The Date was December 22nd, 2016…
“There’s a car.” Lyra said, a few feet ahead of me.
“What? There can’t be -“ I began as I caught up to her, well rested but mentally not all there.
We had decided to make today a short day after our rainy evening in the Taipo Hut. Although our hikes had been manageable for the past few days, both of us were beginning to feel the nearing of the end. We were about two weeks to Bluff at this point, and the realization that our chapters were coming to a close had us both a bit unnerved.
I looked across the stream that separated us from the Boundary Hut. Parked outside was a large white pickup truck but no sign of anyone around it.
“Should we see if anyones home?” I asked, walking towards the thin wire bridge that dangled above the stream. Lyra and I walked across the bridge, one at a time, and made our way to the front door of the hut. As we walked passed the truck it had become clear that it was a group of hunters, probably out looking for Red Deer.
Red Deer are one of the largest species of deer that were introduced to New Zealand back in 1851, along with other game species. Sadly, the female - also known as a Hind - was shot before they had a chance to reproduce. Two more hinds and a stag were sent in 1861, which began the start of the ever flourishing spread across both islands between 1861 and 1926. This acclimatization was the start of a vast overpopulation - and now Red Deer in New Zealand are considered pests. This being said, their antlers are still considered one of the greatest types of trophy and it is widely popular to hunt them.
Lyra knocked on the hut door before entering, but as we opened the door it became clear that no one was around. There were four individual sleeping bags taking up all of the beds and a plastic container full of at least a weeks worth of food and fresh water.
“Well, they must be out hunting, but it’s clear that this hut is taken for the evening.” Lyra said as she pulled out her map.
“I guess our short day just got a tad bit longer.” I smiled, ready to lay down but also uncomfortable staying around so much of someone else’s stuff. The funny thing about hiking is that I’m not always excited about running into other people. It all depends on my mentality. Most days, I’m excited about meeting people. Usually when we meet someone in a hut it’s because they’re taking a vacation from work and hiking for fun. Sometimes, we meet other TA hikers and swap stories about different sections.
Today was not one of those days. No; today was a day where all I wanted to do was meditate and focus on anything but my life after the trail.
“It looks like Carey’s Hut is our next option. It’s only about another six kilometres from here.” Lyra said, measuring the distance with her pinky.
At this point, I’d already adjusted my pack and I was standing at the door staring out into the vast land ahead of me. The sun danced behind the clouds, moving fast in the breeze. The sky so blue that life stood still. I turned to her and nodded, leaving Boundary Hut forever. It would have been a nice sleep, but there was no way I was going to stay there with four hunters. I knew Lyra felt the same.
We began the last six kilometres back across the bridge and up a small hill. The ground became flat for a few kilometres before revealing a road that began to wind around a cliff.
It seemed that most trails on the South Island ended with a cliff or mountain.
“I’m not sure what to do when I get back.” I began, staring at my feet.
Lyra looked at me with a similar expression on her face.
“It’s getting close, but we’ve still got time yet.” She smiled back at me.
We looked at eachother for a moment before beginning our climb up the road. At this point, we each put our headphones in. It was our way of having “alone” time most days. I always started with Modest Mouse’s album “Good News For People Who Love Bad News”. There was just something about it that helped me concentrate on my steps more than my thoughts.
We made it to Carey’s Hut about an hour later where we, happily, found it vacant. The hut was on the North side of the Mavora Lake and had a beautiful view of the mountains and cliffs that tucked the lake into the earth. It was pretty exciting to find a hut like this one that was empty with so many places to sleep and spots to relax.
Lyra and I began cooking our dinners, staring at a wall with hikers signatures all over it. So many people from before us, and so many after us, will sit in these same spots and contemplate something about their lives.
Part of me just wanted to go home after. Maybe it was because Christmas was coming up and for the first time in my entire life I wouldn’t be with my family to celebrate it, or maybe it was because I just truly missed London. Either way, I felt an unknown ache in my stomach that begged time to stop moving, while longing for home. This weird emotion that wanted this life to go on forever, but at the same time wanted it to stop.
I had started this hike with a mission, after a year of obsessing. It was on this day, and the ones that followed, that had me completely vulnerable to the trail. In two weeks time, I would be standing at that pole. The pole I fantasized about. The finish line that I dreamed would show me exactly who I was supposed to be.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready to find out quite yet, but with each passing step… I was closer to whoever she was.