At the end of your life, you don't get any medals, you only get a stupid badge for not being happy. - Ben Rowlands, father-in-law
It's a dangerous idea.
For many years, gaining medals of glory and badges of belonging pulled me forward. And there is nothing wrong with that. You can gain much satisfaction and enjoyment from recognition. I certainly did.
Yet once again, I find walking this trail has changed me.
Admittedly, I have never expected a mermaid to arise from the chilly waters of Bluff with a medal when my gnarled toes finally reach this land's end. Nonetheless, it would feel good to toss out a nonchalant, "Yeah, I once walked the length of New Zealand," and thereby claim membership of an elite group of Te Araroa through-walkers.
The ambition has beckoned me onwards for the first 20% of the journey. At a low point early in the trip, I'd even told Rosa, "I just want to be successful at something and I can be successful at walking this."
She had replied, "Why not go for something else? A happy badge, perhaps?"
The idea took seed. For three weeks we have talked, thought, fought, made up, grew up, researched, had fun, reconnected, relaxed. It's not just my path now. It's also hers. We're on the trail together. She asks excellent questions and knows how to listen.
"If you had a happy badge at the finish, what group would you belong to?"
I'd be with hose who've walked the trail their way and been honest about it.
"What choices have they made?"
There are two ways to walk.
One is by the Te Araroa rule book. Walk every step. Grit your teeth. Dig deep. But that's what I've always done, made it harder than it is, followed the rules.
The other way is to skip the boring sections and go straight to the places that draw and inspire me.
"What parts of the trail do you want to walk?"
Not the parts that go through suburbs and towns or along roads or farm fence-lines. Instead, I'd be tramping the mountains, the wild terrain, in solitude, looking upward and forward. I'd be taking more time to really walk the land and meet the people. I don't want to rush anymore. I want to slow down and enjoy the experience.
"What's your most precious resource?"
Time. It presses. The trail teaches that, for sure.
"So, how will you best use your precious time?"
Cover uninteresting ground swiftly. I'll hitchhike, catch a bus, do whatever it takes as long it brings me closer to the wild parts.
"What's the quickest and most certain route to get to what you desire?"
Take a bus to Tongariro National Park, the volcanic heartland of North Island. I can walk the best parts of the terrain between Auckland and there later in the year.
"You may get a "stupid badge" for skipping trail sections."
Not if I'm where I want to be, wearing a happy badge!
Rosa is so persuaded that she's joining me for a five day canoe camping trip down the mystical, magical Whanganui River in ten days' time. We've made space for that experience now.
We're on track, together while apart, and we're smiling.