How to choose your adventure

Where I get lost in the world of ultralight backpacking.

When I got back from hiking across Switzerland, my first thought was “What next?”. Well, no, that’s a lie, my first thought was “I wonder if the pizza man will deliver to my window so I don’t have to get out of bed?” But after appreciating having water on tap and a fridge, my thoughts turned to the next adventure.

I booked a ticket to the Women’s adventure expo in Bristol, a day of talks from all sorts of women who have run around the UK, climbed Everest or rowed across oceans. It was a great day of inspiration, where telling others of your adventure plans was met with “Ooh, have you thought about doing this…?” rather than “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” that can be common from well-meaning but concerned friends and family. The speakers were great, but I loved that whenever I spoke to the person sat next to me in the audience, they had just done some wicked adventure, or were planning their first and couldn’t contain their excitement.

WAEXPO: Oh you climbed Everest too?

I knew I wanted to do a longer hiking trip – the freedom and simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other was too attractive. To be able to look back at the horizon and say “I walked from there”. My Swiss adventure hadn’t exactly been cheap (yes, I know, it was Switzerland), mainly due to staying in guest houses each night. If I wanted to travel for longer without becoming bankrupt, I needed a cheaper way. The most obvious, was camping. But, this means adding a substantial amount of weight to my backpack. I’d found my non-camping backpack to be on the heavy side as it was, so was dubious about adding lots more weight. I remember thinking whilst hiking that I would gladly spend more money for lighter gear. I started looking at lightweight tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats, and realised just quite how much one could spend on lightweight gear (hint: it’s a lot). So I’d have to strike a balance: lightweight enough to not make walking miserable, but not so expensive I’d have to sell my kidneys.

I put off falling down that rabbit hole for a while, and focused on where I wanted to walk. Again, too many choices! I could go anywhere. I was planning on taking about 3 months, so could cover some decent ground. Maybe one of the great long distance trails in the US? The Pacific Crest Trail? Pretty crowded. Appalachian Trail? Wet corridor with few views (I joke). I devoured e-book journals of hikers, trying to find the right trail. Continue where I left off in Switzerland and follow the GR5 to the Mediterranean? Get lost in the Baltics? Walk around the coast?

I can’t remember where, but I stumbled across the Te Araroa, a relatively young long distance trail extending from the top of the North Island of New Zealand down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. The whole trail would take 4-6 months, but if I did just one island I’d have time. The trail partnership are still trying to negotiate land access in some places in the north island so there is a fair bit of road walking, and lots of swamp trails, frequent towns, and few mountains. The South Island has a lot smaller population – the trail is more remote and can be away from towns for 9 days at a time, and there are lots of mountains. Plus, New Zealand has no fauna that will actively try and kill me. Sold.

The TA across the South Island:

The best time for starting hiking the South Island tends to be January, which gives me over a year to plan and acquire the necessary kit, funds and skills for the trip – like how to cross rivers without drowning. I sense the need for a spreadsheet…

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