This last week has been incredible tramping from the west coast at Ahipara, where the trail escapes the clutches of 90 Mile Beach and leads you on to a series of forests and mountain ranges the likes of which I have only seen in adventure cinema like Indian Jones films. I have emerged from the forests and onto the east coast bewildered and proud of my own achievements and finding townships to be a thing to become accustomed to once again. Its a wonder how quickly we integrate into the familiarity of our surroundings.
|The first sculpture... Integration (90 Mile Beach)|
Last week I hitch hiked off the beach after only completing 42 kilometers. It was a disappointing start, but it seems this whole trip, and life in general is a series of life lessons reminding you to go with the flow and work with what you've got. With all the electronic gear I had brought to help me document the trip my pack was weighing well over the max of what I should ever imagine to be able to carry. The second day, after hiking 29 kilometers, was resulting in pain, more so than the usual amount of productive pain. So I hitched off the beach, stayed a few days in town, replaced some gear, with lighter options, and sent myself a care package which I picked up yesterday here, on the east coast in Paihia. This town is beginning to feel a bit like a home base to me after having spent a few days here before reaching cape Reinga and starting the trail.
While staying in a hostel in Kaitaia I met two Australian women working on filming a documentary of the trail and have since been traveling with one of them, Laura. Belle had to reformulate plans after having a hip injury.
Within the first 15 minutes on the trail out of town and into the Herekino Forest we ran into my other Australian travel partner Jason whom I hiked with down the portion of 90 Mile Beach, and the three of us have been trekking together ever since. To be quite honest, they are much more experienced trekkers and are certainly much faster than I, so it's mostly been a game of catch up and stay up for me, but their patience has been astounding and I would say we travel very well together and their company is very welcomed, as well as the fact that they push me along, striving to be better and faster and certainly upping my cardio abilities.
The first 6 kilometers were an easy walk along a country road and my lungs started to act up. A few years ago I had a series of encounters with bronchitis and it has left my lungs wanting a bit more strength, so I was worried that after wheezing a bit just on the road if I was going to be okay doing this trip. It wasn't something I had anticipated dealing with, but over the next 2 days, all signs of issues seem to have taken a back seat to my ambitions. Way to buck up lungs!
Side Note: "Buck Up!" is my mantra for the trip. You will hear me remind myself to do so often. Generally, in my head, it is said through the voice of my mother :)
|Pestion directs the way down a country road exiting Ahipara|
The trek into the forest felt like a steep introduction, but after the next series of days to come I would find it to be nothing of the sort. The following forests made the Herekino look like a foothill, and I am grateful for the easing into the situation. We camped on the ridge of the mountain, very near the tallest peak of this range at 557meters, amid the call of foreign birds, which have become a beautiful alarm clock, and a comforting collection of now familiar songs. The wind blew hard through the trees but seemed to magically never touch the tents. Early to bed after a long day, and early to rise for an even harder push unfortunately leaves me less energy and time to create sculptures and works of art than I would like. I am still working out the kinks, but I think what will end up happening is that while taking break days in between sections I will play "catch-up" on days missed, or play "I can do better than that" and create separate works that offer more than what I had an opportunity for while on the trail.
|The common watering hole|
Following the Herekino Forest, we emerged onto an old forestry road which merged into a logging road. We were suppose to go around, but had been given false information that the logging was finished. We passed safely through, and a special thanks to the logging truck drivers for slowing their pace a bit as they passed us, minimizing the flying dust and rocks. We lunched along the road next to the most beautiful abandoned building. Why does abandonment and decay catch my eye so?
Onward and upward through the Raetea Forest, its highest peak at 744 meters. A steeper and muddier version of the forest preceding. For a chance that day, I had the most amazing amount of energy and excitement, and took off like a shot and actually lead quite a bit on the trek. It was a great moral boost to not be holding up the show for a change and I began to feel for the first time that this whole trip was actually happening. It set in, that I am overcoming the part of wanting to complete a task, a far out of reach dream, and that it will actually one day, be a series of stories I can tell.
