I awoke to the sound of feet crunching on gravel and heavy breathing passing by on the trail a few feet from my sleeping place. For a moment, I thought I was back on the Forecourt of Buckhingham Palace with a Queen's Guard behind me. Cautiously, I unzipped the hammock and peeked out just in time to see an early morning jogger disappearing around a bend in the footpath. While I packed up, another jogger puffed by. Although he was only six feet away, he didn't notice me. Isn't trance wonderful?
I might as well have been invisible and that gave me a satisfying sense of freedom. I can relate to why some people throw in the towel, drop out and hit the road. It's an expansive, alluring and probably dangerous thought.
40 minutes' later and back down in Pahia, I breakfasted at a picnic table in a park, shaved and washed in a public toilet and walked down to the beach, feeling and looking fairly spruce. I may have even whistled a jaunty little tune.
Hey, I'm a tramper, not a bum!
The distinction between the two depends on your perspective. One thing trampers and bums have in common is that we need to keep making decisions.
Perhaps, the distinction rests in what decisions we make.
The question I went to bed (hammock?) with last night was, "Do I turn left and try to hitchhike to Kerikeri in order to pick up the trail where I left it twelve days ago? Or do I turn right and continue southwards?"
It's an important decision because I really don't want to say for years afterwards, "I've walked the length of NZ except for a twenty kilometre section between Kerikeri and Waitangi."
If I return to Kerikeri, I can put my hand on my heart and say, "I did it!" The trouble is, it simply doesn't feel right to do the logical thing. A piece is missing.
So, I did something positive and turned left towards Waitangi, just a few kilometres north. While I did that, I chewed over motivations and intents for this walk.
It dawned on me that I could honourably leave a window open and walk this missing section as the final section in a couple of months's time.
Waitangi is a fitting place to end the trail. It is a sacred place to New Zealanders, be they Pakeha or Maori. It marks the birthplace of a nation. It is a site of both connection and conflict.
I would like to walk it with Rosa because her presence is with me, one way or another, with every step I take.
Returning here, with Rosa, will close the loop on the trail and mark the opening of our next passage together.
The decision felt right and almost at once, an invisible burden slipped away.
You really can walk the trail in any way that is best for you.
You can shape the experience as you want it to be.
And you don't need anyone's approval except your own for how you step along it.
On the trail, you're invisible and that means you're free. It means you're not so important, after all.