11/19 Heuristic Tidings

Orewa Holiday Park to Okura River

19 km

Tap tap. Tap tappity tappity tappity tap. Tappity.

Sounds like rain again this morning. I wake refreshed very early, maybe 5:30, and just listen to the rain for awhile, to its gentle percussion solo. Eventually my mind gets restless and I wonder about a morning project. To write? My journal is caught up, and starting something additional seems unnecessarily ambitious. To read? I don’t have a book that excites me at the moment.

Well. I guess I’ll apply for health insurance.

I’ve been dreading this chore, knowing it’s looming, still cringing from the frustration it has caused the last two years. But, I should at least see if I can still get into my account from last year. I can. Well, I should see if I can start the application. I can. Somehow, startlingly, surreally, the renewal application goes through in little time, with no error messages, no hitches, no confounding pages where they refuse to let me continue. I’m not booted off. In 20 minutes, the dreaded chore is checked off the list. Well. Timothy Ferris always says, if you win the morning, you win the day.

Looks like today’s in the bag.

I make an extra large cookpot of coffee to celebrate, and call my aunt and my mom and dad again. It’s so great to have all three components- time, signal, and battery charge- to talk to them. I feel sharp pangs of sadness that I probably won’t get a chance to see them this winter, and therefore for a year. Hopefully it just serves to lure them all out to visit us this summer.

Parker is working on a project at in-town WiFi again, so the four of us pack up and wait in the gazebo. Ellie sews up her pants where the seam split in the forest, and is a quick study at seamstressing. Prana and Bro work on their crossword, now committed to it, and to be fair, it is an impressively difficult one. I give Ellie a few pointers on the sewing and search for a next book.

Parker returns, and rain or no rain, it is time to go. We look over the options for the day again- 16 k to Stillwater Holiday Park. Then 32k to Auckland, but at 3 k in, there is a mandatory low tide crossing of the Okura River. Tomorrow’s low tide isn’t until 3:35pm. Or 3:15am. (Yeech.). It’s 11:45 now with 4 solid hours of hiking to the crossing. It does look like there would be a big enough flat spot for four tents just past the river if we crossed tonight…

I call the Holiday Park and learn that we can stretch the crossing to within an hour each side of low tide, if we sacrifice the hope of staying dry. We have read that it can be hip to chest deep at lowest tide, but all the accounts sound like people are crossing at random places they thought looked better. Our clear directions state precisely: cross at the fourth pole from the river mouth. We decide to go for the crossing today. Bro holds up the liberated crossword pages, a mock ‘oops’ expression on his face mixing with glee. “It just ripped, you know.”

The deliberating has eaten up some of the precious time, and I am getting restless. The morning has been stretched until it is threadbare, so I start walking, and Prana hustles up behind to catch me. We click off the k’s as quickly as we can, with a few more minutes ticking away during some acute confusion at the multi-laned, screaming busy highway crossing. We break at Duck Creek for a brief fuel up. It’s now 2:20 with 2 hours of hiking to go. Bro unfolds the crossword out of his pocket and asks the next clue out loud. I idly check the tidal information while munching on bread and hummus.

I double check.

The low tide is actually at 2:55. What?

In less than ten minutes, we are all packed up and hiking again. Ok, I think to myself. 2:55 means good til 3:55. We will probably get there around 4:15, which is less than half an hour after the one hour window. Every other crossing has been significantly less dramatic than it’s been described to be. At the Tairhuara Estuary, the other most storied spot to date, we followed the directions precisely and it was lower than we expected. This one should be no different. Therefore, my brain concluded from a scan of these facts, within half an hour after the hour should be fine.

We keep a good clip up the road, and at the transition from road to coastal track is the Holiday Park we had called for the crossing info. They had been effusive in their desire to help hikers- offering free indoor accommodation, elaborate addendums to directions for navigating, rides; repeating each component of the offers multiple times. We hope that there is a spigot we can ask to use, rather than collecting and filtering water from a creek before the crossing for our dry camp tonight, earning a few more minutes to our side.

“Well, why aren’t you going to stay?” asks the woman in charge, crossing her arms. We explain that this is our plan and we are happy with it, and it’s ok if we can’t fill our water, we just thought we’d ask. “Well you can fill out of these,” she says, handing us a few liter glass bottles. “It’s boiled here.” We thank her and top off our supplies. “If you are crossing, you need to talk to Paul.”

