“All truly great thoughts are conceivedwhile walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche.
In 2012, Cheryl Strayed published the best-selling memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, which recounts her inspirational 1,800-km trek along the US west coast. An epic journey on so many levels, Strayed, at the time a hiking novice, sought such solitude partly in order to overcome a number of personal tragedies involving death, divorce and drug addiction.
“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B,” writes Strayed. “It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” Two years later her story was made into the critically-acclaimed film, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. There has since been a huge surge in inquiries from hikers keen to complete that legendary route.
One of the first books I recall ever having any kind of profound impact on my young imagination was Walkabout, the 1959 novel by James Vance Marshall which tells the tale of two lost children guided through Australia’s outback by an Aborigine boy. Many years later, I remember the awe I felt upon witnessing that landscape for real, its bright, orange, inhospitable beauty blazing before my eyes was just as searing as I’d imagined it to be. Still in the outback, another extraordinary cinematic-take take on an epic trek is Tracks, an against-all-odds true-life yarn of a remarkable young woman named Robyn Davidson who crossed 2,735 km of the Australian desert with her dog and four camels, leading her to be known locally as the ‘Camel Lady’. Her story was first published in National Geographic in 1978, her memoir two years later. “I kept getting the odd sensation that I was in fact perfectly stationary,” says Davidson, “and that I was pushing the world around under my feet.”
Scenic wonder aside, there is something so pure, so simple, so spiritual about scaling the slopes and summits of the great outdoors. The feeling of completing a multi-day trek is especially rewarding, party because it can be, at times, as mentally testing as it is physical, so I can only begin to imagine the extreme highs and lows and then the ultimate elation that comes with a multi-thousand-kilometre one (the Te Araroa is on my lengthy to-do list).
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity,” writes John Muir in his tome, Our National Parks. Has there ever been a more insightful comment made on the contrast between what we as humans think we want and what we actually need in this ever-digitalising, shortcut-seeking society? Except these words were not published in the internet age. They were published in 1901. Now we need those mountains, that wilderness, more so than ever before.
A Tally of Some Top International Tramping
We’re blessed to live in a nation with some of the world’s best treks, but here’s a selection of other top tramping spots from across the globe.
Mount Kailash Pilgrimage, Tibet
A 51-km Himalayan hike across lands considered sacred by Buddhists, Jains, the Ayyavazhi branch of Hinduism, as well as the ancient Bon religion of Tibet. According to Hindus, the god Shiva sits atop the perfect 6,638-m pyramidal peak, and meditates.
West Highland Way, Scotland
Marvel at the mountains that staved off the Roman empire during this windswept west coast walk. Snaking for 155km through the stunning Scottish Highlands you’ll also encounter a collection of quaint ancient villages.
Inca Trail, Peru
Among the most iconic of all the world’s walks, the ancient Inca Trail in Peru stretches to the legendary Machu Picchu courtesy of three separate routes which rise as high as 4,200m. Majestic mountains and cloud-kissed forests add an extra, stunning dimension.
The Narrows, USA
A truly awe-inspiring adventure that takes you 26km through tunnels and canyons carved over centuries by the Virgin river of the Zion National Park. Prepare to get wet though as hiking often becomes wading, with the odd swim chucked in too.
A highly-challenging, high-kilometre hike, it takes around two weeks to traverse this legendary route through Corsica. The craters, glacial lakes, snow-capped peaks and lush forests all make it worth your while.
Shackleton’s Route, South Georgia Island, Antarctica
Follow in the footsteps of some of history’s finest explorers with this spectacular 35-km snowy tramp as you criss-cross glaciers and black sand beaches which boast albatrosses, seals and penguins.
Everest Base Camp, Nepal
The next best thing to climbing to the ‘roof of the world’ is probably looking up at it from its foot. But bear in mind, Everest Base Camp still rests at an altitude sickness-inducing height of 5,545m, and getting there is no walk in the park.