Leaving the Comfort Zone

Most people think comfort and luxury are the chief requirements in life, when all they need is enthusiasm. - Albert Einstein

For two days, I'd been living in relative comfort and luxury in a backpackers hostel. The longer I stayed there, the harder it was to leave. Even worse, I could sense my enthusiasm draining away faster than the battery in my iPhone.

The hostel had become my new comfort zone. That's the problem with comfort and luxury.

We create a secure space for ourselves, get used to it and then find it increasingly hard to leave. A comfort zone keeps you stuck. And when you're stuck, you can't move forward or grow.

And I think that creates more tension than stretching yourself.

Stepping away from the warmth and shelter of Whakapapa Village in the late afternoon of Sunday took a surprisingly difficult effort of will. I had enjoyed sleeping between sheets, loved a hot shower every morning and evening (why not?), relished social contact and appreciated cooking in the clean kitchen. It hadn't taken long for this backpacker's hostel to feel like home.

I had dallied for two days catching up on writing, planning and meeting other travellers, including a cheerful former British Army officer of my vintage, with whom I had had a prolonged and enjoyable chin-wag.

As the afternoon progressed, however, procrastination set in.

I eyed the driving clouds and occasional drenching showers with misgivings. The mountains stood shrouded in cloud. The Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand's most famous one-day walk, had been closed for two days by winds strong enough to blow a person off his feet. I had wanted to walk this track.

Frustrated, I now had to make a decision: stay another night and hope for an improvement in the weather or set off southwards again.

"I can't believe I've created such a thick-walled bubble of comfort," I thought. "I need to get moving or I'll stay here forever."

If you're feeling both comfortable and tense, there's only one thing to do. Take a small step and then another and then another.I had packed hours ago. Now, I unplugged my solar charger, switched my iPhone to "Airplane Mode" and with an inward sigh, stepped through the sliding doors on the heels of a rain-shower scudding westwards, blurring the distant hills.

Once I started moving down the road towards the distant highway, my spirits rose. I turned for a last look backward and saw a rainbow arching near The Chateau Tongariro, built for golfers, skiers and walkers in the 1920s.

"One day," I vowed, "I'll bring Rosa here and we'll stay, just for fun, in this grand old hotel. Then, we'll walk the Crossing together."

An hour later, I turned left down the highway and walked for two hours, hoping to thumb a lift. In that time, only three cars drifted past and none stopped, reminding me of just how remote parts of New Zealand are.

Opposite a motor camp, a small gaggle of tourists had gathered by the roadside to photograph the mountains illuminated in the clear light that turns the air translucent after rain. I crossed the road to join them and met a friendly couple from Sweden.

"What's this place like?" I asked.

Blond-haired Peter made a circle with his thumb and forefinger in the international sign of approval. "Excellent!" he said and his wife nodded in affirmation.

For a moment, I felt seriously tempted but pride pulled me onward. I simply couldn't leave one comfort zone for another so soon.

After another hour of walking, I turned left down a short track that led to a DOC campsite. Now I knew where all the cars had gone. At least twenty stood packed in the car park, attended by a motley crew of campers drawn from every corner of the world. In every possible tent site, brightly-coloured canopies blossomed.

Eventually, I found a clear space and in the fading light quickly set up my small tarp, staking possession. Just in time: as I spread the "onesie" underneath the shelter, a few more late arrivals drove by, gravel crunching under their tires and illuminating beech trees with hopeful headlights.

With my little camp reasonably watertight and protected against whatever the elements might throw at me overnight, I went through my evening ritual of. 25 push-ups and 25 sit-ups to get really warm and then slid under shelter.

"I've found my comfort zone again," I reflected happily. "I'm back on the edge and it feels good."