Are you ready to Swashbuckle?

One question I get asked almost more than any other, is what heck is a ‘Swashbuckler’? Well, the traditional definition says it’s “a swaggering swordsman, solider, or adventurer; daredevil.” As you can imagine, we’re less about swords, and more about adventure here. So let’s go with that. And we’re not just talking about the go climb a mountain, jump out of plane kind of adventure either. You can be daring and brave and adventurous in all sorts of ways. We have our own ‘The Relentless Pursuit of Wow’ ethos here, and that’s really what we’re about. So if there’s something that stirs your soul, or makes you go “Wow!”, that’s what we wish more of for you in the year ahead.

Maybe it’s to read more, dream more, do more, travel more, love more, or just be more of who you really are. Whatever makes you happy. 🙂

And as I’ve said before, it’s not awesome people who somehow have the monopoly on doing awesome things, it’s doing awesome things that make you one of those awesome people. Many of us, myself very much included, often suffer from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ thinking we have to be something more than we already are to do what we really want. Well, fuck that.

Let’s make 2017 the year of doing what we’re most passionate about, regardless of whether or not we’re actually ‘ready’. Let’s be honest here, you could spend your life trying to get ready, and never get anything done. So how about we just start and work it out as we go along?

Please know, if the thing you’re most passionate about is doing open heart surgery on someone, you’re probably not included in that particular strategy. Best you practice a bit first. For the rest of us, who just want to try new things, write, paint, draw, sing, dance, travel, take photos… whatever it is, let’s go with the strategy that I was given when first started writing many moons ago: “pursuit of the craft”. Learning by doing.

Because I don’t know about you guys, but these years don’t seem to be going by any slower. For me personally, when I think about how fast this last one went by, and then I think of that amount of time multiplied by about 20, it suddenly doesn’t seem like all that much time left. For example, if I keep on my current trajectory of productivity, I’m unlikely to write more than about 4 or 5 more books, and I have plans for many more than that. A lot more. So something better give. Either I’d better hope I get more than 20 more good years, or I find a way to get more done in those years. Pulling my finger out and making shit happen probably isn’t a bad place to start.

You can, of course, set goals and intent on any day of the year, but we all know doing it at the start of a calendar year makes things neat and tidy, (if that sort of thing is important to you.) Whenever you do it, whether it’s today, tomorrow, or you’ve already done it, here’s to some serious Swashbuckling in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Sputnik.

Chief Swashbuckler.

PS Here’s a picture of my first book, signed by George Betsis, the person who originally inspired the whole idea of The Swashbucklers Club way back in the mid 1990s! But that’s a story for another day.

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My first book, signed by George Betsis, the person who inspired The Swashbucklers Club almost 20 years ago.

Making Space for Dreams

The world used to have a lot of empty space. Physically and mentally. There were gaps. Places you could go where there was… space. Nothing. Just you and the world. And your thoughts.

Slowly but surely we’ve ‘progressed’. If you can call it that. I’m not honestly sure we should. But we’ve started filling the spaces with reckless abandon.

Sitting on the bus. Standing at the pedestrian crossing. Waiting at the traffic lights or in line at the supermarket. They all used to be empty spaces. Now they’re filled with… stuff. Probably your smart phone.

You’re talking. Reading. Looking. But much less often, thinking.

Actually, I shouldn’t speak for you, but that’s what I’m doing, and I see plenty of other people doing it as well.

It’s not inherently a bad thing, of course. Connection is a beautiful thing. But I know I’ve found myself struggling to find space at times. And as someone who thinks and creates things for a living, I often find myself feeling a little ‘suffocated’. Bombarded and assaulted by all sorts of temptations and noise, and without the space I need to simply sit and think. 

So it’s become increasingly important for me to find clear air. Without the distractions. And this isn’t just a business thing, coming up with ideas for work. But life as well. It’s space to think, and plan, and dream.

Because it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing. What already is. For me at least, I know there’s now a lot less time to plan what could be. Unless I make the effort to make time for it.

In the film Don Juan De Marco, Marlon Brando talked about getting caught up in the “momentum of mediocrity”. And as the great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Today, it moves faster than ever.

Which is why a little while back, I jumped in a car and drove to the centre of Australia and back. Yes, I went for a quick work project, but I could have flown there and back to do that. In a plane. Filled with people. And… stuff. Maybe music. Or a film. A book. And not much space. I knew what I really wanted was some space. Actually, I didn’t just want it, I needed it.

“It’s a long drive and there’s not much out there” one of my friends warned me. My reply? “Perfect.” That was exactly what I was looking for: nothing. Miles and miles of glorious nothing. Just me and space to dream. To think about what could be instead of just being swamped by what already is.

I’m not saying you should jump in a car and drive 4,000kms to find your space. I’m sure it can be done with much less effort , and fuel, than that. Maybe that’s why people meditate? I couldn’t tell you, It’s not really my way to find space. Trail running has always been my meditation. Just me and Mother Nature. That definitely works for me.

And I’m not saying you should let your social media accounts sit idle for a few months like I did to get away from all that noise either. Although I also found that incredibly useful.

What I am saying is don’t forget to make space for yourself. And your dreams. To plan what could be, who you could be, instead of simply getting caught up in the momentum of mediocrity and what already is. Because life moves pretty fast. Don’t miss it.

