11/14 School Days and Squalls

The Goretress to the Helipad on Mt Tamahunga

24 km

A nice long beach walk starts our morning. Several ships out on the horizon display exotic silhouettes in the backlighting, making my mind drift and wonder. One of my favorite books as a kid was The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and while it probably wasn’t true, it left an intrigue for the tiny world that a single ship encompasses. I can’t imagine being trapped on one, but with all the islands we have passed so far on this trail, imagining what one could get to with a ship suddenly puts it in a whole new light.

There are three streams that are touted as easy to cross if we reach them at low tide, and chest deep or deeper at high tide. The tide is on our side, and each one is ankle deep or less. We have over 17 kilometers put away by noon, and we stop for lunch by the ocean before we leave it.

I spend part of the beach walk listening to Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, a book by Susan Cain. I had rented it from the library and read the first several chapters before it needed to be returned a few years ago. It was illuminating, as it was the first time I had ever been introduced to, let alone recognized, the idea of pervasive cultural shaming around enjoying introverted tendencies. This book is as excellent as I remember the second time around.

We walk past a school on the roads that connect the bay to the forest track. It must be lunch time. Prana walks by first, drawing several kids to the edge of the fence line. I go by next and one of them shouts, “there’s another one!!” One of them shrieks: “will you sign out visitor book?!” Another: “will you come inside and talk to our class?!” I have no idea if the teacher is permissible of any of these ideas. We step onto the driveway to at least sign the book, in which some other hikers have signed as well. “We are taking a poll to see where people are from. Do you know Bruce? He’s walking from Cape Reinga to Bluff. He’s walking the whole way with his father’s ashes. He’s coming to talk at our school soon.”

I’m happy to see these kids so interested in the trail that passes by of their school. I wonder: will any of them grow up to hike it? Or to adventure elsewhere, inspired by the idea of it? I hope so. I hope the seeds of wonder in exploration and curiosity in the world have been planted in each of them.

The climb up to the next forest track is steep, as per usual. This climb is accompanied by some novel theatrics. All the rain here, all the storming and tempesting, but this is the first thunder and lightening we have seen. The rain is cold as well, almost icy, and the thunderheads we are climbing into are dark. Prana and I stop under a pine tree so large it is perfectly dry under its branches. We peer out, hoping to see a bright crack in the ceiling of the sky, but no such luck. We continue to plod upward into the sky. The ground is pitted and pocked from the hooves of baleful untrusting sheep, creating a mine field for ankle damage. Luckily, at the top, we turn onto a less punishing ridge, and the rain starts to slow. The track is that old familiar sloshy slick mud, and we do some hiking, some sliding, and some fence grappling as we ascend and descend the humps between the peaks. Our final big climb up to the flock’s roost point for the day involves pulling ourselves up via hands by trees and by rocks, using steps chiseled into boulders. We arrive at a large wooden deck helipad on the top of Mt Tamahunga, right after the sun breaks out. Big clouds of steam roll off the dark wood and billow into the suddenly hot hot sunshine, and we lay and loll in the sauna effect. We hear helicopter noises just as we start to fully relax…oh god. What if a helicopter lands here while we are camped and sucks an errant sock or stuff sack into the rotors! Maybe we shouldn’t camp here. But the helicopter passes and the indolent sun convinces us this is the place for the evening. The careless reverie is not to last though! New dark clouds roll in, seemingly out of nowhere, and we scramble to get our tents up. Prana and I dive into ours as the first chunk of hail pings off the roof, managing to keep all the still dry things still dry.

This squall passes too, and we cook some rice noodles with curry paste and peanut butter for dinner. Meh, it’s about as good as it sounds, but it’ll do. Prana notices weird dark shapes on the inside of my sleeping pad when he passes it to me in front of the setting fickle sun…is the inside molding?! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

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