It only took thirty minutes and two wet socks for me to realize the weight on my back and distance I had to travel. In the past, my resolve may have faltered but the pain only made me walk faster. I only stopped twice on my way up to the Routeburn Flats Hut – once to tighten my laces and once just to take it all in. The rain was dense, as was the forest. Ferns lined the well-appointed trail, bowing to the rain, beading sweat. Moss encrusted trees provided shelter between river gorges with narrow suspension bridges and glacial waterfalls. The rain made the forest come alive.
Two hours into my journey, I was greeted by a massive river valley and the Routeburn Flats hut. One second I was walking in an enchanted forest and the next I was greeted by the great plains and surrounded by towering glacial mountains. I quickly acquainted myself with the hut and fellow trekkers trying to dry off, made myself a quick meal – noticed the sun had finally decided to make an appearance and took off exploring the meadow.
Tall grass happily greeted my newly blistered feet, surely a result of my wet socks and heavy bag, as it couldn’t have been my total lack of training… I walked deep into the river valley with waterfalls on both sides, camera in hand. My electronics soon felt like a burden however, so I soon returned to camp to grab my journal and pack my devices.
The weather looked like it was going to hold so I returned back to the meadow, again, this time with no sandals or camera. I jumped over a river, paused for a second to feel the kiss of the wind, and took off running. I just ran. It was the first time I ran since knee surgery and breaking my leg. I felt free with the wind in my hair, my feet dancing between unkept grass and a narrow muddy unmapped tracks, and my lungs fresh and on fire. I ran.
Soon I stumbled; I tumbled. I laughed on my back looking at the sky, hidden in the tall grass. I sat up only to be pushed back down by a strong gust of wind – perhaps nature was trying to tell me something. I stretched a bit and decided to meditate in the wind – calming my mind and warming my soul. In that moment, freedom felt free and my mind flowed. It was time to journal.
I made my way back through the meadow with the biggest smile on my face – I must’ve seemed crazy to the other hut dwellers who were still trying to dry their socks and stay warm – emerging from the meadow barefoot covered in grass and mud stains. And then, I began to write. Words were easily founded and I felt relieved to acknowledge the past few days. Fate started to seem like reality – and the universe felt kind.
My artistic trance was soon interrupted by a kind voice asking “May we join you?” I looked up to greet the brightest smile and most piercing blue eyes I had ever seen. Their names were Conny and Nora – and contrasted with the backdrop of the mountains, I felt my heart jump. They asked me what I was writing. Nothing much, I suppose. I closed my journal to greet their smiles and aching backs.
We chatted for an hour about life and travel. We shared advice about trekking. We said goodbye hoping our paths would cross again. I felt mused by their presence and drew the landscape – anxiously awaiting our next interaction.
The next morning I awoke with the vigor of a dog in pursuit of a cat. I made breakfast, patched my blisters, pulled out my hiking poles, threw on fresh socks, and took the trail. My pace was fast but my steps felt light – even with an aching back. I had to catch these two German girls. Three hours and a brisk wet morning later, however, I realized I must’ve passed their hut before they even started walking. I laughed to myself on the ledge of a mountain peering into the clouded abyss that hid the Routeburn Valley. Out of breath and on top of the world, I felt at home. I resumed my brisk pace enlivened by the adventure of solitude.
14 kms later I found myself greeted by Lake McKenzie hut – a 60 bunk abode sitting on the front of a turquoise lake surrounded by rocky mountains and short-lived waterfalls from the day’s rain. I made lunch and posted up in the corner of the hut with my laptop to write, only to soon be interrupted.
Writing feels like a job when you’re travelling but it also feels right. It allows me to relive crucial moments and feel the wind in my hair, once again. It allows me to find lessons through reflection and acknowledge the insane and mundane in every day. It allows me to realize why I am living and helps me figure out how I want to live some more. Before this trip, I’d write because I wanted to – now I write because I need to. I write because life is a journey worthy of recognition and sharing, even if it’s just with oneself. I write because thirty years from now I want to look back, acknowledge my life, and have a basis to evaluate my growth. I write because I can. And so, I write.
