More than a month has already passed by since I finished the first stage of this journey – Te Araroa. Many events and encounters on the trail had quite a significant direct impact on me. Others had a slower but not less significant impact. Some are of broader reach, others are very simple take-aways.
By writing the blog and trying to capture everything which had happened every day in words I went through an intensive reflection process every day. I am glad I did. Writing things down make them stick a lot better. But also the constant exchange with the other hikers on the trail was definitely enriching. Some with very similar stories and reasons to be on the trail, others with very different ones, the need to reflect, the pure physical challenge to make it, only for fun and many more. Everyone was on a journey of their own but with this always an enrichment and inspiration of its own. But also the frequent exchange with all the Kiwis along the way was more than helpful. How often do you have the chance to constantly meet new people with completely different backgrounds and thoughts.

Exposing yourself to a different environment always has an impact on you.
When I left home and many friends said “I am curious to see how much this trip will change and do to you.”. I really thought it would not do much. I would have said that most of my core values are set and very strong, I am aware of the things I do like and the ones that I don’t. I would also say that most of this is still valid. But I have to admit that Te Araroa has done more to and with me that I would have ever expected. Some changes directly triggered by the one or other encounter, some through constant exposure to certain things and many as a very slow process and for me barely recognisable. I am sure most of them are also still working on me.

 

Only if you don’t have anything to lose which you are afraid of losing you are really free to discover new things.
But maybe to start at the very beginning and most probably one of the strongest influences on me. When I decided to (originally) change my job and knew that I was going to quit my current job, I suddenly felt an amazing feeling of freedom and liberalisation. My focus had been extremely strong on a vertical career path which was quite easy. I only had to perform, not make mistakes, mingle with the right crowd, do a fair bit of self-marketing and do what else was expected in the corporate environment. And every action was very much focussed and targeted to climb up the ladder. With the decision that the next step would not be in the same environment only up another step suddenly broadened my horizon. I was now free and could do whatever I wanted! My view changed from a very focused tunnel to the entire horizon – everything was possible now. From going back to university, becoming an artist, gardening, sports or just another industry. I was high for three weeks feeling unleashed.
Having opportunities also make you a lot better in what you are doing in that moment. Why? Because you are not afraid of losing your current status anymore since you know you can just move on and do something else. It’s always good to have opportunities.
After a while I became scared. What was I supposed to do with all of the freedom now? Out of all these options? I was overwhelmed. But after a while I realised that I would most probably not become a musician or a professional sports player anymore and with this the options actually narrowed down to areas where I do have my strength. With this intention I started looking for possible fields of employment with the thought of maybe having a longer holiday in-between the two jobs.
But it was only after almost a year after the initial decision that I decided to instead cut all of the safety ropes and to continue without a plan or schedule. There were thoughts about a sabbatical and other options. But I figured if I really wanted to make most out of this time I would need to let go of all these safety nets which would give me the feeling of having a fall back scenario. I realised that only if I would let go of all of this I would be really free to enjoy this break. I knew that I would always weigh and compare what I would would have to give up (a safe job, a good income, etc.) if an opportunity would come along the way and I needed to decide if I wanted to try it or not. Without having anything that you would have to give up you are a lot more free to go for opportunities. It also sharpens your view for possible things to do since you have to “start swimming” again at one point of time.
Many friends and colleagues where literally shocked when they heard about my decision and asked me why I would give up all of these things that I had worked for so hard and why I would not keep a fall back option. Why would I want to give up so much if I didn’t have to?
The only thing I can say looking back is that it has been the best decision that I could have possibly taken! Getting rid of most of my material possessions and not being afraid of loosing anything (which you can’t if you don’t have anything) anymore its the most liberating feeling ever! The more you have the more you have to worry about. Not having anything is interestingly not scary but very contenting.
Not knowing what would happen the next day or after the trail gave me the freedom to just let things happen the way they did without being afraid of loosing anything, being constraint or having the feeling I had to or not to do certain things since they seemed necessary.


