Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Day 46

October 16th, 2015

Oct 16 day 46 National Park 0 km.

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Another zero at National Park, waiting for Cory to get his stuff organized. We should be on the river tomorrow. To get all that square, we have to skip the hike into Whakaporo Landing, which was mostly just a long road walk anyway. A little disappointed to be missing a part of the trail, but river/canoe logistics are complicated and this seems the best solution. It also gave me another day to wander from coffee to coffee trying to get some more writing done. I’m sure I needed the rest, but I am anxious to get back to hiking. Reminds me of Paula Constant’s books where she keeps getting anxious when she is not walking, thinking she will lose momentum. It does feel as though I need to get back in my tent far away from wifi and restaurants, which is all I feel like I’ve been doing the last few days.

Day 45

October 16th, 2015

Oct 15 day 45. National Park 0 km.

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Turns out I need to take a couple of unanticipated zero days to work out the river transportation. A large segment of the trail is impassable because of a collapsed bridge, so the best (only) strategy is to put in the water at Wades Landing and canoe all the way to Whanganui (about 160 km after a 50 km hike). I’ve been working with Gavin at Yeti tours, who is incredibly helpful and he connected me with Cory from Canada, a thruhiker I have been trailing for weeks. He arrived at National Park today, wants to zero tomorrow, so I’ll wait and hike out with him to Whakahoro where we meet up with Gavin and the canoes. Today was a good break for me– went to the Park Inn for breakfast, the Macrocarpa Cafe for coffee, and the train station for lunch. In that time, I polished up my opening chapter to the Pennine Way book, and sent it off to Granta. Here’s hoping they like it. This afternoon Cory came in, we got acquainted– interesting guy. The hostel is crowded with adventurers, people on gap years seeing the world, retired people on gap years seeing the world. There is a wonderful hum and buzz in the kitchen area while each prepare meals and talk about their day, plotting out the next. Such anticipation. Also met back up with Sophie and Pierre who just finished the Tongiriro Crossing, so it is old home week for the Te Araroa thruhikers. Just need Teddy, who is still back in Auckland. Spent late evening in Schnapps Bar with a German man who is working in Australia, a German woman mathematician, and a Portuguese engineer. All are touring around for a few months. Zero days can be strange–not just the lack of a backpack on my back, but also that weird insouciance that comes with skipping work. Long distance hiking becomes a job– not in the boring quotidian ways some jobs can become, rather the walking is what defines being, so not walking, or strolling in Tevas between places that have food and coffee seems the ultimate indulgence. Those who save their money to go to spas etc. miss out on real luxury. Breakfast seated in a chair with a back is more delicious than all the luxuries such places offer.

Day 44

October 16th, 2015

Oct 14 day 44 Whakapapa Campground to National Park 20 km 9:00-2:00

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Today was all about the trail. It was also about my usually wrong preconceptions. Here in the middle of the national park– Tongiriro/Ruapehu– are a large number of trails catering to an equally large number of tourists. I started this morning from Wakapapa Village on a trail that led to a hut and also to a campground not far from the other village serving the National Park– felicitously called the National Park Village. It was only a 20 km hike and I left (late as I had big breakfast) because I assumed (!) it would be like walking a sidewalk. Most of the trails around Tongiriro are graveled, 5 ft wide, with nary a root or mud hole. I left the village on such a trail, in a damp misty almost rain, winding through young forest with regularly spaced informative signs for the nature hikers. It was a bit cool, so I hiked with some pace and was rewarded in a short while with some beautiful walking across alpine bogs. The Pennine Way taught me to appreciate bog hiking, particularly on well-designed well-drained paths. The trail then led into beautiful scenes of Ruapehu (were it not for low lying clouds), including long stretches on boardwalks to reduce impact on fragile flora. Then came the moment when the trail split, one fork leading to Whakapapaiti Hut and the other to Mangahuia Camp. Although, like Robert Frost, both seemed equally inviting, clearly the direction to follow was the hut and not the camp (the latter went on to the National Park village, my destination). Immediately on turning, I found myself not on the bog but in it. Not since leaving Tan Hill on Pennine Way have I found myself is such a bog– no way to tell whether a step was on a tussock or ankle-deep in water or mud. Those conditions prevailed for the next 5 km. I have crossed streams before, but usually not lengthwise. The trail followed yesterday’s rain down the landscape, and I slipped and slid behind it. Eventually I came out at the road, and a short hour on brought me to the village, dry socks, a bed, and some hot food. Spent the rest of the afternoon trying to work out the logistics of traveling down the river to Wanganui

Day 43

October 14th, 2015

Oct 13 day 43 Tongiriro Holiday Campground to Whakapapa Campground 35 km (track official, not what happened) 7:15-2:00

