Sunset

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So here it is, at last. The end.

From this point looking south there is no mass of land again until Cape Horn, the tip of South America.

The sunset was brilliant and all around as. An orange glow painted our eyes and skin and even, it seemed, the air between us. I thought of this as a very significant metaphor. Now we’ve walked New Zealand. Now we’re something different than when we started. Together and separate. Now I am alone.

Now I stand with loss.

In the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve lost a lot. Understanding loss has been difficult. For what would it be without gain, it couldn’t exist. What would I be to dwell when I have so much. To say that I have lost would imply that I once had. I don’t know about that. It was more that I got to be with Lu and Max and Sperry and this partnership with Craig. It was always a fortunate togetherness, of a non-possessive nature. I suppose we had each other, but it was more that we saw and  loved each other with our choices day by day. I don’t know if we ever really have anything.  I feel like it could be a dishonor to all of them not to feel lucky. I’m so grateful of these things. I can still hear them and smell them. I can see them when I close my eyes. They are parts of me.

This sunset was so vivid and so alive in it’s moment. Also, symbolic. May the Earth rest now, may my bones rest too. May it be the beginning of something else. May the vast expansive ocean hold its mystery and may the edge of me bow to the edge of it.

I come to Nelson now to celebrate grateful sadness. I know the ocean will understand.

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I find that now, as I write this in a coffee shop, that I can go back to that sunset when I close my eyes. That it, too, has become a part of me.

Long may we walk.

All About Attitude

P1010715So we walked on. Still. After all that walking. We had our sleep, we boarded our ferry, we narrowly avoided tossing our cookies, and we arrived on Stewart Island in a hurry to get tramping.

Looking back now, I can see how foolish that is. It’s sacrilegious to be in a hurry on Stewart Island. I was just stuck in that frame of mind; get your food, make your plan, and go.

About 3 hours later, I found myself wondering how I could have been so thick-headed. The trail turned into a treacherous mud pit, which is nothing new. We’ve been knee-deep in mud several times, just this week even. What was new, was our inability to cope. I heard Craig let out a grumble or a sigh with every third step, while, internally I found myself behaving in the likes of a small child. ‘Stupid mud, stupid roots, stupid trail!’ It’s really quite comical. Just the day before I’d been light-heartedly walking along a busy highway in the gales of relentless wind spraying hard rain in my eyes, and I didn’t mind it. Honestly, I don’t think I had a single negative thought the entire day. This was considerably more pleasant, a gorgeous forest too, but something in me felt deserving of being through with this bullshit, and that little brat in my head was speaking rather loudly.

Our plan was to hike to Mason Bay along this track, get there early the second day, then hike out the next. We were averaging less than 2 km per hour, which made that 38k day out of the woods seem rather impossible. So on day two, still grumpy, I had the idea to call a water Taxi to take us back to town. I was able to get calls through, just barely, from the top of the hill and found out that our option out of Mason Bay was a small airplane for 170 dollars a person. I said I would think about it. It was a lot more than I imagined spending. Yet, I never really doubted for a second that it was worth it. So there I was, after walking 3000km willingly, finding that it’s worth it to me to pay $170 so as not to have to walk 30km. My how the tides had turned. An excellent example of relativity, if you ask me. I found myself saying, “Hell yeah! I will pay 170 not to hike tomorrow.”

So we did. Soon it occurred to us just how ideal that was. This would be the true end of our walk across New Zealand. What a special end it turned out to be, too. We made it to Mason Bay that evening and finally sank in. Knowing we had no more to walk. We stayed for about 24 hours before the plane came to get us. We met nice people from the North Island and took in this marvelous place. The star gazing was some of the most amazing I’d ever seen. The beach was wonderful. Craig and I walked it up and down looking for Kiwis and watching the waves crash. P1010748

When our plane came that evening, we felt like royalty. We also feared for our lives as we hopped and bobbed around in that little 10-seater. I wouldn’t change it for anything though. P1010749

 

From Cape to Bluff

At 6:30pm on Thursday, April 12th we found ourselves here……P1010729

To the hour, we had started this journey 4 months ago exactly. We stood there trying to take it in, but it’s always difficult. You want there to be some magic moment, and big emotions with the symbolism of this place. Yet, it tends to just feel like a place. In this case, we didn’t get to gaze out in to the ocean and fathom our achievement much at all, as it was soon overtaken by two RVs full or tourists. All taking their photos with the sign. We stepped aside and laughed about it. I guess this spot is famous for being the start of hwy 1. It’s interesting how the same things can have such different significance to many of us.

