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11 March 2006

smilekiller

smilekiller.jpg

i sit here broken and bruised, blistered and bloody, burned, battered and beaten by one of new zealand's great walks, the abel tasman coastal track. in the beautiful seaview house which stands just inland of the last kilometer of the track in marahau, i stare down at this long wooden table and occasionally glance to my left to the ocean horizon and then to the last stretch of coastal track down which kai and i hobbled just two days earlier. after a series of unfortunate events on our first day of hiking, or 'tramping' rather [cringe. shudder.], for one does not 'hike' in new zealand [in fact, one does not 'trek' or 'walk' in new zealand either; one 'tramps' in new zealand. 'tramping' landed on me off angle first in the auckland airport; thereafter it dissolved me daily as seemingly two sizes too small hiking boots dissolved away the skin of my feet over the past two days. new arrivals speak the word with hesitation, creeping into it as one would creep into cold water one toe at a time, gradually working up their confidence over time until after a few weeks they boldly speak it as if an alternative never existed, going so far as to correct the ignorant who dare utter the words 'hiking' or 'trekking', jumping uninvited into conversations to demonstrate their belonging by inserting the word inappropriately into every other sentence. ['want to tramp? first we tramped here and then we tramped there. how did you like that tramp?' [slap!] 'i hated it.'] i stand in defiance against those who tramp. i'll use 'hiking' and 'trekking' only for color, but after all, it's all just simply 'walking', isn't it? what differentiates hiking, trekking, and tramping from walking? [in my defense, i am in pain right now and barely able to walk.]], kai and i decided to compress a three day/two night walk into two days and one night, a decision which forced us into a monstrous 36 kilometer (22.5 mile) torturetrek on the second day. in my life i have never walked more in one day. herein i will elaborate on the series of unfortunate events which blinded my eyes to anything that was ever... that was simply _EVER_... on new zealand's abel tasman coastal track.

after a late monday morning, kai and i decided to postpone our departure by one day; we used the afternoon to discuss our plans and book two campsites with a helpful man at the tourist information center in motueka. on the first day of the trek we would take a 'water taxi' (aka 'a boat'; [sigh]) from marahau to totaranui [this map [source: http://www.motueka.net.nz] might help], hike the circular track section north of totaranui to whariwharangi bay, returning via gibb's hill, and then trek south to awaroa where we would camp for the night; on the second day we would trek from awaroa to anchorage and again camp for the night; on the third day we would trek from anchorage back to marahau.

the first day of the trek began as planned. kai and i drove to the water taxi departure point, finished packing our gear, and confirmed our boat reservation. a mean machine tractor pulled up towing our ride [just like this] about fifteen minutes later and we were among the first of twenty or so passengers to pile in. our captain informed us that the boat would be full that morning and advised us to keep our packs on our laps. tight. after a short tractor ride (always fun) down the road, our boat slid gracefully into the low tide water and was on its way to split apple rock. the scenery stop was quick and a few minutes later we were speeding down the coast on our way to totaranui, all of us overflowing with rainbows and smiles and gummy gum gumdrops.

further down the coast, our captain warned us that the next stretch of ocean, nicknamed 'the mad mile' due to the typically rough water, would be particularly rough that day due to the nor'wester [the third term in this entry which lies beneath my skin alongside 'tramping' and 'water taxi'] that had just moved through the area and advised us to protect all of our cameras. i hadn't realized how lucky kai and i had been to be one of the first to board the boat and amongst the few sheltered from the water by captain's cabin. as we hit the rough choppy waves the water coming over the sides of the speeding craft rapidly turned from a light 'do you feel that, honey? isn't that refreshing?' spray to full-on torrents of stinging 'honey, this really sucks.' smilekilling saltwater. it wasn't long before the smiles of most of the passengers sitting in the back few rows were killed. i say most because there was a young japanese couple in the back row who continued laughing despite the soaking. i consciously considered myself lucky to be sheltered from the water in the front of the boat; kai and i would be camping that night and we'd learned from nights of sleeping in the car that the temperature drops rapidly when the sun goes down.

we continued down the coast and after approximately twenty minutes we slowed and the captain announced that we'd be making our first stop at bark bay where some passengers would be getting off. but in fact, he said with a chuckle [bastard], all passengers would be getting off; those continuing down the coast would be transferring to a new 'and much more comfortable' boat. 'you should take off your boots and socks if you don't want to get them wet.' what? did i miss that? the deboarding/boarding procedure did not involve any type of dock nor any type of sophisticated clamping and planking system, i soon discovered. our boat crept slowly towards land, dropped an anchor from the bow, and then turned around and backed right into the beach until it hit bottom... and then all of the passengers, kai and i included, jumped off the back into the waves. those continuing down the coast scrambled down the beach carrying our packs and boots (and in my case, one pair of falke tk2 hikingshoe coolmax® performance socks) and onto the new 'and much more comfortable' boat that was waiting for us.

