I was not a person that hiked. Before 2009 I had oddly never experienced hiking even though I’m from arguably the most hikable country in the world, New Zealand. Growing up in suburban South Auckland the furthest I ever walked was to the corner bakery for a custard slice. It was a foreign concept to me, one that I associated with swanndri wearing white folk in the South Island and cavalier High School students who got offered Duke of Edinburgh (my school was way to poor). It was back in 2009 when my then partner Mike took me on break to Lake Garibaldi near Whistler, Canada which radically changed my view of hiking. After spending two short days in the glacial valley I was hooked.
I was on my O.E and was working as a hostel janitor spending most days cleaning up vomit and unclogging shitty toilets
The break was a welcome one considering that at the time I was on my O.E and was working as a hostel janitor spending most days cleaning up vomit and unclogging shitty toilets during the Vancouver winter Olympics. Garibaldi Provincial Park was a world away. There was nature and silence and the world felt like it should. I remember a blue jay eating cacao nibs straight out of my hand and seeing a marmot groom himself on a mountain rock, slicking back his fur as he seemingly posed for the camera. The snow peaked mountains, the meadows and the early season wildflowers along with the glacial streams were pure natural beauty. The hikes around the lake itself pushed my physical boundaries and comfort zones. Everything I wore was borrowed. I didn’t even have pants so wore a pair of mens thermal leggings. I didn’t have a pack so I carried Mike’s spare day pack. My sneakers were from TK Maxx. It didn’t matter that all my gear sucked I still enjoyed the experience. We hiked through snow and I had to get Mike to walk in front of me and wedge his boots in so I could hike up after him and put my feet in the hollowed out gaps he placed in front of me. We made it to the top of Panorama ridge and the view, as well as the experience of eating astronaut ice cream for the first time in my life on the ridge is forever etched in my memory.
I first heard of the concept of thru hiking through books I stubbled across at Wellington City Library, namely AWOL on the Appalachian trail, Blistered kind of love and the now famous Wild. These were books that explored personal experiences on long distance hiking trails in the U.S and recounted not only their physical journey in exciting places but the personal growth that interloped. Before reading these books I never knew such hikes existed and while I enjoyed reading them I easily categorised the people that wrote them into the bad ass pile at crazy town.
Everything I wore was borrowed. I didn’t even have pants so wore a pair of mens thermal leggings
But in 2010 I started hearing about the Te Araroa. By then I had returned to New Zealand had settled in Wellington and few years later met Jack who first moved into my flat and later stole my heart. Jack shared my enthusiasm for the outdoors and together we kept exploring. My hostel janitor days were long over as I panicked on my return home and found myself with a degree, a $20,000 student loan and job that was me staring at a computer 40% of the time and avoid work and going for coffee 60% of the time. This meant that adventures were often confined to the weekend so Jack and I organised day walks and weekends away to the Tararuas and tried to be outside as much as possible. We completed great walks, summits and discovered more and more.
The Te Araroa initially sounded like urban legend but then there were rumours of the first thru hikers making it all the way to Bluff, a season before its official opening in 2011. The trail had become a tangible reality. Because Jack and I lived in Wellington we were able to explore parts of the trail around the city. We would often make jokes about the TA plaques in Wellington saying we were “walking the TA. Yeah, Willis street section!”. Unsurprisingly we spent more time in cafes along this section avoiding our workplaces and preferring to evaluate gear (but seldom being able to buy it) at Bivouac.
Unsurprisingly we spent more time in cafes along this section avoiding our workplaces
In March 2016 we attended the opening day of the Paekakariki Escarpment track and this was when we started taking the idea of thru hike seriously. We talked a lot about logistics and money and who would look after our pet rabbit Cinnabon. It seemed like a long shot and we often went in circles saying “yes!” with reckless abandon to then say “who are we kidding! no way, maybe in a few years”. But then we started reading. We read a fantastic book called the art of non conformity by Chris Guillebeau. It motivated us incredibly to achieve what we wanted. We also started following blogs like Gusto Frenzy and joined Te Araroa facebook groups learning from people who had thru hiked the trail. Their experiences and advice encouraged us and made us feel confident about hiking the trail and that just like them we could do it, or we could at least try.
Reading gear reviews and watching YouTube videos on thru hiking experiences worldwide became my new obsession. In this frenzy I came across a Tedx talk by runner and hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis who was discussing the multiple times she completed the Appalachian trial including 46 days that she spent running all 3,500 Kilometres. She was describing the two types of people she frequently meet on the trail
1.People right out of college (university)
2.People who have recently retired
“Because those are the two times in your life when you can go and take a 6 month hike”. My initial thought was how fucking grim. I was 33 years old. While one ship had sailed a long time ago the later was another 30 years away. I was dammed if I was going to wait for another 30 years before I had an adventure. Fuck that, we were doing the Te Araroa!We locked it in and the experience is slowing becoming reality. We have set the date for November 2016 when we will set out from Cape Reinga and slowly make our way to Bluff. We have set some basic rules in that we will try our best to walk all of the trail in its entirety. There has been a lot of talk about the road sections from the last seasons thru hikers but we figure they will be a special challenge for us.
I was dammed if I was going to wait for another 30 years before I had an adventure
The support from our friends has been amazing. Some people don’t understand what we are doing or more importantly why we are doing it. But we figure that we don’t have to prove anything to anyone but ourselves. My mother was painfully worried at first and her first reaction was “what about your health?!” (I have an immune disorder that affects my kidneys). She is slowing coming around to the idea especially after I mentioned she can buy me a spot tracker for Christmas and stalk us the whole way down the country. We are nervous but mostly extremely excited and can’t wait to start. We have waited long enough.
As we build our thru hiker inventory and train our bodies as much as we can before we start we would love to hear from you. Feel free to follow us and our adventure here on wordpress as well as our instagram @hasfeetwillwalk and facebook.com/hasfeetwillwalk and please leave your comments below.
List of References
The Art of non conformity by Chris Guillebeau
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Blistered kind of love by Angela Ballard
Jennifer Pharr Davis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjLI7qK7_tU