DAY SEVENTY-TWO

So today we did something a little bit crazy. We came to Milford Sound with the intention of doing one of the Great Walks, but soon realized that the 3 great walks were all overnight walks that required lots of camping gear, gear that we didn't have. So we reconciled ourselves with the reality of just doing a day walk or maybe part of one of the Great walks. But somehow yesterday, I got it in my head that it would be possible and also a good idea to do one of the multi day hikes in one day... I mentioned this to Griff and Biggi, and we were all a little unsure. First we'd have to decide which hike to blast through in a day. Routeburn and Milford were both shorter around 50km's so they would have been ideal, however they were both point to point hikes, and we needed one that was a loop, so that only left Kepler Track. Now Kepler Track worked for us logistically however, the only issue was that it was meant to be a 3-4 day trek consisting of 60 km's with around 2000 m of elevation gain. A tall task to accomplish in 3 days, much less one single day. But despite that we still decided to give it a whirl. So there were many odds that stacked against us, but mainly it was just a matter of if we'd have enough time during the sun lit hours to finish the 60 kms. But we also had a few things going for us. First of all because we were planning on doing it in one day, we could just bring light day packs with our sandwiches, dates, and extra layers. We didn't have to bring any of the sleeping mats/bag, food for multiple days, or changes of clothing. We also weren't wearing heavy hiking boots, rather we were just in lightweight workout gear, and runners. So with those odds in our favour, we thought that it was definitely possible. It would take us literally all day but it was do able, and because we got that nugget of an idea stuck in our minds we just couldn't shake it. So today we decided to embark on our hair brained idea and carry it out. We had no idea what to expect or what we were getting ourselves in to. We did know that at the first hut (of three huts total), we could turn back and make it a nice half day walk if we felt like we weren't going to be able to finish, but anything after that, and it would honestly almost be easier just to continue on and finish since the elevation would be almost 2/3 done after the first hut. So here's how today went. We woke up at 4:30, got dressed and ready for our long day of hiking, drove to the carpark for Kepler track, and hit the track at around 5:50. The first two hours were the most intense physically. It was just 13 kms of straight steady incline, and it got our legs burning right away. I'll have to admit that after those two hours I was feeling a little bit like maybe these 60 kms weren't going to happen. But after about 2.5 hours we found ourselves at the first hut already! The sign post had said it would take 6 hours, and we managed to cut that time by more than half, so with that our spirits definitely lifted. And after stopping for a few minutes and eating some pb&j sandwiches we recommitted ourselves to our task, and hit the road again right away not wanting to waste any time. The next 3 hours to the next hut were just stunning. We were more or less walking on the ridge of the mountain range and all around you as far as the eye could see was just mountains, and water. Just incredible. But we were so high up that the air was freezing, and my sweat instantly dried and I started to freeze my ass off. The coldest part of my body was actually my fingers, so I was so thankful when Biggi gave me his gloves to wear. Anyways after 3 hours of gruelling and at times frightening hiking we reached the second hut. By now parts of our body were starting to feel the effects of the past 5 hours. But we were still in good spirits seeing as we were way ahead of schedule time wise. It was only 11:30, and we had already got most of the climbing in the hike done, and from here it was mostly downhill and flats. But we did still have about 40 km's to go... but we just ignored that. So after another very brief pb&j pit stop, we continued on. This stretch was deceivingly exhausting. Even though it was a lot of downhill, the downhills were crazy steep with loose footing so we really had to concentrate, and the impact of going down such a steep hill was jarring on our ankles and knees. After a few hours of this, everything began to hurt, and it honestly just hit me all at once. One minute I was running down the hill, hopping around big stones, nimble and agile. And next minute I was barely able to keep walking as I became painfully aware of my inflamed hip flexers, swollen ankles, aching toes, and burning upper thighs. After another hour of this, I truly felt like my legs were jelly, but still we pushed on. I was at the back, just trying to keep up with Griff and Biggi, and at times I was so tired I felt myself start to close my eyes, but then I'd trip on a root or loose stone which would wake me from my revelry. So after about 3.5 hours total or our exhausting descent we finally reached the third hut. This hut, was the first time that we actually sat down, took our socks off, ate, and took a break longer than a few minutes. And boy did we need it, as soon as I sat down I realized how fatigued everything in my body was. I realized how much I just wanted to keep sitting there, and I realized how much I didn't want to continue. But at the same time, a glimmer of hope began to spark in me, the hope that we were within sight of the finish. This was the final stretch, and all that stood between us and our campervan was 20 pesky kms. So after putting a bandage on one of my toes that was now lacking a toe nail, I put my sneakers back on, and set my sights on our finish. By now it was almost 3, but man I felt like it was 7. We had been up and walking for almost 9 hours and I was starting to feel slightly delirious from fatigue. But despite that there was really no other option than to just keep on keeping on. So we set off again. This final stretch was probably the most difficult for me. I started off well enough, but after an hour I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Every part of my legs and feet were just screaming at me, everything hurt, and soon enough I slowed to a steady crawl. This persisted for a few hours, and during that time, we barely spoke, all we were focussing on was putting one foot in front of the other, and not tripping on the roots. Now I think it only fair for me to mention that the nature we were surrounded by was just magnificent. Each stage of the hike had such profoundly differing scenery. The first two were gorgeous mountain views, while the last two resembled lush rainforests, bamboo glens, and even a stretch that reminded me of a barren dessert-like sparse forest.

But I wasn't all that enamoured with the views at the time since I could barely even keep myself from falling, but looking back now that I've showered and feasted... man oh man was it incredible. By the end of the third hour I began to realize that the end was so near it was almost within sight, and that all we had was a puny 5 kms. I mean after doing 55 kms, what was 5 kms more? And at the same time, I began to feel this immense pride well up inside of me. Not only had we done something that everyone we talked to said was not a good idea, or not possible, but we had surprised ourselves, and proven to ourselves what we were truly capable, and that made me so happy and so fulfilled. I cant think of a better way to spend a day than walking 60 kms, and redefining what we considered possible for ourselves. So because of that, I began to pick up the pace and started just powering through those last 5 kms. And by the time we were about 2.5 kms away, I began to run. I have no idea where that energy came from, but I was truly so ready to be done, and so determined to finish that my legs just started running and once I started I wasn't going to stop until we finished, and then all of a sudden we finished. We all exchanged sweaty adrenaline filled awe struck hugs and congratulations. Then we got into our camper van and drove straight to a grocery store to buy cereal and soy milk. Then after showering I had 5 slices of pb & j toast with banana slices, as well as 3 heaping containers full of cereal with peanut butter. Now I feel slightly sick but boy do I feel fulfilled. So after 12 hours of hiking, 60 kms, 2000 m of elevation, and more peanut butter and jam sandwiches than I've ever had in a day, I can now say for certain that I am utterly exhausted and ready for bed.