overland with the fam

Tasmania is without doubt one of the best places in Australia for family adventures. And on an island full of great places to explore, and great adventures to experience, the Overland Track stands out.

The six day walk from Mt Barney in the central highlands south to Lake St Clair is justly one of Australia’s best known and most walked routes.  From the heights of Mt Barney to deep temperate rainforest, from spectacular waterfall views to glorious highland tarns, the Overland Track has something for everyone.

We set out with a bunch of friends to walk the Overland Track. In our group were kids aged from 10 years old and up, with a wide variety of walking experience together with their respective parents with a similar variety of outdoors experience. Our own kids are 13 and 15 and proved the ideal age for the walk.  The 9 year old in our family opted for a solo holiday at Grandma’s…she didn’t feel quite ready for the walk and we didn’t want to push her into something like this too soon.

There’s a bit of logistical work to do on a walk like the Overland Track – with gear to be organised and transport at either end to be sorted. We won’t bore you with those details – head over to the official website to find lots of great information on preparing for the walk.  You’ll also need to think about time of year. The peak season is the late summer – January and February – with less rain and snow falling at that time of year (less, but not none!). In winter it’s a truly difficult walk and you’d want a lot of winter (snow) walking experience before tackling it. We hit the trail early January in the summer school holidays.

There are a couple of ways to do the walk: self-organised or with a guided group. If you’re not an experienced walker, the guided groups offer a fantastic way to complete the walk – with all the challenges of gear, logistics, cooking and navigation taken care of for you, and experienced guides to show you all the highlights along the way. Even with guides it’s still a long walk though, so don’t be too complacent if you take this option.

Long distance walks in Tasmania are based around the choice of using simple bush huts, or camping in tents – and the Overland Track is no different. There are huts and camping areas at each night’s camp, and you can use either (but you must carry camping gear in case the huts are full). Staying in huts can be crowded and noisy, but it can also be a great way to meet people who have come from all over the world to walk the Overland Track. They also enable respite from weather that can turn pretty nasty at short notice!

In our group there were enough people with bushwalking experience (and having walked the Overland Track before) that we could safely opt to be self-organised rather than take the guided option.  Both Sheri and I had walked the track together a few years ago and were excited to share it with our kids before they get too much older.

Our kids were pretty committed to preparing for the Overland Track – and it’s not a preparation to take lightly. We did lots of day walks around south-east Queensland, an overnight test walk into Mt Barney Creek, and the kids made their own decision in the weeks leading up to the trip to walk to and from school regularly rather than the bus or bike options they’d usually choose (a distance of around 5km each way).  By the time our walk rolled around, they were fit and ready to go…and excited!

I won’t go into too much gear detail except to say we carried two small tents, cooked using a Trangia fuel stove, and that the kids definitely carried their fair share of gear. The 15 year old daughter carried all her own gear, plus a share of family equipment, while the 13 year old carried his own equipment plus our family’s daily lunch supplies. Sheri and I carried a little more gear than the kids, but they definitely kicked in their share.

We kept a good lookout for value-for-money equipment in preparing to go, and apart from borrowing from generous friends chose to pick up some bits and pieces from Aldi, and an on-line discount supplier. I wouldn’t recommend Aldi gear if you’re going to be doing regular long distance walks, but for a one-off summer walk we found their down sleeping bags, boots, hiking socks and two-main tent fit for their purpose.  A 55l pack for the 13 year old, gaiters (a definite for the Overland track!) and waterproof pants all came from on-line discounters. We didn’t skimp on rain jackets though, conscious they’d probably get a workout (and they did!) so opting for good quality rain gear.

We planned our menu together, and put together a tasty selection of recipes including home-made Bircher muesli we mixed up each night for the following morning, wraps and crackers with a variety of fillings for lunch, and a mix of stir fry meals for dinner. Other friends in our group used commercially available dehydrated meals for dinner and definitely had a quicker and easier meal prep time than we did, but there’s generally no rush.  We let the kids go crazy on making up some trail mix (nuts, chocolate, lollies, dried fruit etc) to their own specification – you’re going to burn lots of calories on a walk like this so regular snacking is important, and we also carried as much fresh fruit as we thought we could.