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A day started in uncertainty. The Tongiriro Crossing involves some serious altitude, including the edge of the Red Crater at over 1800 meters. There is still snow up there. A lot of it. All advice is not to attempt in bad weather, and my morning started out cold (down at low elevation) and wet, though there were glimpses of sun, and the cloud cover did not look significantly different from a typical New Zealand morning, so off I set. My plan was to get up to the Ketatahi Hut which was about 18 km from the campground and a little over six from the car park. I figured to get there mid morning and would then have a sense of how the weather would play out. If it stayed bad, I’d sleep in hut and wait for morning. The hike went well, long road walk followed by well-designed and maintained paths. As I emerged from the bush and started hiking the alpine tundra the temperature started to drop as I expected, and the wind picked up. I could smell the sulfur from the hot springs nearby. Still, I was well dressed in wind/rain gear, ready for what I thought would come. The trail has been rerouted a bit since I last hiked this track (I’ve already done this stretch twice before, but in summer weather), so I was not sure how close the hut was. The rain intensified and the wind soon got to gale force. It at times actually pushed me off the trail. The last kilometer or two were otherworldly– horizontal rain, freight train wind, and no clear end in sight. Then it appeared (not a moment too soon). The first thing I saw when I got to the door was the hut’s redesignation as a temporary shelter, not an overnight site any longer (because of a recent eruption– after all, this is a volcano hike). I went inside, stripped off wet clothes, and with shivering hands made an early lunch. As I did not get appreciably warmer–the wind by now was bashing the sides of the cabin– I spread out my sleeping bag on the table and crawled in which soon got my body temperature to a better range. Soon the door opened and a French couple came in, also shivering in the cold. They just wanted to see the first blue lake which is a couple kilometers further. Eventually the man did go up, but his smarter partner stayed behind in shelter. Then some Department of Conservation people showed up to work on the hut, surprised to find anyone there in this weather and relieved that we had decided to return down the way we had come. I packed up, headed back into the maelstrom, and could feel the temperature creep up as the altitude decreased. In little over an hour, I was off the mountain and in the carpark (for a day’s actual hiking total of about 24 km), where I met Toby and Gabe, two English tourists who were considering the climb. They changed their mind on hearing my story. As a bonus, they offered to drive me around to Whakapapa Village, my destination anyway, so inclement weather kept me from summiting but, after a great deal of effort, I did end up where I was supposed to be. The rain continued hard all the rest of the day, very glad not to be up on the mountain. After doing laundry at the camp (more to get it all dry than clean) I went to treat myself to dinner at the Tongiriro Chateau, a grand place we usually visit for refreshments on the Georgia Tech Taupo trip, so it was familiar ground. They have a large, old fashioned lounge for high tea, and it was filled with a mass of seniors who were on a north island train tour. All kiwis, voluble, funny, delightful. The kind of people who give aging a good name. This morning, while I was hiking back down the mountain, I thought about Thoreau in The Maine Woods where he climbed Katahdin, though, as most claim, he did not achieve the summit. His description of the mountain is some of his best writing, but I was thinking about how to him Katahdin was a cloud machine, making its own weather world. He did not end up posing at the top for pictures the way Appalachian Trail thruhikers do today, but he experienced the mountain in a number of its weather cycles and in its fury. His was a successful climb, as was mine.

Day 42

October 14th, 2015

Oct 12 day 42 stealth camp to Tongiriro Holiday Campground 28 km (actually at least 35). 8:00-5:00

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What was supposed to have been a walk in the park didn’t quite work out that way. The main path on the 42 Traverse is clear and easy to follow. At some point, the TA veers off to the left– a turn I completely missed, so I found myself much further south than expected or planned. Fortunately I had a GPS app with the local terrain, and could plot my way down a series of trails to get to highway 47– the gateway road to Tongiriro. At first all went well, but each well-made path I chose would after a while become much less well-made and often damn hard to follow. I kept having to readjust, try different paths, and finally made it to a forestry road which, after some more bushwhacking, put me out on 47 about 5 km from the campground. Had hoped for an easy day because tomorrow is up and over Tongiriro in the rain and wind according to the weather service. Will have to stay flexible and just might find myself right back here tomorrow night. The day’s adventures coupled with the hunters last night got me thinking about how we perceive spatial relations in the bush, how different people occupy the same terrain. Guess that might need to be another pointless essay.

