At a Crossroads

Since awaking under a bush at first light, I had continued to search in vain for the track leading onward and downward to Mangawhai Heads. I had  thrashed a good four or five kilometres back and forth and up and down this ridge-line covered in fragrant but foot-clogging waist-high grass.

Slumped by the world's most confusing signpost, I didn't know whether to laugh, weep or hurl something heavy (like my rucksack) into the bushes.

"Four hours since sunrise and I still can't find the track," I moaned.

What was left of my 53 year-old brain steamed in my roasting skull, I hadn't drunk for over 12 hours and I knew my thinking was becoming slow, fuzzy and confused. Worryingly, even though I knew it was crazy, I had somehow rewired my neural connections into the belief that I might have missed an unseen track junction in the dark.

The delusion cost me precious energy because I walked uselessly for half a kilometre back along the path I had walked  the night before.

Plus, I'd stopped sweating and felt a little chilly even under this blazing sun.

This is what dehydration does and the next inevitable step is the slide into heat exhaustion.

It was time to get off this ridge by any means possible. "I want water" had become "I need water."

When you walk this trail you are continually forced to make decisions at crossroads. As a solo tramper, you have to make these decisions yourself.

So, I drew on my knowledge, made an educated guess and tottered out of the broiling sun and into the shade of trees. I knew it wasn't the necessarily the right path but it was well-trodden, it went downhill and it was on the correct side of the ridge.

I hoped it would lead to water.

It wasn't a stream I encountered but a pint-sized, barrel-chested, 69 year-old clutching a singlet and a small water bottle. He stopped to catch his breath. I eyed his full bottle like a feral cat watching a mouse.

To my relief, he offered both his water bottle and a lift into town after his run.

Make a decision, any decision. Sometimes, you just can't afford to stand still.

An hour later, Brian deposited me in the Mangawhai Heads shopping village, where I bought and consumed a huge chocolate milkshake.

I tell you, that milkshake went down in half-a-dozen deliriously, cooling, rehydrating slurps, even if a bad case of "brain freeze" made me stagger drunkenly down the street.

At least it's made things clearer while I wait for Rosa.