The 52 Club. 2619-2711km

Randomtrailtales 2619 – 2711km: ’Don’t think so much Van Go!’ It’s something I hear at some point on any trails I do. ‘Just chill and enjoy the moment, don’t overthink and analyze the thought to death’. It’s the nature of the beast I guess. I love looking at a question from multiple angles, it takes a hold of me like an obsession that I can’t shake. A question that has been twisting my mind for a while now is ‘what do all these trails have in common’ and ‘what makes them unique’. What strikes me most is that although each trail is claimed by a different religion with their enlightened one (God, Buddha, Universe, Nature, Sport), they all have a similar goal (the Way, enlightenment, reflection, alone time, healing) and follow very similar phases which you can transition through (physical journey, mental journey and spiritual journey). For each individual the experience is totally different, there is no true or right way and no religion can claim the absolute truth either, but this added layer of ritual and myth can give people a lot of support as they transition through the different phases of the journey. The Te Araroa is only 7 years old with just a few of its own rituals and codes, whereas the 88 Temples Trail in Japan has just celebrated it’s 1200 year anniversary with countless rituals, prayers and monks protecting its history. With such a diverse International crowd coming to hike the Te Araroa you can see a wide mashup of influences shaping this young Trail culture. From the USA come values like ‘leave no trace’ and ‘Trail names’, from Europe come the serious ‘safety first’ attitude from the Alps, and of course the local New Zealand no none sense attitude, their love for the back country, the spartan hut life and fondness of hunting and fishing. The Te Araroa was summed up really well by Jasper and Bibi who hiked the TA in 2016: ‘The North Island is a cultural experience and the South Island the Nature is intense and overwhelming.’ I have found this to be very true with the many touching moments when we were welcomed into people’s homes up North and the raw empty wilderness down South. I have also found that the ‘physical, mental and spiritual phases’ to be true on the TA but due to the fact that it was so much more technical than any previous Trail I found there was less space to day-dream and philosophize inwardly as I had to focus on the reality of my feet each step of the way. It’s a tough trail, but one that practically every healthy person can undertake and have seen people from 18 to 70 years old doing the entire Trail. Perhaps the one thing that most characterizes the TA is that you have to constantly adapt, and fast. As soon as you settle into one rhythm, the Trail demands you switch to another as flat roads transition into steep mud hills, and icy mountain ridge walks transition into wet riverbed boulder fields. Nothing is what it seems, there is no comfort zone, relax one minute and the TA will whip your *ss immediately. The rhythm is that there is no rhythm. Take nothing for granted, life changes when you least expect it and is in continuous transformation. (Perhaps the oldest lesson in the book, but sometimes the simplest things can take 45 years to be seen and understood). This is the lesson I get to take home………………….. ………………..Ever since turning 40 I have been dreading the ‘52 Club’. I began to notice that some in the generation above me in my industry were turning a little sour. Disillusioned by the repetition of their work and looked to make a switch into the ‘internet’ side of the business, only to find it was a lot of hard hours for half the money and perhaps 15 years too late. The ‘52 Club’ is of course merely a fictional mirage in my imagination, it’s members unaware of their membership. There was one commonality that struck me, namely that they seamed lost and had become cynical and longed for the good old days. The danger comes when you find yourself in ‘groundhog day’, unable to enjoy your daily work but caught in a golden cage of a good income, reputation and a comfortable lifestyle. Some settle, wait it out and count down the days to their pension. It is a situation I wish to avoid and have found it to be a very good motivator to try and find new business models and attempt to become debt free by then, however hard this is going to be to accomplish. These are very predictable and inevitable questions that we each may face sooner or later but hope the lifestyle I’ve grown accustomed to won’t dictate and hijack my own life, as you only get one ride. I think we all find it very inspiring when close friends decide to make big career shifts at the top of their career, like Rina switching from marketing to become and an undertaker and Maarten switching his corporate bank job to become a teacher. Or seeing young families deciding to immigrate to new countries embarking on a new adventure with their children. There are not many out there like my good friend Lode who does 50 push-ups every morning to keep in shape as he refuses to turn into one of those grumpy old men in the business with their fat bellies complaining about how everything has changed. To challenge myself I often joke that I wouldn’t hire myself at the age of 52 and began looking for possible alternative models to pay the bills and feel purpose when that time comes. Now however, I am still young and love my work very much and still have seven+ years before the big switch. The combination of work and long distant hikes has formed a good transition for me now. I have many ideas as to what I could do in future chapters but it is too soon to make any conclusions or decisions. Now I enjoy now…….. ………. ……… ………Leaving the sophisticated tourist town Wanaka behind us we headed into the high mountains for the last time in what should have been a 4 day section, but as syclone ‘Gita’ was heading our way and Christchurch declaring as state of emergency we decided to power on and did 40km a day in some of the roughest terrain we’ve encountered. Another reason to keep the pace high was because it started snowing on us on Rose Saddle and the 10 km of icy river Trail were so cold that my feet hurt so much I channeled the pain into speed and found it to be the best motivation to get this section behind us. The only sugar on the cake was our reunion with ‘Popcorn’ our Swedish friend in Rose Hut and the jagged snow capped mountain views around us. We left the mountains behind us to walk into Queenstown, the DisneyWorld for 22 year olds, bungee jumping, skydiving, rafting and mountain biking and partying every night of the week. They have turned ‘adventure’ into a huge multimillion industry here. Tomorrow I head out for the final two weeks and I am really looking forward to it……. ……….. ………… ………… ………….

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