“You’re alive.” A balding, short man exclaimed, peering up at me from below the top bunk my limp body sunk into.
His face showed more concern then humor.
“Yes.” I confirmed.
An assertive brown haired, brick built women stood next to him.
“What happened last night? She questioned.
“I wanted to hike 20 miles, and it took longer than I thought it would.”
“Why are you doing that?” She demanded, as if 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. 20 miles a day. 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 maybe I was the crazy one everyone was making me out to be.
Perhaps I would try only going ten miles that day.
Seems odd, but this is extremely difficult for me. I have trained myself over the years to hike until it gets 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 at all times, worried I’m going to miss out on something.
Being the owner as well becomes confusing.
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 thought, laughing to myself.
I asked how they felt about the storm that was to make land that day. The two had spent the last few months of their lives living on this dirt path.
Neither of them seemed concerned.
The couple left the cabin. I was relieved; I didn’t want to crawl out of my sleeping bag until they left. I smelt like a dead animal. 3 days of working out 6-13 hours a day without showering or deodorant in the humid heat of New Zealand.
Actually my friends at work say that the one time they could smell my B.O, it smelt like grilled onions. I suppose this is a step up from dead animal, so maybe I should stick to that.
I returned shoe to dirt, tired, but my foot felt better which was 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, slanting towards a steep ravine, and plummeting down to the river 30 feet below. Massive roots crawled all over the trail; the vericose veins of Mother Nature.
To avoid my previous plight with gravity, my eyes fixated heavily on my steps, choosing life over the stunning scenary. 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 trail. Starfishing my limbs out, my foot slammed into a tiny waif of a tree, halting what could 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 we’re spared, and now have the rest of your life ahead of you.
The little things.
The trail serpentined, swerving across the river many times requiring a great deal of focus. The stream was not particularly high, so I moved quickly, passing the couple and continuing on ahead of them, scrambling and hop-scotching my way through the river valley. I would be at the same hut as them that night if I only went ten miles, so I threw out a quick hello, and continued on.
The route is a rib cage of roots, wrapped around mud and rocks. At one point, I prepared to descend the path to the river, 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 hut, a small metal cabin, and took a break elevating my feet and stuffing my face with energy in the form of shitty dry wall bars and powders.
Visions of the storm swirled around in my mind. The cyclone was supposed to hit mid day. The time was noon, and apart from the 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.
Leaving the hut, I began the steep climb for the apex of my experience that day. A large mountain with two summits stood in between myself and the next hut and I intended to conquer it without any friction of caos.
I would not be spared 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 you to pin ball your 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 two rocks to avoid slipping and keeping my weight distributed between the two for less chance of the rocks moving.
The rock field petered out eventually, and I found myself in a grassy, steep meadow below the first summit. The wind blew in a mild fashion, and I laughed to myself; how silly it was for me to be worried about this weather-
But 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.
Taking note of this, I turned back as a thick 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 was a ascending in only a tank top and hiking skirt with no rain gear, because I do not sweat enough to cool my body down. I noticed my clothes starting to soak up water, but knew I would be too hot if I put my rain jacket on, which would cause me to sweat and soak my clothes anyway.
I continued climbing in my hiker Barbie outfit.
The route involved following large metal poles with orange tips. You see one in the distance, you find the path of least resistance to it, then you search for the next one. With the white out enveloping the landscape, I could hardly navigate by vision. I knew I may have to rely on one of my two GPS, and if they failed, I had a compass.
Or I had a tent to crawl into.
Redundancy is key.
The drizzle turned into a harsh sideways rain, collecting on all surfaces. The gusts of wind reached 60 MPH, pushing me over, forcing me to throw my trekking poles out to catch my balance.
This wasn’t good.
My rain cover on my pack began to aggressively flap in the wind like a large angry bird, trying to lift my body with its talons. I feared it may blow off, so I shoved the sinching string between my teeth to anchor the backpack condom. No sooner had I done this, and the pack cover blew off completely. Now the flimsy nylon flew behind me, the string still stuck between the skin of my teeth, as if my mouth was flying a kite.
