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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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?