I’m really excited I wrote a story for GLAMOUR!
If you’re interested in backpacking and curious about how to get into it, this is a good tale of what you probably don’t want your first trip to be like. But let me tell you, it was definitely an adventure!
I write about my pre-hiking life in London, how I got introduced to backpacking for the first time, and how I subsequently ended up walking 1600 km around the entire island of Tasmania, essentially spending the whole time being terrified of everything. I didn’t even know how to set up my own tent! And while I talk about all those hilarious and equally pathetic things, I also talk about how I never really stopped walking after that.
One day I will write a book about the whole experience, but right now I’m really happy I got to share my story in Glamour, especially since I think more girls and women need to know that it’s perfectly all right (and not scary) to give up your job and live in a tent and not wash for two weeks. If I can do it, you can do it.
It’s liberating and important to know that, while modern life is fun and all, it’s also entirely ephemeral and buying that new dress is really not going to make you happy – at least not in the long term. It’s okay to do something outside of the norm. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of us doing it, and more people should. It’s not as crazy or brave or scary as you might think.
The English translation is up too, it’s right below the article: I hope you like it!
‘I walked 1,600 km, all alone.’
She thought she was living the life of her dreams in London, until Rosanne Luciana van Wijk realised that something was missing. In 2016 she exchanged her heels for hiking boots and began to walk – and she didn’t stop.
In one quick movement I sat up straight, instantly wide awake. It was dark all around and something was trying to violently force itself through the thin fabric of my tent. My thoughts went wild. What was it? A drunk guy? A truck driver looking to hurt me? I quickly grabbed a bag of clothes and began to hit whatever was on the other side. The next moment everything went quiet. All I heard was a mild wind and the sea behind me.
It was my second night camping alone. I was in a brand new one person tent that I’d set up on a desolate campsite on the edge of Freycinet National Park in Tasmania, far removed from people and towns. I was completely alone and utterly terrified. What had just attacked me?
I was almost too scared to move but I forced myself to investigate. I quickly opened the rainfly and looked outside. An animal was right in front of me. I’d never seen a creature like that before. It was the size of a fox. A possum? A Tasmanian devil? It was too dark to tell, but I’ll never forget the look on its face. It caught hold of my gaze and looked at me like it wanted to kill me.
The London rat race
Only six months earlier my life was completely different. I was living my dream life: twelve years before I’d moved from the Netherlands to London to study. I’d felt so at home in the city that I never left. I had a good job as an interior designer. I was in my early thirties, single, and all my house plants died within three weeks. Everything was going well.
But something started to itch. I was getting fed up with the London rat race, the long days at work, a failed relationship and still not having enough money to buy the apartment I so desperately wanted. Everyone around seemed to be embracing change: buying property, getting married and having children. I also wanted a change, just not that. One day I woke up and I knew it: I was going to travel.
I quit my job and sold my stiletto heels and designer dresses on eBay. Everything else moved into a storage unit the size of a British phone box. I grabbed my backpack and got on a plane to east Asia. Ready for my backpacking adventure.
Halfway through my trip everything changed. I found myself in a hospital in Taiwan, crying to myself in a corner. The stomach aches I’d been experiencing had grown so bad that I thought I was dying. After testing me for cancer, I was given the all-clear and I was told it was actually stress that had caused me such terrifying symptoms. Apparently, my trip around the world was giving me more anxiety than all those stressful years in London, when I was stuck at work pulling yet another all-nighter.
While I’d simply tried to relive those carefully selected Pinterest images of inspiring destinations, in reality it meant I spent most of my time hunched over my tablet, doing research. It took me hours to figure out how to reach that stunning waterfall or hip town. Only to then find myself on a local bus sandwiched between chickens, worrying whether I was going in the right direction. The constant moving around in buses, ferries and jeepneys had simply proved too much. While most people spend their entire lives dreaming of an opportunity to go backpacking, I realised it just wasn’t for me.
