Just thought I’d let you know I’m in America right now, but I decided to create a separate blog to keep track of the adventure, so had on over to http://assholesontour.wordpress.com to follow along.
So far I’ve been to New York, Boston, Salem, Albany, Niagara Falls, Canada (briefly) and Erie.
Come and join the fun
Well I’m a week into my Australian adventure and I have done a lot of awesome things. Reading that sentence back to myself it seems utterly inadequate at capturing just how incredible my journey has been. Western Australia is a beautiful, beautiful place and I have managed to see just a fraction of that beauty.
So where have I been, what have I done? After a long drive up from Perth to Jurien Bay, I met up with my friend and made a few new friends. A quick swim in the bay’s crystal clear water, a chilled out barbecue, and then I grabbed some well deserved sleep. But the next day… Oh the next day…
The next day was packed full of unforgettable experiences. First thing I did was get harnessed up, sat in a plane as it ascended to 14,000 feet… and then jumped out.
The experience of skydiving is completely surreal. You can see the ground below you but it just looks like scenery (and what incredible scenery it was), like a painted backdrop. It’s very gradually getting closer, but it’s almost unnoticeable. The air is cold and the wind is loud, which almost creates a sense of sensory deprivation, driving all your instincts to focus on visuals – even your sense of balance is completely different to normal. I’m sure experienced skydivers have honed these senses in order to pull of their synchronised displays.
And on the subject of synchronised displays, we pulled one off ourselves. My friends in Jurien are all experienced skydivers, and they wanted to try something special on this jump. So the four of us linked up in order to perform a head down exit – literally our heads pointing down at the ground as we hit freefall. I’m told this was a very difficult thing to maintain, but maintain it we did, which meant the jump was special not just for me, but for my friends too.
Having (sort of) mastered the air, I decided it was time to walk on water. Not literally of course. We took some paddle boards (like big unwieldy surfboards which you stand up on and propel yourself forward with a paddle) and headed down the coast. It was around this point that my sun block failed me and I got burnt pretty bad on my shoulders. But hey ho.
After lunch we went out on a friend’s boat. My friends were scuba diving, but me having no training or gear decided to stay on the boat and just appreciate the view. After half an hour the guys decided that the swell was too big and the diving was abandoned, but we took the boat out to a small island with a sea lion colony.
To my amazement, the sea lions were inquisitive, friendly and playful, and two of them swam it to meet us. It was an amazing experience, the sea lions racing and dancing around us, almost as if they were egging us on. They copied what we did but with infinitely more grace. I did a flip, they did a flip. I did a barrel roll, they did a barrel roll. Once I swam to the bottom and my snorkel released a few bubbles… So of course, the sea lions swam to the bottom and started blowing their own bubbles. They were some of the most adorable animals I’ve ever seen, and being welcomed into their environment by them was an honour I can’t describe.
So here I was, king of the sky, king of the sea… All that was left to conquer was the land. The next day we took a 4×4 out across some pretty rough tracks in order to find a cave system. We loaded up with head torches and descended into the bowels of the earth.
This was a cave system entirely dissimilar to the ones I’ve seen back home in the UK. The climate is much more arid here, so the huge stalagmites and stalactites you might expect to see formed by water deposits over thousands of years were absent. We did see an owl though! And a very hungry looking frog.
Some way into the cave, we reached a large cavern, but noticed a very tight crawlspace leading deeper in. Throwing caution to the wind, we headed along it, scraping our shins in the process, but we arrived in a larger chamber which led even deeper into the earth. Eventually we reached a point beyond which we couldn’t continue, so turned out torches off and sat in the utter darkness for a while.
After spending Christmas in Jurien Bay, I bid my friends goodbye and headed to the airport. I’m currently sat in a hostel in Alice Springs, waiting for the 4×4 which will take me into the desert for my 3 day hike to explore Uluru.
Begin phase two…
Ok so it’s been a long time since I posted anything. “What have you been up to? ” I hear none of you cry. Well, that’s not really important. What IS important is that I am sat in an airport, about to fly to Australia.
My journey has three legs to it: first to Dubai, then on to Singapore. I’m in Singapore for 12 hours or so, so I’m going to try and see the sights while I’m there. Then it’s on the plane again to Perth.
I’m not staying in Perth the whole time; on boxing day I’m flying to Alice Springs and then hiking to Uluru. After that I’m flying to Melbourne for new year, and then home I come.
