Based on the front cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Melbourne writer and adventurer Laura Waters’ book Bewildered was one woman’s experience hiking New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail; a 3000km trail starting at the northernmost point of the country and finishing at the southernmost point.
However, it’s about so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other along the trail whilst recalling the surrounding scenery.
For mine, it’s about one woman’s ability to discover her self-worth, self-belief and that she is capable of so much more than she possibly ever thought.
Personally, I love reading a book – fiction or non-fiction – that hits fourth gear right from the get-go.
None of this five chapters in rubbish before we start to get anywhere with the story at hand.
For several months you’ve planned, with a close friend, to hike a 3,000km hike in another country.
For several months you’ve poured over maps, internet forums, blogs, official websites and basically collected every piece of advice or information you can along the way.
You’ve scoured the various hiking stores for the right gear that suits you.
Tested it out to ensure that it’s going to hold up over the journey and not fail on you.
And then day one of said 3,000km hike arrives, and your close friend who you thought was going to be with you every step of the way, cannot continue on due to an injury.
This is exactly what happened to Laura Waters 18kms into the Te Araroa trail.
Add a crippling bout of anxiety into the mix, and even the bravest person would start to feel a little uneasy.
And as odd as it sounds, I feel like this was the defining moment of the entire book.
She could have easily packed it in and used her friend’s departure from the trail as a reason for her own premature departure.
And despite the fact that part of the reason for hiking this particular trail was to test herself and push herself out of her comfort zone, a challenge such as this came unexpectedly too soon.
But this moment is what gets the ball rolling towards the Laura Waters that arrives at the end of the trail several months later.
They say that things always happen for a reason, and I believe that Laura was always meant to walk the Te Araroa without her friend.
Anxiety aside, there are also ongoing thoughts towards an unfulfilling corporate career and a previous relationship that can only be described as toxic.
These thoughts, and the anxiety that created her self doubt, are a constant as she recounts her Te Araroa adventure.
And it’s fascinating to read through every chapter as she dismantles both ongoing problems and arrives at a sense of freedom – making the decision to quit her job – and closure – dealing with the guilt of staying in a relationship that she knew she shouldn’t be in.
But the reality of hiking such a lengthy trail certainly exists in this raw tale of adventure.
The unforgiving territory, the nagging blisters, aches & pains, the dynamics of the various friendships you strike up whilst out there, the longing for company, the equally longing to be alone, the carefully prepared diet that forces you to lose kilos, the infrequent luxuries you afford yourself and so much more are all present in Laura’s adventure.
And I think all thru-hikers can relate to the minimalist approach to clothing where, for example, wearing your undies four different ways is considered efficient rather than disgusting and lazy.
As mentioned at the start of this review, this book is so much more about personal growth than it is about hiking.
The Te Araroa is the backdrop, and a catalyst, for one woman’s ability to conquer her inner demons and become a stronger person for it.
And her story perhaps highlights the endless possibilities that are available to us by looking at life through a different lens as Laura can attest to as a result of what occurs post-Te Araroa.
The person she becomes after this is, in my opinion, a shining example of what can happen when we venture into the outdoors.
It can be something as simple as gaining greater clarity on a persistent issue or as significant as exorcising the demons of your past.
Regardless, the impact of the outdoors on our mental and physical health can and should never be underestimated.
Laura Water’s Bewildered is a journey of self-discovery, transformation, and a testament to our enduring spirit as human beings during times of adversity.
If you find yourself a little bit lost in life and heading down the seemingly wrong path, I would highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book as it might just be the spark you need to turn it all around.
If you are wanting to purchase a copy of Bewildered, you can do so in bookshops throughout Australia and New Zealand or online here.