January 11, 2013

2012 humblebraggery travel year in review

I’d really like this blog to be about running but my running has just been pretty miserable over the last 2.5 years.  Despite the ongoing frustration with regards to running health, I am thankful for the past year which was rich with travel experiences.  2012 has been my biggest year as far as pushing the travel envelope goes.  I took enough redeye flights to last a lifetime all over the world from Pittsburgh to Kota Kinabalu and countless other road trips all around the western side of the Australian continent.  I recon I knocked off 3 trips that most people would call life-list or bucket list trips.  Bucket list to me means a trip people would spend their entire life planning for or any trip with a World Heritage Site.  Those three trips were Sydney, Borneo, and tropical northern Queensland all of which contain World Heritage listed sites.  In my experience, world heritage sites are always amazing.  I must add a 4th that may not have taken place at a world recognized site but holds personal value: a road trip around Australia’s southwest with my little sister.  We just nailed it with regards to weather, sunsets and good fun.  I wish I would have written more and told better stories on this blog but priorities were elsewhere.  Another thing I didn't do in 2012 was shave.  So here is the list in chronological order of notable trips I have taken in 2012:  

Southbound.  I started off the year with a bang in Busselton (2.5 hours south of Perth) at the two day “Camping, Music, and Arts Festival” aptly named Southbound (which I just went to again last weekend).  I had very loose plans going into it.  I knew a few co-workers going but I ended up running in to Anna outside the Busso Visitor’s Center the night before the festival started.  She was doing her laundry in an Eskie (cooler) in the bathroom.  The 20 year old from Canada had been travelling Australia alone in a 500 dollar dilapidated Mazda sedan.  A few thousand miles up the east coast to Cairns and back to Sydney, then across the Nullabor to Western Australia without having the car blow up.  She is an absolute legend who could talk to anyone and attracted a crowd which is why it was fun to hang out with her for the weekend.   

Margaret River.  In Feb I traveled down to Margaret River for a little bit of camping with some co-workers.  The Margaret River Region is a world class wine growing area consisting of 100 plus wineries.  It is also home to some of the best surf in WA.  I did my first Australian type water sport in stand up paddle boarding (SUP). I am very bad at it apparently- the instructor said I was too tall so at a disadvantage.  Yep.  Too tall.    

Esperance.  The southern coast of Western Australia is a staple in my travel diet.  When I am a bit unsure on where to go on my next six days off, I go south.  The southern coast starts with Margaret River in the west, the Karri Forests around Pemberton in the middle, and wind farms hugging coastal cliffs near “Amazing” Albany to the east.  Further east is Esperance and the beautiful coastal national parks:  Cape Le Grand and Cape Arid.  I still recon the beaches within Cape Le Grand National Park such as Lucky Bay or Hellfire Bay, are the best I have ever seen.

Sydney.  Surprisingly, this would be my first plane trip since landed in Australia some 8 months prior.  I took the opportunity to visit a friend from high school who was living in Sydney.  Tommy D helped me pack the most out of the city I could in six days.  I would call Sydney the most picturesque city I have seen with the all too famous views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.  The city feels more American than Australia.  Better yet, it feels like an American city but a lot cleaner and occupied by mostly Asian people.  Baxter hotel was my favourite experience during the week.  Well, the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains aren’t too bad either…

Darwin.  Aka the Top End or the Territory.  I was told that people drink more alcohol per capita than anywhere in the world in The Northern Territory.  That knowledge and the fact that Darwin is in a Territory not a state made me ready for a wild experience.  It was.  The Territory has everything you would expect to see in Australia: Crocs, snakes, cyclones, jellyfish, the bush, and World Heritage Aboriginal sites.  Beaches were pretty but you can’t swim in them during any month with an “r” in it.  Actually, that’s wrong.  I went in May and still was told not to swim because a jellyfish might zap me or a croc could be lurking close by.  The ethnic makeup of the city was a blend of Aussie, Asian due to close proximity, Aboriginal, and throngs of European backpackers walking between the numerous hostels and bars on Mitchell street.  Memorable moments for me include swimming under waterfalls at Litchfield National Park (croc free), hanging out with backpackers outside during a night concert and the Mindl Beach Markets at sunset.  I regret not doing the three day trip to Kakadu but there is always 2013.       