NOTE: With special thanks to EuropCar for the SUV I drove for this adventure. It’s worth noting, many Australian hire car companies have restrictions on where you can take their vehicles. If you plan on traveling to remote areas, be sure to check this in advance. EuropCar were incredibly kind and helpful to come to my rescue at the last minute when I found this out the hard way at the very last minute.

We’re sending postcards!

Yesterday, someone randomly left a note on my car. It was obviously someone who knows me at least a little, as they referenced things I’d shared on social media, but other than that, it was simply a ‘random act of kindness’. After I’d had a pretty rough time on the weekend. And it got me thinking. Actually, that’s not true, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. As good as technology is, how nice is it when something ‘old school’ arrives in the mail? Something other than junk mail or bills?

I’d been considering sending out some Swashbucklers Club postcards, with personal messages on them, to relatively random people out there. Thanks to yesterday’s random note to me, I’m now committing to doing it.

I have no idea if one of you will put your hand up, or 100s of you. If it’s 100s, I’ll have to randomly select some of you. But here’s what I propose: If you want a message of support, or even better, want to nominate someone else who needs one, email me and I’ll start randomly sending a few off. At the very least, I’ll need a first name and mailing address. If you want to be slightly more specific and want me to tailor a message, then give me a clue if someone needs a cheer up, is sick, dealing with some other sort of challenge, or just needs a general nice message, then feel free to let me know that as well.

That’s all there is to it. Let me know, and I’ll start writing and sending.

Stay awesome everyone! And be excellent to each other.

Exploring Tasmania’s North East Coast

With the Tassie Trail Fest behind me, it was time to head further east to the coast and sneak in a bit of exploring. First stop was Binalong Bay. A few years back this was described as one of the “hottest” spots to visit by Lonely Planet, and about forty seconds after getting there I could see why. (Although it was anything but hot when I arrived!) Sand so white even Donald Trump wouldn’t have any excuse to discriminate, and water so blue it was second only to my toilet bowl after loading it up with some Toilet Duck. Unfortunately it wasn’t exactly beach weather while I was there so there was no swimming on the agenda, but I did go for a nice long walk, climb on some rocks, get some ridiculously fine white sand in my shoes, and take some pictures of me staring meaningfully off into the distance for my Instagram account.

After that I worked my way down towards Freycinet and stopped at the nearby town of Swansea for the night. Having stayed in the Bates Motel in Derby for three nights, the Swansea Motor Inn was basically like the Ritz Carlton. Double bed. Bathroom. No bird shit on the carpet. No vomit in the bin. OK, to be fair, that last bit was my fault at the last place – if you missed that story feel free to read it in all it’s glory right here.

Anyway, the hotel, was pretty plush by comparison. And the Salt Shaker cafe down the road was pretty epic too. To celebrate my awesome hotel room I ordered basically one of everything from the menu and dug in. There was oysters, seafood chowder and scallop pie. If you’re ever in the neighborhood. it’s well worth a visit. Tell them Sputnik sent you. They won’t have any idea who I am, but it would be an awesome thing to do anyway.

The next day I headed down to Freycinet – for those of you as stupid as me, it’s not actually pronounced Fray-see-net. But Fray-see-nay. It’s French. Or something. Whatever. I went there. The jewel in the crown there is a place called Wineglass Bay. Cause it’s kind of curved. Like a wine glass. I suppose. I plotted a bit of a loop run that I was guessing would be about 11 or 12kms. Out to the left, check out Wineglass Bay, then cross over through the bush to the other side of the peninsula to Hazard’s Bay, and back again. How hard could it be? If you’re a decent runner who didn’t run/crawl a 45 km trail marathon a few days earlier, probably not that difficult at all. If you’re a bit overweight, quite a bit out of shape, and coming off a 7.5hr trail marathon combined with a marathon 12 hour spewing effort, a little more difficult than I may have expected. I’m also ridiculously scared of snakes, so some of the single track sketched me out a bit. I tried telling myself there were enough people around to have scared them off. But the truth is there weren’t that many people around. And Tiger Snakes aren’t that easily scared off anyway. So I spent half the time fairly convinced I was going to be bitten by a snake and die a slow and painful death alone in the bush in a place with a fancy french name.

Turns out none of that happened, which you’ve probably guessed by now. And instead I completed my loop. Had a Gatorade, didn’t spew, then drove up to the Tourville Lighthouse to check out the trail there – one of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks. In this case, really short as it was only 600m. The weather was rolling in by this point and although I was, as always, wearing my awesome ioMerino clothing to keep me warm, I decided I was ready to put my feet up so I headed back to Coles Bay, met up with Chris and Simon from Adventure Types (who’d arranged the Tassie Trail Fest) and Flix the Freak. OK, that’s not his real name, but this is a guy who rode his bike 400kms from Hobart up to the Trail Fest, helped set everything up, then went out and ran the marathon. And won it. So yeah, he’s a bit of a freak. Lovely bloke though, and an epic runner. Obviously. We met up at a local cafe where I ate a bowl of hot chips. And they didn’t. Which probably explains why they’re all quite fit looking. And I’m not.

Then it was back to the Swansea Ritz Carlton for another awesome sleep. The novelty of being in a clean bed and not feeling like I’d smoked a carton of cigarettes by the time I woke up in the morning hadn’t yet worn off – and neither had the stink from three days in the Ashtray Hotel. That night I decided against another indulgent feast and instead tucked into a smorgasbord of left over bits and pieces I’d bought for the trip. When I do a road trip, I have a bad habit of hitting the local supermarket when I first arrive and buying enough food for 18 people. For about four months. So that night I chowed down on a combo of baked beans, salt and vinegar chips, bread rolls and an assortment of other snacks, all washed down by a couple of cans of Mike Tyson ‘Black Energy’ drink I’d found on special at the Reject Shop. I’m not entirely sure calling it ‘Black Energy’ is entirely PC, but I sure as shit won’t be telling Mike that cause I doubt very much he’s all ears. And apparently it’s Poland’s best selling energy drink. Seriously.

