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December 30 2023, Rakaika River Junction to Stealth Site:
On the way to breakfast I saw two older men saying goodbye to each other, probably after reconnecting over coffee. One appeared as a local, the other as a traveler, both in their 60s.
“I love older men,” I said to Orange. “I am so fond of them. I feel as if they have so many stories and are full of wisdom.”
“Yeah, but most of the time they’re just boring,” he said.
I walked over to the one who went in his van. I smiled at him, he rolled his window down.
“I love your van!” I said, “it’s so cool. Did you travel around the world in it?”
He smiled at me deeply and said, “No, but I traveled all around New Zealand with it.”
He had a mysterious beauty about him. I wanted to ask him questions about his life, but I knew my tramily wanted to eat so I cut the conversation short. I appreciated the small interaction we had and said goodbye.
“Quite the confidence ya got,” Orange said to me.
Although introverted at heart, it felt natural for me to speak to strangers. It was a place in which I felt comfortable and listening to stories was what made my heart sing.
We settled for Starbucks at the mall then went to the pizza place where I wanted to go yesterday.
“I feel so bad for not eating there yesterday like I said I would,” I said to the group as I went to open the door.
“Dude, the guy won’t even remember you,” Ben said, “do you know how many people come through that place everyday? Probably hundreds.”
I walked in to see the same guy working the register.
“Oh, I remember you,” he said, “you were going to come back and eat here yesterday but you never did.”
We all laughed out loud then I said, “I’m so sorry, I really wanted to but—“
“Don’t worry about it,” he cut me off abruptly as he gathered us some menus.
The pizza was indeed top of the line. I wanted to play board games when we were there but everyone else seemed disinterested.
Afterwards, we went to buy some extra things for the trail. Lenses and Orange needed socks while I needed a new pair of HOKA’s. We found a store that was just selling trail runners and upon walking in, I gasped. I had never seen so many HOKA’s in one place! I bought the first pair I saw with good treading and pretty colors—nothing compared to the feeling of new shoes on trail.
Then, we all went to the grocery store to resupply on food. We walked past the candy isle where we were able to choose and fill our own bags. I opened the bin to try some that looked appealing and Orange backed away from me.
“I’m not with you right now. I do not know you,” he said, “this is not America, Goldie. You can’t just take candy from the bin and eat it.”
“Well that’s what my mom and I used to do,” I said, “I mean how else will you know if you like it or not?”
I walked around the store poking at the squishiest of things for fun. Orange got us a big tub of mint ice cream and we ate it while we waited for our tramily to finish buying film for their cameras.
From there, we started our road trip down to the trailhead. I found it funny how we were expected to get to the other side of the river, yet on the map there was a gap in the trail. It was written that the river was large, dangerous and braided with an unsettled shingle bed, that even in low flow was not possible to cross safely, therefore they didn’t consider it part of the trail. The only other option was a long road walk detour that wasn’t technically part of the trail. Most people either hitched or got a shuttle. Lucky for us, Ben drove us to the other side. He didn’t accept any money we tried to offer him.
On the drive there we saw a French guy walking. We stopped to tell him we would have loved to offer him a ride however we were full to to the max. He was chipper and stoked that we simply stopped to chat. At the trailhead we said our goodbyes to Ben and shortly after the French guy showed up in a shuttle that had picked him up along the way.
The four of us walked together through farmland and said hello to all the cows beside the dirt road. We climbed a bit in elevation then found a stealth spot in the soft meadow grasses that seemed to be a calm area to camp. We were tucked away between the valley, hidden from most exposure.