We had been with our friend, Brian, from Atlanta. It was fun to walk with him all day, as it was a tough one. The weather was a raging. Windy with spits of sideways rain, and that made things extra interesting as 20+ km of that were right next to a busy highway with little to no shoulder. Thank goodness we had each other. We had a few others too, and comradery went a long way. P1010710

We had a bit of a photo shoot with Brian, popped open a bottle of champagne, and then hurriedly drank it to get our shivering bums inside. Other than signing a guest book at the local oyster house, we all just dispersed. Going separate directions for good now, after walking the same journey for months. Craig and I stayed in town at the local lodge, which felt comfy in the rain and had Chinese Takeaway for our victory dinner.

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Craig the thru-hiker in our hostel beds that felt a lot like an orphanage.

So now what do we do? Hike more, actually. The real end of this journey for us will be at Mason Bay on Stewart Island. Which means we still have some walking to do:)

Changes

For the last 6 days, I’ve been kind of a shit-head. Emotional and irritable at the things I know I can’t change. Things like this……

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Our first “view” of the Bluff

This……

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This was merely unpleasant for the smells, the animals are quite nice.

 

This……P1010682

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Sad Feet

Still, I laugh at myself. Knowing, all too well, that it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it seems to in the moment. The sun will dry my pack before long, my feet will get me to safety, it won’t storm forever, the path will end.  I know it’s time to get out of the woods. It’s the time of year for human beings do more of their living in from the out now. I appreciate the changes. Even now, when I’m stuck in them. Seasons have always been good for me. They teach me what to savor and what to avoid.

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You can tell the ocean is getting nearer as the tree species change

The walk from Te Anau has been the perfect recipe for an ideal sampling of the Te Araroa. We’ve had tall grasses (Tussock) that you can’t see your path through, pole to pole navigation on mountain tops made difficult with clouds all around, swallow-your-leg mud, a few rounds of a game I like to call “keep moving or die,” wind (naturally), rain, sleet, trenches to jump across, cow pies to try to avoid, giant trees to climb over, rivers to walk through, the whole gamut, really.

Making it more difficult on ourselves, we committed to doing it extra fast. We wanted to make it to the bar on Colac Bay last night, which meant a couple of 45k days in those conditions. It was worth it too, reading my book under a blanket last night with a cup of hot tea beside me, I think to myself, ‘I’ve been dreaming of this.’ It’s true. My dreams are simpler these days. I dream of naps in the sunshine on summer afternoons, fresh picked vegetables, my family, a warm cup of coffee in my hands, a walk through the trees for fun and not because I said I would, my guitar….. I think all this adds up to explain that I’m ready for this quest to be over. Not because I grew to dislike it for what it is, but because it’s changing. That’s life, and that’s yes. I am ready.

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Te Anau

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Te Anau, Te Anau, Te Anau. In truth, it’s hard to leave you. This place is spectacular. It’s marvelous to be at the gateway into Fiordlands National Park. The town is small and busy, but somehow still feels like a place where kids are growing up. The locals are friendly and feel like they still have some life in them. Other towns as of late have been experiencing some serious burn out. Which, don’t get me wrong, is something I understand all too well and experience myself in my own home of a tourist town.

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Yesterday we hiker the Kepler Track. A great walk here in New Zealand. There are 9 of them, and the Te Araroa only coincides with two of them, up in the North Island. One of them is the Whanganui Journey, which was our great paddle adventure. These hikes are world famous for their beauty and accommodations. The huts are pricey, but so great for families and allow backpackers not to carry tents.

There are all kinds of opinions about this system here in New Zealand. Honestly, I think their Department of Conservation is admirable. They have put together these incredible hikes in hopes that is draws tourism, and it really has. Therefor, hopefully other parts of New Zealand stay less traveled and can be enjoyed by the locals.

