Tongariro Alpine Crossing – National Park New Zealand (Feb 2016)
Fear and doubt.
Two feelings I have lived with ever since I was little.
Fear started in first grade. Getting on the school bus every day, I cried and my sister had the pleasure of walking me to class EVERY MORNING. Fun, right? Best sister award goes to her. I will proudly say I stopped crying eventually. Champ.
Doubt came along when I graduated college and had no clue what I was doing with my life. I moved to Pittsburgh at 21 by myself and found myself feeling that I was so sheltered before and never fully figuring out myself or life. I doubted everything. I doubted myself the most.
All eye openers. But nothing can compare to traveling by yourself, to a foreign country, almost 10,000 miles away from home, with no actual travel skills, or head on my shoulders.
After 7 months in Australia, I flew to New Zealand in January to stay for a total of two weeks.
Arrived to windy and cold Wellington where my fav parts are that they have free wifi in the CBD and good coffee. A bit boring but good, relaxing time.
After a chill time in Welly, I took the awesome scenic bus ride to National Park. Excuse my language but it was fucking beaut the whole way. Who needs an iPhone or iPad when you have that glorious view to get lost in.
After a long day of traveling I finally arrived to the middle of nowhere. I made the last minute decision of hiking the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Total of 19.4 kms of volcanic terrain. Next to where they filmed LOTR, Mount Doom. All I had was some shit yoga pants, shit sneakers, and a shit raincoat that was more just a jacket that flopped in the wind while I wore it. I also had no fitness in the past couple of days while sipping cups of coffee in Welly. So naturally, I thought I was a-okay to go hike the next day.
That night I met a man in my hostel from Luxembourg. He was preparing to go hiking for 3 days in a tent by himself so he basically knew his shit and he knew that I didn’t know mine. He was kind enough to offer me some of his pasta he had made earlier knowing I would very well need those carbs for the upcoming hike next morning. We chatted over a big pot of pasta, stars above us, and backpacker’s laughter around us.
Day of the hike came and I packed up my backpack with the essentials. Well, the essentials I thought at least were water, banana, protein bars, two sandwiches, camera, and inhaler. Wait, no, I forgot the inhaler like always. Duly noted, I now know that I should pack way differently. We left the hostel by bus around 7am and arrived at 7:30am. The bus driver gave us a motivational speech about how many people have died in the past couple months and how it’s really hard and to use the toilets whenever there is one, even when you don’t need to piss. Feeling inspired I hopped off the bus and started on my merrily way. I felt a bit bummed not having a partner but thought, hey I’ll get to really think about life and will enjoy the walk.
Passing the 1km mark felt like 5 hours had already passed…it didn’t.
The weather was foggy and a bit chilly but I quickly worked up a sweat after walking up the stairs of hell. Seriously…there were a lot of stairs up the mountain. Stopped at the first site of toilets before the tough stuff. So I took off my yoga pants since I had yoga shorts underneath. I thought I’d get overheated walking up the volcano. NOPE. It was bloody freezing instantly. My nose was running, my legs were stinging and red, and I was panting like a mutha’. I toughed it out till I got to the first resting peak and quickly slapped my pants back on. Back to hiking I realised how out of shape I truly became.
Finally reaching the second resting peak I asked a stranger for some of their sunscreen. The second peak was so close to the sun I felt I could touch it. Hours went by. My feet became so tense and my knees ached. The third peak was visible and I felt a surge of energy to get it over with. This was what I thought would be the hard part of the hike. I would later be wrong. It got to the point where I had to crawl up the rocks and hold on to the provided chains that were drilled into the rocks of the volcano. It was so windy that I thought I could easily blow away at any minute. Feeling safe in a clearly unsafe area, I decided to take a quick sandwich break midway when I found a flat rock. The amount of people who walked by me saying “man, you picked an interesting place for a sandwich break” was unreal. Yes, I get it. I’m weird.
Finally I made it to the top of the volcano. It looked like another world up there. Almost like Mars. Groups of people sat around eating their lunches, barely speaking to each other at what I assumed was a mix of pure exhaustion and awe. I sucked down some water and went on my way. Too eager to get it all over with. Too exhausted to want to sit and chat. Remember when I said before that I thought that was the hard part of the hike? Well the rest of the hike was the absolute hardest. Going down the peak of the volcano is pure ash. So one wrong move and you slip right onto your bum. It’s absolutely exhausting on your knees and ankles. But the view of the sulphuric pools gleaming in the horizon make it so so so worth it. I took about 1,000 pictures and continued on my way again. Wondering how much longer the hike would take.
This is when I didn’t give a lick about chatting with anyone. I was so cranky from already being sore that I couldn’t even put a fake smile on my face. It was a whole new level of exhaustion that I can say I’ve never experienced.
After hiking the actual volcanic terrain, it goes into this weird meadow where you can see the zigzag of trail ahead of you. THIS IS THE WORST PART. Because you legit can’t tell when you will be at the end. It is the worst feeling. I trudged along. Hating how I was feeling. Cursing the idea of this 19km hike. Doubting I could go on. Fearing I would take a tumble and hurt myself. Singing and mumbling profanities. I sounded like a drunken sailor.
This went on for hours.
And then…I heard cheers. Cheers of backpackers ahead of me. Screaming and high fiving. Fellow hikers who felt the exact same way I did. To see the carpark creep between the trees ahead of me was an unreal feeling that I will never forget. I did it. I hiked 19.4 kms in regular sneakers, by myself, for 7 1/2 hours. I was so ecstatic that when I entered the carpark I blurted out “thank fuck!”
Our bus wasn’t to come until 4pm. It was 3:00. So a nap was in order. I zoned out instantly. Waking every now and then to hear more cheers. The bus came and I plopped in the seat stinking of all sorts of smells. And of course who sits next to me? A gorgeous blonde Canadian guy. Awkward chatting and hoping he couldn’t smell me the most out of the bus.
I made it back to the hostel and collapsed on my bed, bitching to Luxembourg guy on how awful it was but so insanely worth it.
And it was. I have no fear and doubt. Doing that hike tested myself and what I am capable of achieving. It produced more goals on my bucket list and a better thought process on how to go about completing them. I felt like I could conquer the world after that day.
My advice to anyone who thinks they can’t do something outside their comfort zone because of fear or doubt, do it. You’ll bitch and moan the whole time but you’ll feel so alive after.