Sunday, 16 December 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

No deodorant and no power bills on the Te Araroa Trail

By Jordan Gower

Rhys Nicholas wandered down to The Informer’s office in Whitianga last Thursday, to talk about his upcoming adventure. And by “wandered” I mean he put on his favourite walking shoes (sandals are a more appropriate description), packed his tramping pack full of things, grabbed his hiking poles and walked from his home in Centennial Drive to our front door in Monk Street. He calls it “training.”

Next month, around 18 October, Rhys plans to begin walking the Te Araroa Trail - the 3,033km track from Cape Reinga to Bluff. His journey from tip to toe of New Zealand is about more than just the physical aspects and challenges though, it’s a mental game. “The main reason I’m doing this is to do with my mental health background,” says Rhys. “I’ve dealt with depression, anxiety and psychosis for the last 20 years of my life and discovered that walking is what helps me the most.

“I take my meds and I go to therapy and I will continue to do that for the rest of my life, but walking gives me that something extra. It makes me feel really good and it helps me clear my mind.”

Completing the Te Araroa trail has been a goal in the back of Rhys’ mind for the last 10 years. However, before that could become a specific goal, he had to make sure he could do it. “I started walking and I just kept going and going,” says Rhys. “Then I started to do some serious training in February this year.”

Rhys’s training involves setting specific walking distance goals, adding more weight to his pack to get used to it and even sleeping outside under a tarpaulin every now and then. His training has attracted a few eyes around town. “One lady actually told me that her grandkids were taking bets on where I was going,” laughs Rhys. “They concluded I must be climbing Mt Everest.”

During my chat with Rhys, he skilfully unpacked and repacked what I dubbed his “Hermione Bag” because it seemed like a bottomless bag of tricks. Out of his pack came a food bag, a clothes bag (containing a total of about eight items), a tarpaulin, a sleeping mat, a gas cooker, crockery and cutlery, a puffer jacket, a smaller Hermione Bag made up of a first aid kit and some helpful tools, an emergency bivvy, some wet weather pants, and a rain jacket. Dangling from the front of his pack I also noticed some sunscreen and lip balm. Essentials.

“There are still some things I’m coming to terms with letting go of,” says Rhys. “Like deodorant. People reckon there’s just no point in taking it because it’s too heavy and you’ll smell regardless. But I haven’t gotten my head around that yet."

Rhys has more than just lack-of-deodorant fears to overcome while completing the Te Araroa Trail. “I’m scared of heights, which will be a challenge,” he says. “I’m not scared of being alone, but I’m afraid of sleeping alone in the bush. I’m also really terrified of being at the start, thinking ‘What on earth am I doing?’”

On the other hand, there’s also plenty to be excited about - like not having a power bill. “It sounds silly, but that’s honestly so exciting for me,” says Rhys. “Bills have always been a trigger for me, so to not think about it for four and half months is going to be a blessing.”

The other exciting part about Rhys’s journey, is his recovery. In Rhys’s lowest moments over the years, the word “recovery” has been terrifying. “I remember thinking, ‘What does recovery mean? How do I get there?’” says Rhys. “But now I’m embracing the word and I want to use my experiences to help others struggling from mental illness.

“Walking has changed my outlook on life, it has made me more positive and more excited about being alive. By no means has it ‘cured’ me, but I’m at peace with that - it has just made everything more manageable. I really want to be able to mentor and guide others in the future and I think walking the Te Araroa Trail will help me get to that place.”

For anyone wishing to learn more about Rhys’ journey, visit his website, www.walkology.co.nz.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.