Long distance backpacking turns us into children. Every day is exciting and new. I’ll hike well into the night under my headlamp because I don’t want to sleep yet because I’m stoked about what might be around the corner! Then I lay in my bag exhausted eager about waking up early.
Back home I can’t wait to go to bed in the evening and it’s not as thrilling to get up with the sun.
I guess when we become adults we decide being unconscious is better than living. Out in the woods my imagination runs wild with the animals I may wander into, and the experiences I may endure.
Back home, the imagination app on my brain blends in again and I forget I can use it.
Much like the gym membership I pay for every month.
“What’s your favorite color?” a child will ask. “Green.” A stranger will answer. “Mine too, lets be friends.”
On longer trails, hikers become instant friends over a story in passing. You’ll go days without seeing each other after the single exchange, and when you cross paths again weeks later it’s like you’re old elementary school friends joyfully telling each other about what happened in their absence, maybe even share some of your favorite snack.
Hot Legs and I met Brian and Julie walking north on the JMT, about twenty miles from the Muir Trail Ranch. We hiked into the evening, a favorite time of ours. Less heat and crowds, more sunsets and wildlife. Brian and Julie stood off to the right of the route cleaning up camp before they retired into their tent which was already fixed in the middle of their site. “Wow you guys are out late!” Brian chimed in through a smile in his short beard. He was about 5’8 foot with brown hair and a medium build. His wife smiled and greeted us. We laughed while we shared our hardships and discoveries with our two new friends. They also headed north with the plan to finish in Yosemite. Both were upbeat and vibrant beings with the same optimistic vibes we we pumped out. “We should all meet at Vermillion Valley Ranch tomorrow!” We decided. They agreed if they could make the miles they would love to grab a beer with us, and we said goodbye.
The next afternoon, Hot Legs and I veered left off the JMT on the Bear Ridge route which ended on a road by Lake Thomas A Edison, where we hitchhiked with a young couple to Mono Hot Springs. We stuffed our faces full of Elk Burger at the restaurant on site and through back some suds while I simultaneously tried to help a strange drunk patron pull a fish hook out of his ear, because why not?
I was unsuccessful but he bought me a drink so we’ll call it a win. After we paid our bill we left the joint turning down the front steps into the parking lot. “Hey, is that Brian?” She asked with squinted eyes in the direction of the outdoor seating area. I eagerly spun around. He was far enough away that it took me a moment to process. “Yeah it is!” “Brian!” We yelled with familiarity. He immediately turned and spotted us. “Brian!” We waved excitedly. “Girls?!” “Hey!!” We wailed and thru our hands into the air. “Girls!” In a hast he dropped what he was doing, exited the restaurant and rushed to join us in the lot. “Brian!” We both shouted as he quickly jogged towards us and embraced both of us in a big family hug. He pulled away and smiled. “I’m not Brian” the man said through a flirtatious grin. My smile morphed in joyful confusion. What did he mean he wasn’t Brian? I examined his face closer. It wasn’t Brian. Hot Legs and I gawked as Fake Brian giggled, and darted back into the eatery.
Turns out on the trail we were also more likely to take candy or hugs from strangers. Just like children.
My phone has the Covids and wont sent pics to my blog so lets pretend it’s the 90’s and use our imagination…
So no shit, there I remained; the only survivor standing next to the Wilkin River.
Perhaps because no one else was around; that is of course unimportant and makes my above statement less impressive.
I had just ripped myself from the merciless grip of the water escalator and my left foot writhed with an attention seeking pain of a dull knife rammed into the thin flesh of my arch. When I am injured badly, I want physical evidence to prove my affliction. The only trophy I held for this mishap came in the form of a light bruising on the soft tissue, and a limp someone might’ve taken as a token of my having lived in Tacoma.
I stood over my traitor of a foot, shaming it rather than mothering it.
What had I done?
I didn’t recollect any physical trauma during the river crossing, however, I was slammed with a torrent of adrenaline; perhaps the masked burglar of my memory. For all I recall, I was William Wallace riding his horse into freedom across the river, and in no frame of this beautiful moment did I remember the hairy animal leaning down and biting my fucking foot off. Shit man, I was in New Zealand; It would take more than a small machete in my limb to keep me from thriving! The Siberia Hut sat only 2 hours away, in a lush basin with craggy mountain views that would make your Grandfather cry.
Your grandfather is John Muir by the way.
I had to make it.
With a fat sigh, I took a step to assess the damage to the machine.
I was working a light stagger.
For a moment, I took a gander through my Rolodex of what to do, which I found buried in any and all new information I had received in my brain since the last time I used it. I recalled the old narcotics I had from my collar bone surgery a couple years back which I kept ina first aid kit in the pouch labeled, “Take when some warrior tries to submit William Wallace’s foot on his God damn horse crossing the Wilkin River.”
Without further thought, I hound dogged my way deep into my pack to my zip lock baggy full of assorted medications and stole a pain medication out of the bag when no one was looking.
This would be my salvation.
I thru it back with a 16-year scotch that didn’t exist in my realm, so I chugged some water instead; the clear alternative. A 20 mile day on a stool pigeon foot was a budget experience compared to my grandiose plans of anything other than that. Luckily I could take a plane back if I couldn’t walk the next day, as many tourists were dropped off at the hut by air because they didn’t want to role-play a Scottish knight through the freak waters of hell on an invisible animal car that eats their foot during the first war of the Scottish Independence.
It’s like my old co-worker used to say, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”
…And then they fired him.
Honest moment: I drank a couple of whiskeys this evening, and I am feeling that my words have chewed through their leash and are currently running far ahead of me. Don’t worry, I am in no hurry to catch them.
So there I am; was. Was? Yes. There I was, pill in the belly and ready to take on the fucking continent of New Zealand with my Judas foot and passion that could fill a whole lake full of GHB, (if you haven’t read my previous posts then go on and think I am a lake rapist, that’s your own damn fault, keep up).
Too impatient to wait for the loving hug of my meds to kick in, I headed for the Siberian Hut, or what I perceived to be towards it. For 40 minutes I paced back and forth along the bank like a dog on its bed trying to find a good place to lay down. I couldn’t find the route using my map or GPS; both lead me into a hair ball of bush covering the asshole of the Earth.
Asshole of the Earth= “Any opening in the woods that I believe is a trail, but turns out to be an asshole.”
With conviction and lack of patience I decided to moose it, raging forward bushwhacking through the brush concluding that at some point I would intersect the pathway which lie somewhere perpendicular to my large rack.
Eventually after stampeding the wall of infinite shrubbery, the barrier of incalculable frustration; I finally came mouth-to-mouth with what appeared to be the trail. I am not sure how I recognized I was mouth-to-mouth but that sounds better than saying mouth-to-asshole of the Earth, so I’m gonna stick to that.
I stepped out of the underbrush on to the path; my body harpooning the Moby Dick of my 45 minute excursion.
Fucking whales, am I right?
Full of exuberant joy, which may have been falsely appearing through the new eyes of a patient on pain meds, I slammed my painless feet into the packed soil. The proverbial knife had been pulled out, and my glass was half full of whatever the metaphor stands for. I suppose that would change if my glass were half full of shit because then I would want that half empty, I don’t need to smell anymore bad smells, getting out of bed and attempting to survive creates enough for me.
Damn alcohol sure has a way of making a short story long doesn’t it? Hell I should have drug all these stories out into a box set of novels and put two vampires humping on the front and made my millions. Alas, I am just a dirt squirrel who knows nothing about long novels, especially romantic ones. In fact, if you ask me what romance means to me, it’s my boyfriend offering to check me for ticks – and maybe one night of wine and Tiger King.
A few hours passed ascending switch backs and in sometime I emerged out of the tangled bush under a darkening sky in a deep emerald valley; The basin floor, a sprawling meadow split down the middle by a slithering stream. Across the water, I noticed a long strip of damaged grass which I took as a sign of recent tourist planes.
The route curved with the natural arch of the stream and as I rounded the bend, a white wooden structure with a metal roof graced my peripherals. I maneuvered words around in my mind, thinking of how best ask if they had any beds left. The young ranger, a granola women of her late twenties, greeted me at the deck, and agreed to exchange three of my hut tickets (5 dollars each) for a bed. Very graciously, I thanked her, and clambered up a set of stairs to the porch, dropping my belongings and peeling off my rank, wet shoes. Multiple hikers were gathered at the picnic tables outside where I sat, and an older kiwi gentleman took to questioning my whereabouts that day. I tried to portray humbleness, as I figured some people around me had flown in and didn’t backpack 20 miles that day to earn their bed, but still the man appeared shocked and amazed by the few words I handed over to describe my days journey.
