We did make it out of the forest. The Hihikiwi track–one of the few names I remember. We made it exactly the time listed on the sign at the end: 3 hours, thirty minutes. Of all the tracks, it was one of the shortest. Outside the forest, the sky was still thick with pending rain. The air was still wet, but we were below the cloud. Without the tree coverage, the wind whipped icy cold against us. (Not tropical) The road we met looked rarely traveled, but was a wide, maintained gravel road. We started walking.
The views weren’t so bad. We couldn’t see very far still, but we were pretty high. We looked down on green, pointy hills. Pasture with patches of tallllllll, tallllllll pines trees. Sometimes we could see over the distance and see other looming peaks. For some reason the resemblance to Lord of the Rings yanked at my heart and tore at my sad soul–how badly I wanted to be with Molly and watch the movie under the comfort of normal life.The road was better than the forest. We stopped after about ten minutes in the wind and put on every layer we had, which further improved it. My rubber band of resilience had stretched past its limits in the forest, but it was quickly back in place. I was still homesick and demoralized, but the mud and forest weren’t actively sucking at my will to be on this Arctic island. Georges and I were able to talk about some things–suffering and supporting.
We got a hitch when we hit the state highway. The first hitch Georges and I both regretted. They gave us a ride to an intersection 8 km from Waitomo. Neither of us wanted to skip so much of the trail. There was still 12ish km on the gravel roads and then 20 km through the next forest and pasture section which we missed. We thought the other had wanted to hitch all the way to Waitomo. We talked about it after they let us out and agreed we wouldn’t hitch off the trail any more. We both want to see and experience the trail, not just hitch from town to town. Plus, for me, I hate the forest; so skipping the pasture and road sections leaves me with only parts I don’t like. We agreed we’d hitch if the trail was on the road, but not off or around the trail. Another progression–growth, fine tuning.
We walked the remaining 8 km to Waitomo. We walked along a shoulder-less, trafficked highway. The scenery was grassy pasture. We were finally down from the mountains. We had lunch partway. We just sat at the end of someone’s long gravel driveway. It wasn’t bad. I’ve hit my tolerance for super sweet, sugared, carmeled, chocolated muesli and nut bars–we’ll be restructuring our menu at the next resupply. For the time being, that tortilla is a wonderful highlight to my day.
Arriving in Waitomo, we took two dorm beds for the first night and a tent site for the following two nights. We went ahead and put our tent up on the still-dry grass–hoping the smelling of molding four-days wet in the dry bag would be washed clean in the coming rain and then have plenty of time to air out. We showered and laundered our clothes and shoes. The gentleman who manages the hostel gave us lots of good information and we ended up booking a great cave adventure tour for half the listed prices; getting all-you-can-eat beef stew, potatoes and rice diner for NZ$10 each; and transportation to and from everything we planned to do.
Dinner was at an off-the beaten place called Roseland’s which was deserted (too early in the summer season) and fantastic. Well, the food was mediocre at best, but the building was built right into and on top of the forest, so we walked over a bridge through the forest canopy to get in and we sat by bay windows with views looking out over the awesome valley below. On the far horizon was a looming and lonely mountain stretching up the the clouds. As the sun set, the sky and silhouetted mountain changed between pinks and grays, with rain clouds thickening and thinning as they passed in the far distance. Watching out the window, I cried quietly and Georges hugged me, knowing I needed to cry as much as I needed to breathe.
I let myself accept that what I’m doing now sucks more than most of the things I could be doing right now. I let myself feel sad for the people I miss. I let myself feel hurt by the ceaseless pain from my badly bruised feet and overuse injury I’m fighting off with ibuprofen rather than rest. I let myself feel sorrow for all the people I had met on and off the trail that I invest fully in getting to know only to permanently part ways within minutes or hours–all their happy faces swimming before my eyes. I let myself feel overwhelmed by the four months still looming. I let myself accept the journey I took on.
Looking out peacefully over this view, one like many I’ve seen in the past month, I knew with all my heart that this view was better when you’re standing on a gravel road miles from anything, with trekking poles in your hands and a pack on your back. Panting from the effort to earn it or shivering from the cold of the unforgiving summerless non-tropical island, this view was better in the midsts of a hike.
It didn’t mean I didn’t want to be home with Molly and Brittany and Robyn and Bethel and my mom. It just meant there was something worth hiking for.