End of the Timber Trail to Taumarunui Canoe Hire
We all wake up excited for town today. It’s actually been over 5 days since we have been in a town or had cell service! Glory! It’s a road walk all the way, but a quiet road that proves pleasant to follow. The morning starts cool, and heats up quickly. The most striking thing about this road is the amount of sheep paddocks it borders, and the amount of sheep in those paddocks that are sneezing uncontrollably! I’m talking, panic-inducing-oh-my-god-what-if-I-never-stop type of sneezing. What could they be allergic to? What if they are allergic to wool? These sheep must have been on the clearance rack at the stock sale. Poor things.
We also see our first glances of the Ongarue River, one of the two head branches that form the mighty Whanganui, on which soon we will be canoeing for 6 days.
While on the road, we finally start to receive service intermittently. I receive two voicemails from John- one saying he hoped to see us in Hamilton, another discouragment about getting hustled out of that town, and the second saying he was done hiking for good, due to an unexpected health issue. No!!! I am overwhelmed with disappointment on his behalf. Why?! That’s not fair! I text him that I will call for more information later.
We start to close in on Taumarunui, and the clouds above are darkening. I check my email and see that Trump announced a dismemberment of Escalante and Bears Ears Monuments, and the facts surrounding it that I’ve received from SUWA and the Sierra Club, among other newsletters. I feel sick, literally nauseous, Tears start welling up and leaking out. What the Fuck? How can this even be possible? It can’t be, but it is going to happen anyway. I am disgusted. I feel like I just learned of the terminal illness of a family member. Escalante. It’s as though, the finger of Lake Powell reaching up to desecrate the lower end of the Escalante river canyons is not a blatant enough reminder of the mistake made only 50 years. We drowned Glen Canyon and enough of the country pulled their hair and gnashed their teeth over it since to mistake it as a learned a lesson; now we are going to carve up one of the areas that retains the loudest echoes of that grandeur. Dying echoes. If I had to choose between never leaving the Colorado Plateau and never seeing it again, then I would never again see many other places that I would also miss. Could I say the same for Escalante specifically? Almost yes; but there are too many other pockets close behind or equal, and to say yes only implies an unacceptable compromise; but almost yes. What am I doing over here, on a continent that is enjoyable and wonderful and beautiful, and far away from making some kind of ineffective attempt (but at least an attempt!) to contribute to what I believe in. I am filled with loathing at the moment, and some of it is at myself for the choices I am unwilling to make.
I stomp and stab my trekking poles and let my eyes leak. I start to listen to the Endangered Spaces series on the Dirtbag Diaries, and find a little solace and understanding.
When we reach the edge of town, I receive a message that Mario and Peach are at McDonald’s. Oh? I look up and there it is, across the street. Easy. We step inside, Bro right behind us, just as the sky starts spitting raindrops. A minute later it tears open in a deluge. Thank goodness we were inside. But Mouse! She’s going to be one drowned Mouse. About ten minutes later she appears, water sluicing off of her. Mike the Scot pops in as well, dapper from a shower and trim at his hotel room across the street. We reiterate the invitation to join us for canoeing, and with a bit more consideration he accepts. Excellent! Of course, as soon as Ellie is inside, the rain slows and abates. We all grab a few things from the small New World for our dinner, then turn our hopeful feet towards the refuge of the Taumarunui Canoe Hire and a layover day in their yard. Along the way I give John a call to get the scoop. He is mostly stable, but still not in the clear. I am so bummed for him, but even hearing his disappointment, his optimism shines through. Prana and I make a plan to spend a few days with John and his lovely wife Hilary one way or another before we leave the North Island.
I also call my parents for a little bit of a chat, hoping to say hi and get some news from home. I fall behind everyone else to speak a bit more privately, and as I start up the Canoe Hire’s long driveway, a white car with a familiar looking face in the passenger seat slowly creeps by. Who is that? A corner of my brain works on the riddle. Simon of Simon and Anya? No…I look back. The face is sticking out the window, scrutinizing me in return. Oh my god! “William!!” I run back to the car and awkwardly bear hug him through the window. He’s a bit more bewhiskered, a little leaner, but still the same happy smile. “How is your hike going?” “Good. And your hike?” I babble at him in a frenzy, trying to hit all the key points, and when I stop for a breath, I realize his English is probably similar to what it was two months ago at the very beginning of the hike during Twilight and 90 Mile Beach, and that he likely didn’t catch any of what I’d been saying. No matter, I’m still thrilled to see him looking so well.
When I catch up to the others, they are congregated in the Taumarunui Canoe Hire office, talking to Karen the owner. She is a trip. She does an amazing job of coordinating a lot of small details for people who have no idea what they need to be figuring out. She gets us our paperwork, outlines what we need to fill in, and ushers us into the big beautiful sun room that looks north over a beautiful vista.
We do what we have to do tonight, and then she gives us the nickel tour of where the bathrooms are, the hot water tap, the two calves named Suki that she keeps as pets, and her recommendation of the most strategic place to set up our tents. Ellie is hobbling due to some blisters that just keep layering themselves deeper, and an ingrown toenail. Karen sees her gait and asks if she’d like to soak her feet with some salts. “Oh, yes, please,” swoons Ellie. We get the tents pitched and return to the sun room to gather and eat dinner. Mario and Peach have brought beers to celebrate reaching this point, and we bask in the warmth of the friendship and sweet victory of the milestone.
When Karen refreshes her offer of the foot soak, you can see the anticipation on Ellie’s face. “Hey!” Karen calls to someone on the porch. “Scrub out that calf bucket and bring it in here! No, scrub it inside and out!” The bucket is brought in once satisfactory, and Karen’s husband Ron fills it with hot water and salts.
I am so ready for the solitude of the tent, and Prana is already asleep, so I crawl in, stretching my tired feet and typing at journal entries.