Climbing Pigeon House Mountain, NSW

IMG_4931aWhen I was studying a few months ago, I taped a list of things I wanted to post-uni to my wardrobe door. I added to it when inspiration struck and it gave me an extra push, knowing that I could achieve all of those marvellous things once I was finished. And one of these grand plans was hiking Pigeon Mountain on the south coast of New South Wales, three hours from Sydney. My sister and I hatched a plan for Easter and cleared our schedules. Now the time had come to finally tick it off my list.

We were up at dawn, the earliest I’d seen of the AM hours in a while. My sister – a morning person – drove. The first half of the journey was filled with sleepy-headed silence and nostalgia of all the trips that had come before it. The field beside the highway where giant sunflowers used to bloom now lays sadly idle.

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We passed through a town that gave way into small rural allotments, then small farms. We saw cows crossing, lawns of lavender and the beehives that produce the Pigeon Mountain honey I love. The wide open paddocks were the shades of vibrant greens after the previous month’s record-breaking rains – a rare sight in a drought-prone nation. The sealed road gave way to a wide dirt surrounded by protected bushland. This marked the start of our off-roading journey.

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“The first part is hardest. So we’ll power through and then take a rest when we get to next section of the hike,” she said as we pulled into the car park. We were in the southern section of the Morton National Park, 27km down a dirt road, and miles from civilisation. We were effectively in the middle of nowhere and it felt like it.

The rating on the trek from the National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was ‘hard’ and suggested four hours each way for the journey of 5km.  There were to be no sherpas on this expedition so I was conscious of not overpacking. I settled for some food, four litres of water, a first aid kit, a camera and a light jumper.

It was a chilly 12 degrees Celsius (53F) and the sun had not yet reached us on the south-western face of the mountain. We each put in our ear buds, and set off with little ceremony or fanfare.

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The first section of the trail was steep, the track was wide. The NPWS had formed uneven steps into the terrain to assist hikers and help prevent erosion. Trees stood at arms length from each other as though they were fearful of contact. But this soon changed as we climbed higher, giving way to more dense eucalypt and ash forest and small grey boulders to scramble around.

We climbed in silence, each listening to the music that motivated us. I listened to a mix I’d made to run along the Lakeshore Trail in Chicago, so I spent the first part of the climb reliving recent memories and trying to recall the sights and sounds of my regular run. The volume on my iPod was turned way down so I could (potentially) hear the slithering of snakes on the path and the clomp of oncoming groups. Being that I was in two places at once, this section passed pretty quickly.

We emerged at a slight clearing and stopped for some water. Just off the main track was a large boulder, and so we ventured out on to it to soak in the view. We caught sight of our destination – Pigeon House Mountain – rising up before us, but it looked so far away.

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We resumed our steady pace and in a few minutes came into what was definitively the second stage of the trail. It was mostly flat, scrubby bushland that ran the length of the natural ridge that led up to the next stage of the hike. In spring, this section of the track is wall-to-wall wildflowers, but in autumn, the only spot of colour came from a handful of orange grevilleas.

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The scrub gives way to heath along the third section. As we climbed higher, the trees became taller and more dense, the track less sandy. This part of the trail was more of a muddy, temperate forest and it was here I was able to test out the waterproof quality of my new hiking boots.

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This was my favourite part of the trail: still steep-ish and entertaining but with interesting views through the canopy. It was up here we heard the call of a lyrebird. I’d recently watched a documentary that showed the phenomenal ability of the lyrebird to imitate the call of other birds as well as human sounds (such as the click of a camera, a car alarm and a chainsaw), so it was special to be able to hear it in the wild.

At the base of the sandstone cliff face that made up the peak was a series of ladders. This was final stage of our ascent and we were making great time. An old man we passed on the trail spoke of his memories hiking Pigeon as a much younger man, when the only way to reach the peak was via a series of ropes. I’ll take ladders over ropes any day!

