I went for a walk in Central Australia last week. It was a last-minute decision, but one I’ll be forever happy I made. In my final weeks of work, I realised my head was too full to make any big decisions – where will I live, what will I do, how soon will I return to work – so in a major adulting moment I thought it best to run away and delay such thoughts. No, I honestly knew space and time were what I needed to process these things in my head. Plus, I love taking holidays. Win-win.
The trip I took was with the lovely people at World Expeditions, called highlights of the Larapinta trail, in comfort (ie, glamping, with all meals provided and guides who were both informative and supportive). Larapinta is some 200km long along the West McDonnell ranges out of Alice Springs and typically takes 2+ weeks to walk from end to end, so this was an accessible way to see the best parts in a bit of comfort. In all, our group walked around 80km over six days. If you’re looking for detailed trip notes, head to their website. This post is all about my journey. ok, deep breath.
A little background
We went on family camping holidays all the time when I was a kid, including an epic six weeks through central Australia when I was eight and some amazing times on isolated islands in the southern Barrier Reef in my teens. Mum & dad are now grey nomads and in fact were in Arnhem Land when I headed to Alice for this trip. I think the last time I slept in a tent was at the Isle of Wight music festival in 2012. That year, there was a month’s worth of rain the night before the festival began and even though we were in a posh teepee with airbeds, duvets, private loos and showers, we only lasted one night. So much mud, but I got to tick “attend music festival” off my London bucket list, just before I moved home. Pearl Jam and Elbow performed.
Long story short, it has been many, many years since I’ve had to rough it and I was a bit worried about how I’d cope with the camping, as well as six consecutive days of hiking. The furthest I’d previously hiked was around 24km, and that was to get to a pub for dinner and drinks. I’ve never had to back up over, and over, and over.
I’ve been home for a few days now since the trip ended and it’s been really interesting to reflect on the experience and realise what I learned and have decided as a result. Standing in the middle of that huge, red countryside put my first-world problems into perspective. All the things that had been keeping my mind busy in the weeks earlier simply evaporated and I was able to focus my thoughts on one conundrum at a time. I have made some big decisions about work, which I’m now putting into place. More on that another time.
The term ‘life changing’ seems to be thrown about with reckless abandon these days, but that’s really the only way I can explain how the trip impacted me. I have always loved being outdoors, but this was the first time I actually understood the genuinely grounding abilities of nature. Maybe some of that is due to my mindset of having left a job and the next chapter of my life being an enormous but disturbingly blank canvass. I certainly felt I had the mental and emotional freedom to think about my life in a more meaningful way.
When I work, I work. By that, I mean I put everything into my job and and I’m a huge culprit for having limited work/life balance, let alone much of a personal life. I also travelled extensively for the job I’ve just left and that became a massive grind. I realised I’ve been burnt out for much of the year and running on fumes. My professional identity has blurred into my personal one for way too long.
That said, leaving my corporate persona behind was pretty scary but also liberating. I wore no make up. I didn’t wash my hair for a week. I alternated between two walking outfits and didn’t wash any clothes until I got home. Nobody cared about what I did for a living. I was walking with 18 complete strangers and that scared the absolute sh*t out of me.
But you know what? The other people on the trip were lovely and the guides were really supportive and so knowledgeable about the local area. My legs were fine and I could back up day after day for every walk. I dragged my swag out of the tent one night to sleep under the stars. OK, I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times so it was more like a restless night under the stars, but I still did it. I loved getting up with the sun and going to bed early being completely exhausted. I even loved camping.
In fact, I loved camping so much that I’m going to do more of it. I want a tent and all the other gear so I can get outdoors as much as possible. Shedding my corporate skin was liberating and made me realise that I actually need to do it more often in order to be a better person.
I also learned that I can do so much more than I thought I could, whether it’s walking a bloody long way or sleeping in a tent. And that’s a lesson worth learning.