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January 1 2024, Manuka Hut to Stealth Site:
Everyone had fallen asleep before midnight. The German guy came inside the hut from his tent and asked if any of us wanted coffee. He pulled out his portable coffee maker, boiled up some water then made us some top notch espresso. Lenses even had some powdered milk for me to use. Life was good.
One of the guys took a sip and said, “Mm, havin’ the best cup of coffee in the best part of New Zealand on the start of a new year.”
We gathered our items and started walking through desert kine valleys and harsh brush that could out stand the heat of the sun. It was a very smooth-going day, mostly walking dirt and gravel roads that to me were absolutely stunning. I couldn’t believe that so many people skipped the section. It had become one of my favorite parts of the trail, bringing back memories of days hiking through Wyoming.
There was one moment where we got tempted to take the shortcut that would lead us to a road so we could hitch into town, however Lenses wanted to continue on so we decided to join her. It only made sense because it was New Years Day so everything would most likely be closed in town or the prices of rooms would be inflated. Plus, it was a perfect trail day when it came to the weather and terrain so we didn’t want to take it for granted!
Our apparent mind change was well worth it when we made it up and over a steep hill to discover a lake full of what appeared to be black swans and freshly snow capped mountains in the far distance overlayed by heat waves. We were in awe of the vast open combination of desert with alpine.
We took a break and I popped a pimple on the corner of my mouth which my friends told me not to do. Then, Orange ate a fresh orange and put the peel over his teeth and smiled, acting like a goofball. I looked at my shoes to find the fabric so torn apart that my big toes were completely sticking out. I felt proud for it showed hard work and the journey I had experienced on the TA thus far.
Upon making it to the gravel road, a car pulled over and the man driving seemed very interested in our story. He was full of passion just by the mere simplicity of seeing us.
We conversed with him for a while then he said, “Enjoy your wander.”
Before he drove off, I asked, “By the way, do you guys have black swans here?”
“Oh yeah, there were heaps of ‘em just back there at the lake!” he said.
Wow, black swans. I didn’t think that was an actual thing.
“Do ya guys need anythin’?” he asked.
We all looked at each other, a momentary glimpse of wanting to ask him for a lift.
“Oh no, we’re good,” Orange said.
“Thank you for asking,” I added.
“Of course,” he said, “I’m a tramper and a hunter. That’s all I know.”
He drove off. A few miles from camp my stomach began to clench in immense pain and I felt I was going to throw up. I didn’t know what got into me. Orange and Lenses watched me take a piss, always impressed by how I could do so while standing up and pulling my shorts to the side. We stopped at a water source and I had a feeling that I really wanted to wash myself since I felt covered in sticky discharge. Turned out, it was blood.
“Fuck!” I yelled.
“What?” Orange asked.
“I got my period.”
I had the experience of getting a moon cycle for over a decade and was still unable to see it coming. Orange Man walked me through thorn bushes that led to a stream so I could wash myself, then he went to grab my backpack. I sat inside the water, tucked away and hidden between some meadow marshes as I bathed myself.
It got severely hot for all of us when we started walking again so we took another break. We were sticky and wet from sweat. There was no shade for several miles, so Orange found a large rock and placed his pack on top of it, leaning its weight onto his trekking poles. Somehow it made the perfect amount of shade for him. Lenses and I rested on our packs and basked in the heat, seeming to have no problem with it.
We continued to follow an old dirt road, taking it easy until we found a campsite. We ran into cyclists going the opposite direction. Near the end, we sat down on a small hill of grass that overlooked the small town of Clearwater. Orange and I looked at where the track went through. I thought it would be nice to camp beside the lake but he said there could be people there.
“So what?” I asked.
He also didn’t vibe with the sound of the motorized vehicles which to me was barely audible. There were only a few cars that drove by, the faintest of echoes if anything. I really wanted to camp in the valley whereas the two of them wanted to camp on top of the hill beside the muddy pond.
“I want to be closer to the road tomorrow since it would be a quicker hitch,” I said, thinking about the way I normally felt like complete shit on my moon cycle by the second day. I wanted to hike less the following day if I had that option before it intensified.
“It’s not going to make a difference, it’s really not that far of a walk,” Orange said, “it’s only like 4 miles tomorrow.”
“That’s so far,” I said, “I don’t want to hike at all tomorrow if I have that option right now.”
“Well, I don’t want to hike down there right now, it’s too far,” he argued.
“No it’s not,” I combatted, “it’s only like four miles.”
He put his chin down and peeked from over the rim of his sunglasses giving me an intense under stare. “I focking hate you right now,” he said.
I was feeling very difficult, edgy and short, I admitted.
“Listen,” I said, “I just don’t want to do it, okay? I want fresh flowing cold water to drink from, not cow shit—“
“It’s a pond, there’s no cow shit.”
“How about you two camp up here and I’ll camp down there. I really don’t mind. It’s not a big deal and it’s nothing personal.”
I could feel the tension.
“How about we camp up here and I’ll filter your water?” he asked.
“I’ll camp up here if we take two days off in town,” I said.
“We’re not takin’ two days off in town.”
“Well I like to plan around my period and I always take up to two days.”
“It will be raining on Wednesday,” Lenses intervened.
“Yeah, it will be raining on Wednesday,” I repeated in a whiny tone.
“There needs to be more dudes here,” Orange said.
“And you need to experience a period,”
I retorted. “The thing is, if I have the option of having town days during the heaviest days of my moon and it’s raining, then I would like to give that for myself. I enjoy giving myself the freedom to have fun on trail, and to me that means starting early so I could have extra days to take zeros if I feel I need it. It’s just how I prefer to hike, we all have a way we like to do it.”
“Boring,” Orange said, “I like experiencing the rain because it makes you appreciate the sun.”
“I appreciate it just as much when I’m in a hotel room. I’ll be all cozy and thinking to myself, ‘Thank god I’m not hiking in that shit right now.’”
“Boring. How about we just leave town the second day except later.”
And that was the point I felt ‘men don’t understand what it’s like’ thought pattern. I didn’t like feeling rushed, hence why I started thru-hikes earlier and earlier each year so that I would have time to relax and fully take time off when I felt my body needed it. I liked slow paced town days, not rushed neros. And that’s not to say that often times I preferred hiking long stretches in the wilderness while it was shit weather. The key was to let the inspiration guide me and not judge where it was taking me.
I shook my head and said “men” to Lenses in a derogatory tone.
I packed my stuff and went over to our campsite which was heavily covered in rabbit poop. We set everything up and I went to look for something in my vicinity to wipe my spork with since it was covered with coffee and remnants of yesterdays food. I didn’t have a towel so I used my bloody underwear, not knowing that Lenses was watching me the entire time.
My face turned red and she said, “I like this what you do right now. Very interesting. I like.”
Then, Orange went to get us some warm pond water. He smoked a joint and we began making food. I got into a funny state of mind where everything seemed to make me laugh. Any story I attempted to share or anything I tried to talk about would send me into roaring laughter followed by uncontrollable tears.
“Did you take kratom?” Lenses asked.
“You sure you didn’t get some second hand smoke?” Orange teased.
I calmed down then discovered a new recipe on accident—marshmallow fluff with crushed dark chocolate Oreos. To me, it tasted like cookies and cream ice cream. Lenses disagreed and said the only part she enjoyed were the Oreos.