My pack had chosen to belief I would not protect it in the wind, and deployed its own make shift parachute.
I feared hypothermia if I stopped even for a moment, so I continued hiking with the fake parachute blowing behind me.
My fingers were numb, and I could hardly grip them around my trekking poles. I knew they were holding the poles, but I could no longer feel adequately. I was completely soaked to the skin, and with the massive gusts of wind, and pouring rain, I knew it was a risk to stop and try to dig thru my bag for rain gear. Everything inside would get wet and possibly blow away.
I had to keep moving to stay warm.
I felt small, like a flee climbing on the top of a large wild animal that just discovered my existence, and didn’t want me there.
As I reached the first summit and ascended before the second, the wind blew relentlessly. Suffocating in nature’s cleavage, I searched within myself for the grit to push forward to finish the second summit.
I was a mouse in a bucket of water.
My mind wandered to the idea of collapsing and hiding in a ball between rocks, it would be so much easier-
But that is how people get hypothermic-
I had to keep moving; I told myself this over and over until I was angry.
Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving!
Again I was almost completely knocked over by the wind, but this time I threw my head up in a carnvierous rage and roared back at the sky, as if I was sitting across a debate table and it was my turn to retaliate.
This proved to be a conduit of energy for my drenched morale, and I shoved my body up the second summit, feeling an overwhelming sense of relief as I noticed the ground become lower under foot.
The relief was brief.
The cyclone had only been flirting with me during the climb. To my horror, the sky cracked open as if a damn had broken. Rain pounded so hard and fast, I could no longer open my eyes.
I was blind.
What good were the orange tipped poles, my GPS, or my compass if I couldn’t open my eyes?
And so was I.
The primordial need to see my landscape in order to escape my predator was all encompassing. But my predator was everywhere. There was no escape until I made the tree line-
But I couldn’t open my eyes to find it.
I stood wiping my eyes insesantly, only to move my hands away and allow more water to flood them.
I was terribly cold. I felt an unfamiliar pang of fear inside my gut.
I stopped walking. I had to collect myself.
“I have find the next orange tipped pole.” I thought.
After a hand full of failed attempts, I wiped my eyes again, and using my hands to shield them, I squinted in every direction. Far to my left, and below me in a deep fog, I spied a ghostly orange tip of metal.
THE WAY OUT.
I moved obsessively towards it, then the next and the pattern continued until the tree line came into view through the choking mist.
I was a calidascope of emotions- relieved, overwhelmed, stressed, satisfied, fearful and happy. I snatched my rain coat out of my bag, now that I wouldn’t risk it blowing out of my hands, and covered my soaking wet body with it. The barrier for convective heat loss was noticed instantly.
I took a deep breathe.
Today I would only go ten miles.
I was so happy to see the hut, I felt like I should cry. 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 two large bunks, a wooden table with two benches, a metal counter and fire place with a small amount of wood. I feverishly worked to light a fire, and I felt my soul begin to thaw.
I took off all my wet clothes and hung them over the fire, over joyed by the radiant heat I soaked up.
I was warm again.
Below the metal counter there were a few shelves, and I found a pot I could use on the fire place to heat water. I had cold soaked all my dinners until now, so this was quite the delicacy to eat a hot meal. I choose to heat my top ramen for the evening.
A feast reserved for nobility.
Pleasantly warm and dry, I sat with immense gratitude over my peanut butter jar full of hot top ramen.
Gazing through the glass of the hut windows, I felt a world away from the pain and suffering of being cold and wet just hours before. The deep jungly forest and dense wall of mist lent hand to the idea that I had been dropped on a deserted island in the clouds. A pirate on a shipwrecked vessel, lost in the wet, vast unknown of a deep fog.
Outside, the wind snored, thundering against the hut, strangling the building in a thick suffocating war of rain.
The couple never arrived.