Robin on the Road in Trerice Cornwall, UK

Robin on the Road in Trerice Cornwall, UK
Robin on the Road in Trerice Cornwall, UK

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The High Cost of Cheap Gas

The High Cost of Cheap Gas

I recently saw a post on FB about a planned national gas strike in Australia. People are angry about the high price of petrol. Apparently, a new federal tax scheme would lead to an increase of the price of petrol at the pump.

Given the cost of living in Australia, it could cause significant hardship to middle and working class Australians. To be fair, wages in Australia are more in line with or are commensurate with the living costs. More or less. Although, banks are more than happy to extend lines of credit. But we all saw where that led in the last economic downturn. Or crash as it were.

This is in no way an indictment of the good, hardworking people of Australia, New Zealand or other Australasian countries. The standard of living in these countries is some of the highest in the world. Clean water, relatively clean air, access to health care and a decent distribution of fresh produce and low population densities lead one to a sense of overall wellbeing. It’s a nice place to live. According to the World Health Organization as of 2015 Australians of European descent can expect a life span of about 82 years. Of course this figure is lower, much lower for Aboriginal Australians. That is another topic though I do not dismiss the significance lightly. The majority of Canadians, US citizens and Europeans also enjoy this standard of living. By some measuring tools the US is behind in providing basic health services. But I digress.

I bring your attention to other parts of the world. The places where much of that raw petroleum comes from. Places like Nigeria, Venezuela, the Arab states.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), life expectancy in Nigeria is 53-55 years. It is even lower in the Niger Delta where averages are around 40 years. This is due to lifetime exposure to contaminated air, water sources, soil and sediment. Nigeria has earned as much as Thirty Billion Dollars in recent years from the oil industry. Where is all that money? Here is a link to an Oxfam blog if you really want to know:

While cycling along the south coast of Western Australia I experienced some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the world. Some of the cleanest water supporting incredible diversity in marine life. I also learned there was a push for oil exploration and extraction in the waters around the Bight. Fortunately, at least for the moment, it’s been put on hold because of opposition and danger to the health of the marine eco-systems that would be gravely endangered. A short, easy search on the internet will reveal a million web sites regarding the oil industry and marine eco-systems. Here’s one referring to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

The thousands of fisheries and were lost due to the ecological disaster this caused is immeasurable.

My point in all of this is, there is no such thing as “cheap gas”. Or whatever one wants to call it in the common vernacular.

So, Australians, Americans, Canadians, Europeans are not entitled to low cost petroleum. You can strike at the pumps and demand lower prices but we will all pay in the end. The solutions are NOT in government subsidies to prop up profits in the bizarre and macabre trickledown theory of global economics.

If you are not satisfied with the prices at the pump there are other much more efficient solutions. Public transportation in places like Australia and the US is ridiculous! Attempts to improve have been thwarted at every turn by Big Oil in it’s strangle hold on local government. Auto manufacturers are not much better. Here is a great article on the history of Los Angeles and the suburban disaster it was to become:

Before you get to whine and kick up about the high price of gas, look at where you live, what you drive and alternatives. If you are unwilling to advocate for mass transit or simply get out of your car and walk, ride the bus or your bike FIRST then your strike at the pump will be a childish, petulant and ineffective tantrum.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cycling South East Asia
(Or Not).

It's been a while since I've experienced a large, Asian city. It was a bit shocking actually coming into Kuala Lumpur. Hundreds of huge towers have been seemingly placed randomly around the "city". I use "city" loosely. That would connote some sort of planning. Here there has been none. The allure of money and profit has superseded all else in terms of livability. Some are offices and some are apartment complexes. Looks impressive from the highway. On ground level of course, it's business as usual. Reminds me of a scene out of the original Blade Runner film with Harrison Ford. A million people all out on the street conducting business, eating in "restaurants" that appear out of nowhere under a ramshackle awning that appears over night. The humidity causes the sky to drip incessantly, sometimes becoming a downpour. And it's hot. 

The Malay people are friendly and respectful. Most of them speak at least three languages. English, Malay and one of several Chinese languages. And the food here is really good! It's a little more expensive than other parts of Asia. That is if you call a plate of rice, veggies and chicken marinated in a hundred different flavors for $2.00 expensive. After Australia and New Zealand, it's a real bargain! There is some old and interesting architecture hidden under the more "modern" and new construction. 
I went to visit a local mosque. I was given a long gown to wear by a volunteer named Nena. Roughly the same age as me. She was lovely. She asked me where I was from. I told her, "USA". To which she replied with delight, "USA, land of..." Wait for it........... "DAVID CASSIDY!" Yeah, I was expecting some disparaging comment about Idiot in Chief. But no, David friggin Cassidy. She said he was her teen idol and has loved him forever. She told me she was very sad when he passed away recently at the age of sixty eight years old. That was one of the most random things I have ever heard in my life. She wanted a photo with me and I gladly consented.

I'm waiting on approval for a visa application for India. I've also applied to work for Sea Shepherd as a volunteer on one of their ships. My only real qualification is working in the galley. But it's a foot in the door. In the meantime, I’m reading through blogs and guidebooks trying to outline a cycle route to India. Truth is, I’m sick to death of dealing with choking exhaust and congested roads. I mean really clogged, sitting and going nowhere clogged. When traffic does move it's at full speed without any consideration for pedestrians or any other "obstacle". Just crossing the street on foot is an epic and dangerous adventure!  Hell, just walking on the sidewalk is risky business. There are half finished, infrastructure upgrades everywhere. This really translates to piles of rubble left to disintegrate on the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to choose between rubble and roadways. Ironically, there is a new bike share program. All one needs an app. You scan the bar code on the bike and it magically unlocks and off you go. It costs the equivalent of about $.10 an hour. It's a great idea! But there is nowhere to ride. There are vehicles everywhere! 

