Tag Archives: adventure

Version 0.32 (Picking Sand out of my Tent)

02-04-19

Late morning. Sick of my tent being full of sand I pulled everything out of it and piled it on the picnic table, unstaked the tent, turned it inside out and shook as much of the sand out of it as I could, then set it up facing into the wind, as opposed to perpendicular to it, because I was weary of one side being permanently bowed in by the wind that blows incessantly. Now, of course, both sides are.*

I’m putting myself through some kind of torture out here. Heaven only knows why. Well, no, that’s not true. It’s to save a bit of money, and to see this beautiful coast (which is beautiful, but once it’s been seen and explored, even just a small part, then what?), “to see Australia”, to be on an “adventure.” Is this an adventure? If it is it does not speak particularly highly of it. The wind is incessant. My tent I’ve disliked for some time for its inefficient size (volume relative to it’s shape)—though perhaps it’s just too small for my preference—and because I don’t have a multitude more stakes to pin down the sides, for now when I’m inside it I feel as though I’m being beat about the head by a flock of birds, it’s so constantly flapping about. Sunlight has been inconsistent, and the temperature is so that because of the wind if the sun is obscured I need a jacket, but otherwise not, so that I am always too hot or too cool, or putting my jacket on or taking it off. If I lie down in my tent to escape the wind it becomes too hot when the sun comes out (not to mention the previously mentioned issues with the slouch of the tent walls), like lying in a greenhouse. And I’m camped at a site called Sand Patch, so naturally there is sand all throughout the tent again. Now, is this an adventure, or is it simply living in discomfort simply to save a bit of money? I think I’m heading elsewhere, or back to Perth in a day or two.

So, since I’ve been alluding, but haven’t actually asked the question, I’ll ask, what is adventure anyway? I think yesterday was a bit of an adventure—I left the hostel a bit after ten with sufficient water, and bought some simple food at the IGA. Then I began walking: two hours of leaving town along the road eventually to a bike trail which took me to another smaller, quieter road that at its end was Albany’s wind farm: 18 giant turbines atop the sandy hills that fall off like cliffs to the ocean some three hundred feet below. Around this area is a boardwalk loop that also diverges into the Bibbulmun Track and a long set of stairs that runs down to the beach

It was at the wind farm that I stopped and had a PBJ and some trail mix, and thought about what it was that I wanted to do. At the start of the hike I thought that I might walk a length of the Bibbulmun to the next town over, Denmark. This hike out from Albany was a test run to see how that might feel. How do I feel simply hiking out of town to the Bibbulmun? If I was comfortable with this, then I would either continue on toward Denmark, or would camp at the nearest campsite and continue the next day. Obviously my feelings have been made clear, and we see that my mind has been made up about going back. But to me, that first day at least was worth it. It makes a good bit of sense to escape the routine of life by doing something so not routine, but my life currently is hardly routine to begin with. So, this extra day, to just save some money, is simply stupid. Of course, if the weather was better and I didn’t have a caffeine headache, and the wind wasn’t so obnoxious I might feel differently. But it’s not. It is what it is. And I am what I am, which is a fool. But I’m learning more about myself all the time. I’m stretching, reaching into realms that I have not before. Certainly it will leave some mark or impression on me, within me. But do I have the talent to leave anything of my travels behind?

 

*editing this now, two months, nearly to the day, since first writing this in my journal I realize I probably should have turned the tent so the door faced the wind, rather than the rear of the tent, as it is a triangle-shaped funnel, the front door obviously being the widest part, but then there would be the issue of so much more sand blowing into the tent, so I guess the solution boils down to pick your poison…. ah, well….