I’m looking forward to meeting lots of interesting people. I’ve already met one guy at the airport who is flying to Amsterdam to see New Model Army in concert. We got chatting; for some reason he thinks I’m Australian. That’s fine, maybe I’ll be Australian for this journey.
I’m looking forward to turning what is traditionally the worst time of year for me into an unforgettable experience. If any if you reading want to be part of it, let me know, I’m sure we could meet up if I’m in the area.
1 hour until boarding. Let’s do this.
Last week I had the best experience of my life climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I have LOTS of photographs, and I have LOTS to say about the trip, but I have little time right now sop you’ll have to wait for a full report. Until then though, here’s a video of me reading Toto’s “Africa” from the summit:
I’ve done nothing all day. To many people, doing nothing all day is some sort of achievement. To me, however, doing nothing all day does nothing but fuel my demons and raise their normal grumblings to a deafening scream. Doing nothing all day drags me back down to that awful place I’ve been trying to escape my whole life.
Yesterday I climbed Mount Snowdon with a friend. It’s the second tallest peak in the UK, and it’s a pretty good hike. We drove up on Sunday night and arrived in the foothills around 11:00PM, hastily pitching a tent in a reasonably secluded place on the path leading to the mountain. Wild camping is illegal in England and Wales, as all land is owned, and in order to camp you need permission from the land owner. We figured that what the land owner didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, and as long as we left no trace, where’s the harm?
That night brought little sleep. The winds were horrendous, and the small wall we’d pitched behind did practically nothing to break the wind. The skies bled all night, lashing water down so hard that the tent rang out with the sound of television tuned to a dead channel. It was certainly warm enough, but by about 5:30 the water had found its way in and the floor was starting to get soaked.
We quickly deconstructed the tent (which wouldn’t fit back into its bag, but to be honest is only really fit for the bin now anyway), and headed back to the carpark to decant what we didn’t need into the boot, and then set off.
The hike up the mountain was great – the views were less spectacular than they could have been, as the clouds had blown in, and the upper portion of the climb became a trek through mist and fog, while battling the winds which threatened unconvincingly to blow us off the ridges to our deaths. We headed off the track near the summit in order to bag a geocache, and eventually reached the top… where once again the rains began.
The hike back down was a killer. Raging wind, rain which felt like needles in our faces, and seemingly no escape from the relentless cloud cover which was omnipresent. When we finally made it back to the car we were quite ready for a nice hot shower, but there was still a 3 and a half hour journey ahead of us. Still, when I got home, I felt fantastic. It was genuinely the best 24 hours I’ve had in a long time.
So you see, some people might say “don’t beat yourself up over doing nothing today – just look what you did yesterday!”, but when has that ever worked? I look at what I did yesterday at it just makes the gulf between yesterday’s mountain climb and today’s NOTHING AT ALL seem unimaginably vast. I am worthless and my demons won’t stop reminding me.
The only way to fix this is to do something, but my lack of motivation prevents this.
Save me, please.
So over on my friend’s blog there is a novel activity called the Writealong. Every Saturday she’ll post up a writing prompt and you use that to write a small section of prose. At the end, you should have enough to edit it all together into a short story. I’ll be posting mine up here. Sounds good? Yes it does. So head on over to the first prompt and get cracking.
Here’s my first raw draft:
It was one of those god-awful days in late spring when Andy asked me to help him clean out his house. You know how it goes; there’s a week of glorious sunshine when you’re stuck in work, and then as soon as the weekend hits the colour is bleached from the sky and everything turns grey. It’s not warm. It’s not cold. It’s just… I don’t know, stagnant?
I arrived at Andy’s house a little after midday, not that you could tell. time had felt static since the moment I woke up. For the past few months Andy had been clearing most of his possessions out of his house. “I just want to lighten my load,” he’d told me. I worried about him sometimes. It seemed as though every passing day he withdrew deeper into himself. I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to spend some time with him.
Seeing the barren wasteland which Andy’s house had become came as a mild shock to me. I mean, I knew he was downsizing, but this? Did he even have a sofa left?
“It’s great,” he told me, “I can almost fit everything I own into a single suitcase now!”
“uh huh… So are you planning on travelling then?”
He gave me a barely visible smile and then turned away.
“Come on, just the cupboard under the stairs to go now. I don’t think I’ve even opened this door in… well since I moved in. Probably still got some of my old Uni stuff in here for all I know!”
