One Day At A Time
Some of the pitfalls of the trail are some of its most memorable moments. There is truly endless beauty and stunning landscapes around every turn in New Zealand - the stars seem to shine brighter and the bees buzz louder here. But the memories that are at the forefront continue to be that of the hardest days, the challenging sections, the moments where we are pushing the limits of mind and body, walking along muddy mountainsides carefully planning every single step, or when the trail becomes a river in a dense jungle valley for miles, when the weather changes from a bright sunny day to a foggy downpour in a matter of seconds. But to hike a long trail, to make it through all the ups and downs, we've found that all we need to do is take it one day at a time.
A lot of people both at home and in New Zealand have petitioned us with all sorts of questions about our daily life on the trail. Where do you get food? Where do you sleep? Where did you come from?? We are never quite sure how to answer that last one...the last forest - Cape Reinga - New York City?! So for those of you that were wondering where we poop and how much ramen we eat, here's what our day to day has looked like for over a month now.
Every morning we wake up. Or Alexa wakes up to her alarm, usually around 6:30 while Andrew presses snooze til 7am when Alexa opens the valve on her mattress and the packing up begins. We both pack our belongings into a range of dry sacks and together fold our tent, then sit down to a cold breakfast - currently muesli with milk powder or jam, but we've sunk as low as peanut butter and Nutella spread on top of chocolate peanut butter granola bars when supplies are running low. If we are feeling luxurious we make tea and coffee.
Although we often try for earlier we usually hit the trail just after 8am, sometimes (most times) a bit stiff and sore to start but soon warming up and hitting our stride. We've finally begun to feel our fitness level catch up to us, and although some days still feel long, frustrating, and too hard (especially in those damn muddy forests!) we generally pass the kilometers and the hills more easily than ever before. We keep enough water in our hydration bladders to get us to the next water source, and keep snacks in our side pockets so unless the trail is particularly rough we make it to lunch with water and snacks on the go and minimal stops.
We have recently been hiking with a group of four other TAers and so we spend the hours on trail talking or covering miles in amiable silence. Andrew and I decided on a last minute whim to bring a waterproof, Bluetooth speaker with us, and although it's a bit out of keeping with our attempts toward being lightweight, it's earned itself MVP of the trip as we can listen together to audio books and tunes especially on the long stretches of road or beach.
We hit lunch between 12pm and 1pm most days, always hoping for a grassy spot with a nice stream or view, though settling sometimes for a roadside turnoff. We try to keep our lunches cold and dry too in order to avoid to much wasted time or water carried. Cheese (Parmesan because it keeps best), crackers, and New Zealand's awesome tuna packets is our go to, but we explore other options when these run out and always follow with something sweet - haribo gummies, chocolate bars, or Nutella spooned from the jar. It's always a good move to take off ones shoes at lunch as well, as we've quickly discovered that wet feet are our quickest route to blisters. We hit the trail again usually in an hour or less, depending on the weather and how pleasant the spot is.
Post lunch is more hiking of course, though as the day wears on usually with a few more significant breaks and sometimes a stop for water, whether that be filtered from a stream, from a tap in a park, or from a friendly New Zealander whose door we've knocked on when streams are in short supply. Sometimes the day is broken up by a pass through town (which almost always includes a stop for ice cream) or an interesting conversation with the people we meet along the way. When low on food and passing through a bigger town (about every 5 days so far) we will stop into a grocery to refresh our supplies, though we try to do this as much as possible when we are taking days off or only going a short ways. Finding your way around a new grocery store every week takes time!
For those of you who've been wondering how we do our business on the trail, it's for us to know and you to guess! But actually while pee breaks trailside are part of every day, we also carry a small shovel to do our poo in true leave no trace fashion, though a bathroom break in one of New Zealand's many public toilets is always preferred when passing through town.
Dealing with the volatile weather of this island is also part of our every day, and although we've had a few examples of true warm summery skies, we think at least a third of our days on trail have included significant rain. This is usually dealt with by throwing on our raincoats and pack covers and continuing on, but it always dampens spirits a bit when it rains two days in a row - you can try as hard as you like but by day two everything is damp and cold wet socks are a guarantee in the morning.
We've been averaging about 25km a day over the last month, allowing us to make good progress while still hitting our campsites well before dark, and when at last the days hiking is done, usually around 6, everyone is happy to throw down their packs.
We set up our tent and organize our beds and belongings first before finding the most comfortable spot or the best view for dinner. Dinner is always a hot meal, and due to the limitations of weight and grocery store options usually rotates between variations on a few meals - instant potatoes w/ peas & gravy, ramen w/ tuna & dried mushrooms, cheesy pasta, and couscous with some variety of Indian curry. If we are feeling real fancy we might top one of these with some fresh broccoli, and dinner is always finished with something sweet and the occasional tea or hot chocolate. As is probably abundantly clear already, we've all decided that we hike to eat, and as our "hiker hunger" grows, it seems that despite all this eating, we are never quite full.
After the meal we sit and talk or stretch, read our books or edit photos, but hiking is a tiring business and often before it is truly dark out we are already snuggled into our sleeping bags, which we zip together on one side and use as a big blanket. By the time it's dark, roughly around 9:30pm (or "hiker midnight") we are fast asleep, and although I'd love to say we lay awake enjoying New Zealand's pristine night sky, I honestly haven't seen it since our first night.