Scary Bridge

This can’t be happening?! I’ve had bad dreams almost exactly like this.

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Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope!

There was some hyperventilation. Some attempts and then turn backs. A lot of help from Craig, and eventually I made it across the bridge. It’s 140 meters high. That’s 460ft.

After the first one, there were 4 more a lot like it, but slightly less high and long. Amazingly I got better at crossing them as the days went by. I even came to respect them as an impressive structures. It’s over now, so that’s good. I know it’s good to get out of your comfort zone every now and then. Man o’ man, that was some tough stepping for me to get through.DSC05186[1]P1010359

Glimmer

For many kilometers after Auckland, it turns out to be a  pretty long section of road walking. Not the fun kind either. You walk by the airport, by large warehouses, by water treatment plants, by shopping malls, expensive hotels, and sometimes crammed to a very narrow shoulder of a major highway. It’s not ideal. Then you add a really major rainstorm to the mix and it makes for some rather rough times.

Still, we were not without our good experiences. On the second day of the storm, after a soggy road walk through some of the previous mentioned sights, a man pulled up beside us in his truck. “Hey, TA hikers. I bet you’d appreciate a place to stay indoors tonight.” To which we responded wide-eyed with some drooling and head nods. He wrote down his address and said we would be there in a couple hours walk. He had hiked the trail last year himself.

It’s amazing how much that cheered us up. We skipped along the road after that. We still had a steep climb through mud and thistles, but we found ourselves at his doorstep in pretty good spirits. He had a beautiful home and a lot of great advice to share. He fed us, gave us beer, and looked through the maps with us to give us some pointers on some of the trails ahead. It was so nice to have an experienced hiker to talk to.

We set off the next morning to less rain, but more roads. We felt better for our nice stay indoors, but then came some pretty impressive mud, some heat, way more cows than I would ever like to walk through, and some really long, flat road walks. For days. No joke.

On a positive note, there was a bar, Podge’s Place, that lets hikers stay the night. We met 5 other hikers there, all from the States, and had some great laughs that night. It’s a pretty good strategy to tell hikers they can camp for free behind your bar. They are guaranteed to spend plenty of dough on bar food and beers. The women who work there call themselves the Walker Stalkers and were really good to us, even had a place we could shower. We set up a shanty town of tents in their backyard and had a great time.

 

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The next day we walked nearly a 50k day of flat hot roads and hard to follow river trail. I think that’s the most my feet have hurt so far. I actually switched to my sandals because my feet were so swollen. We made it to this really nice place that night. It’s called Remember Then and man o man was it lovely! It was a really charming setting with incredible hosts, a garden to eat out of, homemade kombucha, and a place to watch movies! That was really something.

Then, there was more road. Bits of trail and river path, a little farm track, a lot of pavement. You get the idea. I think the stretch from Auckland to Waitomo, which is 300 km, is at least 60% road walking.

That’s why we were so amazed when we found this…….

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This was the Pirongia forest. Things were finally starting to be the kind of wilderness experience we were hoping for. We loved it. Great views, well maintained trails, and then some strikingly beautiful bush to walk through besides. It really helped to pick us up.

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After that forest, we felt a bit recharged. We were back to road walking, but a nice gravel one with little traffic.  We found a spot to pitched that looked like an old mining road. It seemed like it was going to work for the night. Even when we woke up hours later to a critter poking around us. Turned out to be a possum, which is a huge issue here in New Zealand. They are everywhere. We hadn’t bothered with the rain fly that night and enjoyed watching the stars. We cringed watching the possum climb the tree limb right above us, and thought, ‘please don’t drop down on our tent’ though it looked like a thought the possum was trying to sort out. I turned over on my side nervously. If I sleep through this, it will go away, I thought. Then I noticed something much more astonishing.

The stars were in the trees beside us. Wait, how could that be. I’m pretty certain we are right beside a rock wall with a few trees on it. Then I realised what I was looking at. Glow worms. What a marvel. It really reminded me of the starry night sky. It was as if they were sprinkled all around us, not just above. I smiled. What a great country. Possum or no possum, I like this place!

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Hey Farmer Farmer!

I want to preface this rant with the truth. I’m a vegan. So my appreciation for cows is not a strong one. I will try to leave that out of this. As a general observation, environmental politics aside, I’m just rather sure that farmers hate hikers.

In compliment sandwich format, I would like to start by saying something nice about farmers. Truly, it is generous of them to let us pass through their land. The TA organization works hard to get permission and find routes to cut off road walks as much as possible. Not an easy task in primarily private land. We’ve had a few farmers set up camping areas for us, we’ve gotten great hitches with them, we’ve been treated rather well. Gratitude for those people.

