Choosing someone to travel the globe as a trail tester for our iconic walks was tougher than we thought! We received thousands of inspiring travel stories in our Hike the World competition – a great reminder of the true spirit of travel.
Cath Wallis, a Canberra-based adventurer and mum, is the winner of our adventure of a lifetime! Cath is passionate about introducing more people to adventure travel. Her goal is to break the myth that adventure travel is only for young or athletic-looking people, encouraging people of all ages and body shapes to get out and explore this beautiful world and find their passion. She takes part in multi-day adventures in remote natural locations, and uses these experiences to speak about a range of issues. You can find her on Instagram @cath.wallis.
What was the first thing that came to mind when you found out you won RAW Travel’s ‘Hike the World’ competition?
When I received the phone call from Dave [RAW Travel’s owner] I was completely overwhelmed. I was sitting in my chair shaking! I haven’t won anything before, not even a meat raffle!
How did you get into hiking?
I’ve never been very athletic. Team sports were not my strong point. But with walking, I thought “I can do this”. Not because I had done any big walks before. Rather, I thought to myself, ‘‘If so many people can do it, SURELY I can do it too!” I started hiking toward the end of 2015. Initially, I did some of the shorter local walks around Canberra. My first long-distance hike was also around Canberra. I set myself a big goal to walk the 100km in the ‘Canberra 100 Challenge’ [*Competitors sign up to walk or run 25, 50 or 100 kilometre courses over 24 hours] and with that goal and a firm timeline, I started training. After I completed my first big walk, I set myself another big goal and another. I found that your body can do so much more than what your mind tells you it can!
Why hiking? What do you love about it?
What I love most about hiking is that you become part of the environment that you’re in. You experience everything about the place on your own two feet. You gain perspective. You become aware of how small you really are and how big nature is. When I walk in nature, I feel completely connected to the environment and it’s a reminder that everything on the planet is interdependent.
Tell us more about your winning entry that features you walking across a World Heritage listed frozen lake in Mongolia
Mongolia had always been a dream destination. For me it epitomises wide open space and wild nature. Then one day I got the opportunity to do this unique hike. I walked 160km across ice, over 4 days. It involved a fair bit of preparation and logistics. As with RAW Travel’s walks, the good thing was that I only had to carry a daypack; my main bag was transferred for me and accommodation provided along the way. My pack in the photo looks big [bigger than the daypacks carried by RAW travellers] because I had to carry an entire second set of clothing, in case the icy wind blew in from Russia. It can get down to minus 30 degrees, so you have to be prepared for all conditions.
Had you done much long distance hiking before Mongolia?
I had done a couple of other multi-day hikes, including the Great Ocean Walk. What I like to do is lots of online research to find my next adventure. It’s pretty amazing how the internet uses an algorithm to show us all the things we are interested in. I have a very long bucket list and end up picking the next goal based on budget and timing.
What were your greatest learnings from the trails to date?
Hiking has taught me that our bodies are capable of so much more than what our minds might be telling us. When I walk on my own, there is always that point, around two-thirds of the way into a long walk, that my mind comes in and questions “why am I doing this?”. But you can always make it in the end. Your mind tends to be much weaker than your body – sometimes I need to have a stern word with it. Of course when I walk with friends I talk as much as I walk, so it goes very quickly.
My second big learning is: ‘Why wait!?’ We always have that little voice telling us, “I’ll do it when I’m fitter, or slimmer, or stronger” or “I’ll do it when I have more time”. But life is short! It is possible for anyone to commit to any walk, train for it and do it. Remember that the super fit, young people you see portrayed in the outdoor brand advertising are not the only ones that can have wonderful walking adventures – we all can!
Any lessons you’ll carry for the rest of your life/any advice or inspiration for our RAW travellers?
I think choosing to do something challenging teaches you a lot about yourself. When I find it’s getting hard, I stop. Take a moment and actually stop. Look around. Think consciously about the amazing environment I am in and the experience I am lucky enough to be having. By doing that I always start to feel a real sense of gratitude. I remind myself the experience is the bit that’s actually important. When it seems tough on the trail, refocus on what actually matters. Change your narrative.