Still I continued my trip. I was secretly hoping that something would come my way, something that did fit. Not long after I met a guy in a Japanese hostel. A cute guy. He was on a long journey, walking along the coastline of every country in the world. He carried a backpack and a tent, and everyday he walked a little bit further. It made me think of the movie ‘Wild’ with Reese Witherspoon, although I never imagined that people did things like that in real life. But this cute guy was doing just that. Now my travels had gifted me a new romance and a new adventure. Was this the change I’d been pining for?
It wasn’t long before I’d exchanged all my gear for brand new, peculiar items: an ultra lightweight sleeping bag, Gore-Tex shoes to keep my feet dry, tops made of merino wool and toe socks to help against blisters. The cute guy and I bought plane tickets to Tasmania, where we planned to walk around the entire island. From the capital of Hobart we would follow the coastline anti-clockwise. It was the start of an adventure.
Less than two weeks later we’d broken up. Walking was so important to him, that our budding romance had quickly dissolved. While he continued walking, I stayed behind.
If I’m completely honest, I realised I missed our lifestyle more than the guy himself. It wasn’t a romance that I’d been looking for, but a different way of life. An adventure. I thought of the walking I’d done so far. Physically it was painful, but there was also a lot of beauty: the freedom and the simplicity of walking itself. I had a choice: I could go back to my old life, or I could continue walking, alone. I decided to prove to myself that I could do it too.
My journey through Tasmania became something of a beautiful struggle. Everything hurt. I smelled the sharp scent of roadkill every day and sometimes incessant rain hosed down for days on end. I passed quiet roads through perfectly manicured farmland and thick forests, while camping in the midst of cheerful wallabies. I was always outside, surrounded by nature. I felt healthy. It was exhilarating to become a fixture somewhat outside of society, to walk through small towns looking different. I worried about other things and had no problems sitting on the curb outside of a supermarket, eating a huge tub of yoghurt. I slowly calmed down: the agonising stress that drove me to the hospital in Taiwan, was gone.
One thing I hadn’t expected on my journey was to meet so many strangers and to witness the kindness in people. I didn’t know it still existed. Almost every day people would stop their cars and talk to me, wishing me good luck and sometimes offering me food. Several times people took me into their homes and gave me a bed for the night. After an initial reluctance, it felt good to accept their help. One day I walked a long desolate road when it started pouring with rain. I hadn’t showered in days. A woman passed me in her car and offered me a place to sleep. The next day, she drove me back to the spot where she had picked me up. In the US they would call her a trail angel.
But it wasn’t just the help from perfect strangers that inspired me to continue my journey; the support I received from friends and family at home got me through lonely times. I have no problems spending long periods away from my home and the people I know, but during my hike I began to realise how much their emails and messages of encouragement meant to me. They proved to be the support system I needed to continue my new adventure.
Along Tasmania’s west coast I faced my first big challenge. Tasmanians call this desolate area the Wild West and the 160 kilometre long Western Explorers Road proved a highlight of my trip. There was no phone signal, only a handful of cars passed every day and there were no camping grounds. I had never wild camped before and I had no idea what to expect, so I decided to walk it in three days. I’d never walked these kind of distances before.
That first day I’d walked more than 54 kilometres, when I finally came across the first vehicle rest area. I couldn’t wait to set up my tent and crawl into my sleeping bag. As I approached, I noticed a large van with dark windows and instead of stopping, I instinctively kept walking, my imagination going wild. Slightly panicked I entered a burnt forest and breathlessly started searching for a safe spot to camp. It took a long time before I found a suitable campsite, on a slight angle against a barren hillside, just about visible from the road. I had walked almost 59 kilometres, twice as much as I would walk on a normal day. I set up my tent in the dark and rolled against my backpack to sleep. I was completely exhausted.
