In My Te Araroa Era (Day 0)
The urge to run is strong.
It is the night before the trek. A clear evening after heavy rain lowers soft tones over the parking lot outside my room. In the bed next to mine, a German girl nurses a shin splint while waiting for the day when she can return to the trail. Workers from Vanuatu chat outside, and the sound of a lazy game of pool meets laughter in the kitchen.
Here I am, on the eve of beginning the Te Araroa trail, New Zealand’s Long Pathway, and the urge to run bites my nerves in two. This morning brought a teary goodbye with an old friend before a flight from the summery South Island to the deep greens of the North. I feel shaken by the ending of two months of travel and van life, my stomach twisting in between memories and anticipation. As I gather my laundry and make a grocery list for the morning, I ask that haunting question:
“Why am I doing this?”
Why leave my job, my home, my family and friends, to walk 3000 kilometers across New Zealand? Why shove my life into a backpack and my feet into a pair of trail runners to traverse muddy forests and rising rivers for four months? It’s a valid question, one I’ve thought about often in the year of planning this hike. I don’t know if I have an answer yet, but I’m hoping the way will show me.
As I write this, I struggle with this heavy feeling that has replaced the expected excitement. Certain difficulties await – the loneliness, hard decisions, and ever-present threat of injury, blisters, and exhaustion. In a land where feet never stay dry and the sky is full of surprises, it’s easy to feel small between kilometers. I am afraid of this massive feat before me, and I think it’s important to admit that.
A little about me:
I first came to New Zealand in 2017 as a cheerful university student and Lord of the Rings fanatic. The country mesmerized me, as I had spent most of my life in the much more subtle nature of Southeast Minnesota. It left a longing in me when I returned home, and I started chasing the world every chance I got. I’ve seen many countries since then, and even built a life abroad, but the Long White Cloud still called to me. Only this time, it challenged me as well.
The Te Araroa is not as well-known as other hikes of its nature, as it’s only a little over a decade old and is still evolving. It travels along a string of linked trails that takes walkers from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the South. It takes approximately four months, and I am about to be standing on day one.
Will this fear overtake me? Will I be in the large percentage of hikers that don’t make it past the grueling first days on Ninety Mile Beach? Will I give in to that urge to retreat? Or will something like bravery pull me deeper into New Zealand’s magic?
Let’s find out.
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