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Off the Radar

This is a deliberately regular notice I send to friends and colleagues.

Every few months I pre-empt my need for silence and space and the simplicity of time in the outdoors. Away from being contactable and away from finding more things to do – one of the problems in being interested in lots of things and trying to be helpful in some way. So, out bush I go on my bike or two legs. Life is simple. At the start of the day you wake up, eat, pack up and move. You walk all day and look at the world around you, smell it, feel the wind and rain in your face. You feel the subtleties of how your own body responds to the demands placed on it. No noise or interruption. Just breathing. Often the mind cycles through thoughts -this is an important time to reflect on things – values, health, self, friends, family, work, inspiration, interests, plans for the future… It is time to reconnect with all these things and put them into perspective. And figure out how I can be better in myself and sustain myself so that I can remain positive and be present for those around me – to remain as open-minded as I can be, calm, patient and remain interested in people’s stories.

I have a couple of kids and a partner who help colour my life with humour and insight. I’m really lucky that they understand this need of mine to fly solo at times. In fact, my partner feels the same and we take un-tallied turns of getting out and about. We used to do this together, but since having kids, it’s logistically more challenging. It’s good to keep things simple. We still go out and do things with the kids or take turns on short trips away from camp for 3hrs or so at a time, but it’s not the same as a run of several days of immersion in the wilderness.

So, with just over 14 days’ notice of my annual leave and not able to plan or afford going away with the family at short notice – I thought I’d head off to Iceland for a bike –ride – something I couldn’t do easily with the kids. So, my partner was happy to cover me on the parenting front while I set out for 10 days, very far across the world.  Finishing night shifts and on to an almost continuous 24 hrs of flying (I managed to read most of my textbook on substance use in Australia, then watch some movies – the first time in ages I could watch something that wasn’t Harry Potter). I re-built my bike in the hotel, had 4 hours sleep and hit the road into Reykvaik and beyond. After ‘warming up’ with an introductory 150km of riding with all my camping gear and food for 10 days…I was well and truly knackered by the end of my first day. But very satisfied.  Only another ~500km to go! Yikes!

It was worth the slog to get out of town and into the windswept fjords – the vast stretches of treeless mountains, and alongside the open ocean. Sea birds and salty air, towering waterfalls and green slopes with hidden elvenfolk and trolls. I could stop whenever and wherever I liked, collect fresh water that tumbled from streams unlocked from the glacial icecaps just above and out of sight, and sleep on soft green grass and be surrounded by moss, lava fields, black sand and the sounds of the wind and rain. Camping under the graceful arcs of the northern lights I was surrounded by the sound of the waves crashing against piled up timber that had drifted across from Siberia, and the howling katabatics surging down from the arctic blown icecaps (with volcanoes lurking beneath). I’d often think of how I’d like to share this experience with my family, but even though they weren’t physically there, they were in my thoughts and would experience the place through me in some way – through stories, photos, and a refreshed, fortified (yet softened and humbled) mum.

Thanks to the people of the world for sharing this beautiful planet, your stories and wisdom. Thanks to the wilderness for letting me pass through your wonders relatively unscathed – albeit windblasted and tired after my last day of ‘riding’ (groveling) in 150km per hour side-on winds! But always with a laugh at myself for what I get myself into. And thanks to my family and friends for encouraging me to be me by giving me time out to reconnect with who I am and what my place is in this world.

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