Day 59...I'm no mathematical genius, but that's just one day before 60 apparently.
We're close to the end, tired, but not as hungry as we've been in the past.
It will be good to get home, but by all accounts the most spectacular part of the trip is yet to come.
It's all been spectacular really, so I'm not too sure how those accounts can be true. I'm picking it's just Sobo hype from people we've met who hadn't been through the Takitimus, or Mavora, or the Greenstone, or Ahuriri, or Mesopotamia, or the highly underated Bluff coast at sunset on a summer's day...
The trip over the Travers Pass wasn't as exciting as the Waiau Pass, but it was awesome. Literally...not figuratively...awesome.
Again we walked amongst mountains and over enormous rockfalls, deep and narrow canyons and past crystal clear mountain streams. Again the weather Gods, Jarrod and Shavorn, were smiling.
We stopped for a long and late lunch with Anna at Travers Hut. This hut and its setting must be one of the country's most spectacular.
Million dollar views? Nope...priceless views.
But the beauty of the hut and its surroundings were deadened somewhat by the Missing Person poster on the hut noticeboard. 19-year-old German tramper, Christian Prehn, went missing in the area almost a year to the day that we were there. The poster asked us to keep an eye out for clothing or bones that could be Christian's. We guessed it had probably been placed in the hut by his family who had just flown into the valley for what was probably one last desperate look for their son.
This from a story in the Nelson Mail from late February:
"Prehn's father Jens, his mother and his younger brother recently visited Nelson for a week. They left last weekend.
They laid a plaque in his memory on a rock in St Arnaud, provided by DOC.
They also took a helicopter to the Travers Saddle so they could "appreciate the ruggedness of it" and see where Prehn went missing, Colville said. "The only kind of mountain they have in Krefeld, where they come from, is 60 metres high."
Travers Saddle is 1787m above sea level."
After some sombre conversation we dragged ourselves away and down the mountain to John Tait Hut through beautiful mountain beech forest that was full of light. Much of this forest grows on avalanche debris, so there is little soil. Daisies, buttercups, tussock and flax-like plants gave the effect of a Japanese garden...a giant Japanese garden.
There may have been little soil but there were avalanche warnings everywhere. There was no snow, but I had the feeling that if there was a good earthquake, there were plenty of asteroid sized boulders hanging precariously above us that could give us a run for our money.
We lost height rapidly and the forest became darker as the path followed the Travers River and negotiated its many tributaries.
Just before the hut we met Wim and Barbara, a couple of kiwi Sobos who were from Christchurch.
A retired couple, they'd decided to walk as far down the South Island as they could before it got too cold.
Now that's what I call a retirement plan.
Okay. The secret's out. I don't write all of these trail tales the day they happen...but I almost do.
I manage to write 90 percent of them on the evening of the day that they are about. Yes, I'm tired after an often long day on the trail, but because there is so little to do in huts after pudding, sitting down to write is actually entertaining.
It's like having an internal TV set. I have the photos in my camera to write to, and Whiona supplies all the facts - the nitty gritty stuff that stops people thinking that I'm making all this up and that we're actually sitting in an old hut up the Pohangina Valley, drinking cask wine, smoking cigarettes and furiously faking our snapshots in Photoshop. Hoping no-one will find out that we have chickened out.
The other eleven percent (my failure rate) of these blogposts is written a day...sometimes several days later.
Even with Wiona's cautious eye, I sometimes get things wrong. I get confused. One day becomes another day. One hut becomes another hut. The occasional German Sobo becomes an American...an understandable error perhaps.
Anyway...the following events actually took place the previous night at West Sabine Hut...NOT at John Tait hut. The huts have quite similar layouts and are of similar vintage. I got confused alright? It's happened before in the Two Thumbs Range. Royal Hut and Stone Hut are almost identical...but Whiona caught me before I pushed the Publish button that time.
Anyway...here's an observation from the night before:
The popularity of the Travers Circuit means that empty huts are a rarity. We shared John Tait (No! It was West Sabine you idiot!) with six others. The only other TeAer was Anna.
TeA walkers tend to dominate the dinner time conversation. We all have a bond in the Thin Red Line that makes for instant friendships.
The novelty of the conversation around John Tait's (West Sabine's) table that night came from Lelia of Portland, Oregon. Her plans meant she was "one of us". A privilege for sure.
She wasn't not doing TeA, but was about to go home and start the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). She was really looking forward to it but had some big reservations.
Her trip coincided with the Hollywood blockbuster Wild, a movie about the life-changing PCT journey of Cheryl Strayed, starring Reece Witherspoon. The movie and its success meant that even more people than normal would be walking the trail this season.
Apparently the start of the PCT season kicks off with heaps of trail walkers leaving at once.
It's a lot longer than TeA but its path is more developed and gentler.
Lelia wasn't looking forward to the throngs of people and would miss the brilliant hut system - with toilets - that we have here. But she was so determined to do the PCT that she quit her job as a computer engineer at Intel to do it.
How's that for work-life balance?
She wasn't the only walker we'd met who had taken this "drastic" action. Amongst the young, who're doing gap years before or after study, a high proportion of the people we've met have either negotiated long leave-without-pay agreements or have walked out of their careers.
One woman we met on the trail was asked to leave the job she'd quit early because her Te Araroa fantasy was proving disruptive around the office.
"You're too excited...it's time to leave...now."
Our excitement has certainly waned the closer we get to home but we know that it will be over all too soon. We sometimes find ourselves hurrying along. Hurrying to reach the end of a track we'll be missing as soon as we walk through the door of our welcoming home.
THE REAL STORY: What actually happened at John Tait Hut.
We spent the night with five others, including Anna. We ate and talked. I wrote - although about what I'm not too sure now - and I went to sleep in the animal-proof porch with everyone's smelly socks and wet boots. It was perfect.