I’ve now been on #WalkNZ for a little over a month and walked almost 550km. So far the Te Araroa trail has delivered – especially on three things: beach walking, road walking, and muddy forests.
And then I was handed a few more muddy forests.
There were already some rumours circulating about Omaha Forest and the trek to the summit of Tamahunga. Rumours that included mud.
I largely ignored them – nothing could be as bad as Raetea Forest, right?
Well, it all started out well; a nice uphill climb. And then came the mud.
It was wet yellow sloppy, sticky stuff. And it was deep, coming right up to my knees at one point.
But this was Te Araroa so there had to be an extra element of adventure. This came in the form of gorse bushes – giant clumps of pin cushions forming a narrow alley way of needles either side of a river of mud.
You could try to avoid one at the expense of the other but essentially each step was a mixture of slosh and a sharp prick.
That combined with the steep slope made for an interesting time.
But Te Araroa hadn’t finished with the fun just yet.
Throw in three cows on this narrow mud alley and it becomes something else.
I’d thought something wasn’t right when I thought the funny patterns in the mud looked distinctly like cow hoof prints.
“Well, that explains why the mud is so slushy,” I concluded, not really considering how fresh the prints might be.
Even when I passed a cow pat, all it did was confirm my suspicions that a cow had at some point wandered onto the trail.
I entertained myself thinking about a cow walking up and down these hills in the mud. “Boy, I bet that would be funny to watch,” I laughed to myself.
But I soon had the last laugh when at the top of a slope I heard a loud moo.
There at the bottom of the slope was a black cow, another close behind it.
Thankfully they moved off to the right into the bush. I eased myself down the slope and passed them by and carried on.
Then halfway down another slope, a loud moo came from behind me, almost causing me to lose balance.
At the top of the slope stood the cows. Were they following me?
I moved to the side to let them past. They just stood and looked at me and mooed some more.
“Fine, I’ll go first then,” I said, visions of cows sliding down the hill and colliding with me going through my mind.
I began my descent again, with the cows following.
Again I moved to the side. The cows stopped.
I waved my hands to usher the cows past. “Go, you can go first. Come on. You can go past me, I’m not going to hurt you.”
They didn’t move. Of course cows don’t understand English.
We stared at each other. Neither of us moved.
So the only way I was getting down this hill was to go first.
I scrambled down as quickly as possible, the cows closely behind. Thankfully a stile was at the bottom for me to clamber over. The cows just mooed.
The next day through Dome Forest, I faced more mud. This time not as deep and squishy but now I also had numerous tree roots to deal with. Tree roots that wanted to trip me up. Tree roots that looked like tentacles or alien fingers ready to grip onto my foot and not let go.
The going was tough and slow. It was steep and slippery. I was well and truly over mud. I’d had enough of it. With each fresh patch, despair set in as I moaned not again.
And then as I navigated a tricky descent over a tree root, I did an almighty skid and landed heavily on my bum, the cold wet mud quickly soaking through the seat of my pants.
As I struggled to get back up on two feet – no mean feat on an angled slippery slope with a heavy backpack – I felt the grip of frustration around my heart. Tears burned at my eyes and I wailed an expletive-driven tirade at the forest and the mud and life in general.
I’d have stamped my feet if I hadn’t already been in a compromised and precarious position.
With blurred vision and snot dripping from my nose, I carried on down the hill on shaky legs.
I was close to breaking. I could feel the temptation of chucking it all in, of giving up. My pack was too heavy, my ankle had started to hurt. The mud was never ending.
Raetea Forest weighed heavily on my mind, memories of that harrowing experience shading this particular forest walk, contorting it, making it worse than it actually was.
Where was the fun, the joy of walking Te Araroa?
The night before I’d been called tough for taking on the trail with the intention of walking each section. Right at that moment I didn’t feel very tough. I felt weak, vulnerable and close to being a failure.
And then I realised I couldn’t just give up – mainly because I had to walk out of this forest.
With that realisation I tried to rationalise my thoughts. This discomfort I felt was only temporary, it would soon end, tomorrow would be another day.
For the rest of the walk I yo-yoed from hating Te Araroa and hating myself to grasping onto thin threads of positivity and philosophising my way through the mud and tree roots.
I emerged from that forest a broken but not yet beaten woman.
But this is Te Araroa. It affects everyone differently.
Some days you love it. Some days you hate it.
Some days you hate the beach – especially when the sand is soft and there is a driving wind making each step a laborious effort.
Some days you love the beach when you can power through 14km in no time without having to concentrate on where you put your feet (an appreciation that comes after muddy forest walking).
Some days the road walking is hot and a bore, and the car drivers a menace. But some days it can be a joy, like when I walked past a paddock of cows who decided to follow me, dancing along the fence line after me in abject merriment.
And the forests – well some of those are even nice. Namely the ones with no mud and well-maintained paths. Those ones you can stop and appreciate nature in all its green beauty without wondering what part of your trousers is clean enough to smear the mud off your hands.
I don’t hate forests. I just don’t like mud, and certainly not in that quantity and viscosity. But I’d be happy if I didn’t have to walk through another for a few days. By which time, I’ll probably be sick of road walking. The cycle continues.
More photos on my Facebook page.
And a massive thanks to Maggie for being the most amazing trail angel ever!