Learning to be kind

Since I wrote my last post, I feel like a different person. I was in the midst of a mini breakdown, and until I fully self-destructed, I wasn’t able to identify the turmoil I was in and why I was acting so desperately.

The challenges over the past few weeks have been a blessing. I would never wish to repeat them, but I’ve learned so much about taking care of myself physically and mentally, I’m grateful for all the dark places I’ve been.

I was aware that landing back in Vancouver after a year and a half without a plan was irresponsible to my wellbeing. But I had no idea how cruel I could be or how much pressure I would put on myself until I beat my body into the ground and was forced to stop everything.

Thank goodness my hips revolted the way they did. It brought me to a grinding halt, and there was no way my mind could overpower what was happening. I could barely walk five blocks, so pulling out of the marathon was a given. I wouldn’t have even made it to the start line, which made the decision a little easier to swallow.

I learned a great deal about how we control the way situations affect us. The moment I pulled out of the race was a perfect example. I’d made such a song and dance about it in my head and sat with my mouse poised over the submit button of the form for at least five minutes before I caught myself over-dramatising. I was attributing so many emotions to this action, which had nothing to do with my desire to run a 42km race at all, and upon realising this, I pressed the button and immediately moved on.

I don’t think I ever really wanted to run the marathon, but I needed a focussed distraction and something to boast while determining the aspects of my life I didn’t have answers for. The marathon gave me a concrete response to the dreaded question of ‘what now?’ which I felt I needed because I was ashamed to have nothing I deemed as ‘impressive’ to report. I’ve spent so much of my life overachieving in my career and physical pursuits to quieten that frightened part of me that never feels good enough, I continually forget I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.

It’s taken a while to understand what slowing down means and to stop feeling guilty, worthless, or pathetic for doing so. At the beginning, I was terrified I was simply lazy, and if I allowed myself a week of respite, I’d get so used to doing nothing I’d never want to do anything productive again. These thoughts sound ludicrous when you write them down on paper, but they’re legitimate, and I beat myself up over them constantly.

Thankfully my mother helped me recognise I needed to restore my energy, repair my body, and reduce my anxiety before I could even begin planning for my future. I received so much great advice over the past few weeks through comment and emails, but it wasn’t until I called my mum in a fit of tears that I recognised something had gone wrong and I started to actually listen. She told me there was no way I could make any big decisions in the state I was in, and that my first priority was to find somewhere to live that made me happy and slowly build from there.

All the comments and advice I received gave me the permission I needed to rest. I’ve spent the last few weeks walking slower, noticing details of my environment and people I’ve never paid attention to before. I’ve taken the time to speak to strangers on the bus, in the supermarket, and along the street. I stop at every crosswalk before the light turns red, so I don’t have to race across the road in an unnecessary hurry. I take naps, I journal, I eat good food, I go to bed early, take baths, and admit that I need help.

In the process, I’ve started breaking down the overtly strong, powerful, independent persona I’ve created for myself over the years. No matter what I’ve achieved I’ve always felt there was something fundamental missing, and I think part of the answer is that I’ve disconnected so far from my needs and desires, I’ve been searching for something that was inside me all along.

The kinder I am to myself, the greater my capacity is to be kind to others. I can share and celebrate achievements, support my friends when they seek advice, and be present in conversations with the people I care about. I haven’t fully mastered any of this just yet, but I’ve caught a glimpse of how joyful a life without self-torture can be, and if all I need to do is be a little kinder to myself, I’m excited to explore this new path of self-discovery.

Accepting Defeat

The subject of this post is not something I’m well versed in. Once I’m driven to accomplish a task, the more challenges I face, the more determined I’m likely to become. This can work in my favour in times when I need to dig deep and find the strength to continue. But it can also be detrimental to my health because my mind tends to push my body further than it can or wants to go.

On the PCT, I was so determined to finish the trail I pushed through injury, pain, and weather conditions I’d never face again to cross the border. On the Yukon River Quest, when the foot pedal of my kayak snapped off, and I lost steering for half the race, determination saw me through to the finish line.

My latest challenge has been training to run a marathon, despite the fact I don’t actually like running. The furthest I’ve ever run was 21km when I was at the peak of my fitness in 2016. But after listening to a very inspiring interview with ultra-marathon runner David Goggins, I signed up to run the Vancouver Marathon on May 5th, believing not only could I finish with only two months lead time, but after listening to this powerful podcast, I was confident I could win the race on mind power alone.