“You crossed the WILKIN?” he exclaimed, mouth open.
“WONDER WOMAN!” he cried.
I left amused and embarrassed to make my bed, which required the shaking of my sleeping bag out on to a hefty furnished ground pad. The cushion lie 3-5 inches from the other pads on either side, and I truly hoped my unconscious body would cancel the regularly scheduled sympathy of horn sections in my throat later that evening. I had been practicing all my life, and still all who hear this beautiful flesh music are never impressed.
I am told there is an app that will record my snoring, but I refuse to do this. It’s easier believing everyone else is lying. Plus, what I do in my sleep is none of my business. I’m unconscious for a reason.
I don’t want to listen to it either.
I returned to the deck which supplied majestic views of the neighboring mountains and sat with the kiwi I previously spoke of. He lead a discussion with a couple from Australia who shared their whiskey with us. My new friend boasted about my trip to the Australians, and they enthusiastically inquired about it, placing me on a pedestal which I quickly fell off of as soon as I opened my mouth. This was followed by a discussion of the differences between the words we use in our separate countries.
Presumably because whiskey.
Kiwi man: “We don’t call it hiking we call it tramping.” Me: “You also say bush instead of forest. In America bush is another word for pubic hair, and tramping means having sex with lots of people. Kiwi man: “…I’m never saying it like that again.”
I imagine there are more appropriate and thoughtful conversations I could partake in with strangers, but then I would have had nothing to write about in the above paragraph.
The next morning, I was reduced to a one legged mountain pirate. Sans parrot, which was hardly fair. My left foot had swelled up and I could barely walk, proving to be quite disagreeable considering I had planned another 20 mile day. The reality was crushing, eroding my enthusiasm and energy. I had traveled all the way to New Zealand and for the second time, my backpacking plans were diluted. I found solace in the gratitude of being able to hitchhike with a plane back to my car. Nowhere in Washington State could I get injured and flown out by plane without having to call a SAR team. Granted, I might have clawed myself the 20 or so miles out of there, but it would have taken a very long time, and the rest of the Australisn’s booze.
I shuffled out to the porch pathetically to replace my raunchy moist shoes on my feet and was greeted by the kiwi.
“Wonder woman!” he yelled.
I smiled weakly, although I didn’t feel I deserved the title.
With ridiculous effort, I hobbled the quarter mile back to where I had spotted the air strip, however, I had forgotten that the landing zone was on the opposing side of the stream.
I was not fit for fording another waterway. There was however, a helicopter landing on this side of the water; it would be coming before the the plane but cost a lot more money.
I crumpled down into the dew covered weeds knowing I would have to pay for the helicopter, and played my ukulele to lift my mood while waiting.
I imagine I probably looked like a sad ugly Tiny Tim.
Two young men walked up during my funeral symphony for my foot as I was lowering the coffin. They were looking to hitch as well and asked if I was the girl who did the crazy trek the day before. This brightened my spirits.
From my seat in the grass I watched the two cross the stream, and the current did not appear to cause them any problems. Just then I heard a plane in the distance, which I found odd, as the plane was supposed to come after the helicopter. I spied the air craft flying over head circling to land. I could leave now and save tons of money, if I was able to make it across.
I climbed to my feet and did my best impression of a three-legged dog staggering with one leg and my trekking poles in the direction of the stream. The men saw my struggle on the other side and offered to come out into the water and help me, but pride hears no one but its self. I charged into the current, and to my relief the ford wasn’t half as difficult as the previous day.
I hopped on the aircraft and for 30 dollars I caught a ride all the way back to my car. I was disappointed to end the backpacking portion of my time in New Zealand, but I knew that reminiscing over my ailment would spoil what would continue to be an amazing trip.
In the last few days of my trip, I stayed at a Hot Springs resort, took a cruise around Milford Sound, and went cage diving in the ocean with a great white shark and somehow didn’t piss my wetsuit.
I convinced myself over the years that I was an apex predator, but once I starred down the jaws of a great white, I found that I was just a small awkward goat.
The cage diving experience was one of the most incredible experiences, and it would not have happened if I didn’t get my foot viciously gnawed off by a non existent horse.
A glass half full makes life abundant. Especially if the glass is half full of whiskey.
With the magnificent strength of a stoned beached sea lion, I pulled myself from my bunk at Top Forks Hut in Mount Aspiring National Park, discreetly sequestering my hiking paraphernalia to head out for a 20-mile day. The dirt path was veiled by the cold shadows of glaciated mountains which stood as chaperons spying in on my field trip, and hovering over the valley as massive rock fences dividing the land.
The frigid air pierced my hands like syringes.
Raynaud’s disease is an icy bitch.
The wooden signs on the trail which indicated direction, did not speak in kilometers or miles; they spoke in time. For example, the sign would state, “Carol Baskins Lake, 3-4 hours”, with an arrow pointing you towards your vision quest path of exploration.
I could call it a trail, but vision quest path of exploration sounds more majestic.
The route passed several lakes, ending at Lake Castalia, which appeared as a carved stone bowl full of bright blue liquid.
I tried to come up with a bright blue liquid to describe the water in a clever way, so out of curiosity I put the words in a search engine. The website came up with, GHB, the date rape drug.
“Lake Castalia, which appeared as a carved stone bowl full of date rape drugs”, seemed somewhat aggressive.
The trail grabbed roots climbing into the forest, crossing multiple streams that devoured my feet alive and spit them out frozen and half dead back onto sub alpine vegetation.
I passed the stagnant Lake Diana, which gave way to a flooded swamp I had to ford like a bipedal alligator.
After my terrible impression of an alligator, I wandered through a vast grassland, full of tall biting weeds, moist with dew and drooling all over my legs, like a gorgeous plant dog park.
The trail split, and to the left I found Lake Lucidus, a moraine lake surrounded by hefty boulders shit out by glaciers. It was a regal, foggy blue due to the rock flour suspended in it, ground from the teeth of glaciers above.
I caught the right fork of the trail after, which pulled my body up through absurdly royal scenery causing me to laugh out loud like a crazed person who just won the lottery.
I believe there is a feeling tied to this- Something like joy.
The final push to Lake Castalia involved numerous river fords and scrambling up loose boulders; a toll to weed out the weak.
Castalia was a gem on a beach of stones.
The water was illuminated bright blue (all the date rape drugs), and sat deep under a ring of mountains capped by glaciers.
Of course my picture looks like shit, but if you google the lake, everyone else has managed to take pictures that got them laid on Instagram.
I paused for a moment, snacking on the inspiring view; a fertilizer for my brain. After licking the plate of spirituality clean, I traveled back towards the hut to gather the non-essential day hiking gear I had left that I wouldn’t need in a mountain zombie attack or last minute heist.
On the jaunt back, I noticed an odd warm sensation in the skin of my legs, and a redness spreading over them, which I attributed to an STD from the wet grass molesting me all morning . By the time I arrived at the hut however, my skin stretched and tightened around my upper legs, attempting to find their capacity for inner filling, like when you squeeze a swollen sausage and stop right before the meat bursts through a split in the lining.
This proved to be too exciting to keep moving, and my eyes dropped to investigate. I mean, who doesn’t love a good sausage.
To my surprise, I was covered in hives. How amusing.
I was only allergic to soy, shell fish and penicillin.
Perhaps I had rubbed up against an elusive shell fish bush?
I feel like I would have smelt it.
I followed the track 10 miles or so back to Kern Forks Hut, itching my swollen legs and obsessing over the dangerous Wilkin River crossing where the drunk Uber ship had dropped me off the day before. The water was deeper and faster than anything else I had attempted other than the Makaroa River, which was a bust.
The failure to execute would require a night’s stay and expensive boat ride the next day when they released hikers on shore; this was not the option of choice. I wanted to make a successful ford, so I could finish the loop up to Siberian Hut, climbing up to Crucible Lake, and cruising out the Blue Pools track. Sometimes my need for triumph concerns me, and I have to remind myself that no one is immune from accidents. Not even this fake hero.
At Kern Forks, two young men sat on the front porch shoveling food into their mouth holes. The shorter of the two boasted that he forded the stream within the past hour, while his friend admitted he was too afraid and waited for the jet boat to show up and take him across.
I missed the boat.
I always knew I was a unicorn.
“Where did you cross?” I asked relieved that it was possible. “Above the fork.” He instructed. “I would find another spot, the water rose up to my chest there.” He warned.
I studied the man. He was quite a bit shorter than me, hopefully giving me a tall woman at a concert’s advantage.
“Well, if you see my body floating down stream, you’ll know I didn’t make it.”
We laughed anxiously, and I walked away.
Humor in the face of fear. What a fantastically cheap mask.
