Te Araroa: A Trail Changes With Our “Why”
Every trail is different, and so are everyone’s stories and reasons why they are hiking. In 2018, years of planning a break from the “traditional life” that Jenny and I were following came to fruition. We’d followed a path that, by all (our families’) accounts, was the “right one.” We got good grades, found a decent life partner, gained placements on highly selective graduate schemes at some of the country’s oldest institutions, and were climbing the corporate ladder at a relative pace for our mid-twenties.
But our holistic purpose wasn’t being fulfilled. We knew that during our prime, we wanted a different type of challenge, and after our hiking spark was ignited in 2015, we knew we wanted to try something completely different from what anyone in our social circle had done prior.
The Pacific Crest Trail was a journey that taught us so much about ourselves as individuals and about how Jenny and I worked together as a team. It was about setting ourselves a target of something completely bonkers that had a high failure rate and proving we weren’t just corporate suits. We could do epic things, be a fantastic partnership, and make lifelong memories in the process.
The six months of summer we took in 2018 are still some of the best days of our lives. But we also realize that they were very self-indulgent times. The trail is all about you – pushing your body to its limits, focusing on a very personal goal, and narrowing your vision to the here and now.
How Times Have Changed
Since 2018, our lives have gotten more complicated, in a good way! Back then, we could up sticks, and with the support of the companies we worked at, we were both guaranteed a job on our return after six months away. Recently, marriage triggered us to look forward at our lives, and we realized that life would become less about self-indulgence. We’re in our 30s now, work has gotten more involved, we have aspirations of starting a family, and our parents and grandparents aren’t getting any younger (even though you wouldn’t know it looking at some of them!).
So as we started planning our wedding and honeymoon, it dawned on us that we wanted to have one last hiking blowout before the reality of “the right path” came steaming back into our lives.
Doing so wasn’t going to be as easy as it was previously. We have more commitments at work and outside, own a house that, due to its age, always has a job that needs doing, and we’ve both already rinsed the companies’ sabbatical policies, so logistically, this was always going to be more difficult. Luckily, with two very supportive bosses at work, we’ve both managed to take our 2022 and 2023 holiday allowances in one big chunk, giving us just over three months away. This did, however, mean we needed to take the time over the winter season in the northern hemisphere, limiting our options and discounting our original ambition of another American thru-hike.
New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. I first visited the country in 2006 and was struck by the natural beauty of the country, touring by camper van with the family. In 2019, I returned and saw more of the country, including a trip down the Whanganui River, a section of the Te Araroa you can traverse by canoe. I floated the idea with Jenny, calling out the perks of the amazing DOC hut system and the landscape, and a couple of beautifully shot YouTube videos later, we had a plan!
Remembering My New Whys
As we go into this hike, it is important to us to ensure we’re aligning on our intentions for the hike, ensuring we get the most out of why we want to do this. So here is my public intention setting so that I can hold myself to it later!
1. This is a honeymoon firstly and a hike secondly. I am a super goal-oriented person who also is a great planner. Before our last hike, I’d mapped out every water, camp, and town stop, something that put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to the point where I exclaimed to Jenny at the town of Julian, “At this pace, we will never make it to Canada!” This trail is about sharing a special trip together and growing together as a recently married pair. This also means that at a few points in the trip, we should make a concerted effort to treat ourselves to experiences off-trail, creating lifelong memories of our honeymoon together.
2. We are not trying to prove anything with this trail. We know we can hike epic distances, but that isn’t why we’re here. This means potentially pushing ourselves less and also holding ourselves less to account for how “purist” we hike the trail. With 15% of the track still on roads, there are opportunities to skip bits. That’s totally fine, especially with a tight timeline and lots of friends to see, Christmas to celebrate, and more beautiful trails to explore. When I first floated the idea of the TA past my Kiwi friend, he stated, “you’re missing all the best bits.” I’m excited to explore places like the Coromandel Peninsula, Abel Tasman, and Marlborough vineyards. We think we’ll probably hike the South Island in full and then make up our mind on the North, which is more roady and populated, whilst we are out there.
3. This is our opportunity to detox from the rat race. Jenny and I lead busy lives, especially as we now have a long commute to London every week, a house that always has a job, alongside a busy work life and volunteering commitments. Not worrying about the mundane and relatively irrelevant stuff that occupies our noggins each day will be helpful. I’ve also decided to give up alcohol as part of this trip. Jenny has asked me multiple times why; I think for me, it is an opportunity to disassociate fun times with booze and explore the health benefits accompanying a period of sobriety.
All this taken into account means my “why” changes how we will go about hiking this trail. It is less about the tangible overarching goal and physical stamina we gained on the PCT and more about the mental decompression and in-the-moment experience it will give us together. We are hoping this will turn out to be the best winter of our lives together, and we can’t wait to start putting one foot in front of the other in life’s 2-3 mph slow lane.
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