The night was rough for me. It was hard to sleep on the slope of the ground and I was cold. I’ve been struggling with my sleeping bag being too cold each night, but I’m holding out for summer to start up and my bag will be perfectly fine. Until summer comes, though, the nights have been cold. Luckily, it seemed we were high enough into the forest that there weren’t any animals and there really wasn’t wind either. Just cold. Oh yeah, and pain. My legs ached so badly I couldn’t think of anything but the cold and the pain. I tossed and turned all night; being able to find comfort for 10-15 minutes before the throbbing in my legs would start again. The previous night, in Digger’s Valley, had similar leg throbbing but now it was another couple dozen kilometers compounded. I was relieved when it was finally time to get up, but I didn’t want to start hiking again.
We packed camp and headed out around 7:45. Something to note about setting up camp centimeters from the trail: there is absolutely no separation between yesterday’s hiking and today’s hiking. It took one step to be back exactly where the previous day had ended. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing. It was like having to sleep at the dinner table if you didn’t finish your dinner. Right back into the struggle.
About five minutes of walking showed us we had stopped just before the ascent to the highest point in the forest, Ratea. I struggled like I have never struggled before. The climb was so steep and the path so rugged, I couldn’t find oxygen for my lungs or willpower for my legs. Every single step was a lifelong commitment of effort. Thankfully, I have many parts of my brain and emotional spectrum; so, though I was suffering incredibly, I was also able to respect the athletic feat I was completing. Able to be thankful for the opportunity. Able to create the ability. Encouraged by the knowledge that I could and would make it out of the forest that day.
Though I stopped often to fight tears back and oxygen in, G and I did make it to the very top of the highest summit en route. It leveled enough we could tell we were at the top, but no view. After catching my breath, I decided to follow a foot path that went away from the trail. I told G I’d holler if it was worth the steps. Following the path for fifty meters or so pushed me through one final (giant) bush and out onto a grassy clearing. I hollered back to G that it was worth it and turned back to the field. I went straight to the middle of it and found my view. 360 degrees of view. I think the clearing must have been for helicopters because there was a power box and tower thing at the far end of the clearing. G and I enjoyed the view for a while and were pleased with ourselves for making it up the sucky ascent. Soon, though, we knew we needed to keep going. The day was young and we had four more summits left in the forest.
We hiked on. Having studied the map carefully, we predicted a couple water sources about 8 k and 13 k into the day. We were careful with our remaining 3/4 of a liter, but the trail was admittedly demanding. I hiked toward the first stream. It’s what I set all my goals on. At the first stream we would get water. At the first stream we would sit down. At the first stream I would change into my short-sleeve shirt. As the hours ticked by, I added to my goals: At the first stream we will sit down and have lunch; at the first stream we will have a long lunch and hydrate lots… But the stream never came. Not the first. Not the second. Not even the one with a name. We knew we were following a ridge line at the top of a mountain, so we accepted that some of the streams on the map didn’t actually touch the trail. But the named stream clearly crossed the trail and must be big enough to have a name. But morning turned to afternoon and we hadn’t hit any streams. We checked the map, but without the streams, we really couldn’t tell where we were. We didn’t take breaks or have lunch because we were both sure a stream must be just a head. Forty minutes to the next stream. Thirty minutes. Twenty minutes. Ten minutes. Ok, no stream here but maybe the next blue line.
There was never a stream. No trail notes or warning that the forest section was dry, but there was no chance of water anywhere in the forest. We hiked all day waiting for a stream; up and down miserable ascent after miserable descent. We were never sure if we were at a summit or just a bump. We were thirsty. We were low energy. It was not fun.
In the afternoon the trail suddenly presented itself onto a wide grass path–heaven. There was nothing on the map or trail notes to suggest this unexpected relief, but we took it graciously. Following the orange markers we hiked though the grass. Soon, though, heaven’s mask fell away and we realized what the next phase in hell would be. We were on a cattle herding track–which is fine. Until it turned to a barbed-fenced-lined cattle trough filled with deep, disgusting, wet mud and cow manure from fence to fence. It was unbelievable and unavoidable. We had been beaten by the forest all day and were completely out of water. We still hadn’t had lunch and we were now fenced into a useless mud pit with no alternative.
We hiked on for more hours. There was no other choice. Finally, the track opened up. The grass and suggestion of the promised farmlands drove us even faster. Walking by a whole cow skeleton, we made it finally to an open field. We sat down and looked out over the hills below and around us. We were out of the forest. We were finally out of the forest.
We agreed to hike to State Highway 1, as on the trail, but then to hitch into the town rather than walk. We had also agreed (at like 11 a.m.) to stay in the local hotel that night. There was one more forest the next day, ending in a river track–it was supposed to be easier, but I knew I needed a break. Unfortunately, we still had a lot of k left before State Highway 1.
Still without water, we began our continued descent from the mountain. We passed through the pasture–meeting a group of young bulls only once–and finally out onto Makane Road. Still no water, but focused on the pending night in the hotel, we hiked on. We tried to call the hotel, but the number in the trail notes didn’t work. No worries, we kept walking. About a kilometer from State Highway 1, we passed an older couple tending some blackberries by the side of the road. We stopped to chat. They are local goat farmers and welcomed us to camp on their land if we wanted. Unfortunately and unbelievably, they informed us the local hotel had gone out of business years ago–as had everything else in town except the small dairy (like a convenience store). We were heartbroken. I can’t believe we didn’t collapse on the spot and give up. We tried to keep our devastation from coming on too heavily. The farmers did point us down to the stream which the road was running alongside. We had been too exhausted to try to see how far the stream was from the road, but the farmers said it was right close. We went down and found it was a bit hard to get to, but it was there.