The Wilkin River spilled out before my feet, flowing from my left side to my right. I considered the subtle movements of the water caressing the stones beneath it with dominant grace, like Godzilla petting a kitten. My eyes rolled over the currents as I paced the bank, evaluating the risk with deep intensity.
My eyebrows furrowed. I wasn’t worried about drowning necessarily, I figured if I slipped I would rip my arms from my back and swim to the closest side. The problem with losing my pack however, was that my Garmin Inreach (a tracking device my family back home used to pin point my location), would float down the river with the pack and lead my loved ones to believe I died.
That would prove to be unpleasant.
My lack of passport would also verify my unfortunate displeasure.
I re homed my cellphone and Inreach into the dry sanctuary of my bag in an attempt to keep them safe if my bag went under. These movements were powerful. I watched my hands work meticulously, like they belonged to someone else. No way did I plan to be washed down stream, so why was I preparing for it?
Because, it could happen.
The line I choose to traverse, proved to be the same course the previous man had chosen; the shallowest and widest spot, allowing the current to spread out over a larger surface area.
Time to grab my gourd and ford.
-Wow, I wrote that statement above after some wine last night. That’s embarrassing.
I threw my pack on leaving the waist strap unclipped so it would slide easily off me if I were pulled under. Stomping out aggressively, I invaded the thin layer of water allowing the hellish liquid to fill my shoes.
I marched out in my rage against the barrier and water crept up my ankles, my knees and next, my thighs.
The success of my efforts unfolded as the water gave way to my plan, and a small flicker of new self-confidence took light in my soul; until the ground sank from below me and drown the flame.
My body lowered into the water as if I had stepped off a stair bringing rippling water up to the bottom of my backpack and slapping my chest.
I took a couple more carefully placed steps, fighting the substantial massacre of water aiming to rip me under.
This was it. The moment I needed to admit defeat, but it was too late.
My right foot ripped out from under me, yielding to the crushing weight in front of it.
Flooded with dread, I slammed my trekking pole deep into the water, leaning on it as an extension of myself. Core engaged and arms heaving into my poles I caught my balance. I declared myself winner of the tug of war pulling my foot with tremendous deliberation, shoving my toes deliberately into the rocks below.
I turned to my left unemotionally deserting my journey for the Siberian Hut and searched over the invisible path I had taken.
The bank loomed far away. I peered over my right shoulder glancing at the original finish line.
I stood in the middle of the river.
It made no difference if I turned around, the depth of the water remained the same 5 feet in either direction.
I needed to move; the water sloshed up under my ribs and I didn’t know how much longer I could stay in the bizarre statue I had found myself in, frozen, as if maybe the river wouldn’t know I was there if I didn’t move.
One heavy step at a time, I maneuvered myself through the exhausting current. Gradually I felt the water loosen its death grip down my thighs, to my knees and then my feet.
I made it.
I MADE IT.
I yanked my cold drenched body upon the opposite shore and hurled my pack to the ground for a wild and sobering celebration.
“YAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY” I wailed, jumping up and down and throwing my arms around like a wacky waving inflatable tube man. “YAYYYYYYYYYYY I MADE IT!!! OWEEEEEE. OWE. OUCH!”
My party ended before I could stamp the invitations.
The arch of my left foot lit up with a sharp pain I can only characterize as incredibly unfair. There I was celebrating my incredulous journey, and my foot had to fuck it all up.
I suppose when you spend most of your time walking all over something it will retaliate at some point.
I shifted my weight to my right and sunk my rump down on a rock. This was the same peculiar ache I had felt during my last trip. I had hiked 20 miles that day as well, and by the end of the day I limped and the next day I walked normally.
I loaded the jet boat to Kern Forks Hut, where I would start my epic trek in Mount Aspiring National Park, NZ. The slim boat split the Makaroa River, submitting water to both sides of the metal bow as we plowed upstream. The surge hardly appeared deep enough for a boat, but the long haired man driving seemed to think so. He looked like a surfer who loved pizza and said “bro” a lot, but who knows, maybe he was a wine drinking pianist, who murdered his parents and practiced archery.
The joy of strangers. You just never know.
We flew over the tributary into Wilkin River with incredible speed. We were in video game, with objects being created before our eyes, almost out pacing the game’s capacity to create the future. The captain weaved in and out of small junctions in the river; an aggressive car passing in traffic.
During this aqua serpentine I experienced the lovely gift of questioning my mortality.
With the confidence of a drunk man, the guide spun the steering wheel as we approached a right turn; too fast and too soon. I braced my body as the back of the vessel fish tailed turning 90 degrees skidding over the water heading straight for a massive log jam. In the few seconds that followed , it occurred to me that our speed did not decrease, and this could prove to be very unfortunate for the body I had invested in all these years. I didn’t realize death was included in the price of the ride, perhaps that’s why the ticket cost a small tiger. My eyes snapped on the guide, throwing his hands around the steering wheel in an attempt to tame the bull he rod.
But the bull had the him by the balls.
The distance between the deadly wood pile closed in and I envisioned my body being thrown from the craft; a catapulted rag doll attempting to fly.
Without thinking, I squeezed my eyes shut.
Bizarre that we close our eyes when we get scared and need them most. I suppose our eyelids are the blanket a child covers its self with to become “invisible.”
It is because my eyes remained closed, that I am not immediately certain of what developed in the next moment.
I wasn’t an airborne flying squirrel yet, which on the flip side is a disappointment because with these high cheek bones I’d have the space for at least two winters worth of food at anytime. Food breeds friends. I’d be famous. The critics would think it was nuts.
I opened my eyes and to my bewilderment, the log jam disappeared behind us.
Baffled, I glanced around at the other passengers to validate my feelings.
They laughed and smiled.
The driver did it on purpose, for amusement.
Just saying, I mean, every time I pretend I am going to kill a stranger-
Just kidding, WHY WOULD YOU EVER DO THAT.
The ride continued for another 15 minutes of pretending to crash while I held on; a cat clawing the rim of a bathtub.
I suspect it comes down to control. I love scary shit, so long as the scary shit doesn’t fall under the category of someone else being in control over whether I live or not.
Evil Knievel pulled off to the right side of the waterway letting backpackers out who planned on hiking to Siberia Hut, then carried myself and a man my age with light red hair to the other side. I had spoken with Red Head in the field where we left our cars; he had a similar itinerary as I. He leapt off the water taxi, dropped his pack and shuffled through his gear. I didn’t want to play leap frog with him, so I zoomed off to get a head start.
I stopped at Kern Forks Hut and hurried to play Tetris with my belongings trying to leave before Red Head wandered up. I was not successful. He hiked up to the hut grinning widely. We made small talk, which lasted longer than I expected and I wondered why he decided to waste precious time he could be hiking.
He was waiting.
I tested this theory by stepping off the front steps.
He stepped off too.
Okay. He didn’t look like too much of a serial killer.
I guess we were walking in the wilderness together.
I moved with a purpose and he kept up with me. To my surprise I began to enjoy the company, as I had deprived myself of human interaction in the past weeks. Being a kiwi, he spoke with a heavy accent that sometimes preceded my ability to understand words.
Or I made a subconscious excuse for going deaf.
He had a small child and a girlfriend he wanted to be with forever, but never marry. He shot wedding for years as a photographer and felt like he would be in work mode at his own wedding. Respect. I had never heard that excuse before.
“Is it true in America, that people go on dates all the time?” He inquired.
“Yeah. Dating apps are a big deal back home.”
“Man, in New Zealand you have to really like someone to ask them out. By the end of the first date your basically taking them back to meet your parents.”
In America if you really like someone you take them back and show them how your parents made you.
We talked over the differences in our countries healthcare and leaders. I really enjoyed the discussion; not that I had much to add to it, considering I don’t own a T.V, but the comradery was appreciated. After ping ponging conversation for 2 hours, he admitted he was tired, and getting over a cold, so he was going to walk slower and I’d see him later at the hut.
“I feel like we’re breaking up!” he cried.
“And I was gonna have my parents meet us at the hut..” he lowered his head feigning a deep sadness.
I pushed on ahead through the dark mossy forest, which faded like a bad hair cut into fields of tall grass along the shallow river.
The route was flooded, and my feet were being swallowed whole by the mouths of mud puddles hidden in the hair ball of weeds which crowded the path. I remembered a man on the death ship advising me to hike in the river rather than the trail; that it was less elevation, and easier than the marsh. At the time this sounded ridiculous. Why would I park my car on a highway to swim up a stream instead?
The trail was overgrown; a hairy slop of a foot path. I considered the idea with increased interest. Tromping out of the swampy grassland I investigated the river. He was right.
