Lessons from crossing a country on foot

On the 3rd of March 2017 I arrived in Bluff at the very bottom of the South Island after running and hiking across New Zealand. 3000km on foot and self-supported. This unforgettable journey along the Te Araroa trail took me 99 days. 99 days during which I lived completely in sync with nature, carried everything I needed on my back, learned to navigate through mountains, met the most amazing people and smelt the worst I have ever smelt (but that really didn’t matter at the time).

I always knew that running and hiking across New Zealand was going to be a physical challenge. But I never expected this experience to teach me so much about life. Here are my top 5 lessons acquired on the trail.

Lesson 1: Feel the fear and do it anyway

So many of us have great aspirations and dreams that never materialise because of fear. Fear of breaking out of a comfortable routine. Fear of getting judged for attempting something “unconventional”. Fear of failing.

These fears nearly stopped me from getting to the start of my hiking across New Zealand adventure. I was worried that I would not find a job when coming back from my trip, I was worried that my friends and family would judge me for leaving my husband less than half a year after getting married to go and run across two islands on the other side of the world, I was worried that my colleagues would think I couldn’t take the pressure at work and already needed a career break after having worked for only 4 years and I was worried about other people’s reactions if I attempted this run but failed to reach Bluff.

But I decided to go for it anyway. And once I had made up my mind, once my decision became “official” I was so focused on the trip preparations that I did not have time to be scared or worried anymore.

So don’t let your fears kill your dreams. Have the courage to leave your comfort zone and remember: “The way to learn courage is to be afraid of something and then do it anyway”.

Lesson 2: Take it one step at the time

Crossing an entire country on foot can seem like a daunting task. But throughout my journey across the North and South Islands I was never really thinking about the end goal. I was just taking it one day at the time or sometimes even an hour at the time.

My favourite mantra was “relentless forward progress”. I kept repeating this phrase to myself when I found myself struggling through muddy trails at no more than 2km/hour or when I was battling through torrential rain or when pains in my knee were slowing my pace. As long as I was making progress (ideally in the right direction 🙂 ) I was happy.

So whatever you are trying to achieve don’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the end goal. Just focus on the next step. And before you know it you will reach your objective.

Lesson 3: Persevere

We live in such a fast-paced world we are used to get what we want when we want it. But crossing a country on foot taught me that you have to be patient and persevere to achieve a big goal. Down moments, physical and emotional struggles are inevitable.

I remember nearly giving up when reaching Wellington after having struggled with a dodgy knee for days. And there was also that time in the Tararua ranges when I sat in the mud too tired to get up and frustrated about my slow progress. On both occasions, after letting off some steam (in the form of a few angry paragraphs in my journal or simply by shouting at trees or cows) I regained perspective and decided that reaching my end goal was worth a few frustrations and pains.

As Lance Armstrong puts it “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”

Lesson 4: Collect moments not things

When you carry everything you need to survive on your back for 4 months it forces you to only pack things you really need. Every item is carefully selected and has its very specific purpose.

I found it so freeing to live without any unnecessary “stuff”. It made me realise that experiencing nature’s beauty, being outside in the wilderness and meeting new people bring so much more happiness than material things. 

Lesson 5: Seek moments of solitude

In today’s society there seems to be an expectation to be seen with big groups of people. The more people you are surrounded by the more popular, successful and happy you must be, surely. Solitude is often seen as failure, something to be ashamed of, something a lot of people are even scared of.

But during my time on the trail I have found that I really enjoyed moments of solitude, especially in the wilderness. It is during these moments that I learned about my true strengths and weaknesses. And it is during those solitary times that I learned to really enjoy the present moment.

I am not saying that being alone all the time is the answer to all problems but based on my experience I do think that it’s healthy for anyone to seek moments of solitude every once in a while.

Adventure Blog

I will stop talking now and leave you with one last thought:

Dream big. Make a plan. Make it happen.

10 thoughts

  1. Lovely. I enjoy your postings Jo even tho running anywhere has always been the last thing on my mind. #5 is dead right!

    1. Thank you Hilary! Next time I see you, I will take you on a run, I’m sure you will love it 🙂

    1. Hi Dion! That’s great to hear! If there is anything I can help you with in terms of preparation for your trip just give me a shout.

    1. Thank you for your message Leeanne. If there are any topics that you would like me to cover in future posts, just let me know! Yes I did the TA solo (apart for 2 and a half weeks over christmas and NY during which my husband joined me).

  2. Thank you so much for this post, this is exactly what I need. I want to hike Te Araroa in October, but I am just worried about everything right now! To get a new job, to leave this well paid job with lot’s of holidays and a permanent contract (I must be out of my mind!) I have worked here for 4 years and already left two times for a 3 month journey. But a thru-hike is high on my list and I really want to do this now, later might never come.

    1. I felt exactly like that this time last year! But I will never regret my decision of leaving my job to go and follow this dream. As long as you are motivated, passionate and hard working you will find another job when you get back! Most employers really value this type of experience. And if they dont then you probably don’t want to work for them anyway 🙂 If there is anything I can help you with for your TA preparation / if you are looking for any advice, dont hesitate to send me an email!

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