Te Araoa: Part Three

The date was October 21st, 2016.

"Good morning, sunshine." Matt gleamed as I walked out into the living room.

I rubbed my tired eyes, sand still lodged into them from a few days before.

"Good morning." I said, defeatedly.

We lasted only a day on Ninety Mile Beach before sticking our thumb out for a drive. To be fair, we were only looking for a drive to the next campground, but sometimes things don't go the way you expect.

After Jason had dropped us off we began the last stretch to Bluff Campsite. With ten kilometres to go, we were determined to get there before the tide rolled in, but with the sun going down - we had to push. All of us had already gone about thirty five kilometres that day, and with hot, hard sand; our feet were not happy.

I'll always remember the first moment I saw Matt. The sun was just meeting the horizon line between sky and ocean. Still hot, a relaxing breeze blew across the water. My feet were on fire and my legs were strained, but I continued to push as hard as my body could go. Through sunburnt eyes, I looked forward to see a small moving dot coming towards us.

As it got closer, it turned from dot to car. Bigger and bigger it got until it was only a few metres away.

A man stuck his head out of the left side window - the passenger side in New Zealand - and, while going 100 kilometres an hour, screamed, at the top of his lungs; "HELP ME! THIS GUY'S GUNNA RAPE ME!"

We looked at each other with questionable stares and the car sped passed, for at the time none of us had understood what he'd said.

"The hell was that?" Lyra asked, watching the car disappear.

"Did anyone catch what he just said?" I asked, taking a sip of my almost empty water bottle.

Kayla and Lyra both shook their heads, confusion a clear factor in each of our expressions. “I think he just yelled about rape?” Kayla suggested.

I shrugged. "How far does the GPS say to camp?" I asked, looking out at the fading sun.

Lyra pulled out her phone and opened an app I'd never seen before. She placed her pinky on the screen, measuring the distance from where we were to where we needed to be. She moved her pinky up the screen two times, then sighed. "Still four kilometres left."

Kayla sighed next. "There is something seriously wrong with my toe. We need to keep going. If we stop, I won't be able to start up again."

I looked at her carefully. Kayla isn't one to give up, so if something was bugging her - it was serious.

"Alright, let's do it." I said, adjusting my pack on my shoulders. I could feel the sweat on my shirt cooling on my back as the ocean breeze hit it.

We continued walking for another kilometre. The sun was inches away from disappearing, and the tide was so far out that you had to walk at least fifty metres to get to the shoreline. My face was so dry and burnt from one day on this beach, and I was so... sad. There's no other way that I can put it. Walking the beach was just not on my todo list anymore.

"I need to stop." I surrendered, my feet burning in pain and my mind ready to explode.

I ripped my bag off of my body and fell to my knees. My water was now empty just like my emotions, which were neither here nor there.

Kayla collapsed beside me and let out a painful gasp. Her toe had gone far passed it's capabilities, and I was just as scared as she was to see what was hidden inside her shoe.

Lyra took her pack off and sat down on the other side of Kayla. She had been recording a bit on her gopro, and had detached it from her bag to take some photos of the vanishing sun.

I looked out at the waves, once again questioning all of my life choices. I was diminished. I was unprepared. I was crazy. I was lost.

We sat for a few minutes, watching the sun complete it’s course. With three kilometres to go, we may as well have enjoyed the sunset the best we could. I tried to focus on the beauty unfolding in front of me, but I found it hard once again to see anything positive about this beach.

I wrapped my arms around my knees and leaned my hand onto my cheek, my eyes drowsy with the days heat. I looked at the sun one last time and began counting down under my breath. “Three… Two… One.”

And with that, that sun was gone. Under the horizon for another day, it was asleep and the moon was getting ready to awake. I pulled my knees in closer and leaned my head to the left, staring out to the right side of the shoreline. Off in the distance, a dot appeared.

“Hey guys.” I said, tiredly. “There’s a car coming. Do you think we should just… Hitch?”

Kayla and Lyra looked at each other and shrugged. 

“I don’t see why not.” Lyra spoke, getting to her feet.

“I mean, hitchhiking on a beach. How many people back home can say they’ve done that?” I said, also getting to my feet.

Kayla laughed, pulling herself up and wincing. “It’s probably for the best. My foot can’t go any further.”

We all threw our packs on with haste and hurried to the… side of the beach? Right? I mean, it’s a beach. Yeah, side. Let’s go with that.

As the car got closer, I let out a grunt. “It’s the yelling guy.”

“Do you think they’re drunk?” Lyra asked.

“If these are the guys who yelled rape at us, I’m not getting in the car.” Kayla shook her head.

“Well, this is probably our last chance to get a ride, so I guess we’ll have to just deal with it.” I shrugged. 

