Category Archives: Canada

The countdown to Christmas

2015 will officially be the second Christmas I’ve spent away from my family in 33 years. Not bad for a person who spends most of their time away from the country they call home. The first time was in 2009 when I was travelling with the Olympic Flame around Canada and Christmas fell smack bang in the middle of the 106-day event. We were in London, Ontario, and I remember Skyping with my family on Christmas Eve, which was already their Christmas. They’d set up a laptop on the coffee table, dressed the screen in one of my hoodies, and used gloves to mimic my hands. One appropriately wrapped around a bottle of beer, and the other holding my cactus Michael. It certainly helped alleviate the sting of not being there, and I’m hoping they come up with a similar substitute this year.

(Side note on Michael the cactus… I bought him when I graduated high school in 2000, took him to university, and then left him in the care of my sister where he’s remained ever since. I called him Michael because it seemed like the most unlikely name to call a cactus.)

I have no idea how I managed to dig up this photo. The world of technology… huh!

My current reason for not going home is certainly not as exotic as a 45,000km journey across 13 provinces and territories with the Flame that would open the Winter Olympics in 2010! I’m simply staying put this year because of my residency obligations. It’s a long arduous story, which I’m frankly happy to spare you of, so unlike 2009, this year I’ll be sitting with my feet up in Vancouver alongside my magical friend Jill and her husband, reflecting on another wonderful year that was.

I had thought to let Christmas come and go with little fuss, feeling a little ‘meh’ about the whole thing. But it’s one of those days and seasons that’s impossible to ignore, unless you live in an underground cave in Siberia, and even then sleigh bells are likely to be heard jingling across the tundra. I’ve got nothing against celebrating Christmas; in fact I thoroughly enjoy it, mainly because it gives people a reason to be nice to one another, and an excuse to drink beer before midday!

I am a little over the whole present thing though, but I do appreciate gestures of kindness, spontaneous get togethers, communal tree decorating sessions and home baked cookies. There’s an undeniable spirit of giving in the air, plus a sense of relief that the year’s almost over, soon to be archived, so we can start afresh and sweep all the cobwebs from 2015 out the door.

Allison and Chelsea decorating the tree

My housemate Allison insisted myself and my other housemate Chelsea decorate the Christmas tree together,  and was shocked by my admission that it was the first time I’ve done so in over ten years. She also couldn’t believe it’s the first year I’ve owned my own advent calendar, which is probably why she suspects I’ve either been living in some kind of dark hovel or am running from the law as she so eloquently put it. Hmmm… I should probably try spending more time outside of my room. Perhaps I am starting to behave like a cave animal.

The way to spruce up any tree, put a bird on it!

It’s been a busy month though. I’ve been on a navigational field course with work up in the snow on Mount Seymour, I took a sailing course on English Bay, I’ve been contracted as a virtual consultant for the festival I usually work on in Abu Dhabi, and I’m writing and working as much as possible. Not bad for this half-completed rainy month of December!

Sailing with work colleagues on English Bay, Vancouver

After my last post a few of my closest friends reached out to me with concern. Did I really sound that depressed? One of them even sat me down with my blog open on his screen, eager to talk through specific lines in my commentary. I wasn’t really sure how to react. I don’t think people realise there’s a sad side to me, because when I’m around other people, I’m one of the most exuberant and positive people in the room. That’s because I feed off their energy, so much so I can sometimes become intoxicated by it, hyperactive, high on company until I’m alone again and I crash with exhaustion.

I definitely enjoy being on my own. A lot more than most people I know. I can be a hyperactive, positive lunatic in my own company too. It’s just that when I fail to see that blue sky behind the clouds, sometimes it takes another person to drag me out of the shadows. It happens to all of us, and I think it’s important to express the lows as well as the highs. Life is a constant roller coaster after all, and we all just gotta keep riding it.

Allison’s homemade Christmas card from ‘the Special’, our home

Intention vs. Action

Oh boy, I wanted to write yesterday but I was in such a typhoon of confusion I didn’t allow myself to touch the keyboard. I was drifting like a feather, comfortably riding the jet stream before the breeze launched me in the air, spun me around in circles, and spat me back to earth. Why? Who knows really. Instead of writing I took a lesson away from my morning meditation and just thought fuck it, I’m going to pretend like I don’t feel anything and just keep on going about my day (which is not exactly what my morning meditation teaches me, but it was the way I chose to interpret it).

