Wild is a fairly popular book these days. Cheryl Strayed tells her personal story of coming to terms with a tragedy by taking herself on an adventure where the goal was to be alone and push herself to grow and find herself. I was drawn to read it because I was curious to learn about her adventure, as I have a similar story.
My trek started in January 2008. I was living in NYC. I had a great job and was just recently promoted. I had a core group of friends that I was always with. But I was newly single and making lifestyle choices that weren’t the best for me. The year before I had broken it off with my boyfriend of four and a half years, and when I ended that relationship I also ended our future, my future, which left me feeling stuck. We had a five year plan that involved getting married, moving to San Francisco, and starting a family. It was a good plan, a plan I believed in. And while I knew we had grown apart and away from that dream, I didn’t realize how attached to that plan I had become, and how lost I was without it. I initially enjoyed my new found freedom; but slowly I realized I wasn’t sure where I was headed or what I wanted to do when I got there. I tried to continue to be the confident, ambitious and outgoing person I was, but inside I wasn’t taking care of myself and was consistently burning the candles at both ends trying to keep up appearances.
On a cold winter’s day in January, I decided I had enough of NYC and I was moving or traveling or some combination of both. The end goal was a change. I needed to figure myself out without thinking of the needs and expectations of anyone else around me. What did I really, truly want? What did I value? I honestly wasn’t sure anymore. Friends of mine at the time were participating in programs that were giving back to others, such as Teach for America, and I thought a program like that, where I would have the opportunity to give back and create something, would be the perfect way to reset. I applied and was accepted to Habitat for Humanity in New Zealand. Since I was going so far anyway, I decided to add on a 3 week tour, making my trip 5 weeks.
Like Cheryl describes about her trip in Wild, I spent time at various sports and camping stores getting everything I needed, as I was grossly unprepared for my travels. I had no backpack, no hiking shoes, no warm socks, no first aid kit. But, I had good friends and kind sales associates to get me ready to go. I arrived safely in Auckland and joined up with the tour group the next day. I remember my first day in Auckland so clearly – landing in the airport, taking public transportation to the hostel, deciding to walk to the top of a hill within the city center to take my first selfie of the trip (below, along with some of my favorite panoramas of the trip).
With the tour group, we traveled through both the north and south island. We went on hikes, took a helicopter ride up a mountain in order to ice climb, went sky diving, went white water rafting – basically any and all crazy outdoor adventure activity you could think of, we did it. I spent moments of each day writing in my journal or walking alone to cry. On the outside, I was the fun girl on an adventure, but on the inside I felt even more lost and scared than I had back in NYC. But strangely, it also started to feel good. I felt myself starting to have thoughts that I had quickly dismissed before as they weren’t part of my five year plan. I was listening to my intuition, well, sometimes I was fighting it, but mainly I was seeking to understand my values and my true desires.
Two weeks into the trip, in the middle of all of this thinking, I knew that five weeks wasn’t going to be long enough to reset. Sometimes you do need physical distance to think clearly, and I knew I wasn’t ready to start answering the questions that I had left behind, like what I wanted to do for a job, the state I wanted to live in or the type of relationship I wanted to be in. I needed more time. So, I called my mom and told her I wasn’t coming home. I was going to figure out a way to stay for a few additional months after Habitat doing something. I didn’t have all the details yet, but I knew I had to stay. My mom, thankfully and to this day I am still not sure how, was nothing but supportive. As luck would have it I met a couple on site at Habitat who owned an avocado orchard in Kaitaia and needed help over the summer. It was a perfect match.
I spent the summer getting back in touch with myself. I read books I had been meaning to read, trained for a marathon, and worked tirelessly on my photo collages. I kept up with a journal and tried to be as honest as possible with how I was doing. I was thinking about a future only in terms of my dreams. It was scary but liberating; exhausting but so rewarding. My days on the farm are some of my favorite to date. It was so peaceful, and the work on the farm, with the land and the animals, was so rewarding. When I finally went home after almost four months in New Zealand, I felt more like myself than I ever had. My work wasn’t finished, but I felt more settled on the path that I was walking.
Next to Wild in the image at the beginning of the post is one of my favorite mementos from that adventure. It is a toki blade, which represents strength. In traditional Maori society the toki was used as a tool to either cut down trees or carve out waka (traditional Maori canoe), among other things. My toki hangs next to my desk at home, a constant reminder of my travels, my growth, my strength.
I look back on my time in New Zealand with such joy, though it does bring back hard memories too. Some of the habits I started there I still do now. I enjoy writing in a journal. I need and crave time alone. I love the quiet. I love being outside. I loved reading Wild because it was a book about someone’s else experience of taking a break to focus on yourself. And spending time on yourself is never wasted time.
Anyone else read it, or take a similar adventure? Would love to hear about it!
P.S. Just read a great article about why women need to travel alone at some point in their life- check it out!