12/30 Monkeyflowers and Lemon Beer

Burtton Track to Mikahaka Outdoor Center

31 k

The wind died at some point last night and I was surprisingly warm.

We pack up early but I fall far behind all the others when I am searching interminably for a place to dig a cathole. I finally retrace my steps to where big tires have torn up the ground in the tree harvesting area, and leave them a token of my opinion of clear cutting, buried 6-8 inches deep, of course.

We cross a few good sized creeks this morning, but they are low and of no consequence. Perhaps we won’t have an exciting creek crossing this dry season. I suppose there is plenty of time left to prove that thought wrong.

We come to the clearing of Burtton’s Whare, for which the track is named. James Burtton lived and farmed here, and fell when his homemade suspension bridge collapsed, dropping him 26 feet onto rocks. It took him 12 hours to reach help, but sadly died in the hospital; however he fed his dogs one last time before he left. A man who held his priorities.

While walking I recognize a happy yellow flower I didn’t expect to see- monkey flowers! They bloom in the hanging gardens of the desert canyons, and it’s like a piece of my favorite bit of the world has teleported to appear at my feet.

The trail opens out by a reservoir, which is formed by a surprisingly pretty concrete dam. Lichens and water staining have splashed it with a quite fetching color pattern.

We eat lunch on the grass, and once our backpacks are completely exploded, the sun comes out from the clouds with a vendetta to settle. No shade within reach, we finish as fast as we can.

The gravel roads are bared to the sun, so it’s a relief when we finally reach the Mikahaka Track, which drills into the forest and, ergo, shade! We are all either out or almost out of water, so at the first tiny seep we encounter Prana painstakingly scoops enough to share a few liters between the crew. This is enough to get us all to Blackwood Stream, which has a proper chuckling flow.

The trail goes past two lookouts in the next stretch, but neither stands out- it’s probably a nice aim for a day hike, but I’ve enjoyed other vistas more. Gettin spoiled out here. There’s a long steep drop that lands us in the drainage between two high ridges, and while it is barely ankle deep, I can imagine it could be tiring/tedious to have to cross back and forth if the drain were raging. The forest is dark and damp, and for some reason feels much wilder than the country on the ridges have today.

We pop out at a huge grassy area with a long-drop outhouse, and a girl with long pigtail plaits is putting up her tent. We wave and walk a little farther, but only make another five minutes before we decide to cook dinner. The light is long and golden, and dinner en route du jour is something we have hardly done on this trail. It’s a double bonus, providing a nice big burn of energy for an evening stretch, and eliminating one of the more time consuming chores from the very end of the day, making camp seem cush and relaxing. We eat rice noodles covered in some kind of peanutty sauce and head out on our last three K. Only half an hour to camp! I fatally celebrate too early in my mind.

We attempt to cross a farm on the track our GPS shows, but somehow end up awkwardly at the back of the farmhouse and way off track. Splitting the difference between backtracking and searching for a shortcut manifests as walking the longest possible combination of fence lines. Nooo! I start to get crabby, because even though I mentally love doing long days, physically the end of the long days are tough for me, and my pack is not that much lighter than yesterday, and I probably should have replaced my shoes in Palmerston North and the patience thing and and and.

Our last easy 3 k takes us well over an hour. As we walk up fingers crossed to the entrance of the outdoor center that is our goal for the night, I see the gate is locked. I look around for a flat space bordering the road that is big enough for the tent, but there are none to be found. My eyes start leaking frustration as Prana finds a walk through in the fence with a TA arrow on it. 9:00. Is that too late to bother whomever we will be bothering? If we can’t find someone, can we just set our tent up, or is that acting blatantly entitled?

Prana steps onto the porch of the house, and a woman comes to the sliding glass door. “Hikers? Welcome!” Her name is Sally, and I instantly relax, thankful that she is so warm. “There are tents down by the ropes course, and showers, laundry, bathrooms, and kitchen are all in the building behind that. The bunk room is off limits, but otherwise make yourselves at home. There’s a German woman and a Kiwi woman already down there. Would you like a soft drink? Or beer?”

My eyes are still leaking, but now from gratitude and relief. “If you have a ginger beer, I’ll take you up in it, and I’m sure Haiku would love a beer,” Prana answers for both of us. “Yes please, that sounds wonderful,” I smile in agreement. Sally finds a ginger beer for Prana, his favorite brand. “The last one in the world,” she teases him. She hands me a lemon beer, and tells us to wait while she rummages in her fridge. She loads several items into a paper bag, which she presses into our hands with the instructions, “now go find yourselves an empty tent and make yourselves some dinner.”

The tents are huge car camping stand-up-inside tents, and they have thick mats already laid down on the floor. We find one that doesn’t have shoes in front of it, and set our packs inside before taking the paper bag to the kitchen. As we enter, we realize another person is already there, and recognize Jo. Jo is the kiwi woman already here! She chats while we open the paper bag with wonder. Lettuce and zucchini chips from the garden on the grounds. Blueberries, a mango, and half a chocolate bar. The lemon beer is good and tart, it tastes more like carbonated homemade tart lemonade than beer. Most importantly, it’s ice cold. Prana goes to shower, and Jo and I catch up. I’m happy to see her; through dint of prolonged proximity and experiences shared, she is a trail cousin now. Maybe that’s part of the trail lesson? I don’t know what to extrapolate out of that; I’ll table it to ponder while walking.

Prana and I walk into our tent and settle down for the night. How extraordinarily luxurious it feels to remove the labor of a simple chore, like setting up the tent, or blowing up the air mattress. Peach, Mario, and Bro never showed up tonight; I assume they camped at the grassy meadow and long-drop. Hopefully we see them early, although I’m sorry for them for missing this place. My brain is anxiously crunching the same tired old thoughts it always gnaws on in this state, but when I finally fall asleep, I sleep well.

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