Still, the hardest thing we have to do here is farm tracks. They are hot, steep, choppy, covered in poo, and for extra fun, overgrown with thorns, thistles, and gorse (which I would describe as stinging nettles bigger and meaner cousin). When we come to farm tracks, which usually begin with a few big hoists over styles that guide you over barbed wire, I get, winey, and say, “No!” hoping it can change the course of my next couple hours. Alas, it doesn’t work. Turns out the universe doesn’t rearrange for you when you don’t feel like going through something.

The other day we were walking out of the Waitomo Caves area, just leaving a visitor center, and I thought it a good time to call my mom. There would be some road walking for a bit and perhaps we would be in reception for a while. We were speaking for about 3 minutes, when we came over a style, which means pastures. No big deal, we do that all the time. I apologized to my mom for being out of breath, as it tends to be pretty hilly in those areas, but I was happy to talk to her. Bonus, my little sister and her girlfriend were over, so it was great to get to catch up.

We hopped another style into a field with cows standing around in it. We do that often, so I didn’t think much of it. Something didn’t feel right. I was trying to focus on catching up with my family, but the cow in front of us was making some ridiculous noises. I gave a frustrated laugh and asked my mom if she could here the angry bull. It felt like I could hike with her, and show her some of the realities of this journey. She heard alright, and Craig turned around in front of me and gave me a severe look that said, this isn’t funny, as the bull started stomping it’s hooves and nodding it’s head at us. We did a quick retreat and looked for another way through the pasture. As we moved on, we just encountered other bulls with the same general attitude toward us. This time, I was trying to talk to my little sister about her new job. It didn’t work out so well, as much as I wanted to talk, I simply needed both hands for fence hopping in this field of charging bulls. She was on board for that. I got off the phone abruptly, and cursed the cows. We made it toward someone’s driveway and decided to road walk around the pastures. It would add a few kilometres, but it sounded like a great alternative.

Yikes! I really don’t like cows. Especially when I see them dropping their ploppies right into the river. Not cool cow! Not cool.

Compliment sandwich continued, it’s not all cows. There are a lot of critters we’ve really enjoyed walking with and found rather cute and corky. Here are some…..

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Never thought I would walk with an ostrich, but this fellow was keen on it. He walked with us all the way to the end of his fence, and then waved goodbye and looked bummed out when we walked beyond it.

Thanks for listening, and thanks, Mom and Mackenzie for putting up with me.

 

A Bouquet for Aunt Lu

My aunt Lu is one of the most extraordinary people I know. Courageous, kind, big-hearted, and full of a contagious lust for life. She’s been there for me every step of my every journey and I’m always walking with her.

I got to spend a couple months near her right before moving to New Zealand, and learned what an incredible gardener she is. So as a tribute and a thank you to my amazing aunt, I thought I would put together a beautiful bouquet of New Zealand flowers I’ve seen. To show that I’m thinking of her all the time, and grateful she is still here to share flowers with.

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This is the New Zealand Christmas Tree, it’s large and bright and wonderful.

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These we are told, are weeds. Pretty nice looking, but hard to keep back.

Some Beautiful Hydrangeas

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This one, nick-named “Bird of Paradise” makes me laugh

Here are some random other flowers we found along the way. It’s been so beautiful.

 

For funsies, here are some of our critter friends.

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This is Sheryl, the Sparrow. Two women who are thru-hiking found her nearly dead and have nursed her and kept her along for the journey. It was so inspiring to see her trust and communication with her two human mommies.

Things are going great! Thanks for the encouragement from everyone. And big thanks, Aunt Lu, for the love that helps me soar. I love you!

Friendly As

I thought I knew trail magic, but I’ve never seen it like this before. We’ve been hiking from home to home here, through a network of people who make themselves known to hikers. We’ve slept clean more often than not since Paihia. We’ve been invited to more than one Christmas dinner, sang songs around the campfire, been fed fresh produce out of people’s gardens, and had many a warm conversation.

Christmas was spent at an amazing place called Nikau Bay, with an incredible host, James, and a great group of people vacationing there. Who shared their family love with us and made us feel quite at home. So much that we stayed an extra day. They were hilarious, and very down to earth. They are a group or professional water skiers, with a lot of great stories. We talked about family and education and really related to each other. Then the tone of the night changed a bit, when Chris, a musician, called for all of our attention and then serenaded me with a song from Flight of the Concords. It was quite the night from then on. They taught us a raunchy song about Kaitaia, a town in the North, that I’ve had in my head for days. I sang some songs for them and we all sang Van Morrison and John Denver songs together till midnight.

