776,235 Steps (593 km)

Ebbs, flows and the spaces in between. A natural rhythm has set itself into the past eight days: ebbs and flows in pace, people, terrain, expectation, contemplation, accommodation and, yes, tides. There are times when life gets ahead of us, and there are times when we get ahead of life. Neither is a terribly happy place if we are so arrogant as to believe we deserve something otherwise. This journey is a reminder to embrace the whole – not to chase down the high points or circle around the low points.

I left Reotani on November 18 and I arrived at the Pullman Hotel in downtown Auckland on November 25 where I am taking a rest day (November 26). This post covers a nine day period and 200 km of walking, resting and kayaking that I am not going to breakdown in detail as I have in past posts. That’s a tedious task when approached over nine days. Instead, this go around I am reflecting on some themes that have presented themselves during this stage of the journey:

The tide needs time to do its thing, and so do we. Waiting for a high tide or waiting for a low tide was a reminder that our schedule is not always our own. You can’t rush the tide. This can work out well, though. It provided a licence to kick back and enjoy an unfortunate combination of sauvignon blanc, several beers and cider at the charming Puhoi Pub. This was also a chance to get to know Lance Smith, who not only hosted me that evening and provided a warm bed in a charming loft, but also supplied, prepared and joined me on the next days high-tide kayak trip down the Puhoi River and shared perspectives on Neil Young – he also paid for my cider! The same was true two days later, when I spent hours resting at a campground in Stillwater waiting for the tide to lower. Time spent napping, booking an Auckland hotel, and the finally meeting up with Serina (Canada), Eef (Belgium) and Per Jonus (Norway) as we anxiously scoped out route options for a waist-depth wade across the Okura River, which can be safely crossed only at low tide.

People come and people go and… oh, here they come again. There are moments when a competitive instinct – or simply a motivation to do it “well” makes  me aware of my relative progress: Am I keeping up? Am I ahead? There is no such thing. In this journey, nobody is truly ahead or behind because it’s every traveler’s own journey. People take their own pauses, for their own reasons, and eventually we meet up again. As happened between Faby (Germany) and I on a couple of consecutive days, we don’t say bye, it’s safest to assume we will bump into one another for no particular reason: unscheduled, unplanned, and always on our own time. This elasticity of pace is really awesome. It is uncoordinated and free and void of technology for the most part. While I have still not run into Rory, I have heard from him, and I did meet MaryLene the morning after my last blog post as I was boarding a boat to cross to Marsden Point. Later that same day I ran into Moritz – he had managed a boat ride the previous day- and introduced him to Faby – a fellow German. Jorg, yet another German, has made regular outreach as well. While I have had a solid dose of walking alone the past 8 days, I have never felt isolated, as the flow of people is steady – even though their individual paces are their own.

The pace and distance traveled each day don’t matter.  I have not walked consistent distances, times or pace the past 8 days. Some days call for a long day, some call for a fast pace, some invite many pauses: to capture a photo, to stare down a cow or fifteen, to dry feet in the sun, to confirm directions, to soak feet in a stream. Others call for a heads-down push through kilometers of road. The daily pace and mileage, as a result, ebbs and flows based on the terrain and my temperament. About the only constant is the start of my day – always on the trail between 6 and 6:30 each morning.

Accommodating about accommodations. Because I don’t look more than a day ahead on the trail map I truly have no idea where I will be sleeping more than a day ahead. At this point I aim for the best accommodations possible: free camping being the last resort. Backpackers (hostels) seem to offer the best balance, followed by a private cabin at a holiday park, a bed and breakfast or hosted accommodation, an apartment and finally a quality hotel like the Pullman in downtown Auckland. What I really liked – I didn’t think I would – was staying a night in camper #33 at the Takapuna Beach Holiday Park in the Auckland suburbs. It was super-cozy and spacious and clean and the cafe next door accommodated me with a late night fish and chips (after closing) and a subsequent early morning coffee (before opening). Both were excellent, hot, and served with a friendly smile. Not camping in a tent has many advantages: it’s easier on the tent, it’s easier on the back, it’s drier, it affords a quick start the next morning and relaxes the pace of the next day. There will be many nights in this journey where a tent will be the only option. In the meantime, enjoying what comes along works out fine for me and also for others who are more tent-minded. I heard from Faby, Jorg and Serina different experiences in recent days where they asked to set up tents on property only to be invited to sleep in the house – and most often offered food and such.