On the last day I drove back to Launceston Airport with a minor diversion to Cataract Gorge – just outside of the city. It reminds me quite a bit of Morialta in my own home town, and I’m sure if I lived there, (in Launceston, not the Gorge), I’d probably go running there all the time. I did one of the more modest walks, checked out some of the old historical buildings, then chickened out of doing the full loop through Snake Gully, because it was called Snake Gully and my guess is if they’re using the same amount of imagination they did when naming Wineglass Bay, there’s a fair chance there’s a shit load of snakes in Snake Gully and my interest in seeing any of them was whatever’s less than zero. So I did a cheeky little out and back then drove to the airport, getting their nice and early. Too early as it turns out as Launceston Airport isn’t exactly a thriving metropolis and I had to wait an hour to check in. I suppose I could have gone and sat at one of the fine food and beverage establishments to kill the time, but since there weren’t any, I flogged a spare wheelchair instead and sat in that instead.

And that, my friends, was my Tassie Trail Fest adventure.

Running the Tassie Trail Fest Marathon

After having a few random micro adventures in north eastern Tasmania, hanging out with echidnas, and wrestling leeches, it was time to get my act together, stop faffing about, and get ready to run. After all, the main reason I’d headed south in the first place was for the Tassie Trail Fest. All week I’d been saying I’d probably do the half marathon, so I didn’t kill myself out there doing the full. I was still a bit shaken from the 60km Tarawera Ultra where things had all gone horribly wrong, and I wasn’t sure I was in good enough shape to run the full marathon all that well. The last thing I wanted to do was run myself into the ground on what was supposed to be race number one of five for the weekend.

As is often the case though, ego and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) got the better of me and at the 11th hour I decided I was in for the full marathon. “I’ll take it easy” I thought. “How bad can it be?” I thought. Ah yes, famous last words.

I turned up at the starting line with a long list of bad omens. I hadn’t eaten a decent meal the night before. (ie no pizza or pasta, my usual pre-run ritual. It was a small town and I had to scrounge what I could.) For the same reason, I hadn’t had a decent breakfast the morning of the run either – another important piece of the puzzle. What’s that old saying? “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” or something, right? Exactly. On top of that, I’d accidentally taken the wrong running shoes – bringing a pair with way too many miles, and way too many hole in them, instead of my comfy new pair. Hey, they’re the same model of shoe and they looked the same when I packed in the dark! An innocent, but stupid mistake. There were few other things as well, but really the biggest stuff up was yet to come. And at a time when you least need one – mid-race.

When the race started, I was still messing about taking photos of everyone so I literally started at the back of the pack. I’m cool with that, it’s not like it’s ever going to cost me a podium finish or anything, but it does create a real issue with one of my biggest hang ups – the etiquette of over taking. Especially in trail running, people have all sorts of strengths and weaknesses. Some are strong uphill, some downhill, some on the flats, some on the technical single trail, and some on the nice, open fire trails. So we all lose and make up time in different places.

Me, I’m pretty much crap at all of it, but in a field like this, there were a few people who I was ever so slightly faster than at the start. On a wide trail, it’s no problem. You just pop out to the right and plod past. Maybe they’ll catch you later, maybe not. Either way, it’s all good. It’s a different story on single trail though where you have to ask someone to edge over so you can overtake. It’s one of my worst nightmares asking people to move so I can go past, only to look like a bit of a flog a mile or so down the trail when they come shooting past. Maybe it’s a chip on my own shoulder and no one else cares, but I really struggle with it. I do enough stuff to look like a flog without accidentally adding to the already long list.

Needless to say, I did eventually pass a few people and settled into a nice position, probably about three quarters of the way back where I usually am. Hardly anyone overtook me in the first 20 or so KMs, and I sure as shit didn’t over take anyone else, so I guess I ended up in about the right place.

And for those 20 or 30kms I did OK and was about as happy as I can be running 44ish kms of trails. Then the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion. At the time, I didn’t know why, and I genuinely spent the last few hours of that race planning my retirement from running anything longer than about 200 meters. Even tough runs can still be a version of fun, but at about the 30km mark of this one I started to feel so ill, I couldn’t even break into a Cliff Young shuffle. I felt like I wanted to throw up and had zero energy.

To put this in context, it was pretty much exactly the same experience I’d has at the Yurrebilla 56km ultra six months earlier, and at the Tarawera 60km Ultra the month before. After six years of running and never experiencing gut problems of any sort, clearly the old body had given up the ghost and I was now one of those people, or so I thought at the time.

I now have a slightly different theory: I’m a bit of a dickhead. A theory that will come as no surprise to many of you, but let me explain why it’s relevant in this particular instance.

