So no shit, there I was-
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. 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’re eyes grew wide; 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 eyes grew wide 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 metal song and was spit out in a field below.
NAILED 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 it 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 moment, 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 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; 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 anorexic, vulnerable bridge, and the wood rolled 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.”
I slept so hard that night I may have died.