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 their wills, and she 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.