Trail Run in Australia: Blue Mountains, NSW Pt. 2

Some current events before I get started: As I write, New South Wales in Australia is experiencing some of the highest temperatures on record, and the conditions have lead to Australia’s largest population of bats, a particularly large breed known as flying foxes, to die in record numbers. As colorfully as the news describes the situation- “brains boiling” is a phrasing that comes to mind, this is distressing on many levels. Maybe you are an animal lover, and this news is distressing in itself. If you are reading a blog that features trail running (thank you, btw) I imagine you have at least a basic appreciation for natural beauty and processes. One of the implications for such a large death toll in this animal population is that the forest canopy will not have the support it needs to maintain coverage and increase growth. These bats are responsible for building their own environment- they are fruit bats. They eat fruit, disperse the seeds, and the forest grows. Less bats –> less seed dispersal –> less forest growth –> less coverage from extreme heat –> less bats. The problem will be exacerbated as temperatures rise, which climate trends suggest will happen. Read more about the wildlife of Australia and the current events effecting them from people who know what they are talking about here!

 

The last place I visited during my stay in the Blue Mountains was a place called Sassafras Gully. It was freakin’ magical and you need to go there. I was told of the place by some hikers I met on the Mount Banks Trail. I immediately wanted to go check it out, if only to verify its existence because “Sassafras Gully” was almost too perfect a name…these hikers could have made it up.

I planned on finding my way to the trails again the day after Christmas. Weather was not great on Christmas Day, and my Airbnb host had kindly invited me to a party down the road at her friend’s restaurant. I went, stuffed my face, hung out with her and her lovely family, and generally had a blast chilling out for a day. Weather did not much improve the day after Christmas until later in the day, but that was fine. I found a Starbucks like a good American and holed up with some caffeine and wifi to get work done. I also used the poorer weather as an excuse to take time and visit Featherdale Wildlife Park. because I hadn’t seen any of those cool Australian natives up close yet. This is where I actually saw one of the flying foxes I wrote about above. My favorite animal to observe up close there was the Tasmanian devil, because Looney Toons. What can I say? My recipe for a good life starts with a healthy mix of simple reference points flavored with new experiences, spiced up with from-left-field mindset changes. Also, I hate cooking. Don’t know why I went with a kitchen reference. Where was I?

Sassafrass Gully Run
The longer, straighter trail is the one I ran, Yondell Extension, which goes out to some pretty cool views and is a nice little warm up exercise to mellow you out for some slower hiking.

Ah yes, Sassafras Gully! Ok- so if you have seen Fern Gully, keep reading. If you haven’t, set this aside, go watch the movie so you can catch up on childhood in the 90’s and know what I am talking about. As I made my way through the place, I was fully ready to run into fairies. Or a hobbit. It was lush, there was moss covered stone everywhere, and it was really quiet for being located super close to a neighborhood. The stones made steps that lead down the escarpment to more lushness and more moss covered stone. It was a different time of day and season of the year from where I started and where I descended to. I wasn’t able to run much but had an enchanting time hiking instead. I actually was able to get a run in on the top of the ridge before I got started on the “Yondell Rd Extension”, where I parked.

The trail I took down to the gully was the Wiggins Track. If you look at the map for where I parked above, you’ll see there’s a considerable network of trails, including one called the “Batman Trail”. I did not see or know of this before I left and of course now I have to go back for just that.

Here are some pictures that do no justice:

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand & Solo Travel Beginnings

In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?

“So Travel has helped me to have direct experiences, and to know more about myself”

                                                                                                -Michael Crichton, Travels

 

            The fall semester after I graduated college, My friend Monica and I did a three-city tour of Europe. We started in Dublin, then flew to Amsterdam, and took a train to Paris. In Amsterdam we met a young man who was traveling alone, and had been for quite awhile. I imagined him to be a prodigal son, someone who was expected to do great things at home but sought the world instead. Monica and I would often find him in the array of pillows and rugs provided in the common area of the hostel we holed up in, The Flying Pigand at some point we got into a deep conversation about traveling solo. I asked,

“Why can’t I travel by myself?” He assured me I could, that he knew plenty of young women that did.

            Previously, I had traveled to London to visit a high school friend studying abroad, and also gone on a one month group trip to Costa Rica with International Student Volunteers, but my desire of truly traveling about foreign places seemed out of reach. I had been enamored with the adventures of “Alexander Supertramp” after reading Into the Wild in high school. I had no designs on dying alone in the Alaskan wilderness, but the idea of throwing up my thumb and seeing the country and meeting new people thrilled me. As I talked to this lost boy in the hostel, a spark flew in my heart and I knew I would go on a trip by myself, soon.

            I had always wanted to go to New Zealand, had even read Lonely Planet travel guides on it in high school, so I decided to travel there, first. I researched and planned, and by the next spring I was on a plane to a place brand-new to me. I had no idea why I wanted to go out to the world so badly, but there I was, ready to dive into that unexplained phenomenon known as wanderlust.

            I landed in Auckland and spent my first night alone in a hostel that blew the ones in Europe out of the water. All of the hostels I stayed at in New Zealand were amazing- I don’t know if I planned well or if that is just how they do it there. My foreign running exploration began in that city. On the second day I was there I went on a long run with minimal planning. I had a street map and information for the bus, so that if I ran too far I could ride back. On that run I was able to see Holly’s Auckland, the things that stood out to me, rather than being reported by a tour guide or a book. I ran to the harbor and examined yachts. I changed direction and ran through the city to a calm park with great, drooping trees. I finished at a coffee shop (like many runners, I’m a coffee addict), then took a bus back to the hostel.

            I completed more sight-seeing runs on the trip. It wasn’t my focus, but I’m a runner so I ran. The most memorable jogs were along the coast in Napier and a bit of trail running in Queenstown. On these runs, I took my time, and I would slow down when I found the little nuances that made a place a place for me. I found on that trip that it wasn’t about what New Zealand was, it was about how I related to it. I found a small part of my wanderlust explained- I was after the experience of discovering what I was truly drawn to.

            In its not always easy to be true to yourself. The search to be “you” is hard. It doesn’t always reveal something easily managed, but I also found that the nicer you are to yourself, the more kindness you store up for the rest of the world. Say you are standing in the middle of a room with ten new objects surrounding you. No one is looking and you have time to consider- Which doodad do you walk to? Which one would you want to examine more closely?

That is how traveling alone is to me. Given no constraints, and with no one really looking, what do I want to pick up? Heck, I went fly-fishing in New Zealand. No idea why I was drawn to that. I’m terrified of heights and falling, but I flung myself down 134 meters at a bungy jump. I also found that I wanted a boat. I get seasick, and I know they are money pits, but when I got back to the States and people started in on me, my stance was solidified and no one could talk me out of it. I still don’t have the boat, but its there on some horizon, waiting for me and my skeptical friends.