The hill is always longer than you think – and is worth it. My younger daughter, Gwen, advised me once to “use your bum muscles” when cross country skiing. This has proved to be some of the best advice ever. There are periods in this walk where the amount of vertical climbing is overwhelming: the demands on the leg muscles to push forward and up – with the added burden of a laden backpack – then down and up and down again, are made so much easier engaging the “glutes”. I repeat Gwen’s words often when I am making my way up yet another hill, towards yet another stunning vista of farm pasture, rolling hills, coastal beach or gleaming coastal reef. Hills slow you down, but always deliver something – even if it is just the satisfaction of having put the hill behind you.

(De)commuting in slow motion. One of the interesting dynamics of theses last days was the gradual, but steadily increasing presence of massive and glamorous homes as I approached the city. What started as hilltop vacation properties overlooking the sea evolved to clusters of the same and, eventually, walled stretches of beach bordered by house stacked-upon house. This isn’t specific to New Zealand, I get that. What was interesting was the experience of walking into it: having it unfold step by step, bay by bay, kilometer by kilometer, day by day. For me it begged some questions: who lives here? why? for what purpose? I don’t have any good answers yet. Perhaps seeing it in reverse in the next few days as I walk away from the city at the same pace will answer these questions.

Black Diamond has swung into the good column. The walking pole I broke on day four was a huge inconvenience and more than a bit of a disappointment in the Black Diamond brand. I had spent very good money on these walking sticks and to have one break on the first day of hill climbing was not what I bought into. Well, after some brief back and forth and exceptional effort on the part of Black Diamond’s New Zealand distributor (thanks Emma!) I now have a replacement set of terrific (carbon!) walking poles. A big upgrade from what I had, and a near-painless resolution of a problem. Except…

The last two days in the city have been stress-ridden. Physically and emotionally. The emotional part centres around my lost cell phone (and most of the past week’s photos) en route to pick up my replacement walking poles yesterday morning. The energy and time spent worrying about where the phone was, how I might get it back, what it would mean in terms of cost, reloading GPS was debilitating. This is a reminder that, while I have got much perspective from the past few weeks, little things continue to bring me down when they don’t need to. Earlier today I got a replacement phone and all appears fine – except for the photos. I remind myself that I am not doing this to collect photos – I am doing it for the experience and the perspective it provides. I will chalk this episode up as a costly reminder of that.

My ankle has had no significant pain in recent days, thanks to regular icing, resting of feet etc. But it is weak. I had a massage today and the massage therapist aggressively worked the muscles on my left side (same as ankle). It was extremely painful as she worked the tightened muscles all the way up my left side. Really, really painful. Apparently my legs are handling the duties my ankle isn’t, and getting messed up in the process. I will need to watch this carefully. She recommended taping it up to prevent some of this overcompensation by the leg muscles, which I plan to do starting tomorrow. Staying at the Pullman has been very relaxing and I am now (post-phone-freakout) taking the opportunity to air out, wipe down and repack my gear and do laundry.

Finally, I have a new best friend who goes by the name of magnesium. This stuff is magic in a bottle. Having run 9 marathons and tons of shorter running races and all the training associated with that, I am embarrassed that I did not discover this stuff before now. It eases and prevents muscle pain and cramps like crazy. AND it provides relief from “worry”!  Yes. Relief from worry. I don’t recall taking it yesterday morning before the cell phone fiasco, perhaps that is the real lesson here…?

I will aim to post within 4-5 days next time. This last 9-day window has proven too much of a gap to capture the feel of each day’s experience.

There is a very limited gallery to accompany this post (because cell phone!), pretty much just some of the instagram photos that were posted in that period.