This is where reality and my ambition began to collide.

On my first training run, I decided I would go for an hour and push as far as I could. One of Goggin’s quotes that struck me was that people often quit at 40%. So every time I started to feel tired I would ask myself what percentage I was at, and if it weren’t 100%, I’d keep going. Basically, I was convinced if I hadn’t vomited by the end of the run I wasn’t pushing hard enough, a statement that horrified my poor mother!

On that first day I ran 11km, sprinting up the last hill to pass another runner across my make believe finish line. I did almost vomit, but I was elated, grinning triumphantly because I’d successfully pushed past my 40%.

However, the next day I ran, I started to feel pain in my hips. Over the next four days, I continued training, but afterwards, I was struggling to walk and found staircases excruciating. I saw a physio back in Australia who prescribed me orthotics because my left leg is shorter than my right, and according to him, was the cause for throwing my pelvis off balance. He told me to take a week off running, get used to the new insoles and take it from there.

Cut to a week later, after paying an exorbitant amount of money I ran 8km and experienced even worse pain in my hips within the first few minutes. I was crushed, but assuming it might be the last time I would ever run, I ran the full 8km I’d intended, tearing up my feet on the useless orthotics in the process and limping home in defeat.

I spent the next two weeks on an exercise bike attempting to maintain some kind of fitness until I arrived back in Vancouver to visit my trusty chiropractor, Dr. Sam. I essentially went straight from the airport to his practice and after a descent readjustment, he told me to take two days off with no running before seeing him again.

On the second visit a week ago, he gave me the all clear to run, so naturally, I went straight to the gym, signed up with a personal trainer, invested in a concoction of protein powders, supplements, and electrolytes and hit the treadmill.

Kyle my trainer told me what I was attempting was ambitious, to say the least, but for the first few days, I think I had us both fooled. I transformed my diet, went to the gym for at least three hours each day, and walked out with a huge grin knowing I was moving one step closer towards my goal.

Then yesterday I did my first 10km run since my initial training, and within the first few minutes my hips flared up again. Of course, I ran the entire 10km, but I went straight back to my chiropractor who merely shook his head and asked if there was any way I could get a refund for the race.

Somehow I was not prepared for this response and had to hold back tears while Dr. Sam completed his treatment. At the end, he told me to rest for the weekend and see him next week, and by the time I left his practice I was an emotional wreck, crying the entire way back to my friend Sue’s house while biking through Vancouver’s persistent rain.

At that point, I had to question why this race is so important to me.

The truthful answer is something far deeper than my conscience drives me. Whether it comes from a place of fear or insecurity or a desire for attention, I don’t know, but it’s in my nature to follow through on things I say I’m going to do. It’s a part of an identity I pride myself on, and when something goes against the grain, it throws my entire sense of character into chaos.

The other answer is the marathon is the only concrete element in my life right now. I’m homeless, jobless, and have just moved back to a city I’m not even sure I want to make my home in. I want to be self-employed and set up a business in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and in the midst of searching for accommodation, considering living out of a van, and debating part-time dog walking jobs, I’m spending my savings on personal trainers and protein powder, trying to gauge whether I’ve completely lost my mind.

Compared to my other objectives, the marathon is a rather straightforward affair. It has a specific date, a set distance, a defined course, a cut-off time, and I have a nutrition and training plan to follow. It would almost seem ‘easy’ if my body would just cooperate.

So as I sit here with an icepack on my hip having waddled up the staircase of Sue’s apartment, I’m still holding onto a small thread of hope that somehow in twenty-four days I’ll be ready to run 42km. Though it seems unlikely as I can barely scuttle across the road to beat traffic, if I do have to accept defeat on this particular challenge, at least I’ll be satisfied I didn’t quit at 40%.

Trail Timing

Synchronicities are a dime a dozen on the trail. Somehow, just when you desperately need it, the universe manages to serve all the correct ingredients at the right time to make you stop and think, ‘huh, now ain’t that special.’

Some synchronicities make you wonder how much time the trail gods have on their hands because the meticulous planning involved in bringing people or acts of nature together at a particular time is often astounding.

I experienced my own trail timing this week when I passed through San Diego on my way back to Vancouver. It’s the beginning of the hiker season, and I bumped into a woman named Jan who knows Scout and Frodo, two infamous trail angels in the San Diego area, who take hikers in and help them through their often scary and nerve-riddled Day Zero.

