Mount Lee’s Reserve to Zig Zag & Lee’s
The morning dawns early- I know we passed the summer solstice, but are the nights still getting shorter?! It sure feels like it.
We roadwalk to Fielding, and Prana reads out crossword clues as we go. At one point Bro has to stop and check why his shoes are so uncomfortable, and within an hour, he is no longer able to walk in his boots. Oh no! The boots are rubbing the tops of his toes raw and quickly crippling him. Prana switches to his sandals so Bro can use his shoes. Even though they are 3 sizes too big, they do the trick.
Fielding is apparently supposed to be the most beautiful town in NZ, and was voted as such multiple years in a row. However, the TA must not go through the most beautiful part, as it is nothing remarkable compared to other nice towns, and what is showcased is mostly industrial-agriculture related. The glimpses we get down the streets make it seem like if we had walked the triangle down to the supermarket we would have gone through a particularly cute area, architecturally speaking. Oh well, can’t win em all.
We follow the frontage road out of Fielding towards Bunnythorpe, which will be just past the half way point of today. The last kilometer before town is almost a bust; the trail winds around the backside of an abandoned recycling transfer station, then ‘crosses a stream over a small bridge’. When I reach the stream, there is no bridge to be found. Maybe it actually uses the old railroad bridge upstream? I backtrack to double check I haven’t overlooked anything, but a train screaming over the bridge answers any question I had about using that span. I pick my way across the rubble of what may have been a bridge a long time ago, and hope that I’m not trespassing; on the climb out from the creek there’s a car with Fuck the Police carved into the front bumper, and for a moment I am certain scary dogs are going to attack from the house it is broken down in front of. But this doesn’t happen, and I eventually find the rest of the crew lunching in a tiny playground next to the Bunnythorpe minimart. The best part about this lunch is not that it’s noon with only 14 kilometers to go, but the Park features an aggressive velocity merry go round! Bro has a super power of achieving full potential velocity.
(For the record: Mouse is actually having a whole lot of fun, although you wouldn’t guess it from the expression on her face right here.)
On second thought, maybe the best part of lunch is the invitation we receive. I have been in touch with ZigZag, a hiker that Prana and I met on the Pacific Crest Trail briefly. I clearly remembered him, but sure didn’t know much about him. He had commented on our Hayduke completion post, and said come on by in NZ. I was looking forward to catching up, and had forgotten to keep him apprised of our progress. Luckily for us it sounds like they didn’t travel far for the holidays, and when I emailed last night, he said, yes come on by. This morning I got a message with he and his wife’s phone numbers and an offer to pick us up from the trail. And: “Just you two, or more?” I let him know there were 6 of us traveling together, but the others were planning on the holiday park. A message comes back: “We would enjoy hosting all 6 of you.” “6 dirty hikers? Are you sure?!” I double check, only partly joking. It is an incredibly kind and generous offer. “Yeah six is fine. We have a shower.” It’s more than I dared to hope for, because with Mouse leaving tomorrow morning, I didn’t want to have to say goodbye earlier than necessary.
We march out the kilometers left, stopping for one short respite in a bus stop as the afternoon has turned windy and the gusts carry an icy bite. The last few k’s are along a beautiful river front walk, and the three boys walk in front, we three girls walk in back. We chat casually over a range of subjects, and again I feel an acute wave of gratitude for this group forming.
As we approach the carpark and the bridge which is our meeting point with Zigzag, I feel one last pang of worry that we will overwhelm his offered hospitality, but then we see him leaning against the low wall by the carpark, waiting to give us hugs.
He graciously drives us in two trips to his home. I go in the second batch, and when I arrive at his beautiful home, it feels perfect. It’s a gorgeous house of old wood and big windows, full of light. There are pictures and mementos and projects hung on the walls and tucked onto shelves that hint at the type of life lived with open arms; I’m sure this is the house where friends of the kids were treated as an automatic and instinctual addition to the family just by crossing the threshold, much like my family and home were and are. There are baskets of fruit and fresh French pressed coffee and crackers and spreads set out, and Lee is working in the kitchen. I always wonder if the spouse or family of a hiker gets the world of hiking, or simply tolerates it; neither is wrong, but with someone that gets it, there
Is a level of subtle acceptance that sets me at ease. With someone that tolerates, I feel the need to censor the sleeping-in-the-outhouse and eating-other-people’s-leftover-French-fries type of stories. It’s obvious that Lee get is. She is like a mash-up of all of my favorite aunts, and if she didn’t have an NZ accent I would swear she hailed from southern Illinois. ZigZag, who I had an impression from the PCT of being quiet and gentle, is these things yes; but he also has a depth of warmth and open-heartedness and joie de vivre that I didn’t have the chance to get to know in our previous brief encounters.
They treat us to a dinner of our wildest dreams: Green salad with a colorful array of fresh garnishes and homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Roasted beet and carrot slaw with mint and orange vinaigrette. Sourdough bread with caramelized onion jam and sharp white cheddar. Grilled halloumi (a firm spongy cheese that gets a golden crust). Halved new potatoes with herbs and oil. Baby portabellos baked with cheese. Feta baked in olive oil with cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. Broiled chicken drumsticks for the meat eaters. Red and white New Zealand wines. A pitcher of ice water with fresh sliced lemons. You’ve got to be kidding me. They set the spread on a beautiful table on the porch. pc: Ellie
There is great conversation over dinner, and Lee and ZigZag keep magically refilling everything. When the night cools and we can’t eat anymore, we clear the table and a homemade pound cake with piles of fresh fruit are served in the house for dessert.
Prana is able to help Ellie get her map apps sorted on her phone for her solo sojourn tomorrow. I wish we didn’t need to sleep! I’d rather stay up enjoying the company. Way past hiker midnight, we finally make the call for bed. Another testament to Lee and ZigZag’s hospitality, they have a bedroom set up for Prana and I, their campervan set up for Mario and Peach, and a tent big enough to stand in lined with air mattresses for Mouse and Bro. There are even fluffy towels in our room, a folded invitation. The bed is so comfy, and even though my brain is zinging, I fall asleep immediately.