Nature’s Narcotic

2017 – the year I finally started drinking the hiking Kool-Aid. I had previously never understood why people voluntarily subjected themselves to physical exertion and intense discomfort while on precious vacation time, or why the view from a summit couldn’t simply be enjoyed from a photo (two words: drone photography).

I’ve since learned that it’s not so much the view as it is the sense of self that is enjoyed at the top; the satisfaction that comes at the end of perseverance, and the savouring of a peak you worked hard to get to. Nature’s very own narcotic.

Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock), Norway

Conventional wisdom preaches that the journey is always the greater experience to be had – not the moment at the summit. As much as I dislike clichés, this rang all too true during each climb.

It’s like life really, even when you lose all semblance of motivation and am wondering why on earth you did this to yourself, the only thing you can do is to keep putting one foot ahead of another, and to keep moving along. Hiking turned out to be quite the formidable teacher to an ill-disciplined mind. So much of the journey is mental, that the hours on the indoor treadmill or the yoga mat only take you so far.

Mount Pico, Portugal

As much as the incline burns your quads, calves, and lungs – each step forward takes you that much further, and higher. Nothing else in life is guaranteed quite the same way. One of the earliest lessons I learned out of school (while still fresh in the corporate world) was that reward is never commensurate with effort. Of course there are times where hard work absolutely pays off and you prop your feet up in the evenings and bask in a job well done. But there are even more times where you sacrifice both sleep and sanity and at the end of the day get less – or absolutely nothing – in return.

Lunch with Mt. Azumaya, Japan

Little by little, you plod on. And then you’d surprise yourself. You reach the summit, and look down at the view, and be amazed at just how far a pair of legs can take you.

芝麻灣 (Sesame Bay), Hong Kong



A Toast to a Travel Legend

“It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what’s happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there — with your eyes open — and lived to see it.” – Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)

I hardly ever get weepy about celebrity deaths. In many ways it made me feel like a hypocrite, mourning the loss of someone I never knew or even met. How can you actually lose someone you never had? Over the years I’ve come to realise that you don’t actually need to have known or met someone for them to have touched your life.

There was something oddly moving in the words Anthony Bourdain left behind, no doubt crystallised during his pursuit of travel; international culture; cuisine; and at the heart of it all, the human condition. In the same way, I feel almost funny looking back at the posed smiles and frozen tourist attractions in travel albums, because it’s mostly the moments I miss rather than the places and the sights seen. I think of Rome, and I have difficulty recalling the names of the many coin-bloated fountains or describing the immensity of The Colosseum. I instead recall the surprise stalks of roses at the foot of the Spanish steps, and the night we ate two dinners (amazing wood oven pizza and good ol’ bolognese) because us four starving students were so unequivocal in our dissatisfaction at the first one that we justified the expense on a second meal. I think of Athens, and I remember us hunched over our luggage bags, struggling to wheel them over cobbled streets because the stupid hostel got our bookings mixed up. I think of Santorini, and I remember that beach from another world. I think of the Lake District, and I remember us huddled in the tent for warmth, shivering in our shorts in the single digit weather because we ruined all our warm clothing after we fell in the mud. I think of New York, and I remember sitting in Bryant Park, reading and writing with the sprawl of green and glass before me. I think of Barcelona, and I can still smell the pigeon poop left splattered on my entire family after a particularly vicious flock of birds flew overhead during our walk in a park. I think of Venice, and I remember the incredible balcony which we sat and had our home-cooked dinner and talked and bared our hearts for hours. I think of Paris and I remember cheese, more cheese, wine, and the strums of the musician’s guitar outside the sacre-coeur. I think of Whistler and I remember being towed down a slope with a pulled hamstring, and learning how to identify the Big Dipper for the first time. I think of Montreal and I remember bagels and lying on that giant mossy hill where everything smelled sweet. I think of Miami, and I remember the giant frozen margaritas and the Pornstar posse we met at that nightclub. I think of Rio and I am filled with saudade for my Brazilian host mothers and the random acts of their kindness that will stay with me for life. I think of Sydney, and there I am again, sleeping out under the stars in a giant makeshift campsite with hundreds and thousands of others. I think of Hong Kong, and I remember many sleepless nights and somehow always ending up at Tsui Wah. I think of Sri Lanka, and I remember dangling my legs over the edge at World’s End. I think of Boston, and we are frantically trying to cook dinner in a thoroughly impractical apartment mysteriously filled with absurd animal art sculptures and Friends Box DVD sets, without a single pot in the kitchen. I think of Capri, and I am eating freshly-plucked blueberries along the Path of the Gods. I think of Norway, and I remember high-fiving my best friend at the top of Preikestolen and looking out at the fjords. I think London, and there is simply too much. I remember the different occasions, the different company, the different emotions, the different hopes and dreams that I had with each different visit.

It’s so cliched but all too true – I live not by days, months, or years, but by experiences, moments, memories, lessons.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you.” Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)