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January 16 2024, Motatapu Road to Fern Burn Hut:
I hitched to Wanaka to where I had left off on trail yesterday. The energy of hitching in NZ felt as if it was as easy as getting in my own car. No fear whatsoever. The guy driving me asked where I was from.
“Born in Illinois,” I said.
“Oh, I love Illinois,” he said longingly. “It is my dream to live there.”
“Wait, you’re a kiwi in Wanaka, born and raised, and it is your dream to live in Illinois?”
“Yeah, I love the endless flow of cornfields and the energy of the state.”
I couldn’t believe it. I think that was the first time I met someone who was so fond of the midwest whereas everyone who actually lived there seemed as if they were constantly trying to run away from the area. I brought that up to my next hitch as I couldn’t fathom how someone would want to go from New Zealand to Illinois.
“It’s an entirely different experience to view things from the eyes of a tourist versus the eyes of someone who lives there,” she said.
Hmm, very true.
The day was hot and smelled of sheep shit due to walking through farmland. It was a tough climb up to the hut, as the trail dipped up and down in elevation quite drastically every ten or so steps. I took many breaks despite the hut not being a far distance from the car park.
I felt overwhelmed arriving there and having everyone on the porch greet me. There were so many people, so I quickly went to find myself a bunk. There were only two left so I saved the last one for Lenses. Once I got settled, I introduced myself slowly to people one by one. I conversed with a sweet guy named Spencer. He was very young and this was his first thru-hike. We both sat on the ledge beside the beds and watched as everyone made dinner. I loved everyone’s hiker tan lines that cut off just above their ankles.
By the end of the night, I started wondering where Lenses was. We had agreed to meet at the hut around 5:30pm. This girl sure knew how to invoke a sense of worry in me because the hikers that came before her had not seen her on trail. Eventually she came around 7:30pm, having left the car park late. She had gotten distracted talking to new people and taking pictures of them. I should’ve known.
Before I went to bed, I thought about how much I actually loved my country of America. Yes, it was crazy and wild, but then again, so was I. I didn’t really feel I was going to come back to New Zealand. Some places just had a sort of energy to them that drew me to them and others didn’t. Areas that I often revisited in the states weren’t always breathtakingly pretty in appearance, but I loved the energy and the sacredness that I felt there.