The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, and dignity.
On day 99 of my thru-hike of the Te Araroa, I completely lost it.
It was a combination of utter exhaustion walking a non-existent trail – the rocks hurt my feet and the grass is taller than my head! – being overheated and hungry, and having spent the night in a hut with a couple of unfriendly Kiwi trampers.
I turned on video to capture this very real moment of just how difficult thru-hiking can be on all parts of our person – body, mind and spirit.
It cracks me up looking back from the comfort of my air conditioned studio that I laugh at myself, even when crying so hard the snot is leaking out of my nose…
Walking is how the body measures itself against the earth.
I was asked earlier this week to participate in the Minnesota Women’s Press August “Body” issue by answering this question in 500 words or less, “How do you nourishes your body and soul?” Here’s a preview of my answer and I look forward to those of my fellow Minnesotan sisters!
There’s really no trail from Royal Hut to Stag Saddle. Instead, in typical Kiwi fashion, it’s a pick-your-way between orange markers on soggy, tussocky humps of grass, back and forth across a boulder-strewn stream, and straight up from one false summit to the next. The sun is hot in a bluebird sky and the route is steep. I’m glad I have hiking poles.
Yesterday, the trail got the best of me. I sat down to rest and immediately started crying, ready to quit and go home. Today is day 100 of a thru-hike of New Zealand. I put life on pause to walk this, a risk I was willing to take before my arthritic feet impeded my “full time pedestrian” status.
I’m known as the Blissful Hiker and one would assume it’s walking that nourishes my body and soul. That’s true, of course, but it’s only part of the story.
My earliest memory is of looking down at my feet in wonder as they moved me up to the back door of our church where my father was the minister. Up there, was nursery school! I can still see the dappled light on the sidewalk, roly-poly caterpillars in brown and black, my arms swinging, propelling me along. The moment is indelible because it was the first time I felt in charge of my being, drunk on the power of the simple act of moving myself forward with my legs.
These things are ours for God creates within our soul a mystic sense of wonder that we may hear allegro tunes among tall swaying cattails.
Before we get to birds, a small bit of business.
So many of you have asked me how to pronounce New Zealand’s “Te Araroa.” This is my hiking-partner-for-the-first-eight-days Irene’s dad’s longtime girlfriend, Vern with her gorgeous Kiwi accent setting us straight on this Maori word.
Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.
I met Emily Granger a bit by accident while nosing around instagram. The minute I saw this accomplished musician who doubles as a hiking fiend, I messaged her that she’s my absolute heroine. She wrote right back to remind me that I’d reviewed her in the Harp Column and we were (sort of) already friends. A superstar American harpist now living in Sydney, Emily hiked the Camino de Santiago, the John Muir Trail, heaps of Colorado fourteeners and New Zealand’s Te Araroa. Patagonia is the destination for her upcoming honeymoon. Now that’s the way to start a marriage! ~alison
Fungus was certainly among us when Richard and I walked the Kepler Track in New Zealand’s South Island. Seeing these pictures again brings back for me all those long walks through the bush – especially its rich pungency.
Follower Thomas taught me a new word – “petrichor” – which refers to the pleasant odor that fills our nostrils after the first rain following a dry stretch, a heavenly scent indeed. If only I could offer up a scratch-and-sniff…
I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself.
The main goal of this five-month leave from work and life has been ticked off the list and there are a few days left before Richard arrives, so I fill the time by leaping over to New Zealand’s third island.
I’m tired – supremely grateful not to be injured or otherwise damaged – but tired to the bone physically and emotionally. While hiding out in Otautau to get behind a couple of trail jerks – I should mention we call those helpful to walkers ‘trail angels’ and this is my polite name for the opposite – I do something positive and forward thinking and schedule huts on Stewart Island’s great walk beginning the day I plan to finish the TA. It’s a short and easy hike and my feeling at the time is this is just about the extent of what I can handle. But I am supremely on the fence about it all. I’m the most fit of my life and now have full-on New Zealand tramper cred. A great walk means crowds – less fit crowds.
But I don’t have enough time for the nine days of the Northwest Circuit and besides, people warn me of ‘heaps of sandflies’ and epic mud. Frankly, my stomach turns at the thought of another week of noodles and tuna to power more bush bashing. But still I’m unsettled heading across Foveaux Strait, a gnawing feeling accompanying growing sea sickness that at the end of my hike, I’m wimping out.
Again stars were working overtime, but in the grassy dip set aside for Te Araroa tents, dew built up on the alicoop and I felt a chill overnight. Packing up is always interesting with a sopping wet tent so I retreat to the game room/kitchen for tea until the sun makes an appearance.
The Swedish boys smoke and relive the most recent muddiness while we organize at the picnic table. I realize they have no idea what real mud is having not walked the North Island. Friends, I survived New Zealand mud and blissfully happy it’s in my past now. Or is it? On the heels of the finish in Bluff tomorrow, I’ll head to Stewart Island after one of the wettest summers in some time. Maybe I haven’t had my fill.