In St. James Walkway in central New Zealand, E. and I had a trail all to ourselves in March 2005. We were ushering in the break of fall. The first morning of the trail when we clambered out of our camper van to start the four day hike, the frost and the searing cold air stole our breath. Both of us had the good fortune of enjoying the trail by ourselves, as many other trails in the South Island are over-tread hot spots teaming with tourists. I pulled out my gloves from my backpack and pulled my cap down.
In the second day, we noticed that St. James was not merely a nature preserve. Bulls and cows milled around certain sections. Mothers hovered near nursing calves. They calmly stared from afar as we made our way. This was all wrong and odd. Cows on the trail? We learned later that parts of the land we had walked on had been parceled out to the Maori, the native people of NZ, for farming.
Quaint cow families, we probably commented and we hopped along the sod and followed the streams through the track. Amusing until the bulls decided that we were infringing on their territory. An entire herd blocked one track of the trail. We stopped dead. The bulls’ horns spiraled up like dangers. They snorted and moved toward us, ready to protect their herd from the supposed danger.
This was no laughing matter, as we had watched two bulls fight the night before, smacking their heads together with all of their muster. The females stood off to the side and bleated worriedly. Now these bulls were willing to engage the both of us. On one side of us was the herd and on the other side of us was a large and deep stream. E. gave me a glance and I knew it was time to take the stream.
I was wearing thick, wool socks and sturdy leather hiking boots. The delicate girl in me screamed, “Nooo!” How could I run through a stream full clothed and walk the rest of the hike with soaking socks and boots? And ruin a perfectly clean hike? There was no choice. With all of our strength and determination, we ran full force into the stream, with the water lashing around our thighs, hoping to the gods that the bulls wouldn’t follow. There wasn’t time to turn around. We ran with our backpacks pulling us down—across the current and up the sod hills on the other side. I didn’t turn around and look until I’d climbed up into an area of thin saplings. They didn’t follow us. Panting and wet, I wanted to cry.
I thought about this last week, running through the stream with my boots on. In my life, it was one of the first times I did what seemed to defy logic. Again and again in that journey we had to go through other streams to get through other trails, pull ourselves through buckets of mud and rinse the boots. In fact, the boots rarely stayed dry.
There are times we have to defy the norm and set upon a fresh track, erase our scent and trail behind us. This is what I am feeling.