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.
Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.
At my last Zoom presentation, a participant asked how do you get in shape for a long walk? I published this blog less than a week before I left for the Te Araroa and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit it!
The short answer is by being in shape, which sounds much harder than it is! What I mean is take on the attitude of having physical fitness – in all forms – a part of your being.
How does one do that? Well, by choosing each day to move.
The list below covers most things I like to do to make myself strong enough to manage the rigors of a thru-hike, though Richard and I have lately been doing a daily morning routine with Russian Kettlebells.
Bells are lifted, swung, and pivoted around the body in orbits and figure eights. A series of kettle bell activities, along with planks and pushups, may very well be the number one routine worth adding to prepare for a thru-hike because they strengthen the core and improve balance – and let’s face it, you look like a bad ass swinging them!
We’re home tonight after the concert we planned to attend was cancelled due to Covid-19. This is all a bit unnerving and scary, but hopefully drastic measures will help the medical community get control of things.
Frankly, I don’t mind a little social distancing at home. Richard and I still have a few more tasks to take care of on the voice recording booth. But first, we walked hand-in-hand to the local market, the evening clear and brisk with no snow on the ground as winter gives way to spring. We then put every Billy Joel album we own on the stereo, one after the other, singing loudly to our favorites as we sawed and glued. Home is a good place, especially when you have love, memories and hobbies surrounding you.
It made me think of meeting Sam Risjord last summer, a man who moved back to his home in Southern Washington when he really could have lived anywhere. He likes it in Stevenson, a place his family has called home for generations. Somehow its sweetness was more acute after being gone for so long.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me by phone on that cold, blustery and rainy day last March as I holed up in Otautau after an upsetting encounter with an aggressive male tramper. Your calming voice and sensible advice helped me complete the trail in Bluff full of joy and big smiles – a trail I set out to walk four months earlier from Cape Reinga. I am forever grateful that you pointed me in the right direction and sent me on my way feeling strong again.
When we talked, you asked that I share with you a few ideas about how the trail might be improved. I have had the opportunity to talk with trail friends as well as Kiwi trampers to come up with a few ideas that would not cost a lot of money or manpower, but might offer an opportunity for the trail to succeed in even more potent ways.
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.
Stars are shining when I poke my head out of the alicoop, though clouds crowd in as I stroll to the beach to wake up. Initially I intended to wait until the tide was going out, but once I got on the beach, I change my mind, risking getting pushed onto soft sand but figuring morning light makes hard walking worth it.