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5 Life Lessons Learned From Hiking

I’ve been thinking a lot about hiking recently, mainly because I’m intent on putting together the best possible entry for Air New Zealand and the DOC’s ‘Great Walker’ competition. The prize? Doing the nine Great Walks of New Zealand in nine weeks while blogging about it. To me, this is pretty much the Holy Grail of prizes (and something that you can find on my bucket list).

Someone in the office was asking me today about why hiking has such an appeal to me. What could be so interesting about seeing the same thing over and over while walking endless miles on aching feet? I can see his point, but it’s not something I truly understand; to me, hiking is about so much more than the walking. It’s something that’s taught me a great deal, even if those lessons dull with time spent back in the ‘real world.’

Lesson #1: The World is a Lot Bigger Than Just You

Tasman Glacier Valley Walk

Getting a sense for just how small we are in the Tasman Glacier Valley (Photo originally taken for Wotifblog).

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the little things in life. Before I went to New Zealand, I’d packed up my entire life, ready to ship it across to Australia. I got caught up in all the little things around the move and my trip, down to a last-minute rush to transfer all the right music onto my iPod. But once I started a hike, none of that seemed to matter. Even when I’m just doing a day walk near Brisbane, a calm seems to settle over me as soon as my boots hit the dirt (unless, of course, that dirt has a snake on it, in which case, I’m not calm at all). There’s nothing like looking out at a 360 degree view, seeing the world stretching all around you, to make you realise that those little things are just that — little, inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Lesson #2: You Don’t Really Need All That Stuff

 

Clutter-free in a Caravan

It was nice being clutter-free for a change!

I don’t think I could ever up and sell everything I owned to travel the world. I love travel, but I love having a home base as well, and there’s things that make that home base feel like home that I would have trouble parting with. That said, hiking overnight makes you realise how little you really need to be happy. I started my New Zealand trip with what I thought was a small pack, but weighed down with 4 days of food and a few liters of water, it still tipped the scales at around 19kg. I slowly shed gear — like my tent — as I went and I reckon my bag was at least 5kg less by the end. I had just enough clothes to get me through one hike, but that was fine both on the track and off. So while I certainly have my fair share of stuff at home, I do think a lot harder before spending my hard-earned money on something.

Lesson #3: …And You Don’t Always Need the Internet

Holding a stuffed stoat in the forest.

Although not having the internet means you stand in the forest holding a stuffed stoat. Take that as you will.

I know this will seem like blasphemy coming from a travel blogger; after all, the most common question I heard on my recent trip to the TBU and TBEX conferences was “what’s the wifi password?” The internet is with me constantly at home, but when I’m out in the bush, the need for it seems to fade away. I still like to have my phone on me to take some photos, but I’m not searching for a signal so I can post them immediately. It’s nice to be able to switch off and truly get away from the obligations that come with checking email and social media.

Lesson #4: Solitude Is Good, But So Is Camaraderie

At the End of the Copland Track

With some of my hiking buddies from the Copland Track. Luckily we all got along since we were flooded into the hut at Welcome Flat for a day!

Hiking on your own is certainly a good way to have some solitude. After days on end of socialising with new people at hostels, I found it nice to be able to walk on my own without the pressure of having to make conversation. It was a good time to contemplate life, but I often found that things I thought I’d dwell on hardly came to mind at all (see #1). Instead, I’d see a weka peeking out of the bushes at the side of the track or a sailboat tacking in the distance and my thoughts would run off on a completely different tangent.

While that was nice, it was good to have fellow hikers to chat with too. I immediately knew that I shared a common interest with whatever new person came across my path, and it was the source of endless conversations…and where the conversations about the walks left off, the chats about the evil, evil sandflies commenced. It was like being instantly part of a brotherhood where everyone was welcome.

Lesson #5: You Don’t Have to Win, As Long As You Finish

At Sandfly Point

Excited to have finished the Milford Track. Not so excited that it was living up to its name of 'Sandfly Point.'

