I had to look at the calendar this morning to see what day it was. It is Friday January 17th and we have been on the trail for over a week! It feels like only a few days and it feels like forever. Time is such a funny thing.
We have hiked on rich volcanic soil and rolling green hills beside the Waikato, New Zealand’s longest and mightiest river. We have seen darting possums, jack rabbits and heard the distinctive warble of magpies in Bilbo Baggins-type trees. We have hiked through towns and across golf courses (and even slept on one when Gord’s knee gave out and we had to stop immediately for the day). We have camped mainly in farmers fields where we have met lovely people and been invited to eat our fill of oranges off the trees. We have hiked, inadvertently, through sacred Maori temple grounds, and through the lush landscape of middle earth (or there abouts – I’m pretending because we don’t want to pay $85.00 to walk through the real middle earth at Hobbiton). And most recently, we have hiked across the strenuous Hakaramata range….
Just south of the town of Huntley, at the end of the day, the trail turned a sharp right and the steep wall of Rimu forest that we had been walking beside loomed directly in front of us. It was a daunting site! 350 meters straight up and then undulating ups and downs along the ridge line for 12 more rugged kilometres to the summit. We set out at 8:30am the following morning, each feeling different emotions: I was excited to be on a good challenging trail but nervous for Gord, Kael was pure excitement, and Gord was moving forward with resigned determination. It would be our toughest day so far.
About an hour in, Gord stopped having fun. I heard mutterings and cursing behind me until he didn’t even have the energy to grunt. At one point he completely turtled but I didn’t see it and he somehow managed to right himself. There were a few ‘face in the dirt, this is where we camp’ type of moments, but with no water or flat ground available, it simply wasn’t an option. We knew before we started that it was a do or die type day. And we didn’t see another person until we finally reached the summit at the far end 10 hours later. Then there were two kilometres of stairs to get down to the town below (with half of New Zealand’s population doing training runs on them). We met a fireman who had many tales of trail rescues and I was glad that we didn’t add to his collection of stories. Once at the bottom, we staggered over to a sliver of sloped grass 100 feet from the stairs, pitched our tents, and slept there until morning.
At the moment we are at a rugby friend of Gord’s in Hamilton for two nights. It’s amazing how quickly sleeping in a bed can feel like a luxury. We are increasing our mileage every day as Gord’s fitness level increases. His knee has caused him a bit of grief, but overall, he’s doing great. He hasn’t felt anything remotely close to a ‘hiking high’ but God love him, he’s doing his damdest. Our little unit is meshing together nicely. It’s been a pleasure having Kael with us and a treat to get to know her better.
I will finish with the Maori prayer for Te Araroa walkers. But I like it for everything
Kia tupato kia pai to hikoi.
Me te titiro whanui kie koa
Ki nga taonga kei mua i a koe
Walk the path in safety
Look deeply and learn
From your surroundings.
We didn’t exactly hit the ground running. I arrived in Auckland wearing the scent of aux de la stomach bile. It was mainly due to getting only five hours of sleep in the preceding 56 hours, but after a nights rest, I was right as rain. We met up with Kael (Gord’s daughter, who is hiking with us for two weeks) at a hostel, repacked our bags, and set out the next morning.
We took the train to the edge of Auckland but the ‘trail’ was still passing through urban sprawl. Four hours of road tramping later we finally reached countryside, and shortly after that, our bodies told us we’d had enough for our first day. Our backpacks are military style heavy as we are carrying enough food to feed an entire platoon for a week. But our little unit consists of only of a spunky 29 year old aspiring half-Ironman triathlete, a 59 year old beat up ex rugby player, and a 58 year old out of shape hiker who still has illusions she can do such things, so we have enough food to last a good long while. (In our defence, our original plan was to travel to the northern tip of the island first, where given our pace, we needed two weeks food supply. We chose instead to hook up with the trail at Auckland and continue south from there). So we will eat, eat, eat and soon our packs will get lighter and we will get stronger. But I won’t be fitting into my hiking pants again anytime soon (sooo many Christmas cookies).
Last night we got permission to pitch our tents on a small hobby farm. It was lovely, with fruit trees and gardens everywhere. It also had ticks everywhere! Everywhere! New Zealand doesn’t have Limes disease so it wasn’t the deal it would have been in Ontario, but I hate ticks and had to just try and close my mind to them. We had a water supply and the use of a bathroom and were super grateful. In the evening, the son-in-law and the daughter came for a visit, bearing a cooler full of local beer and wine. Such nice people!
