It was all a bit of a rush catching the morning bus from Levin to Wellington, this country's capital and political power centre. Nor had it been a good night either, what with a cold wind blowing across my face and a streetlamp shining through my tarp.
I didn't want to travel with a wet towel so I forewent my usual morning shower and packed up my leaf-strewn little camp under the trees before walking into Levin to the bus station.
A few hours later, I stepped out of the Wellington bus terminus and pirouetted uncertainly on the concrete slabs outside, half-blinded by the glare shining off the glass-windowed office buildings. The din of vehicles, roadworks and the incessant chirps of mobile phone ringtones assaulted my ears. Self-important corporate types in their ties and suits or pencil skirts and heels scurried by with eyes fixed on tiny screens, brows furrowed with concentration. The city teemed with lunch-hour worker bees.
Although a sunny day, it was a chilly one. As well, I had dressed for the afternoon ferry ride to Picton on the South Island so I wore trail shoes, merino tights with running shorts over them and a slightly-soiled top. And of course, I had my pack on my back and a wooden staff in hand.
No-one paid the slightest attention, of course. Cities are madhouses so what difference does one more lunatic make? I found my bearings and turned my tousled head toward the downtown bank and post office that held respectively a replacement card and more business cards. I had no time to waste: my ferry left in 90 minutes.
You'd think it would be easy, wouldn't you?
Well, it wasn't. Long story short, the bank card had done a disappearing act and the lunch-time queue in the post office stretched through the doors. However, after an hour of unwanted sightseeing and a bit of good-natured tut-tutting, I finally claimed what I had come for.
In the last of three bank branches I visited, a brisk young teller had pursed her mouth and looked at me with misgivings when I arrived at her counter.
I turned on as much charm as I could muster and had had the satisfaction of watching her thaw.
With my card activated at last and safely stored in a plastic zip-loc bag with the others, I thanked her for her help.
She smiled and her eyes twinkled as they lingered on my hair.
Could she be flirting? I wondered.
"Excuse me, sir, but did you know you have a leaf in your hair?" she asked.
Lifting a hand to my head, my fingers clutched a leaf.
She held out her hand. "Let me dispose of that for you, sir!" she said brightly. I had a feeling I would be the talk of the staff room at tea-break that afternoon. They might even ask the security guards to replay the surveillance footage. It might even become a training video for up-and-coming trainee tellers.
It could have been worse though. She might not have said anything.
Still, I was very glad to leave Wellington, minus just a leaf and a couple of hours of my life.
"South Island, at last!" I thought optimistically as the North Island disappeared over the horizon.
My optimism turned out to be misplaced. Not all situations are as easily resolved as a bad hair day when you're on the trail.