This was my first time hitchhiking. I’d never once, in my life, put a thumb out for a drive. Yet here I was, on Ninety Mile Beach - a beach - looking for a ride. As tired as I was, I had to stop for a second and admire that this memory would stay with me forever. Of course, I went on to hitchhike a lot of different roads, in different situations, at different times, but we’ll get to that.

The car got closer and sure enough the silver hatchback came into view. “For gods sake.” Kayla muttered under her breath. It slowed down as it reached us and two men became visible in the front seats. We waved as they came to a stop.

“Hey ladies! How goes the walk?” The driver asked, a smile on his face.

“Well, it was going well but we’re exhausted and our friend is a bit injured. We were hoping to get a lift a few kilometres up to the next campsite?” I asked, hoping my Canadian charm would be enough.

“Sure!” The driver cheered. “I’m Johnny, and my mate here is Matt.”

Matt hopped out and went to open the trunk. “Ello!” He said with a very distinguishable Kiwi accent. “Just so you guys know, he wasn’t actually going to rape me.”

“Yes, excuse his crude jokes. Us Kiwis have a very dark sense of humour.” Johnny laughed, grabbing our packs and cramming them in the trunk of his small hatchback. No matter how hard we tried, Lyras’ pack wouldn’t fit, so as we squeezed into the backseat she placed her pack on top of her and basically disappeared.

With one last look at Ninety Mile Beach, the sky darkened and shades of purple and blue took over. Matt had offered to take us in for the night so we could shower and properly bandage our blisters, to which we most certainly accepted. Now, we’d been there for three days, not sure when Te Araroa would start back up again.

The first day of recovery was a horrendous one. Kayla had put a bandaid on her pinky toe the night before, and by the next morning it had ripped a full layer of skin off. Her toe was completely exposed and split in two. It was unlike any injury I’d ever seen before. We had decided to try a spray on bandaid, but when she sprayed it on - the pain was unimaginable. Barely anything makes Kayla cry, but that… That was the ticket. I’d never seen her like that, and I had no idea how to help other than giving her the days she needed in order to get better.

My injuries were less severe. A few blisters on my toes and stiff legs, I was fully recovered and ready to go by day two. I was impatient in ways because I just wanted to be on the trail, but I knew that this was the best move and a journey all on it’s own. 

Matt and his children were such a joy to be around. So full of life and adventure. We spent our days shooting their BB gun, eating delicious food, laughing the night away, learning about Maori culture, watching New Zealand television, exploring the farmlands. All things I wouldn’t have had if I’d continued on the beach. 

I try to tell myself, when I’m feeling down, that my path was chosen long before I set foot on Te Araroa. Matt and his kids were a huge part of my lessons and happiness in New Zealand. They taught me that the little things in life are so pure, and so wonderful. They showed me that no matter what you have, love is a structure that keeps a persons soul weighted. You can love a tremendous amount of things, but it’s that one love - between two people, between a father and son, between a person and their pet - that keeps you above the water.

“I’m heading into town soon, if you’d like to join.” He said, Kayla already getting ready to leave.

Lyra had left the day prior, on a bus heading back down to Paihia. I would see her again in my journey, but at the time I’d thought that our chapter had ended. 

“I think I’m just going to head for a walk, but you guys go ahead.” I yawned, grabbing my iPod from the top pocket of my pack. It laid vacant in Matts living room, patiently waiting for the hike to pick back up again.

I threw on my shoes and walked out into the country air. I stared at the road, looking far into the distance. The hills were green and the sky was blue, clouds scattered across the fields, but they moved faced pace. I turned on my music and began walking, tears streaming down my face.

I still had no idea why I was where I was, and I felt truly lost regardless of the happiness I was feeling. It was an interesting time for my mental growth, because I was feeling two different emotions at the same time. Emotions that, generally, are the polar opposite of each other.

My feet began to move faster and before I knew it, I was running. I ran as fast as I could, fighting with my anxieties and my failures until all that was left was a wheezing version of myself.

That night, I sat in Matts living room watching the kids play a game that involved a plate of flour and a chocolate piece. You make a mountain out of the flour, then balance a piece of chocolate on top. The objective of this game is to put your hands behind your back and attempt to pick up the chocolate piece without falling face first into the flour. I laughed, my anxious episode forgotten for the day. Those Kiwis, they knew how to take my mind off of my own demons and focus on positivity instead.

“Let’s go out and shoot the gun!” Matts son suggested, excited for target practice.

We headed to the front yard and were greeted by a sky of blue and pink, swirls of clouds dancing around us. I smiled as I looked up at the beauty, a beauty I could truly enjoy.

Happiness was close to my side, and no amount of self-destruction was going to ruin it.

For now.