Did I ever tell you about the time I put the bag with all my worldly belongings on a baggage carousel at Auckland airport, without any instruction of flight or destination? Funny story that one.
Yes yes, in my overexcited-ness-ness and having already checked in online, I strolled joyfully up to the baggage belt, handed the nice smiling man my backpack for the next 5 months, smiled back, watched it disappear off around the corner and ambled through to the gate. There I sat, feeling all rather calm and full
of smug. Then it happened. I looked up at the departures screen and had the ‘We’ve forgotten Kevin’ moment (apt considering that Kiwi Kev was actually in the pack). ‘How the F are they going to know which flight my bag is for?! Anna, you tw*t.’ Cue being de-boarded from the flight, a fitful hour in which I located Martin (badass baggage man), who found Vanessa (helpful airport lady), who went and found Colin (sourcerer of suitcases) – who found the bag (because he is a sourcerer, obvs.) Bag safely LABELLED and re-checked, Vanessa (you remember her) somehow managed to get me on a flight that allowed me to pick up my original Southbound connection at Christchurch. Winning on all fronts. And what a great start. Good job I have a solid 5 months for my blonde highlights to grow out. Muppet.
I had many fears leading into this trip, so you’ll be delighted to know that one of the greatest has already been dispelled: It is possible to sing whilst running. I know. Phew. If there were a wall on day 2 and you were a fly on said wall, you might have caught me trotting along a deserted (and rather windy) Oreti beach , belting out Paloma Faith at the top of my lungs. I always maintain that there’s something incredibly childlike and carefree about running, which is why I adore it so. That day epitomised it. Lungs burning, the crash of waves to my left, streaks of blonde and curls being tossed around playfully on the wind. I was 8 years old again. And by jove I was happy.
HARDCORE FORESTS (and other varieties)
With or without singing, the going here is tough. I’ll not sugarcoat that one, although there are a million and one ways I could. New Zealand does rugged rather well. If there were a World Championships for ruggedness and each country had to flex their sandy, dense forest, windswept trail-guns New Zealand would definitely have a shot at the medals podium.
I’ve only come a few hundred miles to this point, and already I’m blown away by the sheer variety of the scenery. Coastal scrubland changed to green pastures, to dense bush, to full blown swamp, to alpine forest, to alluvial plains, before a final stint through what can only be described as ‘hardcore forest’ – which spat me out on the edge of glacial lakes. Not too shabby for 11 days of running.
For the dainty toed damsel, swamp running poses the greatest challenge. Picture if you will, the ladders that rugby lads (or ladies) use to train their speedy footwork. Now jack those ladders up ten times over, spread several sideways across one another, sprinkle on some moss, slippery bark, the odd dead branch (that’ll snap if you dare to use it as a prop when you pass) and add in the bonus that each ‘sure footed’ step may land you knee deep in a sludge which threatens to hold your trainer hostage. This my friends, is swamp running. Contrary to expectation, and despite a few falls – it’s jolly good fun. The level of concentration required to not face plant/trip/tumble/body slam means you’re running on adrenaline most of the day. Only at night do you realise that you may have done some things to the muscle and skin of your legs, which they are less than happy about. And then you go to sleep so you don’t really have to deal with it anyway. Magic, see?
THE TRAIL AND ITS ANGELS
Every journey has its Angels. People who pop up in the most unexpected of places and shower you with kindness in all its forms. These Angels are the reasons that adventures extend so far beyond just you. Yes I’m the one running, but the adventure – well that includes every one, from Vanessa at the airport to the man I met in the bush who took me home to his family (details to follow). This first week has come with Trail Angels a-plenty, and what I’ve learnt about the Angels of Southland is:
- They know a things or two about cows
- They all know one another
- They roll their ‘R’s (it’s thirrrrrrrteeeen, not thiiiteeennn)
- They are all so lovely it makes my heart hurt
The angel web of Southland really is too complex for words, and a wordsmith (that’s me) knows when she’s beaten. So here’s a diagram and some pictures of them instead. I’ll give you a minute.
Marvellous, isn’t it?
COUNTRY SONGS IN THE BACKCOUNTRY
Before I slip my now dry mud encrusted trainers back on and scamper off into another sunrise, I wanted to share the most memorable night on the Te Araroa trail so far. After ‘Torrential-Takitimu’ (the day which involved going up a mountain in some rather heavy precipitation – see Facebook video) I made it to the Lower Wairaki hut- historically a spot for deerhunters to rest their weary heads post bambi-shooting. There I met two other trampers. Clinton – a local Kiwi on a few days break, and Ron Sherk aka ‘The Nomad’. 65 years old, Canadian and just about as laid back they come, Ron sold his house in 2013 and now travels the globe purposefully, and under human power. “What else am I supposed to do with the rest of my life..?” he asked. “Sit around, cutting the grass at home, waitin’ to die? No thanks. I’d rather be on a trail or a river instead. So here I am.” Ron. What a lad.
Introductions made, we lit the fire, dried out out our kit and cooked up some Spaghetti. Ron then got out his guitar (yes he hikes with a guitar in his pack. Again, lad.). There we sat, three weary souls from three different countries, travelling at different speeds, at different points in our journeys and for different reasons. Age, direction or destination appeared to make no difference however, when it came to knowing the words to The Folsom prison blues. And so we sang along to country tunes by the fireside. No phone signal. My damp hair infused with smoke. Legs aching and stinging, cut and bruised from the days slog. For those few hours there was no world beyond the hut. It was pure and simple bliss.
QUEENSTOWN AND ON
I write this from a garden on the peninsula of Kelvin Heights, looking out across the sparkling waters of Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown. 259 miles down, I’m very much enjoying a few days of much needed R&R before heading up and over the mountains again to the North-East. I’m smack bang in the middle of the gold rush country of old, so prepare yourself for a wee lesson next week. I feel my history vibe coming on strong.
This week’s pictures are now up on Flickr here.
And if my mountain bashing’ is stirring up some warm n’ fuzzy feelings, don’t let them go to waste – you can help me get some kiddies outdoors here.
Until next time my running renegades, big high five n’ out.