An Empty Coast

An Empty Coast
My latest novel

Monday, July 12, 2010

Why we do stuff...

Being in between book projects gives me time to think (I don't, when I write, I just zone out, daydream, and write - there's a difference), and time to drink. Actually, I drink all the time, although I've been quite good lately as I am on a bit of a fitness kick. However, I will only blog about my fitness program if I totally run out of other things to write.

So, I was thinking the other day... why do people do stuff? Crazy stuff. I have two friends who have recently scaled or are about to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. To some people mountain climbing may not seem crazy, but to someone like me who has never (and will never) pay money to be cold, I think there is an element of madness in such pursuits.

I also have two bad knees, thanks to my service in the military. One is courtesty of a parachuting accident and the other is from falling while carrying a rather large Maori soldier on my back during a drunken piggy back race. Therefore the thought of trudging up and down a steep incline for days on end concerns me more than a little.

Curious about what makes people (blokes especially) do seemingly silly things, I asked occasional blog poster and regular TP reader Robert L-W why he decided to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Robert did the climb with his sons, Sean and James, and nephew Justin.

He replied:

It really was just a different African experience, to go somewhere we’d never been before. (Robert, like me, is a hopeless Africa addict - TP).

It was important I do it with Sean & James – the father and sons thing. Not sure I would have done it without them, but I probably would have. Nephew Justin was a bonus – I mentioned it to him and he was very keen to go. It was a totally different experience for him (only been to the US and Bali before).

Plus, having turned 50 in November, I guess there’s a question as to whether you are physically capable of doing something like this. I’m getting old and falling apart. I injure myself more at the gym these days. So it was a challenge that I wanted to give myself, but with an African flavour.


I get all of that, particulary the bit about being old (I am not far behind Robert). I also plan on having a different African experience on my next trip to the dark continent - only mine involves drinks with umbrellas in them on a beach on an island in Mozambique's Bazaruto Archipelago rather than freezing my bollocks off on a mountain.

In Robert's email to me explaining why he wanted to climb Kilimajaro he also mentioned wanting to see the different eco zones the trek passed through, heading up from the savannah, through misty jungles, and then up to the really cold bit. Clearly, from the photos he took, he was also angling for some free books from me, which he got.


Robert pauses during his ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro to top up his adrenaline levels by reading the train scene in 'Ivory'



I have done lots of crazy/stupid things in my life that seemed quite normal to me. I have bungy jumped, parachuted (though that was mostly with the army, which has an incredible knack of taking the fun out of things), abseiled face-first off tall buildings and various other adrenaline-producing endeavours.

When I joined the army we had to do a psychological test and one of the questions was, 'when you are standing on top of a tall building do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to jump off?'. Naturally, I ticked 'yes' because I had often had those thoughts. After the test, I remember chatting to one of the other recruits and we were going on about how lame some of the questions were.

"Yeah," he laughed, "like anyone would be stupid enough to say they wanted to kill themself by jumping off a tall building."

Gulp. I sweated on that answer for the week it took for the army to get back to me and tell me, yes, I was crazy enough for them to take me. I thought, at one point, of writing a letter to the psychological testing deparment telling them I had reconsidered my answer, and that if jumping off a tall building meant dying then that clearly wasn't for me. Of course, I soon realised later (or perhaps my mother pointed out to me), that only a crazy 17-year-old would even consider writing to the army to tell them they were not crazy. It was all very Joseph Heller.

Anyway, I passed and, not surprisingly, a few years later I found myself at the Army Parachute Training School at Nowra where I proved to be a keen, though not very good, parachutist. I passed and was recommended for employment as a paratrooper (as opposed to being recommended for future promotion to 'stick commander' or 'parachute jump master'). It was the Army equivalent of 'very good, dear'.

But I loved parachuting, until I hurt my knees one too many times and generally got a bit older. The fun of flying around for an hour or two at low level, experiencng air-sickness inducing lurches, followed by the chaos of being pushed out the door of a hercules by 30 other adrenaline-charged traps behind you eventually lost its gloss. Like I said, the Army can take the fun out of anything.

