Saturday, March 22, 2014

The seven kilo challenge - penultimate chapter

The final chapter will of course be written after I've fronted up at the airport terminal, but for now, we have the penultimate chapter.

What's changed? Well a little trip to Perth saw me buying a few more outdoor clothes, including updating my capris to a lighter and more snug fitting pair. Since I've lost a considerable amount of weight in the last few years it becomes quite uncomfortable continuously hitching up a swimming waistline in tropical heat when carrying a backpack. My new capris are stretchy, which means although they may be a little tight in a couple of spots they are still extremely comfy. I'm glad to say that I'm so much more comfortable in my body these days that a couple of bulges no longer see me purchasing the next size up.

And whilst I was buying new clothes, a couple of new shirts in purples and reds have ended up in the mix. Nice to get away from boring beige and khaki.

You may remember in the last post I mentioned I had a space problem. Once I had packed all my gear in the backpack, it became patently obvious that it wasn't all going to fit. Just because I've a solution to the carryon limit, it doesn't mean I'll be walking around Java with a padded vest on. The clothes and the vest will be in the backpack, along with a full water bladder, plus food when I'm camping.

It just doesn't all fit into a 33L backpack. Not once the water bladder is filled and some extra food thrown in.

What to do?

Well at some point I plan to walk the Bibbulmun Track, from Perth to Albany, and I was already aware that the 33L was too small for the job. The 55L backpack that I took around SE Asia in 2008/2009 is a good size, but too big for carryon and the harness sucks. It's too big for my short torso meaning I am continuously hoisting it up to get comfortable. The small/medium harness on the Ospreys, however, is perfectly sized for me.

So I bought a 44L Osprey Talon. I'm starting to think I have more money than sense, and definitely far too many backpacks and travel bags littering the nether regions of my cupboards and underbed spaces. Is there an Imelda Marcos equivalent for backpacks??

The 44L is larger, has an aluminium internal frame, and is heavier than the 33L. By 400g. Ouch! So it's now touch and go whether I can fit under the 7kg limit. But at least everything fits in easily with room to spare.

Here's a pic with the backpack loaded with everything except my empty vest - yep all electronics, clothes and camping gear. The camera is never in the backpack so I haven't included it. As you can see there's lots of room.

So.... I'm basically packed. The vest has been packed with clothes, the backpack packed with it's 6kg of gear and I'm just over by 100g.

I'm under the impression Air Asia don't even weigh the carry on baggage, and even if they do, I'm not expecting a few hundred grams to be a problem.

So there you have it.

Stay tuned for the results...

Friday, March 14, 2014

The perfect shoe

Doesn't exist, that's why we all have Imelda Marcos complexes!

For those who have no idea about the obscure reference to the wife of a highly corrupt Philippines President of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, her palace had rooms and rooms just devoted to shoes. Or I could have just told you to Google it!

Anyway, back to me, who seems to be missing the Imelda Marcos gene because I literally own less than 10 pairs of shoes. I have 2 pairs of running shoes, a motley collection of donated thongs (flip flops duh!), one pair of covered sandals I wear to work and anywhere good, and my hiking boots. There's also a couple of dressy sandals/court shoes and a pair of doc martins from the 80s, but they rarely see the light of day.

OK, I have my Sorel snow boots but they hardly count, I'd put them in the same category as gumboots and wetsuit booties - special purpose only.

Next month I head to Java, just in case you didn't already know, and I want to take one pair of shoes only, which I intend to wear every day for 2 months. Sure I might pick up a pair of flip flops (thongs duh!) along the road, or not, but mostly, one piece of footwear is going to have to suffice walking on all surfaces. Mountain trails, swamps, rivers, volcanic scree, hard road surfaces, you name it.

Today I did a visa run to Perth. I flew down in the morning, hit the consulate and left them my passport and $60, then headed up St Georges Terrace to the outdoor stores on Hay Street. Where I tried to find the perfect shoe.