This trail, the Kepler, was majestic. We turned every corner marveling at the views. Lake Te Anau is vast and stunning and the peaks around it are quite dramatic. Not to mention the waterfalls, which are plentiful and marvelous.

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It was a tough hike, in order to do it without a reservation we had to go 50k in one day to get to place we were allowed to stay, and it was worth every step!

We returned to this lovely town at lunch time today and stopped immediately at the visitor center to thank them for recommending a way for us to do this hike. Then we picked up pamphlets for our next adventure off trail, which is Stewart Island. When we finish the Te Araroa, we will be at the ferry terminal to this island, so we figured, what better way to celebrate the end of this journey than with another journey:) It should only take 3-5 days to hike this lovely place, and there is a likelihood of seeing a Kiwi, which has become a dream for us. They are such adorable, gentle, unique creatures. We’ve heard one in the night, which was abrupt and memorable. It kind of sounded like a slot machine. A sort of Ring-ding-ding-ding but which a witch’s cackle to it. Alarming, and confusing when you’re sleeping. Here’s a photo of one that I stole off the internet.

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On we walk. Just one week left!

 

Through All Kinds of Weather

It’s autumn in the Southern Alps. That means so many lovely things. The smell of mulch and crisp leaves falling from the trees. The quieting of tourist towns (though only just). The squash. The breeze. And, of course, the snow.

It’s not too big of a deal. A person wanting to walk in the mountains for an entire season or more is bound to experience some weather. And how….P1010583

It happens slowly,. You don’t realize what you’ve done until your deep in it. We were sitting at a hut around about 1pm trying to decide if we should go on. We had a new hiking buddy for this stretch, Damien. This was the Breast Hill Track between Twizel and Wanaka. We arrived to the hut after our friend. He was making himself some tea and thinking it probably wise to stay put for the rest of the day.

That thought hadn’t even occurred to me. Craig and I were planning on eating our lunch in the hut and moving on. Out the window of the hut it looked like this….P1010580

Obviously there would be more snow up high, but it was 4WD track up and over the mountain, and having done plenty of hiking in the Rockies, I knew that this was something we could find our way through. There would be snow, but not enough to get lost. Plus, there was a hut on the other side of the pass. So it’s up and over and into shelter. That made me feel confident.

Our hiking buddy, Damien, is from Australia, and really thought we were insane. Poor fellow didn’t want to be left behind, however, so he put his wet shoes and socks back on with us and headed out into it.

We grumbled a bit at first. The wind and wintry mix was a bit bombarding. Still, I felt good about it. Sitting in a hut, looking at the cold weather is honestly chillier and less comfortable to me than moving through it. Sure enough, we all felt pretty good after about 10 minutes. It was fun to see Damien in the snow. He hasn’t been in it much in his lifetime and he appreciated our advice about it. We all agreed it was good weather to move in, better than a lot of the rainy days we’d had, honestly. At least the snow can be dry(ish).

The major lesson that came to all three of us, is that life is a lot scarier from the view out your window, than it is when you’re actually in it.

The hut that night was quite crowded, but oh so warm. A little too warm, with the must of wet-hiker-foot (similar, but altogether more disturbing than wet dog) filling the air. It was good, though. I was happy to get put through some challenges, knowing we had an extended town stay coming up in Wanaka, at the end of this track. I really wanted to earn our next shower. For, there are fewer feelings I love more than wanting to shout, “Hallelujah” when the hot water comes pouring out of the wall, and you watch the dirt river slip down the drain. It’s good stuff.

Thru-hiking is my way of reminding myself, constantly, that I am lucky.

The next day from that crowded hut was still in the snow, but this time we came to a hut just below snow line at the end of it. The next morning we woke up to sun. Glorious, shining sun. Kevin, a French hiker who we’ve been in the same realm of since before the canoe trip months ago, laughed at it that morning and said, “Maybe today, around 1 or 2, I will go for a swim.”

“Ha! Yeah, from snow to swim in one morning!” I laughed. It was a beautiful decent over a gorgeous lake from there. Starting out above the clouds.P1010599

We made it to town in great spirits. We stopped at cafes and bars on the walk in and talked about great things. Like literature and travel and Bob’s Burgers. It was bliss. Snowy weather and all.

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