The Day I’ve Been Waiting For

It’s amazing how quickly the utter exhaustion I felt after a 20 hour bus ride from Louisiana, through Arkansas, and into Oklahoma (followed by a one hour wait for a taxi and a two hour wait for my hotel room) dissipated once I attended the storm chasing tour meeting that brought me to Oklahoma.

This is the day I’ve been waiting for since I first booked the tour, over a year ago. But it’s a day I’ve been dreaming about for many, many years. Ever since I was eight years old and I bought a book about storms from the school book club, I have been fascinated by wild weather.

Understandably, not many people back home have understood the appeal of chasing storms in Tornado Alley, so it was nice to meet my tour group and find there are like-minded storm enthusiasts out there in the world, who are as mad as I am!

We were asked about what we are most excited for during our week long tour chasing storms across the great plains of America. My answer? Everything. I’m looking forward to learning more about the science behind weather forecasting. I’m excited to drive through the open plains and view those vast landscapes. I can’t wait to take photos of stunning storm-filled skies.

Of course, it would be absolutely awesome to see a tornado. But I know I’ll be more than happy just to witness the incredible supercell thunderstorms that produce them. We just don’t get cloud action like that in Perth.

So without further ado, I’m signing off. It’s time to go storm chasing, baby!!!

The 30 Hour May Day

I’m sitting in the transfer lounge at Hong Kong International Airport. I’ve had an 18 hour day, and it’s far from being over. I still have a couple of hours to wait until my third and final flight of the day takes to the skies. And since I’m bound for San Francisco, it means I’ll be adding another twelve hours and forty-five minutes to my ‘long’ day. Not to mention what awaits when I finally arrive in the U.S- immigration, customs, transfers, hotel check-in. But after all that will come the moment when I’ll enter my room and see a bed where I can stretch my legs and sleep like a baby for many blissful hours. I can already imagine what a glorious moment it will be.

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Leading up to my trip, I had this vision in my mind that I’d be completely organised well in advance, leaving me free to enjoy my final weekend in Perth for a while. Although I’ve become a lot more efficient with the preparation and packing process before a holiday, my intentions didn’t go quite according to plan!

Real life always ends up being busier than expected, so I can’t say I’m overly surprised that my weekend didn’t end up being as leisurely as I’d dreamed. (That Raffaelo milkshake I was looking forward to in my last post? Yeah, it didn’t happen.) Instead, I was wired on adrenaline and, on Sunday, micro-managing my time to a level I didn’t even think I was capable of.

Packing wasn’t a hard task in itself, but it was the little things I needed to get done before I could start packing that tested my patience. One trip to the shops to get some final supplies turned into four trips. My printer at home decided to malfunction just as I was set to print out my itineraries (which added a fifth trip to the shops). There was a heart-stopping moment when I thought I’d bought bus tickets to Los Angeles instead of Las Vegas.

With all the time wasted sorting out these unexpected dilemmas, I was not expecting to get much sleep at all, but in the end I managed to get five hours before my alarm went off at 3.45am. Getting this much sleep before an early morning flight is pretty much a miracle in my books, and I was glad for every minute of it.

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Flight 1- Perth to Singapore
After a breezy check-in with a friendly member of ground staff and a short wait at the gates, my first flight of the day departed just after 6.30am. All my flights are with Singapore Airlines, who I haven’t flown with since my trip to Barcelona in July 2013. I thought about all the travelling I’ve done since then, and realised that age is catching up with me because I was not as quick as I used to be at recalling my past adventures. I’ll always have fond memories of Singapore Airlines, though, as they were the first airlines I ever flew, way back when I visited my family in Poland for the first time, at the age of 11. Oh, how I’ve evolved as a traveller since then!

The actual flight was great. It felt so luxurious flying on a ‘big’ carrier again, since my last trip on a non-budget airline was back in 2015, when I flew Qatar Airways to Iceland. How nice to have a meal provided. Entertainment! A blanket! A pillow! I had a window seat and that, combined with the cosy blanket and pillow, made conditions about as perfect as they’re going to get for sleeping in economy class. After finishing some scrambled eggs for breakfast, I slept for about three hours, and the five hour flight flew by.

Flight 2- Singapore to Hong Kong
After a three and a half hour stopver at Changi International Airport, where I emerged off the plane directly in front of my next gate, it was time for my three and a half hour flight to Hong Kong. This flight also flew by- and I haven’t even watched any movies yet to pass the time. Despite how long the journey is, the timing of the flights is perfect, as I’m travelling ‘with’ the day.

There were some towering cloud formations at the start of the flight, and at the end, there was a ruby red sunset. The orb of the sinking sun looked tiny in comparison to the wingspan of the plane and for a while, it seemed to be suspended in a cloud. I almost expected to see the bottom half re-emerge as we descended. It was strange to see a sunset that, in the end, disappeared into the sky, almost as if it had been swallowed by the clouds, as opposed to sinking below the horizon at the beach.

