“June 18-19th: Molly hiking.” I had marked it on the calendar so I’d get a turn too. It was to be a loner weekend, just by myself….I need those from time to time. But then as the time had approached I hadn’t known where to go.
I had borrowed “South Island Weekend Tramps” from the library, but it sat unread under the couch. The trouble is, I hate route planning. It’s as bad as shopping. I just want to turn up and walk.
“Have you decided where you’re going yet?” Jeremiah had nagged gently. He’s a little edgy about me hiking alone, and I knew he half expected me not to get my act together and to stay home instead. This knowledge in particular prodded me to pull out the map.
“You might like this one,” Jeremiah had suggested. The map showed a trail following a stream up to a hut, then looping over a low pass and back to the start via the Hurunui River flats. “Alright, that sounds do-able,” I had agreed. The forecast wasn’t so flash, but if I go up the side with the river Saturday, I can take the drier route out in the rain on Sunday.
“Now Molly,” I said to myself, “This is simple. Just an easy walk up a stream bed. You can’t possibly be lost. Walk up stream for four or five hours and it will be impossible not to get there.” Except for that turn to Gabriel Hut that never appeared….except if the map is old and the hut has burnt down….except if the river crossings get too deep….except if there’s someone unsavoury ahead of me on the trail. There was one other car in the car park….it didn’t look like a murderer’s car….Darn it! I shouldn’t have listened to that podcast about the Adirondack killer last week.
I’m relieved to find another orange triangle a little way past the ford. But again the trail disappeared, and I scanned along the opposite stream bank for another one. Maybe that path there is it? Or maybe it’s another cattle trail? I hesitated before plunging into the cold water. The sun is winter-low, shining in my eyes and glaring off the water so I can’t judge the depth. This time it came up above my knees and I emerged truly squelching. I wished Jeremiah was hiking with me.
The golden-dead grasses wave in the brisk breeze being funnelled down the river valley. I startle a black cow in the bushes and chuckle nervously. I scan the ground for other boot prints and find the ridges of shoe tread in the mud….they don’t look like murderer’s foot prints. What do murderer’s foot prints look like? I decide that if the people ahead of me are unsavoury that I’ll push on to the next hut, even if it’s by torch light.
I turned the small metal knob and peered around the door. A young blond woman sits at the table.
“Oh, I’ve seen you before, I met you at a hut!” Relief makes me talkative, and I cudgel my brain trying to remember just where I had seen her. The other two guys are hunters, but they’re young and clean cut. They don’t look scary at all.
As it turns out, that one was a medical student. The girl was an architect, and the boy was an apprentice builder. They must have been at least a decade younger than I, but I enjoyed their company as they warmed up their canned soup over the wood stove. Apparently, student flats in Dunedin don’t have any heat, and opening the refrigerator in winter lets out a waft of comparatively warm air. A morning pee thaws ice in the toilet bowl. The DOC hut sounds like a luxury apartment now, because we can’t even see our breath. It’s crazy, but they didn’t seem to mind these conditions. Southlanders are a tough breed.
Jeremiah even had the floor vacuumed and a pulled pork dinner made when I arrived.