I have Raichle Nubuck leather hiking boots. I've had them since 2008 and they've been all over SE Asia, climbed a lot of mountains and crossed a lot of streams. They provide great traction in wet slippery terrain and awesome ankle support, particularly on unstable volcanic scree, but they are heavy, even heavier when they get wet, and have very little cushioning for long walks on hard surfaces. Like roads. I do a lot of walking on roads and remember well the sore feet I sustained on my 8 day trek in North East Vietnam.

I have some top of the line Asics running shoes, which are flexible with moderate cushioning, but no ankle support. They also allow little rocks in far too easily, which would drive me crazy climbing loose scree with them. They are light and very comfortable, and would be perfect for day to day walking on hard surfaces.

So how to combine the two?

Go to an Outdoor shop and spend an hour and a half trying on myriad different pairs of shoes, run and walk all over their shop, up and down the stairs, get advice from every single shop employee as you mix and match different shoes on different feet and then stand there in total indecision looking down at the weirdest looking shoes you have ever seen. Then buy them!

The starting point was a mid shoe. This is half way between a shoe and a full ankle support boot, but some mids are higher than others. These provide some ankle support, and protection from those little pebbles, without compromising too much flexibility for day to day walking. My two favourites were the Keen Targhee II mid, and the Zamberlan Zenith GTX mid. As I walked around and around I just couldn't make up my mind. The Zamberlan has a stiffer sole and a higher ankle support, but little cushioning. In reality they would just be a lighter version of my Raichles. The Keens were just a bit too low in the ankle for my liking, but they are a lovely shoe otherwise.

So there I am wandering around trying to decide, and I literally mean aimless wandering around the shop, when yet another staff member suggests I try yet another shoe.

So lets go back to the original problem: the perfect shoe. I want cushioning, ankle support, light weight, breathable, and with some decent traction. Well one shoe goes almost all the way in achieving this.

Enter the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 GTX mid shoe, yeah it's a mouthful isn't it. This shoe is the weirdest hybrid between a trail running shoe and a hiking boot. It's freakishly comfortable, you can feel the mid foot cushioning as you walk (the area I get sorest on long hikes), its sole has a moderate grip, and it has a high cut to give you some ankle support. And it's got this cute little extra flap behind the ankle to stop those pesky pebbles getting in! I might even be able to fit my orthotics in them.

Let's get this straight. These shoes are a compromise. They probably won't last me years and years like a good pair of hiking boots will, but I'm betting they'll give me a lot more comfort, and a lot less weight, when on the road wearing them day by day than any hiking boot will, plus they'll get me up the mountain and through the mud without too much difficulty.

So yeah, maybe they are the perfect shoe....

(A big shout out to the guys at Mountain Designs shop in Hay Street for outstanding customer service, witty banter, and admitting that they don't wash the try on socks very often!!)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Past Java travellers

When consideration is given to the fact that Java is only two days'
steaming from Singapore, that it is more beautiful in some respects than
Japan, that it contains marvellous archaeological remains over 1,100
years old, and that its hill resorts form ideal resting places for the
jaded European, it is strange that few of the British residents
throughout the Far East, or travellers East and West, have visited the
Dutch Colony.

The average Britisher, weaving the web of empire, passes like a shuttle
in the loom from London to Yokohama, from Hongkong to Marseilles. He
thinks imperially in that he thinks no other nation has Colonies worth
seeing. British port succeeds British port on the hackneyed line of
travel, and he may be excused if he forgets that these convenient
calling places, these links of Empire, can have possible rivals under
foreign flags.

There is no excuse for the prevailing ignorance of the Netherland
So begins Thomas H Reid in his book "Across The Equator" about his visit to Java in 1907. It seems very little has changed since!