Version 0.31 (Continuing to Dig)

02-03-19

It’s the third of February and I’m camped atop a sandy cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean, about seven or eight miles south of Albany. I’m attempting to see a bit more of Western Australia while at the same time spending less money. I walked the distance out here, plus some extra as I took the wrong route, with a quite heavy pack—like really quite absurdly heavy compared to what I’m used to. This was not quite painful, but extremely uncomfortable, this walk. But I am here. To what end I do not know. However, I witnessed our sun’s magical rays splashing down upon the ocean in radiant sparkles and jangles like an eruption of fireworks across a night sky. Through gaps in the clouds they came like rockets and fizzy whizz-bangs shimmering like a floor of gold coins found at the bottom of a hidden spring in a hidden cave in a hidden island, and I guess that is something enough. Perhaps that is all I came for. That, and the pain in my shoulders and my aching ankle. It was message and a warning. You see, I’ve had this idea for a bit, of walking Japan from its southern most point, Cape Sata, to its northern most, Cape Soya. It is a “soft” project, as most of mine are. Soft meaning it is unnecessary to finish, or the means of getting from point to point may vary. The discomfort of carrying such weight now has me rethinking things. Though, runners traveling long distances typically push strollers with their necessary supplies, so that is something I may consider. I could also simply WWOOF or do a work exchange. Those are things I might look into even if I do continue with the walking trip. But all this brings me back, once again, to the questions of “why?” and “what am I looking to get from this trip?”

Clearly I’m not just looking to throw money away on a comfortable vacation. This is certainly a bit of a vacation, but it’s also kind of a lot of work. The photography, the writing, trying to stick to some sort of budget. I realize that hostels are never the plushest digs in town, but multiple unplanned days can easily puncture holes in one’s bank account. But ignoring the budget, what is the point of the photography? Truthfully, here in Australia there is no point. I don’t have a strong interest in being here, and I’m not interested in photographing Australia (which is different than saying I am not interested in photographing in general). The only reason I am still here is because I paid for the flight, a SIM card, and a visa. It seemed silly to leave after less than two weeks. But of course staying here longer means I’m spending more money, and Australia is not cheap, regardless of the exchange rate. There IS NO PHOTO PROJECT HERE. Except for possibly the one vague one that is everything is the same everywhere—a thought that I wrote about in a previous journal, and something that is ever present in the nether regions of my mind, surfacing at unsuspecting moments while walking around town or traversing a new landscape that reminds me of home. Even having a defined project though, what’s the point? What do I wish to achieve? Obviously if I want to produce a book, get featured in a magazine, or have a show (or multiple) I’m going to have to put some work in later, so this is something that is not at all relevant to my immediate situation.

Writing is its own pursuit, and sometimes I think it is more of a joy than photography. It is certainly more therapeutic. These journals, or snippets of them, could also accompany the photographs in a publication or an exhibition. At least with going to Japan I have a sense of something. A purpose. A journal, a la Basho. Just more contemporary in style than writing haiku and journaling; although, amongst his contemporaries, Basho, having more-or-less invented the haiku form, or really given it its own recognized stature as a poetic form in itself, was more forward thinking than anyone else of the time, and so when I think of what it means to be considered a “contemporary” artist today I liken Basho as being the earliest of contemporary writers and poets of his time, while the rest of his “contemporaries” were continuing in past traditions. In other words to be contemporary is to break new ground, which is what he did, and what some contemporary artists are doing today (though I’d argue there is little ground left to break).

I’m enjoying sharing this “adventure” with friends. And I continue to understand myself better with every new foray beyond what I find is my comfort zone.

The Spirit of Mis-Adventure

It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the state of New Mexico after having spent most of the days of the previous two months on my bicycle meandering my way across the United States. Hanging out here in Frisco, Colorado for the past month living with my friend Doug, meeting new people, adjusting to a routine of waking up in the morning making a cup of coffee and reading for an hour outside, breakfasting afterward, deciding when I’d like to go for a hike or a trail run (or both), spending time at the coffee shop just around the corner, editing manuscripts and photos, brainstorming ideas, journaling, and so on and so forth, it seems like that bike trip was nearly a lifetime ago.

This trip I speak of ended with a knee injury, minor though it was, on my way from Taos to Santa Fe. To my surprise and enormous delight I found that after a day of rest I was still able to walk, hike, and run pain free. I ended up spending a couple weeks back and forth between Taos and Santa Fe debating on what to do, eventually purchasing a cheap car with which to continue my westward, photographic journey. But here I am now, and for the foreseeable future.