“Oh, thank you, but we have lots of notes and have researched it pretty extensively. We should be fine.”

“It won’t take me long to find him,” she insists.

“No, really, we are set up, thank you, we’d actually rather have the few minutes to get there earlier.”

“You stay right there and wait, or I’ll smack you, does that get through?” she declares as she marches off, and we are left torn between the choice of standing by our proclamation and simply leaving, or being ambassadors of gratitude for their willingness to help hikers in general.

We wait. She returns, announcing Paul will be over in just a minute or two. We try to excuse ourselves again, to no avail. “You guys are doing the crossing?” Paul asks as he walks up. “Yep, and we feel completely set with the information we have,” I say.

“Well let me just show you,” he says. He pulls out an atlas version of the mapset, with no topo lines or obvious marker points, other than some hand drawn pen points and lines. “You can go in right here, and cross here. Or you can go further up the river and cross here. If you go further in, aim for the big tree on the other side. Just be sure to poke ahead with your hiking pole, you know, to shoo off the stingrays.”

“Ok,” we strain our smiles. “Got it, thanks!” We make to leave, and Paul says, “actually, let me check the tide schedule, make sure I told you best.”

“High tide was at 2:55, and it is at point 8 meters right now,” I rattle off, “so I think we’d better get going, make the most of it, you know?”

“Well, just let me check real quick,” replies Paul. “If I can just remember where I put my phone…”

I am about to go insane. I can feel the creep of the transformation inching up the back of my scalp.

“Here we go,” he announces. “Low tide was at 2:55, point 6 meter low. Well, that’s not as low as it can get, oh, and look at the time. You probably want to get there as soon as you can, don’t you think?”

Grasping at our cue, we practically leap away before any other help can be foisted. It is now 3:55, and the one hour window clicks closed with 3.5 km to go. ‘It’s ok,’ I try to soothe myself, as I follow the lovely track along the Estuary as fast as I can, ‘we didn’t gain any time, but we didn’t lose any more than if we had had to collect water from the tiny creek buried in the grass off trail.’ Prana and I race up the side of the headland, up and over a rocky point, and down onto the expansive tidal flat; Parker and Ellie followed the beach around from the Estuary, and we all arrive at the same time.

‘Fourth pole, fourth pole,’ I think, pacing along the river edge, looking for our obvious sign. It is now 4:20, 5 minutes left of the arbitrary half-hour-past-the-hour window. The only problem is there is no fourth pole from the river mouth. Or rather, there are more like 18 poles; so precisely four poles from one way is on the far shore, way up river where it is obviously deeply channelized, with steep banks, and is nowhere near any description we have read or heard of. And precisely four poles the other direction is out in the ocean, in the large breaking surf. No good either. I do a quick scan for Paul’s big tree- there are at least four that are at all noteworthy compared to the plethora of big trees on the far side, and none of them standout or are bigger than the others.

We walk to the end of the spit of land that appears to continue as a shallow lip into the water, reappearing as a somewhat symmetrical point on the other side. Perhaps this will be shallowest. Prana and I stuff everything on the outsides of our bags in the supposedly waterproof liners, and strip to shorts and sports bra. Prana, bless him, goes in first. The water goes quickly to his knees, then his hips, then his waist. He hoists his pack above his head. The water goes a tiny bit higher…then stays. He is now over halfway across. Prana wades forward, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

Until the next step goes up to his chest. And the next his shoulders. And the next his chin. ‘Damn,’ I think. He has his pack balanced firmly on his head. He takes a few more steps, then slowly, slowly begins emerging from the water. I’m glad for him he didn’t have to come back or dunk his pack. I’m sorry for myself that I have to be 5 inches shorter.

I stride once more up and down the bank for good measure, hoping I missed something obvious before. Prana has dumped his pack and headed straight back in to start exploring the channel farther upstream, but is obviously swimming. ‘Damn’ I think again. “I hate this,” I growl unhelpfully and pessimistically to Ellie, as I rip into my pack for my air mattress. I triumphantly pull it from the depths, and start inflating it with big, slightly panicked breaths. I strap my waist belt to the pad and cinch it down, hoping this will keep the pack mostly out of the water. I wade out, nudging the floating mattress in front of me with one hand, stabbing about with the trekking pole in the other hand, shooing all the creatures away that I am certain are about to grab my ankles and pull me under. Parker follows not far behind. I take a slightly different parabola than Prana, and for a few glorious minutes, I gloat to myself that I have chosen wiser. Then the bottom gets farther away. I am not even to the halfway point. I shriek as I feel something flutter past my leg. I do not want to swim. I do not want to be above an indeterminately deep abyss of the ocean. The bottom retreats again. The air mattress is floating at eye level. And finally, I push off, and all the anxiety of the anticipation of the horror of having to swim lifts.

