Kimpton Track to the Garage
The morning dawned wet, everything soaked from the sea of grass we are in. The first night of the tent was a promising one, plenty spacious, the moon able to be seen almost clearly through the happy blue roof.
It was a steep climb up along the fence lines, through some pines bedazzled with foxglove, the tall stalks of robust bells that had seemed familiar all along, and that I finally had a name for. The word digitalis had kept floating through my brain, and once I had identified them, I remembered some Sherlock-esqe mystery where the victim was poisoned and only a microscopic abnormality in the eyeball linked it to this nightshade. Or something like that.
There’s a nice view from the top back towards Auckland, then we undulate along the ridge to a lookout tower. The descent of the back side is staired and well formed, and before we know it we are in town, headed towards the dairy. It’s run by an amicable guy who, after chatting about how friendly we find the people here, challenges us: “Which would you pick? New Zealand or America?” It’s a hard choice- maybe I would retire in NZ, once I was too old to canyoneer, or if the Colorado Plateau were gutted.
Ellie, Bro, Prana and I lounge on the sidewalk with ginger beers and ice cream cones and wait for Parker. When he arrives, he decides he wants to linger in town for awhile at a restaurant, so we leave explicit directions for the simple detour, and start the road walk.
The detour is in place due to multiple reasons- storm damage has caused a few obstacles, which may or may not be that difficult to work around, and a dense section of Kauri forest is healthy of disease, and closed preemptively to keep it that way. I lament. I love walking through the Kauri forests! The Hunua range is supposed to be one of the prime sections of the North Island. But this is one of the conservation questions, isn’t it? What if protecting it means noone gets to ever see it? Does a place have an inherent right to exist outside of the context humans put upon it by interacting with it? Actions have usually said no, but I think the answer has to be yes. Even though we have heard of others making it through the section with no issues, we choose to follow the detour.
The road leads south out of town, and I start to listen to the young adult quest book Eragon. It’s not bad, but not what I hoped. Maybe it’s the reading voice. The miles roll by. I pass a pick-it-yourself strawberry farm “Clevedon Strawberries,” and waver on whether I have the time to nip in and pick some. I decide- better not. As much as I would love to, I’ve got no way to let Prana know that I would be hour or two behind. Instead I lovingly indulge in the memories of strawberry picking, jam making, and berry freezing I helped my mom with in the summers growing up; then broader memories of our garden, both edible and floral. I miss having a garden. I miss kitchen time with my mom.
At the peak of the roads, we stop at an abandoned, deteriorating bus stop for lunch with Ellie and Bro. We sit in the micro-trash speckled gravel on the shoulder, leaning against the rusting and moss and spiderweb covered wall, eating tuna and delicious avocado wraps. It occurs to me in a vague way that I am perfectly comfortable in an objectively weird and filthy spot- would I ever take a break here in my non-trail life? Probably not. I ponder that for awhile.
Another hour or two brings us to the Hunua General Store, a completely unnecessary stop considering our snack stop in Clevedon, but it has a beautiful flower-surrounded shady picnic table that would be ideal to wait at for Parker to catch up. We assess the snack options out of habit, and debate the relative merits and depravities of going for a second ice cream cone in one day. We barely manage the restraint, and return to the picnic table cone-less. Prana, however, sneaks back in and brings me the surprise of a pint of Clevedon Strawberries!!! We share around, and they are some of the best strawberries I have had since the childhood berries out of our own garden. They are soft and sweet and oddly shaped and deep red and bursting with flavor. While lost in the meditative bliss, the owner comes out to chat. When we explain what we are doing, he is fairly incredulous. “No way! Well.” He turns his attention to take care of something else, but is back a few moments later. “How would you guys feel about having an ice cream so we can take a picture of all of you lined up by the store with ice cream cones?” Wait, did I just hear what I think I heard? We all look at each other and giggle. “Oh my gosh, yes!” We each receive a generous scoop of our chosen flavor- I pounce on the opportunity to try the Green Gumdrop Flavor with financial impunity. Surprisingly it turns out to be delicious! The green is just tinted vanilla, and the gumdrops turn the ice cream into a frozen equivalent of bubble tea. They take our picture, and we happily toast the camera with our treats.