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The ladders were ice-cold to the touch (which is always preferable to red-hot) and relatively easy to manage even though we both struck our shins on them multiple times. Two of the original steel ladders are still in use today.

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At the top of the ladders, we had to scramble over a few boulders to reach the summit. It was a relatively clear day and we could see as far south as Tuross and as far north as Jervis Bay. From above, the Budawang Valley looked similar to the Blue Mountains – with its wide valleys, long plateaus and colours.

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We had reached the summit, but I was not as enraptured as I thought I would be. Few things are as enjoyable in the moment as they are for me in memory. But I took five minutes to commit the views and my feelings about achieving this to memory, snapped a few photos and turned for home.

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The return journey was fast, comparatively, and we passed plenty of groups on their way up: young couples, old folks, families with young children, and one ultra-marathoner. When we set out, the carpark had only three other cars and over 20 when we returned. We weren’t the only people with this idea over the Easter long weekend.

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We made great time on the trail, too. Instead of the return journey taking us 8 hours, we managed to complete the trail in 2h16m (perhaps the NPWS were just erring on the side of caution?).

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When you rely on cars or public transport every day, the simple act of using your own feet can bring a great sense of achievement. It’s a great reminder for me to use my abilities to achieve bigger things, more often.

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Thoughts on Change and Evaluation

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Just outside my window are two very large trees. They provide shade and colour and a home for the unnaturally loud flock of cockatoos who seem to have taken up residence there. These trees have been here as long as the house, perhaps even longer. The life force in these trees is strong. I look out at them when I awake in the morning, when I do my sun salutations, when I pause while writing at my desk.

But April has arrived, and soon the green leaves will slowly turn yellow, then a brilliant shade of orange, and eventually into a deep red. They will fall on the gentle breeze that blows through the valley here, and everyday I will sweep them up until there are none left to fall. Change happens continuously, no matter what you’re doing.

Whether it be rhythmic like the turning of the seasons or violent like a thunderstorm, change is inevitable. We learn and grow and change through our environments and our experiences. And I have returned to Sydney — the city I was born and raised in – and being home has shown me just how much I have grown within, even if my external features have not altered. I have become more quiet, more observant, more reflective than the version of me who left here all almost eight years ago. I have developed the resilience I always had in far-reaching ways. I have battled bureaucracy, injustice and hardships, and learned from my mistakes. I have seen and lived and loved. Travel has shaped me in ways I struggle to fully comprehend.

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From where I am standing, Sydney looks refreshing, inviting and unafraid to show her true nature. She knows I will tire of her easily and she’s accepting of that. She helps me recharge. I always return.  But this time it feels different. I don’t understand the particulars of why or how or what, but I feel as though I am on the precipice of something… big? Momentous? Different? I’m not sure. But the winds of change have brought me back to Sydney for a reason. And I am trying to interpret what it’s whispering to me. A few weeks ago, I read ‘The Alchemist’. The lessons have stayed with me, even if I was not truly inspired by the writing. I now understand why certain people recommended it to me.

“[M]aking a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”
– Paulo Coelho, ‘The Alchemist’

I made a choice to travel, to embrace the unknown. I sought a different life from the traditional model laid before me, one full of adventure. And when wrapping up these past seven and a bit years, I see I have done that. I had no idea that I would develop a connection far greater than I ever imagined to San Francisco. Or that I would come to understand how much sunshine means to my health after living in the rainy and permanently overcast west of Ireland. Or that I could manage to travel alone throughout Eastern Europe, at my own pace and on my own steam. Or that I’d experience first hand the impact a piece of art would have on me at the National Gallery in London: the Execution of Lady Jane Grey. Finding a small town in New Zealand to show me how to slow down and appreciate the elements central to life: love, family, food and time. That my time in South East Asia would be so colourful and so varied, ultimately reaffirming my need for distance. Or that I would move to Chicago on a whim and find that it would influence me more than I imagined. Already, I’ve lived some great adventures. I wonder what comes next?

