A meditation on walking the Milford
My first-born has often hit me with her laser-like-between-the-eyes provocative challenges.
“Hey Mum, do you want to come to NZ with me and walk the Milford Track? It’s only 55 km, over 5 days and 4 nights. You only have to carry a daypack that weighs a piddling 7-10 kg and there are superb lodges overnight and all meals are provided”.
Awesome!!! But maybe I’m a little old at 71 for that don’t you think?
You’ll be right Mum, you’re pretty fit ! No time for procrastination though because it normally gets booked out 12 months in advance”.
Fear strikes at my heart. I’m not sure about this, I’m not a spring chicken any more and even though I’m reasonably fit, can I trust my body to do this walk? However, I’m never one to turn down a challenge. OKAY, I say somewhat aggressively, I’LL DO IT.
Okay GREAT, it turns out you have to trek 7 km up a mountain and 7 km down the other side. And how amazing to be able to experience all 4 seasons on one walk! I mean who wouldn’t want to walk on a questionable mountain track with the possibility of rock falls, snow, unpredictable drenching rain, raging rivers and high, wobbly bridges, not to mention sand flies?
Nearly everyone I talk to amongst my friends looks at me in awe and wonder – “You are so brave! You’ll have to really work on your fitness! Good luck to you Janine, I couldn’t do it!” Even my fitness instructor gets in on the act, “I want to see those legs buuuurrrrn!”
And so, the journey begins – twice-weekly gym and yoga classes, plus routine 12 km walks up steep hills. I start vigorously, some would say obsessively, researching the best walking boots, socks, non-cotton quick dry clothing, inner wear, outer wear, gloves, hats, blister dressings, insect repellent, and so the list goes on. At my age I have to be specially prepared I think to myself.
An unexpected result of committing to the trek, however, was that I felt elated, motivated and had a new lease on life. I was feeling younger by the day.
As I grow older, I am becoming more and more conscious of the story our culture tells us about aging, as well as our own inherited beliefs and subsequent expectations. Ashton Applewhite, who impressively wrote This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, and a recent visitor to Australia, says beliefs about aging negatively affects everyone’s future:
“Unlike other prejudices such as racism and sexism, which are manifestations of fear of the other, ageism is unique in targeting our future selves. No prejudice is rational,” she says. “But with ageism, we have internalised it. We have been complicit in our own marginalisation ….”
Our bodies believe what our minds tell us and as we get older the impact of these mental attitudes on our physical and emotional wellbeing becomes more obvious. There is a choice to be made about what we personally buy into and perhaps we have a responsibility to live the most vital and engaged life that we can.
So, how did I go on the walk? Apart from a couple of well-meaning younger women who felt they needed to help me over a 30 cm obstruction from time to time and to comment on how well (for my age) I was doing, we had no avalanches, rock falls or tumbling off bridges. We were exceptionally lucky to have three fine, though cold days and only one day of drenching rain. Not long after our walk ended the whole track was closed due to huge volumes of rain. It is not uncommon either for walkers to be airlifted to safety due to extreme weather conditions, so it’s not to say that the threat wasn’t there.
The beauty of the mountains, rainforests, waterfalls, pristine waterways, and breathtaking views cannot be adequately articulated – the experience of being present in abundant nature is the real delight. Applying mindfulness and presence, I was easily able to negotiate the various challenges presented by such an undertaking and, somewhat surprisingly, my aching muscles were no worse than that experienced by the younger walkers. Surrendering oneself to whatever arises, as opposed to wanting to control the experience through fear, changes everything.
Now, what to do next? Did someone mention the Camino de Santiago?
4 July 2020