After Tarawera I ended up in the medical tent with extreme nausea. ie a pretty bad case of the chucks. And much like Tarawera, in Tassie I found myself unable to keep any food or drink inside my body for the back half of the race – or for about 24 hours after the finish for that matter. Not ideal when you’re pushing your body to go those sorts of distances. After Tarawera the medical staff asked me if I’d taken any ibuprofen. Now before I hear all you runners tsk tsk tsk-ing and waving your finger at me like a naughty boy, I should say I’ve taken all sorts of pain killers over the years when I’ve needed them and never had a problem. Ever. I know taking these sorts of things is frowned upon these days, but having never had a problem before I figured I was a bit above and beyond all that. But the medicos at Tarawera were convinced that was where my problems had come from, and thinking back, although I can’t recall for sure what, if anything, I took at Yurrebilla there’s a red hot chance I popped a few Nurofen there as well.

Regardless of whether or not they were right or not, I decided that moving forward I wouldn’t risk it and I’d play it safe and stick to plain old Panadol/Paracetamol if I ever needed anything mid-race in the future. So let me tell you what I thought happened on the day, and then what actually did happen on the day.

About half way through when my back hurt I reached into my pack, grabbed a couple of panadol, ran for a little while longer, then started feeling sick. I hadn’t taken Ibuprofen so clearly those medicos knew jack shit and I had some other illness, possibly Ebola or some other rare tropical disease that only affected me after about the 25km mark of a race. I walked most of the last 15kms, getting over taken by pretty much everyone who’d been behind me, including a few stronger runners who’d taken a wrong turn and run an extra 10kms. I threw up a few times in the last 5kms of the course, threw up at the finish line, threw up as I was crossing the road, and threw up in the bin in my hotel room. Several times. (Hey, cut me some slack. I know that’s gross, but I was in a room with a shared bathroom and couldn’t make it there so the bin was the best I could do.) And I continued to throw up well into the night, still unable to eat. Even the blue Gatorade I managed to find at the pub down the road when I chanced leaving my room for a bit later in the evening, made it’s way into that bin via my intestinal tract.

And the whole time, all I did was ponder my retirement from running and think about what I might take up instead. For the record, ten pin bowling was fairly high up the list. I also considered becoming a professional hurler, but that had nothing to do with actually considering it as a sport, and everything to do with the fact I’d spent the last 12 hours practicing a different kind of hurling. And if hurling into a hotel room bin had been an Olympic sport, let me tell ya I would have taken home gold for Australia.

But all that’s what I thought happened. Because the next day, after pondering all this, I had a half memory flash back that was then confirmed by the other people in the story. And this is where, a bit like directionally challenged trail runners, my version of events and the actual version of events go in slightly different directions.

You see, as I rolled into the 30km check point, one of my fellow runners asked if anyone had an ibuprofen. At first I didn’t answer cause I was feeling a bit shit and couldn’t quite get myself co-ordinated enough to reach into my pack and grab the panadol. Plus, they were pandadol and she wanted nurofen so I shut up hoping someone else would come to the rescue. When that didn’t happen, I fessed up that I had Panadol, but specifically mentioned I didn’t have Ibuprofen, but she was welcome to grab a couple from my pack. It’s what happened next that qualifies me as Dickhead of the Year. As she pulled out the slide of Panadol, she said, “oh wait, these aren’t Panadol, they’re Nurofen!” I didn’t really pay much attention at the time cause I was feeling shit and just wanted to crawl the last 15kms to the finish line. But doing a post mortem of my race the next day, her words came back to haunt me. “These aren’t Panadol. They’re Nurofen.” (Insert ominous echo.) Nurofen? What the fuck? I’d taken extra special care to make sure I only packed Panadol, and surely I hadn’t made a mistake. Just like surely I’d packed my new shoes and not my old ones. Doh! A quick inspection of the tablets in my pack revealed two things. They were definitely Nurofen. And I was definitely a dickhead.

Now, whether or not it was the Nurofen that caused this problem three races in a row I can’t say for sure. But you’d have to say the odds are they were. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that I may not have that rare form of Running Ebola after all, and just a bad case of the dickheads, which can be pretty easily cured by, well, not being a dickhead. Suffice to say, for all future races I won’t be taking anything stronger than some jelly beans and with any luck, I’ll be right as rain. Back from the dead. Elite ultra running career in tact. And hey, if all else fails there’s still ten pin bowling. Or more hurling.

Oh, and at the risk of rushing through the rest of the story of the Tassie Trail Fest, I didn’t run again for the rest of the weekend, but did manage to get out and about a bit on the various trails, taking photos of the runners who were all not as dickheady as I was. And even though I was disappointed to not be running, I still had a pretty awesome time cheering everyone on, and blinding them with my flash and headlight during the night run. Sorry about that guys.

(You can check out a few pics from the other races below or a full gallery in the story I wrote for the guys at ioMerino.)

With the Trail Fest done and dusted, I had a few days up my sleeve to get my adventure on and go check out a few other things, but that’s a story for another time.

A taste of ‘The Apple Isle’

It’s known as ‘The Apple Isle’ and for those of you from around the world who don’t know, Tasmania is the little island at the bottom of Australia that’s the butt of quite a few mainland jokes and so often gets left off maps. Apparently it got the whole ‘Apple Isle’ name because for many years it was one of the biggest apple growers on the planet. But I wasn’t there for the apples, although I did eat a few while I was there and they were quite nice. No, as usual, I was there for the trail running and adventure.

Weirdly, while I’ve been to quite a few places around the world, there are still plenty of spots in my own home country of Australia that I’ve not yet visited – and Tasmania was one of those. There wasn’t really any good reason for not having been. I simply hadn’t gotten around to it. Especially since getting into this whole adventure lark, I’ve always thought it would be a pretty awesome place to go, but as is often the case, unless you have a specific prompt to go, it just never happens. The Tassie Trail Fest was my prompt to go. So I did.

