I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned on the Te Araroa Trail. I hesitated writing this post, fearing I wouldn’t even do justice to the lessons learned on the trail. But here I am trying to put it into words! Before I began the trail, I knew I would grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine. Let me just tell you, I didn’t even know what was coming! Here I am now— having walked the entire length of New Zealand, 140 days later, and I feel like a completely different person. I am still me, Anna Wade Bohnett, but I’m a better version of myself. I have been molded and my values have been strengthened. I knew who I was before the trail, but even more so now, it is engrained deep within me. I grew in ways I didn’t even know were possible. Here is just a little glimpse into my heart as I try to portray the ways I grew from this adventure. And no, they aren't in any particular order!
25 Life Lessons Learned from the Te Araroa Trail
1. The Lord is my strength, my protector, my guide. Every day I had to rely on the Lord to get me through! Every single day. I had no idea where we would be sleeping at night and no idea how my body would make it through each day. I was the furthest I could be from my comfort zone and in more pain than I knew was possible. I prayed this prayer countless times- "Lord, please carry my feet. Let your angels lift my legs. Give me the strength I need to get me through this day." I literally could not have done it on my own, but the Lord was faithful. Being in constant reliance on Him changed me!
2. Less is More. I have never in my life had such a small amount of possessions. Literally everything I needed was on my back for 5 months. It was truly freeing and has changed my perspective! Coming back to life with more things has made me realize that more stuff=more stress. Spending less time, energy, and money on things during this journey has made me focus more on what really matters. Living simply has brought immeasurable joy and peace to my life! It's the best kind of living.
3. Hospitality, hospitality, hospitality! I can't even explain to you how much selfless, generous, over the top hospitality was shown to us on the trail. People unexpectedly gave us a spot to lay our heads (either in our tents or in a bed), a place to shower and do laundry, food, and water after barely meeting us. We were complete strangers to them and after about a minute of conversation we were invited into their homes and loved by their families. This was not planned or given with an expectation of anything in return, just from the kindness of their hearts. I have been changed by this sacrificial love and want nothing more than to pay it forward!
4. Community living is fulfilling living. We were made to be fully known and fully loved by others. Doing life day in and day out with your community is the best. In our case, we found community with our fellow hikers. We saw the best and the worst of each other. There were no masks, no faking, no hiding- only being exactly who we truly are to our core. We encouraged each other and loved each other in the hard times. We celebrated and shared in each other's joy in the good times. I am committed to always living transparently in community.
5. Don't mistake being comfortable for being happy. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life than I have on this journey. Hiking in the blistering heat, pouring rain, or freezing snow will really test your limits. Going a week without showering and wearing dirty clothes soaked in sweat will make you question yourself. Pushing through searing pain will take you to your breaking point. Nevertheless, through all of the hardships, when I come out on the other side I have never been so happy. Living a comfortable life is overrated!
6. If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. I feel like it's human nature to gravitate towards the easier option. The thing is staying safe, being complacent, and taking the easy way out never changed anyone. Facing difficulties head on, not backing down from a challenge, and never giving up- now that will make you a better person. I have learned very literally that all of the mountains in life are worth it to climb and overcome. I have grown, been molded, and improved through the process and I wouldn't change a single challenge on the trail!
7. Working towards a goal every day is healthy. Whether it was the big goal of completing the Te Araroa or the small goal of reaching camp that night, we always had a goal to accomplish for the day. I've known my bigger purpose in life, but making small goals for myself daily will ultimately mold me into the best version of myself. Progress, not perfection. One step at a time and not trying to rush the process. Learning from mistakes and striving to be better. This is how I want to live and learn.
8. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to. The trail brought me more courage and confidence to chase after my dreams and goals. I've learned to never think I can't do something, because as the Henry Ford quote says, "Whether you think you can or you can't- you're right." I have accomplished a goal far greater than myself, with the Lord's guiding hand. In every aspect of my life I will follow His direction even if I'm scared or doubting, knowing He is always with me. I will not shy away from being the best I can be in every aspect of my life, but choose courage instead of living life driven by fear.
9. Together, forever. I could never imagine doing the trail without Jeremy. Teamwork for sure makes the dream work. After some difficulties early on, we learned we needed to be in the thru-hike together. If one of us was having a bad day, the other was walking through it with them. If one of us was feeling great, the other was celebrating with them. Understanding each other (through all of the ups and downs of the trail) and choosing to love each other through it all was probably the greatest lesson we learned on the trail. From hugging each other in the thick of the forest to picking each other up when we fell in the river- we were always there. Love was shown time and time again in the best and worst of days. I wouldn't have it any other way!
10. Kindness goes a long way. The countless amount of times we were shown kindness on the trail gave us motivation to keep going. Stranger after stranger gave us encouragement and support in the times we needed it most. I have learned to take time out of my day to help others in the simplest of ways. Helping carry boxes to the post office or offering someone a ride down the street can turn someone's day around. Acts of kindness are easily forgotten, but I'm ready to be intentional every day to help others in the simple ways.
11. A busy pace of life may not be the best way of life. Before the trail, my schedule was always jammed packed. Every minute of the day I had somewhere to be or something to do. Downtime was unheard of, saying "no" was a rarity, but I chose to live that way. Being a people person and a people pleaser was the driving force of staying busy. I've found with the slow pace of life on the trail, it's better to SOAK in alone time or time spent with others- instead of rushing from one thing to the next. A slower pace of life means I'm making sure to take time for myself, which means I'm better equipped to love others. The constant "go" means I'm not giving 100% in everything I do and learning to slow down has helped me do just that.
