Mary Moynihan sits on a bar stool in her kitchen, surrounded by an organized mess of maps, trail notes and hiking gear.
She has been researching and training for months, knowing that soon her immersion in information will pay dividends for her immersion in nature in one of the most awe-inspiring corners of the world.
The 29-year-old Moynihan, a Bend resident for the past two years, plans to solo hike the length of New Zealand (both islands) from north to south this coming January through April along the 1,850-mile Te Araroa Trail.
Moynihan, a fresh-faced brunette, talks with a fiery enthusiasm about her upcoming journey. Enthusiasm is perhaps the most crucial trait for a “thru-hiker” — those who complete long-distance trails end to end in one continuous trip.
Without a positive attitude, how could somebody spend months in the wilderness, plodding along for 20 to 30 miles per day, enduring inclement weather and scarce food and water?
Trekking mostly alone, Moynihan completed hiking’s North American triple crown — the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail — when she thru-hiked the CDT in 2011.
She moved to Bend from Portland shortly after completing that grueling trail, and eventually that nomadic longing returned. She will be hiking in New Zealand — her flight from Portland is Dec. 30 — through dramatically beautiful mountainous terrain during summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
“It’s a way of life, and it’s a way for me to see the world, and also put me through experiences and challenges I otherwise would not get,” Moynihan says of her long-distance hikes. “There’s something about waking up every day and having a purpose. When I’m out there, I really feel grateful for everything. For me, it’s about the immersion. It’s about living that nomadic lifestyle. That feeling, that itch, is very true for me.”
Now a supervisor at the Patagonia outdoor clothing store in Bend, Moynihan says she did not really grow up as the adventurous type.
She was raised in Warwick, N.Y., located just a few miles from the Appalachian Trail, and she graduated from the Boston Institute of Art in 2005.
In October of that year, she was struck by a car while riding her bike in Boston, suffering a fractured tibia, torn ligaments in her right knee and a concussion.
Burnout from both attending school and working full time, and then the accident, led Moynihan to seek some sort of escape. She found it on the Appalachian Trail, which stretches for 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Moynihan says. “I didn’t realize how big it was. I just honestly wanted something different out of my life at that point. I always liked nature. But it’s one thing to like it, and another to submerge yourself in it for months.”
Moynihan completed the Appalachian Trail in 2006, when she was 22 years old. She says she found it extremely challenging, but by the time she reached the spectacular fall foliage and rolling mountains of New England on her northward trek, she was inspired.
She completed the trail in four months, and the next year she took on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was her first time west of Pennsylvania.
“I didn’t grow up sheltered or anything, I just didn’t know what was beyond. … You realize there’s a big world out there,” says Moynihan, whose parents and older brother still live in New York.
Moynihan studied graphic design in college, and she turned down what she called two “really good-paying” jobs to hike the PCT in four months in 2007.
After that hike, she moved from Warwick to Portland, then moved again, this time to be a backcountry ski bum in Mount Shasta, Calif., while working as a barista.
“At this point, I’ve abandoned the career path,” Moynihan says. “I’m full in to hiking. One day I will go back to school to pursue cartography or industrial design.”
Getting the job done
Unlike the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, the Continental Divide and Te Araroa trails are not established footpaths for their entire lengths. Map and compass skills are a must on both trails. Moynihan used a GPS on the CDT, but she does not plan to in New Zealand.
“The Continental Divide Trail includes some of the most challenging logistics out there for backpackers, like map reading, cross-country travel, and logistics of figuring out water and food for long stretches between water sources and towns,” says Renee Patrick, Moynihan’s friend and fellow thru-hiker from Bend. “The New Zealand trail is a very new trail and will offer some logistical challenges, but I believe she is more than ready for the challenge.”
Moynihan hiked the CDT in 2011, the biggest snow year in recent memory in the Rockies. She says she encountered 8 to 20 feet of snow at times, using crampons but often post-holing as she trudged from Monarch Pass in northern Colorado to Wyoming.
