After the Embers Have Faded: Closing Thoughts | Te Araroa NoBo
Where to even begin…? First off, that was a wild ride! To recap for any newbies, we hiked the South Island of Te Araroa going northbound and started on February 12, 2023. You can read about our first few days on the trail here and watch the below preview for what’s to come. Last but not least, you can nerd out over our stats here (it’s a work in progress). We experienced a number of hiccups which is a part of life, ESPECIALLY life on the trail including straight up detours (we had a few of those due to weather, shuttle logistics, etc.).
When we reached the very end of the trail on the Queen Charlotte Track, we were so relieved and overjoyed to achieve such a grand accomplishment. You can watch our celebration below. Who knew that cheap, sparkling wine could be so much fun!
Reckon you’ll get trail depression?
Considering the challenges we had along the trail, we are convinced that we will not suffer from trail depression and instead, will thoroughly enjoy the comforts of civilization. For Sarah however, she is already reminiscing about her favorite gems from the trail – skinny-dipping in rivers, the sound of bird songs every day, and the varied landscapes of Aotearoa’s backcountry. The sound of cars driving nonstop and the smell of exhaust which were second nature to us became unfamiliar. While many of these things will become familiar again, Sarah plans to incorporate more nature in the city life as creatively as possible. For starters, daily walks at nearby parks. She walked fairly often while we lived in Houston, but now it doesn’t feel like an option – she plans to walk rain or shine. Movement is medicine – many things that I, Sarah, internalized resurfaced by simply moving my body and being in my body. Embodiment is nourishment that heals, and while it can be painful, it is also liberating.
What you won’t see on Instagram
There is also a sense of disappointment and sadness about our trail experience. It is difficult to put this into words for the world to read since we went on an amazing adventure. However, we also want to be honest with our experiences and from what we’ve gathered, we are not alone in these feelings. For one, the trail conditions are challenging, no matter how fit we were. Back home we hiked strenuous trails, but the trails in New Zealand were no match. We felt so validated hearing from fellow TA hikers who have hiked the PCT or AT that the TA is much more demanding. As an example, we are used to switchbacks (or zig zags) which were not common among our walks, and going directly up or down a mountain is a hell of a feat without switchbacks. Additionally, sometimes the trail was not even as wide as our hips and my favorite, sometimes it was on a hill of rocks which turned into a scary, bumpy slide.
Another challenge (and a blessing) is trail-family (aka tramily). We have made new and dear friends along the way. Since we were going in the opposite direction as the TA (which is southbound), we were expecting to be alone the majority of the time. While we love the friends we’ve made along the way, we had less alone time and time to simply decompress and reflect. Many of these things we discovered with fellow hikers are shared disappointments that are not explicit on YouTube videos or Instagram accounts about the trail. A fellow hiker put it perfectly, “You can have the best day of your life that can quickly turn into the worst day of your life.” This truly encapsulates the trail for us.
We understand this may be offensive or come across as naively obnoxious; trail management is expensive and “hey, you chose this after all.” We want to share the good and the bad; we want to share stunning pictures of alpine lakes as well as videos of us sliding off trails into thorny bushes. The full picture of Te Araroa for us encompasses a picturesque lunch off the sunny coastline and nearly crying on top of a mountain in the midst of a cold storm. All these examples by the way happened in real life ?
Life’s truest adventures aren’t always fun
This sentiment applies to life in general: there are going to be disappointments in journeys that we have high expectations in. After all, it is mere judgment and preconceived notions that commonly disappoint us in the end. How can one not have high expectations in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure? Although we physically prepared and read about it, there was no deterring us from doing this hike and at the end of the day, there was probably no way to be fully prepared for the challenges ahead (no matter how many books we read). Cheryl Strayed who hiked the PCT once said, “Was hiking the PCT fun? No it wasn’t fun, but it was the best thing I ever did.” This is not to say that we discourage people from Te Araroa or that it wasn’t worth our while. We simply caution people who are doing their first thru-hike depending on what experience they’re looking for. If you’re looking for a thrilling challenge, the TA is for you my friend, look no further! If you’re looking for a more manageable challenge (because no matter the trail, thru-hikes are challenging) with switchbacks and more accommodating trail management, something like the PCT may be more suitable for you.
All in all, Te Araroa is an experience that we will never forget. Years from now we know that we’ll ask each other, “Remember when it was normal for us to galivant across mountains in New Zealand and see all the stars at night?” Our future is a bit hazy, including where we will be living after our year of travel. We do know one thing – we hope to live somewhere where the outdoors are within arm’s reach. Lastly, we will enjoy the hell out of every day hike we do after this that ends with a warm bed and hot meal that wasn’t dehydrated.
We plan on creating a series of articles and videos that tell our trail story in detail and will go into a technical breakdown of each section. It takes an incredibly long time for us to knock out videos, so we aren’t sure when exactly they will be coming out. In the meantime however, please enjoy this teaser we made. We will catch y’all on the flip side!
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