Being too much

Courage is not shaped by a Wonder Woman cape, it is an everyday girl facing that which terrifies her and saying yes anyway.” Quote unknown.

Two years ago, at age 44, after completing only two overnight hikes of around 20kms each I was compelled to travel to the Italian Alps. Originally, I looked at a hike in Sardinia but June was going to be too hot. Look up North they said, the Dolomites, there are some good walks up there. The Alta Via 1 is around 150kms. I never questioned my ability aside for a few jokes with my friends, I just took it in my stride I would do it.

In hindsight, when you are hiking a path of this scale, it might have been prudent to buy the topographical maps first and have a look. I cannot explain to you the drive that propelled me to choose this one. I did not question the call and I booked my flights. In the end I think my hike was about 200kms. You’ll read why.

I make myself sound like I didn’t do any research. I read a lot. I put out a call on Facebook and sure enough a friend of friend had done it the year before. Awesome. He sent me a billion photos and answered my questions. Did he use a compass? Was the trail hard? Trail markings clear? Problems with altitude? He answered in word, sending more photos of him hanging off cliff faces, holy crap, he looked fit.

I found a reputable tour company and booked a self-guided walk. This meant people knew I was out there and I was expected nightly at each Refugio. Perhaps the question ought to have been, should a gal who has been hiking less than year take on this trip solo?  Maybe subconsciously I knew what the answer would be so I never asked. I refused to listen to fear.

Of course, I trained, well what I thought was training for this hike. I took hikes with a hiking group who all reassured me that I could easily do the AV1. A few of them had done it but I failed to see they did it in a group. I added in stair work and hiking on sand, and for the record that did not prepare me for snow, nor did my regular Bikram yoga classes. Damn it, the snow was a hard slog.

However, as always, yoga prepared for me the mental anguish and despair I faced. I had learned to not give up, acknowledge the pain, name the struggle but keep on going. I also hiked amazing routes above Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast before the AV1, covering many kilometers with steep ascents and descents. The rest of the fitness came on the hike.

A handsome Italian guide, Andrea, briefed me on the maps marked out with highlighter, saying it was easier to follow and he did it for all his clients. Looking at the map, I thought maybe he was just sick of going to search for lost hikers. This was not just one straight path, it was crazing making spaghetti like trails. The map was a one big mass of green and grey with trails of blue, red and a little bit of orange. What the hell do they all mean anyway?

I was about to find out. I have a friend who talks about waking up bit by bit when you’re on a spiritual path, and maybe this was true for your first real hiking path too. There is no argument I wasn’t awake about how demanding it would be. The alarm was about to scream so loud I would be fully awake soon enough.

Back to Andrea, he asked if I had hiked before, um yes. Was I okay about being out there on my own and did I understand that people die on this trail? Sure, I said. I mean the hotel receptionist just called me the adventurous type. I guess that was the Italian assessment of my hiking ability. He said I could call him any time, as long as there was phone range, and if I needed him he could come to me.

He then cheekily suggested meeting me at the end of the AV1 for some via ferrata (Italian for climbing route instead of hiking). I nearly choked on my food. I remember thinking he definitely had an element of likable crazy to him. He laughed, said it would be fun. I did wonder if that was opposed to this not being fun. You know I’m so going to try via ferrata next time!

Had I thought this through? Yes and no. I believed a hike in the Dolomites would be spectacular and beautiful, pretty meadows, stunning mountains and cow bells. What I didn’t know was it would push me beyond all my physical and mental limits, allowing me to witness courage, exceptional fortitude and to uncover how self-doubt can easily rob me of encountering how capable I actually am. This was mighty girl stuff.

There’s a lot out there about moving outside your comfort zone, well this hike took me to a totally new level of discomfort. I experienced a few utterly desperate moments where I just had to surrender and lapse into absolute powerlessness. Paradoxically, I then watched the magic arise through bravery in action: making decisions, finding solutions, losing my temper and returning to a calm state once again. I nearly threw my hiking poles over the side of the mountain at one point. Not helpful.

With mountain after spectacular mountain, both majestic and daunting, I had many moments of awe in the vast spaces I found myself in, I had to stop walking to take it all in. There was fear bordering on panic when I took the wrong trails, like I could possibly lose my mind at any moment. Well some might have argued I had already lost it. At my lowest moments, I just wanted lie down on the trail and take my last breath. Dramatic I know.

