UNIVERSITY ASSIGNMENT 5
Dervla Murphy had just ascended from 3000ft to 7000ft in the Cameroonian highlands,claiming it a ‘glorious 5 hour climb’ in her book ‘Cameroon with Egbert’. I put my book down and wondered what it was actually like to just walk off into the wilderness, destination unfixed, camping wherever one happened to be when dusk approached. I had a couple of days off, so sitting there, warm in my bed, I decided that tomorrow I’d do just that; pack my kit and wander off into the bush and see what happens.
At dawn I gathered together equipment I hadn’t seen in years, scrounging through boxes for those mini, just-for-one pots I used once five years ago, and that army shovel I’m sure I’d seen lurking in the shed. The next thing to ask myself was where I was going to start my trip. Ideally I would have liked to walk from home, out the door, and off into the western bays around Lake Taupo. Unfortunately, being a high school teacher on holiday, I couldn’t realistically risk being spotted by my students hiking through town with a tent and spade strapped to my back, “Ms Jones, where are you going?” Going insane they would quickly surmise if I’d try to explain my desire to get a 3D perspective on the book I was reading. Reluctantly I decided I would have to drive over to Acacia Bay to start my walk, but that had its own problem. My parents lived out that way, and they would certainly see my car parked for days and panic to my whereabouts. Ever since my father got a set of wheels strapped to his arse after breaking his back mountain-biking, he has become relentlessly anxious about my propensity for misadventure.
It was Easter weekend and I had a few urgent chores to attend before my adventure could begin. I had to play with my God-kids and give them the expected chocolate, then I’d promised to demonstrate a motor-home for a customer of Dads – my Dad is quite likely the only wheelchair bound car-salesman in the world – but eventually I parked my car in a spot I was sure wouldn’t be spotted by student or parent, hauled out my kit, and was on my way.
I trudged my way towards Whakaipo Bay, i-pod blaring in my ears, nibbling on beef-jerky, avoiding eye contact with any lone cyclists least they recognised me, dodging cars and thinking myself hardly intrepid. Regardless I lumbered on. I would take the W2K bush track towards Kinloch, some 20km away. My pack was getting increasingly uncomfortable and quite frankly, I was bored. Having no one to converse with for hours and having nothing to do but walk was honestly quite boring. I would need to master the art of talking to myself for company; if only I had a pack-animal, as Dervla Murphy did, then I’d have the immediate advantage of having my kit carried, but I’d also have someone (albeit an animal) to talk to.
After two hours on the open road I was at last in the bush. Retired folk walked their dogs, joggers jogged, mountain bikers hurled themselves around corners at me, then dusk came and with that, no one. Now things would get interesting; I was going to have to find a campsite. Off the edge of the track was not very hospitable, mostly thick bracken and tangled understory at alarmingly steep angles. That left the track itself which was hardly inviting and narrow. Any largish camp-like areas (I only owned a rather bulky two-man tent) were in the apexes of switch-backs – the perfect spots to get swept away in the unlikely event of a flash-flood – or under the creaking boughs of old pine trees that threatened to fling pinecones at me if I dawdled too long. I finally found a spot wide enough for my tent, not threatening to my imagination, and at a slope I thought only marginally uncomfortable.
Once my tent was up I felt at home. Two-minute noodles warm in my belly and snug in my sleeping bag, I had opened Dervla Murphy only for my phone rang. “Hi Dad”, my son, bless him, had let the cat out of the bag, “Yes, I’m perfectly safe. I’m about 6km from Whakaipo and about 8km from Kinloch in the middle of the woods. No one in their right mind is going to be up here in the middle of the night … Yes Dad, that doesn’t say much about my state of mine obviously”
After an uncomfortable night slipping to the bottom of my tent, dawn broke and before any early morning mountain bikers had the opportunity to flatten my tent I was on my way into Kinloch.
Kinloch is littered with tall deciduous trees, well manicured and sturdy homes, a golf course, a private marina, teenagers on jet skis, young girls fly fishing off the beach, and apart from the churn of propeller cutting water it is an eerily quiet place. It is a man-made slice of English countryside and a location the rich make their holiday, so there were no happy Cameroon children running up to me to stroke my hair and giggle at my sudden arrival and no exotic sights or smells. Instead just a sleepy village people have come (by car) to relax. I asked the girl at the dairy, “How long does it take to walk to Kawakawa Bay from here?” She didn’t know, an hour a half she thought. I found myself a park bench to sit, contemplate my situation and watch the world go. I felt totally out of place. What the hell was I doing? My body ached terribly, I had things to do, I was in the middle of moving house, I had work to do, I should be doing fun stuff with my kids. Was I quite literally out of my mind? I was very tempted to phone my son and get him to come and pick me up. Then I thought about how ‘soft’ I was – how was I ever going to be an intrepid traveler if I was to quit so quickly – even if my current endeavour was so completely a glorious waste of time.
My shoulders, hips and the soles of my feet hurt, my left calf muscle was tight and knotted, my body was seizing up and I crept off my park bench with the slow moving gait of a Triffid, “A glorious five-hour hike Dervla? – Bullshit!” I found a likely bush near the road and hid all my kit in it, apart from my snack food, water and warm clothes, then stoically walked the 20km back to my car. The landscape and flora was tediously monotonous (at least to my ‘local’ eyes and aching body – hadn’t I just seen this?, was it ever going to end?) After another six hours of walking, having worn holes in my soles, it took a 20 minute drive back to Kinloch to collect my gear.
Okay Dervla, I’ve got a lot to live up to if I ever want to be anywhere near as resilient as you …