An Ode to the Road

To feel lonely in your own country is a terrible thing.

To have to stand still, when you want to run.

To have to put yourself out there constantly, when you know you are going to get knocked back.

That’s why I miss the road.

I miss the not knowing.

I miss the freedom.

I miss living out of a backpack, sleeping in airports and train stations, over night buses, the chaos of being lost in a country where the language is not your own, the sand on your feet, the itch of a mosquito bite, wearing shorts day in, day out, sunburn peel, sleeping in a different bed/bus/sofa/floor/tent every night…

I miss labouring in the outback, pulling pints in Perth, kayaking in Sydney, sleeping in a hammock in Cambodia, getting caught in the rain in Bali, riding motorbikes in Vietnam, eating with your hands in India, drinking iced coffee in Canada, swimming in turquoise waters in the Philippines, snowboarding in France, camping in Scotland, walking in Portugal…

But most of all, I miss the people…

oh how I miss the people.

A year back in Ireland and I’ve made four new friends tops, a day on the road and I’d make 15. I have no one to make plans with for the weekend, traipse around the mountains with, no one to surf with, or to fawn over maps with. I have had so many of these people in my life over the years … I needed to know that they were still there, somewhere.

So I decided to touch base with a few. All on one day and see where their lives had taken them, see if some would even respond, just to feel connected once more. I asked them to send me a picture of where they were and what they were doing right now…

And man, the photos flooded in. I was transported around the world, breaking the ice with people I haven’t spoken to in a long time. It wasn’t like on Instagram, the perfectly manicured images, it was real.

I was catching up, seeing the world again, laughing, talking politics, discussing their dreams and adventures, talking about their pain and difficulties. Some were brief conversations, some stayed and we talked for hours.

A constant stream of photos and conversations, people getting up, while I was going to bed, me getting up, while they were going to sleep. People chasing their dreams, travelling, struggling, stuck in an office, working their ass off to get the career. I celebrated with people, tried to help some figure out a problem or make a decision.

I wasn’t jealous when the really good ones came, the ones where people were travelling or doing something really worthwhile. I heard stories of people studying climate change, inspiring a generation of surfers, climbing mountains in South America, working their asses off in offices, preserving history in Virginia, drinking in Melbourne, watching a sunrise in Vancouver…

And I was happy for them, so happy for them all. These people that I get to call my friends, people who too, are just trying to make their way in this fucked up world… and in that moment, I wasn’t lonely anymore.

Take a look at what I got back: 

 

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Ex Pro Wakeboarder Barrett Perlman Launches Crowdfunding Campaign for Upcoming Action Sports Documentary ​Life After X

PRESS RELEASE: LOS ANGELES, CA – July 11, 2017

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Ex pro wakeboarder, Barrett Perlman, has recently launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for her new action sports documentary, Life After X. The film unveils the stories of the best action sports athletes on the planet as they confess the good, the bad, and the ugly of their industry and life after living under the spotlight of fame and glory. In order to illustrate how the athletes are where they are today, Life After X takes a bold look at how the action sports industry has evolved since its heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Perlman, the executive producer and director, says, “As a female filmmaker and former top professional wakeboarder, I’m in a unique position to be able to tell this story about the action sports industry. I know this story because I’ve lived it.” Since wakeboarding, Perlman transitioned into a career as a television and digital producer. She has worked for some of the biggest names in entertainment including MTV, FOX, CNBC, Snapchat, and more. Through her own experience and interviews with top athletes including Travis Pastrana, Parks Bonifay, Andy Finch, Chad Kagy, Eddie Wall, Chris Pastras and many more, Perlman is bringing to light the differences between retiring as an action sports pro versus a team sports or “mainstream” pro, what mental blocks they struggle with, and the real-world challenges they have to surmount. Media coverage, consumption, and in some cases, participation, have declined over the past decade and Perlman is on a mission to unearth why.

The Life After X team has already faced pushback from several major companies in the industry who don’t want to admit or cover this decline. That’s all the more reason to tell this story. This month, Life After X launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo because Perlman needs help to continue filming this documentary. Production has halted halfway through filming because of a lack of funds. “It’s not that we planned poorly with our money, because we didn’t,” says Perlman. “A financier backed out at the last second and some of that money had even already been spent. That left us without the means to continue with many of the interviews that still need to be filmed.” So Perlman and her team are turning to crowdfunding to help raise money to get them through production. “What’s so great about crowdfunding is the sense of community it evokes. All of my favorite action sports industries are coming together to help with this project,” says Perlman on choosing crowdfunding for over traditional financing. “Plus, when every person who believes in the project donates even the smallest amount, that adds up! Hence how a crowd is able to impact the budget of a project like this.”

