Three years ago my battery ran flat. To be honest, it had been an ongoing process over many years. Every tramping trip felt a little less inspired than the previous. An hour into trips I would be longing for my sofa. With my back hurting and sweat stinging in my eyes, I wondered why I was doing this to myself.
I had come to the end of a years-long trend of diminishing returns. Adventuring around New Zealand had once been a reason to move between continents. A decade after my relocation I felt jaded. Every trip a stale rehash of its predecessors. Been there, done that.
To make matters worse, a hobby had turned into a marketing opportunity, if not a business. I never made big money with tramping, but it came with perks. Some generous supporters traded gear for images, magazine articles paid for petrol. In addition, the mental boost from having my work printed in magazines largely contributed to me quitting my job and becoming a professional photographer in the first place. It was a dream setup, yet it could not shake a feeling of dread.
My motivation had already reached a low point when, enter stage left, the pandemic arrived in New Zealand. With it, came a sprinkling of professional and personal worries that turned me, at least for a while, into a recluse. As the memories of outdoor adventures slowly receded into the past, my mental game went into a tailspin.
If you have ever walked up a mountain, you will know that the brain does as much walking as the legs. A few years into my tramping abstinence I was never short of reasons not to go tramping. It began feeling overwhelming and intimidating. It was easier to just stay home. For years I kept up a pretence of staying fit by lugging a water-filled backpack on short walks, but eventually, that stopped as well.
While I never defined myself through tramping, it was still a cornerstone of my life. The mountains recharged me mentally and creatively. They gave me direction. It felt like losing a once-important part of my life. It went on like that for a few years.
Things started turning around when a friend asked if I wanted to go on a trip together. Despite a wall of reasons to pass, I agreed. When weather and logistical challenges caused a delay of almost half a year I felt relief. But then, inevitably, the day of reckoning came. We shouldered our packs and headed up a mountain.
To my surprise my legs still worked and cravings to crash on my sofa were entirely absent. We had decided to keep this first tramp short, so I arrived only mildly exhausted at our destination. Setting up camp was a déjà vu experience that I enjoyed more than expected. I could still do this!
A relaxed evening of exploring the neighbourhood followed. A different camera lens allowed me to explore new ways of photographing in the mountains, and I reminded myself that it was all right to take photos without ulterior motives. I felt liberated.
I do not know where the journey will take me from here. In the days after my trip I caught myself repeatedly thinking about where to go next. It feels like progress! At the same time I’m giving myself permission to keep modest expectations. The important lesson is that new beginnings can be made, even if they are hard.
For those wondering: Our destination were the first few tarns of the Libretto Range, heading up from Boyle Village near Lewis Pass. It took us about 2.5 hours to do most of the climb. We walked out the same route.
Initially, we were considering to do the full Faust Loop, walking in alongside Boyle River, up to Faust through a long-neglected track on its southern flank, and back out on the better maintained main track from Boyle Village. In the end, we had doubts about our walking prowess. When my friend’s knee acted up, we decided to go for the cruisy option. Which, as it turned out, was a blessing.