 I’m thinking to skip most if not all of SE Asia. I'm not sure that cheating death at every turn is worth the aggravation and stress level. I was spoiled by the wide open spaces and bush of Western Australia. With just a little effort, I found the quietest gravel and two tracks with little to no traffic. I could throw my swag anywhere in the forest and hear nothing but the birds, bugs and breezes stirring in the canopies. I could ride and camp for days without seeing another soul. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a full blown misanthrope but to me, silence is the voice of God. 

My bike is currently parked at a bike shop across town.
But all roads (literally and figuratively) seem to lead nowhere. I’ve considered Java, Sumatra, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia. Myanmar is looking like a real possibility. Wonder if I could find a boat around Thailand.  All these once beautiful countries have been sold off piece by piece to greedy businessmen (who pay off crooked politicians) for the palm oil industry, petroleum, Coca Cola or whatever else they could extract at a profit with no consideration for environmental degradation. The people are powerless. Not to mention the plastic shit choking beaches, plastic shit piled to the heavens on road sides, plastic shit covering the jungle floor. I have yet to find a water purification station. The hostel provides boiled water. But in this heat, it takes hours to be cool enough to drink. It forces most people to buy endless single use, plastic water bottles.  Thankfully, Muslim people have no use for dogs. I’ve been given a reprieve from witnessing the slow miserable deaths of 10,000 starving, mongrels in the streets. The novelty of the developing world wore off years ago. Although, I find wandering the streets really interesting for all it's sights, sounds, foods and smells, it only goes so far. I'd rather be cycling the countryside and hanging a hammock near a quiet beach. Not so easy anymore. Any accessible beach has been developed for tourism. This leads to more people, more traffic and more plastic.  In any case, I’m going to wander around Malaysia for a bit sans bike while I wait for visa approval. 
Stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Year (almost) in Australia

Throw another... leg on the barby...
From an open window near where I sit I can hear the squawk and screech of cockatoos. In the canopy of trees that shade the house from the strong hot West Australia sun, I see that Red Tailed Cockatoos. Their tails flash a brilliant red as the hot summer sun sets them alight from above. Against the afternoon sky of pale blue, it is quite striking. To my right on the desk is the stack of maps I used while cycling areas of this huge country. Looking at them jogs my memory of the places and people I became acquainted with. As usual, I am drawn to the wild places. The hills, valleys, vast plains and forests and of course, the coast and beaches. Much of it seen and experienced from the saddle of my bicycle.

How do I condense into one short blog post a whole year of bicycle travel on this huge continent? I can’t. This cannot be reduced to a sound bight. You would have to come here to believe it! This is a rough sketch of a whole year, a complete revolution of the earth around the sun. You’ll have to read the details in the book.

These are some highlights:
It is very beautiful here. But there are some staggering statistics. Australia supports hundreds of endemic species of flora and fauna. It also has one of the highest extinction rates of any other country. It's been two hundred years since settlement, or invasion depending on your perspective. In that short span hundreds of endemic plant and animal species have disappeared. FOREVER! THAT SUCKS! It’s the same old story. Burgeoning population, suburban sprawl spreading like cancer, natural resource development and so on. But I digress. Where was I?

Oh yeah, GOBSMACKED! It’s a beautiful continent. And full of contradiction. The Kimberly of the north west comes to mind. A varied sandstone landscape is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna. At first glance it was pretty intimidating. It reminds me a bit of the sandstone canyon country in the American Southwest. Harsh, rocky outcroppings give way to mysterious hidden valleys and gorges. After some long days in the saddle breathing the dusty air, I’d find a clear pool of fresh water. Or I’d come up one of the enormous gorges with water thundering down rock cliffs. But unlike the American south west, this was all rain water. The country is dry in the cooler winter months. The hot summers bring monsoons and torrential rains. I had the good fortune to stumble into a small, family run “resort” and caravan park one day. I found it tucked into a nature reserve on the old road from Kununurra to Wyndham in Western Australia.

Some boabs can live thousands of years.

Turned out to be one of those little gems that only providence can lead one to. I wasn’t going to stop there. It was still early in the morning and for whatever reason I thought I needed to make Wyndham. I did actually ride past the driveway. But I heard a little voice in my mind that said, “Go back, check this place out”. It was pretty hot, even though this was the dead of winter. It had taken me three and half days to ride what I thought should have taken one and a half. I thought, "what have I got to lose? I'm covered in dust. I smell and my clothes are stiff with that special mix of salt and dirt from days in the saddle and camping in the bush. "OK", I said to myself. I turned around. Of course it turned out to be an oasis out there in that sparse and harsh country. The place had a swimming pool and a small but deep lagoon. There was even a resident “salty”. That’d be a salt water crocodile. Small by some standards, I had seen a couple of big ones from the safety of a bluff over the Ord river on my ride. Interesting phenomenon. When the rains come, the crocs swim and travel. They are sometimes a hundred miles or more from salt water. So all those great pools and gorges that run with water are beautiful but one must be very careful. I saw quite a few crocodiles up in that country. I stayed at the resort helping out for about three weeks. There was a billabong nearby with a bird blind. A billabong is an Aussie for an oxbow lake, an isolated pond left behind after a river changes course. They fill with water during the wet season. Apparently, it's also a clothing company. I went and sat in the bird blind for a few hours one day. I counted 25 or 26 different species of bird in a three or four-hours time. 

No crocs here.

I spent three weeks or so up there. I could spend years and still only scratch the surface of an area like that. Such different country from that which I would find in the south west. Rich, moist forests verdant with deciduous trees. It’s a cooler climate as it's a few thousand miles farther south. I spent almost four months in the south west of Australia. I rode a little over 3,000 kilometers exploring the forests, mixed heath scrub and beaches on my bicycle. Not as harsh as the north west, I still traveled with the same sense of reverence, awe and wonder.

