It's about now I start to really miss summer.
Not too long ago, I was panicking over whether a couch-to-72km adventure was a smart way to celebrate the New Year.
The multi-day walk, booked some time in the mess of 2020, crept up quickly. It meant by Christmas, none of the "longer walks" I'd scheduled to do throughout December had eventuated.
That led neatly to a briefing for the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds in early January. As I listened to what was planned for the next four days, I congratulated myself for buying an excessive amount of snacks. It seemed apart from a lack of actual hiking, I was well prepared for this little foray into nature.
Things started well on day one. In addition to the abundance of muesli bars and fruit, someone produced a chiller bag for a bottle of wine and beers at the day's end.
"It's all good - it goes on the boat with our luggage," I heard my friend say.
Fortunately, our group had opted to just carry day packs while walking. The rest of our stuff was dropped by boat between overnight spots. That made packing things like a chiller bag with ice packs completely plausible.
Unfortunately, it wasn't long before my boots started to lose face. By the time the allotted 17km were up on the first day, the soles had faded drastically. In proverbial terms, they'd started to talk. The other options I'd brought were jandals and netball shoes so I made saving the boots top priority.
It meant day two began with a lot of superglue. When that failed, I decided to take to them with strapping tape. For the rest of the trip, my boots rocked an injury-prone look - held together at the heel and toe ends with tan-coloured sports tape.
While it wasn't the trendiest of footwear, the strapping tape turned out to be a highly sought-after item. Mid-morning on day two, we came across another walker who'd badly rolled his ankle. On this part of the track, there's no cellphone coverage, so any immediate help comes from others around you. Initially, things didn't seem too bad. The accident happened in front of one of a handful of homes. The place was a family bach which had been passed down through generations.
While we helped with strapping and pain relief, it was observations from the woman staying at the bach which proved most entertaining. Unfortunately, she didn't know how to use the radio to call for help. She was also unable to drive their quad bike so couldn't transport the injured man to a different location for help. She did, however, give a full rundown of her family's morning activities and outlined her hate of freedom campers. At one point, she also offered to row the injured guy across the bay, but then deemed it too difficult to get him into the dinghy.
Eventually, the owner of the neighbouring property heard what happened and came to the rescue. As we walked away, my cousin summarised the experience: "Gosh, imagine staying all the way out here and not knowing how to do anything."
For her helpfulness, we nicknamed the day two woman "Karen".
Day three and four were a shock to the system. Definitely no Karens, and not really much of anything apart from other track-goers wishing for the end. For the record, these are billed as the toughest days. Anyone planning to do this section should pay careful attention to information regarding the intensity of it.
Most unwelcome was the steep, uphill start on day three. About 15 minutes in, I was ready to consume all snacks and water. It made for a testy start to what turned into an unrelenting day. Perhaps the best comment came at Eatwell's Lookout - the highest point on the track. After puffing our way to the top, a walker from another group enjoying the hard-earned view kindly took our photo and asked, "Are you running the whole track?"
On review, my face resembles a giant tomato with a huge grin in the photo. One could also be forgiven for thinking we'd taken a quick dip somewhere. Alas, it was just sweat.
After all that, I'd like to say day four was less painful. It wasn't. In fact, the last three kilometres were completed in jandals. While the bandaged boots held up, four full days was just too much for my feet.
Despite that, and all the whining and uphill pain, I'd definitely do it all again. In fact, one of the first purchases when I arrived home was a pair of new walking shoes. Unsurprisingly, they're still tucked away in their box, ready to be launched from level zero any day now.