Laura Waters not only walked across New Zealand by herself, she wrote a book about it. You’ll have to ask Laura which challenge was harder. Bewildered is out now.
For much of my life, fear has been invisibly woven into the fabric of my existence, regularly whispering helpful pearls in my ear such as ‘Life is dangerous,’ and ‘You’re crap at this’.
So perhaps I wasn’t the most obvious person to end up walking 3000km solo from one end of New Zealand to the other – but in the end, this journey chose me. I had crippling anxiety from a toxic relationship that had recently ended, not to mention I was disillusioned with modern society – neither of which was going to be resolved without a significant wiping of the slate. My plan was to tackle the Te Araroa trail with a friend but when she pulled out on the second day with an injury, my only safety net was suddenly gone.
If I was to succeed I would need a new voice in my ear, a more positive one, so I created it – a mantra selected from a passing comment made by a friend before my departure. Upon hearing my lofty goal he responded, ‘You’re a fucking legend!’ It gave me a massive confidence boost so I decided to make it my own, something to repeat when times got tough: ‘I’m a fucking legend, I can do this’.
To be fair, there is plenty to be nervous about while hiking in New Zealand. The terrain is gnarly, the weather volatile. And the Te Araroa trail was a relatively unknown path that had been officially open for only two years.
Step by step, I walked, repeating my mantra when things were desperate enough for me to recall it. For five months I hiked endless empty beaches and tangled mossy forests, over rugged mountain passes and scores of unbridged rivers. I dislocated my shoulder twice, got caught in a snowstorm, and was literally blown off my feet in strong winds.
But in those months of constant challenge, something happened. I stopped being scared. It took a while. My inner voice protested at every perilously steep traverse, every rock scramble and every exposed mountain ridge. It loved to remind me how bad things would be if I made a mistake. But pretty soon it got bored replaying the same old fearful messages. I realised that, mostly, things never did go too far wrong. I mean, I got lost a few times, fell over and faced some fierce weather, but I always made it through. It seemed there was more fear in the imagining of things than in the reality of them.
So to save on energy I stopped being fearful. I resolved to tackle every challenge as it arose, to use my growing bank of experience and increasing awareness and intuition to make decisions. The more I practised courage, the easier it became. And life was a lot more peaceful.
Nature had a lot to do with this. My symptoms of anxiety all but disappeared within a month on the trail. In the quietness of nature, away from media, advertising and any other reminders of my old life, my identity fell away – making it easier to discover who I really was.
After 3,000km I returned home to quit my long-held corporate job, freeing myself to become a writer and spend more time in nature. I’m a hundred times happier for it.