I learned that it’s very important to pay attention to those little “intuitive” moments. So as not to miss an opportunity like that”. And of course the people I met and stayed with for several weeks were amazing. As we listen to each other’s' stories friendships form. We become like family. They change and enrich my life forever. 
That is one of the beauties and benefits of traveling alone. It can be very difficult at times. The loneliness of the road, no one to blame but myself for a messy kitchen or wrong turns. But it’s easier to meet the locals, even though we seem worlds apart at first glance. Here is an adage that comes to mind. I probably saw it on Face Ache as my friend Jim likes to call FB. But when I keep this in mind, barriers fall away and I see people for who they are. “We are all just walking each other home”.
Frogs can teach us much.
The greatest tragedy may be the destruction of culture and the environment. It’s heartbreaking for me to think about the loss. 40 to 60,000 years of aboriginal cultural development is gone from memory. I can’t even imagine the scope of this collective wisdom. Knowledge gained through experience and relationship with country over eons. Blows my mind to think about how they survived for so long in the some of the harshest landscapes I’ve seen anywhere. But that's not surprising. As well travelled as I am, my world view is still limited and bounded by the western culture I grew up in. And I realize now how limited that world view is. Another good reason to travel and push my own comfort zone. I'm not talking about physical comforts either. That's easy to overcome. It's the challenge to my own assumptions and acceptance of what is "normal".

Early European explorers never thought to ask the original inhabitants questions? There seemed to be no curiosity about what the aborigines knew or what their world view was? That this arrogance persists in some folks is telling. I met a few white Australians who held onto arguments refuting aboriginal claims. Not just land claim and ownership but the deeper philosophical and practical approaches to living on the land. It is demeaning and deprecates 50-60,000 years of aboriginal knowledge and wisdom. I find it is too easy to simplify these ancient cultures. Nor can they be easily understood within the framework of western culture and ideology. 

Spoken language is the universalized expression of a given reality within a culture. At the time of settlement by Europeans there were 250 languages in Australia. At least one hundred of them are gone now. Their survival is based upon their collective experience. The complex mystic and spiritual relationship folks had with their land. From what I have learned, many believe that they belong to the land and to each other. Not that the land belongs to them. There is a huge hole in western culture where this concept needs to be. People only survive in community. Individual conduct is by necessity based in rule and order. This in turn comes from beings more powerful than they. Handed down through story and song. Their creation stories go back and back and back. Thousands of years before any other current world religions. I know fuck all about the aboriginal cultures that once thrived here. I'm trying to fit it into my world view. This is an impossible task. I only have my immediate experience as a traveller in foreign country. My only exposure was to a few small populations trying to survive in a world hostile to such concepts. This hostility has led to deep cultural rifts and tears in the fabric of society. I could spend the rest of my life and half of the next one trying to understand what was here. And sadly what is being lost every single day. But maybe I'm too sentimental. Or perhaps it's all projection rooted in my own spiritual hunger to "belong to country".

Needs no caption.
I was accused of “projection” when I visited Uluru. I expressed an intuitive feeling about the presence of life force energies. To me it was rock imbued with spirit. But that's not unusual for me. All I can say is, “Go there”! See the rock art, feel the hot breeze coming off the rock and see the birds in the trees. Watch the dragonflies and bees flit around the water that accumulates in the pools in its shadow. Walk around its base and touch it. Feel it with your face, fingertips. Put your lips, one of your most sensuous body parts to its surface. Let it absorb you. Allow yourself to be absorbed.

Getting back to the cockatoos. They have become my constant companions here in the south west. Cockatoos and the ever present wind. So many birds and wildlife here. SO different from anything in my home country. Outside the window sniffing around in the leaf litter right now is a quenda. AKA short nosed bandicoot. I went to take a closer look. Reminds me of a rat. It’s bigger, has a longer nose and a shorter tail, very cute. It’s a possum. A marsupial, it gives birth to live young and then carries them around in a pouch. The possum in America is the only marsupial in the Americas north of Mexico. Australia supports 70% of the world's extant marsupials. 

Kangaroos can be found in families and large groups. Also called a mob. (Notice the joey in the pouch on the right side of the photo).
The iconic kangaroo is one of my all-time favorite animals. Science estimates around 65 species once inhabited the continent of Australia. I only saw seven or eight species at most. It is world’s largest marsupial macro-pod (big foot). I find them both ridiculous and fascinating. They are perfectly adapted to the driest continent on Earth. All I have to do is see one or a mob and I chuckle. If you believed in God and the Judaeo/Christian creation story, how could you not think God had a sense of humour? I know that farmers and cattlemen don’t share my sentiments about the kangaroo. There is competition from growing farm country and cattle stations. Here are some random facts: Kangaroos, cannot move backwards. Kangaroos range in size. The largest at 90 kilos (almost 200 pounds) and 2 meters (six and a half feet). The smallest is the Musky Rat kangaroo weighing in at 620 grams (less than a pound) as adults. This tiny species sports opposable thumbs on its hind feet and a prehensile tail. Large kangaroos can reach speeds of 60 k (37 mph) and can clear a distance of 8 meters (26 feet). Locomotion is hopping. Hopping!!! The name derives from the word ‘Gangurru'. A name given to Eastern Grey Kangaroos by the Guuga Yimithirr people of Far North Queensland. Kangaroos are of cultural and spiritual significance to many Aboriginal people across Australia. It’s not bad eating either. A strong flavour and dense meat. Reminds me of eating bear. An acquired taste I’m sure. Not really my cup of tea.

