Harper Campsite to Methven
Surprisingly, hell was not unleashed last night. A gentle steady rain began, but the wind never did. We ate breakfast, had coffee, filled our pockets with snacks that could be eaten while walking, and did the dance that is required when two people stuff two backpacks in a tiny confined space.
And then, we walk in the rain. All. day. It is along a gravel road. It is occasionally next to a lake. It at times uphill and at times downhill. It is always in the rain.
I daydream of all the things I really want from town- mostly fresh fruit and broccoli. For some reason I am completely consumed with the desire for broccoli. I binge on story podcasts all day. Story Collider, Dirtbag Diaries, The Moth. Back to back to back. When I meet up with Prana for snack breaks, of which there are two, I walk with him for awhile after and recount my favorite selections. And then we each return to our solitude of walking.
In spite of the illusion that every time I look at my watch the time seems to have crawled, the day does progress. There is a Thai buffet, and I imagine how wonderful it will be to sit inside there, dry, with steaming plates of delicious vegetables. There has to be broccoli there. Our gravel road joins one much more used, and several vehicles pass. One truck, full of hunters, slows next to me to try and convince me to accept a ride now- it’s much easier from here, they insist. I thank them and decline, citing the need to follow the trail as far as it goes, even if it means struggling for a ride later. They pull away, a Dane who we have seen off and on crouching in the bed with his backpack and a large carcass.
More cars pass, often throwing rocks and mud, some appearing to speed up as they approach. I am overtaken with the dark question of why to do this, and why to do this this way.
We walk too far along Homestake Road by accident, not realizing until we see Mouse walking back towards us that we even missed a turn onto the Lake Hill Track. She had gone over 2 k before noticing. It’s not like 2 or even 4 k is that big of a deal in the big picture, but on days like today, when progress already feels slowed to a crawl, this strikes a low morale blow. Especially once we are fighting our way through the morass that is Lake Hill Track.
There are signs everywhere admonishing us to not leave the track. At first, it is crappy pock-marked ground, crossing several paddocks. Then it joins a dirt road for a short bit of a tease before diverging into a bog.
There is no actual track to walk on. Because there is no actual ground to walk on. The stretch consists of isolated tussock clumps with massive muddy moats in between them, the water knee deep before even hitting the soft mud at the bottom. I consider following the road around, which parallels this poor excuse for a track practically within reach, but the sign attached to the pole sternly reminds me to ‘stick to the track,’ which I hear in my head as a singsongy taunt.
The attempt to walk is even worse than I imagine, the long tussock grasses more likely to slide your foot off into the moats than to allow solid footing. “This is not even hiking!” exclaims Mouse, and I agree. In less than 500 meters, we reach the far side where the track rejoins the road. It’s as if this is a passive-aggressive message from the landowner- ‘sure, they can cross my land, but they have to work for it!’
The track leads through several severely overgrown and thorny sections, then along a boardwalk about to give out, the rotten wood cracked and sagging, then through rutted, treadless, ankle turning tussock, again in sight of an empty two track. When I can’t quell the fury and indignation anymore, I give up and walk the road.
When we cross the last stile and leave the private property, the sun finally pops out. This is monumental! We take off rain pants and rain jackets, and revel in the fresh sunshine. A short time later we also get cell service, and I am able to reserve the last room open at the Snow Denn in Methven. And then, the Rakaia comes into view. It has an impressive flood plain, and while part of me understands why this is probably not a fordable river, part of me is curious enough to want to walk to the point where we can’t ford it. Not today though, after all the rain.
Mouse and I walk together and try to dissect our despair at the upcoming hitch and the poorly planned route of today. Why do this? Why do it this way? Does it really matter if we walk to and from the end of every one of these gaps? I don’t know. But until I am certain that it doesn’t matter, I will continue to do it.
We all reach an old arboretum above Lake Coleridge, filled with a variety of many old large trees, many of them labeled. It appears to be a bit shabby and grown over these days, but some effort has been made at upkeep. I find the inception story quite endearing- the superintendent of the power plant planted it in 1933, just because he was interested in the trees, and welcomed all to enjoy it.
We reach Lake Coleridge
Lodge itself, a posh looking, expensive looking place, with none of the surface charm of the arboretum. Other than the fact that there is no traffic to be seen anywhere, I am content in our choice to not stay here. Now, to just not stay here by accident.
Two cars pass, neither acknowledging our presence on the road. With not many other choices, we start walking in the direction of Methven, hoping to reach the intersection of a busier road, Homestake road, which is the road we walked too far on earlier. That will be funny some day. The sun ricochets violently off of the asphalt; I am severely hot and severely dejected. After the 30 k of effort already, my feet are crushed, my spirit is crushed, my motivation is crushed. I imagine no one picking us up, having to walk the first 25 k before we are able to legally camp, or maybe the whole 40 k to town. I project, in excruciating detail, how awful every step of this is going to be. Objectively I know this is only making it worse, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I cannot stop myself. Every. Step. Will. Be. Awful.
Two hours crawl and half a dozen cars zoom by. Then, one finally pulls over, and Mouse is inside. It’s a little sedan, and there is just room for our three selves and our packs with the couple, who are from Christchurch and have a weekend home up here. I am acutely aware of how bad I smell after exerting and sweating in rain gear all day, especially after the woman discreetly turns on the A/C. I cannot convey my gratitude and relief. They are initially only taking as far as the turnoff on their intended route, but in an amazing display of patron saintliness, they drive us all the way into the heart of Methven, all the way to the town center. Bless them.
Methven looks like a great trail town, with inviting cafes and walking-friendly streets, the I-site in sight of the post office, in sight of the grocery store. We set out for our hostel, and pass the Thai place- maybe we will eat before we even check in? But no! No!! No Thai for us.
We find the Snow Denn, and it looks adequate, if a bit run down; and stuffed full of hikers. George the owner is nice, if a bit crafty. When he tries to nonchalantly charge more than he quoted the reservation for on the phone, he immediately drops the price back down when I call him on it, as if he knew it wouldn’t work but someone else had urged him to try. While checking in No Evil wanders up, and then Pete and Cass! What luck! Our room is small but adequate, and we chat with the others for awhile before heading out for reportedly fantastic pizza.
No Evil and Mouse meet us there, and lo and behold, there is a pizza on the menu that has broccoli on it. (It also has falafel, but I don’t question, I just accept.). We also get one with smoked salmon and capers, receive a bonus bowl of fries for ordering two larges. We sip sarsaparilla and catch up with No Evil on his trail stories. On the way back to the hostel, we swing by the grocery for ice cream and apples.
The shower in our room, has no hot water, a total bummer, but the communal showers are so excellent it turns out not to matter. Clean and warm, we crawl into the very comfortable bed.