Day 41

October 14th, 2015

Oct 11 day 41 Taumaranui to stealth camp on 42 Traverse 34 km 9:00-4:30

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My first equipment failure and it wasn’t my shoes (they keep holding on). The bottom valve of my camelback failed which of course meant a liter or more of water in the bottom of my pack. Made me glad I double bag lots of my stuff, but did have to spend morning with a wet ass. Took my time leaving Taumaranui as I had 20 km highway walk which I was dreading. Also, since it is a long time before resupply, I am as packed with as much food as will fit. I wanted to get a big breakfast which I did at the Bakery Cafe. Not as cool as Anna’s but it was open and had wifi. The morning walk was uneventful, and around 1:00 I got to a little town called Owhango. Just a couple of streets, but a really nice organic/local cafe, so I stopped and also had a big lunch, so I just had ramen for supper. It was one of those places that just made you smile. I seriously thought about adjusting my itinerary and camping nearby, but it was still early, the weather was good and I was finally going to get off the road, so I pushed on. Had really great afternoon jaunt up and down hills and over streams on the 42 Traverse jeep road. Later in afternoon, I found a spot just off the trail on a bed of moss, set tent, cooked, ate, got organized and crawled in. Later I heard a rifle shot and a bit later another one close by. Half hour later came a loud rustling up through the bush and soon emerged the hunter who was looking for his partner to help with the deer he had killed. We talked a bit, his hands were red with blood. Later, he walked back through with a big dog and his friend who he apparently was able to convince to carry the deer– a fine day for all but the deer.

Wonderlust

October 10th, 2015

Wonderlust

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The great philosopher Van Morrison once asked, “Didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder?” Besides listening to his music music, there are many ways to wonder. Wandering the Te Araroa prompts a questioning of the many senses of the term, as the relation between a single alphabetical differential–wander/wonder–brings out. Although they are, I think, etymologically distinct, the two words share one important valence–comfortable uncertainty. Wandering is purposive but not directed, and wondering is encounter with circuitous speculation.

People often associate wonder with childhood. To be young and in the big outdoors is to be filled with wonder. In the last chapter of Landmarks, a book on disappearing place-names, Robert MacFarlane describes the activities of children exploring their version of the Hundred Acre Wood. He examines the language they invent to mark out their daily wonders. One child became obsessed with watercourses, speculating that much of it disappeared by flowing beneath the ground, a phenomenon he called “secret water.” Since reading that chapter, I’ve have found myself in many boggy places on the Te Araroa hearing a deep gurgle and saying (usually out loud, as I have no social censor in the bush) secret water! The resonance of this particular wonder-word is its fluidity. The boy’s phrase grants access to a concept without limiting its possibilities.

The most frequent moments of wonder I have in my wandering are the landscapes in morning or evening light which are often wild yet still domestic. Pastoral in the most literal sense as the hills are covered with sheep, but rough and rugged in their jagged steepness. Then there are the old forests. Walking the trail requires focus on the surface–a root can break an ankle and end the trek–along with rapid scanning for orange triangle blazes as the woodland path is easy to lose. Breaking this concentration is the sudden recognition of what has probably been present for many a step: trees in fantastical twisted shapes, covered with moss, itself covered by layers of other moss until all is an intense green surge. Or perhaps a single tree of such girth as to have come from an illustrated children’s book. The Totara seems straight from the imagination of the author of Swiss Family Robinson. Another is the pissing wonder. Camping far from light-polluted urban areas inevitably includes that moment in the middle of the night when you crawl out of the tent to urinate. You rub the sleep from your eyes speculating about the creatures that might be lurking in the dark, and then, almost inadvertently, you look up and see the sweep of stars. Here in the Southern Hemisphere the only familiar form is Orion, but no matter. It is not constellations you see, but instead innumerable points of pure light set in the darkest dark.

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To wonder is to be in a state of arrest, pausing to process. As a noun it denotes something unusual, even cosmic as in the biblical “signs taken for wonders.” As a verb it means to ponder in a non-linear or wandering fashion. Wonderful is a word that has perhaps lost its power of wonder, reduced now to describing something “good” or “beautiful.” But wonder brings something much different. It is not ethical (good) nor aesthetic (beautiful); it is epistemological. The sense of wonder is a way of knowing, speculation without rigor, a joyful non-cognitive understanding. In that sense, wonder is pre-Kantian. It resists categorical reduction. “Secret water” opens up the wonderer to a form of speculative understanding that is not just hydrology. I remember a class on the literature of walking where one day we talked about trail lore, the natural history that springs up amongst those walking the big outdoors. One student with open computer and turbo-charged browser fact checked each story, effectively ending the discussion with specific determinations of accuracy. A bright and engaging person, but someone who lives in a world without wonder, what Weber called the disenchanted world. I’m not saying that there is not a place for fact-checking, particularly in contemporary politics. Rather, I’m suggesting that there are other forms of knowledge that do not depend on categorical determination. Instead they are tentative probings into a world that continues to amaze.