Another favourite is the emu: Hilarious and curious. Endemic to Australia it is the second largest bird in the world. They can reach as tall as six feet. They’ve got deep, red eyes and feathers that look more like shaggy fur than feathers. It was the eyes that really caught my attention. If modern day birds descend from dinosaurs, the eyes are where I can see it. They don’t fly but they can run. Fast. Really fast! Up to thirty miles an hour. With a running stride of almost ten feet. I encountered a small family one day while cycling a trail in South Australia. I was on the Mawson Trail in Rawnsley Park Station near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges. I stopped in the shade of a tree to consult my map. While staring at my map I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see five or six birds, all taller than I am with eyes fixed on me and coming closer for a better look. Of course, once I looked at them, they began to move off. I later learned that it was dad and his kids. The female emu lays the eggs and then pisses off to the pub to pick up another mat. The male incubates, hatches the eggs and raises the young. How’s that for a twist on gender roles? They're pretty funny to watch if they startle and take off at a full run. The shagginess of the plumage bouncing around is reminiscent of hysteria.

The kangaroo and emu are harmless. Kangaroos have no natural enemies (except dingoes and humans). They can leverage themselves on their tails and deliver some powerful kicks. Males fight among themselves for dominance and mating privilege. And the emu too has powerful legs and claws on its feet that can deliver a nasty kick. Their big, strong looking beaks can be at eye level. I've had geese come after me and peck at me. It hurts. I can only imagine what an emu beak can deliver. Either way, I didn’t want to ever find myself in a situation where one or the other felt threatened. I got to pet a few kangaroo and I was surprised at how soft the fur is. It’s also pretty thick which is surprising as it can get very hot. But I suppose that’s what helps keep it cool.

Australia has a reputation of being home to large numbers of dangerous wildlife as well. Big, bitey things with lots of teeth. The salt water crocodile for example. It is a ferocious set of teeth attached to a large reptilian body. They are everywhere there is water within its range. They swim in the ocean AND fresh water. One has to pay attention up there. There are sharks too. Big ones. And how many venomous snakes? Twenty-three of the world's 25 most venomous or something. Then there are the deadly jellyfish, blue ring octopus, rock fish. Not to mention the spiders. That’s the wildlife that creeps me out the most. There must be something in our primitive brain that makes us recoil from spiders. But they fascinate me at the same time. 

"Actually, I was going to sleep there. But it's OK, you can have that bunk". Harmless huntsman.
I went to the Australian museum in Sydney to see a special exhibit on Australia’s spiders. It was awesome! Money well spent. I saw live funnel web spiders. They live underground (as much as a meter) for the most part. They might be one of the oldest species of spider on the planet still quietly going about its business. A Jurassic throwback. It hasn’t changed in four million years. The Funnel web spider has a very nasty bite. So does the red back, trap door and red headed spider. The white tail spider has been much maligned as have all spiders. But here’s the thing about all this fauna. It’s not just lurking around with malicious intent. It doesn't spend the day just waiting its chance to pounce and ruin the day of whomever happens to be walking by. They sting, bite or poison only when threatened or hungry. There are precautions one can take. Not digging around with bare hands in the soil maybe. Making lots of noise when traipsing through the bush. Staying out of dense thickets altogether is sometimes prudent. It's also wise to obey warning signs posted near water. I often saw signs announcing shark, dangerous stinger or croc sightings. It’s not a good idea to reach out and pet spiders or snakes no matter how cute and cuddly they look. I had my closest encounter with a very pissed off tiger snake. A chance meeting I don't want to repeat. Most snakes move away when they feel the vibration of human feet walking. Bicycles don't seem to have the same effect. And for God’s sake if a blue ring octopus’s rings are glowing blue, DON’T TOUCH IT!

Did I mention the ants? Australia supports 1300 or so species. 

Termite (ant) mounds can have as many as a million members or more.
Some are tiny and inconsequential. Some are large with pincers and have a bad attitude if you step on them. I accidentally stepped into a nest of bull ants while pushing my bike up a steep hill. OK, I was poaching a walkers trail when I came to a section of high, stone steps. Yeah. In about 8 seconds they were in my shoes and moving up my legs. That’s the first time I ever ran away from my bike screaming like a lunatic. I had to make three or four short forays back to the bike, pull off a bag, throw it up the hill and run. I finally got the weight of the bike down to where I could pick it up and claw my way up the trail with it. Fortunately, I’m not allergic to bee stings. I was once stung by a scorpion and it wasn’t too bad. Once the ants were off me, the bites were not irritated. I got off lucky that time. That’s how we learn sometimes.
Moral of the story: DO NOT poach hikers' trails!

I spent the majority of my nights in Australia camped in the bush under incredibly dark skies. Even though I work in the outdoor industry and camp for a living, I've never seen night skies like these. There is very little light pollution. Especially out in the bush away from cities. When it is dark, or there is no moon it’s really dark out there. It even spooked me a time or two. Having said that, I felt relatively safe alone in the bush. Sharing the road with drivers was far more dangerous. And it’s not the “road trains”. Although they can be quite terrifying. Those are the long haul tractors pulling three full length trailers. It is the Aussie tourists and their Toyota Land Crushers that are the real danger. They came hurtling past me at 120 and were far scarier. Bigger is not necessarily safer. Not for the cyclist to be sure. But slower sure is. The commentary and editorializing about said drivers at KFUK* radio was pretty funny. Or would have been if the consequences of a collision were not so dire.

