2/14 On Trail with my Valentine

Swin River to Monkey Flower Creek

26 K

This morning was a refreshingly mellow awakening. Thinking to guess Prana’s desire rather than announce my own last night when he asked me what time I wanted to wake up, I said 6:00; this morning I simply turn the alarm off, and, when I receive no complaint, go back to sleep for another hour.

The clouds rolled in during the night, ominous looking this morning. The temperature is perfect, and camping away from the river means the air and our tent are comfortably dry. 6 hikers head north past our tent while we are drinking our coffee and working on The Christmas Crossword. Luxury.

The only problem with our perfect spot is the complete lack of cover behind which to dig a cathole. I find the shrub that provides the most screening (not much) from the most angles and laboriously chip out a double size hole when I realize it’s Valentine’s Day, a day to make chivalrous gestures for your loved one, such as digging a double sized cathole in stubbornly undiggable ground.

We head down the trail for the day, taking off shoes to cross the Swin River, hoping today might finally be the day of dry feet. The tread is back to simple double track again, and the walking is easy. Prana and I chat and plan and dissect opinion pieces and news we read while in town.

We crest a ridge and below is a long skinny lake full of black swans. Rebecca is having a snack overlooking it, and Prana hangs back for a chat. I’m feeling quiet and mellow and not like standing still, so I keep moving.

We cross a section of private property, this one considerately following a dirt 4wd road. Before making it out onto the main county gravel road, I filter water, and Prana catches up. His feet are doing the same thing they were doing last night, which is too painful to walk with. We take a longer break and then gingerly make our way down the gravel road.

Roads = podcast time, a Pavlovian association that makes my brain look forward to roadwalks. I listen to stories by a bank robber turned climber, a woman of color on a months long bike ride through conservative mid-America, two guys who tire of waiting for a water taxi and build a homemade raft to exit a drug-riddled area on a river somewhere in Southeast Asia, against all the locals’ advice. The wind picks up in the hot sunshine and begins to howl.

At last we reach our turn off, marked ‘Te Araroa’ on a grand, full sized road sign, a bit too far past lunch for anyone’s robust well-being. Luckily we find a spot semi-sheltered by swell of land, obliterate two peanut butter wraps each in record time, and watch the clouds come in in a stupor.

It is pleasantly easy going for the rest of the afternoon. We walk through a low cloud ceiling of rolling hills with chunks of exposed rock dotting the land for about 3 more hours until we cross small stream thick with yellow monkey flowers. There is an awesome cleared campsite on the lee side of bushes, perfectly sheltered from the wind up to tent height. We wait for Mouse, hunkered down, and eventually hear a strange sound from the stream- she has been filtering water just out of sight, ha!

It’s an early camp which is easy to justify with nothing to gain by going farther forward tonight, and great views of the scenic granite lumps awash in the streaming current of clouds. It’s spaghetti and hot chocolate for dinner, then free time to just look and watch and think and journal.

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