“A faint glow emerged on the horizon, a welcome change from the blackness of the night. Slowly, the landscape lit up. Never had I been happier to see the sunrise. Tears pricked my eyes and a warm glow flooded my body. I was so proud of myself for making it this far. But I still had a long way to go."
We’re no longer chatting, my teammates and I. We’ve been walking for nearly 24 hours, and we’re exhausted. But we can’t stop. Won’t stop.
“Do you want to do the Oxfam Trailwalker?” Vivi had asked me six months earlier. “It’s a 100km walk in Taupo. You do it in a team of four, and raise money for charity.”
“Sure,” I’d replied. “That sounds like fun.”
I don’t know what made me say yes. Curiosity? Naivety? Looking back, I don’t think I fully processed the ‘100km’ part. I was just keen to get out of Auckland for a weekend and do something for charity.
But after walking for 24 hours, the reality of 100km was beginning to sink in.
A faint glow emerged on the horizon, a welcome change from the blackness of the night. Slowly, the landscape lit up. Never had I been happier to see the sunrise. Tears pricked my eyes and a warm glow flooded my body. I was so proud of myself for making it this far. But I still had a long way to go.
We’d been walking on our own for most of the night, the four of us. We’d drifted apart from the other teams - as the course went on, everyone became more and more spread out. At times it had felt lonely, even though we were together. The countryside was eerily quiet and still. I was so glad to see the sun.
My younger sister Kate had joined us for this leg, and I was so grateful for her presence, although I didn’t have the energy to talk. She kept her distance, taking photos from afar, respecting our ‘space’. We’d all retreated inside ourselves.
Finally, another checkpoint appeared in front of us. At these ‘pit stops’ we could eat, drink and rest our feet. Our supporters were amazing, especially my mum. She stayed up the entire night and didn’t miss a checkpoint. She cooked us warm food on a little primus stove - beef stew, noodles, sweet tea. Each stop was only about half an hour, but we left feeling like new.
This was the second-to-last checkpoint before the finish line, and I was feeling positive. The end was within reach. Little did I know that the hardest part was yet to come.
The last 20km of the course was tedious, challenging terrain. Most if it was rolling farmland - one uneven, pot-holed hill after the next. I walked in fear of spraining my ankle, and every muscle in my body was beginning to hurt. The energising effect of the sunrise had worn off, and was replaced with what could best be described as a feeling of ‘delirious dread’. I didn’t know if I could make it.
At the last checkpoint, I broke down. I sat in the front seat of my mum’s car and bawled my eyes out. I was shaking and crying and in immense pain, but I knew I couldn’t come this far only to stop now. My mum gave me the strongest painkillers she had and encouraged me to keep going. She later told me how powerless she felt, but I’m not sure I could have started walking again had it not been for her belief in me. And the painkillers definitely helped!
I’ll never forget the last 5km stretch. Once we reached the shores of Lake Taupo, we could see and hear the finish line in the distance - so close, yet so far. People were camped along the road, cheering us along, but I was so tired I could barely raise my head to say thank you. I kept my eyes firmly on the ground, my shoulders stooped. Just one more step, just one more step.
And then finally, the finish line. I couldn’t believe it. 31 hours and 52 minutes of walking, and I could finally, finally stop. Words can’t explain the feeling of relief and euphoria that washed over me. In that moment I understood why people push themselves to their absolute limits. I had never felt so high, so weightless.
It’s strange, how something so physically and mentally gruelling can leave such a positive imprint on your mind. My medal hangs on my wall, a visual reminder of this extraordinary event, which will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Jess co-created Travelher and is a freelance writer based in Auckland, NZ. She loves reading, writing, road trips, experimenting in the kitchen and walks on the beach (although she tends to stick to 5km these days). You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.