As usual, my decision to go was a little last minute and I did precious little research on where specifically I’d be going and what else was around. I basically booked a flight, a car, and turned up figuring I could make the rest of it up as I went along. It’s a strategy that’s worked for me before but isn’t one I’d necessarily recommend.

The Trail Fest itself wasn’t due to start til Saturday, which meant I’d pencilled in Thursday and Friday as adventure days. Thursday I checked out the nearby Myrtle Forest Walk just outside of Weldborough before heading off to St Columba Falls and onto Ralphs Falls. It was my first taste of Tassie wilderness and I absolutely loved it.

St Columba Falls is considered one of Tasmania’s highest and most beautiful waterfalls. I have to say, it probably wasn’t one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen, but then, perhaps I’ve been a little spoiled with some of the spectacular falls I’ve seen in South East Asia. The forest along the way, however, was right up there. They say Platypuses live in the creeks there, although you’d need to be pretty lucky to spot one. You’d have to be even luckier to spot a Tasmanian Tiger – the icon of the Tassie Trail Fest. In days gone by, this area was their prime habitat but they’ve been listed as “presumed extinct” since 1986 – 50 years after the last one died at the local zoo. That hasn’t stopped there being thousands of sightings of them still, including one right there at St Columba Falls by a local ranger back in 1995. Locals are convinced they still live deep in the forests and I hope they’re right.

I may not have seen any platypus or Tasmanian Tigers, but I did get bitten on the back of the leg by something while sitting on a rock by the creek. It hurt like buggery and at the time, I was worried it was Tiger Snake because I am an idiot and a panic merchant at times. I imagined dying a slow and painful death, alone in the wilderness beside that beautiful creek. There’s probably worse ways to go, but it turns out it wasn’t a snake. Or a platypus. Or a Tasmanian Tiger.

 

Next stop was Ralph Falls – and even though the nasty weather was really starting to settle in by this point, I actually thought this 100m high ‘ribbon’ waterfall was much more spectacular making its way down some fairly decent cliffs. While clear, fine weather is usually what people wish for when they’re out and about, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s that there can be real magic in ‘bad’ weather, and the mist rolling in made for an awesome photo before I had to tuck the camera away to keep it dry.

Ralphs Falls - magical weather!

On the way back to the car from the main lookout I found a turn off on the trail and followed it for a while to the top of the falls, but because I didn’t have a map and the trail was quite over grown, I got a bit sketched out and turned back after a while. OK, I confess, mostly I was worried about being bitten by another killer platypus. I now know it was a nice 4km loop trail and wish I’d done it. But when you’re in the middle of nowhere by yourself, without proper supplies, and scare of Tasmanian Tigers, the last thing you want to do is hit up a trail that goes for who knows how long and who knows where. One for next time!

Besides, with a trail marathon coming up on the Saturday I wasn’t wanting to put too many miles on the legs so I was happy to keep things pretty mild, do some short walks, and say ‘hi’ to a couple of very friendly echidnas along the way.

I spent that first night in one of the event’s luxury tents. It turned out they were so luxurious they came with their own water feature courtesy of 12+hours of relentless rain and a leaky roof. So in the early hours of the morning I was forced to abandon ship and stay warm and dry in my car. Ah yes, adventure comes in many shapes and forms, and sometimes when you least expect it.

On the Friday, again without any sort of plan, I just jumped in the car and headed off, coming across the Blue Tier Giant Trail – a forest trail to view some giant gum trees. Seemed as good an adventure option as any to me. It was raining, but I was rugged up in my ioMerino as usual, so I braved the elements and set off on what was supposed to be a short, easy walk. The Blue Tier Plateau is an exposed, sub-alpine plateau 600m above sea level and this particular walk goes through huge eucalypts, musk, myrtle, mosses, ferns, and a shit load of leeches. Not that anyone mentioned the leeches. And damn do I hate leeches.

I made it to the Blue Tier Giant without any issues. Just a bit wet. And this tree really is a giant. Perhaps not on the scale of the redwoods I’ve seen in the USA, but it is seriously big. In fact, it’s the widest living tree in Australia and takes 15 people to wrap their arms around it. I was 14 people short so didn’t bother trying to test that. instead I just stopped and took a few rain soaked pictures. Big mistake. As this probably gave some blood-sucking hitch-hikers the opportunity get on board. Half way back to my car, I felt the not unfamiliar bite of leeches on my legs and feet, and sure enough I was covered in the little bastards. If there was any good news, it’s that they weren’t killer platypuses. And they were the regular leeches and not the dreaded vampire Tiger Leeches that need a nuclear arsenal to remove. (All jokes aside, Tiger Leeches are a real thing. I googled and it tuns out Leeches are hermaphrodites and devoted parents. Which is kind of cool but I still hate them.) Can’t say I felt all that lucky at the time that I’d managed to pick up just regular leeches, standing on the side of the road, stripped down to my undies, standing in the rain, trying to pull them off my legs and pick them out of my pants, socks and shoes. Not a great look and not my favourite part of this whole adventure thing that’s for sure!

