I sit here in 2024 in a house in Portugal, and a piece of music transports me back to 1985, to a hiking hut somewhere in mountains of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Almost forty years have passed, but the memory is vivid and the effect of that time on my life feels as real now as it did all the way back then.

Let me give you some context. I had left England with what was then called a Working Holiday Visa for Australia. My flight to Australia took me via New Zealand. I had planned on visiting an old friend of my mother’s, spending a brief two weeks looking around part of the country, and then flying up to Australia. A month or so later I found myself in this hut down in the south of the South Island of New Zealand, at the end of a very wet day. In total I spent three months hitchhiking and walking my way around the country.

So here I am sitting in a hut on the Routeburn trail, a hiking trail in southern New Zealand. I’m thinking that it was May/June time, mid-winter. I don’t have my journal for that trip with me right now and so can’t be sure on the month, but I do know that it was winter. Thankfully it was a mild winter thus far and so the mountain passes were open. However, it was winter and outside the hut it was dark and a storm had been going strong since early in the day.

We, three of us who had met in a hostel a couple of days beforehand with shared intent to walk the Routeburn trail, had hiked the whole afternoon through rain and flooded rivers. Even the emergency paths, so created incase the rivers flooded, were ankle deep in water. We were soaked to the skin with waterproofs not proving to be so waterproof in such conditions. Our packs were drenched and by default so was everything in them, clothing, sleeping bags and food. The firewood outside the hut was sodden, making the rather miserable prospect of a cold night with no means to dry anything. Luckily there was a bit of wood left inside the hut to get the fire going. With that eventually lit and some food warmed and eaten, we decided to do shifts through the night to keep the fire burning. That way we could give our belongings, hanging from lines strung around the hut, half a chance to dry - who were we kidding? We were the only people in the hut, indeed as far as we knew, the only ones on the trail. After all, who in their right mind would have set off to hike in weather like this? Not only would one get soaked, but there would be no views except what was right in front of your nose.

The time came for my shift and to sit by the fire, encouraging it to stay alive and offer us and our clothes a modicum of warmth. I had my Sony Walkman on and was listening to a cassette of Pat Metheny’s album Works. I had picked up the cassette somewhere along the road, though I have no idea what had made me buy this particular music? Pay Metheny, a jazz guitarist and multi Grammy award winner, was definitely not an artist who I had listened to before. However, that night as I tended to and nursed the fire, as the wind howled and the rain poured outside, I sat listening to Works, a collection of Metheny’s music.

It was the album’s fifth track which really hit me. As the opening notes of It’s For You came on, I felt transformed, ecstatic. The music lifted me. I was listening to the music and to the storm outside, to the rivers flowing, the waterfalls, the wind whistling through the trees. I was listening to it all at once, the music seeming to be a perfect fit for all that was around me. I was there in the hut, alone as my fellow hikers slept, and at the same time present with everything. I was so aware of our remoteness. That out there somewhere the world was going about its business, and here we were, here I was high in the mountains, the location accentuated by the weather which seemed to strip away any bravado, bringing everything down to essentials.

In that moment the weather conditions felt like my best friend. I was where I wanted to be and knew in a way what I also didn’t know….all that I wanted to do with my life. That I was at home in the openness of possibilities and certainly in that moment, the road.