Honestly, for the vast majority of my life, I was never a person who enjoyed long distance activities. I always lived at a fast pace; whether it was through running (both physically, and metaphorically- like running away from responsibilities and having to eat fruit) or rapidly stress-drinking as much vodka as possible before the taxi would arrive, fast was better for me. It was how I thought I functioned well, and how I performed most comfortably. It was only when I made the conscious (and completely necessary) choice to slow down and force this quick habit into the passenger seat, that I began to understand the beauty of a slow approach to life.
I was inspired to start a long distance hike last year when I was living in the North Island of New Zealand. There were a lot of local hikes that branched out from my village, and walking them on my days off gave me a taste for the simple pleasure that walking through nature could ignite. When I returned to Perth, I was at a critical point of transition in my life. A lot of things had ended, and I had a strong feeling that I needed to start this new chapter off right, by letting go of the old, and being completely present in embracing the new. I had just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed (10/10 recommend), and began to do some research about what hiking tracks were around my home. Through my research I quickly came across the Bibbulmun Track, a long distance trail that stretched from the Perth hills, down to the beautiful southern town of Albany. The track is just over 1000 kilometres (around 620 miles) long in total.
There were many reasons why the critical part of my mind was telling me not to go out there, and many of those reasons were totally valid. I had left my orthotics behind in New Zealand (genius move), so my hiking boots were fitting all wrong. I honestly had little to no money upon my return home, so my scramble to accumulate camping gear was based on a balance of necessity and thrift. Basically everything I got was from Kmart, so although the quality was not super high, I figured it would be enough to see me survive. I searched marketplace websites and managed to get myself a decent pack, which was a wonderful bonus. I sat at home with a set of scales and a stack of zip lock bags and rationed out my food with the precise nature of a drug dealer, as my mother so hilariously pointed out. She was quietly worried about me going out into the bush on my own, I was quietly worried that I didn’t pack enough biscuits.
In the Spring of 2017 I was as ready as I could be, and I set out to hike as much of the first segment of the track as I could manage. The first day was all about the knees. The steep gravel steps that led me into and out of Piesse Brook and through the Kalamunda bush immediately made me question whether I could in fact live the life of a mountain goat for the next 5-7 days. I really thought that the first day would be the hardest. But it turned out, day 3 was the day in which I would not only get rained on, develop a set of feet that were approximately 70% blisters (I really couldn’t even consider them to be feet anymore), and miss a turn to go painstakingly far in the wrong direction, but it was this day, within all of that chaos, that I also found my peace.
The funny thing about hiking in solitude is that your brain will realise that it has no one to outwardly complain to, so it will complain to you. Constantly. The choice comes when you exhaust all of the constant chatter in your head and choose to focus on the present. When you really feel the way your body moves when you climb down into a valley. How even through the ever present aching of your muscles, your legs continue to move and carry you forward. How much you can love a tree stump that sits at the perfect height to rest your pack on. How grateful you can be to wake at sunrise to the sound of Kookaburra’s, and the dancing of wrens around your tent. How the past, and even the future, really mean nothing in these moments in which you are truly present.
One of my main practical points here is not to get too get hung up on the details. You should always consider safety and how to be best prepared for any adventure, but you don’t need to wait, and save, and spend hundreds of dollars on the finest supplies possible to make a journey work. Honestly, this entire journey of healing and appreciation is going to happen inside of you. The trail is just the catalyst for that adventure.
The beauty of being out on a track is that there is basically no other option than to move forward. Even when everything else in your life feels impossible, and there are a mountain of things that you feel a total lack of control over, you can control this. You can move one foot in front of the other and carry all that you need to physically survive on your back. The emotional baggage is the only weight you can put down out there, and trust me, the weight of your pack is nothing compared to that. Once you make the choice to stop fighting things for what they are and start accepting that as long as you do your best, you cannot have regret or anger, you will start to appreciate all of the amazing ways in which you survive and thrive. You can discover the simplest ways to silence those negative thoughts and discover presence. You can stop to marvel at the way the sunlight filters down through the trees, let your eyes absorb the beauty, and consider what a beautiful and intricate miracle a wildflower is.
For me, much of the track provided a space of quiet, healing solitude. It was a place where I had hours and hours stretched before me to get all of those negative thoughts and feelings out, and to rediscover the strength that I have always had, but allowed to be forgotten.
I think that there are so many things we can learn about ourselves if we make the time to reflect. We spend so much time at work, watching Netflix and staring at our phones that it blocks out vast majorities of our time that are crucial for reflective thought. I really encourage anyone reading this to try and make some more time for you. Time without distraction and screens. Time outside, at the beach, in the bush, on a mountain, or even in your back yard. If meditation isn’t your thing (I still struggle with that old chestnut), then allow your hands to be busy on a task and listen to your thoughts flow. Just watch them chatter on about anything and everything as they so often do, and know that this dialogue isn’t you. You are the observer behind that, and you can choose whether what that voice is saying will carry any power or weight, or whether it is time to simply let it go.
So, I implore you to GO! Get outside and discover all of the magical things that are laying dormant within your head and heart, just waiting for enough space and silence to make their beautiful debut. I believe you can do it.