Gabby presented herself to be a humble traveler but soon appeared to be much more. A Chicago native that immigrated to Israel, she had the grit of soldier and the lust of an adventurer. We quickly became friends around the hearthstone, drying our socks and warming out feet. Soon, her very blistered and opinionated partner in crime, Lina, joined in our conversation. We shared our adventures (a theme among travelers) and aspirations for life while Lina complained about her feet. I felt for her though, mine weren’t in good shape either.
And then the German girls entered the hut, Nora and Conny. My conversation buddies all of a sudden became my captives as I just wanted to escape to say “Hi.” But I played it cool, I think; waving and continuing a conversation about travelling around Israel – a country I look forward to visiting in May. But the conversation stumbled on – so I started to plot my escape, at one point even venturing outside in the rain to jump in the freezing Lake McKenzie trying to take my leave. It didn’t work though, as I was followed.
That evening though Nora and Conny joined our communal table for dinner and not two seconds after they sat down did I start peppering them with questions; their joint laugh livened the tired and wet common area, and their smiles still glowed. Our conversation lasted deep into the evening – laughing, eating chocolate, and speaking on the world, jobs, life, and why we travel – until the lights finally clicked off. I asked if I could join them on their hike the next day and bid them goodnight.
In the morning my blisters were well worn and hurting, but I didn’t care – I had cool new hiking buddies. My initial plan was to turn around at Howden hut and hike back to Glenorchy but Nora and Conny offered me a ride to Te Anau and every step down the mountain felt like a step closer to their car. We passed and crossed dozens of waterfalls on the trek down the mountain, starting the day in our raingear only to strip down to our shorts an hour later. I shared the journey of Burning Man, breaking my leg, and my many encounters with mystics in the past months – knowing these girls must think I was crazy. But they listened with wanting ears, so I told my tale.
Eventually we hit Howden hut and I peeled off my socks, wet from walking directly under a 300 ft waterfall (pictured above). The blisters were bad and I had 40 kms to go on my journey back to Glenorchy. The girls looked at me again, compassionately, and offered a ride to Te Anau – so I did what any rational backpacker would do; I flipped a coin.
It came up heads and I gave the girls a look of disappointment, although I was smiling inside excited to enjoy their company a bit longer. They smiled, I smiled; we packed up lunch and began the trek back the carpark at the Divide chatting about art and culture. These girls felt like my people and it only validated my decision to continue my journey with them.
The manager at the Backpacker’s Lodge in Te Anau took pity on me in a fully booked city and provided me a tent site for the evening. Good thing I had my tent. And so, a day hike turned into an evening which turned into a few.
In those few days we ate pasta and drank wine and took pictures and cruised around the Milford Sound laughing all the way. Our last night, we made dinner, drank (maybe) too much wine, and talked about love and life. Conny and I spoke well into early hours of the morning – and she made me realize how much I still have to learn, discover, and accept about life. The final morning, I wrote them a poem; they made me German pancakes. We said goodbye. Bittersweet, but it was a needed step to continue my journey. At the time, I was upset that our adventure had to come to an end – but now I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to travel with these two wonderful women.
It’s difficult when you meet someone you know you will like to not act a little weird or quirky. Excitement and intrigue have a clever way of making us seem brash, brawning, and over-zealous. Rare it is to encounter a soul enticing enough to inspire excitement just by their sheer presence. Rarer yet it is to inspire wanting. It took me a few days to get over meeting Nora and Conny – Nora’s penetrating bold blue eyes and tempered disposition – Conny’s warm flowing smile and generous laugh. They both reminded me of loves lost and loves to come. I could say more but, suffice to say, a smile says enough. Wherever you two are – I wish you well and much happiness.
So I bought a bus ticket, and a few conversations, a cup of coffee, and a beautiful bus ride later I was in Queenstown and in search of Melo.