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.
You can read the first part of my Queen Charlotte Track experience here: The Queen Charlotte Track: Building Confidence and Breaking Down
I rolled over in bed, tentatively stretching out my legs, groaning quietly as pain began to shoot through my calves.
I’d tried everything the night before. I’d spent hours massaging my legs, applying heat in our lodge’s hot tub, rubbing ice cubes all over them, and I’d tried to eat as much protein as humanly possible.
It hadn’t worked.
I checked the time. 6am.
I had exactly one hour to figure out what I was going to do.
I had walked 25 kilometres over the past few days and it had just about destroyed me. My legs were in agony, my muscles ripped to shreds, and my ankles covered in blisters. Today, I would have to walk a further 25 kilometres — a walk that was expected to take 8 hours.
And so, I had two options.
I could admit defeat, skip the hike and take the water taxi to the next stop. I could spend the day resting, relaxing and recovering. I could go for a swim and drink some beers. Given the state I was currently in, this would be the sensible thing to do.
Or I could persevere and force myself to walk the furthest distance I’ve ever walked on already damaged legs. There would be no turning back, no water taxis along the way. I’d be doing the full 25 kilometres.
I glanced over at Dave, weighing up the two options in my mind. I didn’t want to disappoint him, and I wanted him to think that I was capable of hiking and walking long distances. I knew how much he loved to hike and I wanted to prove that I would make an excellent hiking partner. I didn’t want to let him, or myself, down.
I just didn’t know if it would be physically possible.
I didn’t know if it was going to be a big mistake.
I didn’t know what to do.
We sat down for breakfast and I still hadn’t come to.a decision. I longingly gazed over at the water taxis, desperate to clamber aboard. And yet, I think I knew from the beginning that I was always going to do everything I could to finish that walk.
Yes, I was going to do the hike and I was fairly certain it was going to obliterate me.
And so I went back to our room, pulled on my hiking boots and got ready to undertake the biggest physical challenge of my life.
Right from the start I was struggling. My calves were tight and my muscles were aching. The clouds were low in the sky and the air was cool. While this wasn’t necessarily great for warming up my muscles, I was grateful for the breeze — it was going to be a long, hot day.
The first part of the hike is said to be the toughest. We had spent the night at water level and needed to make our way up to the ridge line to continue where we left off the previous day.
I was an hour in when my muscles finally started to ease up. I was feeling stronger now, having drifted into a trance as I marched rhythmically along the trail. We’d finally reached the ridge line, where for every wonderful downhill slope there was another uphill to take my breath away and put a stitch in my side.
However, I knew I couldn’t stop moving — to do so would cause the muscles in my leg to spasm up once more and I couldn’t face going through that again.
I just had to keep walking.
Two hours in and I was regretting my decision to do the hike.
My legs were aching, my feet were blistered and walking on the exposed ridge line was leaving me open to sunburn.
I just had to keep walking.
We stopped for lunch and I knew it was going to be painful. I knew that as soon as I stopped moving I would regret it. I knew I would have to start from square one again, but this time after having walked ten kilometres.
My body was starting to get very unhappy.
After lunch, Dave decided to take the trail up to a view point leaving me to continue on by myself. I chose not to interpret this as him wanting to escape from me, my grumbles and my stumbles.
And so I walked.
And I walked.
And I walked.
At one point, an elderly lady came jogging up to me with far too much energy than was natural.
“This is the half-way point,” she smiled encouragingly, “you’re half-way there!”
I cheered loudly, secretly disappointed because I genuinely had thought I was only a couple of kilometres from finishing.
A while later, the boys caught up with me and we were reunited once more. We continued together, me in a much better mood. After a successful hike on my own I was suddenly feeling a little more competent.
We were two thirds of the way through the hike when my body decided it had had enough.
I barely had the energy to lift my feet, to drink my water, to talk, to do anything at all. I was miserable and hating every single second.
My legs started to seize up without me even resting. I was constantly tripping and stumbling as my body repeatedly gave way, my feet rolling to the side, threatening to wander over the edge of the ridge line.
I was out of food and I hadn’t packed enough water. I’d been too nervous of the rain-water barrels to top up my water bottle and this foolish decision had left me dehydrated — and that’s on top of the sunburn and physical exhaustion.
I couldn’t help but feel that my body was starting to shut down.
By this point I needed to rest, and often. Every 30 minutes I’d sit by the side of the trail and anxiously rub my throbbing legs, hoping for a miraculous recovery.
I’d arise once more, full of confidence, ready to finish the hike, only to stagger a couple of metres along the path and feel like falling back down once more.
Around every bend I expected to see our lodge, as we reached the top of every hill I hoped to see the final walk down towards the water.
I had no idea how much further we had to go but I knew I needed to finish this walk soon.
And then, after many, many hours of agony, we turned a corner and finally saw our accommodation for the night. I felt like crying. I felt like dying. I felt like hiking was the worst thing in the entire world.
I staggered towards the lodge, opting to wait outside while Dave checked in. I stood breathlessly, wobbling, staring in disbelief at the smiling faces of the hardcore hikers.
As their laughs echoed around me, I felt pins and needles slowly creeping into my eyeballs. As I searched for something to hold on to the scene started swimming before my eyes. Their laughter drifted further and further away as bile rose in my throat and my legs collapsed beneath me. Please don’t let me pass out.
I laid on the ground with my legs waving around in the air, desperately trying to move the blood from my throbbing legs to my equally throbbing head.
“Um… what on earth are you doing?”
The boys had returned with the room key and found me sprawled out on the floor.
I forced myself to stand for the final time that day.
And upon opening the door to our room, I crawled into bed, where I remained blissfully still for the next 12 hours.
Maybe I need to rethink this whole I-love-hiking thing.
And for a completely different perspective on the Queen Charlotte Track from somebody who didn’t almost die because they actually have some level of fitness, you can read about Dave’s experience here.