It’s not so bad. I haven’t forgotten how to swim. I’m still able to nudge the makeshift raft in front of me. I am able to make forward progress. I am not sucked out to sea. I am not engulfed in tentacles and pulled to the deep. The ocean isn’t even cold. It’s not so bad. In fact, it is enjoyable. Fun, even. Oh my god. Fun!

One thing that helps is I am still occasionally able to brush the bottom with the trekking pole tip when I entirely extend my arm. I found this ludicrously comforting. After maybe 3 or 4 minutes of swimming, I find I can just touch the ground again. I stand and shuffle, shuffle, nudge my way to the bank. Parker, who only had to swim a few strokes, the lucky tall guy, is right behind.

I set my pack down about ten feet up from the shore, and look up to see Ellie finishing blowing up her air pad. Way back in the distance I see Bro appear on the horizon. How did he get so far behind us?! Ellie starts wading in. Prana grabs my sleeping pad. “I’m heading back across to see if anyone wants some help.” He is straight back into the water. Then I notice something strange- my pack that was ten feet from the border of the water, is now only 4 feet from the water. Can it be coming in that fast? I move both my and Prana’s packs another ten feet back. I look back just in time to see Ellie’s pack slip off her sleeping pad/raft. Prana reaches her within minutes, but she shakes her head, and continues swimming, herding her semi-buoyant pack and air mattress. Even in the ten minute difference in our launches, she is swimming much longer than Parker and I. Prana heads out to meet Bro.

I glance at our packs, and again they are within only a few feet from the water. I move them again. I also now notice that the spit of land we departed from is gone, as is most of the huge tidal flat we all walked across to reach the river’s edge.

I notice for the first time that if I stand and watch the edge of the water, I can see it steadily advancing, crawling forward, filling depressions and lines in the sand. I’ve never seen a tide come in that wasn’t disrupted by the surf; this is insidious and cinematically dramatic. Relentless. And much faster than I would have imagined.

Prana has reached the far edge and, walking through ankle deep water to reach Bro, leads him along the shallowest area. Ellie reaches our side of the river, and pulls her now-hundred-plus-pound pack out of the water. She seems not shaken at all by the swim or the logistics of her gear, but heads inland immediately to see if anything crucial got wet. Parker and I relay packs back from the ever-encroaching water.

Prana and Bro wade deeper and start swimming early; not only is the water wider and deeper, but the incoming flow in the Okura channel is sweeping them upriver at an impressive rate. Instead of swimming three or five minutes, they swim for about 15. I’m grateful the tide is coming in, rather than going out. When they gain the shore, we all laugh, rather weakly.

We head towards the bank the trail takes out of the tidal reach, and as soon as we’ve climbed out, we come upon Ellie and her spread out gear, and collapse in the grass around her. Waves of emotion alternate between invigoration and the void left from adrenaline draining away.

One by one, we rouse ourselves to find flat spots in the wide mown trail to stake our tents. It’s bizarre to look down upon the coastal inlet now. Where there was extensive bare sand only 20 minutes ago, there is now wall to wall water, quietly lapping the banks bounding the bay. Ellie and Parker had a few things get wet in their packs, and they hang them on the fence in the evening wind to dry.Bro pulls the sopping crossword puzzle out of his pocket, and drapes that over the fence as well.

The sky treats us to a beautiful palette of pastels as we go about our evening chores. ‘Thank god we won the morning,’ I think, as I lay back to finally relax. ‘What would this day have been like if we hadn’t?’

2 thoughts on “11/19 Heuristic Tidings

  1. Uta

    Hi Molly,
    I’m so happy that I’m able to read your blog and the adventures you got with Elli and the other 4 ducks…She’ s my daughter and so it’s fantastic for me to take part a little bit on your trip.And she seems to be very happy with her duckfamily,too.I wish you the very best for the next parts of the trail and I’ m looking forward for the next stories from your blog,


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