8 months ago I came to realise I had been battling anxiety day in and day out for a very long period of time. In life, the most important thing to me has always been to ensure those I love are happy. With this as my main life priority, like many, I consistently put the feelings and needs of others before my own. So far I had never truly put my feelings and needs first and in the midst of this, felt as though I was completely unsure of who I was and what my strengths were , beyond being a caring soul.
In 2014, I moved interstate for my partner and in immersing myself in a new city, making new friends and finding my feet away from my family and old friends, I began to feel lost and uncertain of my identity and what my goals and dreams were. I decided to visit a psychologist who introduced me to the ‘Jealous Lover’. Anxiety can be known as the ‘Jealous Lover’, as it often sneaks up to ruin opportunities when you can be experiencing true happiness. My psychologist helped me discover the traits of the Jealous Lover; what she was made up of, when she would visit and the power that she could have over my thoughts, confidence, resilience and identity.
During one of my sessions my psychologist gave me a pile of 25 cards that had simple adjectives on them, including kind, powerful, adventurous, trustworthy, loyal and reliable. The task was to sort these cards into two groups, what qualities I believed that I had and the qualities I did not have. Interestingly enough I found this task extremely confronting and in the end it brought me to tears. With the help of my psychologist I discovered that the qualities I believed I didn’t possess, I would read the card aloud and place it in the centre of the table. The qualities that I believed I did possess, I would place in a neat pile hidden under my thigh. This simple activity allowed me to acknowledge that I had no pride in the qualities that made me a good person, but was happy to point out the qualities that I didn’t possess and what I ‘wanted to be’. My psychologist discussed the importance of acknowledging and celebrating what I was before aiming to be so called ‘powerful, adventurous, confident and ambitious’. Little did I know that six months later I would take myself on an incredible journey that would completely prove what I thought I was initially capable of wrong!
MY WEEK OF MINDFULNESS
The following week I flew to Sydney and went on a family camping trip to Pebbly Beach in Northern NSW. I spent a week without any social media, little phone reception and was entertained purely by the salt water, sunshine, early morning runs barefoot along the coastline, morning meditation, bushwalks and the smell of campfire at dusk. This week, I truly found mindfulness and an appreciation for the simple things in life. Being immersed in a natural environment for a week was the most positive thing I had done for myself in years and highlighted my need for feeding the soul with family time, sunshine and the joy that the beauty of nature could bring to my day. I was able to run for 45 minutes without thinking or worrying about anything at all, I was able to just be. This week I found the standard I wanted to live by so when I would feel myself slip, let my guard down and the ‘Jealous Lover’ would visit me again, I would be able to identify it, acknowledge it, ride the wave and bring myself back within a sufficient amount of time and not let it ruin an entire day, week or month.
AN INSPIRING CAUSE – PROJECT FUTURES
My week of mindfulness lead me to believe that within the next year I wanted to travel for a purpose. This purpose being to achieve a physical goal, raise money for a charity and immerse myself in a culture, solo. I was inspired by a friend’s journey to Japan where she hiked an ancient pilgrimage track in the south of Japan – The Kumano Kodo Trail. The hike also involved raising funds and awareness for human trafficking through a non for profit organisation called Project Futures. I wanted to raise money for a cause that I was able to connect with. The more I read about what Project Futures did to help children and adults who had been trafficked – I was hooked and wanted to do all I could to raise funds and awareness of this devastating crime. Being a Primary School Teacher I have an immense respect for children and the joy that they bring to our lives each day, their innocence and excitement for life’s small treasures is infectious and I believe that when given the opportunity we should do our best to nurture and provide them with positive experiences that enrich their lives.
I was brought to tears when watching a video of a young girl’s survival story after being trafficked in Cambodia, fortunately enough with the help of Project Futures she was able to escape the industry and complete both school and a university degree. By the end of the day I had called Project Futures and committed to raising the funds by my departure date in March, 2017, booked my flights and signed up to a 66km hike on the Kumano Kodo Trail in Japan. The hike was organised through Raw Travel who run guided and self-guided hikes in iconic destinations all over the world including the Swiss Alps and the Camino Santiago in Spain. I was ecstatic and extremely nervous at the thought of travelling solo in a non-English speaking country and hiking through rural Japan. It was the perfect getaway for me. I was giving to those less fortunate then us, was committing to a week at one with nature, a physical challenge and diving into the experience of solo travel. No better way of self-discovery and an opportunity to acknowledge how strong I could be.
THE BIG DAY
The 25th of March crept round quickly! My bag was packed to the brim with hiking boots, woollen socks, blister Band-Aids, hydrolyte and the very foreign hiking pole. Ready to rock and dive into an adventure I knew would stay with me forever I hopped in the car and ventured to the airport with my partner by my side holding my clammy hands. Checked in straight to the departure gate, a few tears and waves of what the hell am I doing and I was on my way! A couple of scotch and sodas to calm my nerves and I was DOING IT!
Off the plane and I was about to experience my first train ride in Japan – out popped the first of many extremely helpful Japanese locals, this one named ‘Hero’ and he was. Hero had brilliant English and taught me the ropes of the Japanese train system. He gathered me maps in English, told me to follow colours if I was lost and sent me on my way. Making it to my first hotel in Osaka was so rewarding and I was able to relax into my first day. I’ve always taken my partner’s advice; dump your bags at the hotel, fight feeling tired and go explore – no naps! So I did. Bit of lip balm and deodorant and I walked out into the fresh air, blue skies, spotless streets of Osaka where I was the only blonde, blue eyed Caucasian as far as the eye could see. This was seriously cool! I was in Japan.
