A stranger can somehow feel like family. It happens when you travel. It happens all the time. It happens an awful lot in New Zealand.
I’m writing this at the kitchen table of the Wright family. They’re at work right now. Livi and Gareth are teaching and Riley is starting secondary school today. Their youngest son, Nixon, starts school next week and is with his grandparents. We get to stay within these walls and experience these moments with them. They are happy to share it with us. Even gave us a key to their house when we first arrived, two days ago. They gave us their trust without even batting an eye. They are wonderful people too, full of life and adventures together.
How did we get here?
Honestly, it didn’t take much. About a week and a half ago, we celebrated my 31st birthday with a proper mountain beating. A day of cutty grass (which is well named) and crazy mud. Which gave us some lashes to wear proudly. Followed by a day we’d been rather excited for, the famous Tongariro Crossing. Nary a volcano I’ve heard of can offer this much mystery and humility in a 20km jaunt. In perfect comedic timing, we began our ascent in a storm. A thumping good one too. Relentless rain and wind in the socked-in clouds. It was pretty cool. I took a few pathetic photos of my wind blown, puffed out pants and the clouds all around us. Maybe we didn’t get to see much, but that’s ok with us. We put far too much emphasis on how things look anyway. We could taste the sulfur. We could feel the winds of “Mt. Doom” telling us we are puny. It was grand.
We got a pretty wet, naturally and looked forward to our lunch break in the Mangatepopo hut. Other hikers greeted us with smiles and made room. I was trying to prepare Craig not to get attached to having room in the shelter. More than once on the Appalachian Trail, back in 2011, I can recall approaching a shelter in the rain, with relief on my shoulders, only to catch mean stares from people huddled underneath it’s awning. They don’t make room for you, they don’t smile or say hello, they just glare are you like you’re not welcome and you turn around and try not to cry.
Not going to happen here. I’m pretty sure a Kiwi would let you sit on their lap before expecting you to stay out in the rain.
We sat with a family, laughing and playing cards. It struck me right away as a beautiful thing. These two young boys and their parents sharing this adventure together. Craig and I brewed up some coffee, and how! They laughed at our delight for it. This, in a nutshell, is why we hike. For the simple pleasure of holding a cup of something warm in your hand, with insatiable gratitude. To have good people see you in that moment, in it’s bare-bone honestly, is even more special.
Here’s the volcano a few days later, when the clouds cleared a bit.
Wee chatted about adventure for a while and were soon invited to stay in their home. We had three days of walking and four days rowing before we would be to their charming home town, but it was something all 6 of us were looking forward to.
They scooped us up as soon as we contacted them. Just after we got off the river and into some clean clothes in Wanganui. They took us first to a marvelous rocky pier at dusk. The moonlight was shining brightly off the water, and the waves were crashing all around us.
It’s so easy to love.
We had a great couple of days with them. They showed us around town, helped us get the supplies we needed, and we had dinner and trivia together in the evenings. We were really lucky to be so well received and taken care of. Gareth even gave Craig a new hat for the hike. He unfortunately lost it when we flipped our canoe in a rapid on the river.
Here we are at a lookout just before sunset.
This timing is really good for my soul. I’m beginning to cope with the reality of losing family in this house. I said my last, “I love you” on the phone yesterday. I went right to the piano and cried in minor chords. I feel safer here, with the ocean to talk to, and a families’ love to fill the space between the walls.
A special thanks to the Wright Family.
To the Ocean. To E Minor.
And to Lu. Always