I stepped out of the taxi with an Australian girl, a French girl and a German kid from the Wanaka hostel. The four of us planned to hike Roys Peak, a mountain between Wanaka and Glendhu Bay in New Zealand.
“Call me when you’re 200 meters away,” the taxi driver said to us before leaving the small parking lot at the bottom of Roys Peak. “You can’t get phone signal down here.”
We thanked him and headed to the trail head of Roys Peak. We eagerly started walking uphill and I started panting almost immediately. The others walked ahead of me at a nice pace. However, I was falling behind.
I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Roys Peak is a mountain that goes uphill the entire time and after five minutes of trudging, my calves ached and walking became more challenging with every step. Sweat dripped down the side of my face, my sport bra was soaked and I was almost gasping for breath.
“I’m a slow hiker,” I warned them. “Just go without me.”
“Oh, come on.” The German kid smiled. “We’ll walk together.”
I appreciated his encouragement but I knew that I wasn’t fit enough to keep up at their pace. As the four of us continued to walk together, I fell behind again. This time I felt cramps in my stomach, which made me slow down even more. I took breaks every five steps and wished I had gone to the gym more when I was back in the states – though I wondered how many workouts would’ve actually prepared me for this hike.
Among the other hikers who passed me on the trail, I met a kiwi who’d done this hike before. She was well prepared with a giant water bottle strapped to her backpack with a straw, making it easy to sip water while hiking.
“This is so hard!” I complained to her.
“It’s a steep walk,” she said. “Just take breaks when you need them.”
I watched her walk ahead of me until she was out of sight. I continued to walk up slowly, often pausing to take breaks and admire the stunning views of Lake Wanaka.
The Australian girl from my group came down to see if I was OK and I waved her away, signaling that it was OK to leave me behind. She waved goodbye and I continued to walk uphill at my own pace. The people I had come with were out of sight.
I could hear the sound of sheep from a distance and soon saw the animals wandering around the grassy parts of the landscape on the sides of the trail. Sometimes I walked backwards uphill as I found it was a little less painful. I just had to make sure I didn’t trip over any rocks or run into anything or anyone. Once in a while, I’d ask someone who was going downhill how much longer I had until I reached the top. And the answer was always the same – the top was a long way away. I kept walking despite this answer. I ran into the kiwi I met going uphill who was now coming down in jogging form. There was no doubt about it – I was impressed.
“Hey!” She greeted me. “How’d you go?”
“I’m still walking up.” I said. We said goodbye and I watched her jog away.
The hike supposedly took about 6-8 hours in total. At the slow pace that I was going, I pictured myself stumbling downhill in the dark while hearing the sound of sheep along the way. This was not a position that I wanted to be in.
I was exhausted and reaching the top was going to take many more hours. I stopped to take in the scenery from what I could tell was only halfway to the top and decided to call it day. Content with my decision, I started walking downhill. I had a feeling that I’d be sore for days.
“How much further until the top?” A couple sitting on the side of the trail having a snack asked.
I could have lied and told them that it was a long way away and let them assume that I was fit enough to actually reach to the top. But lying to these strangers served me no purpose. I decided not to beat myself up for not making it to the top. This was my journey and I was going to celebrate it in every way.
“I didn’t get to the top,” I kindly told them. “I got tired.”
As I walked, I thought about how I was going to get back to the hostel in Wanaka. I was told that it was about a 7-minute drive or a two-hour walk. I didn’t have the phone number for the taxi and I didn’t think I had enough cash for a ride back to the hostel. I wasn’t even sure if I had enough credit to make calls on my phone. When I set off on the hike, I just assumed that I’d stick with my group the entire time and that they’d handle it.
The idea of hitchhiking popped into my head as I slowly walked downhill. Hitchhiking is common in New Zealand. I’ve met tons of travelers who’ve done it and didn’t get murdered. I’d often see people on the side of road with their thumbs out trying to catch a ride to their next destination. I admired them for their courage.
As I reached closer to the bottom, there was a girl walking uphill and panting.
“That’s it,” She said to the two friends she came with. “I’m done! I’m going to turn around!”
It gave me comfort knowing that there were others who struggled as much as I did.
When I reached the small parking lot at the bottom of Roys Peak, I waited for someone to reach the bottom as well so I could ask them for a ride. Since there was a parking lot, I didn’t have to go through the trouble of standing on the street with my thumb out. An older couple first passed me after they reached the bottom and I didn’t say anything because I grew nervous, having never done this before. There was a guy behind the couple and two girls behind him. This was my opportunity to speak up if I wanted a ride.
“Would anyone be able to give me a ride back to the city?” I finally spoke up.
“I’m hitchhiking as well,” the guy said. “The couple over there is giving me a ride. Maybe you can ask them to give you a ride, too.”
I followed the older couple who just passed me and reached their pace as they headed to their car. They looked nice enough.
“Excuse me?” I asked and the lady turned around. “Are you driving towards the city?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you mind giving me a ride?”
“Sure!” she said.
“Thank you so much!” I was relived that at my first attempt I found someone to give me a ride. “Where are you from?”
“England,” The kind lady said. “And you?”
“America.” I said still in shock at what I was doing. “Chicago.”
“Chicago has a popular hockey team,” The other hitchhiker – who was Canadian – joined us. “The Blackhawks.”
The lovely couple dropped us both off in the city and I thanked them again. The Canadian hitchhiker was basically hitchhiking around New Zealand and found a place to stay day by day. He even expressed thoughts about hitchhiking around Canada. His boldness was inspiring but in that moment, all I wanted to do was take a nap.
“I can’t believe how easy that was,” I said to the Canadian hitchhiker after we left the couple’s car.
“People are really nice in New Zealand,” He said. “It’s very easy to get around by hitchhiking. Most girls are afraid to do it alone but maybe you can find a friend and try it together.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”
When I arrived back at the hostel, I uploaded a few pictures onto Instagram and then took a nap. That day, I didn’t reach the top of Roys Peak but I acknowledged how far I walked. And I celebrated asking strangers for a ride.
Maybe one day I’ll go back and attempt the hike again. Until then I’ll celebrate the small steps along the way.