Taking on the Te Araroa has been an aspiring dream of mine for over a year now, but nothing could have prepared me for the first two days on the trail itself. No amount of physical training, mentality checks, or personal insight could have ever prepared me for the person I have become in a mere two days.
Starting at Cape, I already knew this was going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. About 3kms into the hike I could already feel my mind vanishing into utter peace, whilst my body ached in ways I've never felt. It was like my mind was always ready to go, but my body didn't even get the memo. Which, as much as I don't want to admit, is true.
The thing about thruhikes is that preparing your body for the task is the most important thing you can do, and although I did train a bit, and I focused more on what I was eating, I still didn't train as hard as I could have. Because of this fact, the hike is 10x harder than it truly has to be.
After gasping for air over the first tall hill, getting lost for a good two hours in the sand dunes just 5km into the hike, and lighting my stove on fire (thanks to the New Zealand spirits sold at Mitre One), we made it to Twilight Campsite 13kms in and decided that was a good place to stay for the night.
We set up our tents, cooked some Mountain Chili, then watched the sunset and prepared for a cold sleep by the ocean.
Day two was a bit more... intense. We woke up determined to make it to the next campground, 28kms away from Twilight. We packed up, I had left over mountain chili, we filled our bottles and we were on our way.
After walking about 4km through the hills, we made it to the staircase that descends to the beach. It was a great moment for both of us as we welcomed the idea of walking along a beach instead of up hills.
Oh how silly...
Sitting on 90 Mile Beach about 15km in, I realized that I wasn't enjoying it. I hated it. I hated the stupid waves and the hard sand. I hated the way the seaweed sprawled out along the coast and the way that one damn island out in the water never disappeared no matter how long you walked for. It was absolute hell. I couldn't imagine walking the whole 70kms or so of it's repetitive shoreline and I give props to all of the people who can without completely losing their minds.
That's when a man named Jason drove up in his truck with another hiker in the front seat, seeing us on the ground debating our lives purposes, and asked if we needed a lift.
A lift. That meant no more walking. No more blisters. No more hatred of the beach.
Regardless if other hikers call it cheating, we took the ride. And I'm glad we did, because that one act of resiliance turned into a day I will never forget.
Jason took us back up the beach far into the sand dunes where a pond stood vacant in the middle, and we all jumped in for a swim. The plant life in the water was beyond incredible, and it was cold in all the best ways. After the swim, Jason drove us up the beach a bit. Going 130km/h in the back of a truck bed on a beach was the first moment I could truly enjoy the beach instead of defy it. The water sparkled and the sand whipped up and around us as we drove, and the truck bounced as we passed streams. Those moments of enjoyment are the moments why I chose to do this, not the collapsing in heat and wondering if the blister pain would ever go away. I didn't need to challenge my physical strength along a hard beach, especially if it meant losing my mental strength.
Jason dropped Kayla, myself, and Lyra - the other hiker in the front seat - off about 10km from the next campsite. With the sun setting soon, we decided to try and make it. After two hours the sun vanished with 4km left to the campsite. With the air getting cold, and the water moving fast, I decided to do something I've never done before. Stick my thumb out at the next passing car.
Johnny and Matt pulled over in a small hatchback and we asked about the next campsite. They laughed, because obviously we're just crazy foreigners, and told us we were still a far ways away. We asked about a lift and they were more than accommodating. We crammed into the back seat with our packs, and off we went.
After driving to the campsite Matt offered we stay at his home instead, where he has more than enough beds and a warm shower. His kiwi hospitality has been incredible, and I appreciate every second of it.
The experience I held in those hours were so life changing on their own that I didn't need to prove to anyone else that I could walk the distance, because I didn't want to. Fuck that beach. Fuck the blisters that are already prominent on my feet. I wanted to enjoy the distance in all of it's glory. I wanted to watch the sand sparkle and laugh at how it never fucking ended. I want to take on the Te Araroa trail in a way that opens my mind and heart to who I am.
The trail will be a guideline, but it won't be my itinerary. There will be times when the walking becomes too much, or the highway walks are too boring, and when those days come I will go off and swim with a dolphin, or find a cliff to jump off of, and after I do that, I'll jump back onto the trail knowing that I did exactly what I wanted to do.
After all, what's the point of an adventure if you don't do what you love in the process?