“I get the news I need on the weather report
And I have nothing to do today but smile”
― Paul Simon
I unexpectedly found myself writhing lock-jawed on a hospital bed, focused intently on breathing through the pain. The lovely nurse instructing me to “try relax” as others blurred around me in a rush of needles. It was at that moment that I finally understood the baseless, primal fury of a women scorned being implored to “calm down”.
Before I get carried away, let me start at the beginning.
Starting my tour of the South, I first drove West, from Christchurch to Greymouth, via the Great Trans-Alpine Highway. An improbable triumph of road that could excite pride out of even the most Swiss of highway engineers. No worries for my van though, still hell bent on proving me cynical in my initial impressions. The highway culminates in Arthur’s Pass, a sanctuary for hiking. En route to Arthur’s Pass, though, I spent a night free-camping on the shores of Lake Pearson. Perched on the pebbled shore under a willow tree with grandeur and tranquility at my side, renewed by every breathe of crisp air I drew, I had at last arrived in the postcard-perfect New Zealand van life dream I had resolved to find many years before. Armed with bio-degradable soap and a self-contained van, I pondered the duration of my Lake Pearson dream. Something tugged at me though. Perhaps the high peaks in the haze. Perhaps the highway itself, teasing dramatically through the valley.
Stirred by the sunrise dancing off the crinkled lake on my ceiling, I came to an early start, pulling up at the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass around nine O’clock. I scrambled to, determined to catch gap in the weather, and set out for Avalanche Peak. It was a stifling 34 degree day by the time I cleared the tree line and caught up to the hordes who had left sensibly early. What a view though! Emerging from that treeline, in that valley. Further along the beleaguered trail, passing precariously under an avalanche zone, I came up to the ridge leading to the peak itself. On one side, the great valley harboring Arthur’s Pass. On the other side, the high peaks and glaciers leading to Mount Rolleston. Returning from my hurried ascent of Avalanche Peak, in anticipation of afternoon thunderstorms, I resolved to stay one more day and soak my throbbing legs in some rivers and waterfalls nearby.
The descent to Greymouth from Arthur’s Pass starts at Death Corner. An aptly named slant of road leaning onto a viaduct that is balanced haphazardly down the middle of a precipitous gorge, which regains solid ground only via the impressive diversion of a waterfall in mid fall. If only I had stopped to snap a picture, but I dared not turn around. After the first throws of the descent it widens and becomes a gradual meander down enormous, fruitful valleys, eventually arriving at the wild West Coast.
I drove through Greymouth, over the bridge, to an amazing free camp at Cobden beach where I was welcomed by glassy head high waves reeling off exquisitely into an oblivion of sun baked pebbles. Finally! Some good swell. I surfed my heart content before collapsing in a heap of stoke, drifting into a hard earned slumber.
I awoke that night to a slow, stabbing, methodical pain in my abdomen. As though a tired old ghost was trying to hack out my kidney. It was two in the morning and I was on my own so I thought it best to wait it out till morning, when I drove back over the bridge to the hospital. About 250 meters from the hospital it overcame me and I pulled over to the side of road and spilled out of the car, grimacing. I lay on the sidewalk for a few minutes while some strangers cautioned past uncomfortably, denying themselves my existence. Suddenly aware of what it means to be alone. Like a complete unknown.
I eventually hobbled into the Hospital where they propped me into a corner until I was in such pain the other people in the waiting room were becoming distressed. Then a whole team swooped down on me. Inspecting, detecting, injecting. Impatiently reading me the legal terms and conditions of the CT scanner as though reading me my rights for the hundredth time. At some point the morphine kicked in and a doctor, with a heave of relief, explained to me that I just have kidney stones and there wasn’t much he could do about it. I am to wait, he said, in state, and medicate.
And so here I wait, impatiently, for deliverance.