First of all, I’d like to really apologise for getting a little behind on my blogging, ok, maybe a lot behind… But it’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, so please bear with me. To be honest, I’ve started writing this blog entry probably ten times now, but its always been at a train station or a bus stop or something, and I always seem to be interrupted before I can get anything meaningful out of my head and onto my laptop. But this time, it’s going to happen.
Lets see, that little teaser post aside, I haven’t posted since I got back from Byron Bay. Well, let me tell you that A LOT has happened since then! In chronological order: I spent a week with Toby at his house in Armidale, took an exam, flew to Tasmania, submitted a paper from a campground, spent 2 nights backpacking in the snow, barely made it back to Brisbane between volcanic ash clouds, took two more exams, flew to New York, got finger printed and drug tested (don’t worry – I passed both) in preparation for my summer internship, which started two days later. That Friday, I flew down to Dallas after work, and drove back up to New York in time to unpack my car into my apartment. After working all week, I spent the weekend in Boston, driving both ways. It’s been a little hectic to say the least. But now that things are starting to slow down, ever so slightly, I decided I had better update y’all!
I guess where I left off would be a good place to pick up. To make all this more digestible, I’ll try to split all this catching up into a few blog entries. I’ll cover my trip to Toby’s house in this one. The week following my return from Byron was pretty uneventful, although it was my last week of classes, which made me a little sad, because I started to realise just how little time I had left in Oz. The highlight of the week was definitely the Faculty of Business Economics and Law’s study abroad departure meeting. Not only did we get nifty polo shirts and free Aussie food, but the school also hired a critterman to entertain us with all kind of strange Aussie fauna. Although the wombat was pretty funny, I think my favourite was probably the blonde possum. Isn’t it so cute?
I also realised that I really couldn’t leave Oz without attending at least one rugby game, and time was getting short, so I decided to watch the Queensland Reds play a game at Suncorp Stadium. I’ll admit that I didn’t completely understand what was going on, but the penalties were hilarious. I think my favourite was “failing to remain on feet”. I kept thinking “What do you expect? Did you see the size of the guy that just ran into him?? He was THROWN off his feet!”. A few of those gems are below:
I also found a YouTube video of the game, if you’re curious. Its the highlights reel of two games that season. The game I watched is the second one and starts halfway through. Among the highlights of the highlights were a few improbably tries (touchdowns) and, unfortunately, a pretty serious knockout.
The rest of the week was pretty tame as I just tried to prepare for my various exams and papers and the like before I caught a bus down to Armidale to meet up with Toby. Brisbane to Armidale is roughly seven hours, and it’s an overnight bus. But, I was determined to stay awake so that I could make a speedy exit when the bus got to my stop, to save everyone else from waiting (I was the only one getting off there). Great idea, terrible execution. Despite my best efforts, I ended up falling asleep probably 10 minutes before my stop, and didn’t wake up until the bus pulled over on the side of the road. In my sleepy state, I managed to leave both my favourite hat and my headphones on the bus, and didn’t realise it until it was too late. It’s a little sad, but I miss that $5 hat more than my noise cancelling headphones. That was the hat I ran the Boston Marathon in, and it has hours of sweat equity in it from working at my farm in Texas. So if anybody happens to see a greasy, beat up, red Tractor Supply Company hat on a Greyhound bus in Australia, you know who to call. I really would like it back…
Actually, that’s not wholly true. At the risk of getting a little too philosophical about something that really doesn’t deserve so much thought, I guess its kind of fitting that the hat left with such a cool story. I mean as far as hat-stories go, its hard to beat being left on an overnight bus in a country halfway around the world. I mean, if I hadn’t lost it, it would have probably ended up on a shelf collecting dust somewhere, too sentimental to throw away or to continue to use.
The next morning, after arriving in Armidale, I had to earn my keep. After a brekkie of Vegemite on toast (I hate to admit it, but its been growing on me…) we had to shift some cattle around. Did I mention that Toby’s Scottish Highland Cattle are some of the cutest cattle that I’ve seen in a while? How could you not love that face?
After we moved ‘em all around, Toby and I decided to go rock climbing. If you’ve read my other entries, you know that Toby and I have climbed before, but never quite like this. Let me explain, when we got to the rock face, that’s all there was — a rock face. There were no safety anchors; there were no other people; there wasn’t even a trail. But, fortunately, it wasn’t particularly steep, and I had (and still have) a great amount of trust in Toby’s ability to keep us both alive. As the better climber, he led the way, setting pieces of safety protection along the way. When we ran out of rope, he found a nice little ledge, about halfway up, anchored himself in, and then I climbed up the way he had, removing the protection as I went.