Because I have a Kindle I get to take along an armload of old travel literature, written by adventurers more than 100 years ago, about places I plan to visit. It's a fascinating insight into the culture from the past, often through a rather paternalistic colonial eye, but still worth the ride. If you want to find some old travel literature, start here

One of the first books I read about Indonesia is Wallace's Malay Archipelago, and it's really heartening to see that this man is starting to get the recognition he deserves as the joint describer of the Theory of Evolution. I think there can be no doubt that Wallace's input was crucial in Darwin finalising the theory and publishing On the Origin of Species. I'm yet to read Darwin's tome, though it is on the Kindle and both can be downloaded for free.

Many people may not be aware that for a brief period in the early 19th Century Java was under the control of the British. Raffles, of Singapore fame, was the Governor during this short Interregnum, and there is a fascinating book and website that deals the dirt on just exactly what happened during his short reign. Tim, whose writing I've been following for some time, tells a great story and I highly recommend reading it if you're interested in history and great writing.

The Dutch, initially under the VOC, or Dutch East India Company, and then later the Dutch Government, ruled Java and other parts of the Indonesian Archipelago for over 300 years, capitulating initially to the Japanese during WW2, and then to Indonesia's independence in late December 1949. Not a lot of nice things have been written about the Dutch, mainly because what I've read has been in English, and the British were direct market competitors for their colonial products from their vast dominions. Both colonial powers exploited the native workers in their colonies and I doubt the British were any more humane than the Dutch.

In the 19th and early 20th Century a few hardy tourists made it to Java and travelled there, but because the Dutch actively discouraged tourism and travellers required permission to travel beyond Buitzenborg (Bogor today), the island remained somewhat of a secret. Even now, most tourists visiting Indonesia go to Bali only, with only a small percentage travelling to more distant parts of the archipelago.

Some people may be surprised to learn that I am planning on spending an entire 2 months on Java alone. I've already spent 3 weeks there, I've visited Yogyakarta, Borobodur, Prabanam, Bromo and Ijen. I even went to Madura. What else could there be to see?

Well stay tuned readers, because there's some really amazing stuff to see and do in Java. There's history, religion and culture, there's natural phenomena as spectacular as it gets, great food and of course lots of volcanos.

And then there's Atlantis.

Yep, you heard right: Atlantis.

Nah, I don't believe it either, but I'm going to go find out about it anyway....

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Farewell Buddy

Two days ago a friend of mine went out on a bike ride with friends and died. It was a shock, but not totally unexpected as she had a dicky heart, not that that ever stopped her from living an active adventurous life.

I first met Catherine in 2009 in the cafe at Treble Cone when she insisted on giving me her email address so I could tell her when the wildflowers in WA would be good so that she and her husband Phil could visit. Sadly, she now never will.

The next year we saw each other a few times, but I wasn't a good enough skier to hang with her and her posse, who over the subsequent years always seemed to be getting in my way and stealing my stashes. I'm talking about you Phil!!

In 2012 we spent more time together, mostly up the mountain sharing apres ski beers on the sun deck and becoming friends. We went out for meals and drinks and Catherine and Philip joined the Sticky Date Pudding fan club. They still skied past me and made me fall over.

2013 was a watershed for me in my skiing, having got over the paralysing fear and improved my technique. When I wasn't in lessons, my main ski buddies all season were Catherine and Phil, and this time I could keep up with them. Well, almost....

Catherine and Phil took me down the Motatapu Chutes for the first time, and because there was so much snow we even skied Hollywood Bowl and Sunset Boulevard right down to the creek and the inevitable walk out. We climbed the summit and skied down, and we shredded every single chute in The Saddle including countless runs down Superpipe. And we always finished the run back to the cafe with Gunbarrel, top to bottom.

I also went on a few walks around Wanaka with Catherine, to walk her and Helen's dogs, we went for drinks and pizzas at Francesca's new bar, and yes, there was more Sticky Date Pudding. I almost convinced her to come on the scenic flight to Milford Sound with me, but she decided to save that for a trip with her parents. Sadly, not to be...

I might have gone skiing in Canada with Philip and Catherine this year, but time and finances didn't allow. I'm now going to make the effort to get there, to at least honour her memory.

