Sep 28 day 28 stealth camp on Mangatawhiri track to Mercer 23 km 7:45-2:30
Slept well and long, but had a hard time getting cranked up for hike as the rain showers kept rolling through while I marveled at how well my tent kept me dry and comfortable. Also I was dreading the climb and the trail that would start the day. That part lived up to its billing, not much of a track at all, very slick with the new rain, and strewn with vines which catch my backpack and my toes. I knew I needed to make decent time to get water, but it was mud and root hiking, so I had to proceed cautiously. Had images of falling, breaking something, and not being found for weeks. Spent the a morning on ridges, lots of up and down, but as the day progressed, the trail got better, and I eventually found myself in a pasture with a stream running past. Got out the steripen and made up a couple of liters, then slogged through some pasture trails, following three milk cows who continued in front of me, dropping the occasional steamer, until I made it to the road– hungry, wet, and already tired. About 10 km on the road brought me to a dyke that looked like it belonged in the Netherlands. The land here has been dyked, ditched, and drained. The sun was shining, my stride had more spring, and I made my way across a flat, reclaimed area of farmland. Incidentally, the last two days are the first where I have seen deep plow farming. It had been grazing up until now. These fields are full of fall rapeseed. I got half-way across the dyke hike, smiling at the sun drying all the stuff on my back, when from nowhere along comes a hail storm, which ultimately got to pea-sized, then the lightening began to strike on either side, like an artillery detachment determining range, and there I was, the only elevated upright figure anywhere nearby. The thunder was accompanied by the honking clatter of swans– a pair of black ones in the river beside me who were unsettled by the crack and boom. One took flight, the muscular effort to raising that bulk so it was just skimming above the water, going up the narrow channel as if it were a landing strip.The weather settled it for me. I would make it a short day, stopping at the Mercer Motel and booking a hikers cabin (a wooden cubical). Later, when the sun came out, I spread out all my wet stuff to dry, and wandered over to the pub to get re-hydrated myself. There Sharon and her husband Podge made sure to introduce me to everyone who came in. In my quest to consume more calories, I had the pizza special– large thin crust with at least an inch of toppings– ham, pepperoni, peppers, more and more cheese. All I could do to finish it, washed down with bottles of Waikato Bitter, an appropriate choice since Mercer is located on the Waikato river.