When Jan told me they were looking for drivers to take folks to the Southern Terminus this weekend, my eyes lit up. She also invited me over to Scout and Frodo’s for dinner on Friday night to meet the hikers who were staying with them.

I won’t lie. I was also riddled with nerves. Partly from excitement, partly from the idea of being in a big group of hikers when I’m not a (current) PCT hiker, and partly because I was borrowing my friend Donna’s standard 4X4 and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to drive it. Oh, and directions… I didn’t have data on my phone so no Google Maps.

Frodo and Scout serving their one of their infamous dinners

The dinner at Scout and Frodo’s was a beautifully executed operation, an A+ in my humble event planning opinion. But what I loved most were the hikers. Some were madly arranging their last bits of gear, others were helping with dinner, and some were merely basking in the afternoon sun in the back yard focussing on their journeys ahead. There were the shy types, the loud and obnoxious talkers, and the quietly confident hikers who had at least one thru-hike under their belts. I felt instantly connected to them all.

The only time the backyard was quiet was when everyone had started eating

That night, before my 4am wake-up call, I also read in the PCT’s Trail Dirt newsletter that two extraordinary people would be volunteering at the Southern Terminus the next morning. If you followed my PCT adventure, you’d remember the glow stick hike UB organised from Hiker Town along the aqueduct for a fellow hiker named Glow in the Dark. Glow in the Dark and her husband 3-Guy were hiking sections of the trail in 2013 amidst her cancer treatments. Patti has written an incredible book about her battle with cancer and her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail called Hiking Cancer, which includes in the glow stick hike and photos from the event.

Patti (Glow in the Dark), me, & Lynn (3-Guy)

Glow in the Dark had no idea I was going to be there, yet the moment she spotted me, her eyes lit up with recognition, and we fell into an emotional embrace. It’s funny because Glow in the Dark and I had never actually met before, though we’ve communicated so much through my blog and via email that it felt like both her and 3-Guy have been friends for years.

Left: 2013, Right: 2019

Once the main group set off from the terminus, I set off on my own, hoping to spend some quality time alone with the trail to reflect on my experience six years earlier. It’s amazing how many things looked familiar, and yet how much I completely didn’t recognise. I forgot how many buildings there were near Campo, and that I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of nowhere until after mile two.

I’d organised to meet Glow and the Dark and 3-Guy back at the terminus at noon for lunch, so I decided to walk as far as I could in the three hours I had. At one point I felt like I’d been transported back into trail life when I noticed there was no artificial sound, and all I could hear were the birds and the breeze whooshing through the canyon. I could feel my loose strands of hair caressing my cheeks, and remembered just how meditative hiking can feel when you’re completely removed from civilisation.

Every hiker I bumped into during my eight-mile sojourn became an instant friend. That’s the beauty of the trail community on the PCT, there’s such a profound sense of belonging you never feel alone out there because everyone’s connected, not only by a physical pathway, but their common goal of reaching Canada. I think of hikers on the PCT as electrons travelling down a wire. The trail harnesses an energy I could feel so intensely I could have run all the way home to Vancouver instead.

Everyone needs their mascot! Muk Muk, Sheepie, Groot & Hedgehog

The timing of my reunion also held significance. I finished draft five on my manuscript the day before, and it’s been almost six years since I began my PCT journey on April 15, 2013.

Left: 2013, Right: 2019

I took the below video to articulate the exact feeling of this reunion, and I think the hardest reality to swallow was the notion it’s almost time for me to move on from this experience and step into a new chapter. It’s a tough thing to do. It feels akin to breaking up with a beloved partner or the death of a life that once was. But part of me will always be on that trail, whether I’m walking it or writing about it in my memoir.

As Ravenson said in 2013, “Though we take the memories with us, we leave part of ourselves behind.”

How right she was.

Happy trails class of 2019!

Muk Muk

The Doughnut Dilemma

I found myself in an intriguing psychological conundrum this morning as I walked home from Starbucks with a coffee and doughnut in hand. The doughnut was from the supermarket, and the only reason I had this jam-filled, caramel-coated, sprinkle-dusted treat, was because I received an instant win token from the store the previous day and was collecting my delectable prize.

