Podge’s Place to Rangiriri Pies
We are packed up around 7:30, and most, actually all, of the other hikers are gone. Prana and I head next door to McDonald’s (or ‘Mackers’ as apparently many other countries call it) to use the internet while we wait for Parker to wake up. In the midst of checking email, Facebook, and waiting for blog drafts to upload, we look at the credit card statement, and strangely, find multiple charges for hundreds of dollars at Walmart.com.
Well. The joke goes on- another similarity to the Florida Trail, where our main credit card got hacked and we had a nightmare of getting a replacement. Luckily we both carried cards for a second credit account for this trail, and after a surprisingly simple phone call, supposedly we will receive replacements in Taumaranui. Maybe being out of the country is a stroke of luck- the credit card company refused to mail a card to a General Delivery address in the States, but had no problem mailing it to a Poste Restante address, which is NZ’s version of the same thing. Let there be irony of receiving a replacement faster in a foreign country!
At 10:30 we’ve made all the progress we are going to with this project, and it’s starting to get really hot outside, so we all check in on the plan for the day and get ready to leave. The first bit of trail has a nice hint of forest track, and then we are on a levy again for awhile. The river is lovely enough, but the trail is so regularly broken by stiles to climb over (stiles that must have been built by very tall men), that Ellie and I joke about how it’s actually an aerobics class. “And hike. And climb. And hike! And climb!” “The worst is when it really sucks, and they say ‘This is amazing! You’re doing great!’” laughs Ellie. We prompt each other with these phrases as the frequency of the stiles increases.
We return to a narrow track squeezing between a fence and the river, but the branches are so overgrown that, after dragging our packs behind us under the stubbornly sagging boughs, we give up and scale the fence onto what has to be private land. Frequently we have to clamber over gates between paddocks, and even have the gruesome new experience of crawling under electrified barbed wire. Best of both worlds, there. One paddock holds cows and at least one bull that stampede toward us in the throes of their neurotic curiosity.
Released again to trail, we follow an intermittently disappearing tread. Disappearance One: into a gorse thicket. We push our way in, trying to squeeze through the branches, swinging off the upper ones like they are monkey bars, becoming riddled with stickers through our clothing. “Wait! Not this way!” calls back Prana, who is in front. We about-face our stomping and swinging. I try to reverse it as exactly as possible, to pretend like I I am a video being rewound, as if that self-entertainment might make it worth thrashing through this malevolent plant that will induce hives in an hour.
Disappearance Two: into a swamp. The cattail leaves are so thick that I can’t tell I’m about to walk into mud until I am squishing ankle-deep in it. Well. I squish onward, resigned to my muddy fate. 10 minutes in, something stops me by blocking my thighs. A boardwalk! Useful. It extends in either direction. I haul myself onto it, and follow it to the road that will lead to Rangariri.
There are cottonwoods lining the road, and their fluff floats down like snow, swirling in the air and piling into drifts. I am reminded of a creek in Arizona that I can’t name but I can picture perfectly.
Just before 6:00 I come upon Prana waiting at the interstate on-ramp. I collapse next to him- it was only 6 miles on the pavement today, but my feet feel mangled. Bro and then Ellie arrive (we got word Parker is camping behind us tonight) and the four of us go in search of the fabled Pie Shop, hoping the reports for free camping will prove true. “Excuse me,” I ask a man working on a gate, “which way is the Pie Shop?”
“It’s just over around that corner down there, but if it’s after 6:00 they’ll be closed now.”
We thank him and walk around the corner. “Come on in, we stayed open when we saw you,” called a voice from an open door. “If you want some dinner you have time to get some. Tell me what you’d like, I can have a pie ready in 5 or so minutes.”
Flabbergasted at the kindness, we thank the lady for the offer. The dinner option is a pie and salad combo- we all say yes please! Also, we can have a breakfast pie ready to go with us at 6:30am if we put in the order tonight. Yes please again.
Camping is in a pasture behind the shop, and there is also a lounging area set up with dining tables and an eclectic set of chairs. It is welcoming, like a companionable home turned inside out, and almost the same group we saw last night is here tonight.
We put up the tent, and I discover the bathroom is one of the singing toilets! Cathy brings out the dinners on lovely handled serving trays, adding to the pampered feeling. The salads are magnificent- fresh greens with a big scoop of cranberry-studded brown rice, a big scoop of potato salad, crisp sliced cucumbers tomatoes and apples.The pies are carmelized onion and smoked salmon, and taste as wonderful as they look and smell. We chat a bit with the other hikers as we tuck into dinner.
Cathy is still bustling in the kitchen and I remark to a newer hiker, Ian, “she must work long hours.” “Yeah,” observes Ian, “but we only come through over a few months, so it probably evens out. The hikers are like a salmon run- you have to harvest when it’s that time.”
We chat some more with the others, but it’s not long until we are ready for bed. When we are relaxing stretched out in our tent, I can hear Cathy softly clinking in the kitchen. It’s a lullaby, such wonderful homey sounds- I recognize the thump of a Pyrex measuring cup being set down, a whisk brushing against glass- all that love getting baked into breakfast.