I didn’t even realise Andy HAD a cupboard under the stairs. That wall had always been covered up by a poster of some sort. First Babylon 5, then Buffy The Vampire Slayer, then Blade Runner… I think the last time I was here it was some obscure Japanese anime poster. You know the sort – teenage girls in jumpsuits piloting giant robots. The bare wooden door stared at me nonchalantly, as if it was proud of the fact that I had been unaware of its existence. Joke’s on you, door, I’m about to go right through you.
“Christ Andy, you weren’t kidding!” I said as we cracked the door open. Now I know how those Victorian archaeologists felt, opening up the tomb of Tutenkhamun for the first time. A layer of dust an inch thick coated everything in the dark cubby hole. A faintly dank smell assailed my nostrils as I tried to adapt my eyes to the light, gave up, and fumbled around for my phone.
“What the hell are you doing?” Andy asked
“Getting my phone, need a torch,” I replied, still fighting with my handset to stry and get the torch app open.
“Or, you could hit the light switch.” Andy reached out and flicked the switch and a 40 watt tiungsten bulb flared to life right in front of my face. I’d be seeing green filaments for the next ten minutes at least.
“What’s all these bags?” I asked, gesturing to the rotting hessian sacks which made up the bulk of the cupboard’s contents.
“Oh, they can all go in the skip,” Andy replied, “I think that was back when I was collecting those old local newspapers, remember?”
“Jesus, that was, what, fifteen years ago?” I remembered it vaguely. Andy had started reading about local history in some “newspaper flashback” series in a local rag. You know the kind, “in this day in 1856…”, that sort of thing. Anyway, Andy’s the kind of person who really gets into things. I mean REALLY. Like, obsessively. It’s like he has this fire inside which constantly drives him along. But, like a steam engine, once the fire runs out, he runs out of steam.
Andy had spent months collecting ancient newspapers from around the area. He’d buy massive job lots on ebay, he’d raid the local library and spend ages at the photocopier (although he always maintained that owning the original was best), he’d call up the local paper and ask to view their archives. I can’t remember what he was looking for, or even if he was looking for anything, but he would occasionally draw notes in the margins, or highlight certain stories. I never really asked about it because he tended to get defensive around his little projects.
Then one day he just stopped. Bagged all of them up. The project was done. I assumed he’d thrown them all out, but apparently not. We started hauling out the bags and loading them into the skip outside, the stink of mildew coating our lungs like the dust coated our clothes.
“If I catch tomb-rot or something from this…”
“Don’t worry, I’ve been growing some penicillin as a side project.”
“I feel safer already”
Once the papers were gone I noticed something else in the dank corner of the cupboard.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“That wooden box?”
“Beats me,” Andy said, wide eyed. “I have genuinely never seen it before. Probably something the previous tenants left here.”
I couldn’t get a decent look at it from where I was, even with the light on. I reached in to grab it so we could have a look at it in the daylight.
“Ow you bastard!” As I pulled the box out I managed to catch a splinter in my finger. I hate splinters. They sit there just out of reach, taunting you, daring you to try and tease them out, threatening you with paltry amounts of irritating pain every time you put pressure on your fingers.
“I’ll get some tweezers.” Andy turned to head into the kitchen, but I grabbed his arm to stop him.
“You’ll do no such thing,” I said sternly. “I want to know what the hell is in this box.”
The box was sort of a wooden crate, like those old packing crates you see in 1940s movies. There was some writing painted the side, but the wood was so blackened with mould it was impossible to work out what it said. Painted on the top there was what looked like an eagle logo.
We prised the lid off with a swiss army knife and looked inside. In amongst a tangle of straw packing was a small, ornate box. It was heavy, seemingly roo heavy for its small size. The metal of its construction appeared at first glance to be gold, but as we turned the box in the light it seemed to shift though a whole spectrum of colours, like a patch of oil on a wet road. All over the box was an intricate filigree of symbols.
“You recognise any of these symbols, Andy?” Andy had, for a time, worked at the university on a computer project designed to digitise ancient manuscripts. He’s seen literally hundreds of ancient documents – Egyptian, Sumerian, Norse, Japanese, Old English. If anyone was going to identify these symbols at the drop of a hat, it was him.
“They look like Hebrew,” he said, turning the box over in his hands. “There’s something not quite right about them though. Like they’re jumbled up, or like they were made by someone who knew what hebrew was, but didn’t understand it. You know what the weirdest thing is though?”
“What?” I asked, incredulous at the idea that this could possibly get more bizarre.
“There’s no hinges.”
“Yeah hinges. There’s something inside it, right? You can feel it sliding around in there. And this bit here loooks like it should open. But There’s no damn hinges. And there’s no way to get the damn thing open.”