The typhoon kicked off after I volunteered with Cause We Care, coming out of the hour and a half of stuffing Christmas hampers feeling a lot worse about my contributions to humanity than I had previously. There I was sitting in a warehouse alongside another fifty white, well-to-do women wearing multiple layers, drinking Starbucks donated coffee, writing cards with hearts on them and tying bows onto bags. Don’t get me wrong, what this organisation does for underprivileged kids and single mothers is incredible, but if I walked away dusting off my hands feeling as though I’d done my bit for society, then I would have been terribly mistaken.

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On my way to the warehouse I passed a crowded corner where it looked like they were giving away food to people living on the street. “Maybe I should be doing something like that,” I thought to myself. But deep down do you know what I was really thinking? “I don’t like being in this neighbourhood and I’d rather not be here at all.” Wow, does that make me a horrible person? Maybe. Or perhaps just the honest truth behind that notion was that it made me uncomfortable. I felt out of my comfort zone, which is why I probably instinctively chose to volunteer for Cause We Care, which looked safe and inviting and run by modern, make-up wearing mothers who would never stand me on a street corner in the rain to hand out food to the sorts of people in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside that frankly terrify me.

It was a tough realisation to come to terms with. We can fool ourselves into thinking we have the greatest of intentions when that’s really all they are, intentions. So the one thing I’m going to take away from yesterday and feel good about is the fact I took one small step in the right direction, and now know just how much further there is to walk.

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We get more when we give

I feel like I’m actually coming out of my dark hole. I’ve been wanting to, and trying to, but sometimes these things can’t be forced. Sometimes these moods are there to teach us something. Take us far down to the bottom so that we’re able to spring board back up, like when your feet hit the bottom of a pool and propel you to the surface.

There are many factors that have played into this resurfacing. The sunshine is back, and the white frost on the rooftops in the morning has become a site to behold. Watching people scrape ice from their windshields as I bike past them with the breeze biting my cheeks, the rest of me rugged up like a toasty snowman, has given me an appreciation for this fresh new season. I realise it’s only November, but for the last three years I’ve spent this month sweating in the Middle East, so it’s taking some time to adjust.

It sucks to be down, and thankfully for me these bouts don’t last very long. But when I look back, I realise my best motivation for change comes from falling into these desperate states. When you feel that there’s nothing at all to lose. I was in one of these states when my idea of hiking the PCT was born, and I’m sure others would attest to that with their own stories. How else would one choose to make such a drastic change, have the guts to throw caution to the wind and actually follow through?

My friend Martin from Australia visited recently, and in true form of an old friend I’ve known since I was 16, he basically told me to get into action and start doing what I really want to do. I’ve been talking so much about sharing my story of the trail with kids again like I did near Aqua Dulce at Judi’s schools, and in Australia to the year 12 students of my friend Gen. So what has been stopping me? Fear that maybe I don’t have that same spark or flair that I used to? That the audience won’t be as receptive? That I’m a has-been thru-hiker talking about an experience I had two years ago, and that no one will be interested in listening?

You know what, who gives a shit. I got so down on myself for not doing it, plus work has cut my hours so drastically that basically I’ve got nothing to lose. Fear evaporates very quickly when a task becomes a need or matter of survival. Often I struggle to get out of my warm cosy bed before 8am, and then I groan when I need to strip down before my shower; but on trail we were somehow able to wake before sunrise, stand naked in the freezing cold while struggling to pull on soaking wet clothes with numbed hands, and then walk for ten hours in the rain and snow. How? Because it was a matter of survival. Plus there was no other way to finish the trail.

I have a feeling that anyone who accomplishes something others would term ‘heroic’ or ‘sensational’ looks back later and wonders how on earth they did it. We’re all human after all and capable of similar things. Yes it’s true that some of us are built better for certain activities, but that’s not what gets you over the finish line. Your mind has to be the one that carries you, gives you the confidence, strength and determination to succeed, and the guts to get out there in the first place and do it.

“If your mind can think it the body will follow.” Billy Goat was right. If you really want something bad enough, you’ll achieve it. And if you give it everything you’ve got and still don’t succeed, you’ll never regret having tried.

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A card from Fuller

I also received inspiration following my last blog post from a comment someone wrote, which really got me thinking. They pointed out that there are so many people in need that could use my help, and living in Vancouver I’m reminded of this everyday with the amount of people living on the street. They said that so many people write blogs these days from the comfort of their homes, and challenged me to get out and help by rallying support on my blog. It got me looking into organisations in Vancouver that support people or families who struggle with poverty and need help. One of them in particular impressed me with the care they give to single mothers and their children. It’s called Cause We Care, and they have a number of initiatives and activities that depend on funding and recruiting volunteers to help support these families.