What was the hardest moment of this (or one of your other) hiking adventures? What got you through to the end?
I always find on long distance hikes that day 3 is really, really hard. The first couple of days are buoyed by enthusiasm and excitement. Then on day 3, the muscles hurt and the day feels very, very long. Your mind plays tricks on you! Day 3 is like hump day. And it’s about knowing that it is temporary. Being aware of it, packing an extra treat like a chocolate bar to get you through. Then day 4 and 5 are always amazing.
Do you have any packing advice? Anything you’d never walk without?
I firmly believe ‘less is best’. I’m there to enjoy the walk, I don’t need everything I have at home! I always carry a variety of snacks, a good range of sweet and salty to mix it up. And always a pack liner to keep everything dry. Nothing ruins a hike more than having no dry clothes.
What do you always bring on every hike?
I always carry my phone, I love taking lots of photos of the whole experience. An essential for my training walks in Australia is a snake bandage. I assume you don’t need that in Spain!
What are your recommendations for training?
The way I do my training is that I first pick my big goal. Then I do a bit of a test walk to see where I’m at. Then I get out my calendar and plan how to get from my current level of fitness to being ready for the hike. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure you increase your elevation and distance slowly and steadily. The key is consistency. I usually train by going on two shorter walks during the week and a longer one on the weekend. You’ve just got to commit, because the more you walk before you go, the more you enjoy the experience. Even if it’s cold or rainy. I find once I’m actually outdoors it’s always great. When you walk in nature, in different weather, you end up seeing different beautiful things.
Explain your relationship with nature. How has it influenced your life?
My favourite walks are the ones in remote natural places. Nature makes me feel really grounded. Once I am immersed in nature I just feel calmer. It is hard to articulate, but other cultures really do understand this better – from Japanese ideas of forest bathing to Aboriginal connection to country. I think I have a lot to learn.
We see you are as passionate about the environment, including reducing single use plastics, as we are. Tell us more.
If you head out for an outdoor adventure you can end up producing lots of (packaging) waste if you don’t consciously try to minimise it. I try very carefully to limit my impact. An easy start is to buy your snacks in bulk rather than buying little packages, to minimise the amount of waste I create. I then use reusable pouches – or you can just reuse zip lock bags. I am very conscious when it comes to purchasing outdoor gear. I spend more on higher quality items that will last longer and I prefer to buy from companies that try to do the right thing. My philosophy is that you don’t have to be perfect, just do what you can. Every change counts.
What’s your advice for people who would love to give it a go but are nervous about their first longer-distance trek?
I think the biggest thing is to choose a destination that you’re passionate about and then commit to it. I always find paying a deposit helps! I also find it helps to remind myself that literally thousands of people have done these hikes before, so you absolutely can too!
What RAW Travel destinations are on your bucket list and why?
Which ones aren’t?! That’s the real question.
What walks do you think you’ll pick for your ‘hike around the world’ next year?
I’ve done lots of shortlisting, but it’s so hard! Japan’s Kumano Kodo is definitely my number one pick. I love the idea of the combination of culture and nature. It’s such an historic and serene route. And I’m thinking Slovenia and probably the Italian Dolomites. Slovenia because the Balkans are such a beautiful region and I would like to visit while the route is less well known. And the images of the Dolomites are just so spectacular – it will be worth every training session up flights of stairs to experience that view!
Thank you to the RAW Travel team. Already I have had such great advice on the details of the different destinations – like least crowded times and how it all works. I can’t wait to get out there and provide some reviews on my experience. Maybe I will see some of you there!
WINNING ENTRIES & PHOTO GALLERY
Go to the RAW Facebook page to see Cath’s winning entry along with the other top 10 finalists.
Read our inspiring interview with runner-up Gerard Shea.
For more inspiration, check out our photo gallery of our favourite images.