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Running to the Roof of Peru

Interview with NBN a few days before the run

A few days before the trip

I’m sitting here just 2 days before we begin our expedition in an effort to run up El Misti, a 5800-meter volcano in Southern Peru. Feelings of nervousness, excitement and fear are beginning to swirl around my body and mind. Soon we will be at the base camp of El Misti to prepare for the run. We will camp there for 3 days and 2 nights and each day we will try to slowly ascend and descend the volcano, hopefully reaching the summit.

After this brief acclimatization period, we will return, drop off our camping gear, have a quick sleep, put on our running gear and head out to attempt to run up the volcano.

Being honest, I’ve been preparing for this for over 6 months and during that time I’ve had little success reaching summits over 5000 meters. I tend to get altitude sickness easily and intensely. I do have confidence in our acclimatisation plan but I have to say I am certainly going into this without much certainty of reaching the summit. But, maybe that’s a good thing. I mean if I do reach the summit I would be ecstatic with feelings of achievement and relief but if I don’t I will know that I literally did everything I could do to give myself the best chance of success.

What really happened

Whilst Billy and I were hiking and camping up the volcano to acclimatise, Billy had serious problems with his asthma. He could barely breathe and could only walk at a very slow pace. On our second night at the base camp, he decided not to do the run. Although I was sad he couldn’t join me on this adventure, I was glad he put his health above everything else.

Camping at basecamp for altitude training. (Thanks to Radix Nutrition for providing us with food for the adventure)

When we got back from 3 days of hiking and camping up the volcano, I was exhausted. We ate a big burger then went straight back to our apartment so I could get a few hours of rest. I slept for about 6 hours then put on my running gear and got the 11 pm bus to the start of the race. The race started at 3:30 am the next day and as I sat in the bus freezing my butt off, the adrenaline started to kick in and my fiery passion and determination to do this thing was ignited. I joined the rest of the runners, shaking from the cold and adjusting my headlamp for the first few hours running in the dark.

As we took off I set a decent pace and followed the strange bobbing lights of the runners ahead of me. After a few hours, the sun started to come out and I saw the vast desert around me that I had been running through. I ran and walked and ran again, up and down the steep desert slopes and as the summit of the volcano came to sight, I was already tired.

At basecamp before the push to the summit

As you can probably tell, I was very nervous about the whole thing and had my doubts about summitting. Nevertheless, I started climbing to the summit. One step at a time. The false summits trick you and after a while your mind gets fuzzy and I was just looking at my feet, in a haze. ‘One step at a time’ was my mantra. I tried not to think about the summit anymore.

On the slopes a few hours from the summit before the altitude sickness

Then, as I was about 1.5 hours from the summit, I started to get altitude sickness. It wasn’t severe but I sat in the dirt for about 10 minutes contemplating whether or not I could do it. Should I just give up? I had tried so hard, people would understand. All of these excuses started convincing me that I should pack it in and call it a day. Then suddenly, something clicked in my mind, I remembered why I was doing this and what I stood for, I stood up on my jelly legs, took a swig of Gatorade, 2 altitude sickness pills and I went for the summit as fast as I possibly could, in the hopes that the altitude sickness wouldn’t stop me. After 2 very painful hours, I stood on top of that summit with tears in my eyes and the biggest smile on my face. I had finally done it. I had been imagining this moment for 6 months, training every day and now I was here. I looked out at that inexplicable view of the Andes mountains in awe with the comforting thought that all of the pain and work was worth it. I had been low, very low and somehow found a way to keep going.

At the summit of El Misti

After my little moment on the summit, I started running down the volcano, and after 13 hours I was at the finish line, extremely tired but happy.

Why did I want to do this?

I remember promising myself when I was younger to never stop dreaming. To never tell myself that I couldn’t do something. To make my life like a magnificent art piece. Running up a 6000-meter volcano sounded absolutely insane, impossible and excruciatingly difficult. But the best part is the thought of “Yes, it would be extremely difficult, it’s seemingly impossible, but, what if I could do it?”. What if after months of preparation and planning, I stood on that summit with my arms wide and the world below me, knowing that I just completed something I previously thought would have been impossible. What would that feel like?