Now, as I exited the store, I debated about when to take my first bite. There were seats outside facing the parking lot, but my pastry deserved a better view than that. I began walking home with my doughnut in a napkin, salivating at the thought of biting into its colourful, sugar-glazed flesh. But halfway home, when I figured a view wasn’t necessary, and I didn’t need my feet up to enjoy my delicious treat, my heavy-handed conscience stepped in and chastised me for my lack of restraint.

There’s an insightful TED Talk called, Don’t eat the marshmallow! from a few years back, which presents research conducted on a group of young children. The experiment was aimed at measuring each child’s ability to exercise delayed gratification, meaning, to see if they were prepared to ‘suffer’ in the short term for future gain. In summary, from what I remember, the kids are left in a room with a marshmallow on a plate and are told if they hold off eating the sweet for fifteen minutes, they’ll be given another marshmallow as a reward.

Some kids eat the marshmallow before the time is up and some don’t. The ones who display self-control and wait, are proven to have experienced greater success in their later years compared to the ones who ate the marshmallow straight off. Take this evidence with a grain of salt, but if I were one of those kids, not only would I have left the marshmallow on the plate, when a second marshmallow was offered to me, I would have stuffed it in my pocket, and taken them both home for dessert.

During Easter, when I was a kid, I used to save my chocolate eggs like a squirrel preparing for winter. At times, I kept them for so long the chocolate turned white and became inedible. So here’s a question for you TED, is it possible to delay gratification for so long it actually turns out to be negative?

Most of us are terrible at celebrating success and enjoying what’s in front of us in the present. When we reach a milestone, we shift the goalposts and focus our attention on the new target before even taking a breath. I wondered if this principle applied to my doughnut. Should I be enjoying a bite while the desire is there, or would the temptation destroy my self-discipline for the future?

I know I have a tendency to overthink things, but it’s my nature to be curious and regimented. At least now I’m home I can put my feet up and look out the window because my doughnut’s still waiting to be eaten.

Hitching and Pitching across Tasmania

When Tom first suggested we hitch across Tasmania, I was hesitant. Tom (23), and me (36) met thru-hiking the length of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail last year, where we hitchhiked out of necessity from the trail into towns and back. I was broke when I was twenty-three as well. But with a steady income and enough money for a bus ticket, I felt somewhat fraudulent and immoral to live like a vagabond with no roof over my head or means of transportation.

Our only direction and objective were to explore as many of Tasmania’s nineteen National Parks as possible during our thirty-day visit on the cheap. All I was carrying was a five-kilogram rucksack, and with no itinerary or agenda in my back pocket, I felt as light as a feather. But I had some hesitations about the unknowns ahead. Where we’d eat, sleep, and shit each day would be in the hands of the stranger behind the wheel.

Upon arrival we stood by the roadside on the outskirts of Launceston (or Lonny as the locals refer to it), holding our thumbs out with bright eyes and eager smiles. My arm began to cramp within the first few minutes, and I couldn’t help but become doubtful of our success, sweating in the unseasonable temperatures the island was experiencing in the final week of January this year, when bushfires were raging through half the state.

I was about to suggest we catch a bus, when a red pick-up truck pulled over, driven by a local man with his four-year-old daughter in the back seat. He mentioned he’d driven passed us twice already, deciding to swing back because he felt sorry for our unfortunate position along Highway 1.

“You’ll never get a ride here,” he told us bluntly, before driving us ten kilometres south for a better chance.

This first ride led to countless others, from people as varied as the vehicles they were driving.

I’d arrived with preconceived notions about the types of people who would stop for us, assuming they’d be driving painted vans with prayer flags and wearing colourful clothing with wooden beads in their hair. But during our 1,500-kilometre journey across Australia’s forgotten state, these stereotypes were demolished, replaced by the constant surprise of the vastness of people who stopped.

There was Carl, the baker from St Helens, who’d just finished his overnight shift at the Banjo’s franchise. A seven-year-old boy named Ancus on a weeklong trip from Hong Kong, who was forced to translate for his Chinese father. There was the Korean couple with their Dutch friend heading to a campsite in Swansea, Leanne from Ballarat in her campervan who made costumes for the local theatre, Jimi from Hobart battling depression, Beth and Barb touring the hops plantations near Mount Field, Davo the eccentric millionaire from North London, and Karly the debt collector, who was a single mother with a two-year-old kid.

