10/27 The Ratea

Start of Ratea Track to Farm Camp

16 km

I don’t know how to adequately describe today.

It was similar to the Herekino Forest Track except…muddier. The one boon was that it was not as steep entering or exiting; this was countered by the fact it was notably longer. Total score = minus 1.

The day starts in a cloud, which is quite beautiful- it lends a mystical aura to the morning. We climb upwards into it, and once we are up on the ridge, follow the snaking back as it rises and dives through the swirling half-light. It’s as though we are on the back of a sea serpent. A sea serpent covered in furry kelp.

The roots are particularly knitted and slick in this forest track, and the mud is particularly ubiquitous, but the fun part of the game is that the mud’s consistency ranges wildly. It goes from splashy liquid to almost concrete muck and back, often in the same puddle without a visible clue what the next step will be like. The worst part is, with this type of hiking you can’t even look around at the beautiful parts, you just have to stare at the ground, which looks like large pigs have torn it up and wallowed in it.

photo credit: Mountain Prana

There are several moments where I stop, calf deep in a particularly demoralizing bog, and contemplate the new understanding of where fantasy fiction authors get their ideas for malevolent forests. There are also several dark moments of questioning this particular hike. My god: what if the whole hike is like this? Would it be worth it? What even is fun? Am I having it? Could I do exactly this for the next 175 days? What would I learn from it? What lesson could possibly be worth this?

Hunger creeps in and insidiously morphs into hanger. I start checking my watch every ten minutes, then five, then three- the giveaway sign I just need to force myself to take a break. Where is Prana? Even recognizing the logical fallacy, for some reason I am convinced I can’t stop and eat until I find him. The hanger homes in on him. Doesn’t he know I’m starving back here?! Why hasn’t he stopped to take a break yet when he must be as hungry as I am?! When I finally find him, taking a break in a perfectly logical spot (of which there are very few), I am practically frothing at the mouth. Tuna, crackers, nuts, fruit snacks, and a candy bar later, the irrationality is gone. “Maybe you should stop and eat by yourself before you get this hungry,” he gently suggests. I humbly agree. Prana is a kind and patient man.

We spend about half a mile on the highest elevation of the ridge, with amazing views from 3 or 4 little treeless humps.

Then, back into the thick of it. At one point I go down extra hard, and land on a tall knobby root, my full weight driving it into my quad. I lay in dazed pain for a minute, my yelp piercing enough to bring Prana back from up ahead. It’s going to be a nasty bruise, but I’m more shocked by what could have been; with the awkwardness of the fall, if it had been a broken off branch or even chain sawed off at an angle, it could have easily been a messy puncture. Damn. I am ready to be done with this forest section.

After a few more hours, suddenly the ground flattens and the mud disappears. Almost like magic, an old four wheel drive road appears and the sun comes out. After a few kilometers of this, I breathe a sigh of relief. Oh yeah. Of course it won’t all be like that, every day, for the rest of the trip. That thought is so laughable now. The three of us walk easily together and chat, with intermittent mud pockets that are now much more mentally manageable. There is a blog we have excerpts from to supplement our other trail notes, and for today it states: “the novelty wore off by lunch.” We joke (mostly joking) that this line is the official subtitle of the Te Araroa. Eventually we break out of the forest and are overlooking some more farm land, with steep ridges marching away in the distance. We sit for a moment and take it in, quietly appreciating completion of the ordeal that was today. The farmer that owns this land is kind enough to let hikers pass through the pastures and front yard and driveway to the main road; he happens to be entertaining on the porch and waves amicably, as a dozen chained dogs on the property foam and snarl.

Maybe fifteen minutes down the road a considerate soul has fenced off part of a meadow in a logging area, keeping it schrapnel- and mud- free. We call it home for the night, along with all the sandflies and honeybees that come with it.

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