"It was 5pm. I’d been walking for 8 hours and covered a distance of 41km. I’d not spoken to anyone all day. The only company I’d had was the odd reindeer and an unwelcome swarm of mosquitos that never seemed to leave me. Yesterday was the same. In fact, it took 46 days like this for me to walk the whole length of Finland from the Arctic north to the capital Helsinki, in the south, a distance of nearly 1,000 miles.
"Before I set off, I hadn't considered what I would go through mentally. “I’d go mad spending that much time on my own” “Will you not get bored of yourself?” were the comments people made to me. Weeks spent in the Lapland wilderness, only really thinking about putting one foot in front of the other for hours every day, with very little stimulation or entertainment, turned my brain to blissful mush. I’d pass hours comparing differing shades of green tree leaves, was continually amazed by the design of spiderwebs and followed puffs of clouds as the they passed over me. I had so little to think about and so much time, my thoughts flowed freely and unhindered. I imagined my future, over-analysed my past and grew ideas I now had the headspace to create.
"I didn't have the day-to-day hassle of making decisions, relentless emails or jostling with armies of people on the London Underground, or people at all. I hardly ever checked the time, I had nowhere to be and the 24-hour daylight meant time was irrelevant anyway. I ate when I was hungry and stopped to make camp when I was tired. I didn’t look in a mirror for weeks and washed as I was born in the lakes and rivers. Instead of judging myself by my appearance and feedback from others, I judged myself by how I was feeling and, perhaps unsurprisingly because of this, my self-worth grew. In Finland, the things I valued and needed were simpler, nothing felt particularly important and I needn't care what others thought.
"I also had big lows replaying break ups and mistakes I’d made, and when thinking of people I missed. I couldn't hide from my insecurities. No one was around to reassure or distract me, I had to dig myself out of my black holes. I also experienced big highs and huge satisfaction from my achievements such as lighting my own fires and tracking my progress across the country. I learned that I could depend on myself and my confidence grew immensely.
"When I met my parents at the finish in Helsinki I felt as though, over the last 46 days, I’d freed myself of many insecurities I’d been dragging around for years. I was proud that I’d got myself through this and what I had learned about myself meant I liked myself a lot more. Back in London, I realised a bit of discomfort from blisters, body aches, feeling cold or being wet was a good thing. I operate on a different scale now. I’m much more patient and tolerant than I was before my trip and my threshold for discomfort has increased, as has my resilience. Less fazes me. Tough times on expeditions have given me perspectives to compare to in my everyday city life, which helps me trivialise my gripes and get over them.