Coles Bay, Freycinet National Park

Though we witnessed the sparkling blue waters of Wineglass Bay, the breathtaking cliffs of Cape Pillar, the rusty-orange rocks along the Bay of Fires, and the sun dipping its head beneath the horizon from the summit of Cradle Mountain, my greatest memories of Tasmania are the people and their stories. The state developed a certain charm and character, painted by the portraits of the people who drove us north and south.

Summit of Cradle Mountain

Every ride opened my eyes to something different. I learned about patching phone calls in Australia back in the 1960s, where to buy the best pizza in New Norfolk, how to sew the arm of a costume so that it slides off in an action sequence, and the best place to camp on the Three Capes Track. But everyone we met agreed on the same very thing. They all loved Tassie. If they were local, they wanted to keep the state a secret, and if they were from the mainland or travelling, they were making plans to move there.  

I discovered so much more than if we’d rented a car and remained in a tourist bubble. Why people stop to pick up strangers remains a mystery to me, but there’s something to be learned from these generous people, and I look forward to returning the favour some day soon.

Another writing milestone complete

As I round up chapter 20 of the fourth draft of my PCT memoir today, I thought it might be fitting to take you back three and a half years to when I was halfway through my first draft in 2015.

I’ve been intermittently posting videos of my ‘artistic journey’ over the past couple of months, and even though I only have 38 followers on my Muk Muk YouTube Channel, I’m enjoying sharing the experience in the hope to help other struggling writers like myself realize they’re not alone on that unpredictable, emotional rollercoaster we ride every time we sit down in front of our laptops to say something.

I’ve also committed to taking more risks this year and to stop caring too much about what people think. I’ve realized there’s really nothing to lose, and that failing to fulfill my potential is more painful than trying and not succeeding. I’ve also committed to being more self-confident in 2019, so I’m urging you all to sign up to my YouTube channel because even if you’re not into writing, watching me struggle and succeed during the biggest single undertaking of my entire existence will hopefully teach you something, or at the very least be entertaining!

Welcome to the New Year

I fell flat at the end of 2018, likely because as my good friend Chrissy suggested, I’d had such an epic and intense year full of travel, work and adventure.

It was my Year of the Nomad, a good excuse to take a one-year pre-retirement vacation and visit as many people across the globe as I could. I learned a lot from this year. Mainly that everyone does this life thing differently. There’s no real right or wrong to it, no formula to happiness or books that will lead you down the right path. Stay true to who you are and who you want to be, fulfil your potential and be kind to others. That’s what I know about happiness, in addition to surrounding yourself with good people, pushing your boundaries, living simply, and leaving a little space for love in-between.

I spent the last three months of this year working in the Middle East to pay off the travel I’d done and save for a little this year. It was the first time in 3.5 years I’d worked back in the fast paced freelance world of international events, and it took me a full two weeks to convince myself I could still do it. I suffered one of the largest struggles with self-confidence I remember having since 2006, when I was 23 and about to get on a plane to the Philippines to plan the Asian Games Torch Relay’s first leg in the city of Manila. It was a huge responsibility for me back then, and I remember bursting into tears in the office bathroom one evening when the stress of the project got the better of me.

I had no choice but to face up to the challenge then, and I had no choice in the matter more recently either. I would have thought after 35 years with everything I’ve done and all the experience behind me I’d be oozing with confidence. But this is not the case; in fact it sometimes works against me. I could hear that little voice inside my head whispering, ‘But what if I can’t do it this time with all these expectations on me?’

I tried an online mobile therapy app called Talkspace at the end of last year, and although it helped put some of my self-confidence issues into perspective and prevent me from falling victim to my own negativity, it didn’t quite match sitting face-to-face with someone in a room to air out my dirty laundry. My ‘To Do’ list for 2019 includes finishing my book, buying a van, and finding a decent therapist. I’m hoping to rediscover my self-confidence, find my own space and rhythm in this world, and let my heart run free. I spent so much of last year observing the lives of others, this year I need to get back to building a life around me.

The ongoing question is always where, and because Canada ticks so many boxes except the fact I hate the cold and suffer the darkness of winter, all arrows seem to be pointing me back there. Prior to my departure from Australia however, I’m going to take my first ever surfing lessons in Sydney and go hiking around Tasmania with Tom who I met in New Zealand. I was tossing up between heading straight back to Vancouver or taking another job in the Middle East, but surfing and hiking are much more enticing options, and were two of the choices that pulled me right out of my end-of-year funk during the last week. Adventure always equals happiness for me.