You don’t need a lot of things to survive.
In the very special case of Te Araroa an even more fascinating aspect played a significant role. To be able to fit everything you need to survive in the wilderness in a 55l backpack is an amazing feeling. To walk with everything you own and actually need until the sun sets, emptying your backpack and using almost every piece of equipment and by this knowing you are not carrying anything you don’t need, packing everything together the next morning and just continuing in the same direction without looking back is probably the ultimate feeling of freedom. At least it was for me.

 

You need to actively break with your comfort zone to let the magic happen.
By going this step and leaving most of my known and comfortable environment behind I did something which I would continue during the entire trail and which is probably one of the most obvious but important learnings:


This picture as always says more than thousand words. If you want to experience anything new and if you want to grow you have to leave your comfort zone! Only if you do you will come into the situation where new things happen. How often do you really experience fascinating and inspiring moments on your everyday life in which you always do the same things and meet the same people? The biggest step out of my comfort zone was definitely to leave everything known behind and to start the journey without knowing where it would lead to. But I also continued on the trail to break with many of my comfort zones which I sometimes was not even aware of. Starting out with little things like hitchhiking. I remember how awkward it felt when I first held up my finger to get a ride and the cars just passed and looked at me. I felt like a second class person being personally rejected every time a car passed and I actually continued walking after the first cars had passed before I tried it again. But with the first great experience of someone picking me up, driving me to the supermarket, waiting for me to do my shopping, dropping me off at a place where I could pitch my tent and on top picking me up the next morning to bring me back I can’t say how glad I was that I had stepped out of my comfort zone! And there have been many more little things like asking for help, admitting that you don’t know, walking around filthy and in the most ridiculous looking and dirty outfit in towns and many more…
On the other hand it is amazing how quickly areas which have been way out of your comfort zone become part of or fully your new comfort zone. I quickly liked sleeping in my tent in the wilderness more than the hostels.

Don’t plan everything ahead – let things happen.
In the same context of comfort zones maybe one of the most difficult ones for me to break with was not to plan everything a head and having an Excel list for it. I was used to have things under control. Being prepared. Having booked and organised things in advance and with this having little to non room for things to happen. Even when I started the trail I had already booked my hostel for the first day on the trail three weeks in advance. It took me a while to gain the confidence to just let it happen. But once I started it always worked out somehow and I experienced some of the most amazing things. Be it standing on the highway after dark trying to catch a ride and the people who had taken me to here turning back to host me for the night since they thought it would be difficult for me to find a ride in the dark or the owner of an restaurant in Whangarei offering me to sleep next to the table I just had dinner since all hotels were full. All things which would have not happened to me in my old life and comfort zone. My takeaway – things always work out somehow and it is very unlikely that you starve or die. Therefore – don’t plan ahead.


Travel on your own for a while if you can.
Traveling by yourself is very different to travelling with a friend or partner. I am glad I went by myself. Unfortunately you miss out to create joint memories and stories for life that you will always be able to share and look back to with a friend. On the other hand it allows you to experience a lot of things you usually miss out on if you are not on your own. Since we are all social beings we want and need to interact. If you are on your own you can’t “hide” behind your friend or partner but you actively have to go up to strangers if you want to talk. By this you meet great people you would have otherwise missed out on.
Sometimes you can’t do things on your own and therefore have to ask strangers for help. You will meet interesting people. You will sit by yourself in cafes and restaurants and by doing this people will join you. More encounters. And you are always free to stop, continue, divert and to do whatever you want to.
And on the other side you have to also spend a lot of time with yourself. A very interesting and sometimes painful experience since you actively have to deal with yourself, reflect and you can’t escape from it.

 

