Well it happened. We were only a few days from the end and I gave up...
Not the walking bit...just the writing bit.
I just didn't have the energy or the will to come in after a hard days work and use my brain. I was tired. Hungry. Sore.
I was also confused. I wanted it all to end AND to go on forever.
Perhaps I thought I could make the trail last longer by leaving the writing of the last few days until I got home.
Perhaps I figured that you wouldn't mind.
I wanted my bed. I wanted my fridge. I wanted my chair in the lounge that comes with a free cat and limitless really shitty TV programmes. I even wanted to go to work.
I didn't want to write.
It's now four weeks since we "finished" the Trail. I'm writing this as I sit in a barber shop in Feilding waiting to get my wild TeA hair and beard tamed. The crystal clear, high resolution life on the trail has become water colour memory*. Melting colours. Cartoon mountains. Fading footsteps.
Recounting those last few days is going to be...
THE DAY WAS A BEAUTY. We left Brownings Hut in clear, still conditions and walked up a fairly gentle rise through rich Beech forest. As we moved upwards, a golden sun shone through the mist-filled trees. It was movie perfect.
The forest stopped and started as we moved from top to top. We weren't particularly high but the exposed peaks and harsh rock of the Nelson Mineral Belt meant that we often found ourselves in a kind of pseudo-alpine landscape.
Hill tops also meant cell coverage. I thought I'd check in. See how the family were going.
Our son, Tom, had texted with the "crazy" suggestion that he come down from Palmy and walk the Queen Charlotte Track - the last few days with us. This was not crazy at all. Anna had left us only a day earlier and we were starting to feel isolated already. The trail season was over and it would be good to have a new Nobo with us.
"Great idea Tom. You will be a Nobo Sectioneer...congratulations."
The next message was from Anna who was clearly having trouble adapting to civilisation.
"I am sitting in a coffee shop eating pastry and drinking coffee in Nelson. I feel like I don't belong, I smell and everyone is looking at me. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?! Very surreal."
It was a day since she'd sent it so I typed:
"We're on the track to Rocks Hut. Stunning on a fine day...one of the best. Just got your text...hope yer feeling and smelling betterer. Whin."
I hit send and instantly regretted it. I spent the next hour worrying deeply about my use of the phrase "one of the best."
Why? It was really nice up there. But one of the best? Nah. Not even close. So I'd exaggerated slightly. Hardly a major crime, but as I plodded on I was racked with guilt and deep self-loathing. For a stupid text that Anna probably wouldn't get for a week?
What was going on? Looking back I think I was having a mini meltdown.
Just a mini one.
Whiona on the other hand was in top form. She had got over her gut problems and was testing her map reading skills.
The day had thrown up two very similar route options for us.
One route took us to Middy Creek Hut via Rocks Hut. The other took us to Middy via Roebuck Hut. They were both ABOUT the same distance, but ABOUT wasn't good enough. Whiona had spent a lot of time examining our map - calculating distances and counting contour lines. She had made the decision to take the Rocks Hut route.
Rocks was further on paper and climbed higher, but the Roebuck track looked like an awkward sidling track. We don't like sidling so she chose Rocks.
While I wandered over our little mountain suffering existential nausea Whiona was in Boy Scout heaven.
I'm glad one of us was functional.
It's not that I didn't care. I trust her scientific and analytical skills implicitly. Its just that my addled mind couldn't get past the fact that Rocks and Roebuck both started with "R".
I really didn't know what she was talking about.
ROCKS HUT is an ugly 70s or 80s thing that seems ill-placed and badly designed. Get a couple of tramping parties in it on a cold winters night with the log burner going and it's probably heaven.
We stayed for lunch then powered down the hill through wasp infested Beech forest to Middy Creek Hut.
Lunch had worked its magic on me and my state of mind. We were both full of energy and feeling strong and fit.
Just before the hut we met the Pelorus River for the first time. It seems to wind it's way through solid rock all the way to the Marlborough Sounds. I know I get myself into trouble by trying to quantify the quality of our experience...but the Pelorus is one of the most beautiful rivers we'd come across.
Inside the hut we were in for a bit of a treat. Peter and Andrew had left behind a bottle of Habanero sauce. We weren't going to catch them for that reunion we were hoping for, but we had a little bit of them to carry with us for the rest of the trip. When you think about it chilli (especially Habanero) sauce is the ultimate tramping condiment. It's an ultralight spice that punches well above it's weight.
After a cuppa we headed on down the Pelorus to the last hut of our trip. It was an interesting walk and was the first time we'd come across goats on the track. Families of the little buggers walked and baa'd nonchalantly around us as we sidled above sometimes steep drops to the river.
But it was the wild pigs that really surprised us. We'd come across plenty of evidence of them on our walk, but the damage that they'd done to the Pelorus Track was something else. They'd uprooted hundreds of metres of path, collapsed banks and torn countless saplings out of the ground.
Destruction on a grand scale.
The sun was still shining into the Pelorus when we arrived at our destination so we thought we'd go down to the river for a swim in its deep emerald pools. As we stripped off a family of goats watched from the cliff above. They were either curious or expecting a laugh.
We'd had sandflies attacking us for much of the trip and had found them either incredibly annoying or awe inspiring. What do a million sandflies sound like? Sit in a tent at Telford Burn and find out.
But for some reason their bites never bothered me. I could let them fill up on my arm until they were like small red lightbulbs and I didn't have any reaction. No spots. No itching.
But these Richmond feckers. They swarmed. They feasted. They even ate us through the soap. Putting our clothes on was nearly impossible, because we couldn't get ourselves dry we had to move so fast. They were brutal. Fierce.
Then the welts came up. Big round slippery things. That itched. Itched. Itched.
I had been sure our previous immunity had been because we were New Zealanders. Tough locals. Experienced natives.
We just hadn't met these Northern suckers.
"There are 13 species [of sandfly] in New Zealand, all belonging to the genus Austrosimulium. Only two species bite: the New Zealand blackfly (Austrosimulium australense), and the West Coast blackfly (A. ungulatum). At only 2–3 millimetres in length, they look the same to the naked eye."
Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
I think I'm allergic to the second of the two...the little bitches** that live in the Richmonds.
As we readied ourselves for bed and the antihistamines kicked in, a hunter joined us. It was Friday night and he'd come from Nelson for the weekend to find some deer. We'd been expecting to have the hut to ourselves, so there was a bit of a scramble to make the place look respectable as he bumped around outside.
Captains Creek Hut sleeps six, so there was plenty of room once we tidied up our gear. It was a quiet end to our Richmonds trip...a far cry from earlier in the year when 18 walkers vied for room in and around the hut as they made their ways south, through the Richmonds and beyond...
We'd chosen to be Northbounders (Nobos) partly because we'd thought that ending at Bluff would've been a bit of a let down...the next day's trip back to civilisation was when we would begin to find out if we were right.
* Thanks Barbara Streisand.
** Apparently it is only the female sandfly that bites. The male of the species is vegetarian.