Self-doubt was ever present and dominating, screaming through me at what I loser I was to be out here. Ironically, it is the first time I looked at my self-doubt and knew with absolute truth it was a liar, to be pushing my boundaries like this does not take a loser, it takes a warrior.

Surprisingly, I write that with sarcasm, getting lost was a combination of some poor signage and let’s face it my own inexperience. I felt both enormous joy and sobbed my heart out, sometimes at the same time. My toes caused me excruciating pain in the last few days making me cry even more. I lost five toenails in the end. In contrast, my body was astounding and powerful as I walked up, down, over and through knee-deep snow, mud, massive boulders, little rocks, pathways, streams and meadows.

Climbing heights to 3,000 meters where it became this mystical realm beyond the world as I knew it, in-between layers of cloud, where anything seemed possible. I wandered through green valleys to the sound of only cattle and goat’s bells, curiously raising their heads to watch the lone hiker walk on by as they grazed in the morning sun.

Alone for hours in my own company, with both peaceful thoughts and dark, desperate ones. Forced to find my way when I just wanted to give up exhausted. I distinctly recall climbing one mountain, sobbing, and unreasonably wishing for someone to appear before me and hoist me off the mountain. At the same time, knowing to the contrary the only person who could save me was myself, you know be your own hero, by taking step after step to the top. Relief flooded me as the hut came into sight each day (which also meant a macchiato and Italian cake) as I navigated my way along those trails with wonder, doubt, happiness, confusion, agony, aches, energy and a force I never knew I had.

One of the days I hiked with a gorgeous young lady, Allannah, who was taking the same route, she was a perfect companion and geologist, very handy.  Day eight I hired a local guide, Roberto, knowing I was bordering on physical exhaustion with an 18km trek over five snow slopes, one mighty peak and severe descent. I remember the snow easing the pain in my toes. He even carried my backpack, a hiker’s dream. I declared I loved him in Italian. He couldn’t stop laughing. He spoke very little English but he said the mountains were in his heart. I could tell.

As I followed Roberto I remember thinking this is an exquisite walking meditation as I didn’t have to think. Asking for help was totally unplanned but instinctively the right thing to do for that day. Some trails were busy, some were remote, and regardless I kept on until I found myself grief-stricken with sadness on the last day, not wanting to leave these mountains both holding and changing me.

There were two common questions on my return, “did you know what you were getting yourself in for?” Ha, I have sufficiently answered that. Secondly, “what did I learn from my hike?” I saw both a contradiction and an erroneous belief, I thought the more vulnerable I felt the weaker I would be, but as I pushed myself into the most self-exposure I have ever known, the more robust I became.

Interestingly in this state where my thoughts grew dark I discovered I could hold myself in those spaces, indeed I was strongest in what I would once have labelled as pathetic. Essentially, it did matter how I treated myself in those moments, in dropping into extreme vulnerability I found resilience and self-compassion for the tenacity it took to be on the trail on my own. Experience and living in the unknown, the part that is beyond the plan, is where I found the magic, the inexplicable depths of who I am.

Back at home, I was recounting my tales to a woman in her sixties, with my then 10-year-old daughter snuggled into my side. I was a few months into a new relationship and the question was raised “with all this adventure, do you think you will be too much for him?” Well aware my daughter was listening to every word I replied kindly but fiercely, that I didn’t care about being too much for anyone because this is who I am. I realised how far I had come.

I have spent a great portion of my life pleasing others and thinking I am not enough, and now I was being presented with the idea I might be too much. I know this woman had good intention, I love her dearly, but I also understand this is no longer my story. I do not have to tone myself down for anyone nor do I even have the slightest willingness to do so.

In the relationship mentioned, we had talked about the possibility of hiking the Walkers Haute Route together this year. Little did I know this was going to be our last conversation, a few days later we ended abruptly and for good reason. This was a few months back and with my heart broken open, I booked the flights anyway. I am now happily planning my return back to the mountains of Europe, solo. This time I will take with me confidence and the experience I have earned. I’ve even mapped the route myself!

And that girl cuddled into me, well she is one of three gutsy daughters, and I also have a great son. I know they watch very closely in how I live my life. There is no space within me to give up on my dreams because I am on my own. I am busy seeking adventure and daring myself to keep on turning up to life in a mighty girl way. Some may label that too much. I would call it wholehearted.

A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See

Taking to the trail

A few months ago, I was compelled to make the bold decision to hit the reset button on my life. As it turns out a very powerful resolution for me. I felt shockingly low and disheartened, so very apt when in you’re the middle of transformation. Sometimes the perspective doesn’t arrive until you’re a time down the track. Well I’m here to report I’m down that track, literally, as I’ve just finished the Great Ocean Walk this week, which I’ll get onto shortly.