I waded up the river bed, crossing the smaller forks searching for the path of the least resistance. The water was a soothing relief from the abusive flogging I received from the waist high weeds.
High fives for boundaries. #SELFLOVE
Just kidding, we all know I treat my body like trash can. Sometimes I feed it, sometimes I take it out, but usually I ignore it until it starts to smell.
After another hour or so, I could see Top Forks Hut sitting in an enchanting green meadow overlooking the water. I figured I would stop for a moment, eat a snack and continue to one of the lakes beyond, because why not keep walking until you die?
I noticed a man in his 50s and two women in their 30s sitting at the table inside playing cards. The women were twins hiking with their Dad; they did a backpacking trip every year together. They poked fun at him, and I chimed through the window on the porch as if I was an old family friend and this was acceptable. They laughed at my jokes; back home I wasn’t nearly as funny. Red head clamored up after me and I casually tried to convince him I had arrived hours before.
I wanted to continue on, but the warm dry hut cast a spell over me and the thought of having people to hang out with won me over.
My eyes gazed beyond the porch, which shielded me from a depressing drizzle that had begun. I cave and decided I would stay for the night.
Inside, Red Head and I unpacked our bags on to the wooden bunks. “My pack is so heavy.” Red Head laughed.
“Did you say your peck is so heavy?” I questioned. I figured this couldn’t be true, but with his accent it sounded like it. I imagined him weighed down by enormous pecks on his chest causing him to hunch over- although now that I just typed this, it’s occurring to me that everyone in the cabin may have thought I was referring to another body part. Which make SO much more sense why the Dad claimed he was surprised I hadn’t been kicked out of my country.
Which reminds me of another incident recently where I was publicly shamed for my fabulous sense of humor. I joined my buddy to meet his family at a coffee shop. I told them about my future solo hiking trip and his brother discussed their new baby while she bounced around in her Grandma’s arms. They began making fun of how large their baby was for her age, to which I bluntly stated what I assumed we were all thinking.
“She looks like a watermelon.”
The parents laughed. The Grandma didn’t.
“This is why no one wants to hike with you.” She confirmed.
I believe she was referring to me being a terrible person, but part of me wonders if she was secretly trying to protect me just encase the baby escaped in the woods and tried to eat me.
Multiple people checked in to make sure I was still alive recently.
Landing in King County, I stepped off the plane only to be smacked in the face (with a gloved hand and sanitizer of course) by the new COVID-19 normal, which I found confusing to navigate having been removed from the situation for the past 3 weeks. I was a 90-year-old trying to use facetime for the first time, with the camera facing the wrong direction. “Why do I look like a KNEE CAP?”What were we allowed to do anymore? I tried calling my friends to hang out, but turns out that isn’t an option anymore. I woke up early before the crowds (social distancing) and went hiking at a popular spot and posted a picture and was scolded by the entire internet assuming I went mid day.
This is the worst time in history to write for a blog called “Get the F*** Outside”.
I suppose I should change it to, “Get the F*** Away from Everyone.”
What an interesting time to be alive.
For instance, I don’t understand why everyone is loading up on toilet paper. Jump in the shower, wash your butt and save your green for more important things like beer. The foundation for a kingly quarantine experience. These are desperate times people. Oh, also load up on zombie movies. So far we’ve watched World War Z, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, Train to Busan and Contagion. Suggestions are appreciated, especially if this cough doesn’t go away.
New Zealand seems a lifetime ago because of all the COVID-19 conversations and new work protocols. Today I woke up with a bad cough, so I’m staying home from work and writing, between sleeping and dying. Hopefully this shit isn’t transferable over computer screens. Better go by some beer just in case. You not me. My fridge is so drunk she’s texting the outlet to unplug her, and re plug her in, so she can experience being turned on again after all these years.
Back to New Zealand stories.
I finished the Richmond Range, and found a hostel in town the last time I wrote. That evening I sequestered a plethora of tourist pamphlets and smeared them over the table at a bar to sift through over a beer and greasy burger. I looked like bait set for a kidnapper. The next day I booked a guided canyoneering excursion in Abel Tasman National Park hiking, cliff jumping and repelling down waterfalls.
The following day I ascended the highest via ferrata waterfall climb in the world.
Our guide had climbed some of the gnarliest peaks in the area and she was a bad ass chick. Tall and muscular, with blond hair pulled loosely into a pony tail and intense eyes, she was a female Mic Jagger. She was funny, crass, and didn’t give a shit what others thought. I asked her to recommend the gnarliest hike she could come up with nearby, because the weather proved to be better there than on the Te Araroa. I told her my background, and that I wanted to tackle the most difficult shit they had to offer. She spared me some beta, but because of the recent flooding, suggested that I go to the Dept of Conservation office to run my plans by them. I told her I would.
She ended the conversation convincing me to tell the rangers I’m not just “some tourist”, and to go into detail about my outdoor background so I was taken seriously. Three people had drown last week while trying to ford rivers backpacking, and the DOC offices were nervous.
Once we reached the 1,400ft summit of the falls, we took a helicopter back down to the parking lot, which proved to be even scary then the climb because the pilot was under the false impression that he needed to swerve around through the air like a drunk uber driver. Everyone else thought it was fun. I almost shit my pants.
I walked into the DOC office as soon as I made it back to Wanaka. I strutted up to the counter in the same manner you do when you order an extreme coffee beverage to show that you have control over at least one thing in your life. Evereything else is a hot mess in your life, your pants are inside out, you don’t know where your kid is, but damn it-“I’ll take a venti, quad shot, half decaf, sugar free, white chocolate mocha with almond milk, 180 degrees, with two pumps of caramel syrup, the real syrup not the fake flavored one, double cupped with a large straw and 2 tablespoons of whipped cream- Not any more than that- I’m watching my height.”
A tall thin woman with short brown hair greeted me behind the desk with forceful eyes, and a smart confidence about her. I told her I was a hardcore hiker; and I was looking for a hairy backpacking quest she could recommend. Soon we were exchanging stories like co-workers filling the time until the next customer to come in. “I would suggest Mount Aspiring National Park… This loop” she stated pointing at a map on the counter. This was the trail Mic Jagger recommended. The loop where three people had drowned the previous week. “You’ll have to ford the Makarora River here.” She advised pointed at the small squiggly line on the map where two of the deaths occurred.
The trip would take me over the Makaroa River and up the Wilkin to Kerin Forks hut. I would hike to Top Forks Hut from there, and out to two beautiful alpine Lakes; Lucidious and Castalia. Turning around, I’d head back to Kerin Forks and over the Wilkin River out to the Siberian Hut, up to another high lake and over Gillespie Pass out the Blue Pools Track to the highway where I would hitch back to my car. Around 60 or so miles.
Early the next morning, I pulled my rental car into a grassy field next to the trail head indicated for the cars of trampers.
I was beginning with the most dangerous part of the hike, the fording of the Makarora; a glacier fed river with a loud mouth which split into two forks I would maneuver through.
With a strong urgency to succeed, (and get it over with), I sped walked down to the riverbed through thick weeds which rubbed their dew all over my legs. Rude. The once murderous water seemed somewhat shallow from a dry person’s perspective standing on the bank. The two branches of the waterway appeared as an uneven forked tongue that could throw me back and swallow me if it desired. Walking up to the first fork, I noted the distance to be about 20 feet across; the next was over 100. I took a breath and submerged my foot into the moving water. The lung full wasn’t expansive enough to handle the shock. My chest rose and I gasped as the heat from my foot evaporated into the water and flowed down stream, like pathetic dandelion seeds in the wind. How could the water be this cold and still flowing? I was a cartoon character that stepped in wet cement the moment it hardened, but somehow the liquid kept moving and the only thing keeping me frozen was my own ability to remind myself to move. I slipped my other shoe inside the water. 100 invisible knives stabbed my foot. The invisible ones are the worst.
No one will ever believe you.
Shoving my body forward I cut through the rushing stream, pulling my lower legs through molasses I had just taken out of the freezer. The ground dipped under my feet allowing the water to climb up my thighs.
Keep moving, keeping moving.
I wailed as I yanked my bottom half from the grasp of the current and pulled myself on to the rocky bank to signify the finish line for the first crossing. “Owe! Owe! Owe!” I yelled in my normal deep voice which sounded more like male farmer getting nipped by his horse than anything coming out of a girl’s mouth. Lowering my arms I held my legs and walked awkwardly in an attempt to pump blood through them and dissipate the ice cream headaches I didn’t know my extremities were capable of experiencing. This is why the others drown, one slip under the water and your muscles would cramp up leaving you paralyzed. What a horrific way to go.
