“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain. In the desert, you can remember your name ’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain…”
Historically, I hadn’t a clue what Dewey Bunnell and his mates were on about in their now classic tune written in 1972. However, after a 4-day stretch including 88 km on 90 Mile Beach, I certainly came up with a couple of my own theories as to what this tune is about!
It all started with a quite enjoyable jaunt from the Cape Reinga light house, over a pretty headland and along a pristine Beach to the quaint Twilight Beach camp site. Here we met some of the other hikers attempting the TA and it seems it’s popularity is growing as we had hikers from France, Scotland and Wisconsin not to mention our current home town of Nelson. After wrestling our tent into submission, we feasted on a freeze-dried meal of Coq au Vin which we awarded 4 out of 5 stars.
Things got very real the next day. After 5km over a headland we came upon the steep stairs leading down to 90 Mile Beach. Whilst it is a fantastic photo opportunity, it also gives one pause for thought when you realise you’ll be walking along that beach for the next three days. There 23km to walk to reach the sanctuary of Maunganui Bluff camp site. No amount of training could prepare me for the physical and mental effort required to hump my pack the equivalent of a half-marathon, but somehow we made it. The beach can only be described as impressive – massively wide at low tide with rolling breakers on one side and steep sand dunes on the other. It is an unrelenting landscape that has the ability to mess with your head and it’s up to you, not to let it.
There were now 60km to go which, due to the lack of accommodation had to be walked in two days. The mind games became increasingly complex as blisters and the effect of carrying a 16 kilo pack across hard sand starts to present some serious discomfort. Strategies that we were employed ranged between biting off maneagable chunks of 5km at a time to singing Elton John’s “I’m still standing” so many times that I was sick of it. The strategy that worked the best was to empty ones mind and take inspiration from the powerful scenery that surrounds you.
After a day that began at 8.30, we finally stumbled into Ahipara at the end of 90 Mile Beach at 6pm. We were spent yet strangely happy. As Sir Edmund Hillary so pithily put it ” We knocked the bastard off..”
Given that America’s hit tune was written in Dorset it probably has less to do with deserts than some trippy dreams of it’s writer. In this writer’s experience there is plenty on 90 Mile Beach for to give you some pain.