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Flight 3- Hong Kong to San Francisco
My stopover in Hong Kong lasted four and a half hours. The last time I transited here was in April 2013, where I only had a three hour onward flight to Japan. If only it was such a short onward flight this time, too! However, I was pleasantly surprised when I boarded the plane and the captain announced the flight to San Fran would take an hour less than what was stated on my itinerary. Woohoo!

As we left the glittering lights of the Hong Kong skyline behind, I tried to calculate how long May the 1st would end up being for me. Trying to keep up with time zones is difficult at the best of times, but it was utterly confusing in my sleep deprived state, so after a hearty dinner (or should I say midnight snack) of chicken and fried egg noodles (where my exhausted brain also struggled to process why there was a mirror on the fold-out tray), I gave up and went to sleep. In the end, I managed to sleep for eight hours, which meant that this long flight did not turn out to be as tiring as I thought it would be.

At some point during my slumber, I travelled back in time. It was about 12.40am on May 2nd when I settled down to snooze, and I awoke at 2.20pm on May 1st, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean and north-east of Honolulu. Of course, I’d already experienced 2.20pm on May 1st- in Singapore. Just as I was trying to wrap my head around the loophole that, technically, I had been in two places at once, the flight crew wished us a ‘good morning’. True, it was morning in Hong Kong, but it was amusing to think that in three hours, they’d be wishing us a good evening. The novelty of crossing time zones will never fail to amuse me, even though I think it’s best not to overthink them!

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And now, I’m finally in America!!! I’ve travelled over 17,000km to get here, and I’m still not quite sure how long my May the 1st ended up being. I have some impressions still left to share, but I’m well and truly spent now, and it’s time for this weary traveller to go to sleep.

Golden Valley Tree Park

When I walked the Bibbulmun Track last year, one of my highlights was the day I wandered through the Golden Valley Tree Park. This beautiful park is located in the country town of Balingup, which is about 240km south of Perth. To be honest, I’d never heard of the town before I did my hike, but it’s safe to say it’s certainly on my radar now.

I remember it was a sunny winter’s morning as I followed the meandering trail through the valley of the trees. Most of the trees had lost their leaves by this stage, but the surrounding hills were the most vibrant shade of green I’d ever seen. It was a colour that became characteristic of the Balingup area, but until that day, I didn’t think such bright green earth existed in the West Australian landscape. I was left in awe and made a promise to return to the park in autumn.

Last Tuesday, I fulfilled that promise. With my garden-loving mum in tow, we set off for our road trip around 10.30am. I love driving, so it was exciting to hit the road and, especially, to be headed for the country. Despite my love of travel, I tend to go overseas or interstate for my holidays, which means I don’t explore my own backyard nearly as often I should.

There was definitely a sense of nostalgia on the drive down to Balingup, as I passed through several other sites associated with my Bib Track hike. In fact, what should’ve been a three hour drive to get to the Tree Park turned into a four hour drive, as I ended up taking the scenic route through a couple of other Bib Track towns, such as Collie and Mumballup. It was hard to believe that I ever walked to these towns by foot.

Eventually, we made it into Balingup, which was decorated with colourful scarecrows for an upcoming event. The Tree Park is located 2km out of the main town area, and when we arrived, we enjoyed the picnic lunch that we’d packed at home. My mood was instantly bolstered, not only by the food, which went down a treat after our long sojourn in the car, but also by the immediate sense of peace I felt as soon as I stepped out of the car. There were no other people around, and the fresh country air was filled with birdsong, as well as the familiar sound of farm life in the form of mooing cows and bleating sheep.

After eating, it was time to decide which section of the park we wanted to explore. I wasn’t aware on my first visit, but there are actually two parts to the park- the Australian Collection and the World Collection. We opted to walk around the latter. It was so cool to come across trees which had been transported from far-off places such as the US, the UK, China, Iran and the Himalayas.

At first, I was slightly taken aback at how brown the land was. Gone were the luscious green hills that had made such an impression on me, and in their place was a dry carpet of rain-starved earth. But the trees showcased a range of autumn colours, which was beautiful to behold. We don’t get a huge display of fiery golden leaves where I live in Perth, and I miss having the opportunity to observe that distinct, colourful change between seasons.

We wandered through an old pear orchard, which was filled with suspicious sheep ready to run if we dared to come too close. The air crackled with the sound of our footsteps treading upon a crunchy carpet of fallen leaves. The path led down to an avenue of dazzling sequoias, and culminated in two stunning golden ash trees, whose overhanging branches formed a ceiling of sunshine over a little wooden bridge.

In the end, I did seven hours of driving for a two hour walk, but it was so worth it, because if there’s one thing that always manages to lift my spirits and put me in a great mood, it’s a nature retreat!

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1 Week ‘Til America

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I knew the hour was early when I opened my eyes and was greeted by a feeble grey light filtering through my window. I stumbled blearily into the kitchen and the clock showed six oh five. But a sudden realisation woke me right up. This time next week, I’ll be sitting on a plane, about to depart my home for six weeks, and ready to see what there is to see in the USA.

