After the trail was finished, I got the blues. I’ve long been conscious of the trouble with goals: when you reach them, they instantly vanish. You are left with a hole where direction and drive once was. I lost myself into a mope, unclear how I could get the clarity and perspective back that had been abundant whilst walking.
On my way into the gloom, I rushed over the moment where I might have celebrated what I’d achieved. And the feelings I had about what I’d done never made it to this blog. But now the cloud has passed and the tale narrated here feels incomplete. So forgive me an uncharacteristic moment of blogcheese as I fill you in on what Te Araroa meant to me.
EXPERIENCING AMAZING THINGS WITH AMAZING FRIENDS. My trip would have been nothing without the people I tramped with, camped with and hutted with. I am so lucky to have so many people in my life who were prepared to join me for a mad-and-not-always-in-a-good-way adventure such as this. On top of that, almost every day I met a new gang of amazing people. Each time I arrived at a hut and introduced myself to the earlier arrivals, it was like we knew each other already. I was surrounded by people who felt the same as me. I didn’t know about the concept of thru-hike community before, but now it’s absolutely one of the top motivations that would see me do another long hike.
EMPTYING MY BRAIN. For the first six weeks, all my mental energy was absorbed in not screwing up on the trail. Making sure me and my friends didn’t get lost, didn’t get caught in a storm, didn’t get sunburnt or dehydrated, didn’t run out of food and didn’t make errors in trip planning took up all my thoughts. I couldn’t hold a conversation about anything but tramping. But after a while, I didn’t really talk about that either. My brain was empty. And it was such a lovely feeling for someone whose mind is always working on something. When it all got a bit too quiet inside and I started to crave other stimuli, it was a great pleasure to reawaken it with podcasts and reading and conversation and take myself outside of my head again.
PUSHING MYSELF HARD AND GETTING HIGH FROM IT. I adored the feeling in my body after a huge day of tramping. More exciting was how quickly it repaired itself for another battering the next day. I went to bed exhausted, aching all over, but I awoke sprightly and ready to roll. The endorphin high was addictive and it took me a few days to realise how much I was missing it.
DOING SO MUCH EXERCISE I COULD EAT ALL THE PEANUT BUTTER IN THE WORLD. Spending all day in the mountains and eating 4000 calories a day whilst gaining thighs of steel… let’s be honest, this is a dream come true.
TAKING TIME OVER THINGS I NORMALLY RUSH. It took me a while but I finally settled in to not obsessing over being productive. In the mornings I sat and drank coffee slowly instead of trying to pack away my tent and put my boots on in parallel. On sunny days I washed my clothes in the river and revelled in how long tasks like that take in the outdoors. I allowed Te Araroa to be the only thing I had to do for 76 days, and it did me a world of good.
KNOWING I COULD HANDLE WHATEVER THE TRAIL THREW AT ME. In the final weeks, after bashing through scrub, sidling above rivers, pounding along painful rocky tracks, balancing on boulders, steeling myself in whooshing rivers, hauling myself up hills, bracing against gravity, scrambling up rocks and crawling under trees… I was confident I could handle the TA. I knew that whatever obstacle would come, I could manage it by myself, and I would find a way round it that worked for me. It was an amazing and strengthening feeling.
So what next? I’d barely washed the mud off my boots before I started dreaming about future long hikes. But it stayed in my reveries, as for two months there has been nothing I want to do less than go tramping. I’ve gone soft. I’ve got really into hot water on tap. The idea of putting away a wet tent with ice-cold hands or fetching water from a freezing river for breakfast makes my stomach turn a little.
But there’s some stuff left undone. There’s places I want to go and people I want to go there with. There’s a craving growing in me to get stuck in, to toughen up again, to exhaust myself again. I gotta get back outdoors.