I pondered this as I starred at the next fork of the river, spanning the distance in front of me. Still, it didn’t appear too deep, but if my legs buckled, that would be a problem. Pushing the thoughts of death aside, as one does before they journey into the unknown, usualIy doing something stupid and having their significant other hold their beer- I stepped into the freezing water of the second fork. This time the cold lost its grip on my consciousness, as adrenaline filled my veins like a party drug. I kept my eyes focused on the bedrock of the stream, heaving my heavy frozen sausage legs meticulously forward leaning into the angry current; a solid 3 foot tall liquid wall being shoved into my lower half attempting to clothes line me. The water rose, clenching it’s jaws on my thighs. Keep moving. My trekking poles were bring swept out from the riverbed I feverishly forced them into. Keep moving.The butt of my pack was on the verge of submersion. My feet vanished, clouded by the glacial silt carried downstream. Struggling to balance, I blindly tapped my ogre feet along the bottom for rocks with no dexterity. My magical bunion couldn’t even help me. This was bad. My eyes jetted ahead assessing how much further I had to go.
I was only half-way.
TURN AROUND. I thought.
No river is worth your life. The entire debate team of my brain had already turned around 2 feet prior so I skipped the “what if” argument as it was useless and pivoted, pulling my body back the way I had come. On the bank, I peered down at my numb legs to make sure they still existed. They looked dead.
My legs hate me.
Good thing I only have one brain and its in my head, I have a feeling a mutiny would occur otherwise.
I was disappointed, but knew there was a jet boat available which ran up the waterway for people wanting to avoid crossing the Makaroa on foot. This would shave down the total mileage for the journey, but I was proud that I turned around when I did, avoiding poking the bear enough to wake her. Experience can lead to disaster due to a grown complacency we achieve. “Well, I’ve made it THIS far, so I must be doing something right.”
Nope. No one is immune to disaster.
My Dad says, “Always brag about turning around.” It’s harder than continuing forward. I agree with this advice, unless you are bragging to the jet boat service by the river you just attempted to walk through.
“You did WHAT?!!!” The man behind the counter bellowed, shocked by my efforts.
“I tried to cross the river?” I said with less confidence, as if my memory had failed me.
“The river is in flood! What were you thinking?!” His eyes burned, searching my face for an answer that would not suffice.
In my defense, I had done everything an outsider could do- I spoke with the DOC office who suggested this river crossing, I had the experience and education for swift water, and I knew when to turn around. Plus I had never seen the river in flood, as far as I was concerned this was what the river looked like low. Perhaps I had talked myself up too much to my fake co-worker at the DOC office and she took me for a super hero. It probably didn’t help that I was wearing my underwear outside my pants. Still, if I had slipped and went under, his anger was not without reason.
“I had to pull the bodies out of there last week.” The man stated glancing off handing me a receipt for the boat ride.
“I’m sorry, that must have been awful.” I said guilty of causing him the grief of relieving it.
I hitchhiked with two different vehicles the first night off the route, as I descended towards town. One a huge truck, so testosterone driven, even I could feel feminine for a moment; the other, a mini van full of Canadian college boys on a road trip.
What a disappointment for them. Far down the road I stood, possibly a fun, dark skinned, kiwi girl on an adventure. Under closer inspection they would find a wild, hairy American beast; not tan but caked in dirt and carrying all the human smells of hiking for 5 days without a shower.
The van deposited me in front of the Alpine Lodge, a small hotel with an adjacent building full of frugal rooms for dirty backpackers like myself. The rotting incubation of smelly shoes and B.O typically lends its self to segregation from the finer folks.
Kind of like being in steerage. Only no one danced like they did in the movie Titanic, so I expect to receive a partial refund.
I bought a room from the front desk and a beer from the bar, which they allowed me to carry freely to my rat ridden bunk at the bottom of the ship, which turned out to be a clean, tidy room across the parking lot.
Walking 20 miles with few calories to support the efforts, made the first few sips of suds turn on the bright lights and disco ball in my brain, and I became a jolly child hopping up the stairs to my new home for the evening.
I sat down on one of the three beds in the room, and my hefty butt sank into the squishy mattress that felt more like a thrift store trampoline. I lifted my feet off the ground and on to the bed, laying back and releasing my own weight from over them.
I combed thru the contents of my bag while dialing my boyfriend on the phone. We chatted briefly before a loud siren pierced the evening silence, and I ceased talking to steal a glance outside. We were FaceTiming, and his face expressed immediate concern for the noise. Again the alarm rang out, but outside the window no one appeared to be running for their lives. After a pause, I shrugged widening my eyes and lowering my mouth to portray a look of “Meh, weird”, and continued talking.
He cut me off.
“It’s a public warning device. Get off the phone and figure out what’s wrong.”
“It’s probably nothing,” I responded, flooding my mouth with heavenly IPA.
“Call me back when you find out what it means.”
He hung up.
He takes better care of me than I do.
I cooperated, nonchalantly peering out the window; a stoned Nancy Drew.
What did it mean?
I swung the door to my room open, and stomped out into the hallway almost squashing a skinny woman with frizzy hair walking by.
I am such a moose.
“Excuse me, do you know what the sirens are for?” Her answer would determine whether I needed to find a hole to hide in, down my drink and grab a spatula from the kitchen to fight with, make a foil hat, or “D” all the above.
“The alarm goes off every time the fire dept gets a 911 call.” She stated, although not in moose, so perhaps she took me for her kind.
Satisfied, I laughed and downed my drink, leaving out the spatula action, seeing as it was most likely stirring a dirt bag’s Top Ramen at the moment.
I had two of the noodle bags in my pack myself, and couldn’t wait to crunch my furry teeth around them.
The backpacker’s building reeked of foot odor and hikers who abandoned the trail because of the inclement weather. The answer to why I was so lonely on the trail. They were all cozy on the couch watching TV, while I froze my balls off in the storm.
A sense of pride welled in me, followed by the immediate realization that I wasn’t more bad ass than them, they were just smarter than me.
The mileage to the next town on the Te Araroa path would take me 6-7 days. The weather suffered from a personality disorder, emotional with rain. Back home precipitation hardly stood in my way. In New Zealand, the rivers flood, trapping hikers between water ways cutting off their escape routes. I couldn’t afford the luxury of being stranded in a hut for days. I only had a sliver of time in the country and wanted to use it productively; not with my thumb in my butt starring out a window into a whiteout.
My heart ached as I debated how to spend the rest of my trip. I really looked forward to backpacking the entire time. I had 8 days left and it didn’t make sense to continue on trail in the clouds, blind to the surrounding mountains. Looking up the rain patterns on my phone for other parts of the island, I considered alternatives. I could chase the sun, rent a car and find outdoor activities wherever it was drier?
That is what I would do. The safe choice.
Safety 3rd, ya know. Later I would make plenty of choices disregarding the above phrase.
I checked out of the room, and began meandering down the road attempting to hitchhike. Anytime I stopped, tiny terrorist fleas called “sand flies” would land and feast on any exposed skin. The bites last for weeks and itch like what I can imagine fake meth bugs feel like. The road was an endless treadmill, and if I stepped off for a moment I would be eaten alive by vampires that did not look like Robert Pattinson.
I was surprised I had walked so far without an offer, I mean who wouldn’t want to pick up this fragile female?
Eventually, a small sedan stopped containing two men in their twenties from the UK. Feeling the urgent need to climb in the car in case they changed their minds, I hurled myself into the back seat.
I also split my coffee everywhere.
The driver turned spying the crime scene.
“I got most of it on me!” I chimed, mortified, looking down at my coffee covered white shirt.
“I don’t care, it’s not my car.” The driver answered bluntly.
Hopefully he meant he had stolen it, that would make for the better story.
We made small talk as they drove 20 minutes up the road to a highway where they were going the opposite direction. At the intersection I popped out on the asphalt and happily threw my thumb into the air. After multiple cars passed, it occurred to me that the dried coffee stain covering my shirt looked like old blood.
I tied the side of the shirt in a knot to cover up some of the evidence.
People may not want to pick up a standard murderer, but maybe they would go for a CUTE murderer.
Sure enough, a tall French man, living out of his small van pulled over. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have climbed into a car with a foreign man who transported murderers in his free time. I’ll remember this for the next time I play an escaped convict while mooching rides on the other side of the world.
He introduced himself and based on his thick accent I expected a very French name. Something like Jacque, or Raphael.
Turns out his name was Kevin. His parents named him after the main character of the movie, “Home Alone.”
I rolled with laughter. This was one of the best things I had heard all trip. Which, in reality didn’t mean much, seeing as I hadn’t talked to nearly anyone.