So as you enter this brand new year, whether it’s with trepidation, expectation, fear, anxiety or glee, remember there are no hard and fast rules to follow. Create your own way of life that makes you and those around you happy. Push your boundaries, try something new, and most of all enjoy the journey. We’re just so lucky to be here.

Happy 2019!

5 years later I’m still hiking the PCT

October 7, 2013  will always be a special date for me. It was the day I completed the hardest thing I’d ever attempted in my life. It was the day I faced snowstorms, lost snowshoes, slid down bus-sized washouts, found myself lost in a whiteout, and was saved by the trail gods when my GPS miraculously started working again – remember? If not you can relive the experience here.

I arrived at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail alone after 176 days. I never knew if and how I would make it to the end, until those wooden posts came into view and I realised I’d actually arrived.

That was five years ago today, and it feels as though everything and nothing has changed since then. The PCT taught me what I was capable of, the power of nature, the beauty of simple living, and the importance of community. It taught me to trust in the universe, demonstrated the best of the human spirit, and showed me that anything is achievable, one step at a time.

Keeping my blog introduced me to my passion for writing, and when I finished the trail in 2013, many people urged me to write a book about my experience. I’m happy to report that I am, and am currently in the midst of draft four having started writing back in May of 2014.

Back then I realised I had to put pen to paper to make sense of it all, and my first drafts were more like therapy than articulate prose. But if I thought hiking the PCT was the hardest thing I’d ever done, writing a book about it knocks that out of the park. Imagine hiking a section of trail, and then going back to hike it again a hundred times over just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. I’ve continued to hike the PCT on paper over the past five years, and I find it amazing I still have the energy to keep going. The story never gets old, it’s just taken me years to refine my skills so I can give the characters and events the credit they deserve.

I’ve kept videos diaries of my writing process since the beginning, and am going to start posting them on my new Muk Muk YouTube channel (to which I have zero subscribers to be sure to sign up), in the hope that by the time I post the last one, I might have reached the end of draft four and be ready to send it to a publisher. I hope these videos will help other wanna-be-writers like me suffering through their own personal hell. Writing is just like hiking the trail, with moments of great beauty interspersed with pain, suffering and an insatiable hunger to be finished. I look forward to sharing the experience with you, and celebrating the moment I cross that border for the very last time.

Muk Muk

Writing a Memoir – Video 1 – The Beginning

What do we really ‘need’?

I had an interesting thought in the shower today, where all interesting thoughts for me are born.

I was enjoying the intermittent pressure and changing temperature of the water, accepting that if I didn’t want to be scolded, I would have to suffer through a cold shower instead. That’s fine, I thought to myself. I don’t really need a hot shower.

Huh, then why did I need one yesterday? I reflected. I’d been so grumpy when the slightest touch of the tap meant a thirty centigrade difference.

What do I really ‘need’? I wondered.

I’ve learned this lesson hiking the PCT and subsequent trails, but it’s so easy to forget when consumed by the lavishness of society. We need to eat, drink, shit and sleep. Plus we need shelter from the elements. Without these fundamentals we die.

Fact.

On the trail I needed to eat, drink, shit, sleep, carry a tent and hike. Walking was fundamental to finishing the trail and my survival, but it wasn’t more complicated than that.

I started thinking about other things we need like money and a roof over our heads, and the things we think we need like coffee in the morning or the perfect pillow to sleep on.

‘Need’ has become a very convoluted word, especially when we create our own needs, often beyond sensibility. I need a vacation in Mexico, I need to finish this chapter before bed, I need to call so-and-so, or I need a haircut desperately.

We ‘need’ access to food and water, which for most people means spending money (and a means of making money), unless you cultivate a spectacular vegetable garden, live as a vegan, and have access to water via a fresh spring or a well. But does this equate to working twelve months a year? Could you survive by just working six?

We ‘need’ a roof over our head or a shelter. But does it need to be a permanent dwelling with three bedrooms? Do you need that forty-year mortgage?

Then there are the obligations like needing to drive the kids to school, fill the car with gas, or pay the electricity bill. When you don’t have a lot, you don’t need a lot. No kids = no rides to school. No car = no gas. No house = no electricity bills.

I’ve been travelling since June with the same carry-on suitcase, and I don’t need half of what’s in it. I wear the same clothes every day. I hand wash in the sink, and thankfully I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what I look like.

