I’m currently stealth camping just outside of Wanaka and have just enough feeling in my fingers to type. Yesterday it got COLD, and after two thigh-deep crossings of the Timaru River I was dressed in wet shorts when it began to snow at 1,000m on my way up to Stody’s Hut.
At first the snow was a novelty, until all I could see were Tom’s footprints ahead of me as I slipped and fell multiple times along the trail. My bare legs became numb, and I kept having to wipe the snow off me with my wet gloves after each fall. I started getting scared that I wouldn’t make it up the incredibly steep trail, until I could smell smoke up ahead and knew that not only was I close to the hut, but Tom already had the fire going.
Both Tom, Will and I had camped separately, but Tom passed me in the morning and we ended up navigating the challenging final river crossing together after a full night of rain. The water was full of silt so we couldn’t see the bottom, but we carefully made our way across, ensuring our poles didn’t go below waist height before we took our next step.
Going solo from Twizel has been rather hilarious because I ended up catching up to the boys on the first two nights and then we ended up sharing a hut last night too. It was even funnier because I also bumped into Brian who I met way back in the north island and also Kess, so tonight is only the second night I’ve camped alone after my big solo decision.
I do feel rejuvenated and back in control of my journey regardless of my recent company however. It’s amazing how such a simple change has transformed the way I see the trail again. It’s like I’m back in the driver’s seat after sitting as a passenger in the back seat of a car barely looking out the window. I love having the freedom to wake up whenever I want, camp where ever I want, and hike at whatever speed feels good for my body. I didn’t realise how much pressure I was putting on myself to keep up with the boys, even though we always walked the same distance in the end. I know we’ll bump into each other multiple times over the next few weeks, but the important thing is that I feel inspired again by the trail, and am rediscovering that joyful feeling of independence and solitude I had way back when I camped alone in the rain in the Hanua Ranges.
Here’s a video I took a few days ago on my first day alone after crossing the 2,500km mark:
The Te Araroa is a crazy trail, and even though I’m looking forward to the end, I know I’m going to look back and miss the joy and madness of it all.