The Overland Track is an incredible walk. It starts at the base of the majestic Cradle Mountain, and within a matter of minutes the steep, tough climb to Marion’s Lookout begins. This first couple of hours is the hardest of the week, but our kids bounced up the climb like they were out for an afternoon neighbourhood jaunt. The view from the top on a fine day (which we had) is incredible. From there, day one continued around behind Cradle Mountain and an optional side trip to the summit. Sheri took the 13 year old to the top in what turned out to be a quite difficult and at times exposed climb to an incredible summit, while the 15 year old and I stayed on the main track toward the night’s first campsite at Waterfall Valley. We were off to a great start.

What followed was another five days of fantastic walking, lovely campsites, glorious views, and the kind of family experience you’d dream about.  Hours of walking with the kids, chatting about life, the universe and everything, were interspersed with periods where they were walking with other kids from our group so Sheri and I had plenty of time to walk and chat too.

It’s hard to pick highlights from a walk in which every day was unique and special, but there are a few that stand out:

  • A sunny afternoon enjoying the lovely grass campsites of Waterfall Valley and watching the sun set behind Barn Bluff
  • An optional side trip to the summit of Mt Ossa (Tasmania’s tallest) was rewarded with an astonishing summit area after a hard scrambling climb. I couldn’t make the walk (a little dodgy knee action), but Sheri and the kids joined some friends for the trip – and they haven’t stopped raving about it since.
  • We camped some nights, and stayed in the huts on others and enjoyed meeting walkers from around Australian and beyond – including a dad with his 7 and 9 year old kids who charged through the walk in remarkable style.
  • On our fifth day, from Kia Ora to Windy Ridge, the rain set in. We’d had great weather up until this point, but this day was bleak, cold and wet (even in summer time the weather on the Overland Track can turn nasty, with snow possible any time of year). Rather than bemoan the weather, we celebrated with the kids, telling them “embrace it, this is the real Tassie!” We buttoned up the waterproof gear, splashed our way along tracks that were more like creek beds than dry walking trails and explored a number of side trails to spectacular waterfalls along the Mersey River. It rained all day, the kids loved it, we coped well physically, and were rewarded with the big, modern, well equipped hut at Windy Ridge as a fine place to warm up, dry out and spend our last night on the track. While on other days we’d walked intermingled with our larger group of friends, on this day we spent most of the time just walking as a family unit…and that made it all the more special.
  • While it’s possible to walk right along the shoreline of Lake St Clair to the finishing point at its southern end, that day’s walk is rough, slow and not particularly scenic, so most people (us included) finish the walk at the northern end of the lake and organised a ferry across the lake to the official finishing position. That last day’s walk down to the lake edge is fast, flat, scenic and includes a spectacular swing bridge over the Narcissus River, before a (nearly compulsory) celebratory swim in the icy-cold waters of Lake St Clair….we were done!

The kids smashed this walk. We had zero complaining, zero whinging about no mobile phone or internet access. We had some blisters, sore shoulders, hips, feet as you would imagine, but the kids truly loved being immersed in this spectacular wilderness environment. We had one gear failure – my trusty boots gave up the ghost on day two and only survived by being taped together each morning with Elastoplast – but an otherwise trouble free walk. Our only regret was that the 9 year old wasn’t quite up to joining us (yours might be, but ours wasn’t)…the bonus to that being that we might have to make a repeat visit in a couple of years when she’s ready.

A walk like the Overland Track (either alone or with the family) isn’t easy. It takes preparation, training and a certain degree of skill and capability in the outdoors (particularly if the weather turns bad). That said, there are the guided options I mentioned earlier, or the option to walk with friends who do have the skills and experience necessary.

When all is said and done though, the memories of a trip like this will last a lifetime for kids, and set them on a path to pursue adventure, with the confidence that comes from having completed (and enjoyed) such a trip.

