October 14, 2015

Super Squad Stories: Patrice and Justin La Vigne

It's no secret that the most popular way to explore New Zealand is on 4 wheels. There are 30+ different caravan rental companies alone! I have no doubt it is a pretty awesome way to see the country.

But what if I told you there was a more unique and way cooler way of exploring this wild island?

My husband, Justin, and I just walked the entire length of New Zealand. The Te Araroa (pronounced tee-are-a-rho-a) traverses more than 3,000 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) from Cape Reigna at the top of the North Island to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island.

Before delving into this great adventure, let me preface by saying Justin and I are not new to long-distance hiking. We have have accumulated more than 10,000 trail miles between us and have created a life where the main goal is to have as many human-powered adventures as we can.

Our favorite saying is: 'hike your own hike.' There is no wrong way to hike or backpack. You will learn from your own mistakes and grow because of them. We both were wearing tennis shoes, cotton tshirts and gardening gloves on our first trek through the Grand Canyon many years ago and learned that didn't work for us.

Now we can add the Te Araroa to our ongoing list. We started on Nov. 27, 2014, and finished on March 29, 2015. During our 4 months hiking on the trail, we followed a mix of terrain from alpine forests to sweeping valley floors to open farmlands to windswept beaches. You almost could say it was a new trail everyday.

Walking the length of the country was really an education about New Zealand and anytime we had conversations with the locals, our experience was immediately enriched. Kiwis are the nicest people we've met!

Having a diverse walking surface sure did a number on our feet though. The number one rule in long-distance hiking … take care of your feet and they will take care of you. And even with all the hiking we've done, knowing which kinds of shoes and socks work for us and using Superfeet insoles (specifically the Carbons, Berry and Coppers), we encountered new challenges and learned new lessons.

Seeking Partner Who Loves Long Walks on the Beach

We kept each other going. We make really good hiking partners. When one is down, the other takes note and tries to make the situation better. Maybe this means doing all the camp duties and letting the other person veg, or maybe this means hiking a shorter day when the other is just not up for the miles. We really balance each other out and support one another.

For me personally, the beach walking was my nemesis. Before hitting the Te Araroa, I thought, who doesn't love long walks on a flat, sandy beach while the sun dips below the horizon? The Te Araroa trail takes you along about 100 miles of beaches. Our longest nonstop stretch was nearly 60 miles.

I had to make adjustments, like walking shorter daily miles with extra breaks, switching my socks more often and of course using Superfeet insoles. I survived, but I only hope the next time I walk on a beach it will be from my towel to the margarita stand in Mexico.

Pounding the Pavement One Step at a Time

For Justin, the hardest part was the road walking. The Te Araroa took us along almost 700 miles of roads. That is not a typo. The Te Araroa Trust manages the trail and they are working hard to reroute it off the road. But in the 2014-15 season, we walked roughly 700 miles.

Here's the thing about roads in New Zealand. They are crooked, winding and gnarly. Their shoulder margin is 2 feet, at best. And don't forget they drive on the other side of the road! Some of our road walking was downright dangerous. Cars and trucks often whiz by you, leaving you to dodge gravel chunks the size of small children and hug the shoulder, which may be looking down a cliff.

We walked the Te Araroa trail in the heart of New Zealand's summer when daylight began at 5:30am and ended at 9:30pm. Our least favorite time of day was 3-6pm, when it seemed we would become scrambled eggs on the pavement. Seriously, our shoes and trekking poles would stick to the tar as we walked.

Muddy and wet

New Zealand is wet. A brief rainstorm in the afternoon was common. There is so much tree cover in New Zealand's forest that the trails do not dry out and remain very wet. Wet also means mud. We have never encountered mud like we walked through on the Te Araroa.

It was multicolored, often shin-deep and thick and will slow the fastest hiker down. But once we knew we were going to get down and dirty, we had fun in the mud!

We felt an enormous sense of pride after completing the TA. Every time we set out on a long-distance hike, we always say it is about the journey, not the destination. But it sure does feel good to get to the destination!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go.
- Dr. Seuss

Wanna see what Patrice and Justin are up to next? Read about their adventures on their Life Less Ordinary blog.