Once I am out of Mossburn, I stop to catch my breath and readjust my backpack, which already weighs a ton.
My knees throb and the lunacy of attempting to run 22km in this condition has dawned on me. Still, at least I have made some good distance towards Five Rivers.
Casually I check my watch for my progress. I have been running for 10 minutes.
Luckily, I consumed all my food and water whilst walking 130km through the mountains, so my pack is the lightest it has been all week.
Unluckily, I consumed all my food and water whilst walking 130km through the mountains…so I have nothing to sustain me on this run…and my legs are already like jelly.
Painful, painful jelly.
My boots are also falling apart, which isn’t helping my situation. All in all, for a man who has run 21km twice in his entire life, this is not going to be an easy afternoon.
By this point, however, the reality of the situation is irrelevant. This is not a time to wait by the side of the road, literally or metaphorically; if my meditations the day before meant anything at all, now is the time to prove it.
By instinct, I pop my thumb up every time a car drives past, just in case. Then I stop force myself to stop. They – the cars – had made their feelings quite clear. They will not help me and now I neither want nor need their help.
I have made my mind up; I will run to Five Rivers even if somebody offers me a lift. And I will make it to Queenstown.
In a haze of agony, the afternoon crawls by. All that exists are my legs, the white line of the roadside and the little marker posts every 120 paces. I cling to them for courage; I can run 120 paces…so I can run it again…and again…and again…200 times…
I will run to Five Rivers. I will make it to Queenstown.
Before long, the heels of my boots have worn through completely and stones are pouring in. I have noticed a new pain too; the bouncing of my bag is slowly rubbing the skin off my lower back…
It is irreverent; once a Guildsman gets going, nothing can stop him but death itself. Either that or a slight incline…
When I encounter uphill sections, I allow myself to run in intervals; 15 minutes run, 5 minutes walk. Quickly, this becomes 7 minutes run and 2.5 minutes walk…then 4 minutes run and 1 minute walk…
I will run to Five Rivers. I will make it to Queenstown.
Gradually, I realise my hands – clenched into fists against the various different pains – have cramped into position. I try to wipe some sweat from my brown – my hand comes away covered in tiny crystals of salt.
This does not bode well… I hope Five Rivers has a shop. Or a cafe! Or dinosaurs. I COULD RIDE A DINOSAUR TO QUEENSTOWN!
Suddenly, my eyes pick up some motion… Cars flashing past on the horizon. A bend in the road. A sign. Five Rivers? FIVE RIVERS!
I have made it! Highway 6! THE ROAD TO GLORY!
The first thing I notice is the cafe. It is shut. No sustenance for me. The second thing I notice is the silence. The total absence of traffic…or life…of anything to show settlement in Five Rivers whatsoever.
It is getting dark and it is getting cold. Unlike Mossburn, there is no village here to shelter me.
Guild Master. What hast thou doesn’t?
90 minutes later, it is pitch black. The only light is from my tiny head torch, which shines feebly out into the open road in a pitiful attempt to flag down the rare vehicles that pass every now and then.
Most are buses. None stop. None even slow down.
Every car that passes me gets a curse. Initially I mutter them under my breath, but very soon I am hurling them at their tail lights; what soulless bastard leaves a lone man freezing by the side of a main road in the middle of nowhere on a cold winter night?! What do they think I’m going to do?
…what am I going to do…?
Suddenly, in a blaze of indicators in the gloom, a car pulls over. It is a couple; they are heading the opposite way, but they notice how cold I am and offer to take me back down the road, from whence I came.
In fact, they are going to a party and invite me along!
I am freezing. What little energy my morning muesli put into my body after a week in the mountains is long gone and my body is not reacting well to being standing still after running 22km with a backpack on.
The warmth from their car is emanating from the open window, caressing my chilled fingers.
I have been out for 7 hours. This is the first and only car to stop.
Any port in a storm?
Gamester?! React, damn you!
Finally, I hear my voice. “That’s very kind of you…but I’m going to Queenstown.”
Rule 2: No Looking Back.
I watch their lights until they disappear around a distant corner.
I will make it to Queenstown.
For another half an hour, I pace the side of the road to keep warm, waving my torch at the passing cars. I don’t even bother to watch them anymore – I am too tired.
Equally exhausted, my torch flickers and dies, but I punch it with a numbed fist and it comes back on again. My waving motions are becoming more frantic; perhaps somebody will think I am in danger…
Maybe I am in danger. I consider the situation as I reach my marker point and spin around to walk back along the road. That’s when I notice it.
A car. It has pulled over just 25 metres along the road! I must reach it!
I will my legs to work and, slowly, they obey. I hobble – shamble – forwards, yet the car gets no closer! Freezing, exhausted – I am moving in slow motion! The torch, tired of the abuse, finally dies. All is dark except the lights of the car. Does it know I am coming?! Please, don’t leave!
An eternity later, I drag open the door and stick my spinning head inside.
Again, I hear my voice: “Are you going to Queenstown? Yes? Can I jump in with…wait a minute, is that Turtle Neck and chain? That’s a GREAT album!”
I close the door behind me and Michael, a lovely man from Invercargill, rockets the remaining 100km to Queenstown to the sound of the Lonely Island.
I will make it back to Queenstown.
I have put the hike back in hitch hike…
I have also put the hitch back in hitch hike….
In Queenstown, I shower, eat noodles and drink heavily until 03:30, when I pass out ingloriously on a sofa.