12/20 Bridge to Nowhere

John Coull Hut to Raumanui


We had a nice soothing rain shower on and off last night, which pattered playfully on the tent. The downside was my brain kept whispering, “the river goes up half a meter an hour when it rains. are you sure your canoe is pulled up high enough? did you double check the knot? how about the stake it’s tied off to? yeah you wiggled it, but did you really lever on it? you really should have unloaded the barrels you didn’t need, just in case the canoe gets washed away; then at least you’d have your pack to bushwhack along the river.” Etc, etc. After two hours of lying there awake, I realize I should have just gotten up and checked the whole situation out, thus appeasing the anxiety and probably being able to go to sleep, but I refused to give my brain the satisfaction of winning.

In the morning, surprise surprise. All the boats are still there.

I have a confession to make: Prana dared me to shake Ellie’s tent and snort for her wake up call, and I took the dare. I try to pretend I am being less of a jerk by shaking gently and snorting softly (just one snort!) but it scares the crap out of her and she shrieks in surprise. I know it’s not funny, but I laugh so hard I cry. With friends like these!

We pack everything up- it seems so easy since there is way more room in the dry barrels than in our backpacks. Bro and Ellie are the first ones rigged and on the river- good for them! I’ve started trying to Jedi mindwash Bro into becoming a boatman. “Hey Bro, you’ll make a great river guide. Think about it!” So, actually, it’s much more blatant than Jedi-ing. I don’t think he’s sold yet.

The morning is still and silent, with an occasional riffle. The light is beautiful through the trees and on the water. A few large rivers empty into the Whanganui, and we paddle up one for 50 feet until we are stopped by driftwood.

One of the of the big stopping points for today is the landing from which we can hike to The Bridge to Nowhere. What an enticing name: The Bridge to Nowhere. A poetic name. A romantic name. Of course we have to hike to it and check it out.

The landing itself is a bit of a Tetris on steroids, a narrow river-level platform for only two canoes or one jetboat, and the side where the canoes are required to tie up to be out of the jetboats’ way is a vertical wall of slick clay. There are indentations that represent steps chiseled into it, which prompts Prana to play, ‘can I actually get out of the boat here’? I am sour about this, because it automatically requires that I play too. We end up lining the canoe back to the mouth of the landing anyway, since it is too difficult to get lunch etc. out of the barrels at the precarious clay wall. Once it is lined back again tied off, I realize I forgot my damned epinephrine in my camera bag. I weigh the alternative inconveniences in my mind. Minuscule risk probability vs. massive consequence. Prana is a chivalrous soul and climbs down to the boat to retrieve it while I practice replacing my damning black thoughts with gratitude that the medicine exists and I have it if I need it.

The walk to the bridge is lovely- cool and shady, which is a nice treat after being bare to the sun in the river. It’s a gentle grade, and in very little time, we reach an overlook of it.

A short walk puts us right on the bridge itself. If I imagine that I just bush whacked with a machete to reach this point, then it is indeed as fanciful and exotic as I wish it to be. However, the truth of the matter is that plenty of people have arrived via bike or shuttle/hike and it is a hot spot of humans. Plus, the bridge no longer goes nowhere. It now is a bridge in the path to see itself, connecting access from the river and access from the National Park proper. What we have come to see doesn’t exist! Would it have been more impactful for the trail to end at the overlook, seeing the bridge as untouchable, with only the imagination to fill in the sensation of walking across it? Maybe. I ponder this until I get distracted by pondering if some of these massive tour groups will notice cookies missing from their invitingly open Tupperwares.

Satisfied in the way that comes only from knowing I would have been unsatisfied with passing it by, I head back to the boats. The group makes quick work of the return and has a team building game of reloading all the boats via the steep clay wall. It works wager-losingly well. Just across the river is a cobble beach with access to a DoC hut, which means rainwater tanks and a picnic table for lunch, so even though we made no downstream progress we pull in and unpack the picnic fixings. Prana and I have been rationing our water perfectly, and haven’t yet had to filter water on the river, my personally most-loathed chore.

Although it starts strong and well fueled, the afternoon wears on until it is no longer the fun it was this morning. The wind springs up sporadically, nonexistent in some bends and forceful in others. I’m getting paddle blisters on my ring fingers, and this seems far more exhausting than walking and just carrying my own gear. At 4:00, I decide I am over it. Over it! Every thing I hear Prana say I can only hear as critical, my paddling muscles have devolved to knotted strings, and my saddle bones feel bruised. Let me off! At 5:00 we see the signs for Raumanui, our camp site for tonight. It’s a bit of a struggle to get in to the landing, but we all make it and the owner treats us to the indulgence of tractoring our dry barrels up from the river to the tenting area on the hill. The campsite itself is slightly strange, but the flat space is adequate and comes stocked with an inexplicably clean long-haired black cat. Prana is knackered, and once we have the tent up, he hides and I shower; not because I really need it yet, but because whatever hot water I can pummel my muscles with will hopefully offset some of the inevitable pain tomorrow. The shower proves to be hot for as long as desired, even if the curtain keeps blowing open. I cook and manage to coax Prana out of the tent long enough to eat dinner (this is done by dragging a chocolate bar on a string across the door of the tent) but once the pot is clean we all retire in a stupor. I try to write, but actually spend the time watching the fancy cat proudly display its superiority by parading around with caught mice. Feral cats are equally tiered as pests over here with possums and rats because birds have the number one spot in this country, which is why the trees sound so symphonic. It’s like this cat is making a plea deal for criminal immunity. ‘See? I’ve had a change of heart. I’m on your side. These mice, though. Damn pests. Gotta be stopped.’

Good cat. Good night.

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