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I am starting to view my life less as a series of planned adventures and more as a path, a journey with twists and turns and unexpected hiccups and fortuitous events. And even though I haven’t changed on the outside, I’ve done a hell of a lot of growing on the inside. There’s still plenty more to do, but I can’t help but smile at myself when I think about all I have already accomplished, and all that I am on the cusp of achieving. Here’s to plenty more adventures – both home and abroad.

Photo Friday: Inner Sunset, SF

“I’M HURDLING LIKE THE OCEAN TOWARDS YOU”.

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I was wandering around the Inner Sunset last June, when I stumbled upon this, a beautiful piece of art by Alphonzo Solorzano It was prominently displayed in the window of a small business just off Judah and framed by heavy, deep blue curtains.

But this moment and the visual stayed with me: ‘hurdling’ with a sense of urgency, a flurry of tremendous activity covering vast distances like the Pacific. I’ve spent countless hours searching the waves for signs, for comfort, for change. I’ve been in, on, under and above it. But most of all, I need to be near it. My various current ‘lives’ are connected by an ocean.

Whilst I see me in the physical reflection of the photo, it’s the words that echo the way I live my life — bouncing between two worlds. Hurdling, if you will. Those words for me also encompass all that I experience: hurt, happiness, homesickness, alienation, joy. Hurdling with a fearlessness masking the anxiety of fear, but it’s a hurdle I will always take for the adventurous spirit trumps inertia.

I’m hurdling like the ocean towards my life

YES!

This is how I feel right now, after submitting my final paper this afternoon:

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Just like Tracy Flick in Election. Well, kinda.

Tomorrow, I plan to sleep in, go for a long run and spend the rest of the day curled up on the lounge outside reading. For fun. 

Enjoy your weekend!

Three Things #3

#1: I am almost finished the classes I’ve been taking. I’m almost there, almost done. Almost. Seeing my dwindling ‘to do’ list is empowering. 

I’ve been on a self-imposed exile whilst I’ve been attending to this. It’s the only way I’ve been able to get the shit done. The highlights of my weeks are going for a run around the neighbourhood every few days, and to the supermarket once a week. Simple (and rather monotonous), but it’s keeping me accountable. 

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I can’t wait to have my days back, my nights. I have made a list of all the things I want to do when I finish up, and naturally, all at once!  Taking pottery classes, getting a tarot card reading, riding my bike to the airport and watching every Wes Anderson film in order before his new film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is previewed at the Dendy at the end of March.  

I’ll be celebrating wrapping things up by seeing some comedy this Friday night. I was lucky enough to score some tickets to see Wil Anderson work on some new material and next week, I’m off to see Darren Hanlon (finally! It’s been far too long) in one his small, intimate shows. It’s what’s getting me through these last few days.

And just know that if I owe you an email, you’ll be hearing from me after I’ve had a big, long sleep!

#2: Dear Kate is an example of the type of female-run business I love to support. The woman behind the brand, Julie, is a chemical engineer, and she’s come up with a product that will reinvent the way you look at undies. They’re made from specially designed fabric that’s machine washable, stain resistant and take care of any unexpected overflow from your period. What a great idea!

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They’re not cheap, but they sound like they’re worth it.

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#3: Digging the French pop of Yelle and Coeur de Pirate right now.

Procrastination

Today, I started my day with a series of sun salutations.
Made myself a fancy breakfast.
Checked stuff online.
Vacuumed.
Tracked a package due to arrive from overseas.
Made a doctor’s appointment.
Went for a run.
Showered, changed.
Learnt how to make hard-boiled eggs.
Went for a drive to the store.
Bought a bin for recycling.
Found agave and purchased some groceries.
Burnt some incense (that my sister claims smells like kennel. Hmmmmm…).
And made my very own sunflower seed butter.
Procrastination, much?

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