Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Great Walk

The last week or so has full of outdoor adventures, camping, drinking rain water, swimming with jelly fish, and easily the hardest hike of my life.
Five of us that met in Tauranga set out to go on a road trip and camp in the east part of the northern island. My paint job on my van was not yet finished due to poor weather on the days leading up to the trip. On the first day I saw a paint ball park on the side of the road so we stopped for a game. Only three of us played so it was everyman for him self. Super fun, we were all glad we stopped. That night we drove to a remote part of the coast and asked some people if we could camp on their waterfront cliff overlooking blue tide pools. They said it was fine to camp there. I was so happy to be out in this grass field with a million dollar view that I didn't even notice the mosquitoes. We went down to the water before dinner to have a look. I ended up swimming in the clear calm sea water. It was a little cold, but invigorating. Like most NZ waters, there were jelly fish floating around in there, so I had to watch where I swam.
That night I left the camper van door open till it was time to sleep. It was full of mosquitoes that relentlessly buzzed around me drinking my blood all night. I didn't sleep at all. I estimate about 60 bites that night.
The next day we went to the east cape and hiked up to the light house. It was a 45 minute hike up to the top. We were trying to get ready for the Great Walk around Lake Waikairemoana. A 4 day hike through forest, jungle, up mountains, through mud and rain.
That night we found a freedom camping ground in Gisborn county. Nice place on the beach that I will return to for Christmas. Not too many bugs there but I stayed up scratching all night. In the morning we packed up and went to Cook's Cove, a blue water lagoon with 1 meter deep water that was very nice for swimming. This is where capt. Cook first landed and discovered NZ. Later that night we tried to take a short cut through the mountains to the starting point of our great walk and ended up camping in a cow pasture.
The morning we were to start the walk was a little scary because no one had ever done anything this big. I had only done one or two day hikes. This was 46 k through rugged bush. I was the biggest and most experienced so I volunteered to carry more of the community supplies like canned foods and pots and pans. I think it must have been about an 80 pound pack when I started. Nobody knew if there was water along the trail, so we carried a lot. We started the trek which became quite steep within the first 2 minutes. We laughed a the ridiculousness of what we were trying to do. It seemed near impossible to hike for 5 hours carrying this weight. The first hiker we saw told us there was water at the huts. This was good news because we could dump some water, but bad news because most of our food had water in it, like soups and chili instead of pasta and rice. We had packed way too heavy for the journey. Laura had even packed beer and wine. We struggled on up and up and up. When there was a small down hill it was always followed by a bigger up hill. The views were quite stunning but hard to appreciate because we didn't know how far till we reach the hut. This climb was physically harder than any thing I have done including a 24 hour 200 mile snowmobile race through the bitter cold Yukon and the 13 mile that doubled (6 mi.) my longest run prior to it. Pushing through the pain we ascended 1150 meters to the top to find the hut. It had some benches for eating and stainless counters for cooking, and a sink that was pure rain water off the roof. The other campers their said it was ok to drink so we used it for everything without boiling it. It actually tasted pretty good. They also told us that the next few days of hiking would be easier. We were at the highest point. Relieved to be sitting down inside a shelter and alive, we eagerly drank all the wine and beer to "save weight" for the next hikes. The hut had 40 bunks divided into two rooms, there were skylights and candles for light, and a wood stove for heat.
The next day was mostly down hill, easier on my muscles but harder on my joints. We made it down to the hut at lake level in 4 1/2 hours. We had a swim in the lake to wash off. It had been 4 or 5 days since a shower, just ocean bathing. We slept early because we knew that we had a 19 k hike the next day. It turned out to be fairly level staying close to the lake. The last day didn't scare us too much after all we had done the last few days anything seemed in our reach. Just 9k we joked about running back. Our packs were much lighter after eating almost everything we had brought. AT the very end, just before the car, I stopped on a foot bridge and thought back over adversity I had intentionally engaged my in and over. I learned a lot about serious hiking of coarse but also about my own spirit and energy. I think people need to get back to the roots what it is to be an animal on this planet from time to time, remind ourselves of our weaknesses and to highlight our strengths.