You can check out and contribute to Life After X on Indiegogo at: http://igg.me/at/lifeafterx. You can also follow Life After X on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using @lifeafterx.

Reaching Lost Mountain

First published on Adventures Unbound Blog on May 23rd 2017. 
Rhys Fisher, seconds away from getting airborne during a training XC-flight in southern Spain — Picture taken by Jairo Pino

One to watch this summer — an expedition dubbed Reaching Lost Mountain is an attempt at a coast-to-coast Pyrenees crossing, powered only by the elements.

One of those adventures, all us sitting in the office on our fifth cup of coffee, shoes off, heads in our hands staring deadpan at a computer screen, dreaming to be up there. Flying. Exploring the blue skies, away from all the politics, corruption and routine.

To run off a cliff and not fall but soar, to feel fear consume your body but instead of crippling you, heighten your senses and elevate your game. This summer a team of 3 will attempt to hike and paraglide from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean. They will combine survival trekking with non-powered flight in what they have called “the future of nomadic travel.”

Ideally, after making the best use of the flyable conditions, the team can land high up, setup camp, and rest for the next day.

The team is made up of athletes Rhys Fisher, Fons de Leeuw and Mark Baldwin. With Alice Horwood coordinating the expedition and Josh Horwood capturing it. Their experience collectively makes for a pretty impressive resume, including solo vol-biv trips in the French and Italian Alps, from Berga to Pobla de Segur, from Annecy to Nice and several paragliding competitions. Their latest adventure will see the team cover 450–550km over ten days, kicking off on the 10th of June. If the weather behaves they will fly +300km of it. Then repeat a cycle of “Hike. Fly. Sleep. Repeat”. They hope to cover +100km straight line distance inflight on the good days which would require staying in the air for over five hours at a time.

Weight and pack space are always an issue because they have to take with them everything they need to be self-sufficient. This means carrying and flying with solar chargers, GoPro cameras, GPS emergency trackers, flight instruments, and radios for communication with each other and the ground crew. A tent with down bags, air mattresses, water, camping stoves, and food. Hiking poles, and basic some lifesystems first aid kits. All in all it comes in at over 40 pounds! But when the weather is good, they can fly far in a day, making the going a little easier on the feet!

The views during a circumnavigation of la Sierra de Grazalema, Spain.

These guys have tapped into something here and we should all follow their lead and make a conscious effort to live life a little more recklessly.

“That feeling when you are hanging beneath a few kilos of string and fabric, thousands of meters up, and a random vulture flies past you and marks the next thermal which beams you to cloud base…. With modern gear weighing less, the idea of bringing some camping gear and seeing how far you can go over a few days kinda came naturally to the team.” — Mark Baldwin

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Travels through India

Travel changes everything. The harder the journey the more you learn and by God, India was no picnic… dust, dirt, and chaos. The swarms of people, the pungent air, the constant stares, the rats, the slums, the litter, sitting cross legged on the floor, eating curry with dirty fingers, horned cows and stray dogs roaming every street, the aromas of spices and incense wafting through the air, yoga lessons on the grass, crazy driving, incredible views and food and then there’s me and Tom (my best pal from uni)… a Scottish boy and an Irish girl lost somewhere amongst the madness of southern India.

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Day one and a kind local invites us to his home to eat, but we realise too late he’s trouble and we are way too naive, that the world is not all rainbows and butterflies and not everyone is a misunderstood soul, when the “kind local” turns his back on you for the whole night and will only speak to your male friend, when he silences you with the infuriating words ‘ok sweetie’ and puts his hands up to quieten you, his exact and poignant use of pronouns when he refers to you as “she” and “her” are like punches in the gut and his use of flyaway phrases like “even she can teach us something” and all you can do is bite your tongue when you feel like screaming, “I’m right here you sexist twat.” He drives us back on scooters at 1.30am, insisting I ride with him, I can smell the whiskey off his breath as he says it. He drives too fast, a stray cow on the street turns his head and almost annihilates us. He topples his head back in laughter as I ask him meekly to slow down…

In Goa, we rent motorbikes and head off on a day trip to a secret beach with the ultra cool hippies from our hostel; one Indian, two Nepalese, one Mexican, one Portuguese, and one Guatemalan… all men, but this time they are the good kind. We scour the Indian countryside, stopping for a banana shake while they sip ‘holy water’, go skinny dipping (them not me) and we lie back in the white sands sipping beers on the deserted shores. Later, we take a quick ferry across to an island, the most northern point of Goa in the torrential rain for chai, returning at night to a restaurant delightfully known as the Happy Corner to bask in the sound of a cacophony of horns ringing from a Hindu Temple – Indian style live music.