Now I can answer that question. You feel infinite.

Charity and mental health

There are always two sides to our adventures. We like to push our minds and bodies to see just how far we can go and to show people that you can make your life truly spectacular and you don’t have to be rich and famous to do so, you just need to have a little courage and the willingness to keep going when things get painful.

But we also use these adventures to try and raise awareness and funds for causes that we care about. This year we decided to support the charity Headspace. I have previously used Headspace to get psychological help in a rough period in my life and they helped me get back on my feet.

Headspace supports young people with mental health issues and provides them with multiple services for them to build their life back up and have a solid support system to rely on. Before deciding to support Headspace I did some research and one of the facts that stood out to me the most was that suicide is now one of the biggest causes of death for young Australians. This fact shocked me. I knew mental health problems were rising rapidly in Australia but I didn’t think that many people actually got to the point where they took their own lives. To me, this fact (and others) seemed outrageous and it was clear that shedding light, awareness and helping raise funds for this issue was a worthwhile cause. You can visit the mental health section of this website for tips and advice on how to improve your mental health or the featured stories section to read about other people’s experiences with mental health.

I hope that by opening up about the fact that I have suffered from general anxiety, depression and panic attacks throughout most of my life but still manage to be able to run up volcanoes will break down some stigma around mental health. I think, especially for men, there is a stigma that opening up, talking about mental health and seeking help, makes you weak. I am living proof that it does not. In fact, I believe it has the opposite effect.

Donate here to help support Headspace and the amazing work they do.

Video showing part of the journey to the summit
News article about the adventure and our background
Radix have been very supportive of us and this adventure and even provided us with athletes food.

What to do if you have problems sleeping

In our crazy, weird, modern world, a lack of sleep or bad quality sleep has become a lot more common. For some people, this can seem like an insurmountable problem. You may toss and turn for hours and feel hopeless about getting any sleep for the third day in a row. Or maybe you just have the occasional trouble with sleep. Either way, sleep seriously affects your mental and physical well-being so it is important to get it right.

Get into the right mindset

No matter how difficult your sleeping issues are, you are not going to die from it. If you really have problems, go to the doctor and even if you have problems after that, other steps may be taken but, basically, you are going to be okay no matter what.

Instil this fact into your mind. You are going to be okay no matter how bad your sleeping problem. Often our minds get caught in cyclical traps. We get worried that we’re worrying and then worry more because we’re worrying about worrying. Know that even if you don’t sleep you will be okay. So you might as well relax, right?

Focus on your routine

Make sure you are going to bed at the same time each day. Set alarms on your phone and promise yourself that you will go to bed at that time even if you have more work you ‘should do’. Wake up at the same time too. This will help your body to know when it is time to relax and get ready for sleep.

Work on and develop your daily routine too. Everyone has their own preferences but having a form of exercise and time to relax is important in every routine.

Exercise during the day

Exercise exhausts your body so that it will be more ready to sleep. Try to exercise everyday with at least 4 of those days being strenuous exercise. You should be sweating during the strenuous exercise by doing things like jogging, cycling, weights, dancing, soccer etc.

Meditate

Meditation has become more widely popular recently and for good reason. It has been proven to have a range of benefits. One of those includes improving the quality of your sleep.

You can use guided meditation, apps or a simple timer. All you need to do is find a focal point (most commonly breathing) and observe it. This helps your mind to calm down and it teaches you to let thoughts go rather than hold on to them or chase them around in your head.

Listen to white noise or relaxing music

Having something to drown out all other noises such as white noise or music can help your mind to unwind and reduce the time you spend tossing and turning. Putting on a fan or heater can be effective. There are also applications you can get for your phone which will play rain, wind or ambient musical sounds.

Goto a therapist or psychologist

The problems you have with sleeping may not be simple or easy to fix. It may be more to do with your mental health or a situation in your life. In that case, it is important to investigate further so you can find and tackle the root of the problem. Seeing a doctor (therapist, psychologist) is the best way to do this.