So do we do these things for the moment? For the rush, rather than the reality? I don't imagine Robert particularly wants to get a job as a sherpa (or whatever the African equivalent is of climbing up and down a mountain every few days). I asked him if making it to the top fulfilled his expectations.

His reply:

Sh*t yeah. In hindsight, and without remembering the pain and discomfort, I’d do it again! It’s like childbirth! I probably won’t do it again, though, as I have other priorities. It was a huge physical and mental challenge, which I survived. Again, James & Sean were vital in this. We were the first three in our group up Mt Meru behind the guide, and we three overtook the guide to be the first three to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro. I had to show the boys that I was still up to it.


Right on.

Robert makes it to the top, in order to win a free book and prove he can do it

There are some things we all want to do before we die, just so we can satisfy our curiosity and craziness. I'm quite keen to try base jumping, although I have two reasonably valid excuses not to, namely: 1. It is illegal, and 2. From what I've seen of base jumpers I would have to get a mohawk and several piercings. I don't have enough hair for a mohawk and I wouldn't know what to pierce.

When I think about (legal) parachuting the things that turn me off doing it are the pain and the discomfort, and the fact that, well... I've done it, and don't need to ever do it again as long as I live (not for my army work, as I am quite deskbound in that respect, and not for sporting reasons because it wasn't that much fun).

But then just the other day Mrs Blog mentioned that her very young and fit personal trainer said he had never been parachuting and was keen to try it. "I'll take him," was my instinctive reply.

"Not you will not!" the small but vocal Mrs B said.

Which just made me want to do it all the more.

What about you, Legion of Fans? Do you have a mountain, literal or metaphorical, you have or would like to climb, or some other adrenaline-inducing (ie stupid) pursuit you have or would like to do?

11 comments :

Trin said...

Not being an adrenaline junkie - and a bit of a wuss - my list of things I must do before I croak are fairly tame. Told Big Bro last year there were three definites on my list before I visited the man in the sky (hopefully). One - Machu Picchu, two - Egypt and three - Africa - not in any particular order. So Big Bro is coming to the party for Machu Picchu, which will be taking place in 49 sleeps - along with the Mother Land (England - not visited since I mnigrated in '69) and a few other stops (Buenos Aires, Chile and Singapore) - thanks, Qantas FF (and isn't it FUN to try and book flights that way?!?). Having said I am not an adrenaline junkie, I have a MASSIVE fear of heights (can't even go up to the first level of a fire lookout - so I think I will be facing my fears in Chile and Peru. Have done the Great Ocean Road here in Victoria a couple of times and have to lay down on the back seat of the car so I cant see where we will obviously leave the safety of the road and careen off the cliff and into the sea. Not to mention when I pushed the boundaries and said I would drive (In an effort to overcome my totally illogical fears) and stopped on a BLIND bend and made my brother get out of the car and come around to the drivers side so I could just slide across the console without getting out of the car, as I surely would have jumped if I had have got out. - ha ha, the holiday will be good therapy.

ali g said...

Been looking out the front window more and more lately gazing at 'Bald Mountain' away in the distance thinking soon as fit will climb the bastard again. Slowly getting there. Have had several walks to base camp over the past few weeks and as soon as I lose another 10 kilos will be off with a copy of 'Delta' and mobile phone so can ring your mom and have her look through the telescope at me reading and blowing her kisses.
It's not quite Kilamanjaro but if you factor my age into the equation 300 metres aint too bad a climb for an old goat.
Well it is 16klms there and back too so no snickering please...

Great comment Trin..would love to do the Great Ocean Road one day as well. Your other plans look like great fun as well
>^..^<

Flea said...

When I was in my 20's I had neighbours who owned a Drilling company called Kilimanjaro Drilling. Then the bug bit me and it became one of my "have to's" but how and when and if ever is still a mystery.

Later years I read FFyone Campbell's book of how she walked around the world and again I thought I want a challenge like that, it's a mental and physical challenge, probably quite personal just to proof to yourself you can do it.

