This is our last full day of walking and we wake to steady rain on the roof of the hut. My feet are swollen and feel like two fat sausages on the end of my legs. Not for the first time I wish they were pain free, but old injuries have flared up during this walk and my feet are sore. I am thankful for my vibrams though, as I am certain it would have been worse with the other shoes I’d considered wearing.
We find out from talking to a couple of other early-rising bunk mates that the Waiheke family we met last night have food, pots & pans, but no cooker or gas! Since this is our last full day and we are being picked up by a water taxi tomorrow morning, Nic and I decide to offer them ours. We have four sandwiches to share, plus turkey jerky, nuts and chocolate bars, so we definitely won’t starve this evening if we can’t cook. Plus we can always get some hot water for coffee in the morning from our next hut mates. We grab an email address and draft up an email to send them when back in range, so they have our contact info for returning the cooker. We think of them a few times afterwards, hoping their walk was more enjoyable with full bellies and hot meals.
We have a four hour walk ahead of us today. Two hours to the next hut, then two more to Whanganui hut where we will be staying the night. It isn’t the end of the track, it’s the hut nearest the water taxi pickup. But we have walked the other end of the track togther before, so I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything by not doing it this time.
We start off early again. I think we are the third group out of the hut. Today’s terrain starts with another swing bridge (I love swing bridges!) and has more ups and downs. Today though, I feel more mentally prepared for it, even though my feet are sore. Thankfully most of the food is gone from our packs now, so they are much lighter and easier to carry.
The track follows the lake again for a while, then we go up over a small saddle and drop down to the first hut. We stop here for a snack and a drink of water before carrying on. It is wet and squelchy underfoot today with some light rain and we soon give up trying to navigate around the mud, choosing instead to just walk on through it.
We make it to Whanganui hut just before 1pm, have our lunch and sit watching the rain outside. When we were planning this trip, and our water taxi pickup, I don’t think either of us thought we would be at the hut this early. Since there is no more walking to do, and all we would be doing is sleeping overnight in the Whanganui hut, we decide to try and get on the 2pm water taxi today. We check (well Nic does), and they have space for us, so we join the rest of the walkers on the boat and head back to Onepoto where there’s a guy with a van waiting to take us back to our car.
Today we walked: 14.5km
This is the end, being replayed at the beginning of a new year. A day where we again wake early and swim in the ocean at the beach nearest our home. An ending, a beginning. And so it goes…
There were many times I was harder on myself than the walk was on my physical body. More than once I wished I was faster, fitter and mentally tougher. I wished for ease rather than the challenges of the walk and the unhelpful places my mind wandered. But the challenge is where I face myself and discover that my limits aren’t where I thought they were. The challenge is where I find the courage to keep walking with compassion for my body, with all of its weight and weariness. The challenge allows me to create and hold space for power and frailty, beauty and brokenness to co-exist. The challenge opens me up to grace and thankfulness for a body that can move and take me all the places I ask it to go.
But I feel like I never really found my groove on this walk. Whilst I delighted in the splendour of the quiet beech forests, the birdsong, the swing bridges, my walking companion, the cool lake and the peacefulness of the landscape, it didn’t ever feel like an ‘easy’ walk. My fitness level certainly had something to do with it I’m sure. And my judgemental mind was also a major contributor. Without all the stories I was telling myself along the way, it would totally have been an easier walk.
Now that my feet aren’t so sore and we are at the start of a new year back enjoying the comforts of home, I look back on those four days and think “Yes. Yes I would do it again. Next time with a little more grace.”