Working at Kai at the Peak
Te Mata Peak House, Havelock North, NZ

I spent months fighting my nihilist shadow, depleting me of my strength, clouding my thoughts, and judgment, a complete undertaking of my happiness. In those months, the sun never quite poked out from behind those thunderous storm clouds. I sat there drowning in a sea of perpetual hopelessness and my efforts to swim to the surface were futile and mundane. Passion left me and my fretting desires tackled my brain relentlessly, a restlessness so keen.

For the past months I worked, imprisoned on a mountainside looking down at the cleft of beach poking out to the shimmering ripples of aqua waves. I felt in both solitude and seclusion as I looked out from the patio, watching the golden sun dip behind the jagged mountains embossing the sky with an explosion of colors. The light seduction of mango orange infused with strawberry red trickled across the horizon between the light java plum lavender and pink hues absorbing with the clouds in a lush bouquet. I stood there solemnly and never quite enjoyed it, wanting to embrace each sunset and new day with arms wide open, if not for me, for my wife.

Instead, I dreamed of all the places my two feet could wander. Where I could go? Who I would meet? What lay beyond the chiseled peaks of endless green? I dreamed of the adventure I missed as I watched it all fade to big city lights below, bleaching the sky of its stars. Such came with working in the country without a day off, without a working car, and with lackluster routine. I tried dubiously to comfort my wife with tender arms, holding her by my side in what most would call paradise, but I did not win the war.

I woke one day, throwing the sheets off from over my head, feebly stepping to my feet, and dug myself out of that deep dark hole, light began to resurface. She understood. She always did as I packed up and tidied my gear for a short bout of travel.

With all those squandered months, my passion finally flickered like a new flame and I grabbed onto it with all my might. Maybe my eccentricities set me free, the writings of a new story, that feeling of success or preserving memories that soon became distant dreams of my past. I was not quite sure, but whenever that craving, high of life, goaded me, I latched on for the ride to nowhere, leaving my dark shadow behind for aimless wandering.

Work always felt like a leech in my side, but with many arguments surrounding the contract, along with my mental health, I made the decision to leave. That full smile walked back into my life and hence began the next chapter of my ramblings.

With a wholesome squeeze and peck of wet lips I set off across the freshly cut lawn, past the decrepit outdoor bar, sun-damaged and crooked with rotten pumpkins perched atop from mischievous teens. The fire in the sky beamed blindness out over Hawkes Bay as I wandered by the black picket fence, traversing the Red Trail as my bright shoes covered in a cloud of dust. I eased down the narrow gradual slope looking out at the cattle masticating. They stood scattered across the jagged landscape, nimble and daring on the steep ledges, grazing peacefully on the invisible terraces.

Down, down, down, I hiked, meandering between the shades of green cabbage trees. Brown stalks flaked away at their trunks with spiky Mohawks of green crowns gleaming in the sun like porcupines. Te Mata Road swayed about the peak all the way down to Simla Avenue and my downward strides placed me on both sides of narrow roadway avoiding traffic. Autumn struck the landscape like the aspen foliage of Colorado and between the immaculate home fronts with massive rolling hillside properties came a rainbow of bright yellow leaves with a sprinkle of red between the verdant landscape. Goats “bahhhhed” behind tensile fencing and the air felt thick with lively possibility as I reached the first roundabout to the main roadway.

I walked with a blank canvass of possibility in each step and after a few hours of tramping closer to Hastings I turned around. The rumbling of an engine tickled my ears and down rolled the passenger window to a silver junker. A cute English girl with bleach blonde hair, dolled in makeup on her round face, spoke elegantly to me. She noticed my cardboard sign, “Napier” and dropped me at the end of town by the roundabout at highway 50A. The quick ride lasted mere minutes which is what much of the hitchhiking culture on islands consists.

Here I found myself standing with a slight grin by the roadside, holding my sign gingerly between clean fingertips while the wind walloped my hair every which way. Cars zroomed past. Drivers chuckled. They waved. They gave me thumbs up. The stigma around the backpacker community felt marvelously different than the United States. I felt welcomed. I felt human. Most of all, I felt accepted.

In less than twenty minutes my next ride stopped. A middle-aged Maori woman with a cluttered black sedan pulled off onto the shoulder. She unveiled her dream of traveling abroad to Norway and I coaxed her into following through with it. She picked up hitchhikers all the time, learning about their cultures, giving them a roof and a hearty meal. I did not stay with her. Instead, she dropped me off by the Port of Napier.

I peered off at the luminance of aqua ocean, listening to waves crash gently along the black pebble shoreline. The ripples twinkled under the touch of sunlight while I sat at a picnic table, relaxing, sipping my water. Everything felt so pure, so clean, so clear, the air, the trees, the ocean, the sky. I took a deep breath, flung my pack over my back and continued the path towards highway 35 for Gisborne.

My eyes caught the limestone tower across the road marveling to the sky, birthing Bluff Hill, which overlooked the Port. I walked past here many months prior when we lived in the old historical prison on the hill and I caught my first train out of Ahuriri Yard just beyond that bluff. Now, I chose a different path, not by train, but by foot and thumb, seeking the landscapes of the eastern coast as I tramped towards Gisborne.

As the dusk of a thousand wasps blanketed the sky I became mesmerized in the yellow riplets swimming along the Westshore, splashing among the banks of rubber tires. Kids played at the playground while the last of the kayaks left the water and soon the night sky trickled its shadow above. I walked along the pedestrian pathway following highway 2 as the cold yawns of night caressed my face making me sniffle. An alcove along the banks of the Westshore, thick with twisting arms of bare shrubbery, carved a hollow dome of shelter out of the earth, giving me a night’s rest. Branches rattled throughout the night, crunching under subtle footsteps of critters, but the whisper of wind soothed my ears as I found my way back to my dreams.

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Brian Cray is not a cyclist. He’s not a hitchhiker. He’s not a train hopper or an adrenaline junkie. He’s just an ordinary man with gypsy blood in his veins, who can’t seem to settle down. Nothing defines him. He goes wherever this world takes him on this journey we call life, roaming the world, at will, by any means. He aspires for a life of indefinite travel, a tiny home in the woods for him and his wife, and any work that keeps him wanderin’. Brian Cray is a travel writer at heart, sharing his stories with the world one keystroke at a time.

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