6 months have passed since I last turned up for work. 6 months ago I stepped on to a plane feeling mildly anxious about catching the virus which was slowly spreading around the world. At some point in the last month I completed another personal achievement. I have now lived out of the back of a van for longer than I lived out of a tent. This will at least give me some strong ice-breaking facts for when I do find myself returning to work. The good news is I don’t anticipate returning to work for at least another 6 months. The bad news is the virus is still wrecking total havoc. I remain on the wrong side of Auckland. I have done all of the things I wanted to do in the Northland region. I still have close to a week until I am allowed to transit through the supercity. What to do? The forecast is mixed, not that I trust it anymore. I’m closing in on my budget for the month. These things start to dictate what happens next.
I stop first at a campground, the last chance for a hot shower for a while and an opportunity. In the evening I sat in the communal outdoor shelter listening to 50 year old drunks pretend to converse. I don’t know when they started drinking, some of them I suspect never stop. I found myself next to Frank, a former homicide detective from Germany. I wanted to ask him about his career but he was insistent on talking about only two things; joy and freedom. “I like to make people smile,” he said, telling me about the acts of kindness he provides for those he finds around him. That day he’d caught a snapper, presenting it to fellow travellers; Camilla and Augusto, as thanks for the entertainment they had provided the previous evening. The freedom as well I know, comes with the van. “If I don’t like my neighbour, I can move,” Frank tells me. He goes on to tell me about the previous evening’s entertainment. Camilla had been playing guitar and singing. As the others overheard the topic of conversation, the call came for her to play again. Camilla brought out her guitar, her voice, and her songs. The small crowd was silenced. The little concert was another moment of sheer delight I could have only experienced through the freedom provided to me by living on the road. This night could not have happened any other way. Applause went around and I hoped nobody would ask what entertainment I could provide. I’m not sure “read my blog” would be the kind of thing this crowd were seeking. I was relieved when everyone started drifting off to bed.
Without wanting to spend more money, a freedom camping spot was required. Somewhere without the limit of a one night stay. Tokerau Beach on the Karikari Peninsula appears to be exactly what I’m looking for. A field next to the beach. There doesn’t appear to be any restrictions on the length of my stay. The kind of place in which I can do nothing. Resting is not something that comes easily to me. For too long I have been caught up in the cult of productivity, but there is also something else. Being busy keeps me distracted. If I don’t have time to think, I do significantly less thinking. As a chronic over-thinker, doing nothing is never truly doing nothing. Resting is ruminating over past events, inventing scenarios with people I’ll likely never see again, predicting how bad the future will be. Setting myself up for a few days of don’t go for a hike, stop, just for a second rest is a challenge. If nothing else I know I need to do it for my feet. A few days without putting socks on will do them good. A few days without a forced march up a hill and back down again will do me good. In this way I commit to the scary act of doing nothing. My water tanks are full. I’ve got food enough to outlast the water. In terms of simply surviving I’m good for at least four nights.
Day one is easy, for a start it’s more like half a day. I arrive, the rain is falling and continues to fall for the rest of the day. I read, I write, I listen to an episode of a podcast. I realised the only thing that would make this better is if I didn’t have phone signal. I get caught up scrolling through the infinite loop, looking for something interesting. Waiting to see if any of my friends, 18,000km away and fast asleep, have responded to any of my messages. The over-thinking at least, doesn’t kick in. Darkness comes. I make dinner, I crawl into bed, read a few chapters of War and Peace. The relentless drumming of rain on the van roof can be diminished by ear plugs. This makes for a better night’s sleep. There’s nothing I can do about the gentle swaying in the wind.
Day two begins grey. I make no effort to get up. This first part of doing nothing is the best bit. Before I begin. Bed is cosy, warm, comfortable. If I lie here long enough, another day will pass and I will have achieved my target of resting. I know this doesn’t really work. The true base human desires kick in, food, water, the disposal of both. For the first time since leaving lock down I drink copious amounts of tea throughout the day. I leave the stove out and the kettle on. This is nice. The nearest toilet block is a one kilometre round trip, which gives me a good excuse to do a bit of something. I drop down on to the beach to walk back. The clouds have moved over the bay. I can see the rain. I am under blue sky, the sun shining down. The sea flashes through a full spectrum of blues and greens in the kind of mesmerising display a peacock would be proud of. The shoreline is scattered with thumb nail fragments and soup bowl sized scallops shells. I drift from the silk powder white sand at the top of the beach down on to the flat hard brown of the still wet shallows. This is as active as I get for two days.
On the third day I am up for sunrise, on the beach before 7am. A sure sign I’m ready to start moving on. I watch the morning show, a perfect reflection captured in the damp sand of low tide. I sometimes wonder what it is I’m doing here, a broader more general here than on the here of the Karikari Peninsula. What is it all for? What am I trying to achieve? How am I supposed to be spending my time? The over-thinking starts to climb through the gears. In the golden glow of early morning, things become simple. Easier to understand. I’m living. Existing. Just being in the world. There doesn’t have to be a why. I am here, that is enough. I go through the motions, drink tea, eat, pee, repeat. I walk further along the beach enjoying the feel of the sand underfoot, the cooling waves breaking around my ankles. Enjoying the movement. Starting to feel ready to go again. Instead, I pull my chair out, sit in the sun, watch the sky, listen to the surf. Making the most of the one final day. In the end, maybe this doing nothing thing isn’t so hard after all.
On the fourth day I’m up for sunrise again. The beach is glorious, again. How bad would staying another night be? I had these same thoughts yesterday. Time’s up. I have had enough rest, enough of watching the clouds, enough of listening to the waves break along the beach. I need to start moving again, start doing. I make a trip to the end of the Karikari Peninsula, walking around Matai Bay and out to the headland. The stretching of legs going up a gentle slope. The tightening in my knees on the descent. The sun shines, veils of rain fall from every cloud. Somehow I manage to stay dry. The rain, finally, falling everywhere I’m not. I was definitely long overdue a lucky break on the weather front. The white sands, the blue ocean, the green hills. The world comes together briefly to look like paradise. I leave the Far North for what I think will be the final time. Who knows, perhaps I will be back again at some point next year. I drive back to my home in the North, to Paihia, to wash, to check the latest announcements on when I will be able to move on.