8 ways to help calm your social anxiety.

What if, every day you are talking with people who either have some form of social anxiety or have been through it but they are too scared to talk about it. And since no one talks about it, you don’t talk about it and so the cycle continues. But what if you were the one who broke that cycle?

I hope that by the time you finish this article you will either be more educated (therefore more able to help others) or feel more comfortable with the idea of struggling with social anxiety and begin taking the steps to alleviate it. But first, let’s define social anxiety so you can understand where it fits in your life.

Social anxiety can be defined as consistent and persistent nervousness in social situations and interactions. If you feel consistently and intensely emotionally uncomfortable in a variety of social situations then it may be something worth investigating.  These situations may include; Meeting new people, talking with friends or being in a group setting.

The trouble with social anxiety is that left untreated or unnoticed it can get worse and negatively affect your relationships, work and/or study, family life and your overall well-being. 

Now that you understand a little more about what social anxiety is, let’s talk about ways you can help alleviate it. 

Here are 8 ways you can help calm your social anxiety:

  1. Seek help from a psychologist/counsellor (it may be advisable to see a doctor who will refer you to these professionals).
  2. Tell someone about what you are going through. You may find that if you are more open about your social anxiety, it will help you start to accept it.
  3. Exercise consistently. Regular exercise has been proven to improve and regulate mood and it will help you gain confidence in social situations. 
  4. Try meditation. There are some great apps that make meditation simple and easy. It is not all hippie-dippie. Meditation has been proven scientifically, to have a substantial positive effect on your ability to stay calm and emotionally stable.
  5. Listen to others. By focusing on listening to others you will be able to stay out of your head and less concerned with your own insecurities during the situation (coupled with mindfulness learnt from meditating, this can be a powerful technique).
  6. Continue developing and participating in your current relationships. This will ensure that your social anxiety does not get worse. This step will require courage and persistence but it is probably the most important step because otherwise, things may get worse.
  7. Learn a new skill. Take a dance class, learn martial arts, go to painting or language classes. Learning new skills expands your comfort zone, confidence and exposes you to new social environments without putting pressure on the need to socialize. This allows you to socialize with others at your own pace. 
  8. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Maybe when you are in social situations and you start to feel anxious you think that no one ever feels like this and that you’re a weirdo and everyone will judge you. But generally, people will either be understanding of your feelings or they will forget all about it in 10 minutes. It’s not as serious or catastrophic as you think to be a little awkward or timid.

With a combination of understanding what social anxiety is and putting the strategies, techniques and ideas from this article into practice, you can start to calm your social anxiety and help others to do the same. 

5 best ways to improve your sleep

Consider the fact that, if you have never tried to fix your bad sleeping habits and patterns than the repercussions of implementing just a few of these techniques could be significantly helpful.

Sleep enough hours

This is possibly the most arguable and difficult point. It is true that some people are happy and healthy sleeping just 6 hours or less per night. Although, for the majority of people, you need to sleep between 7 and 9 hours and for younger people (teenagers and children) they need more.

Now, you may have the question ‘how do I know the optimum number of hours I need to sleep?’. Good question. My answer is to take it day-by-day. Be mindful of your energy levels throughout the day. If you feel sluggish after 6-7 hours of sleep then try to sleep 1 more hour that night and then see how you feel the next day. Using this process, you can find your optimum number of sleeping hours.

Create a peaceful sleeping environment

Make your entire bedroom look and feel, like it should. Your place of rest and relaxation. Always assure that your bedroom is clean, tidy and preferably minimalist. In a way, you could think about your room as a reflection of your mind. When your mind is busy it is cloudy, messy and bogged down in complications and details. When your room is untidy it will reflect this and make your mind feel agitated. Get all the things off your floor, cut down on the number of things you own, make your bed every day, get a nightlight, keep it tidy.

Tip – It is also important that you only use your room for sleeping and relaxing. If you work in your room (even just homework) you will associate your room with stress and work and it will make it harder for you to fall sleep.

