I was looking through an old travelling journal this evening, hoping to find something on the Tongariro Crossing that Claire will undertake today.
Unfortunately I appear to have lost my journal from the North Island. However, I did find my South Island diary, and found it interesting to read bits of it for pretty much the first time in a decade.
I always assumed it would be dull or full of angst (as most of my diaries are), particularly as I was suffering the side effects of coming off antidepressants when I travelled round NZ, leading to panic attacks and low periods.
I did some crazy things, though, and generally I have fond memories of the three months I spent travelling. If I had come straight home, rather than screwing up my head living with a Kiwi for nine months, I might have been saner and richer. But such is the twenty-twenty power of hindsight. And actually I don’t much regret that either. It all adds to life’s tapestry.
Anyway, this was the excerpt I found at random, written just after undertaking the Inland Pack Track on the West Coast. (I write it verbatim, including punctuation!)
27th March 2002
“Have taken to checking my phone for the date – I at least know it is Wednesday – 2 weeks since I arrived in the South Island and maybe 8 or 9 since arriving in NZ. I don’t know why that’s important – time has really ceased to have much meaning – especially out in the ‘sticks’ without internet & phone!
“Well, I completed my first overnight hike, footsore but triumphant. Actually if I had read a little more about the track itself I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. But 40km in 2 days with a full pack, on a track I would grade medium, has proved to me that I can do it. I was going to write about the track now, but I want to do it justice so I guess it will probably wait until tomorrow, as I am heading off to an ‘all you can eat’ $3 bbq – and as I am going with a human being of the opposite sex, have inexplicably (or perhaps not) decided to ‘make a bit of an effort’ – despite said male seeing me sleeping in an orange survival bag, wearing a wooly hat and no shoes! Weird.”
I hope I can dig out the other journal. I find it hard reading too much of my naval-gazing words, but it is fascinating to pop in from time to time and visit the me from eleven years ago. I haven’t changed much!
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire stretched out her stride and quickly left behind the others from her group. The early morning air that stung her face was welcome, after a pre-6 a.m. start and an hour and more on the bus with other sleepy hikers.
The bus driver had cautioned them about the mountain weather, especially in the autumn, and Claire reluctantly had her full pack, albeit without most of its usual contents.
If I’m going to do any more hiking here I might have to get a day sack.
The weather gods had decided to be kind; holding off the predicted snowfall. Claire gazed up at the empty blue sky and prayed the snow would stay away for at least another day. Getting stuck up on the mountain was not a welcome prospect, hut or no hut.
The forecast for the whole week was indifferent and Claire had faced the prospect of missing the ‘Greatest one-day hike’ in New Zealand or staying in Taupo an extra day or two, time she could ill afford.
Getting back on the bus with Neal today was not an option. Thank you, weather gods, for giving me the perfect excuse.
Chaffing at the slow pace of the hikers in front of her, who had come clad only in shorts and t-shirts and wearing trainers, Claire wondered whether to push past or stop to take pictures. According to the guide sheet, the hike should take at least six hours, and she didn’t want to be running for the bus.
Her dilemma resolved itself as the slow walkers stopped to take their own snaps. Claire wondered if she would see them at the finish.
They’re more likely to end up in hospital if that’s all the clothing they’ve got.
Claire resisted the urge to lecture them in mountain savvy: after all, she was still a novice and had made her own mistakes. Instead she pushed on, keen to stretch her calf muscles in a decent climb. It had been too long.
Half way up the Devil’s Stair, Claire regretted her impetuosity. More of a scramble than a hike, the path up the cliff face was beyond steep, and littered with rock. Sweat dripped off her forehead, trickled down her back, pooled in her bra. Every muscle in her legs burned in agony as she forced herself to keep moving, however slowly. Stopping would only increase the pain.
At last, exhausted but triumphant, she reached the top of the evil climb and paused to admire the view. The desolate plains stretched out beneath her and it was easy to see why it had been the perfect place to film Tolkien’s masterpiece.
Mount Ngauruhoe loomed behind her, looking every inch the mountain of doom from the movie. A chirpy green sign invited her to climb to the summit but it took less than a second to decline the offer.
I might miss the bus, she thought with a smile. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
During the climb it had seemed that Devil’s Stair might be the worst of the ascent. It wasn’t. Claire groaned silently as she followed the path with her eyes, as it rose higher and higher. It was one thing knowing it was a high-altitude alpine route and another to see it stretched out before her.
With nothing to detain her, Claire pushed on, enjoying the solitude amidst the groups of people strung out in front and behind. It was comforting to see them. Despite the white markers and poles, she felt it would be easy to get lost.
After what felt like hours Claire reached the red crater. It was hard to absorb the sheer scale of the volcanic gash in the mountainside, full of rubble and undulating rock formations. Snapping a few pictures to appreciate later, over a strong coffee or a gin and tonic, Claire pushed onwards, wanting to crest the worst of the climb before lunch.
With a last push, Claire hauled herself out of the red crater and then reeled at the wall of stink. Beneath her, the emerald lakes twinkled prettily in the midday sun. The stench from their sulphurous content tingled in her nostrils and seared her throat. Panting heavily from the climb, Claire was forced to cover her face and take shallow breaths. She dropped back down into the crater and pulled out the picnic provided by the hostel.
It should have been lonely, sat alone in the land of Mordor as giggling groups walked by. Claire looked out over the endless panoramic view and felt her soul take flight. After all the nonsense with Neal, and the turmoil at home, there was a freedom to being somewhere no one could find her.
Replenished, Claire took a deep breath and tackled the descent past the lakes. She stared at her feet as she walked; partly to ensure a safe footing on the loose shingle and partly to avoid focussing on the steep drop beneath her. The descent was worse than the ascent. One false step and she would land at the bottom in a jumble of broken bones.
Gradually the scenery became softer and more welcoming, as green vegetation replaced the relentless red and grey rock. Entering the humid forest, Claire marvelled at the extremes of terrain covered in such a short time. The forest deadened the sound of the thousands of other hikers, allowing her a sense of seclusion. Despite the aching limbs, Claire felt energised.
You can keep your zorbing, bungy jumping and swooping. Give me a day pitting myself against nature and every cell comes alive.
The walk out to the car park was too long. Around her, smiles diminished and laughter disappeared. Weary walkers trudged the last few kilometres to their bus, longing for a hot bath or at least somewhere to sit. Claire barely noticed the lake or the hills framed by the setting sun. Dark clouds gathered behind her, promising the bad weather. At last the bus came in sight. Claire felt she might kiss it, but settled instead for a small cheer.