This story was originally written for a family adventures website, so it’s a little different to my normal writing. Its now published here to make sure I don’t lose it. Hope you enjoyed!

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under your nose

IMG_6926This weekend we had some good friends staying with us, and went looking for something fun (and outside) to do in Brisbane. In that same situation in the past we’ve often headed for Southbank, or wandered up Mt Coot-tha, or maybe a local park or playground.

This time, for some reason, Mt Glorious came to mind. It’s part of the D’Agular range, and right on the edge of Brisbane, with access through Samford Valley and then up the winding road to the village of Mt Glorious. Of course we stopped for breakfast on the way…at our friend’s cafe Delicatezza in Mitchelton (an unashamed plug for a great feed, and a great mate).

Once we made the climb to Mt Glorious, we left the car at Maiala Picnic Area and wandered the 4.something km Rainforest and Greene’s Falls trails. It was, it has to be said, an absolutely stunning Brisbane winter day, and the walk was a joy. Beautiful forest, easy walking trails, kids chattering away (apart from the odd “Dad I’m hungry” call that seems to accompany just about every family adventure). We clambered down the rocks at the Falls, balanced our way along a 30m fallen tree, played, explored and then back at the picnic area sat in the sun, enjoying lunch and good company.

IMG_6952A meander back via Mt Nebo with stops at the beautiful Westride, Jolly’s and Camp Mountain Lookouts completed the day – all without ever travelling more than an hour from home. Jolly’s Lookout is amazing…we’ll definitely be back there for a sunrise brekkie bbq one morning.

It was a lovely day.

I haven’t been up Mt Glorious for probably 20 years or more…and its right on our front door. Right under our nose, so to speak.

Why is it that we sometimes don’t see, or notice the things that are right in front of us? Maybe it’s beautiful locations, like Mt Glorious; maybe its the extraordinary blessing of family and loved ones that we sometimes don’t think about; maybe its business or professional opportunities. Sometimes we (by which I of course mean me) are so focused on the next big thing that we miss whats right there before us.

I’m left wondering how many other Mt Glorious’es are right on my doorstep, right under my nose, just waiting to be noticed, explored and enjoyed. Not for the first time (to my shame that I keep having to be reminded) I’m reminded of the value of slowing down a little and enjoying whats right in front of me.

How about you? What’s your Mt Glorious?

on yellow cars and casual, cultural sexism

We play a game, our family.

It’s a driving game, it keeps the kids occupied on long trips, gives us something fun to rib each other about along the way.

We call it “Spotto”.  Maybe you play a similar game, but in our version it’s a point for each time you see a yellow car and call out “SPOTTO!” before anybody else does.  As with any family game there are a few quirky rules, some inside understandings of what is and isn’t yellow (Brisbane City Council buses for example, don’t qualify) and for some unknown reason lost in the sands of time spotting a purple car and calling “SPURPLE!” accrues double points.

Hey, it’s fun, and its in the privacy of our own car…

There’s a problem however, and it’s a big one.

Once you start spotting yellow cars (SPOTTO!) it’s just not that easy to stop.

And so now I find myself even when on my own (that’s right…no kids to use an excuse) making a mental note of every yellow car I pass.  I swear to you I haven’t said “SPOTTO!” out loud on my own….yet….but that’s the problem. To borrow a well known advertising catch phrase…once you pop, you just can’t stop.

At the same time as I find myself thinking about yellow cars (SPOTTO!) I’m become more and more conscious of the casual (and not so casual) sexism that still seems ingrained in so many levels of our society.  Maybe that’s a strange connection to make…but go with me here.

As a father of two girls and a boy, I’m very conscious of the opportunities Sheri and I want our girls to have, of the way we want them to be treated, and of the responsibility of our son to know just how he can and should act with regards the women in his now and future life.

And in our current world….there’s a pretty ugly reality that I’m noticing more and more often (SPOTTO!).

Not with me?

Take a look at any Saturday morning “video hits” TV show, where film clip after film clip treats women as little more than scantily clad window dressing.  Men dress in suits, jeans, shirts and women (even when they’re the star attraction) may as well be in body paint.

