Honestly, I am not really sure why he goes along with my nutty schemes. I think he gets a kick out of witnessing everything go awry. And I know for a fact he genuinely loves getting into a pickle. Obviously, he has learned that I’m quite gifted at putting us in one.
So here was (in my opinion) a very sensible, doable, grand-slam of a plan: Depart bright and early for the Roys Peak trailhead. Hike to the top. Enjoy a nice break and the stunning views. Snap some pics. Proceed to the connecting Skyline Track. Hike hike hike hike. Arrive at Cardrona Valley Road before dark. Make a cardboard sign that says “Cardrona” and do the most “when in New Zealand” activity: hitch hike! Wave our sign around, all smiles, on the side of the road. Hop in the car of the first person who passes the no-creepy vibes test, and ride to the Cardrona Pub. Prop our weary bones up in front of their roaring fire place, cheers to a day of exploration in God’s glorious creation, and savor wild Fiordland venison, sticky toffee pudding, and Irish coffee. Call a cab, have him drop us where we had left our car that morning, tootle on home, take a hot shower, fall into bed. Enjoy sweet slumber and sweet dreams. Simple. Right?
Here is what actually went down: First of all, we should have left at 8 AM, but we ended up leaving at 10 AM. Why? Well, I did my usual hem hawing around, stressing out about what to pack for the long day ahead. But I assured Clay on the way to the trailhead that he shouldn’t worry that we were already two hours behind schedule. I said something along the lines of, “We’re young and fit! Those estimated times they post at the trailhead are for ‘typical’ people who are not used to exercise. We’ll make up plenty of time! Plus, those estimates build in at least 30 minutes for breaks. It’s all good.” So up the mountain we started to climb. And climb. And climb. And climb. After about the 20th hair pin turn, and seeing yet another half mile of straight uphill ahead of us, we were downright hot n’bothered, and getting more irritated by the minute. Expletives maaaaay have been blurted out as we wondered if there was ever going to be at least one semi-flat part.
Three hours and five miles of climbing later, we finally, praise be, made it to the top. There were high fives, woooooohoos, and jazz hands. The hard part was done. Smooth sailing along the ridge line from here on out. Downhills here we come! So after taking in the view, snacking on some trail nuts, and saying hello to some fellow hikers, we headed off on the ridgeline toward the Cardrona Valley.
We noticed that absolutely no one else was going the way we were going. In fact, we never saw another soul for the next 10+ miles. And we quickly realized why. Turns out that dern mountain and its li’l ridgeline friend were not so li’l after all. They were a HELLUVA lot bigger than we could have ever imagined. When we saw the path before us, for about 30 seconds we considered turning around and going back down the mountain with all the sane people (who I’m sure were headed to enjoy some annoyingly perfect evening involving sunset beers by the water). But I’m stubborn as they come, and I was not ABOUT to let us throw in the towel. So marched we onward. The ridgeline ended up being another five miles of even steeper, more treacherous single track terrain, with sheer drop offs on either side. We felt equal parts exhausted, exacerbated, and truly in awe of the magnitude of Mother Nature. Eventually, we reached the end of the ridgeline, and at long last, made a right turn down into a steep valley towards the road. I was pumped because I thought we probably had just 2 or 3 more miles to go. Nnnnnnnope! Clay informed me just as the sun was beginning to fade, that we in fact had about 6 more miles to go. I was starting to get a sneaky feeling that the evening I had envisioned so dreamily was not going to be our reality.
It wasn’t long before daylight turned to darkness, and we still had 3 miles to go. Since the trail isn’t always well-formed, you’re supposed to follow the metal poles with orange markers, which are placed every hundred meters or so. The problem was that our only sources of illumination were our dinky iPhone flashlights, which barely even lit up our feet, much less pole markers 100 meters away. Before we knew it, we found ourselves completely lost. We started yelling at each other about where we missed a turn, and why the hell didn’t we pack headlamps. With no cell service to speak of, our iPhones were getting scarily low on battery. This only added to our sense of panic and frustration. Our deliriously tired shouting match was silenced when we both heard something creepy to our immediate right…almost like something was breathing…heavily. The hairs on my neck immediately stood up. We lifted our little iPhone flashlights only to see the dull green reflection of what must have been 200 enormous eyeballs. We were not alone… “Holy $%^&, Clay! We’re surrounded by cows! Goooo!!!” We ran like Forrest, y’all. As did the cows—thankfully, in the other direction. They were probably just as freaked out as we were. I can still hear the sound of a thousand hooves rumbling in the dark…which is terrifying when you can’t see them or where you’re going.
