Last month I travelled to Wellington to speak at Webstock Mini conference and to volunteer behind-the-scenes at the FullCodePress international website-in-a-day event. Between the conference and the geek-a-thon I had a day to myself. Rather than visit museums and city sites, I wanted to get out to see some of the countryside.
Follow The Pink Arrows
I decided that retracing my steps was no longer an option—not least because I was unsure which direction to head. (Plus I wanted to avoid the marsh if at all possible). Squinting upwards through the canopy, I checked the position of the sun in the sky. The trail had failed me spectacularly, and I decided instead to continue heading West, which would at least take me towards the highway—and hopefully out of my predicament.
I slowly forged a path around the edge of the ravine. It was hard work, as the vines had become ridiculously thick. Cursing the forest and my own stupidity, I gingerly made my way down into the valley. While it was difficult, the descent I chose was far more manageable than the trail had suggested, and at the bottom I was rewarded with a river containing running water that was crystal clear.
I sat in a tiny clearing and filled my bottle. As I caught my breath, I looked up at my green prison, spotted another pink arrow and grimaced. The “trail.” Great.
I stood up and began the process of nimbly discerning some semblance of a path. Pulling back vines and thorny foliage was no longer a novelty and had become a downright chore. I cursed as I removed each and every hurdle keeping me from my freedom. At one stage I thought I saw a clearing up ahead.
I Want To Break Free
It was another 30 minutes of battling vines, prickles and thick overgrowth before the forest eventually began to grow thinner. My heart raced as I rushed towards the light and finally burst into a clearing, free from my labyrinthine prison. The rain had eased, and occasional rays of sunshine were attempting to shuffle their way through the cloudy ceiling.
I took a deep breath and surveyed my surroundings. I was standing in a paddock, behind a short, barbed-wire fence. I had no idea where I was in relation to the road or the coast. I was relieved at not having to battle the claustrophobia-inducing web of vines and thorns, but I wasn’t completely out of the woods yet, even if I had achieved this milestone in the literal sense.
In the distance, across a dozen or so paddocks, I spotted a white farmhouse. I deduced that somewhere near the house would be a road. If I followed that road, I could make my way back to the train station. I just had to make my way across the muddy paddocks.
Unfortunately, luck just wasn’t on my side. With my very first step after emerging from the forest, I slipped on a particularly swampy pothole and fell forward … onto a pile of barbed wire.
Instinctively, I put out my hands as I fell, so they suffered the most when I landed: a 20cm scratch ran up the inside of my right arm (a faint scar remains to this day) and a barb pierced the webbing on my left hand, between my middle finger and ring finger. The wound was quite deep. What’s that? Oh. Yeah, it did hurt, actually.
“Fuck!” I said out loud.
Battered, Bruised, but not Broken
I removed the barb and blood began to drip from the base of my finger. I clenched my fist to try and halt the bleeding, and cursed as I found my feet in the mud. Conscious that the fence next to me might be electric, I climbed over gingerly and began hiking towards the farmhouse.
Half way across the paddock, the bleeding began to subside. I washed my hand in a babbling creek and contemplated what my circumstances would be like if this was, say, some country town in Texas, for example. I decided that the inhabitants of a remote farmhouse in Texas would be probably be firing shots at me with their rifle from the farmhouse at this stage, but convinced myself that this was far less likely in New Zealand. Just to be on the safe side, I veered to the right, so that I was hidden from anyone in the farmhouse by a hill.
I had to cross several fences to get out of the farm. Most of the paddocks were empty, except one that contained several hundred cattle, and I stayed well clear of that one. However, in keeping with the events, I wasn’t even able to climb a couple of fences in an uneventful fashion. It was while I was halfway over the third fence that I discovered first-hand that the fences were indeed electric. I had tested them, but it turned out that the electricity is delivered in a pulse every 10 seconds or so. I guess there wasn’t a pulse while I was performing my test.
The electric shock was not enough to be painful, but it was enough to startle me into falling off and into the mud for the umpteenth time. And it made me angry. Perhaps I was angry with myself for being so stupid; or perhaps being angry immediately after injuring ourselves is an impulse that is ingrained from birth; or maybe I was just pissed off at the fact that I’d made a fool of myself in front of three hundred cows. (And they were watching intently, too—every single one of them.)
Regardless, any hope of achieving a zen-like state while looking over a picturesque view was long gone.
Mooove it, Mister!
It took me another 30 minutes to cross the four wide, swampy paddocks that lay between the edge of the forest and the road that would take me back to Paraparaumu. As I scaled what I thought would be my final hurdle—a six-foot-high barbed wire fence—the cows who had been staring right at me since I began trespassing in their paddock began mooing like whiney, tantrum-ridden toddlers.
Hopefully you’ll appreciate that I was clearly not in a terribly rational state of mind when I reveal this next fact: I do recall actually shouting out loud to the cows, telling them to, erm, fuck off. It was not my proudest moment.
I put my woodland incarceration behind me—I’d found the road. The next question was: which way should I walk?
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The elderly staff member at a local vintage car museum pointed me in the right direction. (That is, after I absorbed the absurdity of their being an enormous vintage car museum here in the middle of nowhere.)
If I hadn’t just emerged from such a gruelling ordeal, I definitely would have stayed to admire some of the classic, shiny automobiles on display, restored to their former glory.
As I trudged along the highway, narrowly avoiding being collected by speeding traffic, I eventually came to a sign pointing in the direction of Paraparaumu.
To the left of this sign, There was another, smaller sign.
Nikau Forest Loop Track begins here.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Here was the track that the lady in the train station was talking about. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I took a closer look:
Do not follow the pink arrows. They are used for pest control.
I slapped my head in disbelief. No wonder the ridiculous pink arrow trail had been so impossible to follow! It wasn’t a trail after all—it was an indicator of something else entirely! I felt like a completely naïve wilderness noob.
Scratched, muddy, electrocuted, tired, hungry, and soaked with sweat, I stood on the side of the road and laughed out loud. Then a crazy thought entered my head … what exactly was this Loop track all about? Should I find out?
My body resisted, but I just had to know what this actual loop track was all about. With considerable trepidation, I approached the entrance.
What could possibly go wrong?
Next issue, Part 4: Return From Mordor