I’m starting to volunteer with them early next month, and have decided to rally support from all of you in the form of a donation. $65 supplies a family with a Christmas hamper containing cupboard staples, treats and small gifts. There is also a Christmas dinner hosted at one of the local East side schools for families who cannot afford to celebrate Christmas. Click this link if you’d like to donate or find out more about the organisation, and if you do, please leave a comment on this post. It would be neat to know how much money we can raise together in support. If you have your own organisation or charity that you donate to at Christmas, please also share their link via a comment on this post to encourage awareness for other humanitarian projects across the globe.

There’s no doubt that helping another human being is one of the most satisfying and wholesome feelings we can ever experience. So if the dark and dreary winter is getting you down, try shining some of your own light on someone else, because inevitably that joy will find its way back to you.

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Suffering the darkness

Today I’m wallowing in the general mood of the day and the weather. The early (or so it seems) onset of winter is severely affecting my mood. The weather in Vancouver is that of a Melbourne winter. Shitty. But it’s only November and the short days are only getting shorter and the dark days are only getting darker. By 5pm I’m ready to jump into bed, mentally and physically. I’m trying not to freak out so early on, but I began panicking in the middle of summer about how badly I was going to tolerate this winter. There are likely a million things you could say to make me feel better about this time of year, but my mood is such that I need to wallow, I want to wallow. My mood desires to match the weather, to wait out the storm until the sunshine’s back on the horizon.

It’s 7:30pm and I have a group of improvisers in my house playing improv games in the lounge room. I’m highly distracted by random voices and words and scenarios being called out and am too frightened to leave my room until this troop of my housemate’s theatre scene has left. I spend a lot of time cooped up in my bedroom when I’m at home, reading or writing or doing stuff on the Internet. I can lose hours at my laptop, days and weeks just sitting here tapping away. If I’m not working or exercising or socialising, I’m sitting at my desk or in my bed, where I eat and watch shows on Netflix and fall asleep inside my little dungeon that looks like I just moved in with bare walls, overflowing suitcases and a few empty boxes.

A shelf in the bookcase in our living room was recently vacated by our previous housemate and assigned to me. At first I didn’t know what to put there. I haven’t bought anything since I arrived with one suitcase in April except for a comfortable desk chair. I took a few books and propped them onto the lonesome shelf, looking pitiful and out of place. A day later I brought them back to my room, feeling as though my roots had spread too far, as though I was getting too comfortable committing to be here long term. I took the books back to the shelf and added a few more the next day, until the shelf looked half used and respectable. Then the day after I hauled them back to my room again, back to the security of my den and the comfortable host of my existence.

I’m not planning to move anytime soon, but the nomadic part of me won’t allow myself to get too comfortable. I’m already thinking about buying a van so I can be independent and mobile and start a fresh new life again next year. I know it’s not just me, because I had this conversation recently with a close friend who also craves that biyearly reinvention of ones self. The same feeling you get when you read the first page of a new book with endless possibilities, before you get too far in and decide the plot is boring or you’re tired of the characters already. It’s not a quality I’m proud of. Like the endless list of unfinished books I have to my name. There’s a lack of commitment embedded in there somewhere, but there’s also the drive for new experiences, the unknown, the unimaginable. That’s what we nomads crave. And be it an unhealthy addiction, we’re either born with it or picked it up somewhere along the way.

Don’t judge me  entirely on what I write this evening, it’s mainly the mood talking, and the endless deluge of water outside my window isn’t helping. On most other days the rain would sound rhythmic, meditative, calming. But right now each droplet is like a dull headache that won’t go away. The kind you slowly forget about until you move your head a fraction and realise it’s still there.

I’ve been reading some pretty depressing novels and watching probably the worst TV series for the human soul in my sombre state. I’m halfway through Viktor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for meaning’ and also started reading Paula Hawkins ‘The girl on the train’. The latter is driving me into a dark tunnel, but I can’t help but discover what’s inside. I’m also watching ‘House of Cards’ on Netflix after my obsession with Kiefer Sutherland and the latest series of 24 recently ended. Kevin Spacey was the next best thing, but it’s darker than dark, dragging me down into its own sea of turmoil and deceit.