The last couple of years had been tough on Catherine, dealing with some pretty difficult family dilemmas and I hope I was a good listener and sounding board. In my few short months in Wanaka I felt we'd become good friends and I'm sure going to feel the void of her absence.

Catherine died doing what she loves best: being active in the great outdoors. My deepest condolences  to Phil and the girls, and to her parents and brother who I never met. Her heart was ginormous, but I guess it just wasn't tough enough after all.

RIP Catherine, I'm gonna miss you buddy!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My new tin hat

Last month I at last did a renovation I've been meaning to do for years. Which is to remove my asbestos roof and replace with a tin roof, and get some insulation installed in the ceiling space.

Blue asbestos was mined in WA for many years, and we continue to see the health effects in the form of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Until the 1980s fibre cement products had asbestos in them and my roof, my fences and possible even my cladding, is not immune. It's fine until it breaks or shatters, and then the fibres can be inhaled, which is how lung damage occurs. So no tradie will drill into it, making it impossible for me to install solar panels or hot water, or replace my TV aerial when it broke 18 months ago.

Asbestos roofing is dull grey, and although in theory it has some insulating properties, it's not much good at reflecting heat. Instead it tends to absorb heat. So after a few hours the house gets quite hot, and after a few hot days and nights in a row it's impossible to live upstairs without the air conditioner on. As I like to live a green life, I'm averse to using the aircon if I can avoid it, but even downstairs gets stuffy after a few days without cool breezes.

We have two asbestos removal companies in the region, both very busy, but I managed to get a quote then worked with a builder to co-ordinate its replacement. I just wanted a simple tin roof, but deciding on a ceiling was more difficult.

The reason I have put the renovation off for so long is that I don't have a ceiling space. Instead I have exposed beams that I'm quite fond of. Working out what sort of ceiling treatment I could get that would look good, provide my roof with the insulation it needed to keep the house cool, and still keep the positive vibe/karma that my house exudes was a source of personal angst. But we came up with a solution that I'm very happy with.

There's something very soothing about my house that everyone who visits notices and comments on. It's not just my personal bias when I talk about my home being my sanctuary, a relaxing place that makes me feel like I'm on holidays. It really does have some sort of positive energy that rubs off on visitors. Even the tradies working on the house were saying how much they loved working there. I'm pretty sure there's some powerful Feng Shui going on.

On Monday the scaffolding went up and on Tuesday Chad and his team removed the roof. The old foil lining/insulation flapped around in the wind overnight, scattering stuff far and wide, but no rain fell though it was forecast for Wednesday. Wednesday they put the tin roof down, whilst some dark storm clouds threatened to the north but only sprinkled a couple of drops.

Thursday they put the roof cap on and made it watertight and began battening the ceiling space, then took a break till Monday, when they finished the battening and began insulating with wool batts. Then the ceiling boards and trim got put on, the electrician returned to fit lights and fans and then it was done. All finished in less than 2 weeks.

The new roof is transformative. When I get home in the afternoon I no longer walk into a hot stuffy space, but an airy comfortable temperature. I'm really pleased with the ceiling treatment and new LED down lights but the electrician needs to return to redo the fan controls because there seems to only be 2 speeds: very fast and "takeoff"! I like the idea of fans slowly moving air, not the noise of an impending tornado disturbing the tranquility!

Next came painting. I'm a bit of a fan of textured matte finishes rather than uniform or shiny painted surfaces. I happen to have a weird aversion to the finish created by a paint roller. I just don't like the look. So I'm painting the ceiling with a good old paintbrush.

For the bedroom I wanted a really rustic look, so have gone for a really slapdash paint job which still exposes some of the wood grain underneath. It's not to everyone's taste I'm sure, but I really like it. I also took the opportunity to paint over my old futon base with a coat of matte white.

The main living area I've gone for a more uniform cover, but there's still a wood grain visible, as well as brush marks. Some friends suggested just sealing the ply but after a week living with that wood I just couldn't stand it.

