The life that was - Reflecting on an adventure
This is it folks, the last blog that I will post regarding my walk, the length of New Zealand. Here I would like to summarize and partially reflect on my experiences, as well as touch on what it has been like on my return to Adelaide, Australia after my experience of a thru-hike.
After dislocating my shoulder while mountain biking in Dunedin just 3 days into the trip, I began walking the length of New Zealand from south to north on January 7th. My route, which mostly followed the Te Araroa Trail (The Long Pathway), covered a total distance of 3300km, as well as a vertical climbing distance equal to summiting Mt. Everest 13.5 times.
Throughout the journey I met many incredible people, walked through some very dramatic and remote parts of the country (the most remote being in the Ruahine Ranges where I didn't see a soul for 8 days). My weight fluctuated as I made my way up the country... for the first half of the South Island my body shed fat and gained strength, and I was actually heavier (87kg) than when I started (86kg).
For me, the most spectacular part of the walk was through Mt. Richmond Forest Park, an 8 day section which is considered to be the most physically demanding on Te Araroa, was actually quite easy with my fitness at that stage. Its magnificently beautiful forests, streams and constant high altitude views where I could see mountains for miles, as well as the oceans were what made this the highlight.
The right knee suffered an injury from walking on hard surfaces in hiking boots when I began the North Island, which halted the walk for 3 weeks. From Palmerston North I diverted from the main route and completed a traverse of the Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges, which was by far the most physically and mentally demanding part of my journey. To summarise, over the 15 days it took me to complete, I climbed more than the equivalent of summiting Mt. Everest 1.5x, my body shed 9kg, the terrain was ridiculously rugged (imagine walls of mud) and I had a fatal near miss. This route was to push my limits, and in those trying times, I gained a better understanding of whom and what is really important to me.
From Taupo I reconnected with the TA Trail in a southbound direction to complete the spectacular Whanganui River Journey by kayak and canoe before walking back to Palmerston North, and then turned northbound again for the final 1000km through the winter season. This was the first time that I had felt like I could achieve what I set out to do. Had everything continued as planned from that point, I would have finished the walk exactly as intended in early August. Unfortunately my journey had a different plan for me, as I discovered when I found myself face down on a farm track with a broken foot just south of the city Hamilton, to which I was flown by helicopter after activating the Personal Locator Beacon that I carried. Fortunately, I met some amazing people that gave me a place to recover for the entire 2 months that I was out of action. For what it's worth, I'm very grateful to everyone that helped me through this mentally challenging obstacle.
Once back on the 'road' my foot strength came back very quickly and the landscape of the last 500km turned out to be well worth the wait. From Auckland, the coastal beauty of the Northland region became more and more incredible as I moved forward. The people and experiences that I had through this section were highlights. In late September I attended a 10 day 'silent retreat' vipassana meditation course. This in itself was one of the most mentally turbulent experiences I've ever had, but what came out of it was truly amazing.
I made my way north, surprised to have avoided injury for so long, and on the second to last day of the walk I experienced the longest day I have ever endured. 46km of hard surface beach walking in shoes that were full of holes and on 5 huge blisters. Abrasive sand, bucketing rain and the emotional situation I found myself in meant I felt every agonising step. To be honest I'm not even sure how I made that distance in such a state.
Finally, after 140 walking days (5.5 months) I completed the walk at Cape Reinga on the 24th of October at a weight of approximately 80kg and a total of 7 toenails lost. I'm not entirely sure how to describe what it was like to reach the finish line because I didn't really feel anything, which surprised me. Even the days following, or since then I have never really felt any overwhelming emotion towards having completed it. Yes, I am proud to have completed it, and I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to live through such an experience, but I think the lesson in what happened (or didn't happen) at the end was to let go of expectations and just accept. Although I already apply this to my life in most cases, I wasn't aware that there was a level of expectation in the sense that I had hoped to feel something, whether it be sadness, happiness or whatever. Being emotionless in that moment seemed kind of dull. Accept and let be.
My life since completing the walk has been pretty chaotic. Emotionally, returning to Adelaide has been a struggle. Returning to a place that is basically the same, going back into full time work, trying to be social and a lack of space for the self-awareness that I was accustomed is a life that I've found difficult to jump back into. Along with other things, I’ve felt stuck in a weird place for the past two months.
During the past year I’ve had some great learnings and affirmations about who I am, and who we are as a species. We’re all experiencing the same things, but what defines us individually is how we interpret and act upon them. With 2015 now in the making, it’s time to wrap up the adventure that was and start working towards new and great things…
I must give a huge thank you to the people and companies that have sponsored and supported my journey. Luke from Fit For Success and Leko, Menk, Renae and Dior from Novatech Creative Event Technology for being so supportive of my goals, and their continued support with fundraising efforts. Thanks to Geoff Chapple, Rob Wakelin and the Te Araroa Trust for creating and maintaining one of the world’s newest long-distance trails. And thanks to New Zealand and its people, for just being there.
As some people may recall, I've done this walk in support of The Fred Hollows Foundation and the incredible work that they do in many developing areas around the world. A part of undertaking this journey was trying to bring out compassion in people, and helping them to understand consciously that helping others has great benefits for oneself too. If you can afford to, a donation towards my fundraising goal would be forever appreciated. Please donate here.
Finally, if you’d like to watch a short clip that Channel 7 put together and aired on Christmas Day, you can view it here.
I wish everyone great happiness.