It’s 8:30pm now and I’m at a standstill. No desire to read, write emails or watch Netflix. In moments like these walking is the answer, but I feel like a caged rat in a dark cocoon with the rain outside, unable to escape the suffocation of my own bedroom. I actually did pilates in the lounge room this afternoon, before my housemates and the troop of amateur actors invaded my household. But that was short lived; as soon as the doorbell rang I slunk back into my bat cave and bolted the door shut.

Perhaps I just needed some keyboard therapy, because I’m actually feeling a lot better right now. In fact now that it’s out of my system, I’m feeling about ready to get back into my depressing novels again, and perhaps I will watch another episode of Netflix after all.

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My brain needs a reboot

Holy Moses, I just found myself looking at a photo of one of Australia’s ex-prime ministers, and it took me a good 30 seconds to retrieve his name from the diabolically disorganised data filing system in my head. I have no idea who’s doing the sorting up there, but I think they’ve gone AWOL. I’ve always been paranoid that my brain cells are diminishing at a rapid pace, and it amuses me when my 95-year-old grandpa tells me stories of standing up to do something, before forgetting what he stood up to do. Geez grandpa, this is old news for me, I started doing that ten years ago.

I even went to my doctor about a year back to ask if he thought I might have an early onset of Alzheimer’s. He’s known me for a while, especially my hypochondriac behaviours, so he took my question seriously and ran me through 30 questions beginning with the date, where I was etc etc. He then moved onto remembering three different articles that I had to repeat at the end, writing something on a piece of paper and folding it in half (or something like that – of course I can’t exactly remember) and around 20 others basic tasks. At the end he told me I’d answered all the questions correctly and was the fastest person he’d known to do so.

But why then did I just stare at a photo of John Howard and take so long to remember his name? The better question may be, why was I staring at a photo of John Howard, but honestly I feel like my brain is behaving the way my computer does when the start up disk becomes full. I don’t even know exactly what this means, but programs start shutting down unexpectedly, documents take a while to open, I have to click on things twice just to make something happen. This stuff is happening in my head. I’m reacting more slowly, words take longer to formulate, and god help me if I have to remember someone’s name that I haven’t seen in a long time.

I attribute the slow performance to a couple of things:

  1. There’s too much in there and I need to create space.
  2. I haven’t been exercising my brain muscles enough so they’re losing their strength.

If it’s an issue of the first instance – how does one create more space? I don’t have a USB port by the side of my temple I can download from. And if I did, my filing system would probably be as bad as the one I keep for my regular documentation. Is there such thing as a mental reboot, a defrag for our brains that doesn’t cause us to lose important data?

If it’s an issue of the second instance I kind of get it. I haven’t utilised the tactical side of my brain for a while. I could literally go to work in a semiconscious state and still perform the majority of my duties to their desired capacity. But is this really making a difference? I have mastered the art of remembering the model, style and location of four different shoes at a time. The problem is sometimes when I come out to deliver them, I can’t for the life of me remember who they were for. I’ve literally stood on the floor with a perplexed expression for 15 seconds until the person grabbed the shoes themselves, or at least waved me over. I have terrible facial recognition. My most feared question in the world is, “have you guys met?” I always wait for the other person to respond, and if there’s any hint of deliberation, I always lean to the affirmative response.

My best friend Penny in Melbourne, who has known me since childhood, is so aware of my failing memory that she provides me with a full briefing before we catch up with old friends.

“Now you know Kass got married and had twins, Jules broke up with her boyfriend, and Ash and Jodie bought a house.”

These are people I’ve known for years, but I did at one point forget that Kass was pregnant, and if Jules hadn’t broken up with her boyfriend I wouldn’t have remembered his name. I know this doesn’t sound that drastic, but trust me it’s gotten bad. My worst nightmare would be attending a school reunion. Throw me into a tank of sharks any day. I’d be more out of depth making idle chitchat with absolute strangers I supposedly knew than taking my chances with those giant fish.

I’ve often been told the way to keep my brain active is by doing puzzles like Sudoku or crosswords. I know there’s also memory exercises one can adopt that use visual stimuli to enable one to recollect incredible amounts of data. But I always forget to do them, or at least that’s my excuse.

I’m certainly open to suggestions, but felt compelled to share my experience so that my 95-year-old grandpa and anyone else who stands up and forgets what they’re doing can put their mind at ease. It happens to the best of us!

