The Key

The Key

The Key

Sweat ran down the back of my neck as I clicked the padlock closed on the hot storage unit that now housed all my belongings.

“I’ll only be gone for a month,” I’d told my friends, knowing full well the key to this padlock might not be used for eternity.

A week earlier I’d climbed onto the usual E50 bus to North Sydney. The same commuters silently thumbing their iPhones, scowling when someone dared to assault the silence by answering a call. Even a whispered “I’m on the bus, I’ll call you back in forty five,” was dealt a series of eye rolls and snorts.

The miserable commute a preview of the depressing workday ahead. The company I worked for dying a slow and painful death. I wanted it euthanised. But euthanasia meant more than the death of someone else’s business. It meant a loss of purpose and livelihood for many. And in a city where housing prices were skyrocketing, it meant the potential loss of the tiny patch of beachside paradise I’d desperately clutched onto during a series of disasters; the last tiny glimmer of light in the looming darkness.

“There’s no money left,” my wild-eyed boss ran his hands across his bald scalp. “I can’t pay anyone this week.”

For months I’d watched reruns of this scene. When would it end? When would he put the knife in and let the damn business die?

While he held on with white knuckled refusal, so, unfortunately, did I. I wanted it to end, but I didn’t. An end here would be the earthquake that triggered the tsunami of my life.

At lunchtime I walked the same route past the monotonous shops, wearing my now permanent look of despair. My mind racing. Wanting it over. Not wanting the repercussions.

“What do I do? I don’t know what to do. What do I do? I don’t know what to do.”

In tears I phoned my brother. Blubbering the lyrics of the high rotation tape in my head. So many jobs ending in disaster. So many times my life smashed to pieces. The goddess, Kali, on the warpath, was sending the world crashing down around my ears. Again.

“I know you hate asking for help,” he said. “Especially from family. But that’s what we’re here for. Let us be your safety net. Just come up to Coffs.”

“I can’t!” I wailed. “My life is here. My friends are here. I can’t ask for help. It’s not meant to be like this. I’m supposed to do it myself!”

“You keep repeating the same patterns,” he said. “The same jobs, same relationships, same lifestyle. Break the pattern. Do something different. Ask for help.”

