As the 2020-21 Te Araroa Trail season gets underway, Vikki Baker reflects on her experience of the trail and how walking the length of New Zealand changed her life.
It was blustery and drizzling when I stood beneath the signpost at Stirling Point in Bluff. It was supposed to signify the end of the 3000km hike that traverses New Zealand. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it really was the end.
My time on the Te Araroa Trail had been an eye-opening journey in ways in which I hadn’t expected. It had become a journey towards truly becoming myself rather than a simple tramp from north to south.
I remembered one day in February, outside a dilapidated Crooked Spur Hut in Te Kahui Kaupeka Conservation Park, staring at the blank page of my journal as I reflected on the previous four months of walking. The things I had experienced, the people I had met and the ways in which I had changed. I felt so different from 31-year-old who took that first step at Cape Reinga back in October 2019.
I realised then that I was terrified of going back to ‘real life’. I didn’t know who I was in that world anymore.
The reason I began walking the TA stemmed from my lifelong self-doubt, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in my abilities. This self-doubt manifested itself in a constant, nagging sense of never being good enough.
But I was no longer that person. Life on the trail had changed me. I had become used to not having access to hot or running water for a week at a time, grown to be comfortable with my own smell, realised that I liked sports bras more than normal bras, that I quite liked having no choice over what to wear each day and that I was more confident in my own abilities than ever before. I camped in the wild alone and unafraid. I relied on no-one but myself to find water, chop firewood, navigate my route and to be my own cheerleader, even when I wanted to give up or curl into a ball and sleep at the side of the trail.
On the face of it, these may not sound like the kind of skills that are needed in day-to-day life. But consider this: my ability to endure hardship, loneliness, exhaustion and sometimes pain, and to simply carry on regardless, not because I have to, but because I chose to, translates into resilience, strength, motivation, recognising the importance of your mindset, living in the moment and taking life one day at a time. These are the skills we need to navigate our work, social and personal lives.
Almost as important as the things I learned about myself was what I unlearned. The health professional, the manager, the person who doesn’t cope well with stress, the one in the group who will never be as good at things as her friends, the girl who never quite understood fashion and never really felt like she fitted in anywhere or with anyone.
None of these versions of me mattered on the trail. The life I was living didn’t require me to be any of these versions of myself anymore, and everyone I met was meeting me for the first time without preconceived ideas of who I was or should be.
This felt like the opportunity I’d craved so badly for so long: to become unapologetically, authentically me. I was a clean slate, a blank canvas ready to return to the world and paint my own picture with whichever brush I chose.
So there I stood, at Bluff, the end of an epic journey and I realised it wasn’t the end at all. It was just the beginning.