And so, part 2 of #WalkNZ is about to begin.
I have just 1,000km left to walk to complete the 3,000km Te Araroa trail down the length of New Zealand.
After having to pull out 20km short of the 2,000km mark in March this year due to a knee injury, there was no question about not coming back to finish the trail.
It was unfinished business. It called to me. It was something I had to do. There was no way I was going to give up now after coming this far.
And so, for six months while I’ve been back in the UK I’ve been working on my knee, doing rehab, slowly building up my strength. I saw a personal trainer who worked his magic. I can now pull stretches like a gymnast (nearly) and can boast a butt that’s almost worthy of a Kardashian.
I’ve bought a new backpack, new walking shoes (all the way from Canada) and a new water filter. I’ve seen a physio, had a sports massage, got my hair cut, read the trail notes, printed the trail maps, tested the battery on my personal locator beacon, posted my first few resupply boxes and eaten my fair share of chocolate over Christmas.
My cardio fitness isn’t as good as it should be but I’m about to embark on an adventure with more wisdom and experience than I had a year ago.
Which is one of the reasons why the South Island section is going to be so different to the North Island section.
There’s also the fact that the South Island terrain is somewhat different to the North Island – more mountainous, less mud, more remote, and some 200 rivers to cross.
There is no doubt the journey will still be a challenge. Perhaps more so.
In addition, I’m such a different person to who I was when I started out on the Te Araroa in November 2018.
Back then on a sunny sparkling day, I waved goodbye to my parents from Cape Reinga, the northern-most tip of New Zealand. I was a bundle of nerves, wondering whether I could actually walk 3,000km solo.
For three years, walking Te Araroa had been a dream and my mind was the naysayer. “Who are you to think you are good enough, capable enough, strong enough to do that?”
I put it off twice because I believed those negative voices in my head. But with some navel gazing I realised self-doubt doesn’t have to hold me back from achieving something incredible; even something that I think is impossible.
And in that time, I learnt a lot about myself, the way the world works and what I am capable of.
I learnt more after I injured my knee, having to decide a future path and dealing with failure.
And then I learnt more on my return to the UK – a tumultuous six months resulting in the breakup of a toxic eight-year relationship, dealing with the revelations and fallout, the imminent (and expensive) house move, and then falling madly in love with quite possibly the loveliest man alive who has helped me pick myself up, supported me and encouraged me to re-find my identity, direction and meaning in life.
And so, I begin the South Island a changed woman – stronger, wiser.
The self-doubt that I was trying to prove couldn’t hold me back is still there, but I know now I don’t have to prove anything, and it certainly can’t hold me back – I learnt that during the first 2,000km.
So why come back to finish the trail then?
Most walkers have a reason to up sticks and live out of a backpack for several months. It might be because they are running away from something or because they are trying to find something. Sometimes it’s just because they want a challenge and have the time and money to do it.
I think I probably fall into all camps.
Having dealt with a lot of demons over the past year, the next three months as I take on the South Island will be a time where I look for freedom – freedom from expectations (those I put on myself, and those I believe others and society have of me), freedom from beating myself up and putting myself down, freedom from worrying what other people think, freedom from the pressure to be perfect and to always achieve, and most importantly the freedom to just be myself, the true me.
I sit writing this blog post on New Year’s Eve, the sun setting; a mere few hours before the clocks strike midnight and a new decade begins.
They say that as one door closes another door opens. Indeed, I am about to open the door on a new adventure – I am about to embark on a journey that has not yet been written, walking towards a destination that can’t be seen and towards a future of endless possibilities.
Life is short. Own your awesome.