Randomtrailtales 2279 – 2423km:
The section after Methven was perhaps the most stunning of the entire trail for me, the land opened up to wide dry mountain valleys covered in tussock grasses as sharp as razors surrounded by sharp blue mountains. It felt very familiar and yet so alien, as if I was walking on another planet. This South Island is nothing like the North Island, completely different. The colours are more subdued, not shouting bright and tropical but as if I was walking through an Instagram filter for days and days. But around the corner there is always something unexpected and soon the dry Trail narrowed, became wet and I found myself walking up through a raging river for the next four hours as the tight gorge led me up and over the next pass. With the snowmelt the water has become increasingly colder and soon my feet became dumb and detached from my body as I lost all sense of feeling in them. It is a little bit as if I was playing a real live computer game, jumping from rock to rock and having to keep my balance as I zig zagged and waded across the river. Once the high pass had been reached a sea of ocher grass stretched on a plateau before me and I switched to auto pilot. I rarely see anyone during these long days and when the sun is out it is so strong that it is as if I am a sponge which is quickly totally sucked dry. The sun sucks all my energy out of me and quite frequently I have to stop, take my backpack off and simply roll into a ball and lay on the ground to rest, grounding myself. It feels safe so close to the earth, on a bed of rocks in the dust. It’s funny really, I’m often exhausted at home in the city too, but I never stop and roll up into a ball on the ground to rest for 15 minutes to recharge. Maybe I should?……… ………… ………… …………… I recently heard a new term: ‘trail burn-out’. I had to laugh at first as I couldn’t really imagine anyone becoming burnt out on the trail. But with so many people deciding to stop the Trail, or skip large sections after more than 2000km behind them, some have express feelings of ‘trail burn-out’, tired of the repetition, exhausted of walking and unable to find the motivation to set up a tent every night in the rain. To be honest I don’t really know what it means to be burnt out. But I guess if you have it it’s very real. It’s one of those things you can only truly understand once you’ve had it, but is very difficult to explain to others. But ‘trail burn-out’, really? I guess they loose the ‘magic’, the romantic notion which captured their imagination many months ago about walking from North to South. It just becomes a lot of walking and nothing else. Suddenly the idea of buying an old beat up Camper Van and doing a hippie road trip just sounds a whole lot more attractive, and the thought can’t leave their mind and over-rules the hike. So what’s the tipping point? That of course is very personal, but in most cases it’s a small injury of illness that traps them in a hostel for a few days as they try to recover. But for the most part it is a mental struggle that is very hard to combat. The mental part of this hike is tough, it’s a damn long walk. I am lucky that I have never been burnt out, although perhaps once got close by becoming chronically tired and unable to get myself out of the red zone of my battery for a few months during a corporate job in my early 20’s. I guess too much of any one thing is never very healthy. One thing is true, in that all this walking is very tiring and if you don’t look after your body and mind you can potentially become exhausted. I have never considered these walks to be a holiday (although Unicorn always teases me that I am in big denial by saying that) and of course don’t consider them to be work, I have always considered them to be Pilgrimages (whatever that means)……… …………………. ……….. …….. It’s been all about ‘rivers’ the past two weeks. Big rivers, the Rakaia and the Rangitata, both between 1km and 5km wide and are both too deep and dangerous to cross and are not part of the official Te Araroa. So we have to find a way around to the other side by having to hitch 140km on dirt farm roads with only 3 cars an hour. It took us 36 hours to hitch around, an adventure in itself, so you can imagine how good it was to get back into the mountains leading straight up to Lord of the Rings valleys with sleeping Dragons, Waterfalls with dancing Elves and smoking holes leading down into the Moria mines.