We trekked on and on for what felt like forever, at the thought that at the end of the day we were coming into the small town of Mangamuka, where there were promises of a pub, a cafe, and a dairy (here a dairy is a reference to a convenient store), where we could restock supplies, and for the first time on the trip have a hot meal served to us.
|Through the forest and into the open!!!|
The pub was only said to be open until 8 and Jason, the fastest of the group, took off ahead to secure us at least the option of a take-away meal. Laura was close behind, and as the pain of my feet could no longer be ignored I watched as they got smaller and smaller into the distance. Since the second day on the beach I had been experiencing pain in my big toes. Although my boots fit perfectly in the dry desert regions of Idaho, the swelling of my feet in such a humid climate is quite substantial and was not bargained for. The slow result of which has been the loss of my big toenails. I have been taking photos of the damage that has been done to my body on the trip. Swollen and cut into hips from the weight of the bag, bruises on my clavicles from the shoulder straps, rashes from the chaffing and sweat, blisters on the feet, and the absolutely disgustingly slow progression of the separation of my nails. Gross? You have no idea!! So I hobble on into Mangamuka, catching Laura as she stopped for a rest on the road. As we approached town we were driven up to by a local woman who had bee sent on down the road by Jason to let us know the pub and dairy were closed. We had pushed on so hard, to no avail. However, it was not without its reward as we were offered a grassy pasture to sleep in for the night, with high hopes that perhaps when we woke in the morning the local cafe, our last chance at a resupply before hitting the east coast, would be open.
Hopes quickly dashed. The cafe was also closed. So we sat at picnic tables out front the cafe, and ate breakfast and planned the rationing of meals for the next couple days. Shortly though our luck would change as a local man biking past saw us out front and told us he could let us into the dairy. Thank you Brian!
Through Mangamuka and onward to Omahuta Forest and a lovely campsite at a Kauri tree sanctuary. This is the first in a series of camping parties where we were joined by several people we had been bouncing off of along the trail since the beginning. 8 tents at camp that night. We rose early for a very long day. 25km to the next camp site and 5 of them were wading in and out of the river bed. Swimming pools in the shoes.
|Only ankle deep at the beginning, but up to the thighs by the end|
After the stream section it was more steep terrain up and down the Puketi Forest track and the swimming pools in my shoes felt more like lead weights. It was a slow climb, but we had a destination to reach. An actual campsite, with bathrooms and water sources. The things that can motivate you! The sleep that night was amazing, and the driest in a while.
The walk into Kerikeri, our east coast destination was mostly road, and flat. Which was welcomed and grueling at the same time. Walking on pavement is a different creature than having some give in the earth beneath your feet.
|Two Australians and a French guy are walking down a road...|
We finally made it to town. It only took us 4 days to trek 126km over 3 mountain ranges, through a river...now that's impressive if I do say so myself.
My pace has improved, my lungs strong, calves are slowly appearing on my legs which is something I have been wanting my whole life, and only at the cost of two toenails, some bruises, swelling, and rashes. And all absolutely worth it.
I spent one night in Kerikeri, was driven to an athletic store by the woman running the hostel, bought new shoes, hitched a ride to Pahia, shopped at the grocery and prepped food for the next bit, have eaten as many fruits and vegetables as my body can handle while they are available to me, and now all I have to do today is spend time on the beach, make some sculptures in the sand, maybe watch a movie and spend as little time on my feet as possible. I will continue to asses the status of my feet and will make a decision by tonight whether it is a good idea for me to do the next stretch or if I am going to have to skip it and meet up with the gang further down the line. I very much don't want to miss any of the trail, but several more kilometers of the next section run through river again, and infections in my feet are not an option and would prove to be very detrimental to the rest of the trip. So we will see what happens next. Either way, the show and the art must go on.
Oh, one last photo...I saw this dead cat in a tree and couldn't resist the photo op... again, why is decay so beautiful?
On that note, I'm outta here!!!