Posing beside John Howard, Australia’s second longest-serving Prime Minister, after sneaking into the Australian Athlete’s Welcome Reception with my sister and brother-in-law at the Beijing Olympics, 2008.

Career Compatibility

Matching careers to lifestyles, not the other way around.

Something quite profound occurred to me today after having one of those ‘what are we doing with our lives’ conversations with two of my colleagues whilst paddle boarding after work. What was interesting to discover was that we’ve all decided on the kind of lifestyle we want to lead. Now we just need to find the career to match.

It’s taken me almost 33 years to realise I’ve approached this the other way around. Choosing a career or a job and then discovering the lifestyle my profession allowed me once I was in it (and that’s after spending years at university and thousands of dollars on a degree). Shouldn’t we be looking at this in reverse?

I read a great article by Mark Manson recently (who I discovered a year ago after Googling ‘the meaning of life’), called Screw Finding Your Passion. It pointed out some very obvious yet original ideas about determining what the hell we like doing, and at the same time not expecting that every aspect of our dream job will be enjoyable or satisfying. He makes a good point that our generation feels entitled to find meaning and satisfaction in absolutely everything we do, paid or not, and from my own personal experience I tend to agree. But I also believe that when it comes to choosing a career, we assess the merits of the work involved, without always considering the realities of the lifestyle attached.

No one ever told me back at my career day in high school that I could make a very decent living doing freelance event work. I didn’t even know planning events was considered a profession or what a freelancer actually was. But if someone had told me freelance event work would mean working 15 hour days plus weekends, a reduction in personal fitness, possible stress on relationships or no relationships at all, eating badly and burning out after 10 years in addition to the experience of travelling to multiple countries, dining with world leaders or carrying the Olympic Flame; I would have been able to make a better assessment of how long I could see the perks of that profession working for me.

It occurred to me today that kids should be studying lifestyles in school. Finding examples or case studies of the people who are living the kind of life they wish to lead, and then learning how they got there. I’m not just talking about the 50-year-old retired founder of something-or-other who owns a sailing boat, multiple houses and a small island in the Gulf of Mexico (unless you’re prepared to put in as much work as they did). I’m talking about the 50-year-old who lives a humble lifestyle working three days a week, is happily married, in impeccable shape, takes the kids on camping trips and sells beeswax candles at a local market every second Saturday during the summer.

What kind of lifestyle can one expect if they decide to become a civil rights lawyer, a surgeon or an architect? What sorts of lifestyles are on offer? Instead of dissecting mice in biology, we should be picking apart peoples lives and deciding which parts we want to mimic and which aspects to discard. Students should be given class time to search for their lifestyle idols (outside of their sporting or musical heroes). People who are living in the manner they want to live, to learn real lessons about how to make that reality theirs.

I can remember at a career session in year 10 sitting in front of an old desktop computer filling in a lengthy questionnaire about things I liked doing and what I was good at. The software then ran the answers through a basic algorithm and spat out my recommended career path. I’m pretty sure it suggested advertising, but I guess the test didn’t uncover that I despise consumerism, only shop at Thrift Stores and don’t own a TV. It’s funny though because I did end up making commercials after studying TV production at university, and I completed that degree because I’d auditioned for an acting school and got denied and figured the next best thing was working on the other side of the camera.

It’s amazing the career tangents I’ve found myself on since then, because either the offer was there, the pay was good, or I had the right skills for the job. Despite having one of the most exciting careers by the age of 30, it’s terrifying to think how many times I’ve avoided doing what I wanted to because it either seemed too hard, I was scared of success, or because something else distracted me. It’s also true that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I needed to live and experience many things before I really figured it out. But I’ve also known for a long time that I wanted to work for myself, be able to travel for work or work while I travel, write, take videos and explore. None of the jobs I’ve worked up until this point have really steered me in that direction, and it’s only now that I’ve started working part time to gain a better understanding of what makes me happy, that I’ve had the time to spend doing those things that I love.

When I finished high school no one told me that, A: I’d be completely overwhelmed as though I’d just left my mother’s womb. B: I’d want to quit my university degree at least once. And C: I’d likely discover that my university degree had nothing to do with what I’d actually be doing. I guess I should have asked myself some very basic questions when deciding on a career path. Do I want a profession that is conducive to spending time with family, allows me to go surfing on weekends and maintain my organic vegetable garden? Or do I want a job that’s going to take me to a new country every 30 days, allowing me to fly business class and eat the free food in the airport lounges? Most of us want both; the later option when we’re young and single and have nothing tying us down, and the former option when we get a little older and start thinking about having a family. So shouldn’t we be preparing for both? If people knew before jumping into a profession that the burn out rate is 90% after 10 years, they could at least prepare for this before finding themselves worn out and unskilled at the age of 40.