We drove the hour and a half in a casual dance of speech, him turning over stories of climbing and his girlfriend, while I spun tales about the trail. Once in the town of Nelson, we jumped out of the van and I grabbed my bag. He extended his hand to shake, as I went in for a hug, which made for an awkward goodbye jumble of limbs. When I’m not sure if someone is going to hug me, I go for it, somewhat aggressively because I am usually nervous when this is happening and I want to get it over with. This in turn makes the interaction even odder, and I consider why I didn’t go for a handshake. Meanwhile, the person I’m wrapped around wants to go home and take a shower.
I rented a car and signed the required paperwork, stating my confidence driving in their country. Convinced, the well-kept blonde employee placed the keys to the car in my hand;
I immediately tried to get in the wrong side of the car.
She watched the pathetic debacle and pivoted, disappearing through the glass front doors of the office, most likely regretting the transaction. Either that or she was the heir to someone’s will in town, and didn’t care if I crashed into them.
The town of Nelson is full of roundabouts. The first one my car was pulled into, was a traffic tornado with cars flying in out while I tried to navigate left looking the opposite direction for traffic, driving and sitting in the opposite side of the car. For a moment I was convinced I might have an aneurysm. Once I got the hang of it though, I felt like I was playing a really fun fucked up video game, only it was real life, and I could actually die.
I wonder if people would live differently if they knew they had an “extra life” like some video games? Would they take more risks? I’m sure it would make my family and friends worry less about the shit I do, unless they too think they are the heir to my will. That would be a major disappointment to all involved. “Yes it says here you are listed as the receiver of goods from Ms. Monda- Please sign here for her crusty backpack, half a tube of mustard and 3 Rainier beers.
In fact, the only time my house was broken into, I couldn’t find anything they had stolen. I scanned the house frantically, and finally found my piggy bank, empty on the floor.
And by piggy bank, I mean Tupperwear I used for loose change.
And by Tupperwear, I mean clear plastic container that I had written in massive letters, “CASH, MONEY, BUTT SEX” on the side it.
A inspirational quote from my friend back in college.
Not only did I have to call the police, but forensics also showed up and had to finger print the CASH MONEY BUTT SEX jar.
The man finger printing the work of art, did not think it was funny.
I on the other hand, thought it made the break in almost worth it.
I parked the car on the street without crashing it, and checked into a hostel downtown. The room I was placed in, had two bunk beds. Perched on one of them, sat a woman my age with hiking gear sprawled all over the bed. She was hiking the Te Araroa as well.
“You finished the Richmond Range?” The brown haired stout woman questioned.
“Yeah it was crazy, they don’t use switchbacks, it’s really steep.”
“I’m doing that section next. I’ve heard It’s super dangerous.”
“IT IS!” I almost yelled, thrilled to have my feelings validated.
“I met a man who finished it in like 5 days! That is so fast! How many days did it take you?”
She starred open-mouthed, surprised.
“I mean it’s not a big deal”, I stammered embarrassed. “All you have to do is start walking at 6:30am and keep going until dark.
“Was there firewood in the huts?”
“Yes, one night I used some during the cyclone at Hunter’s Hut, but I cut more to replace it.” My mind wandered, to standing in the rain with a large dull ax, hacking away at fallen bush limbs to supply what someone else had so graciously provided me.
Warmth in dire need.
“One night a bunch of us were staying at a hut, and we were freezing and there was no fire wood.” The girl mused, looking away as if reliving the moment.
“We ended up chopping up the bench provided in the middle of the cabin for heat; when we left, we wrote in the log book, that it would have been great if there were a bench to sit on.
I wondered if she was the type to light her house on fire for warmth back home when she was cold and didn’t want to chop wood. But I laughed instead of scolding the girl, just in case she had ran out of food and choose to eat me instead of going out and finding food outside the room.
After meditating, and playing my ukelele like the dirty hippy I strive to be, I laid down on a bunk to drop bones. Taking the silence in the hut for starter gun, a mouse maneuvered through a small hole into the cabin. Possessed by hunger, the hairy turd ran with magnificent gusto over the floorboards, in search of life giving crumbs.
If I had dropped any, I assure you I would have licked them off the floor myself.
Annoyed, I climbed out of bed, and hung my backpack from a the beam in the ceiling. A friend of mine had her water bladder chewed through by a mouse, and I didn’t want to take the risk of having anything damaged or stolen to make a merino wool nest. That mouse got to live in New Zealand, in the middle of the Southern Alps-
I had no pity for that owl pellet with legs.
I woke up the next morning, and headed out with the plan of going 10-15 miles instead of my usual. The route began through a jungle like, thick forest gased with a blinding fog that lingered as ghostly fingers amongst the trees.
Dipping out of the bush, I climbed through various river valleys, and up precariously unstable rock fields.
Eventually I was spit out into a field. A faint tread, zigzagged through tall weeds with egg sized, white cottony tips on them. I squinted to decipher the fluffy white plant, a puzzle to my eyes.
It was grass; topped with penthouses of thickly wound spider nests.
Villages of them.
My eye brows raised into wide Vs, and my mouth smeared over the lower half of my face in surprising disgust. I have an equation for my fear of spiders and it solves as follows-
Distance away + speed + size x surprise factor = FEAR OF SPIDER
For example in this case-
Distance away = 2 feet
Speed, size = Unknown so zero
Surprise factor = 1 based on surprise of creepy web pod
2 + 0 + 0 x 1 = 2
A relatively low fear number.
A strong possibility I would live to tell about it.
I grabbed a pitch fork and torch out of my bag just in case though.
This trail knew my weaknesses, and preyed on them.
If I was met by a land shark, a man with really long finger nails, or a dog with huge eye boogers at the next hut, I would know for sure someone read my diary, and was out to get me.
At the edge of the field, I reached my ten mile mark in the form of the second hut.
Luckily it was empty.
It was however, 3PM and I’d have been bored out of my gourd until bed time if I stayed, so I broke my new 10 mile rule the second day in. I’d push on to the highway at 20 miles, and hitch to the small town of St. Arnaud for my resupply box of food.
My feet were in terrible shape from
being hot and soaking wet two days. Immersion foot was setting in. Which means basically your feet start to rot, and by basically… I mean your feet start to rot. They were itchy, swelling, and I could smell the deathly stench 5 feet 9 inches above, where my head was connected to them. The flesh was water logged, bright white on the bottom, with a red, blotchy rash crawling up the sides.
Kind of like a raw hamburger patty with one side partially cooked.
It’s important to be sexy on the trail-
And beef is a sexy meat.
Leaving the hut, my bovine hooves took me trotting up a forest dripping with a spindly, sea foam green moss. The ground rose to the occasion with a spongy, rigid, off white moss that appeared to be reaching for the trees with every fiber. It was enchanting.
I had happened upon a fairy land.
I almost felt like I was trespassing, being the tall, smelly human monster I was.
The contrast between the moss and trees was stunning. I was bewitched. I hiked under the spell of the trees, moving swiftly but wanting to linger forever.
As the evening set in, the trail widened becoming a dirt road for the last 5 miles, until I was deposited on a road with houses and speeding vehicles.
The noise pollution shattered the human silence of the past 4.5 days and I was made more aware of how truly alone I had been. I had only 30 minutes of face to face talking with other people during my entire 70 mile trip. Suddenly I felt I had been wandering a deserted island waiting to be found by cannibals.
Perhaps they lived in these houses I was walking by.
Better walk quicker.
I checked my phone for service, and called my boyfriend. With the gift of hindsight, I must have sounded like tickle me Elmo on cocaine. I was so excited to talk to another human, and that the human was him. After the phone call he text me,
“You need more human interaction.”
He wasn’t wrong.
If I was lucky hitching, I would accomplish this.
The highway, was a narrow paved road, weaving through thin forests and farm lands. I stopped to change into sandals, which someone had left at a hut, as if the universe knew I would lose my crocks over a cliff.
I’m still grieving.
The funeral is in two days.
On my quest to dig for my sandals, a car sped by on the left side of the road. Lifting my eyes from my yard sale of gear I had emptied into the dirt, I locked my vision on the driver’s side to make eye contact as I stuck my thumb out.
There was no one there.
I stretched my head out further to investigate, and my eye brows furrowed.
The car appeared to be driving its self.
The sheet metal ghost flew by, and in a blur I could see that there was a passenger.
Then I remembered they also drive on the opposite side of the car.
What a relief, shit was really bizarre there for a moment.
Chumming the street with my thumb for bait, I walked quietly through the country side, waiting for any risk takers.
After 20 minutes of walking, a behemoth of a truck pulled over to answer the call of a the fake drifter. Overwhelmed with gratitude, I climbed 4 feet up into the vehicle. The man greeted me with a gentle smile. Thrilled, I slammed the door, and immediately turned to the stranger as he pushed on the gas. While asking the superficial questions one does when they put their lives in a stranger’s hands in a different country, the man’s eyes grew wide. I didn’t think my questions were too vulgar, (although I do suffer from a small vocabulary of verbal abortions), but his surprised expression spread to the rest of his face.
