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.

Sailweek Croatia

I’m in that end of a trip mellow state when you feel heavy in your heart that it’s over, but full of great memories at the same time.

I’m actually happy to be the last to fly out from Dubrovnik today, because I now have time to reflect on all the special moments I shared with six wonderful people sailing along the coast of Croatia this week.

Firstly, this trip was an incredible privilege and not something many people get to experience. It’s not something I would normally choose to do while aiming to survive on a humble budget for a year, but when one of my dearest friends Mimi, who I haven’t seen for over three years, invited me to celebrate her 30th birthday on a sailboat for a week, I could hardly say no.

Out of the six people I sailed with, I only knew three at the beginning. But I now know all six intimately after sharing a confined space for seven days. Sailboats are a luxury don’t get me wrong, but there’s elements to consider like not being able to poop onboard (only in extreme circumstances), showering with a very small hose over a sink, sleeping in little bunks in steaming hot rooms, and battling hungry mosquitos that insist on keeping you awake all night. It was by no means roughing it, but it required a certain amount of tolerance, flexibility and good humour to stay sane, especially if you’re constipated or feeling sea sick, which members of our group suffered to varying degrees.

The best part of the trip was sharing the experience with these people. Human connection has been my theme of 2018, and this trip was a perfect articulation of the importance of reconnecting with friends. So many people float in and out of ours lives, and sometimes even the special ones slip through our fingers. But I couldn’t let that happen with Mimi, Murad and Mahi, three incredible friends who were introduced to me through my event work in the Middle East. I haven’t been back to Abu Dhabi or Dubai for over three years now, so the investment was well worth the opportunity to reconnect, and the sailing was just an added bonus as far as I’m concerned!

We visited a number of islands over our seven day journey: Palmižana was the first, then Hvar, Korčula, Mljet and Šipan, before reaching Dubrovnik on the mainland yesterday. Each day involved a completely different activity: hiking, biking, swimming in caves, buggy rides through vineyards and exploring tiny villages. But the most satisfying element was witnessing everyone being pushed out of their comfort zone in a unique way. Fears of bugs and the sea were overcome, some pushed themselves physically and mentally beyond their perceived abilities, others learned how to compromise and go with the flow, while I learned how to completely relax in the company of others, while finding ways to reenergise without flying solo.

If I were to do this trip again, I wouldn’t change much about the experience at all. A week at sea was enough for me, and having a mix of partying and adventure was perfectly balanced. Other than experiencing the Bora winds and torrential rain once we landed in Dubrovnik, we were blessed with perfect weather for the entire trip, and because we hit the season early, the islands weren’t crawling with hundreds of tourists either.

It was also fortuitous timing that we happened to be in Croatia to witness their team beat Argentina in the FIFA World Cup qualifier. The Croatians are an incredibly patriotic bunch, so even though we were on an island with a population of 400 people, it felt like we were in the front row of the stadium while eating dinner in front of the TV.

Despite our great fortune, we did experience a few hiccups on and off the boat that are worth mentioning:

– We lost the ladder from the back of the boat while attempting to surf on a stand up paddle board

– We rented a van that broke down on a 180-degree switchback on a horrifyingly narrow road

– The anchor of the boat got stuck and then fell off the rail and hit the side with a loud clunk

– Four people had their lunch come crashing to the floor when half the table collapsed while sailing

– We blocked one of the toilets… twice

– We narrowly missed collisions with other boats because our mountain of floaties were blocking the skipper’s view

– The engine of our dingy broke down momentarily

– We damaged the fin while docking

– and we lost a sun hat!

Mimi booked this trip through a company called Sailweek Croatia, and chose the Adventure option over the full Party Week, which for a mature 35-year-old like me, was definitely the right choice (though I thoroughly enjoyed our one night out on the party island of Hvar).

In a few hours I’ll be off to the airport again where I’ll be flying to Venice, Italy, and then catching a FlixBus for four hours to reach Trento where I’m visiting one of my most favourite people who I met whilst working on the Olympic Torch Relay in Vancouver. I haven’t seen my friend Carissa since 2014, and since then she’s given birth to her second child, so it’ll be interesting to see how her life has developed since then.

This has been such a fascinating journey so far. Some people’s lives have changed dramatically, while others appear to be exactly the same. In the midst of these experiences I find myself craving that feeling of home, which most of my friends have successfully established. But the itch to roam again was undeniable last year, so I need to keep faith that this journey is leading me somewhere, even if it’s just back to where I started.

The power of nostalgia

My heart is about to explode out of my chest, either from the two cups of coffee I just consumed or the view of the Sierras I’m witnessing from Lone Pine, CA.

This town brings back a wealth of memories from the PCT five years ago. The pang of nostalgia is so sharp it physically hurts, and my desire to live the experience again is so fierce it’s overwhelming!