Hospitality is such an amazing thing. I want to give back what I have experienced.
Many of you who have followed my journey during the last month know how overwhelmed I have been by the Kiwi hospitality! I can’t even fully recall and count all the rides I have received, the people who have stopped on the road to check if I was alright or needed anything, the ones who came up to me and asked me if they could help me when I looked like I was looking for something, the ones who have opened their homed to me and hosted me for a meal, a night or even a few. How many have put trust in me when they invited me to their personal homes sometimes only knowing me for a few minutes. It has been an amazing experience to receive so much hospitality along the way from people who did not expect anything in return and who thought it was the most normal thing to be a host and share. It was an overwhelming feeling to receive this unrestricted trust from so many. And this especially since I have looked like a hobo most of the time on top. It is difficult to put in words how special you feel. What an amazing way of taking care of each other it is. How more enjoyable it makes life when you care about each other. How grateful you feel when somebody just helps you out or does something good for you for no particular or selfish reason. And sometimes you maybe even make friends for life.
Kiwis in general don’t seem to distrust 9,999 because their might be 1 out of 10,000 who might abuse this trust. This is very different to most of the western countries where I would say it is probably the other way around. We tend to see the worst and by this not picking up a hitchhiker, stopping to ask if we can help or let alone inviting strangers to our homes even though chances are probably not higher than in New Zealand that there are 9,999 great people out of 10,000.
It seems to be part of their DNA. Because you do not experience it in big gestures but also in daily life even in the city. People in general are caring, friendly and very open. Just as a random example: if you get off a bus in Auckland you thank the bus driver loudly
All of what I have experienced during the last month it has deeply touched and made me think about the general way we interact with each other. I would claim that it has changed me fundamentally in the way how I do approach people, the way I do trust and already do interact with people on the street.


I love mountains.
Not a really new observation but something I realised again during the journey. Even though I also enjoyed all parts of the trail and especially the diversity was key for making it so special I realised how much I enjoy to spend time in the mountains. I love running up mountains, I love to get the views from above and below, I love climbing and I love the alpine terrain. I will spend more time in the mountains. I love mountains!


Patience and accepting certain things the way they are make a lot of things easier.
I only realised how much more relaxed I had become over time when I first injured myself and I had to go off the trail for almost 10 days. Half a year ago I would have steamed and would have been annoyed by the fact that I could not continue as planned, that my journey now was delayed and that I did not know when I could continue. It would have felt like a waste of time almost. But once the first shock was over I started enjoying the fact that I now had time to do all the things I couldn’t do on the trail: reading a book, drinking coffee every day, unlimited access to food and so on. So from then on I just sat in my favourite cafes enjoyed the change of settings.
Accepting situations which you can’t change and making the most out of them is a lot easier than fighting them especially knowing you can’t win this particular fight.


There is never a right or wrong.
One of the things I have also seen and realised on all my travels so far has proven to be even more true:

There is never a right or wrong – there are only different ways of seeing and doing things.

We generally do have a subjective and personal opinion on most things. This is good. But it is never a smart thing to judge and to claim ones position is the right one. It is not. And on top you very often miss out on an opportunity to learn something new.
And in the same aspect everything is relative. It always depends on the observer and the perspective. Sometimes 25km is a lot, sometimes not. Sometimes a situation seems to be very bad but compared to someone else’s it might not be at all. So it very much depends on your own position and your perspective. Another very important factor to be considered when looking at people and circumstances. Especially before taking a decision or judging.


A great feeling of deep happiness is addictive.
All of the above has resulted in a deep happiness. Many people who met me along the trail – especially towards the end – and who I showed a picture from before the trail couldn’t believe that this was the same person. Yes, the hair all over my head makes a huge difference but I think it is more. The word I have heard the most as a reaction to the “selfie of the day video” I have made was “happiness” and how you could see the happiness increasing with every day and every picture.
Interesting enough is that I did not feel unhappy at all when I left. Not at all. I was excited and I also liked my “old life”.
But somehow this hole journey must have done something to me that cannot be broken down to single effects but just results in a general well being and happiness. I cannot pin-point this to anything particular but I guess the feedback, pictures and my current presence which makes people just rock up at my table and join me for coffee or a meal somehow shows that. And maybe even more “visible” is the fact that I am enjoying my current status so much that I can’t reply imagine going back anytime soon. It just feels to good. Happy ?.

The transformation:

These are of course very personal and individual observations and experiences and they are not right or wrong but just my way of seeing and perceiving the last month. There are also a few more thoughts and things that have happened or I have realised along the way but they would definitely go beyond the scope of this. I just wanted to capture the most important thoughts I have had on and after the trail to not forget. And since many of you have followed the journey so closely I decided to share them with you – as well as all of the daily ups and downs so far.

This is not meant as a councelors text. But if you want to take one thing out of this for yourself: Leave your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid. The rest will happen automatically.

To quote my good friend Matt for a closing – at the end it comes down to: “You got to do what you think is best for you!”

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