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 was 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 this was 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 weddings 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.
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 caved 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 yet.
Which reminds me of another incident recently where I was publicly shamed for my fabulous sense of humor, when I joined my buddy to meet his family at a coffee shop. I told them about my future solo hiking trip and the Grandma was surprised I went out alone. Meanwhile, 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 convince me not to hike alone encase the baby escaped in the woods and tried to eat me.