12/9 What is the Ongarue Spiral?

Mystery Creek Shelter to End of the Timber Trail

28 k

I lay awake for awhile listening to the bird song. There is a screeching call, and, thanks to obsessive-compulsive reading of the signs along the trail, I am able to identify the silhouette of not one, but two, long tailed cuckoos winging through the morning, dragging their plumage behind them like unwieldy trains on excessive ball gowns.

Ellie does an incredibly precise tape job in her blisters this morning.

We get a nice lazy start at 8:00, and stop frequently for snacks and signs. One of my favorite things about this section of track is all the rail cuts that tunnel through the corrugated land. They create little cool refuges, with a luminescent green roof. One sign promises glowworms living in the cuts, but I haven’t seen any yet.

Our first break is at the #11 Camp, which hosts a wooden shelter with a hand published book inside. A man who grew up at the logging camp while his father was camp boss, then went on to hold the position in the same location himself, had collected the processes of logging and milling, and hand-drawn the work flow of those different components, as well as included narratives from interviews he had conducted with former workers to describe each procedure. Mouse is having a rough morning because she needs solar charged, but there is no sun yet.

There are rusting pieces of train and track lying in the forest and signs explaining what each remnant is. We come upon a complete jigger, turntable, which is like a lazy susan of track with a twelve foot diameter that allowed smaller rail vehicles to be rotated 180 degrees. Cool. We notice it’s chained to something at one end- how the hell would someone steal it?

“Wait, how easily does it spin?” Prana asks, and we both think of the tempest tea cup at the Hamilton Park, and the aggressive velocity park in Auckland. There’s enough slack in the chain that Prana is able to give it a good nudge with his toe, and it zings along its rail like oiled lightening before bouncing of the apex of the chain tether. Damn! “Too bad they have it chained up!” I bemoan to Prana. “Yeah!” he says. “Actually, on second thought, it’s probably an extremely good thing they do.” “Meh, good point.”

The density of stories continues, my favorite ones being the non-technical antidotes. One tells of a group of dynamiters, Archie being the leader, who walked a line with a delayed blast on it. They were thrown 30 feet without injury, and henceforth known as The Flying Gang. Archie went on to be in charge of most of the bridge designs.

This is one of my favorite days in the forest; the clouded light is just right for backlighting the green canopy with a soft glow. The cuts and the bridges add an ever revolving variety, and the information is in turns educational and charming.

We also have the Ongarue Spiral coming up today- a mysterious fixture that was touted at the beginning as one of the highlights of the trail. We don’t know exactly what it is, but I am prepared to be stoked by it. I am guessing it’s something like the Tehachapi Loop, a part of the rail line that makes a full circle over itself to gain elevation in a short distance at a shallow grade.

Turns out I am right! Such a simple idea, but I find it delightful, like the rail designer had Marbleworks when he was a kid. There are 84 rail loops in the world, and now we have seen two! No one else is nearly as impressed as I am, but that’s per usual with most things; I dare say some even find it boring. Their loss.

Its a fairly short chunk of trail left to our camp for the day- a TA Walkers shelter and camping area. I listen to a TED radio hour on humor and how it can be the best way to communicate about ideas that people otherwise wouldn’t be open to hearing. I walk around the outside of a fence housing ungulates that look like something between an elk and a huge type deer I’ve never seen- a venison farm. I pass a beautiful example of ombered foxglove, which I haven’t seen yet- the stalks are usually all pink, sometimes all white.

The grass at the camp is glorious, and we all lay around for awhile, wallowing in a little well-earned laziness. We also get everyone in on a round of Crazy 6’s- a game where everyone gets in a circle in plank position, then each person takes a turn to 6 push-ups around the circle, then 5 push-ups, then 4, etc., while everyone not pushing up attempts to hold plank the entire time. It’s a masochistic game, but it will ensure we all have awesome abs hiding under the soft layer maintained by the enthusiastic chocolate consumption. Eventually, the tents go up, the dinner gets cooked, and another bedtime story about bears and camping in Yosemite is read to all.

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