Perhaps I had something in my teeth.
He pointed past me in terror.
“Your door!” He yelled.
I turned around in my seat, easily, as I had not yet put on my seat belt on.
My door was open and I could see the cement flying under me at highway speed.
In my hast to climb in the car,I had slammed the door on my backpack and it was unable to latch.
In some countries, you may get killed hitch hiking.
In New Zealand, they won’t allow you die hitch hiking
“You’re alive.” A balding, short man exclaimed, peering up at me from beneath the top bunk my limp body sunk into.
His face showed more concern than humor.
“Yes.” I confirmed.
An assertive brown haired brick stood next to him.
“What happened last night? She demanded.
“I wanted to hike 20 miles, and it took longer than I thought it would.”
“Why are you doing that?”
I almost felt like I were a family member with a drinking problem.
“I want to see as much as I can, I only have so much time here. I planned my trip like I do back home. Turns out it’s a lot harder here.”
The women lifted her eyebrows, and nodded in non-verbal agreement.
“How far are you going every day?” I questioned, shifting the spot light.
“We usually go 2 huts”.
This would be equivalent to 10ish miles.
Okay, so I was the crazy one everyone made me out to be. Perhaps I would consider slashing my itinerary in half.
Seems odd, but this proves to be extremely difficult for me. I have trained myself over the years to walk until dark, and if I stop early, I feel anxious as if I am wasting time.
Time equals life.
I’m like a dog on a leash, pulling my owner forward chocking myself with my collar, worried I’m going to miss something. Of course being the owner as well becomes a conflict of interest. I should be paid to babysit myself.
“This track is known for being really slippery.” The women cautioned, and I remembered reading that I should avoid this particular area in inclement weather.
Does a cyclone count as inclement weather?
I asked what they thought about the storm hitting land that day. The two had spent the last few months of their lives living on this dirt path. Neither of them seemed concerned.
I was relieved when they left; I didn’t want to crack the seal of my sleeping bag with others around. I smelt like a dead animal laying in a bed of rotten spinach. 3 days of working out 6-13 hours a day without showering or deodorant in the humid heat of New Zealand cooked up a real spicy brew.
I returned shoe to dirt, tired, but my foot no longer hurt which gifted a major relief. I kind of needed that part of my body to work.
The sky drizzled lazily, as I side stepped the narrow, spongy, 1 foot wide trail which slanted towards an arduous ravine, plummeting down to the river 30 feet below. Massive roots crawled all over the trail; the varicose veins of Mother Nature. To avoid my previous plight with gravity, my eyes fixated heavily on my steps, choosing life over the stunning scenery. Despite my heavy emphasis on foot placement, the ground gave way once again, dropping my soft flesh below, straining my body through the trees beneath the footpath. My limbs did their best impression of a starfish slamming my shoe into a tiny waif of a tree, halting what might have been a crushing, early morning swim, or hospital visit.
I laughed it off in a nervous awkward fashion, the way you do when you just miss hitting another car and realize you could have died, but were spared, and now have the rest of your life ahead of you.
You know, the little things.
The route curved like a serpentine, swerving across the river many times requiring a great deal of focus. I moved quickly, passing the couple and continuing on past them, scrambling and hop-scotching my way through the valley. We would be at the same hut that night if I cut back miles, so I dropped a quick hello, and continued on.
The route was a rib cage of roots, wrapping around mud and stones guts. At one point, I prepared to descend a steep section, and I slipped and flipped over myself like a pancake that thought it was a slinky. My head rolled under my feet as they flew through the air above me. I laid in the dirt for a moment waiting for any new pain to arise, but it didn’t.
I made it to the next cabin, and took a break elevating my legs and stuffing my face with energy in the form of shitty dry wall bars and powders. Visions of the water tornado swirled around in my mind. The cyclone was supposed to hit mid day. The time was noon, and apart from some dark clouds and tiny farts of wind, I sided with both groups of thru hikers who said the storm would be bullshit.
I needed this to be true.
A substantial mountain with 2 summits stood as the only obstacle between myself and the next hut and I intended to conquer it without any friction of chaos.
I would not be granted this gift.
The dirt disappeared as I gained elevation, replaced with sharp uneven boulders that were sand papery to the touch. These boulder fields required me to pin ball my path vertically on top of whatever rocks looked sturdy enough, like one of those old choose your own adventure books. I employed my rock hopping method I use on the Washington coast, jumping meticulously, shoving my feet in between boulders to avoid slipping.
The rock field dissipated eventually, and I found myself in a grassy, steep meadow below the first summit. A breeze wafted in a mild fashion, and I laughed ; how silly for me to be worried about this weather. Storms are mind readers.
Offended- The wind picked up, and the sky began to breath, blowing its wrath over the mountain, submitting all trees and plants to bend to its overpowering will. I turned back as a dense white fog crept up from below, flooding the valley, stalking me. The clouds lowered, the fog rose, and I was gnashed between the teeth of both, in an almost a complete white-out.
I ascended in only a tank top and hiking skirt with no rain gear, because I do not sweat enough to cool my body down. I observed my clothes absorbing water, but knew I would be too hot if I put my rain jacket on, which would cause me to sweat and soak through my clothes anyway. I pressed on climbing in my hiker Barbie outfit.
The route was indicated by tall metal poles with orange tips. I’d spy one in the distance, find the path of the least resistance to it, then search for the next one. With the white-out enveloping the landscape, I could hardly navigate by vision. If it got bad enough I carried 2 GPS, and if they shit the bed, I had a compass, or a tent to crawl into.
Redundancy was key.
The drizzle turned into a harsh sideways down pour, and he blasts of wind reached 60 MPH, tossing me over, forcing me to throw my trekking poles out to catch my balance.
This wasn’t the salad I ordered.
My pack cover began to aggressively flap in the wind like an enormous manic bird, trying to lift my body with its talons. I feared it may blow off, so I jammed an attached string between my teeth to anchor the backpack condom. No sooner had I done this, and the pack cover blew off my bag completely. Now the flimsy nylon deployed behind me, the string still clamped down in my grill, as if my mouth was flying a kite.
My pack didn’t trust me, and pulled its own make shift parachute.
I worried about hypothermia if I stopped even for a moment, so I staggered on with the fake parachute fluttering behind me. My fingers were numb, and I struggled to grip them around my poles. I was effectively drenched to the skin, and with the pummeling wind and cold shower, it was a risk to stop and try to dig thru my bag for rain gear. All my clothes and sleeping bag would get wet and possibly blown away.
I had to keep moving.
I felt small, like a flee crawling on the back of a gigantic wild animal that just discovered my existence, and didn’t want me there.
I fought the wind relentlessly, suffocating in nature’s cleavage as I reached the first summit and descended.
I was a mouse in a bucket of water, drowning.
My mind wandered to the idea of collapsing and hiding in the fetal position between rocks, but that was how people got hypothermia- And died.
The only way out was up.
I was almost savagely knocked over again by the wind, but this time I hurled my head up in a carnivorous rage and roared back at the faucet of a ceiling, as if I sat across a debate table and it was my turn to retaliate.
This proved to be a conduit of energy for my eroding morale, and I boosted my body up the second summit, feeling an overwhelming sense of alleviation when the ground become lower under foot.
The relief was brief.
To my horror, the sky ripped open as if a damn had broken showering down with such passion, that I could no longer open my eyes.
I was blind.
What good were the brightly colored poles, my GPS, or my compass if I couldn’t open my eyes?
Useless, and so was I.
The primordial need for vision in order to escape my predator was all encompassing, but my predator loomed everywhere. There was no liberation until I made the tree line, and I couldn’t open my eyes to find it.
I stood wiping my eyes incessantly, only to move my hands away and allow more water to flood them.
I was terribly cold and an unfamiliar pang of fear swelled inside my gut.
I stopped walking to collect myself.
Stay calm. You’re OK. Find the next pole.
After a hand full of floundering attempts, I wiped my eyes again, and using my hands to shield them, I squinted in every direction. Far to my left in a deep fog, I spied a ghostly orange tip of metal.
THE WAY OUT.
I moved obsessively towards it. I never thought I would have such a love affair with a pole, probably why I never ended up as a stripper. I can hardly find a pole when I need one. Once I arrived at the route indicator, I skipped down to the next and the pattern repeated until the bush line crept up through the choking fog.
I was a kaleidoscope of emotions- relieved, overwhelmed, stressed, satisfied, fearful and happy. I snatched my rain gear out of my bag, now that I wouldn’t jeopardize it flying away, and covered my pathetically waterlogged body. The barrier for convective heat loss worked instantly.
