Off the Beaten Trail

Every individual has a path in their life that leads them to great things. Be it a new career, an airplane ticket, a new home, a relationship, or an incredible adventure, every path is created with our own intentions in mind.

I’ve been haunted by one of my biggest paths for three years now, and it’s time I shed some light onto my own grey cloud. I bring this to a head in the hopes that other people who feel discouragement can accept the hardships and learn that sometimes, you just have to move on with your life.

Three years ago I set off on an adventure. In retrospect, it seemed insane, but doable. I was going to walk 3000km across New Zealand on Te Araroa (The Long Pathway). I was a determined 23 year old with nothing to lose. I’d researched, trained, and spent a lot of money, but my plane was touching down in Auckland faster than all that research had prepared me for.

Thru-hikers are another breed of determined, and I was proud to be labelled alongside them. Every person I had met on the trail was independent, strong, and full of adventure. Everything I had strived to be. Finally, after so much prep, I was among them.

But I wasn’t happy.

There was a point on this trail when I realized that, regardless of my determination, I was unfit to mentally withstand that of a thru-hike. It was a moment on my path that crushed me beyond repair, and I tried my best not to speak about it. Certain sections became unrealistic both physically and emotionally, dark days rolled in more frequently than light, and I was unsure if I was forcing myself to remain on this pathway due to a year of convincing myself that it was what I needed.

This was the point when I realized I would not be a 3000km Te Araroa thru-hiker. Not because I didn’t want it, but because that young girl wasn’t as ready as she’d thought. It became too much to bare, accepting the fact that I wouldn’t make the full trek.

This is when the paths we choose teach us the greatest lessons. When we’re withered and sunken; when there’s not much more in our hearts then a small beckon of hope. It is when we’re closest to giving up that our hike becomes our own.

A decision had to be made, and although I couldn’t compare myself to any valuable hiker who throws blood, sweat, and tears into the full trek, I was going to try and make myself proud. I was going to follow Te Araroa in any way I could, be it my feet, a boat, or a car.

I would never sit proudly and tell the world I hiked all of Te Araroa. I barely tell them I’m a “true TA hiker”. There is no part of my soul that would compare my experience to that of someone who dragged their bodies from the very depths of New Zealands inner core.

What haunts me is that Te Araroa changed my life, but sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to say it. Did I ever deserve to be given a plaque from City Hall congratulating me on making it from Cape Reinga to Bluff? Did I deserve to pop champagne at the finish line and cheer myself on for a job well done?

I lost my mind on 90 mile beach, I felt the air of Blue Lake, I pulled my wet body from the Longwoods, I walked the blistering roads of the North, I swam in the ocean along the QCT, I climbed saddles, I was eaten alive by sandflies, I trekked beside ocean storms, I worked in trade of accommodation. I lost toe nails, I pushed passed thoughts of turning back, I  dragged my legs through knee high mud, I tripped on hundreds of tree roots, I got lost in mountain grass, I tried to pet random horses, I dug my heels through pebbled beaches, I took a shower once a week, I got splashed by cars in the rain, I almost cried eating Ferg Burger in Queenstown, and I most certainly cried when I made it to Bluff. I did an immense amount on this trail that I didn’t see possible, all because I decided to stop listening to the judgements of people and hike my own fucking hike - and that’s something to be celebrated. Does this make me better than anyone else? Definitely not. Does this make me better than who I used to be? Absolutely.

I’m not a TA Thru Hiker, but I am a TA Hiker. I hiked more than half of it, and that was a celebration I was allowed - and am still allowed - to have. I should be able to keep that plaque on display as a reminder that I took the path best given to myself at that time in my life, while still remembering and appreciating the people who do finish the full race. My celebrations are not a degrading of their triumphs, but a self proclaiming of my own strengths and weaknesses.

The paths we choose are designed within ourselves, and most of the time they don’t go as planned. Some follow a course, while others stray. My path was written to make me stronger, not to haunt me or make me feel unworthy. The zig zags I created on a map were life altering events that left me asking for more, wondering how I could be better.

What I’m saying is simple: never destroy your peace of mind because you don’t stay on the same path originally planned, and never compare yourself to others. Some people deserve more praise for their actions, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to feel worthy of your own accomplishments.

Your path exists to be broken and fixed. It’s going to be handled gently and thrown sideways. No matter how hard we’re hit by these lessons, it is in those times that we realize our path is ours for a reason.