I’ve also been staying with a woman in Southern Spain for the past two weeks, who lives completely off the grid. She grows her own vegetables, raises chickens, bakes bread, makes jam, and is part of a collective that exchanges goods. Today she got fresh milk from a farmer in exchange for bread, tomorrow she’ll get meat in exchange for jam, and so on.

I don’t know the exact details because her English is about as good as my Spanish. But this woman doesn’t have a regular job. She rents out rooms for travellers like me, she has volunteers who she feeds in exchange for work around the property, and she uses a cryptocurrency called FairCoin, based on social justice and equality.

I think she buys products like toilet paper from the supermarket, but she makes her own soaps, mosquito repellent and clothing, and has opened my eyes to an alternative way of living, that quite frankly, I think is brilliant.

I’m about to head over to the Middle East for three months again to make money, which practically goes against everything I’m preaching here. But that’s because I needed to take a year off to discover lifestyles like this that inspire me! 🙂

So the next time you think you need that cold beer, those silk sheets or a new Land Rover, go back to the basic principles of eating, drinking, shitting, sleeping, and shelter, and you might realise you’ve already got everything you need!

Feeling at home

I’m in a state of pure, simple satisfaction. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so content, relaxed, or at peace with the world. It’s not just because I’m on a year-long vacation enjoying the European summer. It’s because for the first time in years I feel at home, and it’s not a sensation I’m used to.

My mum (left), two aunts, uncle and me.

My parents have moved as many times as me, so we don’t have a family home in Australia with familiar bedrooms, bathroom or a kitchen where I know where the utensils live. The house where I grew up in Melbourne, with its black carpet and sandpit, is long gone, so the next closest thing is my aunt’s house in Emmeloord, Holland, where my earliest memories still exist.

Outside the house I grew up in with my dad and sister (me on the left).

The first time I visited my Dutch relatives in Holland was in 1988, thirty years ago when I was five. I spent nine weeks with my aunts and uncles, and returned every four years in ‘92, ’96, 2000 and beyond, to the same house I’m sitting in now.

With my aunt and uncle in Emmeloord 1988.

My aunt’s house has barely changed. The steep, winding staircase I used to run up using my hands and feet is still here. The bathroom overlooking the garden that smells of sandalwood and fresh towels smells the same. The single bed I slept in as a five-year-old still fits me, and the old toys that sat on the wicker chair beside the bed are somewhere in the cupboard.

Of course it’s not just the house that feels homely, it’s the people that fill the space. I’ve spent the last five days eating, shopping, reading, watching television and playing board games at night with my mother, aunt and uncle. The four of us break into spontaneous dance in the lounge room, fall into uncontrollable belly laughter when something Dutch is translated into absurd English, and we shriek at our 80’s clothing and 90’s haircuts as we flip through old photo albums my aunt keeps.

My uncle, mum and me in Urk, 2018.

It’s been a magical reunion, and although I’m doing nothing to advance myself financially or academically, I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing. I’m reminding myself of the importance of family, maintaining and nourishing important relationships, learning to understand differing opinions and cultures, and improving my rusty Dutch. Clearly I’m very busy!

My aunt and I eating herring.

Out of all the experiences I’ve had since coming to Europe four weeks ago, the purest moments of connection with my friends and family have been the best. I did nothing in Germany or Italy except spend time with my friends Kelly, Nael and Carissa and her family. But it’s the simple moments, sipping coffee on the couch or balcony, enraptured in conversation, that are the most satisfying.

Carissa and me.

Next week I’m heading south with my mum and aunt on an eighteen-day road trip through France to Spain. We’re ending up at the hostel along the Camino de Santiago I volunteered at four years ago, one of the most special places in the world for me.

It was whilst sweeping floors, collecting water, making beds, preparing food, cleaning toilets and washing dishes I learned true happiness comes from selflessness, contribution, connection and community. It was the first time I stopped thinking about my own self interests and put the needs of others in front of my own. It’s amazing how much time and energy you have when you take yourself out of the equation.

I relinquished my need to control the environment around me and surrendered to going with the flow. I wrote about this almost exactly four years ago in my post aptly titled: Go with the flow.

Güemes 2014.

The hostel in Güemes has become one of my many homes, and the people in it feel like family. I’m looking forward to reuniting with them, and bringing my Australian, Dutch and Spanish families together for the first time!

Güemes 2014.

Discovering life's lessons through alternative means…