The date was October 26th, 2016.
The day was going well for the most part. Kayla and I had hiked a decent twenty kilometres in just under four hours, making it to the beginning of Breamhead - a six kilometre stretch of beach that would lead us to a cliff edge. We’d read the day before that there was a stream to refill our water at the beginning of the beach, so by the time we’d made it our bottles were empty.
Yes, all seemed right in the world. Until that stream was no where to be found.
I know what you’re thinking. Six kilometres with no water isn’t that bad, and is very manageable, and in most cases you’d be right. This, however, is not one of those cases. With packs that weighed that of a child, soft sand the made your feet sink and slip, hot sun with no ozone layer for protection, and a crashing ocean to your left - this was a challenge.
“You’re sure the trail notes said it was supposed to be here?” I asked, looking around for any signs of fresh water.
“Positive.” Kayla answered frantically. She held her GPS out, looking for stream markers. “But I don’t see anything.”
“What the hell?” I sighed, putting my pack down. Clearly we needed to sit for a second and figure this out, so I was going to take the opportunity to bandage my feet again.
I took my shoes off and winced as my socks followed. My blisters weren’t doing very well and my bandaids kept falling off, leaving them attached to my socks and not easily cleaned. I exhaled to hide my pain then, with no water, wiped the open sores the best I could before reapplying new polysporin and a fresh bandaid.
“I doubt these will last very long with this tide.” I said, looking out at the ocean. The tide was pretty far away, but off in the distance you could see it peaking, teasing our path. “I guess we should get going.”
I looked up at Kayla. She looked dissatisfied about the whole situation. We all have our fears and anxieties. Mine was heights, but Kayla’s? Being stranded under the sun with no water. We were about to live one of her fears and I had no way to help her, other than to let her zone out and hope she made it alive.
“Okay.” Kayla adjusted her pack. “Let’s get this over with.”
I could see the determination in her eyes, mixed with discomfort.
We began walking straight, hoping to make the best time that we could. By this time, it was the middle of the day and we still had a decent twenty kilometres to go. Stress was beginning to sink in, along with my feet, as we trekked across the soft beach. I could hear my heart in my head as we struggled along the path. Sharp shells mixed with loose sand made it almost impossible to maneuver, and I found my feet crossing over each other throughout the first kilometre.
"Maybe they can tell us where the stream is." Kayla said, pointing forward.
In the distance a moving speck appeared, along with a smaller speck beside them. It was a woman and her dog, playing fetch into the ocean. She was at least a kilometre away, but it looked as if she was walking in our direction.
We continued trekking, trying to preserve as much energy as possible so not to dehydrate ourselves too fast. After about twenty minutes we'd made it within talking distance of the woman.
"Excuse me," Kayla began, "do you happen to know if there is a fresh water stream around here?"
The woman came closer, but her facial expression had already answered our question.
"I'm sorry, but I'm not sure." She spoke, shooting us a positive smile. Her dog had come to greet us as well. I laughed as he jumped on me. He was a puppy still, learning about his life. A medium sized dog with short black and brown fur. Most likely a mixed breed.
We thanked the woman and continued on our way. We'd been walking for an hour and had only made it two kilometres, much less than we'd anticipated.
Kayla's strides became bigger than mine and before I knew it, she was two hundred metres ahead of me. Her anxiety was getting the better of her and she was officially on a mission to find a source of water. I watched her as she paced ahead, thinking about her fears and my own. Before I knew it, all of my doubts and confusion had come back.
The funny thing about thruhiking is that you have a lot of time to think. Like - a lot of time. Thinking can be good for you, but sometimes it can also be the one thing that destroys you. Today, my destruction was set.
I could feel all of my self doubt, string by string. Each small failure attaching to my mind without any chance of breaking. My breathing became unsteady and I found myself fighting off tears that just wanted so badly to roll off of my cheeks.
"Kayla." I spoke softly, blinking in the sun.
She was now hundreds of metres away. Her body was waving in the heat.
"Kayla." I said a bit louder. Tears beginning to escape.
I knew she couldn't hear me, but I needed to stop. I needed her to know I had to stop. I couldn't do this.
"Kayla!" I screamed, her name cracking in my voice as the tears began to flood.
The tide began to roll in and hit my feet, soaking my shoes and reminding me even more so of the blisters I’d just wrapped. My heart was in my throat and my mind was fuzzy as my emotions took over. I couldn’t do this anymore. I was so tired of being sad. I was so tired of being in love with a stranger. I was so tired of doing things for other people. I was just so tired.
“He’s not watching!”
That was it. That was all I needed to yell in order to fall to my knees. I grabbed onto the sand, hot in my hands, and let my pack fall onto my neck. I began crying with such intensity, I could barely hear the ocean as it crashed beside me.
