1/4 The Park That Was No Holiday

Parawai Hut to El Rancho Holiday Park

30 k

We wake up to see Mario and Peach off this morning, who are starting very early in spite of intense nay-saying for by a random German guy last night. I overdosed on couscous yesterday and advocate for breakfast on the trail, so we are not far behind them. We have a long climb, but it looks to be relatively gentle compared to the last five days. The trail up Pukeatua is beautiful, nice forest interspersed with small grassy meadows. Any of these meadows would make stellar camping.

The incline is enough to be working for it, but not enough to be truly difficult. We are able to go far before stopping for a potful of granola. Eventually we top out, and get a spot of cell service. We all check email and send happy New Year messages home. The descent down the backside of Pukeatua is equally mellow, if only when compared to the last few days. The forest changes to tall pines with a soft carpet of needles close to the end of the descent, and after a refreshing creek crossing we are on a road, headed for town. Town! I am looking forward to it today, to a

shower, to laundry, to our destination which promises to be a really cool quirky hostel that is a restored hotel from the 1920s right on the beach. When I called to see if there was space to reserve for tonight, they had one room left. I can’t wait!

It’s hot hot in the sun. We stop to filter water out of a ditch, and eat a rationed portion of snacks, hoping to put lunch off until we can realize Prana’s dreams of fish and chips. I receive a message from my parents that great aunt Esther has passed away, they are at her funeral today, and Prana and I hike the next hour or so talking about family, past generations, and what we know of their lives. “Did she know how to ride a bicycle?” Prana asks. I don’t know. I can picture a photograph of my grandma, Esther’s sister-in-law and friend, on a bike, and I have a vague recollection of a photograph of them together, each on a bike, but I don’t know if it’s real or if my brain is creating stories. What are stories? What are memories? The next time I am home, I will ask for all the stories of others’ memories that I can get.

We see a bus stop in the distance, and both wonder aloud at the same time- will Bro be waiting in it? As we pass, we see it is empty, and we can see a second bus stop within a hundred feet at the intersection. Maybe that one? It is empty as well, but we turn the corner and see a third shelter with a picnic table and Bro underneath. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ll stop at the next one’,” he says, “by the third one, I thought, ok fine, I’ll take a break!”

The roads get progressively busier, and start to showcase strange signs of civilization. Like this giant arrow impaled in the ground. Why? Why not.

Waikanae materializes abruptly, and we cross the tracks in search of a fish and chips shop that John had suggested. We find it just where he described it and: it’s closed! Damn. We find two other fish and chips options, both in the same state. Is it a public no-fish-and-chips holiday? Perhaps. I call the hostel and they recommend a place next door; I call them, and they are open. With that all squared away, Super Mario and Princess Peach appear on the sidewalk. They have decided to stay at a holiday park that is much nearer and are famished, so we end up getting pizza together at the single open restaurant before going our own ways for the evening. Five of us, five seats at the single high table next to the window. Meant to be.

While we are eating, Prana quietly opts out of the plan for tonight. For reasons I don’t understand, he has become determined to also stay at the holiday park. I am disappointed, to say the least. I cancel the reservation to the 1920s hostel that may or may not have been as cool as I imagine it to be.

The path through town is a bike path along the Waikanae River, and there are many people shouting and laughing and jumping in swimming holes, and many dogs dripping wet with happy grins. There are several large paddocks of horses, and some neatly manicured riding grounds. The skies are clouded over with a menacing layer, and within a couple of kilometers of the Holiday Park turnoff, it starts to rain. I slump inwardly, knowing there’s probably not much chance now to talk Prana into reconsidering the extra 6 k. The rain picks up into a proper deluge at the fork to the campground, and after a talk finally addressing some of the discordances created by the plan fluctuations of the last several days, we head in to find a spot.

The rest of the group is tenting under a large tree, and we pitch next to them. Other than the fact that we are here with our friends, there is very little that redeems the decision to stay. It’s raining, so we can’t comfortably hang out outside of our tent. The one communal area of the holiday park is one room, cement and cinder block, with folding chairs, shrieking children, and roaring adults. I can’t hear myself think, let alone hope to converse with anyone else. It takes two trips to the office to procure tokens that fit in the washing machines, but at least they are functioning, and the shower is hot. After scrubbing and rinsing and a double shampoo, I retire to the tent to post some blogs. The internet I purchased proves to only be active from the maelstrom of the common room. I refuse. I stay in the tent to edit and type some new entries, and when Prana returns to report it has quieted down now, we share a container of tiramisu I carried from the pizza place, maybe the best I’ve ever had. I try the common room, but whatever eye of the storm was in place has passed, and it’s back to migraine-inducing chaos. I get one entry posted, then flee back to the tent, to find Prana peacefully mending the rip in my skirt that appeared in Monday Canyon on the Hayduke. I’m touched. I lay in the tent and listen to the rain and wonder why I allow myself to get so worked up over situations where I don’t feel heard. I’m sure the trail will keep giving me plenty of opportunities to practice getting it right.

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