Immediately upon arriving in Frisco I was to be shown around, starting with Mount Royal which looms over the town like a minor Mount Olympusresidents and tourists alike hiking up it to offer their gratitude for perhaps the nearly always fine weather, or perhaps the magnificent views, or perhaps this beautiful, awe-inspiring place where they are lucky enough to live or visit. Or, perhaps it’s all of these things. There are no bloody sacrifices that I know of though, unless one counts anyone who might have taken a tumble descending the trail a little too swiftly and carelessly (raises hand).

Another thousand feet above Royal is Victoria, and then another thousand or so feet above Victoria lies Peak One of the Tenmile Range, and this is where we were to go on my second week in town.

The idea was simple enough. Wake up not too late and hike up to Peak One, then from there see what’s what and maybe traverse a few of the other peaks, weather permitting, and wander back down and find our way back to town. Unfortunately, Doug had been working his construction job rather maniacally that week, and the week previous, and was really hurting. Specifically, his calves were like red-hot staves, and we were only to make it to Mason Town (about a third of the way up the ungodly steep trail on Mount Royal) before we decided to call off that particular challenge and instead change direction and go for a hike along Peaks Trail which runs south to Breckenridge.

He really must have wanted to hike up to those peaks, though, because at the confluence of Peaks Trail and Miners Creek Trail Doug changed his mind again and asked if I still wanted to hike up there, to which I replied with an affirmative.

After an hour and a half more of hiking, and stopping several times to turn and look around and wonder to myself how it is that he who has both run and cycled across the country is moving so slowly (obviously never underestimate the power of being overworked), and having made our way to the rather patchy, ragged snow line, and attempting to avoid stepping in snow at all costs as we were both just wearing running shoes (and I in shorts), we came to an impasse: snow, at least knee deep and blocking the trail for as far as we could see through the trees.

However, as luck would have it we were in a breach in the forest that, looking up towards Tenmile Peak (Peak 2), seemed to continue all the way up the slope, like some giant had taken a monstrous axe and, raising it above his head took one massive swing and clove the forest in two leaving behind a field of boulders and loose rocks that began far upslope against the impenetrably solid rock of the mountain projecting itself towards the sky—indifferent to the fact that it is crumbling and eroding away slowly, inexhaustibly, over millennia, but realizing too that that doesn’t matter this day because it is still, and will be for our lifetimes and many other humans’ lifetimes to come, utterly there, inflexible and unyielding—and ended, basically, at our feet on the trail.

I suggested hiking up that way as the best course of action being as our choices were rather limited: continue on off-trail, or turn back.

And so it began.

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As is often the case, things aren’t always quite so clear as they appear to be at first observance. Farther up there were stands of pine trees and firs along with the snow they harbored blocking our progress. At this point it seemed utterly absurd to turn around out of fear of our feet getting wet and cold and so we clambered through, sometimes post-holing, other times finding strong foundations which we could easily hike on provided by smaller trees still bent over and buried by the snow’s weight. Eventually we came out into an open scree field that quickly steepened so that we were using our hands at times to almost crawl up the slope. We had to make a decision too about what the best line might be to continue up the mountain.

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As I seemed to be leading this part of the hike I took the bull by the horns, spotted a section that looked a lot like an enormous set of stairs and headed off that way, Doug looking on from behind me probably wondering why I had taken what he perceived as the more difficult of the two options we had debated over.

It wasn’t long before he was following me, but the skies had been clouding over for an hour or longer, and we had received some scattered bits of rain while clambering through the open field, but now thunder in the not-so-distant distance was making itself heard, and we even dealt with a brief shower of hail while I waited for Doug near my “stairs.” It was at this point, with resignation, that we thought it best to make our way back down the mountain, especially after he took a tumble when a seemingly solid hand hold broke loose. The question was, then, “which way?”

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 Thinking it a bit boring to just turn around and head back, I ran reconnaissance to a ridge northward we had previously looked at as a way up to the peak, to see what lie over its edge. What did lie over its edge was a gorgeous valley of brilliant green, flecked with the grey of rocks and boulders, like the inverse of a lichen mottled stone; fallen trees that looked like matchsticks from our vantage; and a criss-cross of shimmering ribbons of water: small brooks and creeks which all seemed to feed a much larger stream even farther below as the valley curved towards Frisco between the contours of the mountains.

