Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Time for a change I think....

When I initially set out on my Afritrex expedition at the end of December 2007 I'd decided that setting up a blog would be a fantastic way for my friends and family to keep up-to-date with my experiences and to follow my progress around the African continent.

Since then blogs and blogging applications, widgets, add-ons etc have moved on in leaps and bounds and it's now possible to add posts by text, video or speech, through your desktop machine, laptop or iPhone.

With the help of my web-guru Ben Patterson, I've decided to design and build a new blog which will become my record of exactly what the job of Island Caretaker involves, some behind the scenes snippets and a blog of what the next six months of my life will be all about.

There will be future updates to this page every so often but for now I'll be concentrating on my new web-blog which can be found at:

With only three days to go until I fly back out to Australia every second is busy with planning, building content for this new site and preparing for the adventure ahead. If you've been following my exploits over the past few days, months or years then please continue to do so by altering your bookmarks right now!


Sunday, 14 June 2009

Down to Cornwall and into the water again...

Before I disappear for the next six months to start my job as Island Caretaker on the Great Barrier Reef there are a few important people in my life I had to see before leaving the UK's shores. Over the past few years a number of friends have left Hampshire and headed west to relocate in Devon and Cornwall and when you get down there you can understand why!

Still loaded and prepared from last weekend's exploits up in Scotland at the LAMM; Jon, Paul and I left in the Colonel (my trusty Land Rover and home for all of 2008) on Thursday and headed down the A303 towards the west country ready for a weekend of ocean based activities.

There's something great about going away on a mini adventure even if its just for a few days; the long drive, the camping, the little country lanes, the sounds and smells of the ocean and the countryside are all a welcome reminder that you're somewhere different that needs exploring!

Six hours after we'd left we dropped down the final descent from St Keverne into the sleepy hollow of Porthkerris where Dave and Turkey live to find their perfect little world exactly as I remembered it....but this time with Turkey running the catering wagon, flippin' burgers, blending cheese and generally amusing the locals with his own brand of questionable humour!

Being able to take time out from a hectic lifestyle is essential and something I really don't do enough of; its only when I get the chance to breakaway and head to one of the more remote parts of the country that I actually realise its good for the human soul to rest up, relax and let the sound of the ocean massage the brain into a trance like state - a one of the first real
opportunities to think about the job as the Island Caretaker.

Inside the head of me.....

Since May 6th back on Hamilton Island when Anna Bligh made the announcement that I'd won the job with Tourism Queensland life has been even more hectic than normal. I thought I used my days up pretty productively, planning a festival, plotting the next expedition and in between all of it trying to keep as fit as possible...but this has turned even my energetic lifestyle on its head.

Every day I talk to someone new, every day there's a different person contacting me from a another country and its truly amazing to have the chance to speak to everyone of them. We have a chuckle at each others accents, we struggle to understand each other sometimes and very often the time zones of the world just aren't taken into account as my phone rings deep into the night waking me as I dreamily ponder what the next few months will bring; adventure, the ocean and a vast amount of discovery.

As I count down the final days to my departure from these shores the last week has provided me with an interesting insight into just how the press can work, I have the deepest sympathies for some of the 'real' celebrities out there and can now understand how they have to watch everything they say just in case its taken the wrong way, let me explain....

Situation is this - I meet up with a good friend Ben Patterson on the way back from Scotland who's organised a meeting with a lady from the Press Association. We take a few, photos on the beach where I used to go as a child on holiday as a bit of promotion for the tourist industry in the north east (Bamburgh, Northumbria), she asks me a question....

"What will you miss about the U.K.?"

I answer as honestly as I can.....Mum's Sunday roasts, long summer's days, music festivals - genuine answers to a genuine question.

However the way the Sun newspaper in the UK and several in papers in Australia decided to take the answer in a slightly different way and labelled me the 'Whingeing Pom' - brilliant and totally taken out of context. Oh you gotta love the media. Have a look here and here for my response a day or so later....yet more laughs!

Those good bods at Tourism Queensland are right behind me though and came back at the papers with their total support for me in a few articles which followed up on the story, a taste of things to come I think.

As I sit here in my hotel room, having just come from Talk Sport Radio where I was a guest presenter for an hour on Ian Collins show, I'm thinking about the amazing opportunity ahead and the incredibly exciting six months of adventure and experiences which lie ahead.

The clock is ticking and the final week here in the UK is going to fly by, I have two full-on days of promoting the BBC documentary (which is out on July 2nd, 9pm BBC1) to come next week, an evening meeting the Governor of Queensland and then two days to pack everything I need into my bags before hopping on a plane to the other side of the world again where I'll meet my girlfriend Bre and move into the Blue Pearl residence under the watchful eye of the assembled world media once more! I cannot wait.

The limited details I've been given so far of the first six weeks of the job look jaw-droppingly exciting...diving at Cod Hole on Lizard Island being one of the obvious highlights as I try and dive as often as possible in an effort to get my Advanced PADI certification, I really want to dive on some wrecks and to do that I'll have to pass another course but they're all things which I look forward to ...maybe with the exception of sitting another exam!