That night I relocated to the nearby Dorset Hotel in Derby. Considering the town of Derby has a population of around 200 it’s fair to say accommodation options there are fairly limited. And with 300+ trail runners and sundry hangers on hitting town for the Trail Fest, I was pretty lucky to find somewhere to sleep at all. After seeing the room, I’m not sure I’d necessarily consider myself lucky exactly, but at least it was dry. Full of spiders and about 30 years worth of cigarette smoke, but dry. I’ve stayed in some pretty shit places in my time, but this may well be the shittest. You never want to write terrible things in case the people you’re writing them about see them – awkward! But in this case, I think it’s fair to say there’s ‘Ye olde worlde charm’. And then there’s… whatever this was.  For anyone considering visiting Derby in the future, I can highly recommend never staying there. But hey, sometimes dodgy hotels are all part of the adventure and the sheets were clean(ish), the shower was warm, and Leonie the publican was actually pretty cool beneath her gruff, chain smoking exterior.

Intentions count. Chill out.

Jamie Oliver recently caused quite a stir by making what were deemed to be ‘inappropriate’ comments about breast feeding. Whether you love or hate him, Jamie’s done some fairly decent things out there in the world when it comes to making sure young people in particular, have access to decent food.

I’m not his biggest fan, so I can’t comment on the finer points of what he’s achieved over the years, but I can comment on intention. And while intention doesn’t count for everything, it does count for something, and I think it’s time people chilled out a bit. Not just over this, but lots of things.

If you spend more than a few seconds before you react to things, you could probably make your world, and the world in general, a lot better, happier place. I know outrage sells, but come on, let’s get real. It’s not difficult to tell the difference between someone who knowingly says or does something negative or that you don’t agree with, (think Donald Trump), and someone who does it somewhat unwittingly, even if they should know better. Sometimes even the best of us can let slip a poorly chosen word. Jamie included. And this is where intention comes in.

Intention is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card to shoot your mouth off without thinking and say whatever you want, but let’s not ignore it completely when things go a bit tits up. Pun intended.

I pose this challenge to you: before you launch at someone for something they’ve done or said, look past the words and at their intention. Whether it’s someone in the public eye, or someone you know personally, it’s usually pretty easy to tell what someone’s intention is. In Jamie’s case, a few poorly chosen words does not justify every man and his dog, or in this case every woman, getting stuck into him. By all means ask for clarity if you need it, but don’t get sucked into sinking the boot in for no good reason. And don’t let a few poorly chosen words overshadow what may actually be a predominantly good, useful and important message either.

These days we seem very quick indeed to look past the good, and to put a ridiculous amount of emphasis on the bad. Maybe it’s because a good rant gets such good traction on social media. Something everyone can join in on with calls to ‘burn the witch!’. Nothing like good old mob mentality. Whereas, for some unknown reason, there’s so much less glory in posting good vibes. Well, I say it’s time to chill out, recognize good intentions, maybe even have a bunch of your own, and keep the good vibes alive.

 

Footnote: Great to see some more balanced reporting out there in this article.

Is technology making us mean?

Technology has been the source of many amazing things. I can now fly to America in a day and eat bad airline food instead of sitting on a boat for months, eating bad boat food and getting scurvy. Technology allows me to connect with like minded people I would otherwise have never met, and share the joys of random, obscure things. And because of the wonders of modern technology I can send messages across the planet in an instant. It also allows me to be a complete and utter asshole to absolute strangers.

In days gone by, it would have been highly unlikely I would have walked up to a stranger, famous or otherwise, and abused them. I wouldn’t have done it for a number of reasons. Manners. Fear. Common decency. But like a lot of the commons, (common sense is in there also), it seems these character traits have gone the same way as fax machines and vinyl records. Technology seems to have made them somewhat redundant.

Back then, I would most likely have avoided someone I didn’t like and not spoken to them at all. It was good formula. And mum was right when she said “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Sadly, now, that seems to be more a case of “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, not only say it, but shout it as loud as you possibly can, regardless of the consequences, and share it with the world.”

These days, it’s not at all unusual to unleash a tirade on anyone and everyone, for pretty much any reason at all, or none at all, on the internet. We’ve got technology to thank for that. Kim Kardashian? Watch out, there are any number of people out there who want to tell you what they really think of you. Taylor Swift? Complete and utter strangers have got some very unkind words headed in your direction too. In fact, you don’t have to look much further than ‘Celebrities Read Mean Tweets’ to see what a phenomena this is. And celebrities are just the tip of the unkind iceberg.

What I used to say to celebrities I didn’t like.

When I was younger I used to camp outside hotels to meet my favorite pop stars. It wasn’t a super common past time, I guess most people had better things to do. But for those of us who were big enough fans, we’d wait outside the hotel we assumed they were staying at – (it’s one advantage of coming from a small city where there was really only ever one or two hotels worthy of celebrity visits) – and you know what we’d do when they came along? We’d asked for autographs. And if we were really well off, snap a few photos on our pocket brownies. That’s it. But then, they were the celebrities we liked.

So what about the ones we didn’t like? Nothing. We didn’t wait for them so we could tell them how much we hated their last album. We didn’t write them letters saying how much we hated them personally. We didn’t do any of that. Because we weren’t mean. We weren’t assholes. If we were talking amongst friends, I suppose we’d say who we did and didn’t like and why, but we didn’t broadcast those feelings to the world. Or to that person directly. And you know why? Because we weren’t as mean and unkind as we are now.

Enter technology. And the golden age of unkindness.

Now, I know what you’re going to say, if those people put themselves out there, put themselves in the public eye, they deserve everything they get. Ah, why is that exactly? Surely it’s just as reasonable to suggest we should be kind to people? Whether they’re in movies, on TV, making music, designing fashion or the kid sitting at the desk in class next to you, why do we now feel so compelled to say mean things?

