What kind of things do you learn on a thruhike like Te Araroa? I've been asked a few times, and I've decided it's time to shed some light on the question.
I've learned so much while hiking this country, like how carrying your life on your back for many months is a success all on it's own and it really puts into perspective the things you truly need in life, or how sometimes the little things are the most important. For example, one of my partners always wanted to have parmesan with her. She didn't care about the weight or the extra bag room. She cared about enjoying her rice dinners with a little taste of home involved.
For me, the little things became a big part of my happiness. Sudoku in the evenings before bed, birds in the forests, collecting rocks from different beaches, blessing my pounamu, drawing in my book. I found that random acts kept me going and made me feel more at peace and creative.
Another important thing I had was a small towel for drying my feet. I'd brought it along with the thought that I wouldn't need it, but it saved me from many days of blisters along the beaches in the North Island. It also came in handy for drying my tent in the rush of some mornings. All around, an item I'm glad I held on to.
Another thing that I was taught in Awanui is that baby powder comes in very handy to prevent hotspots and blisters. When you feel your feet getting wet in anyway, it's best to take a break and rub some of the baby powder all over the bottom of your foot. Seal the deal with a big piece of duct tape, and you'll basically be blister free!
I also learned that most of the things I'd purchased for this hike originally, were not a virtue to me while on the actual trail. Paracord is great for emergencies but most of the time you'll find you don't need it unless you need a makeshift hanger to dry your clothing, or how a poop shovel is a waste of space when you have a perfectly good foot to dig a hole, or a rock a few inches away to help. I'd also bought gaiters for the mud but realized it was just unnecessary bag space and weight when my shoes continually got muddy regardless. And the GoGirl (SheWee)... don't even get me started. If you suck at squatting, I've got news for you - by the end of a thruhike you will be a champion. Don't waste space in your bag on an item as useless as that one.
I'd also prepared a fairly intense first aid kit that ended up barely used. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the stuff was important, but if you're careful all you'll really have to deal with are blisters. For that all you need is a clothes pin, alcohol, polysporin, and bandaids. They are the only essentials I really used throughout the whole hike. So the silver blanket, metal splint, copious amounts of gauze, and iodine? It went untouched.
There were items that became must haves as well. These things saved my life and made the hike much more manageable. Like my convertible pants. It was much better to just carry one article of bottoms that could be pants, capris, or shorts, all at the slide of a zipper.
Trekking poles became a godsend on this trail as well. Mine saved my life more times than I'm willing to admit. Falling off the sides of mountains, tripping on tree roots, getting stuck in mud. My trekking pole had my back the entire way, even when it broke and had to be replaced.
My lighter was an important tool throughout the whole walk as it was used daily to start my stove, but I found it was important to carry a set of matches with you as well - on the off chance the lighter ran out before a resupply. Lo and behold, my lighter ran out a few times thanks to the crazy fuel options in New Zealand, so the matches ended up saving me from hungry evenings and cold nights.
Music and Podcasts are important to everyone, but it is a complete essential during a thruhike. There are times when the walking is so mentally exhausting, you can't even feel your own brain. It puts a whole new perspective on the phrase "mind numbing." Having a fully charged iPod and a list of your favourite tunes can literally save you from a nervous breakdown, and I can not stress that fact enough.
Even after all of these things though, my two most important lessons were to listen to your body and hike your own hike. Both of these facts really changed my life and were structures to helping me complete the 3000km.
When your body is tired, you listen to it. If your feet are inflamed and your toes can't move, listen to them. If your head is pounding or your legs are aching, don't even think about pushing them past their limits. Your body is the tool to making it from the beginning to the end. If you destroy it anywhere inbetween, you're looking at the possibility of not completing what you set out to do. The most important thing you can do for your body is learn it's strengths, it's weaknesses, and it's breaking points. Once those are figured out, study them constantly and never let it stop you from what needs to be done.
"Hike your own hike" was a saying said to me multiple times during this thruhike. At moments when I didn't think I could completely do it, or times when I wasn't happy with how it was going, someone would say those words to me. This is because it's the truest words you could hear in your life. Te Araroa is about following a pathway, and discovering out who you are in the process. Learning your mindsets, your strength, your body, and your story. When you feel like it's not helping you to achieve that, somethings gotta give. And that something is your path. So don't be so obsessed with walking every single kilometre, or following the trail completely to a T. Instead, be obsessed with enjoying the views, eating good food, living for the moment and making it one day at a time.
Because one day, those days will end, and you will only have the lessons, the memories, and the friends.