This week has been particularly busy with three full days of interviews and appointments, I've tried really hard to give something back to the younger people in my area by organising some presentations at local schools, visiting my old primary school where I went for a year at the age of 10. It was so amusing going back to Ropley School and seeing quite how its changed, the secretary, Mrs Price, is still there and very kindly showed me my excerpt from the year book of 1986 along with a very embarrassing picture which the children all laughed at as only they can!

My 20 minute presentation told them all about last year's project Afritrex along with a little glimpse of what the Island Caretaker role will involve over the coming six months. Its amazing how different and almost nerve-racking it is presenting to 100 children....but they listened like mice and ooo'ed and ahh'ed in the right places as I showed them pictures of the African wildlife. A very rewarding experience all round.

On a bit of a roll I repeated the presentation to Liss Junior School this week, but this time there was the added pressure of addressing 250 children whilst being filmed by a French TV crew from the TV1 channel. It doesn't get much tougher than this.

Nicholas and Arnaud are filming a short feature for a current affairs program which goes out late in July and for their take on the story had me swimming in the Solent, chatting with friends Paul and Rachel over dinner and even came with me as I recorded the voice-overs for a BBC program called Inside Out, which I guest presented and goes out in September. Its been a busy week.

I have to mention another local adventurer from the Petersfield area where I live, Tom Heal who together with his good friend Will Smith who leave the UK at the end of the year in an attempt to become the youngest team ever to row an ocean. Find out more and support them at http://www.atlanticrowyt.co.uk/

We spent an amusing hour together having some photos taken for Life in Petersfield magazine around the lake in our fantastic home town! Best of luck to them both with their fundraising and training. Arghhh hours on the rowing machine - my least favourite item in the gym.

Being my final weekend in the UK I've organised another farewell party at the Mill Tavern, which people are welcome along to if your in the area, and then the countdown really is on....

In a week's time I'll be flying out to Brisbane to start a new job


Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon

Finally today the legs work again....

I thought I'd try another discipline of marathon running and jumped at the chance, back in February, to enter the L.A.M.M. my first real adventure race which involved two days of orienteering through the wilds of Scotland with my old friend Bryan Smith.

This sort of racing is totally different from a conventional marathon and a whole lot harder on the mind and body than I expected, but also incredibly good fun to be involved with.

It's known as the Connoisseurs Marathon for a number of reasons; you enter as a team of two and carry all of your camping kit, food, water and clothing which is needed to take on the Highlands of Scotland in the summer (read as 'wet and windy), don't know anything about the location of the event until 36hrs before it starts apart from "3 to 4 hours north of Glasgow", don't know anything about the course until you're handed a map and some co-ordinates and have to run it up, down and over some of the highest mountains in the area.

This is really tough event. Full stop, Period.

Here's the GPS route of our drive up to Scotland and back.....click the image
Wednesday 3rd June

I collected Bryan from a pub in Rugby after a three hour drive to get there and then drove all through the night to reach our destination, Glencoe, three hours after sunrise just as my head was starting to get to that nodding stage. Afritrex all over again with mammoth drives, this one being 567 miles/912 kms!

Thursday 4th June

We camped in Glencoe, setup the Colonel ready for a night/days sleep and were rudely awaken by RAF jets screaming overhead three hours later....there goes the sleep, so we cut our losses, packed up and headed to the pub for some well earned lunch.

Now Scotland at anytime of year can provide 'interesting' summer weather - I know after having numerous family holidays there when I was younger; rain, sleet, sunshine and the ever present midges but today was to be a pleasant surprise - 20 degrees C and sunshine all round. Perfect.

We headed out for a drive to soak up some air before we'd have to do it for real the next day on the marathon and found a stunning little valley road running alongside a river and got out for a wander.
Now I know I'm renowned for jumping into cold water anyway but this was a fantastic place to find - a cool flowing stream and waterfall with a deep pool and a huge jump off, far too tempting not to have a go so I stripped off and entered the surprisingly clear waters without freezing myself too much, amazing.

Finally after waiting for what seemed like ages my iPhone signalled the arrival of the email we'd been waiting for...the location of where this years LAMM would take place, Kintail, around 80 miles away to the north of where we were staying. Tonight we'd rest up and get a full sleep and then head to the location ready to pitch camp sometime in the afternoon.

Friday 5th June
We headed out of Glencoe towards Kintail via Fort William, situated at the base of Ben Nevis - the UK's highest mountain, and bought the last few things on the kit list we were missing and in near perfect weather conditions had a fantastic drive across the Highlands of Scotland and had a rush of nostalgia about quite how great this island we live on actually is!

Arrived at the campsite in good time and set up the tent just as in the distance a rainbow signalled the end to the fine weather and the approach of what we'd feared the most....rain. damn it, surely this would be here all weekend meaning a wet and uncomfortable two days pacing the hills. We went to bed with fingers crossed.

Saturday 6th June
Now I love the bagpipes; the sound conjures up scenes from Braveheart and Dead Poet's Society, determination through adversity and total Scottishness - but when you hear them at 5.30am as a wake up call to signal the start of a two day physical adventure they somehow loose their romanticism.