Take a look at my favourite sport of motor racing, where start grids filled with heroic male drivers have the decoration of a grid girl in Lycra close at hand (or maybe your favourite athletes are footballers and the grid girls come in the form of cheerleaders).  Ridiculously, sadly, even in my chosen hobby of R/C car racing (that’s right…I race toy cars) we sometimes have the stupidity of “trophy girls” at major events.  How do I introduce my daughters to this hobby when basically this is the image of women perpetuated in even this obscure hobby?

Take a look at any number of magazines aimed at women and perpetuating the stereotypes of make-up, fashion and appearance as underlying all self worth.  Even the recent “no make-up selfie” trend that whilst ostensibly has a cancer awareness message (and at best even cancer fund-raising) at heart underneath seems to be implying “no make-up = courageous”.

No man has to put up with such nonsense.

Women continue to be under-represented in leadership in nearly every corner of our society (Federal parliament?) and even where they are present are treated differently (can I say Julia Gillard as just one very visible example without getting into political point-scoring debates?).

They’re underpaid, misrepresented, rejected. Women are subject to totally degrading treatment on the basis of appearance and they are sexualised relentlessly.  Then there’s violence against women prevalent even in mainstream Australian society.

The more I think of it, the more I see it (SPOTTO!). It’s everywhere.  Even though there’s clearly been structural progress in recent decades, there’s still a lot of pretty ugly cultural sexism.

To be fair, there’s plenty of pretty rough male stereotypes as well (cue the witless, useless, clueless father figure than inhabits so many TV commercials and sitcoms), and there are some pretty serious issues around boys in education or even church models that seem more shaped in a way to which girls respond more readily…..but to my eyes (SPOTTO!) the girls have a much tougher road to walk.

And our daughters are growing up in this culture, and will be victim to it. They’ll face pressure to conform. They’ll face expectations about sex and sexuality. They’ll have to abide by different standards than the boys around them.

The more I see it (SPOTTO!) the more I am conscious of just how far we have to go, and of the fact that I’m only just starting to work this out, see what’s in front of me, and can only wonder at the times I’ve probably been complicit.

And more aware of just how much I want both our girls, and our boy to see through the surface of our culture, to find a different way, to live to a different standard.

The fact is our girls (and our boy) are awesome. They’re smart, funny, committed, compassionate, imaginative, creative and talented.  One is intense and motivated, the other non-stop joyful and social.  That’s the basis on which they should progress in life….not on gender, appearance, make-up, short skirts and photo-shop.

The thing is…while I hope I gradually stop seeing yellow cars (SPOTTO!) because to be honest, it’s an annoying game, I sincerely hope the only reason I stop spotting ingrained, cultural, casual sexism is because bit by bit we find a better way.

Bit by bit.

(spotto)

have you had a busy week?

A couple of days ago I was in the corner store picking up some bits and pieces. As I wandered up to the counter I asked the assistant “have you had a busy day?”

She answered in the affirmative and we got into a pretty typical shop-counter conversation about how busy life is.

I bet you recognise that conversation.  Lots of us have it, nearly every day.

Sometime over the last couple of years something has changed in our society.  It’s subtle, but I wonder if it’s important.

We used to start conversations with something like “how are you?” or “are you well?”…..but now it’s “have you been busy?” or “do you have a busy weekend coming up?”.

Busyness is the new in thing.

The expectation when we ask that question is that we’ll hear back “yep, flat out”.

Busyness is the new fashion accessory…the “new black” if you like.

We pride ourselves on how busy we are. The one with the most full diary is the most worthy. The one with the most evening commitments, the busiest social calendar for the weekend, with the most extra-curricular activities for the kids….the busiest wins.

There’s very little in our society today (apart from our treatment of the vulnerable, or the ongoing ingrained sexism in our world….but they’re stories for another day) that are more damaging I think to families, and to individuals than this perpetual obsession with busyness.

The costs of busyness are high.