Technology has certainly made it easier, but then, technology has made it easier to have a coffee enema, and we’re not all rushing out to do that. Being an asshole isn’t mandatory.

Some will even justify it by saying they are entitled to their opinion. And, of course, they are. They are also entitled to keep it to themselves. Or stuff it in their ass. There is no obligation to share an opinion when all it does create negativity and misery.

A while back I was quite unkind to someone. Because let’s be honest here, just because I’m writing about this subject now like I’m the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa doe not mean I am immune to this condition. So I was quite unkind to someone, and even though it could be argued it was not altogether undeserved, it caused a lot of trouble. And a lot of heartache. Not only for that person, but also myself. And after much reflection, I came up with the following thought: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Now, to be fair, this is not likely to go down alongside “I have a dream” as one of the great and profound philosophical sayings of all time. But maybe it should. Let me say it again: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Let that sink in. Technology allows us to do many things that we were previously unable to do – but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Don’t be a dick pic.

We can send dick pics now without having to duck down to the local photo processing store, lodge a film, have the poor people who work there see the pictures come out of the developing machine, pop them in an envelope, and post them off to someone. Possibly even a stranger. So it’s much easier to do that now. Whack out the smart phone, whack out your bits, snap, send and voila! Instant asshole. But hey, just because we can send dick pics now, doesn’t mean we should.

You know all those barriers to doing it before? The fact you would likely not do it because it would mean other people would know what you are doing and you would likely feel embarrassed or uncomfortable? To the extent where you probably wouldn’t do it? Those things are clues. Clues that sending dick pics is not a decent thing to do. Even though you can.

And before you ask what the heck dick pics have to do with you when all you’re doing is giving your ‘opinion’ on Facebook, well, if you’re being unkind, it’s the literary equivalent of a dick pic. Except you’re the dick. No one asked for it. It’s not necessarily decent. And just as in days gone by when you would have had a few real world prompts that it was inappropriate, we should probably still recognise being an asshole is as out of fashion as it’s ever been.

I’m also not pitching mass compliance. It’s still OK to have different values. It’s still OK to be outraged by injustice. It’s also still OK to have manners and be polite and be decent and be kind. And it’s still not OK to not be all of those things.

Just because you don’t see the results of your actions doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We can’t see gravity, but we’re all pretty happy to accept that exists. (I’m sitting with my ass firmly planted in my seat courtesy of it right now.) Same goes with how people would react to your actions. Your words. You can’t see it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

What do your words say about you?

Next time you go to tweet or comment or whatever the next big thing is, I’d ask you to consider this simple notion: if the person you’re communicating with, or about, was your brother or sister or mother or father or son or daughter or any other loved one, how would you word your feedback? Would you be decent and kind? It’s highly likely that person, who is most likely, although I suppose these days not necessarily, a human being, is someone’s loved one. How do you think they feel? How do you think their loved ones feel? What do your unkind comments really communicate? Do they say something about what kind of person they are, or what kind of person you are?

And this: What are you actually hoping to achieve by saying mean things? Seriously. What? Are you challenging some monumental injustice? Are you affecting positive change in the world? Or are you just intentionally causing another human being heartache? And in the process showing the world you are mean. Unkind. An asshole.

I started by proposing that technology is making us mean. But you know what, let’s not shoot the messenger. Or in this case, Messenger. Or Twitter. Or Whatever. Technology isn’t the problem. Social Media isn’t the problem. The culture of celebrity isn’t the problem. It’s us. You and me. The ones who have set decency aside to take up the opportunity to broadcast our mean-ness. Yes, technology allows us to do that, but just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Is alcohol our guns?

Right now in Australia there’s all kinds of fuss and uproar about our increasingly tough, and some would say draconian, rules surrounding alcohol. And more specifically, the hours you can and can’t buy and publicly consume it.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit I don’t drink alcohol. At all. It wasn’t always that way. I’ve definitely done my fair share of alcohol consumption. Some might even say more than my fair share. So I’m no goody two shoes who doesn’t understand drinking culture at all. The difference is, I turned my back on it the better part of ten years ago. So perhaps my opinions are always going to be a little skewed.

It’s time for a reality check.

But I think it’s time we admit we’ve got a drinking problem. And it’s time we got a reality check. Not being able to buy alcohol from a store after 10pm is not a crime against humanity. And neither is shutting licensed venues at 3am. Now, before you start throwing your empty beer bottles at me in protest, let me explain.

There’ll be those that say this is very backwards of us. That it’s embarrassing us globally. Well, I’m not sure I agree. We do a pretty good job of embarrassing ourselves. We already sit embarrassingly high up on the list of countries with the highest alcohol consumption per capita. But the really embarrassing thing is we’re not embarrassed by this at all, but rather proud of it.

A few years back, in my drinking days in fact, I was in an American town where I was quite surprised to find licensed venues shut at around 1am. How strange, I thought, having come form a place where I could drink until daylight – a very intelligent and productive thing to do. A time when all the best decisions are made. But oh yeah, that little town I was in? Los Angeles. You may even have heard of it? I don’t see anyone running around saying they’re a little backwater town because people can’t go out drinking til daylight. I actually struggled to find what time the current closing time there is, although this article suggests last drinks get called around 2am. Surely enough time to work up a fairly decent hangover, throw up, or punch a random stranger for little or no reason? According to good old Wikipedia, it seems 2am may still be the go. Although on the upside, you can take an Uzi with your Ouzo over there.

