Despite not being with my family, today was one of the most enjoyable Christmas days yet. Imagine waking up with your only priority being doing nothing, absolutely nothing. The only items on my schedule were to eat food, swim in the sea, put my feet up and sleep, and I did all of them with pure glee.
I guess I’ve spent so much time alone recently that I’m well and truly comfortable in my own company, to the point that when I swam in the ocean today, or more so the estuary in front of the campsite, I made my way back to shore through the shallow water like a Mexican walking fish on my hands, trailing my floating body behind me until I literally stopped floating. I was giggling to myself, unfazed by the wandering eyes watching my slow crawl to shore. I was experiencing pure uninhibited delight, feeling like the freest spirit on this planet, and the rest of my day was much the same.
This trail has taught me more about being alone than the PCT ever did. Heck I spent most of the time either falling in or out of love on that trail, or thinking about people other than myself.
Today I realised I am truly self focussed, not in a negative selfish way, but in a way that I’m not distracted by any kind of love interest or another person that might affect my decisions. It feels blissful and self empowering. I know I need human interaction to keep me sane, happy and human, but I don’t need to feel like I belong to someone, or be completed by another person, or have someone sitting beside me to appreciate the beauty of what’s around me.
I haven’t listened to a single song on my iPhone or anything during the 450kms I’ve walked so far, and I’ve honestly come closer to whatever meditation is meant to achieve than anytime I’ve tried to meditate. Thoughts come and go, some I hold onto and some I don’t. I’ve cried so many unexpected tears, not from sadness, but from something more profound deep within. Smells that remind me of moments in my childhood, my best friends, my parents and my sister. I cry because I come so close to these memories it’s impossible not to be affected by them, as though I’m living them years later, understanding how significant or insignificant those moments either were or were not at the time.
I cried yesterday thinking about the days when I’d be lucky enough to order food from the ‘tuck shop’ when I was in primary school. Either my mum or I would fill in a form, put money in an envelope, staple it to a brown paper bag, and then hand it in when I arrived at school. The joy I got from picking up my brown paper bag at lunch time filled with a small garlic bread wrapped in foil, a chocolate milk, and a bar as a treat were monumental. Simple pleasures like these can bring me to tears almost 25 years later, it’s remarkable.
Even if it were just for the experience of today and some of the memories I’ve had, I could say the last three weeks of pain were worth it. How else could I be sitting on a beach alone in another country to everyone I know and feel justified doing absolutely nothing on Christmas Day? I spoke to my family, I sent and received a few messages from the special people in my life and that was enough. I felt completely fulfilled with next to nothing, and that’s one of the reasons I love to thru-hike, because I’m reminded of how little we actually need. The less you can live with the more joyful your experience on trail will be, and I’m pretty sure that translates to life off trail as well.
Today I let go of my preconceived ideas of the Te Araroa. It’s not the PCT, the AT, the CDT, or any other long distance trail out there. It is a unique beast that was not designed to be a straight forward pathway. There are challenges around every corner: river crossings, road walking, steep sloping gradients like you’ve never seen. But it is what it is, take it or leave it. No one is forcing me to be here except me. I don’t need to be in the depths of the wilderness to learn something about myself or the people around me. I’m still living out of a backpack and am slowly getting a better sense of a trail community. The environment is just the backdrop, and I think what I’m meant to learn is right in front of me.
Maunganui Cliffs walkway.
Merry Christmas from the Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand’s truly unique Longest Pathway.