Better late than never for a final blog post, I’d say. Although it feels like I’ve been back in the UK for a lifetime, it’s only actually been 7 weeks. How quickly life slips back into ‘normality’ (whatever that means).
I often liken finishing an adventure to a break up. And so, now that the Te Araroa and I have said our last awkward goodbyes, handed back one another’s CD’s collection and taken up residence on opposite sides of the globe – I feel like perhaps we, I, New Zealand need some kind of closure.
ON NEW ZEALAND
What can I possibly say to express how dear I now hold this country and its people to my heart?
This is a country where the use of the words ‘crap’, ‘bloody’ and ‘jerk’ on prime time TV is entirely acceptable. They are a nation who couple extreme national pride with a desire to not take themselves too seriously. Their work-life balance is admirable. They make time to escape to the hills after work and at the weekends. They have ‘snow days’ when the powder is too irresistible to be at school or work. They are fixers. They are survivors. Even their politicians seem approachable. They are passionate about pies, and frittata’s with relish on the side. And best, most bestest of all, they make you take a seat while they make you a real cup of coffee. Possibly with a silver fern etched in the top.
In 6 months here I learnt more about ecosystems, the fragility of an island environment and the doomed plight of (incredibly cute but highly impractical) flightless birds, than I would in any classroom. I learnt the names of trees, and got to discover first hand that not all plants are nice plants (I refer here to ‘B*stard Grass’, and the ‘Horrid Spaniard’). I fell in love with birdsong, choosing to run mostly without music so that I could listen to the cacophony in the canopy above. And I fell especially in love with Fan Tails.
ON FALSE BOTTOMS AND IMAGINARY CEILINGS
Our conscious world is constructed of false bottoms and imaginary ceilings. Our limit for the bottom is governed by fear, fear of what will happen as we stumble into the unknown. And our ceilings are defined by what we believe ourselves to be capable of. As it turns out, both boundaries are entirely imagined.
I’m sure you’ll all remember ‘Rivergate’ – the day when everything got that little bit too much. When I sprained my ankle and wound up a ball of tears and swear words. That day I hit my lowest point in the trip, and crawling into the tent I believed I was at rock bottom. And yet, once down there, suddenly it didn’t seem quite so bad. I was exhausted, lonely, injured and frightened – everything I feared from the outset – but I was okay with that. I hadn’t found my limit. I’d been to see it, I’d greeted it and hung out with it for a while, only to watch it vanish into thin air. That wasn’t my limit at all, just a fringe I’d happened upon. The bottom fell away and I was stronger the following day.
The same applies with our ceilings. How often do we work tirelessly for something only to reach it and find it’s nothing at all like we expected?
For 6 months I dreamt only of the finish line. Of what that would feel like. Heck, I’d well up even imagining the day I could finally stop running. But when I got there I found that I wasn’t overwhelmed with a sense of elation, or of achievement, but instead a deep sense of contentment. And I discovered that contentment is better than any form of ecstasy. Because contentment says ‘I am enough’. It says ‘rest a while’ and ‘well done’. It says I can look in the mirror and be proud of how I have spent the last few months of my life. Elation excites, contentment nourishes. It is the rarest feeing of all, and one to be cherished.
On the day I finished at the Cape, I didn’t get buck wild and go partying. I didn’t drink a drop in fact (I’d have passed out for a start). Instead, I returned to a hostel where I knew no one. I walked out and got a curry (heavy on the peshwari naan), sat on a tattered sofa in the hostel and watched ‘The Terminal’ on DVD. When the German backpacker next to me asked what I was doing in New Zealand. I spooned some more Pilau rice into my pie hole and said: “Oh, you know, just travelling around.”
In honesty, it took me a while to share the tough times with you all. In fact, it wasn’t until a friend had a go at me and told me to stop bullsh*tting myself, that I decided it was time to hold my hands up and surrender. That doesn’t come easily. I generally believe that I can fix everything on my own and so to say to an audience, of strangers and worse an audience comprised of peers that I was struggling – that’s hard. But there’s a big difference between saying: “I’m hurting” and “I want to give up.” I realised I could say the former without fear that everyone would think the latter.
ON THE PHYSICAL AFTERMATH
After a few visits to the chiropractor, the good news is that I’ve done no irreparable damage to the bod. I have a ‘jammed up left foot’ (Hashtag: Jammin’), some scar tissue on my right ankle, and a curve in my lower spine which will take 6 months or so to work itself out. But all in all, dear old Mr Chiro seems rather impressed. And I have to say I’m absolutely stoked about that – I intend to keep using this here body for a very long time.
SO, WHAT NEXT?
Ah the question, that question. Have I thought about my next journey? Of course I have. I’m an adventurer after all – I’ve got problems. But for the next few months at least, I’m writing a book. I’m 35,000 words down and finding sitting still a challenge, as usual. If you’d like to know when it makes it to the published stage – you can pop your name on a list here and I’ll email you. Magic.
LASTLY, BEFORE I GO…
I want to leave you with something I wrote at the halfway mark. Because I wasn’t quite ready to share then, but I am now.
Confessions of an adventurer: The Halfway Mark
“There have been days when I’ve cried within 2km, and then again at 3km, and 4km – for no apparent reason other than I couldn’t not. I have sobbed. I have whimpered.
I have been lonely. I have clung to the coattails of strangers – wrapped their unfamiliar voices around me like a blanket, and finally felt at ease. I’ve read, and re-read old messages in my phone, just to feel a connection with the world beyond my tent. I’ve collected the footprints in the sands beneath me and imagined their makers alongside me.
I have spoken to my stuffed toy. To the cows, to the sheep and to the birds.
I have sung at the top of my lungs and stopped to dance like nobody was watching (because they weren’t).
I have thrown up my breakfast on the side of the trail, wiped my mouth and trundled on.
I have wondered what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and whether it really matters at all.
I have beat myself up a thousand times in my head for being weak and I have congratulated myself for being strong.
Because when the cobwebs cling to the dusty pages of this tale, the hardships will fall away. All I will know is that I have placed myself in a state most fragile, so that I might see the world at its most beautiful, and its people at their most kind. All I will know is that I have played an irreplaceable part in a great adventure, and that I have truly lived.”
I hope it comes across is that this run was one of the most incredible decisions I ever made. Until next time adventure army – Thank you again for all the support. What a ride.
McNuff out xx