Today our day was longer and much harder. The trail is still on the road but was predominantly uphill. Tomorrow we will get off-road. In the meantime, we have another awesome place to sleep. It is in the manicured back yard of a beautiful home with amazing gardens, a tennis court, a stunning view, and a bathroom available to us. We were invited in for showers and supper and spent an thoroughly enjoyable evening visiting with Ian and Shona. More super nice people!
The sky isn’t orange anymore on account of the smoke blowing in from Australia but we are told the fires are affecting the weather here. It’s not as warm as I had hoped but it’s comfortable. So far it’s in the low 20’s during the day and a cool 11 or 12 degrees at night. Which is now… time to settle in.
We hike along the rolling crystalline trails at Murphy’s Point, boots crunching in the fresh layer of snow and I am aware of how much I love being unplugged, even on a little trail, in a small wood, for a few stolen hours. It’s T minus one week until Gord and I lift off to New Zealand for a three month hiking adventure, and although more preparatory body-conditioning hikes would have been better, we have been busy and we have done what we can.
Gord is fiddling with his device and trying to sort out an app that will record and analyze every aspect of our little hike. I am reminded again, uneasily, of our completely different styles and preferences and hoping we can mesh them together enough to both get what we need in New Zealand. We each have pre-trip jitters but his concerns lean more towards the physical demands of the trail, being away for three months, and the fact that that there is no drive-through on the Te Araroa.
“It’s going to be so important to have good communication,” I say.
“Yes, we’ll have our own secret sign language”, he responds, “if I’m laying on my back with my feet behind my ears, it means I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. And if I’m laying face down in the dirt, it means that’s where we are camping tonight”. I can’t stop laughing.
After a few breezy hours we arrive back at the truck. Gord heaves off his pack and says, newly lightened, “at least I know I’ll have one happy moment a day for the next three months”.
I look stricken.
He pauses. “Just kidding,” he says. But I think he paused too long. Regardless, laughter is the best medicine; and if that fails there’s always Ibuprofen and/or Xanax.
Next post from New Zealand.
Balderson Blueberries is hosting a Christmas market on Sunday November 24th (tomorrow:)) from 9am – 5pm. Come by the farm to pick up a gift basket (or build-your-own basket!) and other homemade items while supplies last. Enjoy complimentary refreshments while you shop. Hope to see you!
The cost of heating my home is astronomical so I generally set the thermostat just enough to stop my pipes from freezing and only warm the place if company is coming. Summer is beautiful here but at the onset of winter my body rebels against the chill and I go through a growly “why am I living in this big 150-year old uninsulated house,” phase. In times past, it was warmed by a roaring wood stove and filled with the happy sounds of my three rambunctious kids, but the fire is long out and the kids have grown up on me. Now, it’s just me and the ghosts rattling around and I yearn for a small, tight, super-insulated living space. But it always boils down to the same thing – I love the blueberries and don’t want to give them up. So I accept the trade-off, put on another sweater, and hunker down to plan my next adventure.
This year I am going to New Zealand for three months with my boyfriend to hike the Te Araroa, a 3000-kilometre through-trail that travels the length of the north and south islands. We won’t have time to do the whole thing so we will leapfrog across the cities. It will be a see-how-it-goes sort of thing. We are excited, but we also have individual reservations and concerns. Gord isn’t a hiker and because he played competitive rugby until he was 50, his body is beat up, but he’s tough and tenacious and wants to do this. “It’s just walking,” he says, “I can do that.” I touch his cheek, “such a sweet summer child,” I respond back.
I am eager to return to the middle of nowhere, carrying everything essential on my back, ‘tramping’ to exhaustion up and down mountains on a rugged and remote trail, eating little more than twigs and berries. It’s hard to sugar coat that. The goal will be to find a balance that works for both of us. At least it’s an English-speaking, first world country, which will be a cool change. January 5th is d-day, and as always, I will blog the real deal.
Blueberries and adventure! That sums up my life these days. And a damn chilly house.
As the dust settles on my first soft launch year I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who came out to the farm over the past four weeks. Whether you picked your own berries, bought a pint at the end of the driveway, or just had a cup of tea and piece of pie, I have appreciated your support. If you didn’t get a chance to enjoy our fresh-off-the-bush blueberries there is one more chance. This Sunday (September 8th) I have a booth at the Harvest Market in Carleton Place where I will have more blueberries and blueberry products – jam, butter, cobbler mix, and balsamic vinaigrette – for sale.
There have been times over past five years when I wondered if my dream of creating a peaceful and happy place where people could pick fresh, delicious blueberries would ever actually come true. So your affirming feedback has meant more to me than you can imagine. I am truly happy that you enjoyed your experience here and loved the berries. I didn’t know what this year would bring but it has surpassed my expectations. The bushes are (almost) bare but my heart is full – thank you. And maybe I’ll see you in Carleton Place this Sunday.