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 The issue, perhaps, was getting down to that valley floor some two or three hundred feet below. I called Doug over to take a look. The undulating slopes all the way down were completely covered in snow. I thought it funny, considering all the effort we had put into assiduously avoiding stepping in snow that we were now considering traversing these slopes where there wasn’t a bare speck of ground for hundreds of meters all around us.

Doug first, glissading down on his butt, and then I, attempting to ski in my shoes and failing miserably so that I took the same way down Doug did only to end up with one leg laughably stuck in the snow up to my hip, the other up to its knee, and my left arm jammed up to my shoulder so that it took me a good while of struggle to work myself free.

We still had a couple hundred feet of slipping, and sliding, and sledding to do before we reached the valley floor as the slope that we slid down was multi-tiered and we had come to a stop at a place that was level. After laughing and struggling through more thigh-deep snow we came to another spot that looked appropriate for sledding. I was the first down this time, deciding not to attempt to “ski” it, and quickly focused with my camera on Doug as he wasn’t far behind me.

The rest of our hike back to town was a mostly uneventful, albeit stunningly beautiful, two hours of stream hopping, clambering over the multitude of fallen, mostly rotted trees dry as matches and nearly as brittle, wandering onto and off of unknown trails that while clearly marked had obviously not been used in years, and blundering our way through the forest in what we figured to be the general direction of the town, lost but not lost.

The hike that the two of us went on can be seen as a microcosm of my bicycle trip. In both cases there was a clear plan to start with, but unforeseen circumstances derailed it. From there two choices were made clear: either turn around and go home, or reconfigure things and continue the adventure in a different way. Obviously, the choices were made to keep going, in whatever capacity.

Life is full of unexpected surprises. That’s a statement that sounds cliché, but it’s a reality that becomes more apparent the second one walks out the door on an adventure, whether it be a multi-month crossing of a continent, or something as trifling as a day hike. Had I not hurt my knee on my way to Santa Fe I certainly would not be in Frisco right now, which of course means that none of this that has been written about would have happened, and had Doug and I turned around and just gone back to town we would not have had what was, in my mind, one of the most fun, exciting, spontaneous, and utterly unexpected adventures that I’ve ever had; not in such a long time have I felt so much like a little kid until that moment of brief and inexpressible joy when I slipped, fell, and slid down the snowy slope on my butt. The combination of the risks involved in climbing up some of the steepest parts of the mountain where a tumble could potentially result in serious injury, the sheer joy of sliding down the snow-covered slopes like a child in naught but shoes and shorts, and the rather dull portion of the hike up to the point where we decided to veer off trail provided an adventure with that balance that I think is so seductive of these sorts of things. It’s like that supreme balance of salty, bitter, sour and sweet in a particularly delectable dish that lingers in your mind long after the meal has concluded.

In conclusion, these adventures, which are each just multiple links in the single chain of the odyssey that is my life (or anyone’s life who so chooses to venture out on one) are lessons in persistence, perseverance, and stubbornness, but also, flexibility, open-mindedness, and acceptance. These journeys we embark on, which we can never know their end results, which have no end results but continue on indefinitely like ocean wave after ocean wave roiling upon the shore are in reality one single entity or event, or, as Alan Watts would call it, a “thing-event”—the ocean—each wave being what we distinguish as an individual, distinct event or thing, and as all of these waves are made up of that one ocean, and the forces that work upon it, they are connected in ways that we can not fully, or even partly, comprehend.

Is it not true that the longer one sits on a beach gazing off into the ocean, mesmerized by the rhythm of the waves’ surge and crash and pull, that the waves and the ocean become one, each successive wave becoming less and less distinct than the last?

63, or, The Blog Post that Turned into a Book Review

Picked up Alastair Humphreys’ book Grand Adventures yesterday and reading it now. An absolute joy. Lucid, convincing, inspiring, practical (without sounding like a “guide”) and humorous in places (often self-deprecatingly so). This book is a must-own for anyone who has even had the slightest inkling of a consideration of embarking on an adventure, odyssey, journey, whatever, grand or otherwise.