Kalbarri.  For surfers, its home the best left hander in Australia.  For me, it was a surfers Sedona.  The coastal cliffs and inland red gorges had me comparing it the red rocks of Sedona and its granola lifestyle.  The 9km hike around Natures Window may be one of the best hikes in Western Australia.  It got me thinking of hiking in the Grand Canyon and possibly stringing together the 80km hike/packraft trip from Z-Bend to the Indian Ocean along the Murchison River.  I ended up staying two nights at this ranch for 10 dollars a night.  I forget the name but I will always remember the Cowgirl in her thick country Westralian Saying “Hey Mate, How ya Going?”  And the mix of white and aboriginal children running alongside horses playing tag.  I just felt like I stumbled upon the right place to stay there in outback Australia.  I also got pulled over for a “random” drug and alcohol test.  The ACLU would have been all over that.  Kalbarri is a good 6-7 hour drive from north of Perth but I hope to go at least once in 2013.  I somehow lost my pictures from this trip which is annoying but  

Melbourne.  “The coffee is so much better in Melbourne…and the restaurants, nightlife, music, art, people…EVERYTHING”  I hear this kind of talk all the time.  One guy I met on the road called it the “Best City in the World” despite never going to other notable cities such as San Fran, Paris, Rio, New York, Hong Kong, or come to think of it any city in America or Europe…  Yes, it is a cool city.  The best?  Impossible to say.  My favourite aspects of the city are the alley ways and cool street art.  Tiny nooks of bars, restaurants, and coffee stands are hidden away down multiple little alleys.  I stayed at the Nunnery backpackers which is an old Nun house converted to a hostel.  I just remember getting dropped off from the airport, going for a run, and getting back to the Nunnery starving with a family style dinner of hearty vegetable stew and freshly baked bread all free.  I highly recommend staying there if you go to Melbourne.  Of course, I did a few runs around the famed Tan Track with everyone else in Melbourne.  And most importantly, I met up with my sister.  I hadn’t seen her in year and when I did finally see her, she was wearing a blue wig and part of a huge street performance.  I spent about 5 minutes walking around the crowd looking for her until I looked at the performers and saw her ACTUALLY IN THE SHOW.  Absolute classic. 

Leah Visit and Southwest.  The week after seeing her in Melbourne, she came out to my neck of the woods to get a grand tour.  I was flipping back and forth trying to decide between going up North to Kalbarri or down South.  The thing is everyone in Australia abides by this policy to go North in Winter and South in Summer.  The weather is terrible otherwise so they say.  I had this in my head then remembered that this is Australia and people complain about everything and the weather is never really that bad.  So we went South in August…  Admittedly, we got lucky with the weather.  Uncharacteristically bright, warm, sunny days followed by cool yet comfortable nights for sleeping.  We started out with a day trip to a popular destination from Perth called Rottnest Island.  There are no cars on the island so you can rent bikes and do the 26km loop stopping at various pristine beach coves for a swim or view.  You can even pet these weird rodent things that infest the island called Quokkas.  I she could have got back on the plane after the Rottnest visit having been perfectly satisfied with the views and sights we saw there.  But then we packed a 4 day road trip of the southwest with stops at Busselton, Margaret River, Wilyabrup Cliffs, Pemberton, Walpole, Fernhook falls, Treetop walk, Greens Pool, Elephant Rocks, Albany, and a tour one of the largest producing gold mines in Australia.  We got back from that epic road trip and still had time to check out iconic Fremantle.  Hosts Cody and Janna happened to live near another Perth icon: Kings Park.  Thanks Guys.    

Home.  After a year of not seeing any family besides my sister one week prior, I used my only vacation days in 2013 (hard to believe I did everything else on this list without taking vacation days) to visit America.  My dad didn’t know I was coming.  I was to surprise him at his 60th surprise birthday party.  I was on American soil with my Brother in LA and sisters on the east coast for over a week without him knowing.  It was awesome to be back home for a bit.  Hard to leave but knew it came with the territory of making a difficult choice to move overseas.  I did feel a little like a lot of friends and family had been standing still while I had been experiencing new things and growing.  A few random thoughts about America:  People are really friendly and easier to talk to- or maybe that was just Venice Beach in LA haha.  Airports are ridiculously uptight in USA.  TSA puts on a great show.  The US economy and job situation is pretty bad.  Australian’s have it a lot better, especially Western Australia.  The great thing about leaving your home country is that you see it through a different lens when you go back.    Hope to make it back in 2013 and be filled with more insights. 