I believe the next generation could make better-informed choices if they focus more on career compatibility with the lifestyles they desire. For example, if they want to become a host on a daytime breakfast show they should consider:

  • What time they’re waking up every day.
  • How it’s potentially going to affect their partner, children and their health.
  • If they have a good run, how many years they can actually expect to be working in that role.
  • And what the potential career choices are afterwards.

If that lifestyle doesn’t match what they’re after, then they may need to consider other options. If we look at it from the other perspective, what was the 50-year-old who went camping with their kids or the person who has time to go surfing on the weekends doing for a living? And does that person make the funds to go on as many trips a year as they envisaged, or live in the kind of house and community they desire? There are many facets to consider.

Wouldn’t you have loved school more if part of the curriculum allowed you time to discover a lifestyle that appealed to you? Where you could study peoples lives and learn from their success and failures before heading down that path yourself? I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy to go back to that school any day!

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A belated anniversary

When a young guy turned to me in the store today and said, “You’re Muk Muk who hiked the PCT in 2013,” it took me a second to register exactly who he was.

“Wait, who are you?” I asked in surprise, before recognising him as one of my fellow Australian thru-hikers who had treated me to a bowl of mouth-watering spaghetti bolognese in Oregon at a hostel in Ashland.

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His trail name was Sir Poppins, and after Ashland I never saw him again until he showed up in the sleeping bag section of my store today. We embraced not as friends, but as family who had shared their home on the trail for half a year. He asked me about the dramatic events that unfolded in Washington amidst the almighty snowstorms he had missed having finished three weeks before me. He also asked if I thought about hiking the trail again, and I told him I still thought about it every other day.

“It becomes engrained in you,” he agreed. “I’m not sure I’ll ever have a proper relationship again because of my attachment to that trail.”

It was comforting to hear a fellow 2013 thru-hiker say this, as I sometimes wonder if I think back to that experience more often than I should. We laughed at the fact we had both returned to Canada to be closer to the mountains, and like me, he had found work selling outdoor gear while determining his next chapter of destiny. I guess it’s common for thru-hikers to feel such a strong pull to the pathway that was once our home. Everyone’s experience is unique, but the connection we have to each other and the wilderness we ventured through is the same. Both become part of our blood, and will live with us forever.

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Tonight I took an evening stroll through the cemetery to walk off the enormous meal I’d consumed to celebrate the birthday of my dear friend Jill’s mother. The half moon was shining eerily between the thick fog of moving clouds, and it occurred to me that it was the first time in a long while that I was using the light of the moon to see where I was going. This became common practise on the trail, especially when the moon was full and you could walk without the assistance of your headlamp for light. It was also the first time in a while that I’d felt so alone walking at night. I figured my biggest threat was another human waiting to jump out from behind a tombstone, which was an unlikely scenario at best, allowing me to relax and enjoy the silence and solitude of the dimly lit pathway covered in a blanket of wet fallen leaves.

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Taken by T’ashii Paddle School, Tofino

The summer has finally come to a close, and following my final field course of SUP (stand up paddle board) surfing in Tofino this year, I could feel the change of seasons alter my mood. I definitely fell into a funk of post trip blues, feeling much less motivated to get out on the water and paddle when its 12°C than when it was 24. But fall has painted the streets of Vancouver with the most incredible pinks, browns, yellows and reds, that I’m enamoured by the beauty of this city every day when I peddle my bike to work. I don’t feel like the seasons are as exaggerated back in Australia, but it’s also been a long time since I’ve spent an entire year in one hemisphere.

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In a recent email from Fuller he reminded me it was my two-year anniversary of finishing the trail on October 7th. Considering how much I think about the trail I was surprised it hadn’t occurred to me, but that day I’d been returning from Tofino and my surfing trip, where I was once again treated to the spectacle of bioluminescence, and to one of the most magnificent sunsets I’d ever seen. In a way I was relieved that I hadn’t remembered, that after two years the trail wasn’t consuming my every thought. But after talking to Sir Poppins today, I realise it’s inevitable the memories will be ever present, returning through connections with its people, or those moments when we’re surrounded by the brilliance of nature.