After that was Tidesong. An absolutely lovely place with great trail angels who have really built a nice spot for hikers. They were having Christmas dinner with their family when we arrived, and not only didn’t mind the interruption, but shared their dessert buffet with us. The couple who run this bed and breakfast, Hugh and Ross, were trail hikers and bikers themselves and really understand and love the world of it all. They live at an estuary crossing. You have to wait for low tide to get across it, and it’s a pretty fun mud walk. We were sent off by a small party with a pocket full of pancakes the next morning, it was wonderful.

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Here we are at Tidesong, just about to walk the mud.DSC05165[1]

Then on New Years Eve, an incredible couple saw us walking the road and stopped to ask if we wanted to stay with them for the holiday. We were quick to take them up on it, and rang in the new year with great conversation from a very compassionate kiwi family who work hard to keep New Zealand strong and well. We talked about some of the issues that I really hoped to hear some local perspective on, and they were a great family to hear from. Rob is a social worker who works with kids age 14-17 and sees a lot of real stuff in his daily life, and Margi is an elected city board member who, among many things, has headed up a project to put in a much needed bike route for Auckland’s commuters. They both have giant hearts and work hard with them. We stayed up till midnight with them and their daughter, Tess. We were very lucky for it.

The hiking has been wonderful as well. It’s been almost too easy so far. We are in the most populated part of the country, so it’s practically a sandwich to sandwich hike. A concept I very much enjoy but truly don’t feel that I’ve earned yet. We haven’t even lost our hard earned tummy rolls yet. We haven’t been that hungry, or achy, or dirty, but we’re still grateful. It’s really quite extraordinary what people will do for strangers. It seems some of us have learned, there’s no such thing.

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This is the stunning Mangawhai Cliff Walk, which was one of my favorite sights so far.

Rough Water

I think one of the better parts of hiking a long trail is the suffering. Maybe not the actual suffering, but certainly the moments of glorious turmoil where you get extra dramatic and think you’ve met your end. This is a story about Craig, me, and the fin above water between.

We were priding ourselves on the ease of this endeavor. So many nice people helping us out, so much lucky timing for tide crossings. That was our first mistake. Just that morning we were speaking of it. We even had one 44k day where our first steps were an estuary crossing perfectly timed at an 8am low tide, and our last steps were another estuary crossing perfectly timed at 8:30pm. High five us! Weeeeeeeee! Look at us go, Mom!

Then we were sitting in the grass on New Year’s Day, feeling lucky for our hummus wraps, the generosity of strangers, and the km we had already covered for the day, when we realized we had overlooked a rather important feature coming up. It was a river crossing that required a low tide. Where we were sitting, we were 4km from it, and an hour past low tide. Maybe we could scurry and make it happen. Surely, it was worth a shot.

Then came the rain. Believe me, I don’t ever oppose the rain. There are times that my soggy feet make me a bit grumpy, but I always recognize rain as good. I want the trees to have it. I want the grass to stay green. There are few things in life I dread more than going thirsty, and I try to understand how the plants must feel in a drought. So rain, yes, but then estuary crossing, not so much. We arrived in good time, but the water had risen quite a lot. Craig and I were several meters apart, trying to negotiate our own path across the mud, when he started crossing the river behind me.

“I don’t know that it’s safe.” I said.

“I just want to see how it goes.” He said. I followed with hesitation. Thinking it’s probably a bad idea, but it shouldn’t hurt to check.

The water was murky, and moving quite a bit. It didn’t look super deep, so far. Craig was in the low thigh range, and I, closer to shore, was just at knee level when I saw this…

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This is not our photo, but this is what we saw.

I tried to stay calm. “Craig, there’s something in the water!” It flashed again, as I spoke. Craig saw it. It was right in between him and I, so naturally, he went running away from it, toward the opposite shore. Which turned out to be deep! I watched helplessly as Craig fluttered around in circles, water chest high, backpack and all. After circling around, with a similar anxiety to a dog that can’t find it’s stick in the water, he resolved to make his way back toward me, and managed to do so without getting chewed on.

Reaching shore, we sat for a helpless few minutes. Now things were wet that we really needed dry, and we had a long way to go around. Things had changed a bit in the short hour since we were eating lunch and deeming ourselves a success. What can you do though? The ocean is queen, and she won’t let you get the impression that you control things. You don’t. You just step lightly and hope for the best.

From there it was a gorgeous forest walk for a few km and then a lot of road walking, not the pleasant kind either, and being off trail was unsettling. We rejoiced when we saw the ocean again, 3 hours later. If the estuary would have been timed right, we would have avoided that detour. It’s a great reminder. Heed the ocean. Don’t rely on being lucky. The next day I came across a quote that I know was speaking to me. “Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” -Thomas Edison.

During the walk around the river, we happened by a lovely bridge across the estuary that had just kicked us around. As we watched the water, the very same vision of fin appeared. From the bridge above, we saw quite well, that it was, in fact, the wing of a stingray. We marveled, we laughed, and we kept walking.

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