Back then, my decisions for the future began to be based on a Facebook meme that happened to pop up in my feed on a day where I was feeling reckless and highly charged with emotion.  A simple but powerful saying of “do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Damn it, all my thoughts of retaliation were instantly squashed as I didn’t want to stand in my future with remorse and amends to make. No thanks, my future self said fuck that. Refocused, I planned and booked the hike when I was at an emotional bottom trying to find my way through the transition.

When I hiked out last week I was so excited about taking on the 100km challenge. Who wouldn’t be? Okay maybe not you non-hikers out there! This trek had stunning ocean views with the sounds of the waves crashing onto shore to keep me company. As the saying goes “the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” The tears were all cried so the sweat and sea were exactly what I needed. The wilderness is where I recharge from this world, and with mostly no phone range on this trek it was a welcomed break from the white noise of life. I simply walked.

“She doesn’t have a religion. Her faith resides in the stars, flowers, ocean, and herself.”

My hikes are not constant Zen experiences and I can’t take a selfie of the inside of my mind to show you exactly what I mean. I’m talking about the monkey mind and I almost invariably suffer at times from it doing its thing, THINKING. There are no problems with thoughts except when they demand you start to live there. When you are hiking alone there is a lot time to think, daring to take on a life of its own and before I know it I’m in the middle of bad idea getting a worse one. I try not to give myself a hard time and I see it as the spiritual challenge of every hike, that at some point my thoughts are going to run amok.

The morning of day two, I awoke to barrage of thinking and it was not good. The usual suspects were there, “what the hell are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere anyway”, “look at you all by yourself”, “can’t you just live a normal life, why do you have to push yourself all the time”, and that’s just a few. I made my coffee, grabbed my journal (a luxury when weight is vital) and started writing. Out it all flowed, the bullshit, the negativity until I hit the real sore point. Fear. A really big one and nothing to do with hiking. Truth is it had been lurking there for some time and I was scared about pulling it out into the open.

I stared at it, quite startled by its ferocity and I thought how in the hell am I going to get through this one, I’ve never felt this before. Immediately overwhelmed, my eyes were drawn to an etching on the wooden table at camp.  Someone had scratched a circle and within it was a triangle. This very drawing is the symbol for Alcoholics Anonymous, something that is recognizable worldwide to people in twelve step programs. I am familiar with this fellowship for many reasons and seeing it instantly reminded me to just trust. This is all I had to do with this new fear for now. Buoyed I packed up camp and hiked on.

The next morning, day three, I awoke to a heavy heart and loneliness. Whose idea was it to hike anyway? Let’s blame Facebook for that dumb meme several months ago. I was awash in my own pain. I just wished to hike peacefully. With that I penned my thoughts again. I accepted my grief as real but I saw my loneliness as disconnection and I could change that. Coffee in hand (it’s almost always involved in my insightful moments) and I set my intention for the day. I planned to connect to each person I saw if they were responsive to it. I would respect their privacy if they didn’t want to make eye contact but I would at least say hello and chat if they were open.

Now this can be a tricky intention when on a trail because sometimes you don’t see anyone for hours or even all day, or even days. However, not on this morning as I hiked out of camp and almost walked into two people. They had many questions about a female solo hiker on a 100km trek with 20kgs on her back. His parting comment was, “I bet you’re getting sick of talking to yourself”, I laughed, he knew what is was to be human.  A one point as I hiked I named out loud everything I was grateful for in my life, that took some time, and I was feeling pretty blissed out by how beautiful and remarkable my life really is.

This also happened to be my longest hiking day, about 25kms with many quiet hours but as I got to crossing points there were day visitors who loved a bit of chat. At about the 21 km mark I sat at the seat which miracously appeared, thank you, feeling exhausted after clocking up 65km in three days. I knew I had a few kilometers to go, and two of that was on soft sand, said to take a good hour to cross. As I wondered how I was going to pull this off another hiker appeared. This dude had just thrown a rock in his pack and was doing some training for his next hike. My kind of guy. We chatted about the South Coast Trek, which I would love to do so he invited me along in March and then took off.

“If you have to force it. Leave it. Relationships. Friendships. Yoga Poses. Perfect pony tails. Let that shit go.”

