According to the Te Araroa website, the 3,000km trail down the length of New Zealand can take 180 days at a “leisurely pace”.
This is the politically correct way of saying the trail will take 180 days for those people passed their prime, who haven’t done enough training/aren’t fit, and who have to take lots of rest days because their body is slow adjusting to trail life.
In other words – me!
Now before you all get on your high horse; yes I know this isn’t a race, that I have to listen to my body and that this is my journey. But hear me out.
Almost a month ago I set out from the northern-most tip of New Zealand to do something I thought I wasn’t good enough to do – taking on the epic Te Araroa trail and walking 3,000km down the length of the country.
In that time I have punished my body with a brutal five-day walk down a seemingly never-ending beach, spent 12 soul-destroying hours wading through knee-high mud in a forest-cum-jungle, walked 35km in one day, hiked up (and down and back up again – repeatedly) some of New Zealand’s steepest terrain with a 16kg-ish backpack in about 90% humidity, walked up a river in torrential rain, accomplished my first big river crossing (was late with the low tide so ended up getting slightly wet underpants), had the joy of counting 12 blisters on my feet at one time, and ticking off the 10% milestone of #WalkNZ.
Despite having achieved so much in a mere three and a half weeks, I still at times feel like I’m not good enough for this trail.
It’s demanding, intense, punishing, relentless, exhausting and even a little dangerous, while the road walking between trail heads can be monotonous.
And everything hurts – my shoulders hurt, my legs hurt, my feet really hurt. My brain even hurts from having to think about stuff other than the pain and trying to keep my mind on a positive track.
On my (numerous) rest days I’ve been tempted by the comforts of a roof over my head, a comfy bed, electric points, a kitchen with proper cooking utensils, a flushing, non-smelling toilet. On those days I see myself as not being on the trail and in a lot of ways feeling it would be so easy to stay in that world.
There is no denying it, I’m finding #WalkNZ hard – really hard. Probably harder than I was expecting if I’m brutally honest. Of course, the lack of fitness, hiking experience, and my ridiculously heavy pack doesn’t help.
I wanted to cry as I slowly inched up a muddy steep hill the other day, bent over and exhausted, sweating out water faster than I could drink it. Three weeks in – where were my bloody trail legs, I despaired. And then the small rejoice for finally getting to the top of the incline was short-lived, quickly replaced by trepidation and wobbly legs for the descent, quickly followed by despair on the realisation that there is yet another incline to go and the resentment that my trail legs have yet to make themselves known. For the briefest of moments I wondered if this was too hard, that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, that I should put my hands up and bow out.
The question, though, that I’ve been asking myself the last few days is why do I feel like I’m not good enough. I’m doing it, right, and I haven’t given up yet. I haven’t missed any sections, and I’ve walked every step of the 363km so far (bar the 5km hitch hike to bypass two aggressive dogs). So what’s the problem?
And then I realised. I’m looking at what and how everyone else is doing.
The day I started there were nine others who started – they all left me for dead on day four and I suspect they are now several 100km ahead of me. I look at them, I look at myself; a slow poke.
I look at the fit 20-somethings, with their lean tawny muscles and youthful enthusiasm. They started after me and have now overtaken me and are now days ahead.
I envy the people who boast they haven’t got any blisters yet, the ones who haven’t needed to take a rest day, the ones who claim they are walking sometimes 40km in a day, the ones who are seemingly able to walk 25km in five hours or less, the ones with light backpacks who haven’t packed their fears or the kitchen sink.
But what am I doing? I’m comparing myself to others, comparing my journey to theirs, believing the bizarre concept that what they are doing is the right way, that that’s the way I should be doing it.
In a world where social media rules, where the media thrusts a tantalising image of the “perfect life”, where we’re stuck on a materialistic treadmill of keeping up with the Jones’, our lives revolve around how we compare to others and our perceptions of them. It’s easy to do and sometimes we don’t even realise we’re doing it. But when that little voice in your head says you’re not good enough, that’s a sign you’re making unjustified comparisons.
The truth is everyone is different and everyone lives in their own separate reality which is different from our own.
That American girl who has steamed ahead of me – I’m more than 10 years her senior, she’s walked the long-distance trails in the US. There is nothing to compare. We are different. And that does not make her way of walking Te Araroa better or more right than mine. It’s just different.
I’ve been so hard on myself so far on this adventure based purely on comparisons and made-up expectations of what I think is the “right” way I “should be” walking the length of New Zealand.
But there is no right way, there is no way it “should be” done (because says who?). It’s only my way, it’s my journey just as the American girl is on her journey. And whatever I decide that way to be is right for me, and only me. And furthermore, I can change my mind as I damn well please.
There is a liberation in realising that.
As an aside, for some readers it might be tempting to perhaps think I am in some way “special” (for want of a better word) in deciding to take on the Te Araroa trail. Stop right there – don’t get sucked in by comparing yourself to me. You are equally awesome, amazing and inspiring in your own right – you don’t have to walk the length of New Zealand to be that. You are uniquely you and different and that’s what makes you amazing and special. Trust me! #Ownyourawesome.
As part of #WalkNZ I’m raising awareness of self-doubt and low self-esteem, which can be linked to mental health problems. I’m also fundraising for the mental health charities Mind in the UK and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. Please support this cause.
You can also follow my #WalkNZ progress, and check out photos and videos via Twitter and Facebook – click on the icons on this page to be transported.