The Garage to Podge’s Place
We are woken by a bird squeezing into the garage, it’s claws scrabbling on the metal roll of the door, and doing laps. “You’ll never get out now, bird,” mumbles Prana in a sleepy voice, and, just to prove him wrong, the bird scrabbles back out again. I tiptoe into the house to use the bathroom and get some hot water, and Lynn comes into the kitchen while I am filling the pot. “Feel free to use the stove, or kettle, or whatever you like,” she says. This type of graciousness always astonishes me. I mean, let’s review: Q: What actually happened this morning? A: She walked into her kitchen and a groggy stranger was standing in it. The trust, generosity, and openness of people is the magical salve that will heal the world.
I take hot water back outside, and Prana and I start the necessary phone calls for the morning. We all pack up, chat a little more with Lynn and Warren, and give Odie some more scratches and cuddles. At 10:30, we have done all we can do, other than start hiking. We thank Lynn and Warren again, bid them farewell, and start down the driveway.
Our string of four marches along, poles clicking, spreading out to walk next to each other and talk, then flattening back into streamlined formation when a car approaches. The plan is for Parker to rejoin us when he catches up to us today. It’s a long morning of road walking again. Luckily we find a rain water tank in a cow field we can drink from, and then we finally hit track again! The tread is pocked and shredded by cows, and disappears in the grass by the river, stonewalling our enthusiasm. After several long struggling minutes, we all seem to reach a new conclusion at the same time- to walk up on the levy away from the river. We flank and climb. The top is indeed, blessedly, easier than the bank. We push through rippling waves of waist high grasses. We have k’s and k’s of this of this beautiful semi-liquid pathway.
Suddenly a whine sounds in the sky; sounds of an airplane engine stalling and building pierce the air. Shielding my eyes, I look up, and see a small plane performing its own acrobatic spontaneity. It climbs, stalls, spins, twirls, tumbles, cartwheels and loops; one could almost imagine it is the plane itself that is sentient and joyfully playing with abandon. Prana and I watch and watch in amazement.
When we make it to the last few k’s before the enclave of Mercer, the track parallels the highway through the woods just below it. It is delightfully shady after being bared to the hot sun on the levy. At some point I become aware of a sharp pain in the left arch of my foot- when did that start? “When I say ‘oh, I bet I can get one more resupply out of my shoes,’ I want you to say ‘but what about the dagger you had in your foot before the pizza place?’,” I instruct Prana. It is abruptly excruciating, and as I curl my foot experimentally with each step, my mind wanders. What if I had stepped on a dagger? Well, it would have to be an enchanted one or I obviously wouldn’t be able to walk at all. Who would throw an enchanted dagger out of their car window? Maybe they didn’t know it was enchanted. But who would throw an un-enchanted dagger out? Maybe it’s not the dagger, but my shoes that are enchanted. In which case, I shouldn’t get rid of them; I should try to get at least one more resupply out of them. Etc.
It passes the time.
At last we were within sight of the day’s target: Podge’s Pizza. Besides the obvious draw, this place allows hikers to camp for free on the lawn, free hot showers, and free laundry. Why? Simply because they love hikers- I guess the same way people love deer or squirrels or sparrows. One person claimed that this was the best shower on the trail. Even with our abundance of showers in Auckland, the humid heat has already soaked, salted, and stinked our clothes and our selves in a way the desert never does. (oh desert! my heart cries) Additionally, I’ve been having an obnoxious allergic reaction to the endearing gorse bush, so as often as I can do laundry, I will. We approach the front door, and the two women inside welcomed us as if they had been expecting us. “89, 90, 91!” They count dramatically. “Come on come on! We’ll show you where tents go, there’s showers and toilets around there, get comfortable!”
There are about a dozen other hikers here, which seems impossible- we haven’t seen hide nor hair, scat nor sign of another tramper for days. I sink to the short mown grass in relief, so glad to not have to take another single step on pavement today. I’m a bit overwhelmed by this many hikers all in one place, and brace myself, trying to mentally prepare for a noisy rager late into the night. A man introduces himself as Shroomer, a name that feels familiar, and starts chatting. He is open and kind, a storyteller and a listener, equally interesting and interested, and above all, inclusive. The tone this creates around him puts me at ease, and I thoroughly enjoy talking with him; so much so that I find myself appreciating that a larger group is here.
We put up the tent, fill the washer, and shower. The showers are, true to tale, amazing. Momentarily clean, attention turns to the pizza. There aren’t many choices- meat, veggie, combo, or tonight’s special, Hawaiin- but they cover the spectrum of preferences. We order veggie+ pineapple. Ellie’s arrives first, and as she finishes her first slice remarks, “I think there is barbecue sauce on this.” Our pizzas arrive and it’s the same- turns out Podge’s signature move appears to be a finishing top layer of bbq sauce. And it is unpredictably delicious.
Satisfied in all the ways that hikers value, I listen to the stories being swapped around us. There are some good ones going around. I’d like to talk more with the woman Coyote whose name seems to suit her well, but not at the cost of entering the fray, friendly as it is. As unpredictable as the barbecue sauce, this group of trampers doesn’t get rowdy and have an accidental rager, but rather quiets and beds down early. This is one of the few times I remember feeling happy and contented in proximity to a group this size, and am not sure what to do with that realization other than savor it.
Just as we are about to drift off, Parker arrives at 9:07. He made some serious mileage today, and pretty much just puts up his tent and crashes. I am sorry for him that he missed the evening full of hikers with their stories of all the trails he has been curious about, but mostly I am glad the ducky 5 are 5 again.