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TA Day 86, Waiau Hut to Boyle Flat Hut, 43 km

Kuba’s alarm wakes us in the morning. Usually just the sunrise gets me up, but last night there was a full moon that shined brightly once it cleared the mountains. I even slipped out of my bunk to see its light illuminate this stunning valley of straw-colored grass and towering peaks.

I pack and go as usual with a quick goodbye. I hope to make a big day so the next I can get caught up in the little village before hitting the trail again for the next section.

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TA Day 85, Blue Lake Hut to Waiau Hut, 17 km

Rain spatters the windows as the sky lightens, though wind seems to have stilled. Snoring and adjusting keeps me awake, though, to be fair it’s the unknown that has me tossing. I look outside and the mountains are hidden in mist.

I walk over to Russell still nestled in his upper bunk. “Why are you shaking your head? We’re going!” I’m skeptical, telling him I’ll head to the long drop and check the weather on the gps.

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TA Day 84, Upper Travers Hut to Blue Lake Hut, 16 km

Charley’s alarm wakes me around 5. He has plans to cross both passes today – and I’m sure he’ll do it. I hope to make it over just one, the Travers Saddle. Will the mountains let me?

I take a look outside the window and I can’t believe it – clear skies turning pink from the sunrise. The long grass is golden, the peaks just getting hit by light. I roll out of my bunk immediately and get ready to go in no time.

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TA Day 83, St. Arnaud to Upper Travers Hut, 30 km

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do. With your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver

Sleep did not come easily. I was wound up with all the fever-pitch responses to my facebook query about the weather moving in and if I should move on. I came up with a plan to meet my friend Tom on Sunday and in the meantime hang out with Steve and Maggie until things clear, but something just didn’t sit right with this decision.

So I am up way too late and awake at my usual time, before dawn still worrying the decision to wait or move. At 8:00 I call the DOC office. A woman answers and seems totally relaxed. “The weather is so changeable in New Zealand,” she says and indicates it’ll be windy with rain starting at 4. “If it were me, I’d just keep walking.”

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TA Day 82, Red Hills Hut to St. Arnaud, 21 km

This morning I wake up on the edge of Mount Richmond Forest Park and say goodbye to this glorious – but very challenging – track. My pack is ripped, my hat rim busted and I’m worked over, but happy as can be, especially that I went all out last night to get this far with super cool people. Not all that many k’s but of course, not all kilometers are created equal.

It’s cloudy and cooler with rain expected tomorrow, but all I can think about is right now in this moment. My feet feel better, but they were a warty, water logged mess last night. I’ll need to dry my socks and shoes as much as possible in the coming weeks of river crossing upon river crossing. No, you do not stop to remove your shoes in New Zealand. You’d never get anywhere if you did.

I have no blisters but I am swollen from sandfly bites. We all shuffled about at night, Rob’s feet whacking my head and mine whacking Justin’s, but maybe I was the worst of the bunch, scratching my feet all night until I drew blood. Vicious little monsters.

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TA Day 81, Top Wairoa Hut to Red Hills Hut, 29 km

I awake with a jolt from nightmares. I’d gone home trying to explain what I’m doing and then had one of those dreams where your house has extra rooms you didn’t know about. Those are always a challenge for me as though I’m not tapping into my resources fully.

I also was stirred up seeing a weird note from Chloe in the DOC Intentions book – meant to keep track that people have paid for their hut stay and to know where they’ve been and where they’re headed should they go missing. It’s about escaping people who smell bad. Surely it’s a joke, but I found her so harsh and self centered, it strikes a chord in me and feels off-putting to read in this official book.

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TA Day 80, Rintoul Hut to Top Wairoa Hut, 22 km

I grab two bars, pack Olive Oyl and head up Purple Top before sunrise. A family of goats meets me as I come out of the trees, and low cloud like a bubble bath for row upon row of blue mountains.

The top is off trail, so I leave my pack below on a quest for views. The sun heats the valley, burning the cloud cover to small cottony drifters. I feel so energized after last night. Nice, interesting people. We laugh and share and commiserate. It is what I needed. I can see the hut from here and the long scree slog. Soon I’ll go down into the river valley and say goodbye to views for the rest of today.

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TA Day 79, Slaty Hut to Rintoul Hut, 13 km

The hut rattles and shakes in the wind, but when I step outside for the loo, it’s not cold. I sleep surprisingly well on my little bunk, pack up Olive Oyl and head up to the ridge along an eroded path.

The sky is crystal clear, the wind keeping me cool as I push up and over and back down into mossy, sun-dappled forest. I feel insecure after John’s bragging and relive the evening trying out new come-backs.

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TA Day 78, Hacket Track car park to Slaty Hut, 18 km

Maggie brings me outside when I wake up to show me my good luck charm – a rainbow. Cary joins us for the walk to whispering falls. A serpentine seam glistens in the sun. Maggie loaded me up with one more bagel and lox, extra cream cheese naturally. I have the last piece of rhubarb cake saved for when I finally reach the mountain view.