Which brings me to guns. Most Australians look at America’s gun laws and just don’t get it. They seem stupid to us. (The laws, I mean, not Americans in general.) Well, most of us. That whole gun toting culture, makes no sense at all. What are they thinking? Why don’t they just crack down on it and change for everyone’s good. Surely being able to buy and shoot guns isn’t that important? But maybe our alcohol laws aren’t so different.

Sink a few boats full of refugees and there’s barely murmur in middle Australia. But tell us we can’t drink til 6am and all hell breaks loose. What the fuck happened to us? When did drinking ourselves into oblivion get so damn important?

Sure, there’ll be those who have their businesses and jobs affected by these changes. And I’m not completely unsympathetic to that. Change can be tough at times. I’ve been through it myself and it’s not a lot of fun.

I’m also not 100% certain changing these laws will have the desired affect of reducing alcohol fueled violence. (Although some of the initial research coming through may suggest it is.) But is it worth a shot? (No, not of Tequila.) You know what, I think it probably is.

And from what I can see, as usual there’s at least a smattering of hypocrisy in the exemptions for Casinos. Because people don’t get drunk or get violent when they drink in those resorts of places, right? I’m not pitching the changes as perfect, but hey, maybe it’s better than nothing. (Oh and for those of you questioning exemptions, you only need to look at our speed limit laws to recognise that sometimes, there are different rules for different areas and there’s a pretty good reason the speed limit in school zones, for example, is 25 and not 100. Double, or even multiple standards? Sure. But certainly not unprecedented legally.)

There’s still plenty of time to buy alcohol if that’s your thing. And certainly enough time to drink it until you end up on someone’s embarrassing SnapChat post.

I’m all for a bit of outrage. A bit of protest and revolution. But I sure am embarrassed there seems to be more disgust and noise around this issue than things like refugees, same sex marriage, domestic violence and any number of other causes that are infinitely more worthy of our attention and outrage. Yes, I know you can’t compare causes, and some of us have enough outrage to go around, but come on people.

It’s easy to look at things as they’ve always been and think it’s outrageous that they should change, especially when those changes don’t suit us, or seem as though we’re going backwards. But what if it’s positive progress? What if we’re making changes that will make things better? Building with asbestos was once the norm. Oops. As was telling people smoking cigarettes was good for you. 

Doh!

Rest assured you can still buy as much alcohol as you want, (before 10pm), and drink as much as you like (not necessarily in a public place where your actions and superior dancing skills are more likely to affect others), so are these changes really worth so much negativity?

For those of you who may have forgotten, while ‘getting on it’ is not only culturally accepted, but actually encouraged, at the risk of being a loser of epic proportions, let’s not forget alcohol actually has a fairly impressive list of adverse affects. The cumulative effects list on this page is particularly impressive.

Personally, I think it’s time we pulled our heads out of the sand, and gutters, and had a good long hard look at ourselves. Those crazy Americans and their silly gun laws aren’t the only ones making fools of themselves right now.

Why awards shows are ‘Triple F’.

(GRAMMYS SPOILER ALERT)

Today was The 58th Grammy Awards and Taylor Swift won Album of the Year for 1989. Kanye didn’t storm the stage this year to tell her someone else should have won, but thousands of Kendrick Lamar fans did virtually the same thing via Social Media.

When are we going to learn that Awards shows are, by definition, what I like to refer to as being ‘Triple F’: Fundamentally Fucking Flawed? There is quite simply no way you can determine comparative worth. And any attempt to do so will almost always end in tears for someone.

We shouldn’t be asking if Taylor’s record is better than Kendrick’s because that question makes literally absolutely no sense at all. Do you like one record more than the other? Now that’s a fair question. Did one record sell more copies than another? That’s fair also. Did more people vote for one record than another? Fair. But is one record better than another? Stupid, stupid question.

Popularity does not equal value.

All things have value. All people have value. All art has value. I suppose some of that value is in the thing itself. But really the value is with the person who values it.

A priceless piece of art has no value to me if I have no desire or appreciation for it. Does that make it worthless? No. But it has no value to me.

You can compare music or art or films or people as much as you like, but all it really comes down to is what we all like more than something else based on our own personal beliefs and preferences. And if I happen to be a judge in an awards show, then my beliefs and preferences are what you’ll see reflected in the winners. Will they be the same as yours? Maybe, maybe not. Who cares?

Popularity is not necessarily a sign of value. Just as lack of popularity does not automatically imply a lack of it.

I’ve been personally involved in many awards shows over the years. I’ve judged everything from advertising awards to the Miss Nude Australia Competition. (Yes, seriously.) All you can ever do is apply certain criteria, then do your best to judge against that. But there’s always personal opinion, personal judgement, involved. The important word here being ‘personal’.

Those criteria do not necessarily make one record, one ad or one nude person better than another. It simply gives us a framework to judge with. A winner gets announced. They get a nice shiny trophy. And you still personally like what you like regardless of what any judge says.

Love what you love. Leave what you don’t.

Judging is useful at awards shows. But in life, not so much. Love what you love. Leave what you don’t. But don’t compare. There’s no point. It only robs you, and sometimes others, of joy.

The world is wide and there’s plenty of room for us all to love many different things, without it reflecting on the value of the things, or the people, we don’t.

If you love Kendrick’s album, go love that and enjoy that. Don’t let what this year’s Grammy judges liked affect your joy. Me? I’ll be busting some moves to 1989.