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Taken by Dave Berrisford at Mackenzie Beach, Tofino

Human Purpose

Reading a recent comment from Keen Hiker on my blog this evening made me realise it’s been at least a month since I’ve thought too deeply about my greater purpose in life. No matter how much I deliberate on this topic, I’m still absolutely fascinated by the concept that life can be seen as completely frivolous or full of meaning, simply by the way we perceive it. It struck up some kind of strange epiphany as I started getting ready for bed, when I realised that maybe I’ve been looking at it all wrong. I’ve had a very singular focus on life’s purpose, assuming that everyone as individuals should have their own purpose for being alive. But perhaps that isn’t the case. Perhaps our purpose stems from working together as a race, to achieve something well beyond the realms of what a single human can achieve? I’m just throwing ideas out there, and maybe they’ve been expressed a gazillion times before, but I’ve never thought about it in this way.

Does an ant operating on instinct understand its greater purpose? Does any creature on this planet understand why they’re here and what they’re meant to achieve? Why should humans be any different? Despite our intelligence, we don’t seem to have a concrete answer. But these days we operate less on instinct, and more on what we’re taught to think and do. We operate within rules and limitations, suppressing our instincts, making choices based on opinions and the experience of those around us. If we did operate on instinct, what would we all be doing? Creating anarchy and killing one another to stay alive? Or would we have a clearer picture on what to achieve, doing whatever it is to live a prosperous and happy life?

Perhaps this is where indecision stems from. Being unable to distinguish between what we really want and what we think we should have. The world has transformed and developed so much that there’s simply so many options before us. And what comes with options? Indecision. And what comes with indecision? Inaction. Because it’s safer not to make any decisions rather than making the wrong ones, right? Maybe it would help if we understood what to base our decisions on.

I don’t feel as though school really prepared me for the ‘real world’, or that learning algebra, about World War II or the chemical properties of hydrogen really helped me answer what I want to do with my life. No teacher stood at the front of the classroom with a diagram explaining what we should strive to accomplish, providing a breakdown of options on how best to achieve this. They simply gave me a base level understanding of enough information to satisfactorily function within society. They exposed me to enough activities to inspire me to keep living, and then wiped their hands clean leaving the rest up to me. I understand that choosing what to do in life may fall within the category of a ‘First World Problem’, alongside cars breaking down, losing iPhones or buying decaf coffee by mistake. But for me it’s a very legitimate question, and one I don’t think we’re encouraged to find answers to, while studying to become doctors, lawyers or electricians.

Touching again on my earlier concept of a collaborative purpose, if there was a coordinated effort across the planet in which everyone played a part in the bigger picture, how would it look? Like a giant anthill covering the globe with humans scurrying all over the place, working towards a common goal? Would we eradicate hunger, live less introspectively and focus on the good of each other? Or would we simply live to feed the Queen, while trying our best not to squash one another?

There doesn’t seem to be a solid answer to the greater purpose of human existence, nor anyone judging us on our decisions (depending on what you believe). So it’s a pretty sweet deal really. We’re all off the hook! Free to do whatever we choose, limited only by what we decide. So why aren’t we all out there doing the things that we love? Is it because we don’t know what we want, or because we’re too busy complaining about the lack of time we have because of work, or the fact we can’t afford to get away because of that giant mortgage looming over our heads?

I guess it helps to be reminded that despite what our purpose is, we’re all in control of our destiny. If you don’t like your job, change it. If you can’t afford the lifestyle you’ve chosen, adapt. If your friends don’t have the same interests as you, find new ones that do. It took me a long time to learn (and it’s an ongoing process) how to drill into the core of what makes me happy, trust in my instincts and actually follow them. It’s taken me even longer to realise that when my objectives benefit others in some way, I live a much more meaningful and enjoyable existence. And when we enjoy the life we’re living, it’s a lot easier to focus on making positive contributions to other people’s lives.

So yes, once again I guess it all comes back to striving for happiness. And whether we like it or not, happiness is to a large extent a choice. Despite all the decisions that may cloud our judgement, throw us on a detour or completely off the rails, we need to think back to the basic principles of what makes us happy, and steer those elusive reins back in that direction.

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Hiking the West Coast Trail

My eyelids are half shut as I sit here compiling my notes from the West Coast Trail, which I just returned home from this afternoon. There was very little signal on the trail to blog, so I’m bombarding you with a rundown of the entire trip in one long simplified regurgitation of the events that took place over the four days my friend Steve and I were on the trail.

