Hike Your Own Hike

The day after Abel Tasman, Kylie and I met up with a few other hikers we met who have been walking from north to south of NZ on the Te Araroa (TA) trail. We joined them for Queen Charlotte Track (QCT), a 70km track in Marborough country (I think it’s actually Marlborough Sound but I hear the Marlboro Man’s voice in my head with the other and it makes me laugh).

 We started at the top right corner at Ships Cove and ended in Anakiwa on the bottom left.

We started at the top right corner at Ships Cove and ended in Anakiwa on the bottom left.

Queen Charlotte was definitely a more challenging hike as it was almost double the km/day of Abel Tasman and it was much more hilly. Luckily I am getting better at packing less haha (I am learning from Kylie who is a master minimal packer). It was a beautiful hike! See here:

The third day in was a tough climb of basically 20k uphill but I felt energized and kicked some serious mountain butt! The last day we beat the rain in packing up our gear but it rained from 7am to almost 3pm so everything was soaked anyway. It was a steady downpour and a slippery, muddy mess.  I was initially pretty positive but when I checked the clock thinking it was at least 2pm and saw it was noon, I felt an internal temper tantrum bubbling beneath the surface. I was so done. Done. Done. Done! But tragically, I wasn’t actually done. So I just kept walking. And walking. And walking. I sang that “Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked” song from primary. I kept singing the “and walked part” over again to Kylie. She didn’t find it entertaining. But see here, proof I'm not just a baby. That toe started blistering in Abel Tasman....and that is the third layer blister by the end of the QCT. Moral of the story: I would have made a terrible pioneer.

Eventually, we made it out of the park around 3pm and of course THEN the sun decided to shine. It wouldn’t be a true NZ experience without the mercurial weather. I felt pretty bada$$ for finishing it….and duh, SO happy to finally be dry again! 

HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE

I was talking with one of fellow hiker, Shannon (names of other hikers have been changed), who shared with me the phrase, “Hike your own hike.” She had been on the trail for a while (600km or so) and had grown so irritated with self-proclaimed expert hikers telling her and others how they should pack and what gear they should get rid of and how many km/day they should be walking. This feedback was unsolicited criticism. And she had made it just fine for 600km thank you very much! In addition to that, she described the pressure she already placed on herself to perform at a certain speed or level. She spent a lot of time on the trail trying to meet these arbitrary expectations. The ways she talked about her experience, I could sense a fear of being perceived as weak or inadequate. As much as she wanted others to let her hike her own hike, she was on a journey to let herself hike her own hike too. It wasn’t until this track that she decided she was going go at her own pace, whether or not it was faster or slower than those around her.

I thought about “hike your own hike” as I got to know another young woman, Nina. In a word, Nina is a sweetheart. She has a compassionate and kind nature and is a fellow dreamer. She was the youngest of our informal group. At 23, she has set out to hike the TA in hopes she would figure out her life in a Cheryl-Strayed-Wild kind of way (don’t get me started on that book though—I hated it). Like many first-time international travelers,  Nina seemed to want to capture every moment and hold on to it all. Nina also had quite the pack. It looked so uncomfortable and HEAVY. And when she unpacked, it was amazing to me what she carried with her. She had probably 7 lbs of food  from home that she brought because it was less expensive there than in NZ. She had been carrying it for months. She didn’t like a lot of it and the spices had crossed over to contaminate the other foods. For example, the curry in one bag had infused itself into her yogurt oatmeal. and who wants to eat curry yogurt oatmeal for breakfast? Not me! She also had this giant wool sweater someone had gifted her. She said she felt guilty getting rid of it because it was a generous gift but she didn’t need and it was heavy. She seemed to want to let go of these things but for whatever reason (sentiment, not wanting to waste, guilt), she continued to carry these items. I think it was hard for everyone to watch her haul of this stuff every day. She wouldn’t complain about it much but when she would mention how conflicted she felt about letting go, we all gave her permission to purge the supplies. If it was me, I would be throwing out anything to lighten that load, but this was Nina’s hike and her stuff. She needed to hike her own hike. 

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I thought a lot about what it means to hike my own hike and the ways my experience resonated with that of these two women. Like Shannon, I also have a lot of insecurities that come from comparing myself to others and fears of how they see me. It makes me feel weak and ashamed. I can give myself credit in saying that this insecurity is significantly less invasive than it has been in the past but I continue to play an old, well-worn track: the fear that I am the fat girl who comes in last that everyone has to wait for and who is embarrassing and pitiful. I HATE this insecurity. It brings up jealousy and pettiness in me, also traits I loathe seeing in myself. I hate that I let this cycle put a damper on activities that are supposed to be fun and empowering. So I am practicing being a curious observer of my own experience without judgement. I am working on sitting with the shame and challenging my own distorted thinking. It’s really hard and I hate that I have to practice at all. I get really annoyed and impatient…so then I get to practice sitting with and observing my own impatience and annoyance. I am not sure why I expect myself to not struggle with these things. I keep reminding myself about what Sister taught at the silent retreat, emphasizing the importance of accepting and giving ourselves permission to be human. In other words, giving myself permission to hike my own hike instead of the hike I wish I was hiking or the hike I should be hiking or denying that I am hiking this particular hike. I’m on my own trail and this is where I am at on it. And that’s ok.

In many ways, I could also relate to Nina. I used to hold onto so many things out of guilt, sentiment, attachment to the past, and fear for the future. I would drag crap around with me from place to place for years, much like her giant backpack. And my baggage wasn’t limited to material items, but included relationships, jobs, people, ideas, beliefs, etc. I think that’s why I have been so drawn to minimalism and why I loved the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s not about not having things, but only keeping things around that uplift and bring joy. There is no need to carry around extra stuff if it doesn’t make my life better. It’s such a relief to unload my proverbial curry yogurt oatmeal and to burn my giant wool sweaters. Obviously, some things are easier to let go of than others but I think that’s also part of the practice of hiking my own hike. Like most people, I don’t need anyone to point out or tell me what I need to do. I know what I need to let go of. But letting go can be hard and takes time. We have to be ready. When Nina was ready to let go of that extra crap, she let it go—not because of us badgering her to do it, but because she was ready to do it. She was tired of carrying it. She valued herself enough to let it go.

Whenever I notice I am feeling frustrated, weak, insecure or in shame, it’s usually because I am having unrealistic expectations of myself. I’m a recovering perfectionist who thinks I should be like Jesus and Spock all in one. Given the spectrum and depth of my emotions, this will never be a reality for me. Also, I don’t really know much about Star Trek so I will avoid going any further with that comparison. The point is, I know I’m not alone in the expectation department. We are all humans having a very human experience. We are in various stages of self acceptance,  letting go, of facing difficulty, and of rising to meet our challenges. "Hike your own hike" has become a kind of mantra for me these past few weeks. It’s a reminder that it’s ok to be exactly where I am and how I am. It’s ok to feel how I feel about it. It’s ok to give myself permission to just be.