Malaysia.  I love KK.  I regret not buying one of those shirts.  I fell in love with the people, sights, and smells of Kota Kinabalu and Borneo.  After two days in the city, I ventured inland to World Heritage listed Mount Kinabalu.  I met locals who drove me around (Muyok and Louis), drank their homemade rice wine, stayed in 6 dollar hostels all while taking part in some life list adventures.  I day hiked to the summit and ran into Kilian Jornet, world class mountain runner.  I wasn’t going to run the Mount Kinabalu Climbathon but after seeing Kilian I was excited to take part despite not really training for it.  I definitely want to give it another crack with some decent training.  There is so much I didn’t do in Borneo (scuba, orang-utans, mini elephants, island hopping, rafting), I will have to take a 2-3 weeks off and do it again next year.  I had a hard time believing everyone who keeps telling me, but Southeast Asia is truly an awesome place to travel. 

Cairns.  I got the rare opportunity to see some family in Australia and I had a few days to myself north of Cairns around Cape Tribulation.  I did a boat day trip to World Heritage Listed Great Barrier reef complete with swimsuit models.  Then, followed that up with numerous runs and adventures into the other World Heritage Listed Area in the region, the Wet Tropics of Northern Queensland including a run up the Highest Natural Pyramid in the World: Walsh’s Pyramid.  I tackled Walsh’s immediately after arriving at Cairns Airport at 4am having not slept.  It was basically a death march to the top but the sunrise was amazing.  They do a race there to the top every year which I have on my list for 2013.  Cairns town is like a bigger Darwin.  You can’t swim in the water and there are plenty of backpackers, hippies, Asians, Aboriginal…wait that is all of Australia outside New South Wales and Victoria.  I really liked Northern Queensland and hope to go back in 2013.  And yes, I went in December and survived the “intolerable” weather.

2013.  I don’t know what to expect this year.  I have very vague travel plans.  Tasmania in February in locked in, definitely at least trip to Indonesia- Bali or that world heritage temple in Java, Southeast Asia at some point, Maybe Papua New Guinea at the end of the year, Maybe home for Christmas, Maybe hit the Pilbara and Kimberly up North during the winter months (June-August).   I would have loved to get my running back track and travel to some races over here but it doesn't look like it is going to happen.  Every run hurts.  I don’t know what is wrong exactly.  If I did, I would have corrected it by now.  As far as other aspects of life go, I will continue to work in Australia, I will continue to travel and see as much as I can over here, and I am going to try to learn some new things non-running related so I can have a different hobby in my old age.  I have started a photo a day project- if I keep it up it will be a good accomplishment.  I have started a drawing a day project that I don’t have the guts to publicly share- If I actually see this one through to the end I will be astonished and might actually be able to draw.  I also wanted to read 1 book per week or 50 books for the year 2013.  That one is already behind and not looking like I will get a win.  I have a lot of good ideas on what I should do to improve my life, but I suppose I should just get back to doing things I like doing rather than feel obligated to do all these things that other people might think are cool.  

The Revolving Door.  It seems like there is a revolving door where people come in and out of my life quite frequently.  It is probably one of two things: The mining industry or the travel lifestyle I lead.  Living out of a car on days off probably doesn’t help much.  I am essentially a nomad constantly on the move meeting people for short periods of time, sometimes exchanging numbers or email or facebook or twitter but never following up, and  then moving on to the next thing with little to no time invested in the relationship.  In some ways it is good because it allows you to be honest sooner because time is limited.  But not healthy long term.  The mining industry has a high rate of turnover.  I feel like we lost at least half the people I started with in engineering.  Interesting social dynamics in the mining and nomadic/living out of car life.    

Good bands from Southbound WA 2013: 

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