“I had to really want that trail,” Moynihan says. “I didn’t see many people. You get to the top of these passes and they’re just covered in cornices. At that point, you start to get a little loony.”
Moynihan explains that she has completed all of her long-distance hikes alone because she “never found anybody who was actually serious” about hiking with her. Also, she adds, sometimes it is just easier to do it by herself.
“I can rely on myself and I know I’m going to get the job done,” she says.
Moynihan talks about witnessing other hikers “cracking” on the trail when the physical and mental pounding of trudging along day after day finally takes its toll. Weather is often a culprit.
“It’s one thing to be stuck in a rainstorm for an hour, but from literally the time you go to sleep until three days later, you don’t even put on dry socks … ” she says. “You don’t care. Everything is wet. I’ve hiked without breaks for five hours before because I couldn’t get warm any other way.”
Moynihan says that after the first two weeks of 20- to 30-mile days on the trail, her body “becomes a machine.” She reaches her ideal weight, the stiffness and soreness in her muscles go away, and she finds a rhythm. “And then,” she says, “it’s almost therapeutic.”
The Te Araroa — “the long path,” in the indigenous Maori language — was not even officially opened until two years ago. Moynihan calls the trail a blend between the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails in that the route more or less exists but not always underfoot. Often, she will be “tramping” (a Kiwi word) across uneven terrain or through thick vegetation, this time without a GPS.
“Am I going to get misplaced? Yes,” Moynihan says. “But I think I know how to handle myself a little better now.”
The Te Araroa passes through mesmerizing terrain, from oceanside to alpine meadows and high mountain passes, including glaciers, waterfalls and fjords. Highlights of the trip figure to be Tongariro, Nelson Lakes and Arthur’s Pass national parks.
Moynihan will traverse along the slopes of the Southern Alps, which she calls a “worldwide rave.” She will pass through the larger cities of Auckland, Queenstown and Wellington, but more frequently she will resupply with food, water and gear in much smaller towns. She expects to go sometimes five or six days between stops.
She plans to split the hike into three sections, hoping to change into new pairs of Patagonia trail running shoes twice along the way.
“It’s about 600 to 700 miles per pair of shoes,” she explains. “I’ve worn my shoes anywhere from 450 miles to 1,100 miles. When you put on the new shoes, it feels like you’re walking on clouds.”
Patagonia of Bend is sponsoring her trip, helping out with some $1,500 worth of gear, as is Hop Valley Brewing Co. in Eugene, which is giving her a significant supply of its canned “541” beer. Moynihan plans to use the empty cans as stoves on which to cook instant potatoes and other easy dinners. Granola, cheese, salami, avocados and bananas are some other foods she expects to eat while on the trail.
Moynihan also plans to kayak sections of the Te Araroa. She hopes to rent a kayak and paddle for as much as 60 miles of the route along nearby rivers.
In towns along the way, Moynihan will update her blog (marriedtothetrail.com). She is currently writing her fourth draft of a book about hiking the Continental Divide Trail.
New Zealand’s population is only about 4.4 million, and about 1.5 million live in Auckland on the north island, so Moynihan figures to have much solitude on the trail.
She is planning to start from Cape Reinga at the northern tip of the North Island on Jan. 3 and finish at Bluff on the southern edge of the South Island by the end of April.
Many other long-distance trails have data books, which list the miles between water sources, towns and significant landmarks. Because of the newness of the Te Araroa Trail (www.teararoa.org.nz), such materials are hard to come by. So Moynihan has been printing, scanning and editing all the information she can find, and then breaking it down into packets that can be mailed to different spots along the trail so she never carries more than necessary. That has required hours and hours of work, but the real labor is yet to come.
“Thru-hikers have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, cold, hot, tired and very, very hungry,” observes Patrick, Moynihan’s hiker friend. “To move across a continent and get up day after day for months and walk, there is a determination and willingness to be fully present in the moment.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0318, firstname.lastname@example.org