Road trains stop for nothing.
*KFUK radio. The one that plays in one's head all day long.
Australia has had its share of bizarre and violent mass murders. And in every state, locals will point to the neighbouring state and tell you how weird “those” people are. I will state for the record that I did do some hitchhiking. I tried to be smart and strategic about it. Seemed to work out OK. In any case, while in Australia, I never thought too much about random gun violence. As I sit here writing these words I learn of yet another mass school shooting in the US. This time in the state of Florida. At least seventeen dead. Australians ask me why I’m not in a hurry to go back to the US. Duh…

I had been in Australia for a few months before I noticed a sense of relief. I wasn't sure why. Then I realized how stressful it can be living in a country where random gun violence has become the new normal. One cool thing about Oz, very few guns. Not none, I’m not that naive. In 1996 35 people died and 23 were injured in a mass shooting. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the government of Australia stepped in. The feds launched an assertive buy back and amnesty program. Almost 700,00 weapons were taken off the streets and destroyed by the government. There is a complete ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons except in the hands of the police. There is a twenty-eight-day waiting period to buy a gun. The government of Australia also passed more stringent licensing requirements. I’m not deluded enough to think I’m immune from crime. Violence is a problem in all societies. And aboriginal communities suffer more under a terrible yolk of widespread violence and crime. That fact is not lost on me. But my chances of being randomly shot to death by a lunatic with a gun in Australia are far less than in the US.
New Years Eve near Hopetoun on the south coast.
My point is that I never thought much about my personal safety other than the daily precautions. Hazards like traffic, environmental conditions or deadly wildlife seemed more manageable to me. As a woman travelling alone however, there is always a niggling in the back of my mind about safety. I have my own rules. I pay attention to my surroundings. I never reveal exactly where I am going to camp, camp well away from roads, stay out of sight. Only on one or two occasions (out of several hundred nights) did I become a little nervous or creeped out. Scientists have said that there is a primitive part of our brain that alerts us to unseen danger. When the hair on the back of your neck stands up for no apparent reason. It's an evolutionary adaptation from thousands of years ago. Back when we got chased around the steppes of Asia by saber toothed tigers. A primitive part of our brains could sense a stalker behind us. There is no saber toothed tigers here. Although, some folks believe in the existence of living thylacines. There were only one or two occasions when something felt off. I was spooked and I couldn’t understand why. I'm not so cavalier about it though. I paid attention to those signals and came up with a plan ‘B’. I was always prepared to move on when it didn't seem right, hide deeper in the bush. Sometimes I would find a spot and sit for an hour or more before setting up my camp. I’d hang out listening and watching. This was as much for absorbing the sights and sounds of the forest or bush as for safety. There are lots of signs of humans. Easy to see and understand if you know where to look and what to look for.

“Be Fearless, fearless…”
These are the words I began to hear in my mind. I'm weighing out the benefit/consequences of a certain route I was thinking about taking. “What if”? I'd gained some confidence here. I cycled 3500 kilometers mostly off road in south Western Australia. What could possibly go wrong?

I tend to err on the side of caution. Even when I was working as a guide. Sometimes times to a fault. The degree of Difficulty and competence of the individual can cause an outing to turn out one of two ways. Adventure or MIS adventure.
I can think of a million and one ways to die in the woods. Most of which I eliminate right off.
So, I went for it. Cycling back roads, gravel, sandy tracks and even some walking trails. A small mis- adventure one day but remedied quickly. Lesson: DO NOT poach hiking trails on a bicycle. At least not often. I was fortunate enough to experience some really cool moments with the forest. 

What follows are reflections of one such place:
Sitting at the base of a Giant Tingle tree. There several varieties; they are all eucalyptus. There exists on the planet one small 600-hectare area where these behemoths grow. Equal to about 2.3 square miles. This tiny range is due to very specific, environmental and ecological forces. It includes, geology, topography, aspect, climate and time. About 45 million years. It’s a perfect storm of forces. In fact, most of the south western corner is home to one of the widest ranges of bio-diversity IN. THE. World. And sadly is being lost at an alarming rate. I have a theory. Natural resource development and human encroachment are a big part but there is more. I blame sound bights. Our world and conscious reality today is based on thirty second intervals. If we don't get the point in half a minute, there is no purpose. It is in our relationship (or lack thereof) to the world from which we emerged. Nature. I camped right on a wide section of the Bibbulman Trail last night jus to be closer to these trees. Early the next morning, I packed up my tent and went to sit with the two big trees. I love absorbing the sound of the forest coming to life as day breaks. It’s a very special time. Maybe the veil between the two worlds is thin. It feels mystical to me. I love to just lie there and look up into the canopy. There is so much happening up there. Birds dart in an out of the branches, flying insects seem to dance and the breeze sets the leaves in motion. To me it sounds like music.

These giants are fragile with shallow roots. There is a boardwalk around the bases to keep folks from walking on the roots. Scientists learned from losing other trees how susceptible they are to impact. A few of them died and fell down after years of people driving and walking on the roots.

It was still early. But soon there would be lots of people, coming to see these trees and take obligatory selfies. I watched them stand in the blackened space where a fire had burned out the inside of the base. It’s like a cave. A small family could live in there. The tree is still alive and is mostly healthy. Most of the people that stood in the cavern never looked up. Several folks walked through and never even looked at the tree.

I spent hours there. Very few people looked up into the canopy. Nor did anyone stop and lay their bare hands upon the soft, fragrant bark. Feel the texture. It’s pretty soft. There is a sensuousness this gentle giant. As there is to all trees. If people looked closely, they’d see swirls and circles and odd organic shapes. I see the random design of evolution in a visual representation of millions of years or adaptation. I am amazed. I love this stuff!
Did I need to travel 14,000 miles to have this experience? Probably not. This isn’t news to me. But it’s interesting to see how other cultures experience the world they live in.

Banksia seed pods need fire to open and disperse seeds.
I hope my words encourage you. I invite you to step into the extraordinary. Travel on your own. Make wrong turns, follow dirt roads that disappear into bush land. Walk through deep sand on quiet tracks. Listen for birds and the breeze. Talk to strangers. Above all, look for common ground, in the everyday experiences of people and life everywhere.
Thanks for reading…

I could write an entire book just on traveling in Australia. One day I will.
I don’t get to do what I do without the help and support of the amazing people I meet.

Special thanks to: Lesley Hart and William Tremel, Jim and Julie Burgett, The Casement/Duncan family, Bridget Liddell, Anne, Terry, Parry, John and Colin of Parry Creek Farm; John and Alison Stanley, Sam, my family and all the incredible people out there that helped make this dream a reality.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Anxiety, depression and the spectre of suicide Part II


On depression, Anxiety and the spectre of Suicide

Part II

I wake up most mornings with a start. Feels like a million butterflies all launch themselves at once and start flying around in my stomach. And then my head starts spinning and the thinking begins. Ugh!!

