In early 1995 I set out from the East Cape with a 35kg pack. I had not the foggiest notion of whether this self-imposed mission would succeed.
Heavy rain hammered the roof of Rurupori Hut; its warning was ominous. The heavily-dissected ravines of the rugged Raukumara Ranges were filling with water, flooding, and trapping me in this tiny, broken shelter.
I had not eaten for two days and was in no mental condition to fight through another tangled forest. The previous day – all nine hours of it – I had tramped in a circle and my confidence had been shaken. I was drained of energy, and for the first time in two weeks’ tramping, I felt defeated.
I lit a candle and read the closing chapters of my book, a welcome distraction that drowned out the paralytic anxieties plaguing my mind.
It was autumn in 1995. At age 29, I was arguably a seasoned tramper, but not an experienced bushman. Nevertheless, I was determined to see more of the backcountry, bag more huts, and hone my bush skills.
And I wanted to prove myself: could I navigate off-track? Could I light a fire in wet conditions? Was I able to handle extended periods of solitude? In many ways, this trip was about a boy becoming a man. I was undergoing a sort of male initiation.
And so I had planned this traverse of the North Island, linking up seven forest and national parks using the established track network. But I was young and naïve. I had no idea that a solo traverse of the Raukumara Wilderness Area would test me to the limits of physical endurance.