I loved Jesse Martin's book Lionheart; Joe Simpson's Touching the Void; Catharine Hartley's To the Poles without a Beard and even something a local as an Aussie mum Kelly Denley's Almost Perfect I enjoyed.

It's the "I can do it too" mentality I think, the challenge, competitive nature in a person that drives you.

At the moment I think I'll try Bluff Knoll in WA and the Biblimun track for starters.

Trin said...

16KMS for an old goat isn't bad going, so no snickering from this quarter..maa-aaa-aa..and you should do the GOR - some amazing scenery and spots to stop and stay - very varied topography too. And the road is not bad at all - it's just me - and could I tell you some more stories on the irrational fear and the fun others have had at my expense whilst in that neck of the woods. I am sure tourists have gone home with some great tales of this woman who......
PS: How much do you weigh if you have to lose ANOTHER 10 kilos?

Flea - where are the places you mentioned and what is notable about them, ie Bluff Knoll and Biblimum??

RobertLW said...

Gee, thanks TP for spreading my age across the internet! Actually, ladies, I'm only 35 years old, with the body of a 25 year old, the stamina of a 17 year old ... and the sense of humour of a 14 year old.

Trin, if you ever get to Egypt, your fear of heights will be radidly replaced by a pathological fear of Egyptian toilets.

dozycow said...

Although I couldn't imagine ever summoning the courage to jump out of an aeroplane I do love aerobatics (as a passeneger of course).
My greatest dreams have been to travel to Africa, learn to fly a helicopter & own my own horse - the helicopter license is financially unobtainable & I have nowhere to keep a horse........
That leaves one childhood dream to be achieved - AFRICA.

I'm with you Trin in having a fear of heights too & am not comfortable on cliff edge roads either. Your trip sounds wonderful - have fun & don't forget to take plenty of pics !

PS: Looking forward to The Delta launch on the 24th Tony.
Cheers

dozycow said...

Although I couldn't imagine ever summoning the courage to jump out of an aeroplane I do love aerobatics (as a passeneger of course).
My greatest dreams have been to travel to Africa, learn to fly a helicopter & own my own horse - the helicopter license is financially unobtainable & I have nowhere to keep a horse........
That leaves one childhood dream to be achieved - AFRICA.

I'm with you Trin in having a fear of heights too & am not comfortable on cliff edge roads either. Your trip sounds wonderful - have fun & don't forget to take plenty of pics !

PS: Looking forward to The Delta launch on the 24th Tony.
Cheers

Trin said...

ha ha dozy - having problems with your password too?? The amoun tof times I've had to rewrite a comment - duh - must be the blonde coming out.

Looking forward to the dunnies in Egypt RLW!! Will that be fear of slipping down a black hole?? I know nothing of what you speak.

Oh, and even though I have a fear of heights, I think I could actually have a go at sky diving - providing I was strapped on to some strapping bloke and was pushed from the plane. Once out I reckon I would enjoy the experience. But NOT bungy jumping. I'd wet myself on the way up to the launch pad or whatever you call it.

Looking forward to August TP

ali g said...

Trin ...was 104kgs
7 weeks ago..now 97..target 87.
no booze for 7 weeks..hands are a'shakin and got a twitch in the eye....

Trin said...

Excellent ALi G. Keep up the good work. Tough giving up the grog....My fitness regime starts next week. Have a crook back so have to get in some serious walking training (that's about all I'm good for at the moment) and probably a bit of stairs work. And maybe EAAAAAAAASE up a little on the grog.
PS
Is anyone else getting the little box with a cross in it and "visual verification"instead of the word for verification showing until you put the rest of your password in and then you have to do it again?

Tammie said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog Tony as have often wondered why we humble homo sapiens - though not all of us - choose to do mad stuff, the the great stress of our families often... I reckon it's cos we need to be reminded every so often that we are alive. Not just running through the motions of daily life, paying the bills, caught in traffic... but really fully living, oxygen-appreciating human beings. Nothing like walking up to a fresh lion kill to give you that buzz (though would not recommend this - and not planning ever to do it again - it did get me feeling alive in the most alive possible way!!). Tammie