When I reached his little perch, we both got re-situated, and repeated the process of him climbing while I half sat there, half hung in my harness, belaying him. Once he got to the top, I again climbed his route, cleaning the gear out along the way. As I neared the top, I grabbed a large piece of granite and discovered something very interesting. It was loose! I had enough strength to hold it in place until I was sure that Toby and I were both out of the way. I yelled “ROCK!”, and let it go. I watched in horror as this rock, which probably weighed a good 40 pounds, tumbled down the face, tearing through both places where I had been belaying Toby from minutes earlier. If Toby had knocked that rock loose, I don’t want to think what have might happened to me. But I guess climbing is like anything else in life. You recognise the risks, take the appropriate precautions (we were both wearing helmets and had good equipment), and then go out and live your life. We got back to Toby’s house a few minutes after dark, just in time for a fantastic dinner, courtesy of Toby’s mom.
The next morning, we got up early to do a little more farm work. I found out that the reason we had moved the cattle the day before was because Aragon, Toby’s bull, had been sold, and needed to be separated out so that he could be loaded onto a truck. Fortunately for Aragon, he’s more valuable as a stud bull than as hamburger…
After packing some lunches, Toby broke out one of his climbing books, handed it to me, and said something like “how about that one?” and pointed to a climb called “Flight of the Bumbly”. According to the guidebook, it’s just shy of 150 feet long. If you’re curious, you can read the actual guidebook here.
When we got there, I realised that 150 feet is a lot higher than it sounds. Because there wasn’t any easy access to the bottom, we decided the best way to attack the climb was by top-roping it. Basically, Toby built a really bomber anchor using the two existing bolts, a tree, a cam, and a giant hexcentric (basically a big metal chock) and then descended down the rope. The interesting thing was that he wasn’t positive that his rope was long enough to reach the bottom, so for safety, he tied the end of it into his harness. That way, no matter what, he wouldn’t slide off the end. As he descended, he disappeared through the trees and I lost sight of him. But eventually, the rope went loose, which meant he was probably on the ground. Interestingly, I discovered that I couldn’t understand what he was saying (the echoes were too bad) from where I was, so we basically had to do everything by feel. It was kind of scary, but a very neat experience. Once I had readjusted the ropes to put Toby on belay, I tightened up the rope, so he knew I had him and that he could start climbing. As the day progressed, I could keep track of Toby’s progress by how often the rope went slack. I couldn’t see him, but the more slack there was, the faster he was climbing. Then, all of the sudden, it went really tight, and stayed that way. After about 10 minutes with no progress, I started to worry if something bad had happened. I was actually starting to tie him off so I could go get help when I noticed that the rope had gone slack again! Within short order, Toby was back on the ledge and I decided to take a crack at the climb. Partly because it was getting dark, and partly because I am a much inferior climber, I only went down half way before climbing back up. Good thing too, because I still didn’t finish until it was well into dusk.
The climb starts on the face behind Toby
By the way, as it turned out, the reason why the rope went so tight was because Toby had climbed up under an overhang, and then slipped off the face, which left him hanging in mid air by the rope, unable to reach the bottom, the top, or the wall of the cliff. With only one option, he pulled out two prussic cords (little cords that, when used with a special knot, grip the rope), and more or less shrimped his way up the rope until he was back on the rock face. Ascending ropes isn’t pretty, but that doesn’t make it any less of a necessary skill. At any rate, after another home cooked meal, Toby and I retired to our rooms for some well needed rest…
The next day (and my last full day in Armidale) was a little more relaxed than the previous ones. Toby and I spent some time puttering around his far on a quad bike (or 4-wheeler, depending on where you’re from), before meeting one of his friends in town for coffee and a meat pie (I went for the steak and kidney…). By the way, did I mention that Toby is also a volunteer fire-fighter? The more I get to know this kid, the more respect I have for him. Anyway, he must have figured out that I liked trucks, because he took me by the fire department’s garage so I could play around on the fire trucks. I’m nearly 22 years old now, and I still like playing with fire trucks…
As my time in Armidale, and indeed Australia, was wrapping up, Toby decided he had one more adventure up his sleeve for me: mountain biking on a trail that he had made. Toby comes for a family of mountain bikers, so I got to ride his father’s bike. I don’t know a lot about bikes, but I know enough to know that this one was nice: extra-fat tires, clip in pedals, hydraulic disc brakes, carbon fibre frame, dual suspension, and the list went on. I was afraid to crash… not because I might get injured, but because IT might get injured. Fortunately, we both came out unscathed (barely – it was my first foray into clip pedals – through a forest, at dusk, no less) and it was a great end to my stay in Armidale. The next morning, we all got up early, packed a few sandwiches, and off we went back to UQ and back into the real world of studying for exams. But that’s the topic of my next blog…
Again, sorry for the delay in getting this one online. As things continue to settle down, I’ll try my best to get back to my normal publishing schedule.
Here are a few other photos from the trip. The first two are Toby’s. Absolutely beautiful photos. The lighting was perfect and the composure is top notch!
Toby's Photo. Look at that buttery background! (I was borrowing Toby's Father's micro lens on my D80) - His father bought the lens to photograph sea slugs for his PhD thesis!
Thanks again for reading!