12. Silence is a beautiful thing. I've found in our generation, silence seems to be our biggest fear. We are constantly making "noise" on our phones, social media, or watching TV. The ability to sit still and be silent has been forgotten, because we are afraid of what we will hear in the silence. On the trail, silence was so constant at times my ears were ringing and I've found they were some of my favorite moments. Silence gave me time for self-reflection and time to work through things I had been pushing away. It became a time of growth, when before I would run from the silence. It became a time I could listen for the Lord and hear what He wanted to tell me. Silence is a good thing.
13. Gratefulness is key. I have never been more grateful in my entire life then I was on the trail. Grateful for the little things like a shower, a hot meal, and clean clothes. My sense of entitlement has been thrown out the window, after being stripped down to the bare necessities of life. Going back to the basic needs of food, water, and shelter makes you grateful for every little thing in between. There is always something to be grateful for even in the hard times and I've found being grateful, regardless of circumstances, is a rewarding and joyful way of living.
14. I am beautiful exactly the way I am. Living on the trail, I went weeks without looking in a mirror. I haven't worn makeup in five months. It got to the point where I almost forgot what I looked like and it was the most freeing feeling. Living in a society that puts so much pressure and expectations on appearances can really do some harm to your self-confidence. Living in the woods, you don't put so much time and energy into your outward appearance, which makes you focus more on your inward self. You realize you're enough exactly the way you are. You realize you don't need makeup to hide your flaws. You are perfect just the way you are!
15. I want to soak in every minute of every day. In normal life, I would constantly be looking at the clock, thinking about my next thing to do and wishing the minutes away. On the trail, every single minute counts. Every minute you are one step closer to your goal. You are not wishing the time away, but you are present in every moment. You are not living in the past or looking towards the future, you are exactly where you need to be. I want to live life like that- present in each precious moment.
16. Comparison is the quickest joy-stealer. Comparison is so unhealthy and if you play this game on the trail, you can get down on yourself real quick. Everyone goes at a different pace. Everyone does a different amount of miles. Everyone was made differently. The fact that you are out on the trail, whether you're a "professional thru-hiker" or the biggest newbie, you are doing GREAT! To be out there challenging yourself, pushing yourself to new limits, working through fears, accomplishing a goal is enough. Don't compare in life!
17. Never judge a book by its cover. We walked into towns, restaurants, and shops many times looking and smelling like hikers. We probably looked like the scum of the earth, but most people accepted us anyways. The thing is we all have a story! If you would just stop and ask, you would find out we are thru-hiking the entire country. If I would just take the time and ask a homeless person, I might find out their story. None of us need judgement, only love.
18. The earth is a gift to us. After straight up living in nature as my home for five months, I have a newfound respect for the earth. We always participated in "leave no trace" by taking our trash with us, but I've found my responsibility has gone to new levels. I am now much more conscious about the waste I contribute in the world and the amount of energy and water I use. The earth is a beautiful creation and I want to do my part in keeping it that way! Cheers to environmentally-friendly living!
19. Communication is essential. We all make mistakes. We all do things without thinking. I've found whether it was with friends or Jeremy, communicating is very healthy. Being open and honest about your feelings on the trail was important. Being apologetic and forgiving on the trail was important. Communication is a game changer when it comes to relationships, in real life or on the trail. It's always worth it!
20. Respect. Respect everyone no matter how different they are from you. I have learned and grown in appreciation about other cultures on the trail, specifically for indigenous people. The Maori people of New Zealand are now highly regarded by most and their culture and language is even taught in schools. I want to make sure people who are in the minority are always heard and respected. I want to be an advocate for the weak. I never want anyone to be discriminated against for their gender, culture, ethnicity, or race.
21. Stay active. Stay healthy. The amount of time and energy it takes to stay active and take care of yourself physically is worth it. Exercising all day every day isn't exactly possible, but making it a priority in your daily life is important. I've found even if you're spending more money on healthy choices, it's a good investment in the long run. Taking care of yourself physically helps you immensely mentally and emotionally. I'm determined to always take care of my body!
22. Be the best you can be! The trail pushed me further than I knew possible. It inspired me to reach new heights in every aspect of my life. I have a deeper passion to be the best speech pathologist I can and I will do whatever it takes to get there. I am committed to being the best wife I can possibly be to Jeremy for the rest of our lives. I am better equipped to love others in a selfless, audacious, undaunted type of way. You always want to be the best version of yourself, but sometimes fear gets in the way. The trail has taught me to overcome fear and never let it stop me from being the best me.
23. Life is fullest with ADVENTURE! On the trail, every single day was an adventure. You never knew what the day had in store for you or even what was around the next corner. Expectations, routine, and control were wiped away and let me tell you my heart was the fullest it has ever been. I believe we were made for adventure and it is engrained deep within us. Part of adventure is embracing the ups and downs and releasing control, knowing it all works out in the end. I want to find adventure in every day life for as long as I live! Adventure is calling!
24. Trust the Lord and your husband. I can be stubborn. I can want to do things my way. I can try and do things on my own. But let me tell you, on the trail I was stripped of this real quick. Control was not a word in my vocabulary. Jeremy was my leader and he led us (almost) perfectly the entire way. Even when a wrong turn was taken, a lesson was learned every time. I learned to trust Jeremy and the Lord in ways I didn't know were possible or that I even needed to. The Lord was constant and never left me. He led me to safety time and time again, gently taking me by the hand. Trust is overflowing in my heart!
25. Nature is a gem. I have never been so in tune with nature in my life. I learned to take time to smell the roses (literally), listen to the singing birds, and feel the wind blowing on my face. I walked through the mountains, farmlands, beaches, and forests experiencing new sights in nature every day. I am convinced the Lord was so incredibly creative and over the top with His creation to draw us to Him. You know how we pursue each other when we are in love? I believe the Lord pursues us by His breathtaking creation. In New Zealand, I was in awe every day by His masterpiece. I always want to be in nature, as it brings me closer to the Creator.