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You can check out my Gear & Clothing List, Food Menu, Budget, and FAQ & Considerations on the West Coast Trail drop-down under the Hiking Trails tab on this blog, plus my entire Photo Gallery in addition. I’m hoping this information will assist other hikers in planning their trip, and perhaps determine if they really want to hike this trail or not.  Continue reading Hiking the West Coast Trail

Commitment

Out of all the lessons I learned during my recent two-day white-water kayaking adventure on the Cheakamus River in Squamish, BC; the power of commitment proved the most effective.

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Photo by Dave Berrisford

Paddling on white-water is like living life in fast motion. You don’t have the luxury of time for decisions or chances to renege. You are powered by reactions, to the water and the obstacles around you. You must choose your direction and commit to it; then paddle to get there despite what happens in-between. Anything less and you’ll end up hitting the rocks, floundering in the waves or getting trapped beneath the trees.

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Photo by Dave Berrisford

To successfully steer into a narrow eddy or surf a challenging wave, you need commitment. If you give it a half-hearted effort you’re bound to miss or be swept away with the current. But if you’re committed to the direction you want to go and keep your eye on the prize, even if you overshoot or stray by a fraction, strength and determination will get you there.

This idea of commitment can obviously be applied to all things in life, but I never realised just how necessary it was until I witnessed its immediate consequence on the water first hand during the field course.

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Music: The Temper Trap, Sweet Disposition

I believe what got me across the border to Canada on the PCT was a commitment from the very beginning to finish the trail; no matter what the circumstances or conditions, providing my body could propel me there.

Strength of mind is more powerful than muscle, and a long distance hike like the PCT is certainly not just about physical endurance. I think any thru-hiker would agree that at least half the challenge is mental. Mood alone can determine your energy levels that day. It’s a lot easier to hike 30 miles jacked up on serotonin than it is when you’re feeling down.

I’d like to say I’m a person who follows through on commitments, but I also think very carefully about what I commit to first. When I tell someone I’m going to do something, it means I’m 100% committed to doing so, unless powers out of my control prevent me.

Someone at the store today asked me what’s next after the PCT. I have asked myself this question numerous times, and there are countless options I wish to explore. I have some ideas in mind, but I won’t be sharing them until I’m 100% committed! 😉

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Descending from Black Tusk – Photo by Steven Bridge
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Trail to Panorama Ridge
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View of Black Tusk from Panorama Ridge

In the short term I’m continuing to explore the trails and waterways of BC, having recently hiked up to Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge near Lake Garibaldi. Next month I’m hiking the West Coast Trail, my first real multiday hike since the Camino. The trail is only a meagre 75kms (47 miles), but it’s said to be demanding, and I believe my biggest challenge will be learning to compromise. I have become incredibly used to solo travel, my own habits, routines and making my own decisions. I’m doing this hike together with my friend Steve, who has been my hiking and camping companion throughout the summer. We share a passion for the outdoors, equal fitness levels, similar hiking pace, and both love to analyse life, people’s behaviours and the complexity of the world; ensuring we’re never short of conversation. But it will be interesting to see how two incredibly independent, self sufficient and opinionated people (when it comes to wilderness travel at least), team up over a period of four or five days.

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Thankfully we are both lovers of logistics and documentation, so I’m looking forward to sharing my gear list, food menu, and tips for hiking the trail once the adventure is over. It’s one of the most expensive trails to hike in Canada (or anywhere I’ve ever known) – with permits alone costing over $100, not to mention the cost of ferries, the bus back to the start point, and getting over to Vancouver Island. But I guess it’s something you only ever do once.

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Lake Garibaldi

I should also mention that I’m no longer required to move house, which I somewhat attribute to the power of manifesting reality. Up until the end of July, I truly believed that I wouldn’t need to move out of the room I was subletting. There was no evidence, suggestion or reason why this would be the case; and although I still wanted to believe it, I eventually gave up and secured another room. But just recently the roommate decided he was not going to return, which means that less than two weeks before the move, I’m now in exactly the position I had hoped to be in. In some respects I’m not that surprised, as I’d almost expected it to pan out this way. I did feel guilty cancelling on the room I’d secured, but thankfully because the rental market in Vancouver is so saturated, it took the woman less than a day to find someone else, so she kindly offered me back my deposit.

In addition to my lessons on commitment this week, I have also recently been reminded that positivity breeds positivity, and that positive thinking can create endless possibilities.