Back on the bikes we hop, weaving down the twisted streets to Arambol to the candle lit beach bars for more beers. It’s all so magical. I am perched on the back of Julio’s bike and we talk and talk and talk as the wind sweeps through our hair and darkness closes in around us. He is a wise man who shares his story with me, with words of wisdom like ‘Never entertain jealousy and boredom is a great thing, because it allows creativity to come to life.” He has been bankrupt three times in his life. He is married but in an open relationship. His wife is working for the Red Cross in Myanmar, while he is setting up a hostel in India. This is why I travel, why conform when you could live like this, without rules or societal pressure, meeting people who live whatever way they feel like. This is freedom, this is life!

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Only in India, have I experienced such highs and lows, an incredible day like that is followed by a brutal one… the rules of gender here are so misplaced, the men stare at me but ignore me when I ask a question, and address only Tom, ‘the man’, naturally it drives me insane. There are two prices for everything, one for foreigners, one for locals. Hassle and haggle all day long, a man putting a phone in my face to video me, they are like paparazzi and I am a caged animal in a zoo. Everyone is trying to rip you off, not many are kind just to be kind, everyone has an agenda. I know now how lucky I am to be born a white female from the western world. I have always considered myself working class, with two nurses for parents who have worked their whole lives to provide for me and my sisters. How blind I was, we live like kings and queens compared to the Indian version of working class.

Tonight we board an eleven hour sleeper bus overnight from Goa to Hampi. Packed like sardines on bunk beds. The conductor kindly lets us swap from two single beds to one double so as we are together, but then for his kindness insists we pay him a bribe of 100 rupees… everything has a price and though many preach about karma few seem to practice it. Curtains pulled, windows open on this non-AC sleeper bus, the wind cooling the sweat sticking us to the mat. Shoved and pushed, rolling around freely as the bus chugs on, we know this never would be allowed in the western world. It is like The Knight bus in Harry Potter. We giggle and chat, and try in vain to get some shuteye in this mad world as we are tossed around with every pothole and bump as we hurtle south.

We arrive in Hampi as the sun is setting, the local businessmen swarm us as we try and get off the bus, trying to push us into a rickshaw but we have our wits about us despite our tired eyes and we know it is only a two minute walk to the town. The monuments and temples loom splendidly on the hillside, long tail monkeys run across the electrical wires, while the weary people make their morning pilgrimage to the temple. Hampi is a UNESCO world heritage site, the equivalent of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. We find a place to rest our aching bodies with a toilet that doesn’t flush and a mosquito net pockmarked with giant holes patched up dismally with plasters, we finally fall asleep to the distant wails of chants happening outside as the rest of the world begins to wake.

We make new friends with people who are staying at the same guest house. Candi a strong, beautiful Argentinian woman who takes no shit from anyone, she is travelling with her best friend the delightful Mati. They have been hitchhiking and couchsurfing their way through India. Then there’s John from London, whose kindness has no limits, all the beggars we meet, he buys them food instead of giving them money. I know instantly the three will be our friends for life.

The food is incredible. It feels amazing to eat pure vegetarian, handfuls of floury parotta and chapatti swabbing up the spicy curry; the Veg Thali, Channa Masala, Masala Dosa, Aloo Gobi, Dal Fry, all slapped onto a plate or banana leaf. Using only our hands, it’s a spectacularly messy and uncivilized way to eat but brilliant in the freedom of it. I love it, I gorge and revel in the joy of food once more. Although, be warned I nearly always found a hair in my dish!

A local bus to Hospet in torrential rain through ‘roads’ that can’t even call themselves roads. We sit on the floor of the train station for four hours. The station reeks of manure, I swallow down the vomit that threatens to come up my throat. The rain makes it worse. Out on the street you see the caste system at work, one massive fancy ass hotel and all around it pure slums. We sit wallowing in the stench, drowned in the rain and the electricity goes. Typical. Everyone is in barefoot walking through the muck and puddles. There is a young girl in a green sari with wide brown eyes huddled in a corner swaddled in blankets staring at me. The lights blink in and out when a group of young boys taunt us and get right up in our faces, I thank my lucky stars that Tom is here with me. I don’t know if I could have done it alone and that thought angers me, why shouldn’t I be able to do this alone? Because this world is so fucked up, that’s why. It breaks my heart.