I get outta bed pretty quick. If I lay there too long the thinking gets dangerous. It's like swimming around  in shark infested water. This leads to an insidious paralyses. Once I get moving it's not so bad. When I say, "moving" I don't just mean walk to the coffee pot and turn it on. I need to walk, run, swim or ride my bike. Lately, I've been experimenting with Yoga. It can get my heart rate up, but these days it's really all about  the cycling.
 "Why I ride". Simply put, it's because I can.

"I can!"

In the Spanish language "can" as in "can do" is expressed as a verb. The infinitive of the verb "can" as in "can do" is "poder". It's the same word for "power".

Cycling directs all that free floating energy.  Cycling and movement in general is part of my solution to the paralyses I experience. 

But the real pain in the ass is the depression. Many people who don't experience it have no idea what it feels like. Here is an example: Put a large, heavy wool blanket in warm water. Leave it there, let it get good and soaked. Take it out of the water, don't wring it out, it just let some of the water run-off. Put it over your head and go to work, drive your car, eat toast, or just get up from where you're sitting. Yeah, it's like that.

Who. The. Fuck. Would. Choose. To. Live. Like. That????

Lots of people. Every day thousands of people are experiencing this. And do you know what happens after wearing that blanket for a few hours? Pain. Pain in the neck (literally), pain between the shoulders, headaches and finally, exhaustion. And if that is not bad enough, there is thinking that follows. OH, THE THINKING!!! Ever heard of KFUK Radio? That's the station. There is an evil DJ in there who spins doom and gloom. Said DJ also berates listeners for... well... listening. Eventually, the DJ says, "Go ahead... Quit. Why bother? It is never going to get better".

It took me the better part of ten years to shut that DJ down. It took another ten to change the station.

I want people to know that a high quality of life is possible. I didn't know this for a long, long time. I self-medicated myself with lots of booze and illicit drugs. Some of it was fun and it allayed the anxiety. Eventually, it stopped working and things just got worse. I tried to stop but I couldn’t. Not on my own. I’m not really sure how it happened, but it did. I chalk it up to divine intervention. I believe that a benevolent Creator of all things showed me grace and compassion. And I'm trying to pay that forward. I've been clean and sober for twenty four years. Those twenty four years have been extremely difficult at times and incredibly joy filled!

But my work didn’t stop there. Once the never ending party got old I was left with the same factors that got me into it in the first place. I worked very hard at getting my head and my heart screwed on straight. And more importantly I had a lot of help. A LOT! I don’t need to get into the “why” of it. As in, “Why am I so fucked up?” It doesn’t matter now. My good friend Annie says that “why” is just an excuse to relinquish responsibility.  That’s not to say that all folks who suffer will find the same relief. I had to learn to advocate for myself. And this is a key point! When things really began to unravel, I took a risk, became vulnerable and got help. LOTS. It has taken an army of friends, family, professionals and my beloved recovery community. I love you guys!   We are just one big happy, dysfunctional family.

After years of talk therapy, EMDR and lots of other adjunct therapies, I still felt like shit. We tried drugs. It’s been about seven years and they really help. Not just any drugs, specific drugs, prescribed by a doctor. They work fairly well. I can function (sort of). I still feel like I don’t really fit into the mainstream and probably never will. But I’m learning to be OK with that.



There is a myth floating around out there that sufferers are responsible for their circumstance. That they are somehow at fault and have failed in life somewhere. NOT TRUE!!!  I do believe we ARE responsible for how we respond to our circumstances. Whatever they may be. Shit does happen that we have no control over. And people all over the world deal with violence, corruption and live in deplorable conditions. Neither is this their fault. But that discussion is for another time.

I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like for Kate in those final months, weeks, days and hours. Did she believe it was hopeless, that she was a burden to everyone else? How come she’s dead am I’m not? Why do people NOT seek help? It’s out there.

I’m not one to prescribe solutions for anyone else. Folks need to find their own way. This is what works for me. And anyone who wants to engage in dialogue and arguments about pharmaceuticals, I invite you to step into my world. Or better yet, soak that blanket; wear it for an hour, a week, a decade.  

I don't take any day free from this misery for granted. I worked pretty damn hard to get here. And I HAD A LOT OF HELP.... I want to stress that point. "I HAD A LOT OF HELP"!

There was no way I was ever going to get out alive on my own. None of us will. Open up Facebook or a newspaper. Someone a month ago committed suicide. Someone next month will commit suicide.

We cannot be healed in isolation. I’m hoping that I can spread the love, healing and wisdom I’ve gained. A high quality of life is possible. I’m riding my bicycle because I can…

In memory of Kate (Saturday) Robinson Brown

Thanks for reading…

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Part II
Well, I almost had part II written when it disappeared from my notes.
If I didn't think faster than I could write by hand, I wouldn't have this problem.
I thought it was pretty good too.
Back to the drawing board.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Anxiety, Depression and the Spectre of Suicide

Part I:
For those of you who don't know, I'm currently cycling around Australia. I've been here since the end of February. It's been an incredible journey. The variety of lands and people is mind blowing! 
While here, I learned that a good friend of mine had taken her own life. She was a gray hair like me, very intelligent, a fellow nomad. And like me I think she felt a little out of place and was trying to find home. Robyn Davidson sums it up very well for me in her book, Tracks. "There are two kinds of nomads. Those that are comfortable anywhere and those who feel comfortable nowhere. I was one of them."
I was saddened by the news of Kate's death. But oddly once the initial shock wore off, I wasn't surprised.  I had made it a point to visit her when I was in Colorado in the fall. She told me she thought she was feeling depressed. She was in a big transition. And winter in Colorado is tough. I gave her some phone numbers of local therapists who had been very helpful to me over the years. By June she was done.
Her death won't have been in vain. In fact, it's the spark that's ignited the fire under my own ass to tell this story. The one I have not really shared. Ironic since the whole point of this blog was really supposed to be the narrative of how I arrived where I am right now. Which is writing a blog post on my phone while my bike and I are traveling on a westbound Greyhound in northern Australia. I'm headed to some gravel road adventures in the Kimberly.
I can only do this in small bits. I hope you'll see this through with me. 