Physical tiredness, mental exhaustion, emotional strain, spiritual flat-ness, relational distance.

And a messy house…though maybe that’s just my house…I can’t be sure.

I wonder too – and I worry – about the kind of example we’re setting for our kids with this perpetual busyness.

I wonder if we should be striving really hard to keep lots of empty space in our home diaries, make sure there are afternoons when we just go for a walk around the neighbourhood then come home for a simple dinner and hang out.  I wonder if we should prioritise the preservation of down-time on weekends rather than back-to-back-to-back social, sporting and other engagements.

I’m a big fan of couch time, or hammock time, or “promenade time” (as we used to call the kind of relaxed afternoon walk that we seem to preserve for holidays only) but it’s rare.  I don’t even really like being busy…but it’s such a point of pride I can’t help getting sucked into it, and filling any empty moment with something planned.

What might happen if the next time someone asks “are you free Tuesday night?” I answer “No, I’m having some relax time with my family”?

And will it be weird if I ask the shop assistant when I next stop by “have you got a quiet afternoon ahead”?

So how about you?

Had a busy day?

the life of the international athlete ;)

Have you heard the one about the lawyer, the architect, the social worker, the restaurateur and the minister?

Sounds like it would be a terrible joke to me!  But that’s the mob with which I travelled to New Zealand recently for my first tilt at being an international athlete.

We were making the trip to NZ to ride in the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge  – a weekend cycling festival that draws in over 8000 entries for a variety of events. The majority, like the five of us, were there for the “Solo” – a 154km circumnavigation of the stunning Lake Taupo.

In the field of somewhere between 4000 and 5000 “Solo” riders is everything from semi-professional to barely prepared, from bikes with price tags that would make your eyes water, to K-Mart quality mountain bikes.  It’s not a race, but a challenge (yeah….right!).

For some the challenge is to beat a personal best time, for others to beat their mates.

For some it’s an endurance event. A very small group go out to complete 2, 4 or a staggering 8 laps of the 154km course.  There are shorter (family friendly) rides too, along with relays and some spectacular mountain bike events.

For many, and for most of our group this is true, the challenge was to complete the Solo course and enjoy the experience.

We were at the ride as a celebration of my brother Paul’s 40th birthday.  Rather than a giant party, it’s becoming more and more common these days (at least in our circle of friends/family) to mark the momentous birthday with a special experience – and because there’s no fun doing something like the Taupo ride with a bunch of strangers (and to make sure he got home in one piece), a few of us joined the expedition.

As our trip to NZ was all about the ride it was a pretty short one – but we did manage to pack in a round of golf at Taupo Golf Club (where the rough was unbelievable, and the golf not much better!) the day before the ride.  And then a hilariously out of control encounter with the concrete luge racing track at Rotorua Skyline the day after. Less said about that the better in case word gets back to them of our shenanigans and we get blacklisted!

The ride, of course, was the main event.  It was hilly (somewhere around 2000m of climbing over the course) and made all the more difficult by what started as a stiff breeze and got steadily stronger as the day went on.

Most frustratingly, the wind backed around over the course of the day, meaning that for 90% of the ride we either had a headwind, or a nasty cross-wind. Neither is much fun to ride in! A little rain occasionally wasn’t too much to worry about and temperatures were pretty nice for cycling all day – hovering between 15 and 20 C.

Weather aside, it was a wonderful experience to ride with more than 4000 other cyclists, to find groups in which to draft, hide, lead and chat, to meet and talk with so many cyclists from every corner of NZ and a few other places further afield (about 300 Aussies for example).

We tried to set a realistic pace and all got through the ride pretty comfortably in the end. Paul suffered a couple of punctures which slowed him a little, and Tony some drive-train issues on the downhill sections – but otherwise we were trouble free.

The scenery was beautiful, our loop taking us through lush green pastures, rolling hills, lovely forest and the stunning lake-side drive along the southern edge of the lake.