Like a house on fire
I woke up early the next morning and felt huge relief. I had camped in the wild by myself for the first time, and I’d survived. Now I could face anything! I felt energised when I packed all my belongings and got ready for the second long day along the Western Explorers Road. Everything hurt and my feet screamed for mercy, but I didn’t stop. The sun shone and I felt good.
Halfway through the afternoon a guy approached in his car and stopped to say hi. He was young, like me, with long wild hair and a contagious smile. I hadn’t spoken with anyone my age in a long time. “Do you want some whisky,” he asked. I laughed and declined, but happily accepted some fresh water. He told me he’d already heard about me. I thought it was hilarious. Only a handful of cars had passed me on these roads, but apparently it was enough to quickly spread word of the hiker who was walking around Tasmania. Not long after it happened again. A van with a group of young people stopped and he guy in the back yelled “You’re a legend!” I felt like I was almost famous.
I managed to complete the Western Explorers Road in three days. I was practically incapable of standing on my feet afterwards, and it took me three days until I was able to stop limping and walk down the stairs again. Still, I was proud of myself. I never wanted to do such long days ever again, but I was glad I had taken on the challenge and made it through.
I finished my journey around Tasmania with a long hiking trail through the remote wilderness of the Southwest National Park, where the tracks get so muddy that you’ll find yourself sinking in up to your knees. The weather was so bad and the trails were so difficult to walk that one night I abruptly burst into tears. I was covered in mud, everything was wet and I was terribly hungry. I dreamed of lasagna, pizza and baguettes with cheese.
After the muddy Port Davey track I arrived at a small landing strip and a walkers hut. Before leaving Hobart I had put together a food drop, which had been delivered by plane. Who would’ve thought that I’d ever be so happy to see a huge bag of oatmeal when I was back in London designing five star hotels?
I continued my journey by following the South Coast track, a more popular route following the coast, where I finally met other hikers. I walked the perfectly white sand beaches and took in the stunning views. When I reached the end of the trail and once again entered civilisation, I hadn’t showered in two weeks.
A week later, I was back in Hobart, where my journey had begun. It was two and a half months after I’d first set up my tent and received my nightly visitor. I’d walked 1,600 kilometres, all alone.
Time for rest
You’re probably expecting a story about my return to city life, but I’m hooked. After Tasmania I walked from Tokyo to Kyoto and after a few months back in The Netherlands and London – to see friends and make some extra money working as an interior designer at my old employer – I hiked the alien landscapes of Iceland, where I camped in the wild almost every night and got stuck in bad weather in the mountains numerous times. I walked more than 2,500 kilometres.
And now? Since Tasmania I’ve been walking for most of a year and a half. Slowly my backpack is starting to feel heavier and my body is getting tired. After all this walking it’s time for rest. And to go back to work so I can save up for my next adventure, because unfortunately walking isn’t as cheap as it sounds. Food, campsites, a hostel now and again and pricey hiking gear that needs constant replacement because of the intensive use: it’s not cheap. But it’s more than worth it.
There are many more trails in the world that I want to explore. I love the feeling of relying entirely on myself, and facing the mental and physical challenges that come with walking long distances. I don’t miss my old life: the pressure to perform, to look good, the constant chaos and consumption. Everything I really need I can carry on my back and it’s liberating to discover how little that is. Which definitely doesn’t include that new dress from Topshop. I discovered that I can simplify my life as much as I wish.
The lesson I learned
And that brings me to the lesson I learned: everything is impermanent. Not just life and the things you own, but also your fears, the pain you feel, those freezing cold feet after a river crossing and even that spectacular sunrise from a few days ago. And especially those emotions that course through you constantly, positive or negative. Everything changes constantly. Every thought disappears moments later. Some seem more persistent than others, but in essence they are all the same: temporary. You can choose what to do with them. Will you enjoy that marvellous view or will you be distracted by negative feelings? That’s why I’m trying to be aware and enjoy the moment, see the positive side to everything. That’s the simplicity of walking. Where every single step brings me a little closer to myself.