I dragged my weary body into action to finish the day’s hike. As I approached camp I could feel a really lovely vibe. People! A group of about 12 on a catered tour. A delightful man said, “are you Georgina?” um yes, thinking I’m in trouble with Parks. I always go to the dark side first. He smiled and handed me some information from the rock in the pack guy who asked it to be passed along to me. This welcoming man was a mature and humble professor of mathematics, business and philosophy and we became fast friends, as I did with a few others in the group. I didn’t hike with them but I spent two nights in their company, very engaging and interesting people. More connection.

The next day was a remote and difficult track and only the hikers who are prepared to carry everything in get this experience. I was the only one there. I have to say it was the best of all the campsites, perched on a high cliff overlooking the ocean. I soaked up the afternoon rays, daydreaming and watching the sunset. This is true multitasking. I hiked 6 days and the last few were with calm thought. Now being free to reflect, I felt thankful I trusted my future self to know what was best for me in a time where everything felt uncertain.  I could acknowledge my own bravery and tenacity, not only being able to get out on the track solo but in pressing the reset button a few months back. I had no idea when I planned this hike it would be the perfect time for me to see my transformation was complete.

“And suddenly you just know it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.”
A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See

Rainbows, bowls and bricks

The room looks like one big happy rainbow. Mattresses are placed neatly on the floor, covered in the most colourful blankets I’ve ever seen.  Instantly, my mood changes, lifts a little. I’m here for the sound healing meditation created with singing and Tibetan bowls, gong, voice and harmonics. Makes me drift in and out of some mysterious realm. A bit like hiking really, the sensations you naturally experience when you’re on the trail.  Yeah, you know that will always get a mention.

The leader is dressed in white, prayer beads around his neck, with frizzy black hair that is organically wild. He hugs each person hello and begins by giving an astrological talk for about 40 minutes in his thick accent. Normally I find astronomy tedious, by that I mean loquacious. Plain wordy. I kind of want to ask if we can just get on with the sound stuff. Pretty much like a 5-year-old on a car trip repeatedly asking if we’re there yet. Turns out I might have sold myself short pressing fast forward on this talk.

“Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.” Unknown.

The upshot is, and let me say my interpretation will not do any kind of justice to the way this dude spoke. Divine. According to the planets and that stuff that happens out there, it’s a time of death and the emphasis is on the enormity of it.  He says, Spirit is calling our attention, wanting us to develop and change through this ending. Silently I declare no more growth. My thoughts drift to the house and contents insurance policy and if it was debited to my bank account this week. Right now, I’d take boring insurance over evolution.

In spite of my uneasiness, in that story-telling voice he continues with no clue I am reeling. Planets downloading, big ones, little ones, and alignments which lead to 2017 as the foundation year for the next 9 years of our lives. Holy shit, that makes me immediately panicky. No more thinking about insurance. I mean it’s nearly the end of November.  What if I have done the first 11 months wrong?  Why didn’t someone tell me this earlier?  Does the universe allow you to back track in spiritual lessons and listening? Is this the plot twist that keeps coming up in my Facebook newsfeed?

I remind myself to keep an open mind. I know nothing of astrology except that Mercury is quite the cheeky guy. He goes onto say Spirit really wants us to ask why this ending is happening in our lives. It’s time to question and dive deep for the answers as to what we have to learn from this. Apparently, it’s not a simple as my justification there are just some unconscious people in this world doing bad shit. One of my mentors has always reminded me that when there is disturbance, the problem lies with me, no matter the source. Just quietly I was freaking out.  One month to set things right for the NEXT NINE YEARS! Talk about pressure.

“Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic, this is the spiritual path.” Pema Chodron

Okay, so laying aside the reproaching of others bit. I really do know why this happened, and yes it was my disturbance. I really struggled to trust to my intuition. I heard it alright as it flew through the air at my head in February, a big brick, a metaphoric one of course.  Man, it hurt a lot and I was distraught. It woke me up a little.  I made a promise to myself. Another few came hurling at me in March, then April, and yep May – that was big one and did a lot of harm. Doubt became a companion.

You guessed it, along came June through to September, the bricks intensified increasing my internal agitation towards something being amiss.  I was in a state of bewilderment. I had no idea where I stood. I kept returning to February’s promise and yet there was nothing concrete, I thought, that could give me direction. I stayed with doubt and did my best to trust in life, that it would unfold naturally. I didn’t quite get the bricks were concrete too. Sometimes a slow learner, but more so, maybe the time just wasn’t right yet for me.

