Somewhere between 4 and 7 in the morning you’ll get yourself out of that warm and comfortable sleeping bag, getting ready for another potential 12+ hours day of walking. As the countless kilometers still lying between you and your end goal pass by, you gaze at your surroundings while your thoughts are dominated by a tasty array of food, none of which are unfortunately to be found anywhere in your backpack. You discuss the pain of the day with your companions, be it the lower body classics such as feet and knees, your shoulders, or your arms from pushing yourself up those hiking poles. When you reach your hut or campsite you’ll be mighty pleased with a bowl of noodles dressed with dried peas and onions, after which exhaustion impedes any sort of deep thought or talk and before long you’ll be in that sleeping bag again. Proper people pass out at eight.
This would be the cross-cut of an average day on Te Araroa. Walk. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. For over 3000km we’ve done it, and for over 3000km we’ve enjoyed it. So when we finished, we didn’t rejoice over the fact that we did not have to walk anymore. We were proud and accomplished, but a big black hole gaped at us as the trail bordered the ocean and our friends all went their ways. All that was our life for the past six months ended right then and there.
The phenomenom of post-trail depression is nothing new and many hikers before us have felt it. Why were we not happy that the days of cold, early risings, of walking in wet weather, of never ending ascent and descent were over? For most people getting done with it and subsequently indulging yourself in the great comforts of society would be the logical thing to do. Yet everyday showers, big beds, spa pools, new clothes, they all seemed to belong to a world far away (not the tasty array of food, though, that one we happily accepted). Not only did many of those comforts seem strange, but unnecessary and excessive as well.
Because really, the wonderful thing about being out on the trail is how life is reduced to its bare, simple necessities: water, shelter, food. There is no space for any major excess or luxury along the way. The interesting thing is that we, and those we know, were happier without it. The life you have is easy, there are few distractions, and without those you live the moments to their fullest. When we stepped out of ‘normal’ life routine and stepped into trail routine our being shifted. Time slowed down, and felt as if it almost stopped. As this time becomes apparent, the stresses we had fell off, the rush we were always in settled down. Time to look around, time to chat with friends, time to read and write. Time to let our thoughts run free and come to terms with the turbulent lives we live.
At the same time we were making our way through stunning places, places we never would have known of without being a trail walker. As we passed by slowly but steady from one to the other, the scenery changed, and we listened to what the people told us about it. Because there is so much time, and we moved so slow compared to any other method of traveling, we picked up a great deal about the places we walked through: the plants, the birds, the history. The good, the bad and the ugly behind the majestic scenery. We did not just look at it, but we came to see. An exclusive tour ‘New Zealand behind the scenes’.
All in all, in spite of the misery and the hardships, it’s a very inspiring thing to do. You are surrounded by views that make your jaws drop, behind which lie fascinating stories and endless things to learn about. You are surrounded by people who dared to step out of the ordinary, who are rethinking their lives and themselves. People who have open minds, and to whom nothing seems strange nor impossible. And as you let your mind run free in the midst of it all, you’ll be surprised about what you find.
Trails can have a deep impact and change lives around. Now that we are finished we’ve seen people move continents, quit their jobs, follow their hearts and continue on other trails. I have a profound respect for the energy and the willpower of those who dare to take big steps in life. PJ and I feel that we struggle with what we want to do. Yet when we look at it closely, the dilemma revolves around what society would expect us to do, and what our hearts are telling us to do. Seeing those others pave their way regardless of anything but their passion, the choice is easy.
So we decided to keep trailing as well, this time along the Bibblumun in Australia. While it is ‘only’ 1000km long and not as rough and untamed as Te Araroa, it will be another journey with its own outcome.
Of course, there’s a price tag on everything and to follow your heart does not come without sacrifices. We know that there are many people around us will not understand and in the end, we will become strangers within our own social environment. Yet we are who we are, and we are grateful to have those people around who accept that we stick to it.
We know that you all think we are crazy, but know that we think that you, sitting in your offices and getting stuck in traffic jams, are too.