For my last solo adventure before Geoff and Eliza arrived in Wellington, I took a trip to Kapiti Island, a predator-free nature reserve. There is no overnight camping on the island; a boat drops you off in the morning and picks you up in the afternoon. On the island, most visitors hike, swim, and try to avoid having their lunch stolen by sneaky birds.
After not getting lost despite two buses and a train, I was feeling pretty good when I arrived at the boat launch with the rest of the visitors. We checked our bags for ants and mice, cleaned any mainland muck off our boots, and waited for the boat. I spent some time reading the brochure about the various trails on the island. I found the trail for me: The Wilkinson Track. The brochure reads:
“Walk to Tuteremoana along a well-formed track with a steady uphill climb. Pass a picnic area and hihi feeding station a third of the way up. An ideal track for all ages and fitness levels. 2 hours 3.8 km one way.”
The “steady uphill climb” sounded a bit dubious, but for a 32-week pregnant lady, I’m still in decent shape. I figured I could handle something that’s ideal for all ages and fitness levels.
While thinking this over, I heard a heavy sigh behind me and looked to see a woman, probably in her late 70s sitting down heavily on a log, as if she already really needed the rest before the hiking started. She and I struck up a conversation. She was funny, sarcastic, and liked to complain, which made her fun for me to talk to. We talked about why I was in New Zealand. She laughed, “So you came to have a look at our dreadful education system? We do every dumb thing America does, only 30 years later.”
On the boat, we talked about the hike. She listed off a number pf physical complaints including back problems, knee problems, and some recent surgery that prevented her from doing prolonged physical activity. She intended to hike the Wilkinson trail. I was thinking that she would be a good hiking buddy for me since I tend to overdo things, and her physical limitations would force me to slow down. Also, it would be nice to have someone around if I went into labor while on the trail. Unfortunately, I signed up for a short ranger-led hike and my new grumpy old lady friend did not. “I can’t afford that!” she yelled, “See you on the trail!”
I hiked for an hour or so with the ranger and learned to identify about 10 different kinds of birds by their call and appearance. The ranger knew everything about New Zealand birds and even gave me a hiking pole to help me safely get down from the top. She must have taken pity on me as she watched me try to haul myself up the switchback trails. New Zealand’s opinion of “an ideal track for all ages and fitness levels” did not consider the fitness level of a middle-aged pregnant lady from the Midwest. Still, the weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful, and I trudged on. What seemed like hours later, I was still trudging, covered in sweat, and out of breath. I saw my friend again. She was practically skipping down the mountain like she’d never heard of a backache. Upon seeing me, she yells, “You’re going to the top? You’ve still got loads to go!”
For the record, I made it to the top, birds did not steal my lunch, I didn’t go into labor, and I found my way home without getting lost. I was sore and exhausted for two days. Now I’m wondering if what she said about education in New Zealand is in any way true. I’m also wondering how I can become a tough, grumpy, but sweet old lady.