To say that I began this hike for myself would be a lie. This insane idea of walking a country would have never been my first choice if it weren’t for the heartbreak I’d felt for over a year at this point. A perennial heartbreak that never got any easier, regardless of the time that passed.
“He’s not watching you.” I said through sobs, remembering his face. His eyes. His smile.
Love is hard for everyone. It’s a sacrifice we make in ourselves in order to find happiness with another person. My issue, however, is that I was still unsure how to find happiness in myself. I put my contentment in the arms of other people, causing a very difficult spiral of uncertainty in who I was and where I was supposed to be.
I looked up at the hot sun, following the sky to the horizon between air and water and screamed. I screamed at myself, at him, at the trail, at my mind. Tears kept coming and I kept letting them. I shut off my emotions a long time ago, letting them build up deep inside. It had become clear that, out of no where, they needed to finally be released.
Who was I here for? Why was I committing to a three thousand kilometre hike? Who was I trying to impress? Not me, certainly. I was miserable. I wasn’t happy. I was more depressed than I’d ever been in these moments.
I was tired of loving him. He wasn’t here to cheer me on. He’d never be here again. At some point, I needed to realize that and I needed to move on. I couldn’t hold on to him anymore because he was a stranger. Another human on this Earth that was trying to find their way, regardless of who they needed to hurt in the process.
The tears had subsided by now. I sat up and stared into the ocean, wiping my face with my buff and watching the waves as they moved with the sea.
“Who are you doing this for?” I whispered to myself.
I imagined him standing there, telling me to get up. Telling me to be strong, because he couldn’t be strong for me anymore. And, although it was my own imagination, he was right.
People told me it’d get easier throughout the months, and it did. I was smiling again, going out with friends, dating. But the love I’d given to him was something unlike any other, and although it’d been a year - I didn’t know if it would ever go away.
It had to go away, for me. For who I wanted to be and the people I wanted to meet. I’d broken hearts already because of someone I didn’t even know anymore. It wasn’t fair.
“I loved you so much.” I spoke towards the ocean, as if some incredible string from there to Canada would send my words to him. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
I let more tears engulf me, releasing any connection I had to him.
“I need to love myself now, darling.”
I stood up, my pack still attached. It slid back down to place and I tightened the hip belt. I looked forward at the next three kilometres and sighed. So much beach in this trail. Ahead, there was a giant boulder. Kayla’s figure had vanished as she’d turned a corner that led to the other side. I continued walking, my thirst even more prominent after the sobbing I just endured.
A small white bird with long legs flew to my right, landing on the ground and walking beside me. I stared at him, as if he was a crutch leading me to where I needed to go.
“Hey little buddy, want to lead me to some water?” I said, weakly laughing at myself for being so ridiculous.
The bird began to fly ahead and for a moment I thought he understood me, only realizing afterwards how idiotic that was. I couldn’t believe how desperate I’d already been for water, only four kilometres in. The sand was so loose, it felt like I was doing double the work to take a stride.
My mind was now empty; numb to the world. I let out any emotions that I had, leaving nothing but a shell. The beach stretched out in my mind and it looked like it was never going to stop. I knew that I needed to keep going, so I forced myself to walk.
There were moments where the sand turned into hard rocks, giving me a bit of hope that maybe the walking was about to get easier. Sadly, nothing was easy about today. Kayla’s footprints were gone and exhaustion was approaching as I reached the boulder.
I turned the corner to find Kayla sitting on a rock in the shade. She looked unimpressed with the day, but showed concern when she looked up at me. My hair was stuck to my face from tears that never left, my eyes red from constant bursts, and my body filthy from the wet sand.
“I think we need to figure out a different approach to this hike.” She said, patting the rock beside her.
I sat down and began to cry again. Every part of me was empty.
“I think you’re right.” I sniffed, my hands covering my face.
I wiped my eyes once more and looked out into the ocean. The water was a beautiful shade of blue and right ahead of me, sitting in the ocean, was a cavelike rock with green moss sitting atop it. Smaller rocks sat on either side of it and waves crashed into it from behind.
“They tell you it gets hard,” I began, watching the rock stand still in time, “that your mind begins to challenge you.”
I unclipped my pack slowly and let it fall to the ground, turning my gaze to Kayla. “The hardest thing I ever did in my life was lose him, but I think that when I finish whatever it is I’m supposed to do here, that fact will be changed forever.”
Kayla smiled at me. “I’m proud of how far you’ve already come, buddy. We knew this was going to be hard, but as hard as days like this are… We need them in order to grow.”
I smiled back at her, tired and pained. She was right, although I didn’t feel any growth. In fact, I’d felt as if I were a few steps behind.
These days are for the cathartic whispers, reminding us that we’re alive and we can fight. October 26th, 2016 was one of the hardest days on Te Araroa and although it didn’t feel like it then, I would go on to do great things for myself. All I had to do was keep trekking. All I had to do was make it to Bluff.