The date was November 28th, 2016…
Tucked in the mountains just outside of St. Arnaud is a trail that leads you to a beautiful lake called “Blue Lake”. After a four day trek through the mountains I would find myself basking in it’s glory, watching my life change in the blink of an eye. I would feel emotions that I had never felt before, and I would accept it’s lessons with every piece of who I am. In just a mere four days - and another four days out - I would be a completely different person.
The first day started out rough. I’d expected a lot of mountains and heights and I’d prepared myself for that manner, only to be greeted by lush green forests and very slippery roots instead. I mean, I guess you can’t win them all.
My pack was heavier than it had ever been before. This was the first time on Te Araroa that I would truly be away from civilization for more than a week. No contact with the outside world, other than my inReach and other people on the trail. I was nervous to say the least, but also determined to prove something to myself.
I remember everyday of this trek as a different adventure. Even walking back through to the beginning was different because I had become a new person. I had made new friends, gained new trust, and turned into a woman unlike any other in these eight days. I’d taken on challenges, fought myself over failure, and wrestled with my own mind as I fell over and over and over…. and over again.
The rain trickled down for the whole day on our first of eight. It made us wonder what it was going to be like when we’d made it to our final destination. The forest was moist from the ground up. Soaked roots littered the walkway as we jumped over them. Mud was prominent and, with no doubt, part of the whole endeavour.
About an hour into the day I stepped on a root that was so slippery, my left knee collapsed, greeting a sharp rock along the way. My pants, now torn and mangled at the knee, hung down to reveal a gash just below my kneecap.
“Oh good,” I had proclaimed, “this is fine.”
Lyra, after realizing I was alright, began laughing.
“Can you go anywhere without falling or getting stuck in the mud?”
I rolled my eyes at her, but I had to agree that most of my hiking life involved kissing the pavement, or in this case - making out with the forest floor.
I gave myself a quick bandage job, ripping my pant leg off, knowing our first hut wasn’t too far in. I would do a proper clean up when we got there. That is, if I made there alive.
Other than the deadly jungle floor that resided under our feet for an eternity, a rainfall that wouldn’t quit, and patches of mud that loved you more than you loved them, there weren’t many other obstacles until we reached our first river crossing. If you’re not much of an outdoorsman, or don’t fully understand how nature works at all, then let me clear something up for you. River crossings and rain - not a good pair.
The water was high and rushing while rocks spiked out of the river, wanting to greet you with a little wave and a whole lot of death.
“Great. Now what?” I asked, scanning the river for any sign of crossing.
“There’s a flood route we can take.” Lyra said, pointing to a sign.
I followed the arrow on the sign as the trail went up. And up. And boy - did it go up.
“Nooooope.” I said, anxiously looking for a way that I could avoid that whole situation.
Lyra shook her head at me. “Dude. We gotta take it.”
I fumbled with my pack a bit as I complained. “Well I mean… If I had to choose how I was going to die, it’d be from these rocks and a bit of drowning. Not from falling back towards it. If I go up there, I’m just adding another, more inconvenient, step into my own demise.”
“Come on.” Lyra laughed, gesturing towards the route.
I groaned as I followed behind her, forcing my way up the ascending forest floor. Roots went from being the ground to being a staircase. Eventually, they became a steep mess that involved boosting yourself up.
We reached a slim path that followed along the mountain side. Made of loose rocks, you could tell it was easy to make one very wrong move. I looked down towards the river, which was at least 60 metres away. A fall like that was sure to do some damage.
“I don’t think I can do this.” I said under my panicked breath.
“I’ll go first. Just follow behind me.” Lyra said as she began walking on the edge.
I closed my eyes for a moment, breathing in and out. I had to do this. There was no other way.
I began following behind Lyra, petrified of the scene around me. My whole body began tensing, but I forced myself to work through it.
Then my foot slipped.
I let out a small scream as rocks slid down the mountain side, falling to the ground below. My other foot stayed firm to the pathway while my hand covered my mouth. My heart was beating a million miles a second. I hated heights. I hated them so damn much.
Lyra turned back to look at me and said “I don’t know where the path goes from here…”
“What?” I said, removing my hand from my mouth, tears rolling down my face. “What do you mean?”
Lyra pointed towards the end of the trail. “It literally goes no where…” She said.
I looked down at the river, searching for any form of crossing.
“Dammit. We have to go back down there, don’t we?” I said.
“I think so.” Lyra sighed, slowly turning herself around.
We made our way back down to the start. Fumbling on the trees and natural staircases. After about fifteen minutes, we were back at square one.
“You know what,” I began, looking out at the river. “I’m just going to go for it.”
I started taking my shoes of, tucking each sock into them. I threw them over my bag, securing them into place. Lyra began doing the same thing. There was only one way across this raging water, and that was by being slow and determined.
We started in separate locations. I was a bit upstream, looking for a shallow spot to step. Lyra was downstream, using fallen trees as leverage in making it across.
“Just be careful!” I yelled towards her. The rain had subsided for now, but the river was still vicious.
Unhurriedly, we both made our way across, stopping every so often to watch eachother. I used my trekking pole as a third leg, which helped me to keep my balance. The water had reached about thigh deep, which was more than enough depth to knock a grown woman down. At one point, I hit a hard stream in the water and began to topple. As if on instinct, my arm came up and shot the trekking pole into the river, hitting a rock and steading my body.
“If we die doing this, I’m going to be so mad.” I laughed nervously.
Lyra laughed as well as she stepped onto the end of the riverbed.
“Made it!” She cheered, grabbing a cloth out of her pack to dry her feet.
“I’m so happy for you!” I sarcastically yelled as I continued to get across.
Once we’d both safely made it to the other side, we took a quick snack break and dried off a bit. It had begun to rain again, so it’s not like it really helped, but we made the best of our unique life.
After losing an extra hour on the river crossing, we finally made it to our first hut. Speargrass. It was quaint, beautiful, and surrounded by mountains. The view that surrounded the hut was a bonus on an already good win for the day. The clouds began to fade away, revealing a brilliant blue sky. The sunset bounced off the mountains, visible from all angles.
That night we shared the hut with a group of army generals, who got to enjoy the comfort of a warm hut while their students had to sleep outdoors with no tents, no fire starters, and no watches. They were in the middle of a training exercise that involved understanding the importance of outdoor survival, and being able to tell the time from nothing but your environment.
As I laughed with these new faces and learned more about other peoples lives, I remembered why I’d come here in the first place. For adventure. For stories. For myself.
The next seven days would be challenging and although I didn’t know it at the time, on day four I would meet a soul unlike any other, run into Matt again, and create a moment that would forever alter the person I was and am to this day.
As I stared up on those mountains, one day in to this eight day adventure, I had no idea what was going to happen.
All I knew is that I was unstoppable.