October arrived, and in comes another few bricks, but after smashing my head, they dropped me flat on my face. All out. Not very flattering. There I was as Brene Brown would say “face down in the arena”. Humiliated, broken open, numb. That got my full attention. The promise I made to myself back in February held fast and the truth I was grasping for arrived in an instant. I like to say truth doesn’t come on the installment plan, it’s either there or it’s not, and you can’t take it back once it appears. I knew what I needed to do.

Returning to the majestic sounds this healing man was creating made me kind of hopeful. More accepting of all those knocks, bumps and complete drops I was considering a total waste at the beginning of my year in review. Perhaps a little cryptic but the detail doesn’t matter so much, it’s really the process, especially when there is so much apprehension. That was my promise back in February, to trust the timing.  So, given it is my foundation year according to the stars (wink, wink) I reckon I have enough bricks and the building is already happening. The next 9 years may not be so screwed. Maybe that was the plan after all.

“A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at her.” Unknown.
A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See

If anything could ever be this good again

A random Friday off.  Awesome. You know where my mind goes straight away. Into the wilderness.  The Northern loop, about 120kms out of town in the Cathedral Ranges, it’s on my hit list. Not too far, but far enough to feel like I’ve long left city life. I love driving through the Black Spur, a 30km stint with twists and hairpin turns, to be exact, with enormous gum trees and rainforest ferns awakening your senses as you blow through. Windows down, the mixed smell of fresh coffee beans and air loft through my car. I listen to the Foo Fighters and feel especially happy as the sound system belts out Everlong, the acoustic version.  Cracker of a song.

I arrived at camp with the plan to have a sneaky hike up to the Southern loop for the afternoon, but the weather had other ideas. These particular hikes are grade 4 and involve rock scrambling, that is using both hands and feet to move along the ridge.  Storms were coming. I didn’t like the idea of being up there on my own, clambering in the rain. Throw in some lightening and this gal went for camp set up instead. I knew my body wanted movement, or was that my mind? I was somewhat surprised by being decidedly disappointed and edgy to have to remain quiet for the afternoon.

“The antidote to exhaustion isn’t rest, it’s nature.” Unknown.

When all else fails, make tea. Just as the water boiled on my faithful pocket rocket stove, the skies opened up and I dove into the snug cocoon of my two-person hiking tent.  The beauty of camping out of the back of the car is you can bring as much as you like, there is no heavy pack carrying when you have base camp.  Of course, I threw in my books and journal.  The thunder was pounding the skies for what turned out to be an hour.  Fair to say it was a decent storm.  Humidity hung in the air as I sipped tea, ate musk sticks, read, and wrote my journal.

Actually, it was so lovely not to be moving, being forced into stillness for a time. Funny that. I feel like I’ve been on the move for weeks now, in many ways.  Just kicking back with no agenda for the afternoon felt like an enormous breathing out. I lay there thinking about all the memories that have been created with this tent, the adventures I’ve been on with the people I love, and the quests I’ve undertaken solo. Who would have thought some two years ago, a pack hike with a group of friends would awaken a deep longing in me to seek the wilderness and the mountains.

John Muir was right when he said “going to the mountains is going home”.  After that introduction to hiking, I booked flights to Italy where I took on the Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites.  On my own.  Admittedly there were refugios every night and a three course meal. Yep, that’s the way to do it. However, I made my way through 150kms of unrelenting climbs, up and downs, along spaghetti like trails with crazy making intersections.  Yep, I got lost, took wrong turns, hiked many extra kilometres, and then found my way back. I balled my eyes out, I swore, I cursed at myself many times. As I descended into my dark self, I also found strength, courage, resilience, and a boldness I never knew I had.  Those mountains left me in awe, eagerly awaiting the next ones.

Listening to the deluge of rain on my latest jaunt, made even louder by falling on the fly of the tent, I was inundated with gratitude. Still reflecting on the words of Everlong, “if everything could ever feel this real forever, if anything could ever be this good again”, I realised as long as I was keeping my heart open to love, being with the people I love and creating a life I love, it will feel this real forever.  This doesn’t mean I’m not going to hurt, be confused, ache, push back at life, be disappointed, ad infinitum. It does mean though that whatever it is for it to be real, I need to let it be heartfelt.  Lounging in my little oasis, I knew at least my life is real. Damn real. And it can be this good, again and again. For ever.

“I have a therapist. Her name is nature.” Unknown.
A 45cm sterling silver wearable affirmation to remind your self, or someone you love, who is trying their hardest and refusing to give up that like us, you’ve got this.  No matter what. See