One occurrence in particular changed the course of my life. After a day of drizzling rain, we called a halt to slopping along in wet feet and made camp in a dripping beech wood. While we ate a meal of macaroni and cheese diluted with raindrops and seasoned with beech leaves and kamikaze black flies, a young hiker stopped for a rest and a chat.
He was from Holland and at the tail-end of a six month wander from one end of New Zealand to the other. That caught our attention. It put our thirty day tramp, of which we were so proud, into perspective. I asked how he had done it. He told us about a national trail that had opened the year before in 2011.
“It’s called the ‘Te Araroa’,” he said in flawless English. “It means ‘Long Pathway’ and it is long, over 3,000 kilometres from one end of New Zealand to the other.”
I reached for my sodden notebook and pulled out a blunt pencil.
“Have a cup of tea and tell us about it,” I said.
My stepson and I listened while our visitor spoke about his adventures with shining eyes. “I’m off track right now,” he said modestly. “I just couldn’t resist adding a few little extra trails.”
I absorbed his worn boots, stripped down pack and general air of quiet competence. He glowed with rugged health. My stepson and I had pulled on every extra piece of clothing we owned yet he wore just shorts, a shirt and a light windbreaker. A cold blast of wind sobbed through the trees and sent a chilling cascade of raindrops from the branches. I shivered as a trickle of water slid down my spine.
“A few little extra trails, indeed!” I thought. We were a day into an eight day walk. It was big stuff for us but apparently a mere sideshow for him.
He drained his mug, thanked us, hefted his pack with ease onto his shoulders and departed for another hour or two of light tramping before dark. My stepson and I exchanged a look.
“The ‘Te Araroa’,” I said. The Maori syllables tripped awkwardly over my tongue. “Well, there’s an idea. Could be a good one for you, next summer.”
“Perhaps it’s one for you, Major,” Tino grinned as he pulled out his damp sleeping bag.