Sleep consistently

Maybe you have heard this before (your mum) but sleeping at the same time every night is very important. Everyone has a biological clock and it is not as flexible as you might want it to be. It can take over 1 week for your body to adjust to a new sleep schedule. If you don’t have a sleep schedule, your mental and physical well-being will be noticeably affected. So, make a sleep schedule that works for you and stick to it.

Have a ‘before-bedtime’ routine

It is common to only think about the physical/scientific aspect of getting good sleep but it is just as important to think about your mind. After a busy day doing whatever it is that you do, your mind is probably still wound up thinking about work or about tomorrow. Like dust falling to the ground, your mind needs time to settle down. Here are a few ideas you can try to help relax that busy mind of yours.

  • Meditate for 10-15 minutes
  • Do yoga
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Read for 30 minutes
  • Draw or colour in (use a mindfulness colour book)
  • Write in a journal

Tip – As you will notice, all of these activities don’t involve using an electronic device. Using screens such as watching videos on your phone can make your brain think it is still daytime (from the light emitted from your device).

Don’t drink caffeine after lunch

Try not to drink caffeine at least 6 hours before you go to sleep. Caffeine has been proven to affect not only the quantity but also the quality of your sleep, as it can disrupt your important deep sleep time.

Iquitos, Peru – 3 days in the jungle

Fireflies dot the jungle, painting the trees with stars. Howling monkeys chant in the distance and the jungle forms a sonic landscape of strange and wonderful sounds. Down, below the mysterious surface of the water, lurks piranhas, caimans and pink dolphins. At about 700,000 sq. km, containing over 50 per cent of the worlds rainforest and some of the weirdest and rarest flora and fauna on the planet, it remains one of the most unexplored and understudied regions of the world. Welcome to the Amazon jungle surrounding Iquitos, Peru

Day 1 – Buenos Aires of the amazon

Boat ride

After travelling on a Peruvian tuk-tuk from Iquitos, we arrived at the edge of the infamous amazon river. We loaded up our little riverboat with supplies and began motoring along on the amazon river. As if the river was a vein providing life, I watched attentively as we saw locals living by the riverside in small, delicately hand-crafted villages.

However, what surprised me most was the sheer size and width of the amazon river. I learned that during the wet season, the river can reach 190 kilometres in width!

As we went deeper into the jungle it got so thick, it was like a wall, only penetrable on foot, with a machete. Now, it doesn’t surprise me that the amazon has been left largely unexplored.

As we got close to our destination we saw pink dolphins swimming near our boat and toucans flying over the ever-increasing vast jungle. It felt like a scene out of a movie.

Sleeping in a local village

Our first night was in a small local village by the riverside called ‘Buenos Aires’. We wandered around the village and we’re lucky enough to see a local soccer game and chat with the locals. Always with big smiles on their faces and a sense of warmth. I quickly grew fond of the people in Buenos Aires.

Buenas Aires of the amazon surrounding, Iquitos, Peru

Walking through the Peruvian amazon at night

As night fell, the sounds of the animals grew louder and the trees sprung with reinvigorated life. Fireflies blend with the starry sky, only separable by their distinctive orange colour and flashing. Along our walk, we observed a bullet ant. Consequently, it has one of the most painful stings of any insect and is appropriately named because people say it feels like being shot. For the Satere-Mawe tribe, the bullet ants act as a ritual. In fact, when a boy becomes a man he must suffer the sting of the bullet ant for 10 minutes with his hands in a glove full of them. And these ants were all around us, crawling around our feet (lucky we had gumboots).

Bullet ant

Day 2 – Camping in the jungle of Iquitos Peru

An average morning in the jungle

First, woken by a traditional amazonian breakfast of rice, chicken and jungle spaghetti we were ready for another day in the amazon. We took a swim in the morning and played with the local kids.

Then, we jumped in our boat and travelled further into the jungle. From now on, there were no more villages. Just us and the animals.

