June 21, 2011


I woke up scratching at my legs. This was the day I learned of New Zealand's sand flies. You can't see them, but boy can you feel them. I'd been bitten the day before as I sat on the beach, and I'd scratch at those bites for the next few weeks, an itch that meets pain.
I grabbed a few things and I set out for the surf shop. Thirty minutes later I was suiting up at the beach. I jumped into the surf afloat on a nine foot board.
The surf wasn't very impressive compared to the day before. And I'm not much of a surfer in the first place. The waves were few and far between and I was fighting for one in a group of twenty. Really, I was just trying to keep from killing anyone. A nine foot board easily gets swept up in the white wash, and from time to time I found myself tumbling underwater attached to a big bludgeoning device, hoping to God that it wasn't beating the shit out of anyone. Eventually I'd pop up and check my surroundings for injured surfers. Everyone was O.K. A few looked frightened.
In two hours I'd snagged a few waves, three maybe, and while they weren't much, one of them got me high. It was breaking to the left. I popped up to my feet, tucked and held onto the rail of my board with my right hand. As I glided along the wave's face I smiled and hollered in joy, and a guy paddling out saw my stoke and it got him stoked out too.
When I climbed out of the sea my upper body had really had it. My arms and chest were drained of energy, and a cracked ribbed from the past sticks out at an angle, and it had really been working at the skin between it and my board. But I was so happy, just happy to be coated in a thin layer of sand and salt, my lips tasty, my hair malleable.
I spent the rest of my day roaming. I ate. I had coffee. I had beer. I went to the waterfront and crossed a bridge to the peninsula where I examined the skatepark. It looked like fun. On my way back over the bridge I encouraged a small, red-haired boy to jump from it into the water below. It took some convincing but eventually he made the leap.

Raglan is a beautiful place, but going it alone has it's challenges. Relaxing alone has a lot in common with being bored alone. So when I returned to Solscape I told the woman at the front desk that I'd only be staying one more night, that I'd like to be refunded for my third night, that it was just too quiet out at the tipis. She offered to move me to a bed in a boxcar, but I politely declined. While I didn't want to be bored alone, I guess I also didn't want to relax with others.
That evening I found myself, once again, sitting on a hillside pounding beers. After a couple I gave myself a stern talking-to and I walked to the boxcar camp where I did my best at mingling. In a letter to friends I described the crowd as "a bunch of gnar surfer jocks." They weren't really that though. They were just young and uninhibited and killing it, and while I too am young I'm not as young as them, and I find that with age I've lost some of my ability to flow so easily and seamlessly into a group of total strangers. I felt like I was sitting on the edge and peering in.

I made some conversation though. I talked with a guy from Oregon, and a guy from San Diego, and a googly-eyed German girl, and it was alright. But in the end I raced to finish the sixth beer.

I'd made the evening walk to the boxcars without a flashlight, and then I had to make the night walk back to the tipis in the dark. I thought it would be easy, but it was not. Carefully I placed one foot in front of the next as I descended into the ravine, and the ferns brushed me in the face whenever I got off course. And I heard the trickling of the spring and felt the squish of the swamp and I moved so slow I hardly moved at all. I found myself wondering:
Where am I?
What am I doing?
Where am I going?

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