There is a kinship between this sense of wonder and what Keats called “negative capability,” which is to be “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” With this concept, Keats describes a way of living. Wonder, while it can be that, is more often a moment of fairly short duration prompted by an event. The experience of awe is also one of arrest, of being overwhelmed (even to the point of nausea, e.g., Thomas Jefferson peering over the edge of Natural Bridge), but, as an aesthetic phenomenon, it is experienced all as that moment. With wonder, the perceiver is further prompted toward speculation–wondering–a series of somewhat random intellectual wanderings toward an engagement with or understanding of that moment.

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We can feel wonderlust, but perhaps just as often we experience wonderguilt. I find myself walking rapidly through forests or over mountains without pausing. Occasionally I upbraid myself for gliding past what I think I should be feeling deeply and examining closely, but that also highlights the temporality of wonder. It is, as I have been saying, a moment of arrest which is followed by speculation supported by non-reductive observation. It is a turning loose of the mind to speculation that knows no bounds apart from the material circumstances of wonder itself, and that process is exhausting. It’s much easier to google than it is to wonder.

Early on as a parent, I thought hard about what sort of traits to foster or celebrate. There are the standards– honesty, rectitude, respect– but wonder exceeds them all, which raises the question, can you cultivate wonder? It seems to be something we are born with and lose, but my wager is that it is less about maturing than it is a hardening of the categories. The material world is much easier to process when there is a precise term available for all the parts, an articulation that enables you to stop thinking about how all those parts fit, or indeed, what constitutes a part. Speculation without strict categories is hard work, so it is no wonder that we embrace simple answers–facts and reason. But ultimately to really live in the world, you must bring to it a sense of wonder.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

Day 40

October 10th, 2015

Oct 10 day 40 Taumaranui Zero Day

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I had hoped to get new shoes today, but the outfitter only sells heavy hunting boots. The shoe store had the perfect shoe, but not even close to my size. Looks as if I’m going to have to get another 200 km out of my torn up North Faces. Apart from the original parting, they have showed no further deterioration, so here’s hoping they last to Whanganui. I on the other hand have been showing further deterioration and opted for a rest day before diving into the many miles through the national park (which will include the Tongiriro Crossing, eventually followed by a boat from the Bridge to Nowhere I hope all the way to Whanganui). Slept in, watched some stupid television, found myself laughing out loud at some inanity, then morning in coffee shop trying to write, afternoon re-supplying and planning the next bit the trek.┬áHad an unusual dinner. Down the street from my motel was a place called RSA “Returned and Services Association.” Similar to the VFW in the US, the RSA is one of the oldest veterans associations in the world, founded by soldiers returning from Gallipoli. It is a club, but they let me sign in as a guest and I had a good meal in interesting surroundings–large families with multiple generations eating together. It was an odd, but pleasant way to spend the evening.

Day 39

October 10th, 2015

Oct 9 day 39 Waihaha hut to Taumaranui 40 km hiking, 10 km ride 8:15-6:15

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A ridiculous day. Started out slow as Jan, the Czech thruhiker in the shelter was sleeping in. I tried to be quiet (hard to do when you are opening and closing all those small bags, etc.). Still, got off at 8:15 with unclear goals. Was pretty sure I was not going to stop at the next hut and was thinking of camping at the road end. The forest was once again amazing, as was the trail along the side of the Waihaha River. Even though there was a lot of up and down, I made good time, passed the first hut just after noon and found myself at the road end just after 2:00. Cockiness got the best of me, and I decided to take a shot on making it to town before dark. Headed off down the road making good time through some pretty farmland. Got to a 40 km day with 9 more to go when a farm worker who had just finished his milking shift offered me a ride for the last bit. My head said don’t “yellow blaze” (an Appalachian Trail term meaning riding instead of hiking) but my legs said take the ride. Taumaranui is a decent sized town where I can do some good resupply and I hope get some new shoes. Found a cheap motel and some Thai food, and early to bed with very tired body.

Day 38

October 10th, 2015

Oct 8 day 38 Ngaherenga campsite to Waihaha hut 34 km 7:15-5:15

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Whew, what a day that was. Started out of the camp fairly early in a cold misty rain, followed the Forest Trail bicycle path for most of the morning. You can see where a lot of trail building money went, that path is amazing: graveled, well drained, bridges. Made for a good morning, but soon enough the TA veered off and much of the rest of the day was ridge hiking. There were supposed to be many points to see Lake Taupo and Mt. Ruapehu, but in the rain I couldn’t see a km in front of me. What I could see were amazing trees, as the trail wound through old growth forest, with lots of Totara trees which are overwhelming, just the place one would expect to meet a Totoro. Was feeling good and hiking well so decided to try for the Waihaha hut. Glad I’m here now, but probably should have stopped and tented earlier. In the last four km I had to ford a stream and do a couple vertical ups and downs, both slippery and steep. Finally caught up with Jan, another thruhiker I’ve seen in some lodging logs. Tomorrow I should cross the 1000 km mark– one third through.

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