Step by Step
Today is my big hiking day. I’ve never hiked for seven hours before, the longest I’ve walked is somewhere under two hours. I don’t know why it feels important to do, but I figure how bad can it be? It’s not like I’m swimming seven hours, that would concern me. I can stop and rest if I get tired, I have plenty of water and a sandwich. I’m golden.
The water taxi is pretty cool. It’s a motorboat that seats about 16 people. It’s on a boat trailer which is attached to a big tractor. We all board the boat in the parking lot, then the tractor chugs us down the street to the boat ramp and puts us in the water, and we’re off. Once again, I am the only single, there are couples and families and me. The taxi captain takes us first to Anchorage Bay, drops people off, then takes the rest of us to Bark Bay, about a 30 minute trip altogether. Some people are hiking north, some are staying in a hut overnight so we all go our own way.
I immediately start off and am on the track by myself. There is no way to get lost, there’s just the one track to follow and it’s well marked with distances and names of the bays below. The track winds through the bush, that’s what they call woods. It’s called a forest if the trees are planted to be later cut down for timber. There are spur trails that go straight down to each bay or sometimes to a viewpoint. For the first two hours, I took every side trail. But these trails are very steep and I have to come back up them. My quads are on fire, my breath is short, I’m red faced and sweating after each jaunt. Now I pass a sign that says Coquille Beach 100m and I think, “Eh, I’ll see it tomorrow from the kayak.”
As I tramp along, I can hear birds above, the sound of the waves, and water trickling everywhere down the sides of the mountains. There are hundreds of streams and little waterfalls, but it’s so dark in the bush that I can’t get any good pictures. The sound of water running through a rocky stream is one of my favorite sounds, along with the wind whispering through trees, making the leaves rustle. The birds I hear are either Tui’s or Bellbirds. They have a distinct whistle, very clear and more alto than soprano, like Bing Crosby. They sing no nonsense tunes, not the silly trilling of little warblers, but concise little notes, to the point. I can see them flitting about but it’s impossible to catch them with the camera.
Anchorage Bay is supposed to be my halfway point and I was going to stop and rest there and eat my sandwich but when I finally do arrive, the sign says I have four more hours to Marahau and my car. I am not quite in tears but I have been walking like a zombie for the last hour. I feel slightly out of body, like I’m just not firmly attached to it somehow, and I’m worried about walking the last hour in the dark. Everything from my bellybutton down is hurting, including each individual toe. I have the option at this point, of either going down to the bay and begging the water taxi guy to fit me in the boat and I will pay him to take me back, or, taking a shortcut across a spit of sand that is marked so I won’t get lost. This shortcut will lop one hour off my time. So naturally, being the goal oriented, stubborn person that I am, I stay on the land track and keep on going, not willing to miss one thing. I eat my sandwich as I walk.
Also as I walk, I try to analyze myself and figure out what it is that makes me push myself and whether or not this is a good trait to have. Michael used to call it Mullen time because my Dad was the same way. If we got an idea, we would pursue it until we achieved it and if we needed help on any part, we asked. The trouble comes in when the person you’re asking is not on Mullen time. Michael was on Michael time and did not appreciate Mullen time. Michael time was a pretty cool alternative though, because it forced me to rest and to think things through. He could be a slow mover, (he called it patient…whatever) but he liked time to research and think on things and the end result was just as good if not better than what I was going for. I do tend to go, go, go until I make myself sick so I’m trying to balance that. But not today in the Abel Tasman apparently.
I have only seen a few people on the trail, mostly coming from the other direction. Suddenly, I hear a rustle behind me and a man RUNS past me. What-the-Hell?? He is about 6 ft tall, skinny, with long stringy muscles on top of long stringy muscles, wearing a daypack. And he just breezes by, running uphill, saying to me as he passes by, “Cheerio” (that’s a version of Cheers which is like Hawaii’s Aloha, meaning Hi or Goodbye. Kiwi’s say Cheers to everything, it’s an all purpose word). I wanted to slap him.
So then I started thinking about my violent nature. I had seven hours of time to think about nothing but my faults, my life, what I wanted. There was nothing to distract me, I couldn’t play music or go to a café for a flat white. The scenery was amazing and that did a lot to take my mind off the pain in my feet but couldn’t stop the thoughts running through my mind. The track is not level, it follows the contours of the mountains, up and over one point jutting out into the sea, then another and another, with the bays nestled in between. For long periods while I’m going up and over, it’s just woods but then I round a corner and see a beautiful pristine bay below, with clear, pale, jade green waves lapping at the golden sand. Sometimes there are people on the beach, maybe two or even six but most of them are deserted. There are homes in some of the bays, owned by Kiwi’s that had summer homes here before it was made into a National Park. The owners can only access these homes by boat. No new homes can be built and the existing homes get passed down from generation to generation. Occasionally, one will come up for sale and the market prices here are so high that a simple two or three bedroom house can sell for up to a million. Location, location, location.
I have come to a side spur trail which says “Cleopatra’s Pool 10 min”. In spite of my vow not to take any more side trails, who could resist such a name? I wander off down the trail, timing myself and in exactly 10 minutes, the trail stops beside the stream I’ve been following. I have to ford the stream to see the pool. So I very carefully cross the stream going from rock to rock, picking my way along. I am at the point where two streams meet and as I make it across the first one, there is another moment of awe. I feel like I’m the only one that has seen this magical place. There is a shoot of water coming sideways between the big rocks, like a natural water slide, and it ends in a crystal clear pale green pool, with rocks all around the edges for Cleopatra’s maids to perch on as they bathe her. You could immerse yourself and swim about the pool or you could pick any rock and sunbathe on it. I wanted to strip all my clothes off right that minute and jump in, it was that kind of place. Except the water was about 45 degrees and the air temp was about 50 degrees. And, even though I had seen no one except that loser runner for at least an hour, there was always the chance someone else could show up. I took a million pictures from all angles then worked my way back to the main path. I know you thought I was going to fall in but I didn’t. Two minutes after I left the pool, two women and a man were headed toward it. So I definitely would have been caught skinny dipping.
I finally, finally arrive back at my car just as the sun was setting, completely exhausted but feeling like I had really done something special. I didn’t really come to any conclusions about my life or any great, mind blowing realizations, but I had added one more accomplishment to my list. Everything I do to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone expands me, strengthens me, gives me courage, makes me feel more whole. There is some Mikey sprinkled in the Abel Tasman, certainly in Cleopatra’s pool and elsewhere. I won’t ever stop missing him, and I’m not trying to. I’m doing all this to learn what I’m capable of on my own. I know what I was capable of with him on my team, cheering me on. Am I still as capable alone? How do I make my life work without him always by my side?
By putting one foot in front of the other, breathing in and breathing out, and doing the best I know how to do, mile after mile.