Grand Adventures can be broken up into four parts, some of which overlap. The first third of the book consists of practical matters, and the point of it is to convince you, the reader, that yes, a big adventure is possible, and yes, you can find the time, money, etc. to go on one. The second two thirds of the book is broken down into modes of transport, or types of adventure—travel by bicycle, by foot, by watercraft, etc.

What could the other two parts that comprise this book be, you may now be thinking to yourself, since I’ve obviously covered the entire length of the thing from front to back. Well, Grand Adventures is also arranged in such a way that each of the subsections are broken down into two formats. Each is introduced by Al and his thoughts on the matter at hand, and then, and here’s the real genius of the book, supplemented by the thoughts and anecdotes of certain people, average human being and Grand Adventurer alike, he questioned who have gone off on these adventures themselves. I almost don’t want to say “supplemented by” because these stories and bits of advice from others make up the bulk of the book. They’re also the bits that when you read you can’t help but be grabbed by the guts with the desire to immediately fling everything, all previous engagements and responsibilities aside, and run out the door prepared or not. Each section is then neatly concluded by Al summarizing stories and pointing out similarities, differences, and unique points of view between them. It’s a neat little bow on a tidy package full of gifts of inspiration and motivation.

If you’ve never rowed across an ocean before (and I’m pretty sure that accounts for about 99.99999 percent of the population of the world) you might find yourself wanting to. If you’ve never gone on an (ant)arctic journey before, maybe that now sounds exciting and possible. If you’ve never walked farther than from your front door to the nearest bar, then perhaps walking across your country of residence (or any country for that matter) sounds like it might be up your alley. Of course, maybe you think it might be better to row across a smaller body of water than an ocean, to start with, or maybe make a visit to southern Greenland rather than attempt to trek around the arctic, or pick a shorter distance to walk than across a continent or country (unless your country is small, unlike the United States), although, the wonderful thing about walking (or cycling) is that you don’t need any more experience in doing it than you already probably have.

There are no lengthy kit lists here, just a very simple one covering some of the basics. That’s not the point of the book anyway, which is mainly to convince and inspire, and this it does exceedingly well. If you as a prospective adventurer are set on going on a particular adventure, the web contains vast surpluses of information for recommending specifics in terms of kit (along with the lengthy debates that often accompany them).

The photography in the book is, on the whole, excellent. At its worst it’s bland and prosaic, but does still cover its most basic function of describing or detailing further  a particular story. The great bulk of photographs though are far and away better than this, many of them being jaw-droppingly gorgeous, particularly the two-page full bleed spreads (I’m thinking of a particular image of Iceland right now). These images not only enliven particular vignettes, but also make one envious of the subject in the  photograph, or of the photographer himself, and oftentimes both, while additionally, and perhaps most importantly, evoking a wide array of feelings, from daring and desolation, to danger, but also quietude, peace, joy, and fun. Above all though, they inspire adventure.

To wrap this all up I think I’ll repeat what I began with in my opening paragraph. And maybe add a few bits. If you’ve ever at any time in your life thought about going on an adventure, big or small, you should own this book. But even if the thought has never crossed your mind to go on an adventure, you should own this book; it’s likely that you need one but just don’t realize it. Perhaps you’re feeling life’s gotten a bit dull, lost a bit of its sheen, is too predictable or repetitive, but you can’t quite pinpoint why this might be. There’s this itch you have, but you can’t quite figure out how to scratch it. All this is pointing to one thing: you’re desperately in need of an adventure. But you didn’t know this because you either don’t know someone who’s been on an adventure, or you haven’t read a blog or a story by someone who’s gone off on an adventure. In short, you haven’t been exposed to the adventuring world. But no worries. Now you know. And with this book you can get to thinking, pondering, picking, and planning. This book will be your constant companion, at least until you leave, because by that point you will be no longer be in need of it. But, while you’re planning, or just pondering an adventure, or even after you’ve returned from one, you will always go back to this book, for it is filled with the seeds of your own personal journeys that you’ve finally discovered you so badly need.