But alas, we survive the sleeper train, three beds stacked on top of each other. For twelve hours we lay in our caves to arrive in Mysore, where out on the streets we see cultures clash as the Muslim women stroll in their black burkas contrasting brilliantly against the colorful saris of the Hindus. After sleep, we are reunited with the Argentinians and John, we get a tuk tuk to Chimean Hill, five of us squished in the back of one, I on Thomas’ lap, hanging halfway out the tuk tuk, with Bob Marley blaring No Worries on the radio. We climb 1032 steps to a temple. The hike is a pilgrimage, the colours dabbed on each step in a benediction, a silent prayer. We trudge on, chatting, lapsing into silence as we pull ourselves up the steep incline and concentrate on our breathing. It is a stand out moment, one that I will remember forever.

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An overnight bus to Kochi, a man sits next to us asks us for our name and our caste? He asks what religion we are, we say none, he says how come? We say you don’t want to know… The European vibes of Kochi are a welcome break. The boys are playing football, when I bump into Carly an old friend from university in the most surreal moment ever, the world is too small! We go for secret beers and catch up on her life, her adventures in Madagascar and Reunion Island and I just think to myself wow I know some cool people.

Its mad how progress seems to have just stopped in the country, like the 21st century just barreled through and they just cant keep up… or perhaps don’t want to? The electricity consistently goes, the utter lack of sanitation, the people in the shops/markets getting pissed off with you when you refuse to cave to their inflated price and push for negotiation, the rickshaw drivers constantly hassling you. A local woman thrusts her few month old baby at me so as the family can take pictures of the white girl holding a baby. Over the course of the three weeks I’ll have been in over fifteen strangers photos. If you can learn to embrace/handle India, nothing will ever faze you again.

Another bus, this time to the Tea Plantations of Munnar and they are incredible, even in the misty rain. We scale the cliff edges in a jeep to see them, passing waterfalls and miles of greenery; it is nature at its best. Then in typical Indian fashion, the country goes on strike and fails to tell the tourists. All restaurants, shops, buses, tuk tuks, national parks – everything shuts down, we have no food and water for the day.

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Our days are numbered, on our second last night we sit on a pier back in Kochi, feet dangling, reflecting on life, when a rat runs across my bare feet. There is a frog in the corner, an Indian man pisses on the side of the street facing us… this is India. Back to the hostel to lie on our backs and stare up at the spinning fan, life is a strange and wonderful thing.

There is only one last destination left before home, Mumbai. The city is huge and bustling, here there is the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. As I look out the dirty window of the local bus, we pass the shanty towns,there is just people everywhere. Twenty five million people in Mumbai alone. Coming from a country of less than 5 million I just cant comprehend this scale. Then onto an overpacked train, full of men, pressed against them, everyone of them unashamedly staring at me. I cannot wait to be anonymous once more, to blend in with the crowd. The train doesn’t stop, just slows down and people make a run and jump and hope for the best…

Our last night in India, we invite the 19 year old Egyptian kid from our hostel to the bar with us, he drinks a double tequila when he’s never drank before. He is drunk almost instantly, slapping his head, talking to himself, we have to bring him home and put him to bed. I whisper a goodbye to Thomas in the middle of the night, the end is nigh, he is off to Cambodia for a year while I will return home to university for one last stab at that dream career.

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The time has come to go home. It’s been a whirlwind, a love affair, highs and lows, both easy and terribly hard… worth it though, so, so worth it. Already my glasses are starting to tint with rose. We only have one life, and you must try really hard to live it. I am back behind the bar pulling pints and dreaming of the dusty roads, the host of colours, the spice, the smell of India and the next adventure.

“I urge you to travel. As far and as much as possible. Work ridiculous shifts to save your money, go without the latest Iphone. Throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Find out how other people live and realize that the world is a much bigger place than the town you live in. And when you come home, home may still be the same and yes you may go back to the same old job but something in your mind will have shifted. And trust me that changes everything.”

