I slept on the decision. The next day, I mentally squared my shoulders and sat with Rose to explain what I hoped to do.
To my relief, surprise and consternation, she was not as shaken as I expected. Perhaps my marriage was not as secure as I believed it to be. She called her sister later and I heard her say, “Oh, he’ll be fine. Between you and me, I’m thrilled. I can get on with what I want to do.” She took herself off to the Takapuna Farmers Market and returned with a huge bunch of white roses and freshly painted toenails. I called the shade, ‘Get Lost Pink’. She laughed, “Don’t be silly! Let’s call it, ‘Keep It Fresh!'”
We decided that if a thing is to be done, let it be done quickly. We set the departure date twelve days’ hence and went into overdrive.
The first step was to overhaul the clothing and gear I had used with my stepson. It looked as tired and dated as I felt. The worn rubber cladding of my trekking shoes drooped outwards, like the tongues of a pair of thirsty dogs. I held them out to Rose, the keeper of the privy purse, with a look of mute appeal.
She sighed and accompanied me to the shop where we had unloaded a ton of cash outfitting her son and me last summer. The manager greeted us with warm whimpers of expectation. Rose fixed her with a steely look that expressed, “Don’t rip us off.” Men are so gullible. I sat back to watch the performance.
Rose said, “My husband’s walking the Te Araroa. He needs boots. Can you guarantee a pair that will be good enough to last the trek?” To her credit, the manager said she could not. She advised us that it might take as many as four pairs to walk the trail.
Rose digested the information. “At $500 per pair, that would be $2000 just for boots!” she exclaimed.
When she gets overexcited, she adopts an Irish accent. “Lord save me, you’ll be the ruin of us!” she cried, rounding on me, the feckless husband.
“Well, I don’t need them,” I said meekly.
The manager tactfully excused herself and made for the stock room where she had just remembered some urgent business.
That ended the new boots idea, may it rest in peace. This expedition would have to be done on a shoestring budget or not at all.
Rose activated “Plan B” and wheeled me through a series of recycled clothing shops. Her excitement rose as she unearthed one bargain after another. “Look darling! Here’s a pair of Brooks running shorts for $1.00!” she cried. “And a pair of New Balance trail running shoes in just your size! They’re only $7.00! Ooh! A lovely black merino wool jumper for $3.00! Wow! A brand new Columbia rain jacket and trousers for $20.00! You’re going to trash them anyway!”
Back at home, she pulled our purchases out of recycled bags and insisted I put on a fashion show. “They look wonderful on you! You’ll be a Vogue tramper!” she said. “I only wished we’d thought about this on your last walk. We’ve saved $1,000 already!”
I bit my lip and kept my mouth shut. This was not the time to point out that she had insisted her precious son had needed the best gear possible during our earlier hike.
I cobbled together the rest of my gear over the next few days. These minor successes encouraged me to call the retired mountain guide who had sold my stepson and I the hammock systems we had used instead of tents.
In the shop, he showed me an intriguing piece of gear made to his design. “I call it the ‘Survival Outdoor System,’” he said with pride. I did not let on to Rose what SOS stood for. He pulled it out of its bag with a flourish. A black and orange sleeping suit with quilted legs, booties and hood unfolded. Zippers just below each shoulder would allow a hypothermic camper (or sailor) to use his arms without exposing the chest or head.
Showing me gear like this is like showing a little boy a train set six months before Christmas. I had to have it! He saw the telltale gleam in my eyes. To my surprised delight, he tossed it to me and said, “It’s yours! Let me know how it performs when you get back.”
Back at home, I modelled it for Rose. She laughed and called it a “onesie.”
“You’ll be the talk of the trail in that,” she said.
“But what sort of talk?” I wondered as I mentally ticked another item off my gear list.