This is a big one. There are always the people that tell you how quickly they can run up and down a mountain, and I’m usually quite impressed because I’m not the speediest of people. But on the overnight hikes, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that hears how long the day’s walk took you and then tries to rub it in your face that they did it faster. To me, going faster is not necessarily a good thing. Sure, I don’t want to lag so long that it gets dark before I finish, but I don’t want to speed through everything either. Why bother with the walk if I’m not going to enjoy it, if I’m not going to notice all the little things along the way? As long as I get to where I wanted to be by the end of the day, I’m happy.

Do you agree with these lessons? Are there any more that you’ve learned that you’d like to add?

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10 Responses to 5 Life Lessons Learned From Hiking

  1. Deborah October 19, 2012 at 8:26 am Reply

    Lessons 2 & 5 are good ones for me. As you know I’m downsizing and needing to do a serious cull – BUT it’s hard to rid myself of stuff. I’m generally a less-is-more person (other than in my writing!) but I really need to strip my life back this time.

    And… yes, it’s not all about winning or comparing ourselves to others, but running our own race!

    Deb

    • Kristin October 20, 2012 at 8:33 am Reply

      I agree that getting rid of stuff is hard, but I think you’re doing the right thing. I still have boxes of things back at my parents’ house that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of. My excuse is that I’m only in Houston occasionally and I don’t have time while I’m there! Ha. Good luck with it though — I know it’s stressful but just think of how much more relaxing life will be once you get to Hervey Bay!

      I think making sure you are running your own race is a good thing to keep in mind in general — there’s a lot less stress than if you’re focused on winning all the time!

  2. Jade - Ouroyster.com October 19, 2012 at 10:08 am Reply

    OOOO i really want to enter this competition but I have already done all the great walks except 1, and I think at 5 months pregant, I will probably be kind of over it fairly fast if my pizza intake is not kept at an acceptable level

    • Kristin October 20, 2012 at 8:36 am Reply

      I actually thought of you when I read about the competition the first time, but I thought you being pregnant might make it a bit more difficult to do! And LOL @ the pizza!

      I didn’t realise you’d done all but one of the Great Walks — which one did you miss? I’ve done two of the walks straight through and sections of a few more, but I think it would be such a great experience to all of them back-to-back-to-back. It would really highlight how diverse New Zealand really is.

  3. Suzy October 22, 2012 at 10:10 am Reply

    I definitely enjoy the benefit of no Internet when getting out in nature. I think sometimes I can get so bogged down with technology and emails that that time away is almost a necessity.

    • Kristin November 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm Reply

      I totally agree Suzy. I loved the fact that I could just turn off my phone at the beginning of the track and then turn it on when I was done. It disconnected me but also conserved battery in case I desperately needed it (not that I would have had reception anyway). I think it’s even more necessary now that I have a smart phone!

  4. Will Turner July 22, 2013 at 4:34 pm Reply

    You Don’t Really Need All That Stuff
    and memories are best shared (Solitude Is Good, But So Is Camaraderie)
    PS. Great photos. Great site. I’m a geologist, love C++ and code perl at work. Any chance you are in WA?

    • Kristin July 24, 2013 at 2:56 am Reply

      Thanks Will, glad you like my photos and site! I actually used to live out in WA but now I’m based over in Brisbane. I haven’t done Perl in years! How’s it treating you? I play around with PHP in my own time but my work was based around Java and JS. We’ll see what I get into when I get back home.

  5. Cest La Vibe September 23, 2015 at 7:42 am Reply

    Only started hiking for a little over a year now but I’ve been lucky enough to hike in Montana, Dominica, and Trinidad. Love your site because of how much it focuses on hiking!

    • Kristin October 4, 2015 at 9:14 pm Reply

      Those all sound like fantastic places to go hiking! I’ll have to add them to my list 🙂 And thanks so much — so glad to hear you like the hiking focus of this site! Hiking in New Zealand was what inspired me to start the blog in the first place, and even though I’ve had injuries in the last few years that have stopped me from going out quite as much as I’d like, I still love getting out on the trails when I can!

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