blah. i didn't like this procedure at all. i hate being wet. i hate wet sandy feet and i hate carrying heavy packs and hiking boots and one pair of falke tk2 hikingshoe coolmax® performance socks up the beach across the wet sand through the waves and onto new boats. hate hate hate it. and to amplify my hate, guess what happens to the order of the passengers when they get off one boat and onto the next. come on... guess. yes, you're correct... and you probably guessed correctly before i did. in my wet sandy hating daze, i didn't realize until i was sitting in the second to last row of the new boat that the order of the passengers would be completely _reversed_. nooooo! kai and i were now completely vulnerable to the sea spray... and not a 'do you feel that, honey? isn't that refreshing?' sea spray but a full-on torrent of evil soaking 'honey, this really fucking sucks.' stinging saltwater. by some horrible twist of fate, the poor japanese couple whose smiles had not been killed by the dousing on the first boat had had a difficult time transferring their gear to the new boat and were sitting not in the front row where should have been but rather in the very last row yet again. let the onslaught... begin.

but the onslaught didn't begin... [as we pulled away from the beach the boat cut smoothly through the water. i was getting hit with just slightly more water than had been hitting me on the first boat, but by crouching down a little i was avoiding a thorough soaking. maybe kai and i had gotten lucky. maybe this _was_ a 'much more comfortable' boat and maybe we'd make it to our destination undripping and dry. maybe i'd figured out the way to beat the floods. my mind was filled with a million maybe's for the next half hour until the captain made an abrupt turn to port to bring us into our next beach stop.] ...right away. then there were no more maybe's. and then there were no more smiles. the maybe's and smiles were destroyed by a drenching unleashed by poseidon himself as the waves hit the side of the boat and water was propelled up and over in a steady stream. within seconds of the turn into the coast, my hoodie was absolutely soaked and i was cursing the captain. i looked back; the japanese couple was no longer laughing. smilekiller.

the boat backed onto the beach and the captain barked out an announcement... 'everyone off.' apparently this was our destination. the waves on this beach were far more fierce than those on the last and there was little i could do to protect what little bit of below the waist dryness remained; i jumped into the water and was soaked from the thighs down. it appeared my money belt and pocket contents were spared, but i couldn't be sure without a check. kai wasn't so lucky. just as he jumped off into the water, the boat lurched forward and knocked his feet out from under him which sent him reeling backwards into the waves. i didn't see him go down but he arrived on the beach completely wet and wearing an expression that could have stopped time had he wanted to use it for such a purpose. wet, sandy, and defeated before we'd even begun, we followed the others up the beach to the path which led to the coastal track.

shortly thereafter we realized that we'd gotten off the boat... on. the. wrong. beach. nooooo!

goddamnit. i can't fully blame the captain because i do think he called out the name of the beach, awaroa, before he said 'everyone off.' we were not going to awaroa, but rather to totaranui... the captain knew this... we knew this... but still we got off. it didn't matter who was to blame... nothing could dampen the feeling of wet sandy hate that was boiling inside me as kai and i dripped up the path to the awaroa lodge carrying our gear. i'll shorten the interaction we had with the nice awaroa lodge receptionist, julia: kai cursed at her in an 'english is not my first language' sort of way that i hoped would allow it to slide off of her more easily and i temporarily forgot that we were not checking into her $300 a night lodge but were in fact simply camping. regardless, fifteen minutes later we'd boarded another boat and were on our way to totaranui.

we needed to have dry clothes if we hoped to endure the cold night. shortly after we arrived at the totaranui beach (and plunged into the water for the third time. still fun.), we changed into some shorts and hiked up to the totaranui lodge. there kai asked the receptionist if we could hang our jeans and his sweater in a nearby tree. she said sure; we hung and then we left. it was close to 1300 at that point and we had just gotten started on the abel tasman coastal track... we'd hike the circular route north of totaranui up the coast and then cut over and return via gibb's hill, which at 409m was the highest point in the area.

i can't say i was really excited about walking anywhere at that point. this was my first 'hiking' hike with a heavy backpack and after about 20 minutes of tramping [<- hey! look at me!] i wasn't having much fun. in fact, i felt like i was just walking from point a to point b... on some type of annoying mission... with no desire to see any of the scenery in between. my pack was laden with food for three days, water, some clothes, and a sleeping bag. it felt heavy. and we were hiking in a circle... we weren't _EVEN_ hiking from point a to point b... we were hiking from freaking point a back to point a. up into the forest... down to a beach... back into the forest... back down to another beach... my wet hating beaten.down.by.the.sea self wasn't particularly impressed with the scenery. yes, beaches are generally nice, but when you're hauling a heavy pack across them with an already dampened attitude it's hard to see them as warm relaxing stretches of sandy softness... instead they become tedious treadmills of windy sandblasting pain. by 1500 i wanted the day to end.

we continued on... beach, forest, beach, forest... blick, blah, blick, blah... rounded the far end of the circle and began the climb up gibb's hill. when we finally got to the top, we were allowed only the briefest feelings of accomplishment before it started to rain and we had to quickly finish our sandwiches during the descent back to totaranui. kai was smart enough to have brought some rain gear and while he did look a little like big bird in his bright yellow plastic jacket [sorry, no picture due to the weather. take my word for it.], what was dry on him at that point was staying dry and what was dry on me was becoming wet. i was almost running down the path. fortunately the rain died down for most of the hike back until we got close to totaranui at which point it began coming down harder than before. any hopes of dry jeans were destroyed as we droned down the path back to the lodge.