Stuffing the last of our kit into our 30L backpacks we left the Colonel behind and made for the coaches which would whisk us to the start point, following our every move on the laminated maps we'd be given so we had a good idea where we'd be heading from the off.

Fifteen minutes later we were there, I felt a little nervous to be taking on a new form of adventure racing but totally excited at the same time and hopped out of the coach to collect the series of co-ordinates which marked the checkpoints we'd need to complete the course for the first day.

Bryan spent a number of years in the military and knows far more than me about map reading and orienteering so showed me how to plot the control point positions and from their location, how to navigate between them using the contour lines and features on the map to give the best route around the course - and from looking at how close the contours are together there would be some serious slopes to go up and down!

We headed out into the grey morning with the first easy checkpoint on the horizon with a few other teams already on the way giving us an easy decision on how to get to it...follow the other teams! Once we'd both pushed our dibbers (electronic bracelets which need to be clicked at each checkpoint) into the boxes the next decision was a little more difficult - a huge mountain stood between us and the next checkpoint, so which way do we go around it!?!?

As we neared the decision point we decided to track east of the obstacle whereas others teams appeared to to west, oh well we'd stick to our plan and head along the contours keeping our height as best we could until the the edge of the cliffs and the eventual checkpoint...hopefully! We found the next checkpoint at the stream junction and made off into the distance for the remaining goals with the clouds gathering overhead all of the time.

By the early afternoon we'd found all but the last of the checkpoints and made our way down the final descent and wearily into camp to find the majority of the field already there, tiny tents already erected with people soaking their battered feet in the babbling stream to relieve them of the days exertions. 1400m ascended in total, 23kms as the crow flies or around 30kms on the ground.

After a light dinner of pasta, cous cous and energy bars we both hit the hay in 'the' smallest of all tents on show there - Bryan all the time happily claiming his £25 Ebay bargain was the way ahead, and I had no complaints sleeping right through until the dreaded bagpipes kicked off again at 5.30am once more!

Sunday 7th June
Tired legs, tired minds, tired feet - not the perfect recipe for a fast time and after consulting the leader board found we'd not done as well as expected being placed 109th out of 116 teams in the 'C' Class - oh well we'd just be glad to finish today really, this is another game altogether compared to conventional marathon running!

We trundled out of camp around 7.30am, the leaders and chasing pack having departed well before us all still competing for the lead, leaving us mere mortals to run at our own pace for the remainder of the day as we tracked back to base camp some 14kms away (as the crow flies which actually made it about 20kms on the ground!).

What a lovely way to start the day a sheer 600m climb to the first checkpoint followed by another 250m to the summit of the nearest mountain for the second - it certainly got the blood pumping and the knees working again. After some great navigating by Bryan we decided on our route for the next couple of checkpoints and actually made up some time on the other teams by racing (or as fast as our painful legs go carry us) down a pretty steep slope almost falling on our faces as we went to arrive at the machine in advance of our fellow competitors.

One of the checkpoints was placed on the far side of the river so through the chilly water we went which added to the weight of our already heavy feet, as dibbed in but the joy of reaching another goal was short-lived as we both looked at the map and the monster mountain which lay directly in front of us...as out eyes focused on the challenge ahead we could start to see other teams already on the ascent slowly inching their way hand over hand up the slope. This really was a testing point of the weekend - already fatigued, here was another huge personal challenge to take on.

We broke the back of the climb around an hour later and finally had only one more checkpoint to find before we could start to taste to start of the descent back down to the awaiting finish line, clean clothes, food and the Colonel!

Pressing on, and after a slight navigation error (!!) we finally hit the tarmac road and the last of the checkpoints, well we almost got to the checkpoint having to backtrack to it after getting caught up in the joy of nearly finishing and walking straight past it! As we crossed the line a few muted claps welcomed us and we staggered into the finish area to claim our prize for the weekends exertions - a free bowl of chilli and a cup of tea!!

We had a quick glance at the leader board and discovered today had been altogether more successful as we'd posted a final position of 127th out of 152 teams in the 'C' catergory. At least we'd got around and with minimal training too, if we do this again we'll be fitter thats for sure!

This event really has to be entered to be understood, its around a marathon and a half for our class, the elite runners cover another 20kms on top of that and finish around 5hrs in front of us. It's great fun, once you've finished, and a true test of grit and determination - I will be back for more at some stage in the future.

Thank you so much to Bryan for being the brains behind the brawn - we made a damn good team and even though he's just told me he picked eight sheep ticks out of his legs in the bath last night (I couldn't find any in mine - must have been too quick for them!) I'd love to do another at some point.

We headed out of the campsite after a quick dry shower and straight onto the road south passing the beauty of the Cairngorms before pitching the tent just outside Perth. Monday was spent trawling down the A/M1 south towards home with a slight diversion to meet a good friend Ben Patterson who's been responsible for creating and managing my website over the last year and is currently masterminding the next one. Great to see you BP and thank also for the very fun photoshoot on the beach at Bamburgh dressed in wetsuits for the Press Association - very memorable!

Off to Cornwall this weekend for more diving and water based antics.....next blog out just as soon as I can.