I've still got half the living area to paint, and it's going to be interesting doing the area above the stairs. Hopefully I'll survive that endeavour!!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Stuff those scales - seven kilo challenge Part 4

Clothes, toiletries, towel.

I don't take a lot of clothing. I'm not very girly and prefer practicality and comfort over style, especially when I travel. If I'm planning on climbing a couple of thousand metres vertically I don't want anything unnecessary in the backpack. Clothes that won't stink after a few hot sweaty days on the trail mean I've pretty well converted to merino tops and high tech pants, with a silk skirt thrown in because it weighs next to nothing. I usually travel with a sarong, but since I'm going to Java, I'll just buy one there.

One item of clothing I've found absolutely necessary is a warm jacket. Icy aircon on buses, summits over 2000mASL, wet windy weather, and we aren't even out of the tropics! My jacket may well spend a lot of time stuffed into the top of my pack, but the times when it's chilly I've been eternally grateful for its presence.

This time I'm taking a padded vest instead of my usual fleece jacket. It will keep my core just as warm, but it doubles as my "get out of jail free" card. Or rather, my seven kilo challenge winning card!

Introducing the Stuffa vest, a cannily designed padded vest that has pockets for storing lots of stuff so you can wear your luggage and beat the weight limit. I chose this vest over some other vests and jackets designed for the same job. It isn't the cheapest option, but I wanted something that was useful beyond just getting me through the airport. The fact that I can substitute out my jacket for the vest, and it looks fine to wear when filled up, means I don't have to look even more like a dorky tourist than I already do. My only gripe is that it weighs more than my fleece jacket, as it isn't filled with down. That would definitely be an improvement on it's current design.

empty vest

The vest really does look OK fully loaded, which for me is a travel towel, sleep sheet, 2 pairs of socks,  knickers,  bikini, 3 shirts, one pair of trousers and some miscellaneous stuff like cables and camera filters. I'll be wearing another shirt and trousers, plus knickers and bra, socks and hiking boots. I can buy plastic sandals or flip-flops in Java at any market, and a sun hat.

loaded vest

I've a natty solution to the fact that my arms just might get a little cold on summits with only a thin long sleeved shirt covering them. Rather than have to pack a full fleece or thermals, I remembered that I have some sleeves that I use for cycling. High tech, light, perfect.

In the pockets of my trousers I'll carry my purse and passport, the hard drives with their cables, my iPhone and the Kindle.

Finally: toiletries. Please, if you don't like getting personal, skip this paragraph. I'm not very girly. No cosmetics, no hairdryers or eyelash curlers, but definitely a pair of tweezers. I carry a toothbrush, 30+SPF face sunscreen, a small tube of toothpaste, deodorant, a hair comb now my hair is longer, a face washer and Diva cup. I usually buy shampoo when I get there but I'm taking some solid shampoo from Lush on this trip - big shout out to Lauren at Never Ending Footsteps for that recommendation. Because I'm the depilating kind I don't need a razor, preferring to pay for a waxing in a salon as it's much cheaper than back home. The Diva cup is a cinch to use, as there's always water on hand in your cubicle to wash it out, but menopause would be even better. I'm also taking a Pstyle, so I can pee standing up. And a tube of heavy duty DEET. There's still malaria in Ujung Kulon National Park. Weight of all the above: 420g

So, where does that get me?

Well it's been really tough, because I've added another filter to my camera gear, and am packing lightweight trekking poles and a water bladder, all extra weight that pushes me over the line. But with filling the vest and trousers I should get by, as long as they don't include my camera bag in the included weight. If so I'm stuffed! The Air Asia site definitely says one main bag weighing 7kg AND a handbag or laptop bag.

Totals at this point:

Backpack packed: 7kg

Camera bag loaded: 2.5kg

Vest loaded: 2.7kg (including vest)

Trousers loaded: 1kg (not including trousers)

The Seven Kg Challenge appears to be done and dusted!!

Only there's another little problem called space............