52

The most brutally difficult day on my bike yet.

I hope this is the last time I write feel the need to write that.

Things started well enough with my front tire nearly bereft of air. I discovered this after breakfast, and after breaking camp, and after having packed everything onto my bike, naturally. Irritated, and rather perplexed I removed everything and proceeded to look for a hole of some kind in the tube. Nothing doing. Now even more perplexed I added air to the tire and finally rolled away from Black Kettle a half hour later.

It was a short three or four miles north that I was to cycle before turning west, and I managed that with aplomb. Having accomplished that task I was immediately walloped by a strong cross-headwind from the south-west, and I wished that my destination lie more immediately north rather than west and south as it did. I was to continue directly west for approximately 45 miles, cycling into Texas, before turning south-west for another 15 in order to reach the next town on the route. That’s 60 miles of basically nothing. That’s actually not entirely true. There was the headwind, of course, and there were many, many, many hills. And there was plenty of grass, and some scattered trees. So, this portion of the day which lasted far, far too long mainly consisted of a series of outbursts of cursing from me from time to time while pedaling along at about eight or nine miles per hour, often about half that for having to go up a hill while being battered by a headwind. It was hot, but I had to conserve water because I was moving so slowly (yet with tremendous effort) so I knew it would take at the very least an hour more than I had anticipated the previous evening to make it to Miami. I also carried little in the way of snacks with me, and I consumed all of those within the first thirty miles.

The few prominent memories I have of this portion of the day’s ride, besides what I’ve already related, are as follows: being passed by a foursome of motorcyclists just before the Texas state line, and then passing them as they pulled off the road to snap pictures of the sign, then being passed again by them ten minutes later and thinking that I chose the wrong mode of travel; stopping beneath one of the few trees not on the other side of the fence, which ran along beside me on both sides of the road for as long as there was a road, to eat all my snacks in one go; a decrepit and caved in old ranch house that I tried and failed to get a good photo of; and, lastly, several miles after turning south-west onto a new highway, dropping down in elevation a few hundred feet, loosing the dry grasslands and rolling hills and finding myself cycling amongst small, stunning plateaus erupted like mushrooms from the sandy ground, and the lushness of trees, and bushes, and the color green to the left and to the right of me, everywhere but on or near the plateaus in the middle-distance.

I arrived in Miami and demolished a surprisingly delicious burger and fries at what appeared to be the only restaurant in town, and consumed more than a liter of water. There being no decent place to stay in town I decided to cycle the next 24 miles to Pampa where I would stay in a much over-priced (as they always are) Best Western. I had one more lengthy climb before the terrain flattened out, the wind lessened and changed direction slightly, and the asphalt improved considerably (I had crossed a county line). Coincidentally enough, all this happened in about a span of ten minutes. After this I scooted along at nearly 20 mph and arrived in Pampa in close to half the time I had expected. It was a glorious end to an absolutely horrid and long day.

Now I am currently eating at the Texas Rose Steakhouse next door to the inn. The name certainly sounds charming enough, though the staff exude none of that. Everyone is just scurrying around like mice or ants, or standing in a corner chewing the cud like a couple of old cows in a field.

The place itself is a squat, wooden building erected over a concrete floor; square, hardwood tables all around, sort of old-timey-like if you might imagine. I can see them all being pushed out of the way from time to time, and great, joyous dances taking place, the community all gathered together, people holding hands, laughing, and the occasional boy and girl, twinkles in their eyes, sneaking off unbeknownst to their parents. There is a band playing on a small stage set up in front of the big stone fireplace over which is mounted a stag’s head. Kegs will be tapped, the beer will flow and many a person may be found stumbling through a dance as the night moves along, and perhaps even found on the floor or passed out in one of the booths that line the walls by night’s end. But here I am munching on a roll, waiting for my food, my imagination brandished like a shield in front of me, and the waitress comes over with my chicken-fried steak (the first and likely only one I will ever have), and all this melts away as I’m seized back into reality and look around me and think about where I am and realize I must have been dreaming because these people want nothing to do with me. They want my money only, and they want to go home.