I took a deep breathe.
Today I would only go 10 miles.
I assumed I should cry when I made it to the final hut for the day. My adult years however, had hardened me in a way that sensitivity did not leak through my cement veneer so easily, and I smiled instead.
Safe inside, there were 2 wooden bunks, a table with 2 benches, a metal counter and fire place with a modest pile of wood. I feverishly worked to light a fire, and my soul began to thaw.
Once the fire was effectively eating through the wood, I peeled off all my layers and hung them over the fire, over joyed by the radiant heat.
Oh to be warm again.
Under the shelf I found a pot I could use on the stove to boil water. I had cold soaked all my dinners until this point, so hot Top Ramen would make a fine delicacy.
A feast reserved for nobility.
Pleasantly toasty and dry, I sat with immense gratitude over my peanut butter jar full of frugal soup.
In the shelter I felt world away from the physical agony I endured hours before. A pirate on a shipwrecked vessel, lost in the vast unknown of an impenetrable fog.
Outside, the wind snored, thundering against the walls, strangling the building in a thick suffocating war of rain.
Marching like a jolly child down the trail, until a bird lurched out timidly onto the path pausing my rhythm. I immediately recognized it to be a kiwi and with the excitement of a child opening a mildly interesting Christmas present, I snapped some shitty pictures. Later, only after bragging about seeing one, did I find out that this imposter was not a kiwi, it was a pest bird called a Waka.
Reminds me of the time I thought Keane Reeves walked into my work, only to find out it was an underwear model instead.
After about 5 miles, I came across a group of 4 well organized and clean hikers who didn’t appear to share my make out sessions with the dirt.
They claimed to be hiking off the trail to avoid the cyclone.
The man’s words flirted with my level of concern for the storm, and my uneasiness grew. I was hoping the men from the evening before were just being pussies about it.
Turns out this was serious.
Or these mountains were full of pussies.
The curious group inquired about my plan, and I informed them that I intended to trek 25 or so miles a day and beat the cyclone to town.
They were shocked; I was a rare breed to their kind.
The trail conversations were taking on a pattern I was unfamiliar with. On the Pacific Crest Trail, many people did 20-30 miles per day.
Here, everyone thought I was insane.
“You’re no soft boiled egg.” One of the men stated with a thick British accent.
I carried on, head down, speed walking, piercing the dirt vigorously with my trekking poles, as if to puncture the lungs of a beast I was fighting.
I had read about the ridge I was to traverse, and prayed for good weather, so that I could be party to the majestic views.
My prayers were answered.
This was a ridge walk of dreams.
The REAL “Great Valley” The Land Before Time characters talked about.
And by the way can we all agree that the triceratops, “Sarah”, was a total bitch?
Cause she was.
My trekking poles clicked connecting with tiny pebbles that coated the trail, much in the way a roller coast clicks as you ascend; which is exactly what I was doing; in a direct line up the mountain. Lifting my knees high to meet the occasion, I huffed and puffed out both ends, in hopes the winds of my insides would help surge me to the top.
No sooner did I reach the summit of one mountain and begin to pass out my celebratory party hats, did I have to immediately repack them to descend and climb the next masterful pile of rocks.
God loves his rock statues.
So do I.
But this next down climb was fucking insane.
My mouth sagged open as I peered down over the side of the pyramid of dirt, at the route of sure death I was expected to “walk down”.
The steep mountain side was made up of tiny dusty pebbles, that slid under boot the moment you gave them your weight.
You can not walk down this chute.
You have to ski.
But not on skis. On your boots.
And not on snow. ON GRAVEL.
I didn’t know how to ski, and I broke my collarbone snowboarding a few years ago going over what I thought was a jump. When asked to recall what happened, I told the paramedic and he stated they didn’t have any jumps in the park, and claimed I went off a “jib” instead.
I found this insulting.
I held my arm, vulnerably and through my painful suffering, I listened in on the medic’s phone call with a doctor.
“She had a ground level fall.” He whispered.
“I HAD AIR.” I blurted.
No one was convinced.
Needless to say, flying down a hill in a standing position, is not on the short list of things I excel at.
Above the rock slide, I tightened my core and my face muscles clenched as my rigid legs attempted to accomplish the morbid task at hand.
There was no grace in my movements. I blame this on the ballet teacher who kicked me out of class when I was a kid, because I wasn’t good enough.
THATS WHY I WAS TAKING LESSONS you pretentious, tutu wearing flamingo.
Childhood is so hard.
Time to send it.
I leaned forward over my skis that did not exist, and the boot ski of terror took me prisoner. Throwing out my poles for support, I looked like I was attempting to surf, while holding a walker. I slipped and carved my boots through the pebbles, crumbling to the task multiple times. I’d land on my butt, flying down the chute and digging my heels in as emergency breaks to avoid my ass being completely cheese grated.
Mother Nature has no sympathy.
Now let’s zoom in.
This CD of experience, skipped and repeated, over and over until I had played out every walking dance move possible, and was spit out in a field below.
NAILING THE LANDING.
I wasn’t even bleeding!
Take that, ya old ballet sea hag.
I took a break at the next hut to elevate my feet, and have a snack episode. Two other riders of the boot coaster streamed in.
The couple appeared pirate-like in appearance. Old, crusty clothing hung from their tanned, muscular frames. They had been hiking the Te Araroa for 4 months, and their gear was worn and tired. When the subject of weather inevitably forced its way into the conversation, they told me the cyclone was nothing to worry about.
I studied the lines in their faces.
The women spoke up. Perhaps she could tell I was suspicious.
“The weather forecasts always make a storm out to be something crazy, and it ends up just being a drizzle- Maybe some wind.” She tossed the words mindlessly in my direction, while unpacking her bag.
She smelt terrible, and I immediately believed them to be thru hikers who would be competent in the weather patterns of the island.
Looks like the other backpackers were safe from my belly after all.
With this knowledge I decided to only go 20 miles instead of 25. If I got caught in a little rain like they said, it would be no jalapeño on my junk.
For the rest of the sun lit day, the scenary grew even more vivacious and grand.
I was overwhelmed by the size, and greenery of the mountains; it was as if I had discovered another species of outdoors.
Time passed, and by mile 16 I was totally exhausted. The stair master quality of the route had my body breaking down, and I limped from a sharp pain in the arch of my left foot.
I was angry with my body. I had to make atleast 20 miles that day!
The sun set, and I was drown in a deep blackness that only a heavy canopy of leaves can provide. I heaved my body over the trail, a chewed up piece of meat, greasing my way over the dim path.
Earlier in the trip I had experienced a bizarre epiphany; I realized I missed the danger of having predators to watch out for. In New Zealand, they have no large predators like cougar or bear. In fact, they don’t even have any small spiders or snakes that are poisoness. I felt this particular appetite for danger was not being met, and this surprised me.
It only took the absence of light for this opinion to change, and be replaced by gratitude. That evening I was happy to be the biggest creature lugging my way through the dark ocean of tree puppet shadows.
The final descent to the next hut was incredibly steep and unforgiving. Covered once again in tiny dusty pebbles, I was at the mercy of my large man feet and trekking poles to save me from falling victim to the gritty, blood eating roots and rocks below my boots.
I must have eaten shit 3 or 4 times.
I don’t know what Mother Nature ate, but it didn’t taste good.
Too tired to find my misfortunes funny, I cursed, a bull with my balls tied, screaming out my anger in high pitched shrieks every time my boots went on holiday, flying out from under me.
In terrific frustration, I checked my map. I must have been close.
I was. Thank God.
The hut lived right across the stream.
A wooden ramp appeared in my small field of vision and I clamored up it, landing on a narrow wire held suspension bridge which hung high over a deep ravine. Below, a swollen stream flowed with angry water, that tossed and fought with the rocks in its path.
Half blind by the night air, following my tiny beam of light, it was all the strength I had left to balance on the foot wide beam below my feet. I swayed side to side on the vulnerable toothpick bridge, with the wood rolling like a wave under my weight.
Gripping the wire hand rails with white knuckles, I stopped for a moment to peer up at the sky.
It was the most beautifully romantic black, dotted with a sea of stars, starring down on me, encouraging me.
My smile returned.
This is why I do this.
NOT because I hate myself, but because it’s FUCKING AWESOME.
I reached the small hut after 10PM, and was greeted with two pairs of hiking shoes on the porch. Gingerly I snuck inside, dimming my light so as not to disturb the other inhabitants.
“Are you okay?” A women’s voice came out the corner, curious and concerned.
“Yes, it just took me longer to hike 20 miles than I planned.”