View from the 92km rest stop looking over Lake Taupo

There was plenty of climbing to do, most of it in the first 90km, but nothing too serious. Grades were moderate and the pace comfortable enough. The notorious Hatepe Hill at the 130km mark turned out to be pretty manageable – with our only tailwind of the day helping us up the long grind.

Tucking into a group and blasting along the rare flats at around 40kmh was definitely a highlight, along with some very fast descending. My speedo registered a top of 70km/h during the ride. For a proper cyclist that’s unremarkable, but for me….let’s just say I knew I was alive!

Our group split up a little over the course of the day. Dug is much faster than the rest of us so set off early in one of the fast groups. The rest started together but splintered a little on the first 12km (pretty much all uphill!) section.  And then Paul’s second puncture split us again so we all came in solo. Dug hit the 154km in around 4hrs 48 mins, myself 6.26, Simon 6.29, Paul 6.34 and Tony 7.04.

I couldn’t have been happier with my own ride. I felt good all day and did plenty of leading as well as some following and hiding out of the wind. There were some fast groups that we couldn’t quite hang on to, but not for want of trying!

I hadn’t cranked out huge rides in training (my longest training ride went around 90km) but I spend plenty of time lapping Mt Cootha and a couple of trips over to Mt Gravatt…and that really helped. I had no trouble with the hills and felt very strong on the flats.  Maybe it helps that I do most of my training rides solo, with no group to tuck in behind…who knows.  A freshen up of the bike (Giant Defy 3) with some new light/fast tyres definitely sped things along as well.

It should be said that the last 20 km was awful.  Gusty, nasty side winds, narrow road, lots of traffic and then a turn into a blunt headwind for most of the last 3-4 km just plain hurt.  It would have been nice to ride in with the sun shining and a gentle breeze at our backs for that last half-hour…but not to be!

So the Contact Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge 154km Solo ride is done and dusted.

Would we do it again?  Absolutely.

Will we actually do it again? Who knows.

If you’re a cyclist, put this ride on your list as a fantastic experience and a very well organised event.

And besides, there’s nothing quite like being an international athlete.

PS: Paul, in case you read this. There is no way, not now, not in 2015 that I am riding the Victorian Three Peaks ride.  4000m of climbing over 210km in a single day? I hope you enjoy it!

“who wants to be awesome?”

IMAG1540 smallI was reminded recently of a great story about my son.

We had a bunch of family friends over at our house one afternoon, and the kids were all playing up a storm – inside where the toys are. Mitchell was about 4 years old at the time, and desperate to get his friends to go outside to play.

The way I remember it, he tried everything:

“Who wants to go play on the trampoline?”

“Who wants to go on the swings?”

“Who wants to play cricket?”

“Who wants to play footy?”

And nothing worked. I don’t remember what game the kids were playing, but it must have been good because they weren’t budging.

Mitch went away a little sad, but determined to figure out how to get his mates to play outside. A few minutes later he burst into the room, all excited in the way only a four year old can be and called out over the din:

“Who wants to be AWESOME?”

Naturally all the four-year old hands shot up and the kids vanished outside in the blink of an eye, following Mitch into a state of awesomeness (and thankfully leaving behind blissful silence!).

It’s a priceless family story, and one I look forward to telling at his 21st (yep, I’m that kind of dad, gathering ammunition ideas already), but what it’s got me to be thinking about this week is whether in life we ask the right questions.

Try as he might, those initial questions just didn’t have the desired effect, but as soon as he stumbled on the right question, the response was instantaneous:

“Who wants to be AWESOME?”

It’s a little like the oft-quoted phrase of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who is said to have written:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

In so much of our world today, I think we make the mistake of organising wood gathering, ship building plans, work orders, inviting people to jump on the trampoline or play soccer.  It’s there in our political environment, our media, and even our churches when we go all missional and try to invite people to contemplate the place of God in their lives.  I think maybe we ask the wrong questions.

Leadership has to be about asking the right question, building the right yearning, the right atmosphere and vision.

It has to be about teaching people to yearn for the sea.

In the language of a four year old, it has to be about asking “who wants to be awesome?”