Heavy Hiker

Just over a year ago I went on my first multi-day tramp ever.

In September 2016, our good friends Rob and Rachelle suggested we complete one of the Great Walks of New Zealand: The Abel Tasman.

I was pretty keen. At the time, Oliver and I often spent our weekends hiking. We’d drive out of town for an hour or so and get lost amongst the beautiful terrains of New Zealand. One weekend it would be along a rocky coast, the next a dense forest, then a misty beach or river side. Every track was different and we loved that.

We were fit, experienced and eager. Most importantly we had no children.

Within the next couple of weeks we booked accommodation and flights, then eight weeks later we found out we were expecting a baby. Uh-oh.

We did the math: I would be five and a half months pregnant. And wearing hiking boots.

Rachelle assured me that the Abel Tasman was one of the most laid back Great Walks you could attempt to finish. It was described on the website as “New Zealand’s most relaxing great walk” so – I decided – it couldn’t be that hard, could it?

As March 2017 approached, I was more nervous than I seemed, but with the approval from my midwife I felt ready to conquer this 60km walk.

But I was up the duff. I’d never been up the duff before. What did I know about being ready?

A year on from the experience, I wanted to break it down for you. Here are five things you should consider before you next decide to go tramping at almost six months pregnant.

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The pack

Remember, you’re carrying a lot. Sure, there’s the tramping pack on your shoulders, but there’s also the unborn child in your belly.

I’d taken a pack out before the tramp to “test” how I would go carrying the weight. I’m glad to have done that, although I have to admit that it didn’t at all prepare me for how heavy that damn thing would be at the end of day one.

If you’re planning on travelling while pregnant… mate… consider packing the lightest possible bag EVER.

Luckily for me I have a super human husband who took it upon himself to carry and 4kgs more than everyone else to make things lighter for me (even so it was still flippin’ heavy!).

You can cut your pack weight by taking dehydrated meals, an inflatable pillow and only one clothing option as required.

Another tramping hack: Don’t go overboard on the water you carry. Water is heavy! Only take as much as you’ll need before you reach your next water-safe stop.

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The sleep

I’m talking co-sleeping. Co-sleeping with strangers. Co-sleeping with strangers sometimes when there are 20 beds to a room. It’s weird.

I felt uncomfortable with it, but then again, I was tramping. Comfort was the last thing on my mind and at the end of the day I was just happy to put my feet up and rest!

However we did try to get to the cabins as quickly as possible in order to nab the best beds. For example, there was no way I would be climbing up to the second bunk every time I needed to go to the bathroom (4-5 times!), so we were sure to get something at ground level.

I also totally pulled the pregnant card and requested that my husband sleep on the foam mattress next to me. You know, as a human barrier to block me from the stranger beside him. Maybe it was because I was feeling extra maternal and protective of the baby I was carrying – or maybe I’m just a bit of a princess. We’ll never know…

Another tramping hack: Bring ear plugs. Strangers snore!

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The toilet

Second trimester = peeing loads.

My midwife had told me to keep my fluid and food up as much as possible while tramping. She warned me that failure to do so would result in a burn out or a urine infection. Neither seemed like a great option, so I smashed that water!

The only problem with this was that sometimes we would be 2-3 hours away from the next proper bathroom stop. I had to lose my princess status real quick (there it is, the truth!) and put plainly, pop a squat in the breeze.

My dutiful husband was forced to be my look-out guy while I breezed my butt cheeks. Good man!

Another tramping hack: Take your own toilet paper with you in your pack. It practically weighs nothing and is completely bio-degradable.  

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The food

I was hungry. I was so bloody hungry.

We tried to plan our meals as efficiently as possible: Oats in the morning, square meals during the day and a dehydrated meal in the evenings.

I’ll admit it wasn’t my ideal pregnant lady diet, but at least I was getting enough calories and iron from all the oats I was consuming.

We took perishable items, like carrot sticks and plums, but by the third day we’d run out of anything remotely fresh.

The dehydrated meals were tastier than I expected, but at the end of the five days I never wanted to see or taste one ever again. If I think really hard, I can still remember the taste of the peach crumble in my mouth – eugh!

Another tramping tip: Take your pregnancy pills (folic acid, iron etc) in a plastic canister and only take the amount needed for your trip.

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The experience

Most people would hear about my pregnancy tramp and think I was out of my mind.

I’ll be honest, in some sense I was. I had never been pregnant before and I had never been multi-day tramping before. I had no idea how hard things were going to get.

I had no clue about how my feet would ache and my hips would feel unstuck and my energy stocks would be depleted.

So much for “New Zealand’s most relaxing great walk”! It was still stupidly intense, I still spent full days on my feet and I still had to have an icy cold shower every night (Rachelle told me that we were lucky the DOC huts even had showers).

I will NEVER go multi-day tramping whilst pregnant EVER again. But do I wish I had cancelled the trip?

No!

It was grueling, but it was amazing. We saw ocean views that took my breath away. We saw amazing wildlife that I would never have seen at home. Through it all I was reminded of how much pure beauty my home country has to offer.

I was also reminded of how fantastic my friends and husband are. I mean, we spent a whole week together, completed 60km of walking with majorly heavy packs and at the end of it all we STILL didn’t want to kill each other.

I was reminded of how amazing the female body is. I walked. I felt him kick. I fell in love with the country I was going to bring him in to. How powerful and how affirming. Motherhood is the bee’s knees.

Most importantly, I was reminded of how we must cease every moment - pregnant or non-pregnant, male or female. The truth of it is that Olly and I probably won’t be able to go on another multi-day hiking excursion for another 5-10 years, if at all.

This life is so unpredictable and so fluid. It moves constantly. I’m so glad I did what I could, when I could.

Perhaps we’re all on a tramp of sorts. You might be heading uphill, you might be slightly off course, or you might be in the middle of the forest, longing for a sunny sight of the beach.

Can I encourage you - whether it’s in your job, your relationship, your hobby – keep going! Go for it, even if you seem a little out of your mind and a little out of your capabilities.

It’s a hard muck, this life thing. For some, it’s harder track than others. But stick at it. After all, you might be seconds away from rounding the corner, finding a clearing and reaching the coast.

Rachel Chen