Six months on, cold rain ran down the back of my neck as I entered the storage facility. Hands shaking, the padlock clicked open. I knew full well the key to this padlock marked a painful ending, and the spark of a surprising new adventure.

~~~~~

This story first appeared on ABC Open.

Image: Efrén Rodríguez Fotografía

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Fear and Loathing and the Big Banana

Mint Green EH Holden

The Mint Green EH Holden

“Mum, I wanna come home. There’s ducks swimming in the grass outside my tent!”

We pulled onto the Great Western Highway as the sounds of You Am I’s Hi-Fi Way filled the interior of the mint green EH Holden. Our great Australian road trip had begun with rubber burning out beneath us.

‘Homebake’ beckoned us three mountain girls with its siren song to Byron Bay. We rode the Pacific Highway with festival dreams in our hearts, surf stops plotted and a campsite awaiting our half-way mark.

The old EH farted its lead-laden exhaust up the highway as I stretched along the caramel vinyl bench seat in the back; the cousins laughing and enjoying the view through the windscreen.

With windows wound down, Hunter S Thompson kept me company in the back seat. His drug-filled tales of fear and loathing painted Daliesque scenes in my mind. Sidewinder’s bass notes thumped from the stereo, and our road trip morphed into Thompson’s Mint 400 off-road race.

Excitement was high as we pulled into legendary Crescent Head. Surfers bobbed on the waves, a community of seal-skinned freedom seekers. We pitched our tent and left the EH standing guard. It’s mint green hue all summery new life. Yet its chunky brick body a sign of heavy things to come.

A peacock called out in the pre-dawn light from behind the EH’s back wheels, annoyed at our hefty intrusion. Our wheels on his turf, he demanded we roll on.

Spiderbait’s Kram slammed sticks against drums as beach breakfasts were downed, and we belched smoke in a northerly direction again. Red lights flashed on the dash as we diverted to Coffs Harbour, home of the Big Banana. Smoke poured from the chest of our mint green steed. A smoking Joe with somewhere to go, but no strength left for our final leg north.

In an unplanned campsite tragic news was delivered: the EH was dead and there was a three day wait for mechanics. Our Homebakey dreams crushed, the heavens opened up in mutual distress, dumping their heavy tears down on our tent and adventure.

We huddled inside as it rained and it rained and it rained even more. Invisible cracks encouraged a deluge into our shelter, our sleeping bags, our skin, and our dreams through the night.

The cousins huddled together keeping warm as I shivered and cried, “I hate this! I’m leaving!” And I peeled back the tent flaps as ducks swam past through the grass.

The EH watched on. Solid and silent. No saviour in sight.

I ran to a phone booth, sobbing for rescue: “Mum, I wanna come home. There’s ducks swimming in the grass outside my tent! I hate it here. I’m never setting foot in Coffs Harbour again!”

Nineteen years on, I laugh that there are banana plantations flanking my new Coffs Harbour home. Fear and loathing couldn’t stop me from taking another trip north. Only this time it wasn’t in an old mint green EH Holden.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This story first appeared on ABC Open.

Winter Isn’t Coming, It’s Well and Truly HERE!

 

Frozen

Frozen

I know I shouldn’t complain. But I’m going to. It’s freeeezing!!! I don’t remember ever having to wear so many layers of clothing and still have to sit on top of the heater to keep warm. The way I’m rugged up, I feel like I should be guarding The Wall from wildlings with the rest of the Night’s Watch. Jon Snow knows nothing about how cold Sydney is at the moment. Even walking around in the sunshine doesn’t stop the wind’s icy needle fingers from penetrating your clothes and getting under your skin.

Even the Stark pugs are having to rug up and brace themselves agains the chill:

All this wintery weather is making me reminisce about the glorious sunshiney day of my 20th birthday (long ago in a galaxy far, far away). It was so warm on my mid-winter birthday, that I was getting around the Blue Mountains in my favourite Welcome Mat t-shirt and happily sweating like a teacup piglet. If I still owned that t-shirt and cruised around in it today I’d have bits dropping off me left, right and all around the middle.

The desire for mid-winter warmth is firing up my engine in preparation for a roadtrip North with my mutt, Django. Thankfully, the drive North will not take us to Winterfell. Instead, we’re heading into the heart of Big Banana land, which I’ve discovered really should be renamed the land of the Big Blueberry thanks to the major crop rotation in Coffs Harbour. It’s been a while since I’ve done the great Australian roadtrip up the North Coast thanks to Qantas and Virgin Australia! I’m looking forward to seeing how much things have changed (and stayed the same) over the last 15 years. Did I just write that?! 15 years?! Has it really been that long?! God I feel old!

As I thaw out my old bones on the drive up into to the sunshine I’ll be thinking of you and wondering what you’re doing to keep warm. Will you be telling stories by the fire like me? Yes, I intend to build a fire pit and incinerate some marshmallows while I’m away. Or will you be testing your mettle against the chill? Only a few days ago there was snow just 2 hours out of Sydney. Surely there are some snow men in dire need of construction. If you do decide to brave the snow while I’m away, just be sure that if some lanky dude with whispy white hair and glowing blue eyes approaches you, that you run. Run as fast as your legs will carry you; faster than a pug in a leather jerkin!

 

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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Get off your butts!

In the spirit of adventure I’ve decided it’s time to buy myself a sleeping bag, some hiking boots and an enamelware cup and head out on a microadventure. “What the hell is a microadventure?” I hear you ask. I’m not quite sure yet, but I stumbled upon the idea today and it sounded good! So it seems that here in Australia we’re a bit behind the times. (Or maybe it’s just me). But there’s a movement happening across the globe right now that’s getting people off their butts, out of their houses and making the most of the 5 to 9 outdoors.

Alastair Humphreys, National Geographic’s 2012 Adventurer of the year (see how behind the times I am!) seems to have been pushing the idea for years, and I’m wondering why I’ve never heard about it. Especially with people heading out to fantastic destinations close to home; jumping on a train and heading out for a slice of rural adventure, walking down to a local beach or through a national park. Alastair Humphreys even microadventured alongside England’s M25 motorway! It certainly sounds a lot easier than climbing Everest, or setting out on a polar expedition. Although, that could be fun too. And with so much access to nature, even within the walls of Sydney, there’s really no excuse not to have a microadventure, is there?

Climb Every Mountain

Climb Every Mountain

Perhaps the reason for my lack of microadventure knowledge is because I’m a camp-o-phobe. There’s a good reason for my fear of camping. Rain. Whenever I’ve gone camping it has rained. Every. Single. Time. Seriously.

When I’d finished high school, some friends and I went on a road trip from Sydney to Byron Bay. Only we didn’t make it to Byron. The car broke down in Coffs Harbour. We had to camp there for days. Days. In the rain. There was so much rain, in fact, that by about day 3, there were ducks swimming past our tent. As my family can attest, I was none impressed and vowed never to set foot in Coffs Harbour again. Now half the bastards have moved there, so I don’t have any choice! Not that it’s a problem though. Because I don’t have to camp there anymore. But I’m thinking it might be a nice spot to go for my first microadventure. As Alastair Humphreys says:

Adventure is a state of mind.

And I think my mind is (almost) made up. How about yours?