The afternoon is starting to get on, when we finally receive word from Parker, and the word we receive is that he will not be joining us tonight. We try to sort out some of the complications from this, then head out of the wide spot in the road that is the General Store a solid half hour behind Ellie and Bro, hoping to catch up with them, unsure of whether we will be able to continue hiking with them, but at least wanting to be able to say goodbye if not. We don’t cross any camping spots for over an hour- it’s all privately fenced land- and it is probably for the best as the walking is soothing a lot of anxiety. We see Ellie in the distance, and are motivated to catch her, but Bro is farther ahead and has no method of contact. For multiple reasons we don’t want to go as far as we were planning to for tonight, but until we catch Bro there is no way to modify the plan without splitting the group further; as long as the camping options remain this dismal, we will just keep moving ahead until something resolves.
Close to another hour goes by, and we still have seen no sign of Bro, who can hike like he’s on fire when he’s focused. We also notice something else: at some point we passed out of cell service, and there isn’t likely to be any through most of tomorrow; problematic considering the communication needed to reconnect with Parker. Damn. We see a car slow down next to Ellie, and she chats a bit through the open window. When we catch up to her, she reports, “that man says he lives just up the road and that we are welcome to camp at their house if we want to.” He had given her the number to watch for on the mailbox. “Oh that sounds awesome!” It did sound awesome. We all looked at each other. Without Bro, we would have to pass it by. Continuing up the road, we all discussed the possibilities to accept the incredibly generous offer. As we passed by the magic numbered mailbox, a woman was rolling the rubbish bins back up the long driveway to her garage. “Hey! Are you the hikers my husband talked to? Come on up! You can camp up here. We’ve got a shower too.” The three of us look at each other longingly, each hoping the other will be the first to suggest considering not hiking to Bro. “We have a fourth ahead of us,” we reluctantly explain. “Well, why don’t you just come on back after you meet him.” We explain it’s farther than we wish to retrace. “Oh, well, I can drive you to meet him if you like.” “No, we need to walk,” we explain. We all try to come up with a solution that doesn’t abandon Bro and doesn’t involve an extra 4 kilometers of walking. No solutions present. “Well, if you change your mind, come on back. You’re welcome to stay.” We thank her, learn her name is Lynn, and head down the road.
“It would have been awesome to stay there.”
“Maybe, we will just get over this hill and Bro will be close enough that it’s reasonable to go back.” “Maybe, but I doubt it.”
“Yeah, but maybe.”
We crest the hill, and by god, there appears to be a figure lounging at the stop sign at the bottom, reading in a Kindle. “BRO!!!!” we yell in victory.
We hurry to him and explain the situation. He’s all in for going the short distance back. While we are standing there trying to figure out the best way to put ourselves in cell service in the morning, another car pulls up. “Do you guys need a place to camp?” the woman driving the truck asks. We attempt to convey appreciation while explaining we already have a similar offer, we are just working out the details. The four of us turn back up the road to Lynn’s, and as we are walking, a third vehicle stops. “Do you guys need a place to camp?” You’ve got to be kidding me. This country, and apparently especially this stretch of road, is filled with incredibly generous people.
When we reach the mailbox again, we turn up the long driveway. Miraculously, since their house is so far up a hill, there is a tiny spot of cell service. Suddenly I am filled with doubt. What if Lynn and her husband have already changed their minds about what to do with their evening? When we reach the door, we knock, and wait.
They open the door, and seem genuinely pleased that we took them up on their offer to return. The name of the man who originally stopped to talk to Ellie is Warren, and they have a huge golden Lab-like dog named Odie who seems so happy he can’t contain himself. They introduce us to their bottle fed calves which deign to be petted.
“Well you can tent, or you can sleep in the garage, if you’d rather.” Yes! We love that idea, and they show us to the garage. “Come on in to the house when you’re done, have a shower, and have some cold drinks from the fridge and some sausages.”
We spread out sleeping pads and bags- we fit four in a row perfectly in the carpeted empty spot. When we go into the house, they are spectacular hosts, offering their shower, sausage and bread, cold drinks, pots and pans for the non-sausage eaters to cook with, and great conversation. They are interested in what we are doing and to learn about it, and interesting people with great stories to share. The chatting goes on for several hours, and when we leave the house to turn in, Lynn insists that we stay in the house, that there is plenty of room. It’s so generous, but the funny thing is? We are already set up, and know we will be comfortable in the garage. We are so used to having our own space, our own sleeping bags, our own routines. We thank her, and she invites us to come into the house if we need to in the night or in the morning, and to help ourselves to what we need.
We all tuck into our bags with a glut of chocolate bars, and read the first bedtime story- a short story from one of several collections of hiking tales. I am so so happy to have caught up to the other two ducks, and so grateful to Lynn and Warren.