We are incredibly inspired by and grateful to the thousands of hikers who shared their most memorable travel moments and photos with us in our Hike the World Competition.
Gerard Shea from Spring Hill in Queensland came a close second to our winner. As runner-up he has won a 9-day walking adventure on the Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago. We asked him about his love of hiking and why his trek in Nepal made such a lasting impression.
What was the first thing that came to mind when you found out you had won a prize in our ‘Hike the World’ competition?
To be honest I was a little shocked to hear I was runner-up in the comp. I wrote that entry some months ago, and I wasn’t sure how well I conveyed what an incredible time in my life that was. I was also feeling disappointed about having to cancel my diving trip to Bali this year, so that news helped a lot!
How did you get into hiking?
I grew up in Sydney and spent many weekends hiking with the family through the Royal National Park. I still remember the feeling of space and freedom, and I would often sprint ahead to see what was coming up around the corner.
Why hiking? What do you love about it?
Feeling free. Independent. Having time to be with my own thoughts and feelings. Seeing things that one could so easily overlook if they were in a hurry to be somewhere else.
Tell us a bit more about your winning entry. What motivated you to do that hike?
Having self-diagnosed an early onset midlife crisis, I cashed in my long-service leave, bought a one way ticket to Nepal and left everything else behind. A little scary at the time, but in hindsight one of the best gifts I could have ever given myself. I chose to walk the Annapurna Circuit with someone I met a few days after landing. The Annapurna Base Camp walk I did alone. Both were amazingly beautiful, and life-changing.
Had you done much long-distance hiking?
I had only really done single day hikes before going to Nepal. I was fairly inexperienced I admit. That’s still the longest trail I’ve done, and the steepest, and the highest.
What advice would you give fellow hikers?
One thing I often observed was how some people expected the villages and tea houses to provide all the comforts of home, while others were happy to experience things just as they were. I think it’s important to consider what we take on hikes. It’s not all about the gear.
What challenges did you face?
I struggled with persistent shoulder pain after the first couple of days of trekking. This could have probably been avoided if I had a properly fitted pack, or known that a properly fitted pack was actually important. I pushed through the discomfort. We adapt soon enough.
What has been the hardest moment of a hiking adventure?
I have never reached a point where I thought I might physically crash. The mind makes a lot of noise long before that. I don’t trust all that whining about how uncomfortable things might be in that tiny moment, and I know that the voice of satisfaction at the end of a hike is the same as the one that suggested the hike in the first place.
Do you have any packing advice? Anything you’d never go without?
I generally travel as light as I can. It’s easy to over pack and then regret having the extra weight for stuff you don’t really need. All quips about boy scouts or MacGyver aside, I always pack my Swiss Army knife. Still such a clever little tool.
What do you always bring on every hike?
My Swiss Army knife, a woven scarf I use for protection against the elements, a good hat, a healthy dose of enthusiasm.
What are your recommendations for training?
Walk. Find some hills. Carry a pack. Try out new gear before going bush.
Explain your relationship with nature. How has it influenced your life?
I like to remind myself that we are also a part of nature, and that we have found a great many ways to distance ourselves from that. Walking in nature, away from technology and carrying only what I need, puts all that in perspective. I often think about who might have walked there long before me and what that world must have been like for them. The animals and birds I could watch for hours for my own fascination and amusement.
At RAW we are passionate about the environment and giving back to the planet. What advice would you like to share?
I still sadly see a LOT of plastic bottles in the world and travellers need to own our part in this. We do need safe drinking water, but there are just so many ways to accomplish this now. Please plan for this, before leaving home.
What’s your advice for people who are nervous about their first long-distance trek?
Buy good footwear and thoroughly wear them in before leaving home. Do the same with a pack. Don’t over-plan your adventure or carry too many assumptions or expectations. Fearing the unfamiliar is natural, but the sights and sounds and smells might be nothing like you have ever experienced before. Maybe you will learn new things about yourself, and possibly meet some amazing new people along the way.
What are you most looking forward to about your RAW Travel Camino trip in 2021?
I’m already very excited about the 9 day Sarria to Santiago trip next year. I have never been to Spain, and I have heard alluring stories for years about the Camino. Strolling through the countryside sounds like an ideal way to experience the culture and history of the region, and to be honest I am also just a little bit excited to know I’ll be relaxing with delicious Spanish cuisine and red wine after each day’s walk. I’d love the next trip after that to be the Kumano Kodo. Sounds like a beautiful and challenging walk, and I do really like the idea of soaking in an onsen each night, before sitting down to a Japanese banquet and saké. I’m quite happy to save tents and freeze-dried meals for another trip!
WINNING ENTRIES & PHOTO GALLERY
Read our inspiring interview with competition winner Cath Wallis.
Go to the RAW Facebook page to see Gerard’s winning entry along with the other top 10 finalists.
For more inspiration, check out our photo gallery of our favourite images.