We filled our water bladders and tried to figure out what we could do about the night. I couldn’t resolve myself to another night in a tent. I needed a break. We asked the farmers again if they knew of anywhere at all we could stay. They said if we wanted, we could hitch down to Kerikeri–which they said was only 3/4 of an hour further down State Highway 1. We knew Kerikeri from having stopped there with the bus, and we knew it was big enough to have accommodations. We agreed we wanted to complete the last forest, but that we also wanted to stay inside tonight.
Thanking the farmers we headed on down the road. When we reached State Highway 1, we immediately stuck out our thumbs. Within 15 minutes a car stopped and offered us a ride. 🙂
It was a German gal and guy. We said we were headed to Kerikeri and they said they’d take us down the road as far as they were going. The guy said he didn’t think Kerikeri was in front of them though so we all had a look at the maps. Upon closer examination we realized that Kerikeri was nowhere near us and that there wasn’t even a reasonable path by road to get us from where we were to Kerikeri. Unbelievable. And so disheartening. We looked at the map and the German’s showed us where they were headed. There were no major towns anywhere around or on their route. We decided to get in anyway and ride until we found something. Anything. We would still be able to hitch back in the morning.
The couple turned out to be unacquainted. They were both on holiday and the guy was getting a ride around the country in response to the girl’s post on Facebook letting people know she was traveling around New Zealand for fun. The guy actually planned to start the Te Araroa in the next couple weeks, so he pounded us with questions. We shared everything we could.
At every turn off we stopped and studied the map. They were decided how to get where they were going and we in turn decided whether to stay in the car or get out. In the end we ended up in a…town???…called Horeke. I had seen signs for a tavern and a historical missionary with accommodations, so we decided that would do for us. The guy and gal needed gas pretty badly, so the gal and I got out and went to talk to some girls on a nearby playground.
The girls had interesting information, but it wasn’t clear how reliable it was. In short, I decide G and I would be able to find a place to sleep in town and the gal learned they would have to backtrack substantially to get gas–and she wasn’t sure she had enough gas to get there.
There was a sign next to the playground pointing up the hill that read Riverside Bed and Breakfast. G and I called the number but there was no answer. I could see wash out on the drying line up at the house, but the sign said No Vacancy. G and I weren’t sure what to do after calling several times. We didn’t want to hike up the hill and onto their property if they didn’t want us, so we turned and hiked toward town. The girls in the park assured us there was a tavern and a hotel down the road, so we felt good about options. We got to the tavern first. No cars in the parking lot and no answer at the door. We knocked for a while, but it didn’t look like it was open on Mondays. So we hiked on, somewhat concerned with our options at this point. As we rounded the next bend in the road, we could see–seemingly–to the end of the land. All we saw were a few houses. The area was very depressed and looked very, very poor. We trusted the girls though and hiked on. Finally, we met a women out hanging laundry. Despite the unusual huge wild pig chained in their front yard, I asked if there was a hotel and shop further down the road. The women was quite confused by our question and said there was nothing down the road that she knew of. Just farms and a dead end.
So we hiked back. We tried the tavern again. Got nothing. We figured we’d go back to the bed and breakfast and try to knock at their door–if nothing else we’d set the tent up somewhere and pray for a hitch in the morning. Turning up the road toward the bed and breakfast, we found it gated. We went through the gate–every sign pointing toward a pending horror movie–and followed the drive up to the house.
The house was gorgeous. Bright white with bright blue roof and trimmings. Big wrap-around porch and a beautiful view out over the…whatever body of water we were by. We went to the front door and rang the bell. Nothing. We rang again. Nothing. G said he had seen someone around back and we could hear kids, so we decided to creepily go around back. Announcing our presence, we were discovered by two quick young kids. I asked a few times if there were any adults around and finally an older girl came it of a studio apartment behind the house–one of the girls I had spoken with in the park. She got Iris, the local adult and Iris turned out to be very helpful.
We explained our situation–that we were backpacking but wanted a break from the trail; we had hitched into town but couldn’t find a place to stay. She said we were welcome to stay there and that she would show us around.
As soon as Iris started showing us the house, the owner, Paul, arrived home. It was clear muddy backpackers weren’t the usual clientele in this beautiful, immaculate old house–but we left our shoes outside. It was just Paul in the big house, so we picked a nice yellow room upstairs. Paul told us we were welcome to take showers on the main floor (in the most expensive room) where there was better water pressure. Iris set us up with free laundry, house coats to wear while we washed our clothes, and dinner. She generously offered us sausages from her freezer, some kumara, eggs, frozen veggies and free reign in the house’s kitchen and pantry. Plus she gave us two freshly caught fish from a friend of her’s.
We had found heaven.
We showered–for a long time. We put our clothes in the wash. And I started dinner while Georges tended to our poop/muddy shoes. Dinner was late but good. I cooked those two fish–the first fish I’ve ever cooked (they had two eyes on one side of their bodies and they had all their bones and fins–eww!!) and G said they were good. We only ate three of the six sausages she gave us, so we saved the rest for breakfast.
It was a highly unexpected end to the day. We sat around a beautiful old dinning room table in house coats (G didn’t actually wear his house coat) and ate a feast in a quiet bed and breakfast somewhere on the map. Plus, Paul had talked to Georges for a bit and had generously offered to drive us back to the trail in the morning–so we weren’t even stressed about trying to find a ride. Everything was great again. Like a giant eraser, that shower and dinner turned the forests and summits into nothing more than memories.
And when I crawled into my heated bed that night, I found the warmest, fuzziness, softest sheets welcoming me into the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.
🙂 Eat that Satan. 😛