It’s bizarre how we revisit places we’ve travelled to knowing all too well the experience will never be the same. A place or location is really just a shell and setting for the events that take place and the connections we make. Without the people the places have a familiar yet distant feel, reminding me I can never go back to times past no matter how hard I try. I can’t turn back time and that can be a hard reality to swallow sometimes.

I had another major hit of nostalgia yesterday when I hiked 15 miles of the PCT from Onyx Summit to Hwy 18 that leads to Big Bear, (thanks to my dear friend and trail angel Betty, who bought me dinner and breakfast at Drakesbad Guest Ranch five years ago and helped me in countless ways).

I was giddy with excitement in the hours leading up to my arrival at the trailhead, but as the scorching heat showered me with fatigue, I remembered the PCT was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and that I’ve begun to romanticise the memories after all these years.

I also realised it was no longer my playground. The trail was now home to the thru-hikers of 2018. I was just an onlooker, a giddy thru-hiker groupie wanting to live vicariously through them or be them. I also wanted to do anything I could for them. Give them my food, drive them wherever they needed to go, or take the clothes off my back to give to them. I now understand why trail angels are so passionate. It’s because thru-hikers appreciate even the smallest gesture, like a cookie when all they have left in their food bags are plain tortillas.

When I was thru-hiking I never understood why people wanted to help me so much, because I was the fortunate one living out my dream. But now I get it. It’s one of the most satisfying things to help someone who is living out of a backpack and hiking for five months. Having the chance to hear about their experience and see their eyes light up with gratitude is priceless.

I must say my US road trip has been a bigger adventure than I expected, namely because I’ve visited more people than I expected to see, and those connections is what’s made it so special. I’ve seen friends from the trail, from back home in Australia, and one special person I’d never actually met before. This trip has reiterated the importance of connection. I LOVE driving alone for hours on end, but knowing I have someone to visit at the end of my drive makes the experience so much sweeter.

It only took me 30 years to figure this out and 5 additional years to put this knowledge into practise. But the older I get the more apparent this becomes, so I’m truly grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with so many special people on this trip!

My Year of the Nomad

When I turned 35 in November last year, I celebrated with a few close friends at a Turkish restaurant on Melbourne’s Sydney Road. It was the first year I didn’t receive a single card or customary gift (other than a free dinner), and I found that incredibly satisfying. There was nothing anyone could have given me that I truly wanted, and I hate the idea of gift giving for the sake of it.

I did however give myself a gift. Something that weighs nothing, takes up no space, and will last in my memories forever. The gift is a year off, starting with the four months it took me to hike the Te Araroa, plus another six months to visit as many people in the world who are special to me. I’ll never be able to throw a party for all the people I care about in one place, so this year, I’m bringing the party to them!

After completing the trail I returned to Australia for a 2,000km road trip from Sydney to Melbourne and back, via Sale, Canberra and Kiama. I borrowed my mum’s car and caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and it seems at the age of 35, a lot of my friends are seeing the world through a different lens. Many of them have kids, husbands, homes, mortgages and well established careers, and the ones that don’t seem to fall into two categories. The ones that wish they had, and those who are grateful to have nothing in exchange for their freedom. I fall into the second category of course.

But hold on a second, how can she afford this you ask? Well if you work for 15 years after university, have no kids, no house and no pets, you’ll find that even on a mid-range salary with some breaks in between, you could probably afford it too. It helps that my parents love to stash money in my pockets and bank account when I’m home, but even without their support, my years of working contracts in the Middle East have afforded me this freedom. For now anyway. I’ll need the next 35 years to start saving for retirement.

The next stage of my trip is North America then Europe, before returning to Vancouver to settle down and work. Sure I’m a little nervous about arriving back in one of the world’s most expensive cities flat broke, but when I lived here in 2015 and earned no more than 12k the entire year, I still managed to get by and have fun. The thousands of miles I’ve hiked over the past five years have taught me that less is truly more, and when I look back at 2015, it was one of my favourite years. I sold shoes part time for minimum wage, went on free outdoor trips with work, and appreciated the small things like buying a cup of coffee once a week or treating myself to a restaurant. I didn’t have a car, I lived in a share house, and I spent all of my free time outdoors. Life was good!

If you’re wondering if I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, you’re not the only one. Thankfully the answer is no, but I plan on living this year as if I have been, because I’d much rather do this trip while I’m healthy, then wait until I’m not.

For regular updates on my travels, you can follow me on Instagram @serial_nomad.

Happy Nomading! 🙂

A look back at the TA

I never thought I’d say this… but I genuinely miss the Te Araroa. Perhaps not the trail itself, but the experience, the people, and the activity.

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks catching up with family and friends, cleaning out my sister’s shed and slowly repairing my body. I was inspired to make a video after Tom cut together his daily panoramas… so here it is – a look back at the Te Araroa 2017/18. Enjoy!

Discovering life's lessons through alternative means…