A few minutes later, after our hearts slowed to 200 beats per minute, Clay noticed that we finally had cell reception. It was 8:45 PM, and according to Google Maps, we were close – only about 20 minutes until we reached the valley road. At that point, we no longer gave one iota about hitchhiking or making it to dinner…even though the hitch hiking sign Clay had made was AWESOME. So Clay called Wanataxi to explain where we were, and request a pickup from the trailhead along the road. The driver said he’d be there in about 20 minutes, which was perfect. Except that it wasn’t, because it took us a solid 30 minutes to reach the end, at which point there was no taxi or soul in sight. Just us, a million stars, and an empty road. Clay called again, and apologized that we were late (he does this a lot). Apparently the driver had already come, but when he didn’t see us, he left. I overheard this tidbit of convo, and was on the verge of having a toddler-style meltdown, until Clay hung up and said, “It’s fine. He’s turning around and coming back. He’ll be here in a few minutes.” Meltdown averted. It was 9:30 when the driver came flying up the road and screeched to a halt. We waddled toward his car and plopped ourselves down…bone tired, severely dehydrated, starving, and incoherently babbling nonsense. Our driver, a chipper Indian man, said, “So! Where are we going?” Clay said, “Well…we need to pick up our car, which we left way out near Glendhu Bay this morning. But if we do that, I don’t think we will make it to the convenience store (our only remaining option for “dinner”) before they close at 10 pm.” Boy howdy, the man quickly glanced at his clock, gave us an Indian head wobble, and exclaimed, “No problem, sir!!” Man I love Indian customer service! He slammed the gas and tore off like a Tasmanian devil. In two seconds, I felt like I was back in India, like I could die at any moment, and feeling very awake and very alive all of a sudden. The only things that were missing were the smells of curry and open sewers simultaneously assaulting my nose. When I saw the record timing we were making, I said, “Saaaay…our house is on the way to our car. Mind dropping me off real quick so I can take a shower while Clay goes to the store?” “No problem, ma’am!”, he said. Then told Clay, “Your wife is very tired. She can enjoy nice, hot shower while you go to the store.” Again… Indian customer service. This man knew what was UP! He was our Indian angel. Thank God for him and the angel who kept us safe while he drove like a wild banshee. Clay walked into Four Square at 9:58 pm. Hallelujah. Meanwhile, I enjoyed my hot shower as if it was the first time I had ever experienced one. I threw on my favorite oversized pj’s, and we feasted on the most random smorgasbord of food Clay found at the convenience store. We were past the point of caring if cereal went with chips and salsa and chocolate bars. You could have dumped a pot of chili on top of my bowl of vanilla ice cream, and I would have thought it was the bee’s knees.
Sleep that night was sound. Baby sound. The following week, our soreness was so intense that I seriously considered investing in a walker and a raised toilet seat. I refrained, however. The aching subsided, but that unforgettable day still has a hold on me. We actually live in the shadow of Roy’s Peak. Every morning, I wander out to the driveway, and the first thing I do is look up at that mountain. I marvel at how small it looks from afar, I study where the snow has fallen on it, the way the light and shadows are hitting it, and I laugh to myself at how absurdly unprepared we were in every way that day. The main thing I learned, and re-learn every day, is that it’s fine to make plans and have expectations. Just hold onto them loosely, and know that God’s always got something up his sleeve that is way more crazy, funny, challenging, exasperating, beautiful, and memorable than whatever my li’l brain can come up with.
The photos just do not do the day or experience justice. A large chunk of the hike is missing, mainly because, well, we were in total darkness, and survival mode had taken precedence over picture taking. Enjoy, nonetheless!