I have to say some of my favourite moments from this trip was just sitting on the top of the boat, with my hands stretched out, feet in the water and my mind and soul enveloped and opened by this strange, magnificent place. Watching toucans fly over you, monkeys playing in the trees, pink dolphins gliding past and sloths lounging around on tree branches, certainly makes you feel apart of this place.

We arrived at our camp for the night (unknown place in the rainforest). We set up our tents and headed off for a hike through the jungle with our tour guide and his trusty machete bearing, jungle wielding friend.

The walking palm

Our tour guide explained to us how all the different plants work and their names, but the thing I remember most is the ‘walking palm’. Basically, when the tree is shaded by other trees or the soil isn’t rich enough the walking palm slowly creates new trunks and the other roots slowly erode. Allowing it (notably extremely slowly) to move up to 20 meters in its lifetime.

The 'walking palm'
Walking through the jungle with the sun melting through.

Sleeping in the jungle

After eating dinner on the boat and chatting to our tour guide we rested our curious heads in our tents. With nothing more than a tarp and a mosquito net, we could hear the amazon breathing with life. Every stick break, monkey swing, snake slither. At one point, I heard a loud, animalistic scream and upon waking, my tour guide told me it was an anaconda attacking its prey. I still don’t know if it was true or if he was joking…

Day 3 – Saying ‘adios’ to the locals

After our peaceful, animal soundtracked night we headed out early on the canoe to fish for piranhas. Just casually, you know…fishing for piranhas.

We found a quiet spot and using a stick with a little line on it and some chicken we started fishing. Pretty quickly our tour guide caught a piranha and then everyone starting catching them. It wasn’t very difficult. I guess they’re pretty vicious. They’re very tough though, it was hard to kill them even with a knife. Apparently, they’re not too dangerous unless you have a cut or some blood on you. They’re still scary though especially considering that we were in a tiny, handmade, wooden canoe.

The piranha that I caught

Unfortunately, this was our last day. We travelled back to the village of Buenos Aires (from the first night). I bought some beer from the local (and only) shop and shared it with the locals. It was fascinating chatting with them about their life. They told me they are very content with what they have and the jungle provides them with everything they need. They did, however, express interest in learning English so there children could have more opportunities (perhaps I will come back).

I was sad to leave this place and these people. In only 3 days, it has taken a piece of my heart and captured my curiosity like nothing has before. With many mysteries to uncover, unexplored places to go and strange animals to see, the jungle surrounding Iquitos, Peru will be seeing me again.

Local village in Buenos Aires, Iquitos, Peru.

Treacherous Seas – Sailing from Sydney to the Central Coast

Maybe this sounds a little dramatic but this adventure was the one that really helped me find my inner strength, it changed me, it shook my soul like nothing ever had before.

To give some context, my dad had been fixing a yacht in Sydney for about 1 year and when the yacht was seaworthy he needed to sail it back home (Central Coast). So he invited his friend Alan, myself and my mum along as the boat crew. The trip would take about 2 days.

I was excited! But at the time, I was a complete mess. My girlfriend and I of three and a half years who I met when I was 16, had broken up with me only a few weeks before and 2 days before we were leaving for the yacht trip this ex-girlfriend called me and told me that she was in a relationship with another guy.

I never thought it was true that heartbreak could give you physical pain but I felt it then. I felt like I was broken and I didn’t know where or how to find the pieces to put myself back together. But that all changed.


DAY 1

The first day was full of excitement. As we sailed out through Sydney harbour we entered the great, expansive open ocean. We were soon sailing on ocean waters, it was calm and tranquil. We were all having a great time chatting and relaxing. There is something transcendentally and oddly calming about the ocean. When you are so far out at sea that the only thing you can see is the distant shore miles away, it makes you feel safe and in these moments I forgot about all the problems that awaited me back home. It was just me, our trusty vessel and the infinite possibilities that lie out there, in the vast expanse of the open ocean.