 

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Breathless

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We take our bodies so for granted. At full health, what it is capable of doing is astounding; it can climb mountains, swim amongst the tides, sprint through fields of long grass… but what about those who never possessed a body at full health, those people who never had the option? When menial everyday tasks are more difficult, every outing is preplanned and climbing a stairs is an arduous task. How would you live your life if your lungs were your enemy? And your days were made up of physio, medication and hospital visits. When you had to consume 12 to 22 tablets a day just to keep you ticking over. How would you live if you were born with an illness that as of yet has no cure? Would you allow it to define you or would you rally against it in defiance?

Chris stops and sits on an outcropped rock to catch his breath on our 2km walk up to the hut were we will camp tonight. I hear his laboured breath, the painful drag in and out. Around us are dirt tracks and a brutally deforested area of Coillte. It is a muggy evening with a heavy grey sky that hints at an oncoming downpour. Chris pulls his backpack up and we walk on, heading into the trees. After about half an hour we reach our destination, a little green hut perched on a small cliff face overlooking rolling green hills. It is truly an idyllic setting to set up camp for a night’s microadventure, anything to liven up the week. We quickly unburden ourselves from our backpacks and lay down our mats and bags to gather sticks for a fire.

When I was in fifth year of secondary school my friend died from Cystic Fibrosis, he was sick his whole life, obviously sick, wheelchair and oxygen tank kind of sick. He died and we were heartbroken. We his friends continued to maintain contact with his family; his father James, mother Fiona and little brother Chris. We struck up a routine of sorts, dinners, drinks and a chat about the good times. The years passed by and one by one the friends slipped away, caught up with their own lives, their own worries and hardships but somehow I remained. I found his family liberating, strong and inspiring. They taught me so much about life and as I grew up they became my friends too. This family is different than any I’ve ever known. They are a joy to be around because they don’t suffer fools. They let you away with nothing; there is no such thing as I can’t and over the years we have lived a life less ordinary. We have kayaked the Slaney together, made it into the Guinness Book of Records for participating in the world’s longest swim, gone clay pigeon shooting, done countless Rubberman challenges and a few weeks ago we went camping for a night in the Wicklow mountains while Chris who also has Cystic Fibrosis was on IVs.

James throws some jacket potatoes into the ash to cook and we set about boiling water over the open flames. He plucks a bbq rack from those DIY bbq kits and perches it precariously between the rocks and logs to cook the sausages and pork chops on while the beans boil away contently in their tin. It’s a feast by my usual camping standards! Meanwhile Chris sits on a picnic table and lays out his syringes; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… all glittering in the sunset on the pristine silver tray. He begins the slow process, filling them up from the glass vials one by one, lifting his t-shirt to expose the various contraptions attached to his body. He doesn’t skip a beat as he slowly injects the meds into his body, continuing the conversation as if this was totally the norm.

The risks are very real for a person with CF to camp while on IV’s; the lack of a sterile environment, the risk of hemoptysis with no easy escape route and a night spent lying on the cold hard ground is not the most comfortable. Three days ago Chris’s lungs were at 46%, the equivalent of me walking with one lung, yet he doesn’t complain. At 19 almost 20 years old, Chris is a breath of fresh air with his no bullshit attitude. CF does not define him or stop him experiencing all the simple pleasures that others his age have. Yes there are risks, but you have to live your life; “A lot of people with CF get caught up with all the treatments. It’s ok to once in a while to skip it. It’s not going to catapult you back,” he says, adding defiantly “Don’t let your treatments dictate your life. There is some leeway. A massive amount is mindset. If your health takes a small hit for a better life, its worth it.”

The sun lowers gradually but the moon is particularly bright tonight. We stare into the orange flames licking the firewood, prodding the embers occasionally. We sip tumblers of vodka and coke and red wine and we just sit and talk. A cold night ensues on hard ground, wrapped tightly in our sleeping bags to stave off the cold. Bedding down, Chris warns us of his coughing; he needn’t have, after a while he falls into a quiet slumber, unlike his father who will scare any potential predators away with his snores.

It is not an easy night and none of us sleep well, we wake the moment light returns, weary, sore and totally spent but exhilarated all the same. We get up groggily and stretch out our aching bodies. The air is crisp and damp and the birds greet us with their dawn chorus. We stuff everything into our backpacks, pull them on and walk briskly out of the woods. Time to go back to reality. A time out every so often is necessary to make you appreciate your cozy bed, the roof over your head, your life and to put those worries that seem so big into perspective. A little midweek adventure to wake us up, shake us up, anything to feel alive to feel normal. If Chris can do it, surely you have no excuse?

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