This is part I:
Some days, things can seem really hard... Loneliness on the road, uncertainty about where I'll sleep tonight, hopefully just a swag under the stars.  The night sky here is unbelievable by the way! I thought Utah and Montana were something! Wow! But I digress. Outside in the bush is where I am most comfortable. But today, this isn't about me. This is about Kate and  Charlotte and about a dozen other women I know who took their own lives recently. People choose suicide rather than live in the pain and isolation of the absolute certainty that things will not get better. This is called "hopelessness". It is one of the shittiest feelings one can ever experience. I know personally just how shitty it is. For all the people I know or have not met yet who believe that the only relief is death by suicide, this is for you.
My journey with the shittiest feeling ever began around 1995. Might have been earlier but I was too stoned to notice. I was 33 and had found my way into sobriety two years earlier. I was living in a beautiful part of the country. I had access to the incredible forests, rivers, lakes and mountains of the Sierra Nevada of central California. I was broke and couldn't keep a job. But I was living on an apple orchard taking care of the trees in exchange for low cost rent. It was beautiful and I loved caring for the 180 semi dwarf apple trees. I learned a lot about apples and irrigation. It was a very cool life. For a while.
But then came that morning when I was startled awake by a panic attack that felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I flew out of bed, my heart was racing and I was sweaty. It was like something huge and ominous had just scared the living daylights out of me. But all was quiet. It was a typical beautiful morning. Sunshine, birds and a cool morning breeze. My home was secure enough. I had been a little nervous about living in the boonies alone at first and a friend lent me her 410 shotgun. Thing was called a snake charmer. Boy howdy! It was reassuring even though I barely knew the ass end of a gun from the opening where the hurt comes out.
The panic attacks continued on and off for weeks. Then they became more frequent and started hanging around longer. It became a consistent terrible anxiety that I couldn't shake. I started making stupid, impulsive decisions based on the anxiety. 
Then Buddy came into my life. He was the big black dog that rescued me. He was very grounding. I could never just abandon him. So my decision making skills began to improve. I got rid of that stupid shot gun shortly thereafter. I'd probably just end up blowing my own foot off with that damn thing. Buddy was much more intimidating even though he hardly ever barked and was a really sweet guy. Well mannered and a real gentleman he would get in the middle and stop other dogs from fighting. He was big and very strong. 
But I still lived in this constant state of panic. It had been months. It sucked! I couldn't focus on anything. 
Things shifted again. One day about noon I just felt exhausted. My head was hurting and I had an inexplicable pain in my neck and shoulders. I had to lay down even though I thought it was lame and fought it like the dickens. This. THIS began to go on and on and on. It was interfering with work. In addition to the apple orchard I got a job as a grunt and ditch digger for a landscape contractor. I liked the work. I was outside all day and the work kept me physically active. I was recovering physically from the years of drinking and becoming very strong. As you might imagine, I was in rough shape when I sobered up. Seven thousand gallons of cheap vodka and eight million cigarettes hadn't  done much for my physical health.  I quit smoking three months into my sobriety.
Anyway, after months of panic and agony, I went to a local health clinic. After an initial assessment, the PA thought we should try some drugs. I was game.
Feeling like I'd been shot at and missed and shit at and hit ALL THE FUCKING TIME was no fun. What did I have to lose? 
The first thing we tried gave me a seizure one night. That one didn't work. We tried several others. We finally settled on an old school tricyclic. I don't know the pharmacology and have no idea what that means. But they still use it to treat bed wetting in older children. 
After several weeks,  in addition to the fog lifting and the panic subsiding I didn't wet the bed. It was a win-win.
The next two or three years were good. I continued caring for the apples, found an Adult Education Course and a received a certificate as an Emergency Medical Technician taking night classes. I wanted to get into the outdoor industry so I was taking steps in that direction. Making better decisions for my future and even planning. Never did that before. 
A few months later, I received a sizable scholarship from the National Outdoor Leadership School to attend a  course for
the over twenty five crowd.  I'd always loved the outdoors and the sixteen days backpacking above the Arctic Circle in Alaska confirmed what I already knew about how not to die in the outdoors. It also gave me confidence to pursue a career that I hoped would be meaningful. It took a few years but I did get a job as a guide eventually. Things were unfolding. But they were also unraveling. At this point in my life the shit had not fully hit the fan. That would come later. Stay tuned for Part II
Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 14, 2017

...With A Side of Humble Pie

Can I Get An Ass Whoopin’ With a Side of Humble Pie?


Cycling the Tasmanian Trail


Started out innocuous enough, a quick 240 mile ride across Tasmania. The Tasmanian Trail Association website gave a brief overview and offered some photos. They suggested buying their online guide book for twenty six dollars. But I could only do that by joining the association for a yearly membership. That would cost thirty bucks more. By joining the association and buying the guide book, I could also download the most recent GPX file to my phone or my GPS. It also gave me the option to “rent” a key that opened all the gates that I would have to pass through. It would be a total of about seventy six dollars.

I elected to forgo all that. I’m a cheap skate and didn’t want to spend the money. I asked myself, “How difficult could it be?” After all I reasoned I rode the Baja Divide with not too much trouble. I used both my phone and GPS to navigate with an open source download. The folks that provided the GPX also wrote up some detailed notes on distances, resupply locations and notes on water. All this I took for granted.

