What follows is a mere unstructured sample of events from the last couple of months…
White-hot shards of high-carbon steel fly past my hands and face. They’re tiny and shower out in a pretty plume, but occasionally they’ll drop onto my bare feet, down my top or onto my head. Irritating, but part of the creative process. My hands are protected by thick, miss-matched gloves while they move back and forth, carefully grinding the metal into shape. If I work too long on a particular section then it becomes too hot to handle. I dip it into the water bucket, withdrawing it to watch the steam escape and mingle into the smoky air. Holding it up, I close an eye and peer down its length. Main curve – fine, tip – pointed, back edge – straight. But hang on… I flip it and look again from another angle. The edge reveals a slight bump, so I flip it back and press it onto the speeding belt.
The Far North has been good to me. Breaking my foot was a nuisance, and has put my trip back a couple of months. During that time people have asked if I’m going to continue with the walk. A sure way of making me even more determined. When I realised that I was facing at least 6 weeks of recovery, I decided to make the most of that “down-time”. It was good to be able to slow down, calm the pace a little. I was too eager and confident before the trip and maybe a little naïve and stubborn. 30kg was way too much to carry – nearly half my own body weight! The professionals had told me to “keep it below 15kg”.
I ignored the advice and set out overloaded. The result was a stress fracture of the 4th metatarsal on my left foot. 3-4 weeks of painful limping, sitting around, helping the family, playing with the dogs –
“Where’s the rat?”
Pippy’s head twitches back and forth, her body trembles. Instinct takes over as she launches into the bushes. I’m on a mission. There’s something out here and I’m going to find it!
Tilly comes charging in and slams into the smaller mutt, knocking her clean off her feet and onto her back. Teeth flash and bestial sounds tumble out of their throats. Pippy latches onto Tilly’s cheek, but quickly gets thrown off. Paws are raised in defence, but get swiped aside by the larger dog. Snap, snap, snap – quick bites are exchanged.
Pippy sprints off, little legs pumping beneath, chain jingling. Long limbs and powerful strides quickly catch up. A nimble change of direction has Tilly sprawling onto her side. The chase is on.
Sometimes sitting still is the best way to soak up your surroundings and to feel the pulse of a place. I can’t whizz around on a 6 month trip and only spend the maximum of 1 week in any one location. If you like a place, then hang around and enjoy it.
Piano notes flow from Pepita’s fingers, filling the cavernous home. Wind gusts down the valley, swaying the fruit trees and blowing the curtains through the doors. Rain is hoped for. The water tanks are low, while pumping from the river is a hassle and requires fuel. The garlic crop is in its final stages and needs a drink. The ducks make their daily tramp of the hill to quack for food. I’d go for a ninja-gardening session (slaying banana trees with a katana), but regret it the next day when the foot grumbled.
Long Flat Bottom is a hard place to become bored – even if you happen to be the type disposed towards boredom. A high turnover of interesting characters pass through the place, whether they be trampers, wwoofers or colourful locals. Dinner is always a lively event.
“Free-Bird” was a pleasure to have at Long Flat Bottom. Ultra-Light-Weight Tramper is what he was. 6kg is all he carried. He’d fly across the hills and soar the beach, charming the locals along the way. A natural story-teller, he entertained us with wild and incredible tales of his past. An ex-pro-windsurfer from Hawaii, he’s happily retired and keeping busy walking the trails of the world.
We had fun with the girls and the dogs in the swollen, rushing river that marks one boundary of the land. Rain draining from the hills had filled it almost to bursting point. A beige torrent to be played with. We found a sheltered, passive section to bathe in and tempted the current to take us. It ended up taking Tilly. At 9 months old she has the big, thick head of a Boxer-Staffie and not much of a developed brain. Strong swimmer, but not a good listener or thinker.
The flow would catch her, pulling rapidly down river. We’d have to dive into pursuit, grab her collar, and then yank the paddling mutt back to the bank. Over and over again.
The morning had been oppressingly hot. There was nothing to do but hold up a piece of cardboard with “AUCKLAND – will pay for gas!” scrawled across it. The effort of that itself was hard enough. I felt like a piece of dried fruit.
So when the two Argentinian girls offered to take us as far Tauranga, we jumped at the offer and bundled into the back. Daniel switched the charm on as I switched off, relieved to be on the move. 1st January is not a good day to be stranded.
Relief turned to despair as we ground to halt behind a long row of vehicles. The guy having a fag by his car was not a good sign. Nor was the police car blocking the road. Then the bonnet started to smoke.
As I helped Daniel push our ride off the road, a fluorescent figure of authority kindly informed us that bad weather had washed out a bridge to the north. Being New Zealand, that translated into a detour that’d add a few hours onto the journey. Our driver had lost her phone and had no way of contacting her boss whose car she’d borrowed.
Another two hours were lost getting the radiator fiddled with back in Gisborne. The sun got bored and buggered off behind some clouds. Ominous – I like that word…
As we headed inland and into the pine clad hills rain began to lash down onto our pod of Argentinian ska. Doubts about the skill of driver turned to conviction. The road would have been ideal for a motorcyclist on a sunny day, for our depleted driver it was far from. Even Daniel’s conversation trickled off into worried silence.
She held the steering wheel at awkwardly, jerking us from side to side, veering dangerously across the single-lane highway. She’d accelerate before corners and jab the brakes when going straight. Glowing yellow road signs added confusion.
The concept of fog lights was new to her – flicking them off for oncoming drivers had to be taught by Daniel and I. We took many breaks. I welcomed them as oasis of relaxation among the swamp of anxiety.
Hours later the orange glow of Taupo welcomed us. Our gas stop didn’t go too badly until we pulled out onto the wrong side of the road – in sight of two cop cars. LEFT, LEFT, LEFT we screamed.
Hazard lights blinked for our last leg onto Rotorua. Somehow we made it into a hostel that night.
It was relieving to embark on a little trip over the festive period. Not that I was not enjoying my stay at Long Flat Bottom in any way, but being injured had bought on a creeping sense of restlessness. It was also good to test the foot out walking around cities and jumping around in the mud at a festival. A lot had happened in the last few weeks and I needed to get away to think about some big decisions. The change of environment helped and I returned with a fresh dose of motivation. Life had become very busy and interesting. Big plans were set in motion.
But regardless of the new path open before me, the Te Araroa trail is awaiting my resumption. The journey must go on…