Wanganui to Paradise on a Hillside B&B
I set out from Wanganui at a blistering pace. Literally in this case.
Part of the whole “bounce box” game is the need to repost the box when you are done with it. Because of post office hours, after picking up my bounce box on Saturday, I was forced to wait in Wanganui until Monday morning for the post office to open before resuming my walk.
*A bounce box is a package that you mail ahead to yourself at an upcoming spot on the trail. It is a way to push forward stuff you don’t need in the meantime. The benefit is less to carry.
This was kinda tough – to be lingering. I spent January 11th hanging out in the garden of the hostel, checking maps, setting a rough itinerary for the balance of the North Island. I was anxious to get walking again. After my two week Xmas break, four days in a canoe, and two zero days in Wanganui I was feeling disconnected from the escape and magic of the walking experience I had left before Xmas. I was also very keen to get to the South Island, sooner rather than later, having heard so much positive about the scenery, state of trails and hut network down there.
I arrived at the Wanganui Post Shop immediately when it opened, at 8:30 the morning of January 12th, and mailed my bounce box ahead to Picton. Picton is the arrival point on the South Island, where I planned to be in two weeks time.
This mail stop meant a late start to a 31 km day, which was entirely road walking to a (free) beachside campground in Koitiana. The walking was fast because it was flat roads, but the late start meant walking in the hottest part of the day, under increasingly intense sun.
This is when the problem started to emerge.
Some new shoes (worn but not fully worked in) combined with the heat (sweaty feet) and a firm determination to “git’r dun” by not stopping for rest all that often added up to small blisters on each of my baby toes. Right and left.
I rested cautiously that evening and babied the toes in question in tea tree oil and fresh air. Then, minutes later, I banged my right toe into the sharp side of a tent peg. The pain was searing. The blister tripled in size immediately and filled with blood. My toe, in turn, was then twice the size as when I started the day. I was in pain, but only a little concerned. My experience so far in this journey is that blisters respond to the most basic care: dry air and cleaning.
I winced a little, squeezing my right foot into my shoes the morning of January 13th. The beach walk beside driftwood on the Tasman Sea was calming and walking became easier as I adjusted to the discomfort. The trail that day to Bulls was beach, forest and road. Mostly road. A diversion due to logging activity added another 6 km of road. I rested more this day, airing my feet at 2 hr intervals, but it was a very long day for my right baby toe.
10 hrs and 34 km in the heat did no good. My left foot responded fine to the basic care and began to heal nicely. The right foot just suffered more. The red went away, which seemed like a good sign.
It was not a good sign.
From Bulls, I had another long walk scheduled for January 14th. This time to Palmerston North. Much highway. Little shoulder. This traffic-heavy road was a touch treacherous, but the real threat was still the heat. Under 32 degree sun, yet another day that proved too long for healthy feet. Regardless of how often I stopped, 43 km proved to be yet another stress on an unhealthy toe. I polished off a bottle of Pilot Gris to numb the pain. That sorta worked quite well. It did work well, in fact.
Palmerston North was the last good opportunity to resupply ahead of the four day Tararua mountain range leg that lay ahead. So, the morning of January 15th was spent picking up some supplies and food for the coming week. Leaving town late – around 11 am – I once again caught the heat of the day as I walked some park, country road and forestry roads before stopping to set up camp in a cleared logging area just ahead of a coming rainstorm. My evening was once again spent fussing and cleaning my toe.
Still tender, waking up with the birds on January 16th, I headed out at 6:30 am with a clear goal: to get to Paradise on the Hillside. This is a remote B&B located on the trail in between two forest walks of the Tararua Forest Park. I headed out strong, and sucked back many Advil, for what proved to be a 12.5 hour, 37 km walk through forestry road, forest, streams, farm pasture and rural roads. The day was once again long. But the sky was mostly overcast, the trail was challenging, beautiful and fun and by stopping regularly and changing socks the pain was mostly muted. That said, when I arrived for dinner at Stephanie Cook’s house, my toe was throbbing and painful in a new way and a couple of additional blisters had formed on the same foot; probably as a result of the awkward gait I had assumed to ease the strain on my littlest toe.
The blister on this toe had shrunk, but was still swollen and it had become a milky white colour. Google searching later that night suggested this was a sign of infection. It was puss.
This freaked me out. A septic infection would spell disaster in the upcoming four day backcountry walk. I took it seriously and the morning of January 17th, the toe now throbbing, settled upon a plan to take a day off walking, visit a clinic, treat and rest the foot before heading on.
Stephanie was very supportive and accommodating: feeding me, driving me into Levin (the neighbouring town) and keeping me fed. She is an extremely interesting person who has made some healthy life choices that I very much admire. Her charming daughters, Katya Nadya graciously put up with the imposition of a stinky Canadian hobbling about the house at all hours. The dogs seemed to accept me. The goats and chickens never really seemed to notice me.
The afterhours clinic in Levin was very straightforward to access, and within 10 minutes of arriving I was in an examining room with Pete Penner. Pete has got it all figured out! He is Canadian. He lives in Kelowna. Except in the winter. For the past 23 years, every January through March he comes to his house in New Zealand for Winter/Summer. Works a bit. Plays a bit. Then heads back to Kelowna in time for Spring. I have talked about the promise of a dual-hemisphere lifestyle for a few years. Never thought I would meet someone who actually pulled it off. Well played Pete…well played.
I spent the rest of this zero day resting with my feet up. Smothered in ointments and popping antibiotics to fight off the infection. It is good for me to start walking again on January 18th, but only if I am diligent with the antibiotics, ointments and dressing prescribed.
I really messed up my toe. I walked way, way too far without adequate rest.
I think this happened because of blindness. Not arrogance. I based my decisions only on my experience to-date on this journey: distances, blister treatment, time walking. These were all indicators of informed decision-making.
But I ignored what was different.
I didn’t consider the other factors. I didn’t look beyond my experience. The evidence I didn’t seek is the evidence I didn’t see. Like heat and humidity. Or cuts from a tent peg.
I also ignored the signs my body was giving. I put too much priority on my itinerary and what I thought my body should be doing that I ignored the reality of heat, moisture, and infection.
I brought this all upon myself. A blister born from the blindness of a blistering pace, in a blistering heat.
I will start walking January 18th. Into the Tararuas. Pete says it should be okay to do so. But I will do so with my eyes a little more open to my surroundings, my body and my fragility.
I will be more focused from this point on what is really going on, rather than on what I think should be going on.
I am going to slow down now.
BTW – One kilometre before arriving Stephanie’s place, I passed the 1,527 km mark. This represents halfway of the 3,054 km journey. So that feels good, although my toe may not totally agree.