But I will admit, beyond my poetic romanticism of the ocean, after some time passes, you do get a little bored. So I spent a lot of time just staring out at the ocean looking for some wildlife or something other than blue water. And as it turns out, the ocean is teeming with life. I remember seeing a flying fish. It flew out of the water, spread its weird little wings and glided across the sea for at least 30 seconds. It was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen. For a moment, I thought I was either in the movie Avatar or I had gone crazy (we were definitely in the movie Avatar).

We also saw seals swimming near our boat and to my surprise, we witnessed one of the most majestic performances by the biggest animal on this planet. A whale breaching. First, we saw it’s gigantic tail in the distance, then the water flying out from its spout and then it jumped, danced and played for us. When you see its entire body out of the water, it shocks you. They are so inexplicably gigantic it will make your jaw drop in awe. Majestic, beautiful, graceful but at the same time impossibly powerful.

After this incredible but exhausting day, we moored the boat at a nearby dock, had a few drinks and tried to sleep. ‘Tried’ is the keyword here…

Real footage from Day 1 (On my shakey phone)

DAY 2

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from Day 2, you will soon find out why.

The day did not start off too well. As soon as we peeped our tired little heads out of the cabin we could see that the weather was not in our favour.

As the day went on, the weather, like a persistent enemy, just kept attacking us. Soon it started raining, then it started pouring, then the waves formed into never-ending rolling giants and the boat was tossed around like a ragdoll. They were horrendous conditions and we were so far out at sea that we couldn’t see the slightest sliver of land.

If you haven’t experienced conditions like this, it may be hard to comprehend how it feels. But maybe I can draw a sketch of it in your mind using carefully crafted words. The relentless rain pelts down on you, bucketing, you are freezing to your very core, bones shaking. Seasickness overwhelms you as you constantly vomit and there is no escape (if you go down to the cabin it gets worse). The monstrous waves taunt you and throw the boat up and down, continuously, without end.

Now maybe for the first hour or so I still had my sense of adventure to lighten the mood…

But this went on for hours on end. With no relief. I remember sitting on the side of the boat, with my hands spread wide holding both sides of the railing with my head tilted down so I could vomit straight into the sea. But the part that challenged me the most wasn’t the storm, it was my inner world. My mind, thoughts and emotions. They were more monstrous than the waves, more persistent than the rain and felt more awful than seasickness. My heart was a twisted mess, my mind scattered like the wind. I was so angry. Angry that someone had hurt me so badly. Angry that she moved on so quickly. Angry that I couldn’t get over it. Angry that I was angry about this. Anger is a powerful emotion, it rages like a storm inside of you. These recurring thoughts tortured me…for hours and hours.

But then, I had a thought. If I could endure this amount of pain both physically and mentally, for this long, then what couldn’t I do? This thought instantly changed my mood, I saw myself as a warrior fighting in battle to regain his true self, not a victim.

Then, I saw myself as if from a distance, a man sitting on a yacht, far out at sea, in a storm, freezing, sick and heartbroken but still with the willingness to endure. Then I saw my entire life from a distance all I had been through and you know what… I was proud of that man because he was still there, doing his best, enduring, persisting, despite the pain. But this persistence wasn’t just gorilla toughness for the sake of it. There was something beyond the suffering that required me to persist and I had to find out what it was and why.

This subtle shift in my mentality changed everything for me. This was about a year ago now and since then, I have used this mentality to accomplish things I have always dreamed of. I have seen things I could never imagine, moved halfway around the world, met people I will never forget, done things I never thought I could do and continued to push my body and soul to their limits. I have changed for the better and I have gotten closer to that person you imagine yourself being when you are 10 years old. In a strange way, that 10-year-old version of me was very wise because he always knew who I wanted to become and not what I thought society needed me to obtain. He could look beyond it all and imagine with limitless bounds.

In the end, we got home safely after enduring the storm for about 6 hours. The trip was over, the rain had passed, the storm had calmed down and the waves had settled but the lessons I learnt from being forced to sit with my own mind when it was bombarded with immense pain (both physically and mentally) for hours on end, will stay with me and give me strength, forever.

“My life amounts to nothing more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

– David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas