1/15 Green Lips and a Decision to Detour

Davies Bay to Circle Loop Track

40 k

There was some kind of possum standoff last night, and our tent was in between the two opponents. They made the nastiest sounds, something between a mountain lion scream and a rattlesnake vibrating. It was a warm clammy night, and the morning isn’t any cooler.

We walk onto the trail and not ten minutes in, Prana stops and turns, a look of panic on his face. He frantically fumbles the button on his pants and whips them down, and, stung again, releases a ground hornet from his trousers. What the f?

It’s not long for walking in the morning before we reach the terminus of the Queen Charlotte Track and emerge in the tiny town of Anakiwa, still asleep at this hour. The morning light is mystical.

We follow the edge of the water until it narrows to an estuary, and then pinches down to a feeder creek. There is a new trail here, and even though we aren’t far from it, it’s nice to not be on the street. I spend the time trying to remember and type down all the names Prana and I came up with the other day so I can send an email in town. I become obsessed with names for the morning.

When we hit pavement, we plug in headphones and each listen to our podcasts of choice. We are aiming for 40 k today, and from here on out it’s road. We hit a little service station at the 10 k mark, and take a strictly short snack break with coffee and ice cream. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a scorcher today.

I get some cell service and call my brother and his lumberjack for a little bit. The connection delays, so it is a bit of a juggle to take turns on subject, but so so good to trade some news with them. When the service drops, it is fortuitously just where a biking trail splits from the road. Prana had been ahead of me, but I assume he took the track, and when the GPS zeroes in it agrees that is the way.

I hike uphill, filled with enthusiasm, ruminating on names, until I feel slightly insane. I finally shut my brain up by turning on some music, electro-swing, and the beat moves my feet faster and faster. I’m flying along this awesome track, high above the highway. At one point I am spit out on the pavement, but another trail leads right back up again. I’m surprised I haven’t caught Prana yet, but he’s probably feeling good and stretching his legs too. The Ks disappear, and I crest the high point and pick up speed coasting down the other side. I check for service on my phone, and notice Prana has sent a text: “missed the turnoff, I’ll try and catch up.” I don’t know if he means the first or second trail up from the road, or how far he got past it before realizing. I want to keep hiking the fun unstoppable pace, so I let him know I’ll wait at the road, which is the bridge across the Kaituna delta into the town of Havelock.

The sun is severe today, crushing to the spirit, but creating beautiful shadows through the tree ferns.

The last several bends in the trail have deeply shady cascading creeks and tiny waterfalls in them. I pause a few minutes at each one, marveling in the delicious coolness compared to the open trail. I touchdown at the road, and Prana is only 5 or so minutes behind, pouring wet. He had missed the trail by quite a bit, and had been running to make up the distance. We laugh at the absurdity of each of us thinking we were chasing the other as we enter Havelock, the ‘Green-Lipped Mussel Capital of the World.’ Whether they have hard-won this title, or there just aren’t many other contenders, I am not sure. The tidal flats stretching from the river to the outgoing ocean are massive, the biggest stretches I have seen yet, miles of shiny beach reflecting the blue of the sky, cut with abstract ribbons where the water is slow to follow the ocean back out.

Well, as long as we are in the Green Mussel Capital of the World, it makes sense to eat mussels for lunch, right. On the recommendation of a fellow hiker, I seek out the Mussel Pot Cafe. It is a simple menu; Prana gets fish and chips, I get a pot of steamed mussels in a cilantro-ginger-chili-coconut cream sauce and garlic bread. Dork that I am, I read the entire Mussel Information Pamphlet at the table before the food is served. Did you know a mussel filters 300 liters of water a day? Prana is no longer feeling so hot after severely overheating in his mad dash in the sun.

The mussels are fantastic. They are barely cooked, sweet and salty, each bite a whole range of textures. Sensory delight overload.

I’m glad I read the info, because two of my mussels hold surprises, like the prize in a Cracker Jack Box: one holds a tiny pearl, which I almost break a tooth on, but decide to consider good luck anyway; and one holds a tiny clownishly colored crab, much crunchier than the pearl, but still unexpected. The debriefing has mentioned these crabs, pea crabs to be exact, occasionally live in mussels. I am not too alarmed, but it does prompt me to inspect the inside of each one before popping them in my mouth, and I quit urging Prana to try one, as he tends to be squeamish about unexpected ‘prizes’ in his foods.

Lunch consumed, we can no longer put off the next order of business, which is to decide our plan of action for the next section. The weather forecast has not improved. We read accounts of people getting off the trail every side track they can, and waiting in towns. We read stories of hikers stuck for days in a hut, unable to cross creeks. We read predictions of over an inch of rain one afternoon. We read presages for rain every day except one for the next week. So many questions. How fast do the creeks come down? 3 days in a hut isn’t that bad, but is that how we want to spend the time? Is it worth being able to see more by waiting? Is it truer to our intention to load up on food and accept what the trail has in store for us, even if it means waiting for days and stringing our progress hut to hut? Were others’ decisions to abandon based on comfort or safety, existent conditions or anticipated? How much of what we are reading is completely within our capabilities, and is that reason enough to push ourselves to do it?

We walk to the I-Site in the slim hopes that a ranger there will have some input for us. Silke is there, and she not only has useful information, but is keen to help, pulling up weather windows on the internet, talking us through the local hiking options. We decide to divert from the trail, a first for us, and go walk the Abel Tasman Track. Which sites do we book for which night? The map only shows distances between the four huts, and busses are full for days, how long will it take to hitch there?

We finally pull the trigger and book three nights of tenting, based roughly around the mandatory tidal crossing and starting tomorrow night. We will just have to make it work to get there.

There’s still enough time to hike the 20k to the Pelorus River bridge, which would leave that logistically complete. We decide to leave off the business of the food resupply until our way through Nelson, and put in our 40k day.

We grab water and head out of town. The sun is crushing in its tyranny. It’s a road walk until the last 7k, and I listen to two Ted Radio Hours, one on endurance, and one on decision making. The second seems extremely apropos. The main take away? Decisions are hard because there is not a single correct decision, not because there is a single correct one that is difficult to identify. The directive is to just make one and commit. Ok, I think to myself. No matter what the weather does or doesn’t do, just enjoy the Abel Tasman. Commit to the choice.

The last 7 k are across farm land, with no trail tread, just hoof pocked tussocky mud. The footing is atrocious. Well maybe there will be shade, I hope. No shade to be found, we are now walking directly into the setting inferno. Everything hurts. I don’t want to take a break, I just want to get there, but my legs work slower and slower. Would it actually be faster to take a break? Prana is faring no better, with prolonged overheating twice in one day. The worst part is going to be forced pay for camping again, and we will have to stay or pay a second time when we want to retrieve our box. “Maybe we can camp one kilometer before?” I suggest.

Just before the nature walk leading to the campground, there is a grassy meadow that I find perfect, but Prana thinks is too exposed. We cross one more fence and the apparent sign of the farm boundary, and there is a flattish spot in tall grass cupped by a few tall bowing shrubs. This will be home for the night.

I cook some rice, neither one of us that hungry or desirous of anything else hot, but we will be better off tomorrow not starting in a calorie deficit from today. My feet muscles are mangled but I still have mental energy, which is gratifying. Finally we are lying down in the tent, fed, hydrated, and done with walking.

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