Two days in Osaka and I was off to meet my hiking group in Kii Tannabe. The train was smooth and the view looked straight out over the ocean. The Tsunami Evacuation signs caused a little stir in the stomach but I was about go hike a mountain, surely the safest place to be!
I arrived in Kii-Tannabe much to my surprise it was like a ghost town and I could hardly find another soul. I ventured onto my hotel where I would meet my hiking group and attend my Kumano Kodo Orientation afternoon. My group were lovely, all a fair bit older then I was ranging from their mid forties to early sixities. A mix of experienced ‘walkers’ who had just completed huge hikes on the Camino Santiago in Spain as well as the Rockies in Alaska. I knew I was in good hands. Another couple Melinda and Chris away on their wedding anniversary to do something outside of the square. So I felt I fit in there somewhere. The only one hiking for charity and under 30! I completed the group. We attended our orientation afternoon which was a little daunting as we were informed their had been a landslide so there was a slight detour and would have to be vigilant in following our maps.
We finished the day with my first true Japanese dining experience. Amazing Udon Noodles, Sashimi and cold Japanese Kirin. I headed back to my hotel room and got organised for my first day of hiking; thermals out, active wear, backpack packed full of snacks, water and my trusty hiking pole.
HIKE DAY ONE
Today was the day I was so excited! The orientation afternoon had me nervous about the terrain and conditions of the track but I knew I had to take it one day at a time and my group would look out for me. Off I went to attack the first 16km. The first thing to catch my attention were small white markers as well as Kumano Kodo signs that were placed every 500 meters. The signs as well as my Fitbit helped me to determine how far I had walked and how far I had to go before specific rest stops for fresh drinking water or toilets. The trail began with a steep hill climb and then flattened out. Around every twist and turn the landscape changed. One thing that struck me was how tall and straight the trees were on the trail and the way the sun shone through them. I walked this day predominantly solo. It was my most favourite day of all the hiking days as I felt so incredibly empowered and so proud of what I was achieving. Today I reached a small village named Chikatsyu and stayed in a beautiful traditional lodge right on the edge of a river that glistened in the sunlight and was framed by the steep mountains that I had just conquered.
HIKE DAY TWO
The name D-Day is quiet fitting for Hike Day Two. 28km ahead of us and 2 degrees. After a fun night getting to know my group over a delicious Japanese banquet and a few Asahi’s the group had expressed their admiration for my speedy hiking skills but had decided it was best for me to stay in reach of the group at all times due to the Bear warning signs and mini earthquake during dinner the night before. We set a good pace due to 8-10 hours ahead of us. The track today consisted of road walking, rocky hill climbs and cobble stone roads that travelled through small villages with traditional housing and green tea crop plantations. Today was challenging my pinkie toes were in a lot of pain and at the 18km mark with 10km to go I had to draw on my mental resilience and endurance training to push through. As the day came to a close it became really cold and my feet started to cramp. We were welcomed by a stunning temple where the Buddhist Monks were praying at a sun down ceremony. We were picked up by a bus to take us to our accommodation at Yunomine Onsen, Japan’s oldest onsen established over 1200 years ago. On our way we passed a stunning river and rapids at the base of the mountains and could see locals bathing in the natural hot springs. We were greeted at our accommodation by the ‘Guest House Mumma’ who was very strict on our house and toilet slippers as well as keeping our rooms tidy. Guest House Mumma ran a tight ship but the pride she took in her home was admirable.
HIKE DAY THREE
Day three was a gentle walk 14 km with one major hill climb only to be rewarded with the most phenomenal panoramic views of the mountains in the mist. We descended off the mountain into a small town surrounded by cherry blossoms. The properties were framed by vegetable gardens and a green tea plantation. The rain set in this afternoon and with 6km to go I was freezing and felt like my toenails may fall off! The last 3km was a road walk as we approached our accommodation at the base of the village it looked like an old school or convent and it was! Our rooms had been beautifully renovated from old dorm rooms to stunning traditional Japanese suites with views of the running rapids and huge pine trees. After a private onsen I joined my hiking group for a few sakes around an open fire and small zen garden. Dinner was fabulous and we were joined by a large group of Japanese hikers.
HIKE DAY FOUR
I was so excited for our last day of hiking the end was near and I started to feel quiet emotional that I had almost achieved something so challenging yet so rewarding. I did wrap my pinkie toes in numerous blister band aids and bubble wrap to get through the last 14.5km. The trail today involved a 5km straight steep climb at marker 22 so we knew it was approaching. This hill was quiet the body breaker but I found joy in feeling how fit I had become over the week, I set the pace and was still able to enjoy the rocky climb covered in dark green moss, thousands of tall trees and an eerie mist. The climb descended onto a road walk where we were greeted by a vending machine, oh Japan! It never ceased to amaze. We were greeted by a tiny Japanese man who may have been in his 80’s. He was known as the Kumano Kodo Angel often popping out of nowhere with mints, chocolates and at one point hot chicken and corn soup. As we walked the final 2 km we came down a hill and spotted the bright red temple, huge waterfall and an ancient Buddhist Temple. It was such a surreal feeling knowing I had completed 66km in the Japanese Wilderness on my own.
My Japan Journey gave me the confidence to know that we are capable of anything that we put our mind to. It taught me so much about my strength, independence and empowered me to explore the world and savour every moment that life throws our way. Solo travel is the most rewarding experience I have ever encountered and I love reflecting on what guided me to book this incredible hike and how far I have pushed the jealous lover away! She creeps back every now and then the sneaky bugger but I feel stronger than ever!