Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Commencement

September 4th, 2015

Commencement

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Cape Reinga, the northernmost point in New Zealand, is the Springer Mountain of the Te Araroa trail, the place of commencement. There is no public transport there, so you have to rely on hitchhiking, book private transportation, or get a ride on one of the tour buses that take tourists to various sites (Kauri tree emporia, gumdigger museums) on the way up to the cape. They then take their passengers sand surfing and finish with a fast, long drive on the sand down 90 mile beach. The cape itself is on Maori sacred land, a place to visit but not for lunch or other recreation. At the lighthouse, you can see clearly the meeting point of two seas–the Tasman and the Pacific–whose battling currents form a line pointing directly toward where you stand.

Beginning and ends are marked literally or symbolically, but are lived differently. Hiking the Appalachian Trail, most people commence from Springer, but after a mile or two, all thoughts turn to the end: Katadhin, that cloud machine in the middle of Maine that Thoreau attempted to climb so many years ago and which now is the site of thru-hiker jubilation. The first is passed and nearly forgotten, and the second becomes obsession.

On finishing school, people both commence and graduate. Graduation is a marking off, but has a sense of finality, of reaching a specific point, while commencing is an opening out. Days are commenced with anticipation, sometimes even joy, but soon are governed by ends, reduce to the tasks that need accomplishing or the miles that need walking. Many thinkers celebrate the ideal of the in-between, cautioning disciples to not focus on the goal, but instead the journey. What then becomes of the commencement?

Living for beginnings can produce nostalgia, a yearning for an irretrievable moment of of pure plenitude. It degrades the present by its shining ephemerality, and is rightly criticized as reactionary if not absurdly mythical. Raymond Williams coined the term “the nostalgia escalator” to describe the infinite regress nostalgia produces, the constant pushing back in time of that moment when the world was not part of a degraded present.

But perhaps nostalgia not the only way to think commencement. Embracing the journey has the virtue of evading teleological totalization, but holding onto the moment of commencement– just a bit longer– is a way to reframe the triad, to turn back non-nostalgically to a different plenitude, to a moment of pure possibility. Surely a time worth re-living even as it is irrevocable.

T. Hugh Crawford

Day 4

September 4th, 2015

Sep 4 day 4 free camp to Ahipara YHA 13 km 8:45-11:15

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Woke up to roosters, and a cool but bright morning. Had coffee in the kitchen before setting off for a short morning stroll and the last of the beach hiking. Became cloudy and started to rain just was I arrived, got bunk room at the hostel, washed clothes, ate at the fish and chip shop (only food in town), resupplied, and spent afternoon next to fire in the main hostel room. Damp but satisfying day– glad to be out of the weather for an afternoon and evening.

Day 3

September 4th, 2015

Sep 3 day 3 free camp to Holiday Campground 40 km 7:15-4:00

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Carefully packed in the rain, hoping to keep much of the equipment dry, though all was completely covered in sand. Of course it started to rain just as I was finishing up. Got out to the beach at 7:15 and, just like Robinson Crusoe, was amazed to find footprints leading down the beach. I trailed them a couple of hours, to discover it was Teddy. He had only planned to hike short days (former pro soccer player with bad shoulder), but was so frustrated with the brutal boredom that is hiking a beach all day long, he was pushing hard to finish this section. We had two camping choices, one we hit at 12:00, and decided it was too early to stop, so we pushed for the next, which necessitated a 40 km day. Both of us were exhausted when we got to the Holiday campground, but it had hot showers and a kitchen, and we pitched tents out of the worst of the wind. Spent the evening wearing all my warm clothes, just wanted to be hot, dry and non-sandy for a little while. The good news is that it is only 13 km into Ahipara, so I’ll have a long day to do laundry and get caught up on correspondence.

Day 2

September 4th, 2015

Sep 2 day 2 Twilight beach campground to free camp 35 km 7:00- 3:30

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Day started out beautifully, clear sky, sun, not to hot. Up and over Scott’s point, then down onto 90 Mile beach (which is more like 85 km beach). Hiked almost entire day without seeing a sign of anyone. Sand was firm, kilometers ticked by. As the day wore on the wind picked up, fortunately at my back. As the tide came in, I had to skip around waves climbing the dunes, and just the sheer drudgery began to wear. Around 2:00 I got to a campground at Bluffs. Even though it was early, I was ready to stop, but the campground was a mess, all facilities closed, horses wandering the grounds, so I decided to hike another hour or so. Found a stream, went up a bit and pitched in the dunes. Of course sand was everywhere, made dinner, walked a bit on the beach, but just wanted to crawl into the tent and get out of the wind which by then was tossing the tent around like a toy. A storm blew in after 8:00 was really gusty. Tent pegs would not hold, so (after trying a few different scenarios including dropping the poles and sleeping on the tent), I ended up in the tent without poles, wrapped in the top, holding on to keep it from flapping and to keep out the rain when it came in. Got very little sleep. Here’s hoping tomorrow is better.

Day 1

September 4th, 2015

Sep 1. Day 1 Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach campground 12 Km 1:00-4:00

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Cape Reinga is the Springer Mountain of the TA. There is no public transport from Kaitaia up Highway 1 to the cape, the northernmost point in NZ, so I negotiated a trip with a tour group who were driving up the highway and back on the beach (which in NZ is part of the public right of way). Having taken the same tour with the family back in 2005, the sightseeing up was familiar including a stop at a Kauri wood emporium built around a large, upright trunk which has been carved into a spiral staircase; then a trip to a gumdigger museum site. It’s an odd feeling commencing a long-distance hike by riding a bus with tourists stopping at every sightseeing opportunity. Even though huge storms passed through last night and there is flooding in Auckland, the skies cleared out mid-morning giving me a warm sunny first day. Walked down to the lighthouse in bright light, turned and commenced the trek. The TA at first is well built, as that part is walked by day hikers. Down to the beach required rock scrambling (some difficult) then long walk on hard sand. The hills are grass covered sand dunes– this stretch is a long 10k wide sand bar stretching between the volcanic hill of Reinga, and the volcanic hills around Ahipara. When crossing a hill off the first beach over to Twilight beach, the trail is marked by posts painted orange at the top. After a while your eyes grow accustomed to finding them in the distance. I had hoped to make it to the beginning of 90 mile beach (about 16k) but on hitting the south of Twilight, I found a Department of Conservation campground with water, toilets, pavilion and wide grass space. Too tempting when compared to stealth camping in the dunes farther on, so I pitched my tent, spread out sweaty clothes to dry, and talked a long time to a young German named Teddy who is also hiking the TA. The sun goes down early here and rises late, making for short hiking days. Around 6:00, the temperature dropped, and it wasn’t long before I crawled into my sleeping bag for warmth and to sleep. Excellent first day, tomorrow need big miles.

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