Despite my love of travelling, it’s been a long time since I’ve been so cognizant of an upcoming holiday. It doesn’t usually hit me until the day before, and then it usually feels like a huge inconvenience because of all the effort involved.

This time, it’s different. For the first time in a long time, I feel really excited. Almost like a newbie traveller again. Perhaps it’s because my trip to America has been in the pipeline for so long now- practically a year- that it’s surreal to think that a countdown of 365 days has dwindled down to seven. I’ve waited a long time for this trip and now it’s almost upon me.

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In the hour of transformation between silver dawn and golden day, time seems to take on another dimension. It stretches out before me, like a piece of elastic. I see the 29 years of my life that have led to this moment, and they seem like nothing at all.

And yet six weeks stretches out of sight, and trying to decipher what it encompasses feels like looking into eternity. It’s vague and grey, like the early morning, appearing unpredictable yet feeling like fate.

Let’s just wander through the hours, undecided about directions but confident we will get to where we need to go. And when it all eventually falls into place, something will have shifted and life will be different. I will appear the same but feel changed.

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Let America slumber in her final dreams. The silver dawn approaches, and with it, a golden horizon of opportunities.

Another Hike Complete!

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Last Friday, I flew to South Australia to hike the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail. Over five days, my friend and I walked the 61km that make up the trail, which officially opened in October 2016. The trail winds its way along the south-western corner of the island, and provides views of spectacular coastlines and rugged bushlands.

I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it felt to be out hiking again. Sure, every day, my friend and I grumbled about the weight of the pack on our shoulders, groaned about our feet being sore from walking for hours on end and complained about being covered in sand and dust and grime. But at the end of the day, I love the hiking life, and I miss it once it’s over.

What I find myself missing most of all is the peace and quiet that comes from escaping the hustle and bustle of modern life and being surrounded by nature instead. The frantic pace of everyday life definitely gets a bit much for me sometimes and it’s not until I step away from it all that I realise just how overwhelmed I’ve become. Living in a pressure bubble with a constant list of unattainable expectations is just not good for the soul.

Hiking life is so beautifully uncomplicated. All I do is walk, eat and sleep, and yet every day is full of adventure and surprises and breath-taking new sights. It reminds me that when you keep things simple, there are enough hours in the day after all, and they certainly don’t need to be spent trying to squeeze in as many things as possible from a never-ending to-do list (or procrastinating from doing them, as is so often the case for me). It’s also a welcome relief to be disconnected from social media and the digital world for a while. My senses are suddenly liberated from having to process rapid-fire streams of information, while my mind isn’t weighed down with negativity from the latest news reports providing updates on all the bad things happening in the world at large. When I go out hiking, I’m reminded that the world isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s a beautiful place, actually. It’s just us humans who make it ugly. How nice it is to wander in the wild and find places which are still untarnished and unspoilt by people.

But I digress.

My Kangaroo Island hike was a fantastic adventure, and I’ll be sharing photos and writing about the experience in the upcoming days. There’ll be stories of battling fierce winds that threatened to blow us into the Southern Ocean; a failed rendition of Baywatch- With Backpacks; a face-off with the fattest tiger snake ever; roaming the rocks of a seaside Stonehenge; a match-making cape (or not); river crossings and cotton cloud beaches; tents full of sand, sand and more sand (but thankfully not mice); and how a horse named Kelly discovered some pretty darn cool caves. Stay tuned!

It’s Adventure Time!

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I can hardly believe that in about three hours, I’ll be on a plane bound for Adelaide, considering that I still have to finish work, drive home, get changed, and be dropped off at the airport. Life has been so busy recently that I can’t wait to just sit down on the plane and breathe.

My friend and I are off to hike the Wilderness Trail on Kangaroo Island. We’ll stay the night in Adelaide tonight, and then fly over to Kangaroo Island tomorrow morning to commence the five day walk. The weather is looking lovely, which will be perfect for appreciating the scenic views that the island is famous for. By Wednesday, we’ll have (hopefully!) completed the 61km trail. We have an additional night on the island to relax, before heading home to Perth on Thursday.

I finished packing my backpack last night, and was amazed that I managed to squeeze in my sleeping bag and tent. Despite hiking for six weeks straight on the Bibbulmun Track last year, I have a feeling the weight of the pack is going to come as a complete shock. It never feels too bad when you first put it on, but after a couple of hills, a few kilometres, and several hours of walking, that sentiment definitely changes!

Nevertheless, I can’t wait to be out on a trail again. I love the simplicity of hiking life, and ever since I got back from Sri Lanka, I’ve been in a bit of a funk. For the first half of March, I felt that I wasn’t being productive enough with my time, while for the second half, life has been so hectic that I’ve felt like an idiot for ever complaining about having too much time on my hands, as I’ve often wished I could grab my hands on a Time-Turner from Harry Potter.

Today also marks exactly one month until I start my storm chasing tour in America. Now that I think about it, I reckon the next few months are going to be crazy busy- so I better relish this hike!