The day came and I set off. My friends gave me a ride to Dover farther south on the Island. It was still
early when I got on my bike by the water and began following the GPX track I downloaded from an open source. I found it in an article in an online magazine written two years ago. I like to think I’m pretty smart. There was this needling in the back of my mind. It was the feeling of knowing the route may have changed in two years. Never the less, the first two kilometers were easy enough. I came to the huge “Welcome to the Tasmanian Trail” sign at the bottom of a huge, steep hill. I started climbing and came to my first gate. It was fairly new and I being on the downhill side the top of the gate was level with my chin or thereabouts. I had to take the two full food bags off the front forks to lift it. It was tough work. Climbed some more and came to the second gate. Same thing, remove food bags and lift the bike etc. When I crested the hill, the trail all but disappeared.

My GPS said it was right here! Not s sign. The trail just disappeared into tall grass. I’d heard all about Australia’s numerous venomous snakes. Australia boasts seven or nine of the world’s most deadly or some such statistic. I think Tasmania only has three.

So there I go poking around in grass up to my waist. All the while calling out, “Here snaky, snaky”! I didn’t want to surprise anybody.
After about forty five minutes of this, I did find what may have been an old trail but there was an enormous gumtree down across it. There was no going over, around or under it with the bike. After about ninety minutes, I finally gave up. I was just in the wrong place. But if this wasn’t trail, then where the hell was it?

I headed back down the hill and back over the two gates. I was feeling quite dejected. I needed a plan B. After some deliberation and asking around in town I was directed to a beach about five miles away where I found some camping on the bluffs overlooking a stunning bay.

After lots of texting and phone calls back to my friends in Hobart, we came up with Plan B.

The next day my friend John drove all the way back to Dover from Hobart with the missing pieces of information. In a few short hours he had managed to join the association, rent the key, and download the guidebook and current GPX to his laptop. Boy did I feel like a total dunce!

 I put my bike in the car and got on the computer while John drove trying to find the new trailhead. In the meantime I put it all the online info into an email and sent it to myself.

I know that planning is not one of my strong suits. I have a better understanding of why now.
When faced with lots of pieces of information in a short amount of time, I think my brain just sort of short circuits. What I try to pass off as whimsical and carefree is really feeling overwhelmed with information and putting it into a useful semblance of a plan.

We found the new trailhead and the route followed forest tracks through some wet, rainy conditions. We drove on to Geevesport. This is a lovely little town up the trail another twenty miles or so. It always amazes me how much more distance one can cover in an automobile. Now, armed with the right route, info AND the key, I was really on my way.

From south to north the trail climbs steadily for days. There was more than one day, where I was walking and pushing much of the days ride. It was steep, rocky, and muddy at times.

There was one or two days where a forest road became a track, became a trail and then disappeared into tall grass. On these sections I had to watch for fence posts with the tell-tale bright yellow and red triangles that mark the trail. There were a few sections of the trail where I didn’t see many other people at all. 

On the way were gum tree forests, creeks, small towns and very cool bird life. I saw flocks of yellow tail black cockatoos. It is an impressively large and loud bird. I saw and heard numerous other colorful birds that I have not yet learned the names of. They were the one constant on this ride. I was fortunate enough in the north on the coast to see one Little Penguin. They come up on the beach and bluffs to nest in their burrows. I had no idea that some penguins nested in burrows. There are truly wondrous and remarkable things going on out there in the big world.

I did see one live short beaked echidna. It almost looks like a small porcupine (for my North American friends) with a long snout and a tongue that captures insects. It is classified as a monotreme. A monotreme looks like a mammal but reproduces by laying eggs. That’s evolution in extreme isolation folks!  It’s a fascinating animal. I feel lucky to have seen one. 
Sadly, the only other wildlife I saw was all road kill.
It was disconcerting to be on mostly quiet low volume roads with folks that drive steep, windy roads at high speed. There seemed to be zero concern for wildlife in Tasmania. On the days when the sun came out and it was warm, the smell of rotting carcasses seemed to pervade the air. I know that sounds gross. And as most people don’t seem to go anywhere without being inside a motor vehicle they don’t notice this. There was one big ass spider living in one of the trail registry boxes. I pulled out the book and there it was!
IN my mind, it certainly qualifies as wildlife. And it wasn't road kill. It was kind of flat between the pages of the book and looked dead. I nudged it with one foot and it ran across my other foot. It was very much alive! It's a common Huntsman.

The highest point on the ride is in the Central Lakes District. This is some of the more remote and most exposed country in Tasmania. It is alpine and sub-alpine scrub. Unfortunately, when I arrived there the weather had deteriorated. It was very windy and blustery. I saw the rain coming from a long way off. Maybe I’m a little overly cautious but rain and wind is a bad combination. And there was a whole lot of nothing out there. I moved to lower elevations quickly. I got a ride for part of it which was good. There was the thickest fog I had ever seen. It was truly dense. We could barely see the front of the pickup truck at times.

I reached Devonport in the center of the north coast
twelve days after leaving Dover in the south. Devonport is smaller much more quiet than Hobart. 

I was a bit surprised by this. The Spirit of Tasmania Ferry that connects Tasmania to the mainland of Australia calls in to Devonport.  Most of the vehicular traffic coming off or getting on the ferry are caravans and travelers.

I booked my passage on the ferry for two days hence. The cost of my bike was five dollars. I had to return to Hobart and retrieve some of the things I had left there with my friends. I’m sure I could have avoided the round trip from Devonport if I had “planned” differently. But there it is again that pesky planning thing.

I’ve learned a thing or two. At least I hope I have. The next chapter will take me north through Victoria to the Murray River and then west toward Adelaide. That’s a plan right? I did buy a paper map. 
For more information check out:

Special thanks and gratitude to the people of Tasmania; John and Alison in Hobart; John, Shirley and Peter Tongue of Devonport; Karen Moore cyclist extraordinaire and everyone else who is supporting me on this incredible journey.

Thanks for reading.