My transport and accommodation for the Queen Charlotte Track were provided by the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, as part of Tourism New Zealand’s Explore Media program.
“How are you feeling?”
Dave eyed me nervously as I strapped on my daypack, wincing under the weight of three kilograms of dried apricots.
“Yeah. Pretty good” I replied, masking my nerves with a giggle. “How hard can it be?”
With a quick glance at the sign marking the start of the walk, I took a deep breath, remembered how well I’d done with the Tongariro Crossing and began to psych myself up for the walk ahead of me.
I can do this.
The first hour is always the toughest.
I struggle to switch off completely, to stop mentally composing email responses and Facebook updates, to stop wanting to instantly share photos of the beautiful place I’m visiting and to switch off that deep emotional attachment I have to napping. I struggle to fight the urge to stop walking, lie on the ground and sleep.
With so little hiking experience, it takes even longer to overcome The Blerch that constantly lumbers along behind me, grabbing at my ankles and grasping for my throat. Anything to stop me moving.
The first hour is always the toughest.
Ten minutes passed and I found myself panting frantically through gritted teeth. My side was throbbing and sweat was rolling down my forehead and into my eyes.
I glanced down at the information pack I’d been given before the hike. On the map, today had looked flat and easy. It was casually undulating.
My calves disagreed.
My inner demon took control once more as the thought of jumping in a water taxi and being whizzed along to our accommodation filled me with indescribable happiness.
But I can do this!
After having spent the past few weeks babbling excitedly to anyone who’d listen about my new-found athletic ability, I couldn’t give up 10 minutes in. All I had spoken about about to Dave and Dustin was hiking and loving it and desperately wanting to do more.
I wasn’t yet ready to confess my struggles and so I remained silent, attempting to breathe quietly through my rapidly flaring nostrils. As I listened to the boys ramble on about technology and gadgets and how Apple products suck, I felt myself slowly falling into the rhythmic trance that makes all the difference.
A wave of relief washed over me when I saw the path finally levelling out ahead. The gentle stroll uphill that had been mentioned in our information pack had been, in fact, an enormous mountain of hell.
Just ask my burning calves.
But it was over now.
The rest of the walk was flat and easy and I was now able to start enjoying the sub-tropical fern-filled forest scenery that New Zealand is so famous for.
Five hours later, we turned a corner, our accommodation finally in sight.
We had made it.
The first day was over and I was feeling surprisingly good about the following one.
I rolled out of bed, groaning loudly as my calves began to throb and cramp.
Perhaps yesterday hadn’t been quite as easy as I’d thought.
My legs were sore and tight and tired and I wasn’t looking forward to the 11 kilometres of walking I’d have to do today.
I battled my demons once more for the first hour before settling into an even pace. I spent much of the hike feeling as if I was wandering through the tropics rather than in New Zealand. The scenery was all turquoise waters, sandy beaches, rainforest, waterfalls and thick cable-like vines.
It happened after lunch.
After taking a quick break to snack on some apricots, I stood up only to find myself howling in pain and falling back down, gasping as my left leg began to spasm. I pulled myself back up again, struggling to stand upright, pain shooting through my calf.
“Something is wrong with me!” I screeched in horror as I fell back to the path, clutching at my leg. “Something weird is happening to my leg!”
The guys stared at me in bewildered bemusement as I writhed on the floor in agony.
I had seriously injured myself.
With roughly an hour left until we would be finishing the day of hiking, I was convinced I was going to have to be carried to our accommodation.
“It’s probably just a tight muscle, stretch it out a bit,” Dustin suggested.
Clawing my way up a tree I pushed firmly against it, attempting to stretch out my calf behind me, cringing as it made the pain worse.
I didn’t know what to do.
And so I put on a brave face, pretended it was better and started limping after Dave and Dustin, shaking my leg as I went.
The remaining hour of the hike stretched into two and yet, while I was in a great deal of pain, all I could feel was disappointment.
I wouldn’t be able to hike the final day.
I had failed.
I had let myself down.
As I stumbled up to our accommodation for the night, I had no idea what the following day would hold. Could I really manage a 25 kilometre hike when I was already this broken?
Could I heal myself with a few more dried apricots and a good night’s sleep?