Guest Blog by Josie Butler.
This is day six for me on the hikoi, I unfortunately arrived late as I had a bad car crash right before the hikoi and needed some recovery time. But I’m here now, and I’m going to tell you good people about my experience so far. Bear with me if my writing is a bit shit, I’m pretty bloody knackered!
The first day I arrived feeling excited, nervous, and ready to test myself physically and mentally. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a pretty lazy sort; I smoke too much, I love eating junk food, in particular potato chips, and I generally sleep in till at least 10am. I tried training before the hikoi, but after walking 2km to the fish n chip shop one day and feeling tired and sore after that, I went into denial mode. I maybe did even less walking than I normally would in the weeks leading up to the hikoi.
Day one for me, day ten for the rest of the team, we kicked off in Kaikoura with a 5:30am start. For me, getting up at 5:30am is a big deal. I can’t remember the last time I did that. I honestly think that if I woke up at 5:30am and my house was on fire I’d probably decide to snooze for another five minutes. Anyway we got up, got dressed, and were greeted with our smiling host family who had gotten up early to make us a special breakfast for our day. The trip has been like that, characterised by small, but at the same time giant acts of kindness from complete strangers. Anyway, we headed into the centre of Kaikoura to start our 20km trek. I was very glad to see the dairy was open at this time, so I started off the day with a can of redbull and two cigarettes, breakfast of champions!
And then we began our walk. At first I was excited, waving at all the cars driving past, exclaiming ecstatically about the views, and marvelling at the awesomeness of what we were doing. But after about three hours of walking, things start to die down. Your feet hurt, your throats dry. You don’t feel like exclaiming any more, and the energy it takes to even wave at cars is just a little bit too much. And then it just carries on like this, for another three or four hours. One foot in front of the other. Physically you ache. Mentally you’re drained. And you start thinking “Fuck! I’ve got another two weeks of this!” But on the other hand, and this is most definitely the stronger hand, you are with Rachel and her three beautiful children. These are not ordinary people, let me tell you!
Pita, who is nine, spent the whole first day telling me stories, jokes, and singing me songs, because she knew it was going to be a hard day for me. I thought that was just the sweetest thing anyone could do, particularly a kid who is nine and has already walked over 200km. Tema, who is eleven, shows me her dance moves, and teaches me French. A smile is always present on her lips. She is kind, gentle and smart as a tack. Jai, who is five, cracks jokes the whole way, and makes us stop every five minutes to look at a ‘treasure’ he has found on the side of the road. He’s full of beans and full of laughs. During this whole trip I haven’t heard these kids complain once. They actually look forward to walking! These kids model the best attributes of the human condition every day. And they do this whilst walking a fucking long way, in all kinds of weather. If it was just me doing this hikoi on my own, I’d be whinging, cursing, chain smoking, and feeling sorry for myself. But to see these kids act this way, it really rubs off on you.
And Rachel, our leader. A true wahine toa. She spends all day looking after her three children, which although they are great kids, they are also a bit of a handful at times. She determinedly and steadfastly walks 20km every day. You’d think (well I did anyway) that when Rachel finished walking for the day she’d have some time to put her feet up. She does not! As soon as we get back she’s making lunches for the next day, preparing dinner for that night, organising accommodation for the next day, and doing media interviews. She drives for a few hours scoping out the route for the next day, then liaising with the police and land and transport. She spends time getting to know our hosts. She spends time with all of us walkers and support crew, checking in with us and making sure we’re okay. We offer to help, and we do where we can, but Rachel is such a kind person that despite all the shit she’s already got going on, she doesn’t want to burden anyone with any more work. She isn’t in bed till at least 11:30pm every night, and despite all the work she has done (18 hour days most days), she always has a smile and a kind word for us at the end of the night.
A lot of people have asked me why I’m doing this hikoi. Let me tell you the honest truth. I’m doing it to support Rachel and her children. In solidarity. And let me tell you dear readers, if you met them, you certainly would too.
Out of all the actions I have been a part of, this is the most taxing. It’s mentally, physically, emotionally exhausting. It’s like an ultra marathon of activism. While you read this (if you have read this far, THANKS!) you may be thinking “what can I do to help?” Well it’s very simple. Just spread the word. The more supporters we have, the stronger we are. The hikoi can be your small talk with people, it’s a pretty good conversation starter. If you’re in Wellington, come greet us when we arrive. Let people know that the TPPA is not a done deal, and that there are every day people like you and me, getting up at bloody 5:30am to try and stop it!