of course, what we didn't realize as we walked down the path back to the lodge was that the rain was having absolutely no effect on our jeans. why, you ask? because they were no longer hanging where we'd hung them! someone had ripped off our clothes! goddamn goddamn! no my jeans, no kai's jeans, no kai's sweater! no nothing! all gone! who the hell would rip off freaking blue jeans?! i had some ideas [tramping hippies!].

kai [screaming]: 'WHAT FOR A MOTHERFUCKERS?! what for a motherfuckers would steal our clothes?!'

me: 'no man... it's what SORT of motherfuckeR would steal our clothes.'

kai [still screaming]: 'WHAT FOR A MOTHERFUCKERS?!'

i would no longer be able to throw a blue jean burning party upon my return! i'd travelled for eleven months without losing anything or having anything stolen... and now... the _second_ stolen/lost item... and in new zealand! grr.

we grumbled, groaned, growled and grr'd for about ten minutes more before continuing on towards the awaroa campsite.

there are several points on the track that can only be crossed two hours before or after low tide; one of these tidal crossing points exists directly north of the awaroa campsite. we arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes before low tide. as far as we could see, the water had almost completely receded from the estuary [this picture was taken from the opposite side of the estuary the next morning]; a few pools of seawater still existed, but we plowed forward into the first half of the shellfish encrusted mushiness eager to get to the campsite and the end of our grueling day. as the water gradually got deeper, kai plunged in with his infamous trekking sandals; i did the same with my brilliantly brown boots until the water came close to flowing over the edges. i tried to detour out and around the water but daylight was fading fast and i needed to get across to the campsite. i carefully removed both boots and socks and squished on into the field of sharp slicing shells. ah, the pain. the beautiful sweet slicing pain. it was completely dark by the time i reached the other side with bloody feet. i met up with kai and in the darkness we found the campsite.

shortly thereafter, kai discovered that the bag that held his tent... the bag that he'd been carting around new zealand for a few weeks at that point... did not actually contain... the. entire. tent. no, in fact, it contained only... half. a. tent. the entire external covering of the tent was missing! grr. grr. GRR! what for a motherfuckers!

but really i didn't even have energy to be upset. kai did. when he'd calmed down he explained that the officials at the airport who inspect camping gear for any foreign biomaterial which could upset new zealand's delicate ecosystem must have forgotten to repack the outside of the tent. i didn't even have energy to care. it was dark, we hadn't eaten, our clothes had been stolen, i had the spike in the spine feeling at the base of my neck, my feet were blistered and bloody, and we didn't have a tent to sleep in. i checked in with some people at the nearby hut and they directed me to the warden who lived in another hut on the hill. i droned up the hill to ask if we could throw our sleeping bags on the floor of the hut that night; the answer was no, but fortunately there were available mattresses in the hut. upgrade price from camping ground to the hut: $15 each. i didn't even have energy to care.

that night during a dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and butter chicken stew, kai and i made the decision to hike the entire way back to marahau the next day. in all probability, the hut at anchorage (where we'd intended to camp the second night) would be full and even if there were room, we decided we didn't want to spend the extra $15. no, we wanted the abel tasman coastal track to be over as quickly as possible.

sleep. weird moaning from the girl on the neighboring bunk.

awake. day two.

we left the awaroa hut at 0930 and walked 35.88 kilometers. 22.4 miles. over 10 hours and 53 minutes. back to our car. when we walked down this last kilometer in marahau, i was walking on sheer willpower. truly. i have no idea how my legs were still moving or how my feet were still able to absorb the shock of each step or how the spike to the spine had not completely impaled my body. the hostel that we wanted to stay in was closed when we got there; after an expensive steak sandwich dinner to reward our beaten bodies, we drove back towards motueka and parked the car in a secluded area off the road. when i peeled away my seemingly two sizes too small hiking boots, i discovered that the skin of my feet had been dissolved away in some places. the flesh was all but detached on the pads of each toe. the tips of a few toes had even split open in the same way that a boxer's face is split open by a heavy blow. my socks were damp with sweat and blood. but we had done it. we had hiked the entire abel tasman coastal track in two days.

at some point during the second day i remember asking kai what we'd tell someone if they asked us about the track. he said that we'd tell them that 'we hiked the shit out of the abel tasman track.' but that wasn't really the truth. the truth is that the abel tasman track hiked the shit out of _us_.

posted by paul on Sat 11 Mar 2006 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

comments

very nice story...glad you guys had a great :) time.

tell kai I love his pissed off english

posted by james on Thu 16 Mar 2006 at 09:09:08 est (-05:00)

james: damn... yeah... _great_ time. kai's english, like that of most europeans, is fantastic, but he still has some problems using profanity appropriately. i've taken it upon myself to teach him the art. >:)

posted by paul recon on Thu 16 Mar 2006 at 19:42:59 est (-05:00)

I have been trying to get in touch with you and didn't know how...
how have you been?

posted by christina on Sat 18 Mar 2006 at 21:27:17 est (-05:00)

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