My ride. My fight. My life

In my last blog post I dropped the bomb on you by coming out of the closet with my resignation.

(Flashback)

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I’ve been getting some mixed reactions on that decision, but that’s okay. I still stand behind my choice. I haven’t been happier really. I have found the perfect balance between Work, Well-being and Writing. Something a lot of my colleagues are struggling with nowadays. I recognize that struggle and am happy I found my own way of balancing it out rationally.

Because, let’s be honest, I’m not going to make a decision like that and not have some kind of plan or idea of what’s next.

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But first things first.

At the end of 2016 I came up with a little challenge for myself.

I just got back from months of traveling and I wanted to sink my teeth in a new adventure. With the money I saved up from working at the bar I bought my first ever race bike and I decided to participate in amateur road races.

I have been hanging around in cycling environments since 2014. And riding a bike myself, has always triggered me since then.

With the help of Golazo, Energy lab and all the good advice I could collect from friend-cyclists, cycling journos and family members I kicked off.

Once I started training I realized there would be a long way ahead for me to actually participate in amateur competitions.

So I decided to participate in bigger road races first. Since they’re more focused on the experience and endurance. And less on rankings.

My training started in November, a little later than planned since I was still struggling with moving out of my apartment and stabilizing here in Antwerp after being on the road for so long.

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My first indoor mileage.

Then in December, I got the chance to go to Canada for three weeks and my schedule got postponed again.

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Neglecting my diet.

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Smoking the Christmas tree…

I was back in the saddle by January 10th. Combining trainings with working at the car show in Brussels for 10 days straight. It was a grueling attack on my limbs,

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but I had to get started since I was supposed to ride a big cycling event and I had less than 3 months to get ready.

There were times I panicked. Hyperventilated. There were times I lost faith. But at least three times a week, I was on my bike. Before shifts I rode 1 – 2 hours. And on Sundays I did long runs from 3 – 5 hours.

The big problem was, since I had never rode a racing bike before, I was scared to go outside in winter. I was scared to fall and get injured. So most of the time I was training indoors. On rollers…

Even though you build up a decent condition and muscle strength, it doesn’t help you to get balance and core stability on the road.

I knew I had to go outside asap. But I was fucking terrified of my clip-less pedals.

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I use a three-bolt clip-in system aka “the deathheads”.

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These things could proper kill you.

Apparently everyone is a little scared of them at first. It involves a little bit of a learning curve.

Of course I realized that a little too late….

Without testing them thoroughly, I immediately went for a first ride on a sunny afternoon.

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Clipped-in selfie taking. This is living on the edge!

I was riding for about 20 minutes when I had to make a stop at a busy crossroad. With the traffic lights being on red, I had made an excellent stop. I had put my left foot down, with my right foot still clipped in. As I was standing there for five minutes, waiting to lift off again, I realized there would be no way of crossing this busy road without pressing the pedestrian button. This button, however, was on the other side of the pillar. So I slowly maneuvered my way to it. While I was doing this, I started to lose my balance, tried to counter this by using my right foot, forgetting I was still clipped in and BAM!

There I was horizontally at the side of the road with my bike still attached to my feet while cars were racing by. I got back up and got away with some light bruising. I figured it was best to have that inevitable fall out of the way in order to improve myself on the road.

I continued my ride and didn’t fall after.

I figured I was ready for the next step.

I still regret the day I thought this….

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So blonde & clueless…

Next Sunday, I called up my parents to go explore some bits of the road race I was about to attend in a couple of weeks. I hand picked out some of the heaviest climbs. Since I figured I had to know them in order to ride them. We went to the ‘Muur’ or ‘Wall’ of Geraardsbergen. A steep street paved with cobblestones, climbed every year by cyclists during the Tour of Flanders.

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The Muur is about 1K long. I started off great. I was cycling up and up and up. With every turn the road got steeper and steeper. At one point it felt as if all the power was flowing out of my legs. And they just turned into stone. I panicked, because I realized I was stuck to my bike and getting out of clip-less pedals on a steep climb would be total suicide. At least for a beginner like me.

I got out with one shoe but my weight fell on the other side, wanting to find support on my right foot but that one was still clipped in.

I smacked onto the cobbles like a bag of Belgian potatoes. The horizontal cyclist, I am.

I got back up again and fell over again! Getting back in the saddle on a steep climb with clip-less pedals is total suicide number 2. At least for a beginner like me…

I was starting to think this training ride was a bad idea.

A+ for guts. D- for cleverness.

But I didn’t come here to just quit. So I rode back. To the bottom of the Wall. And tried again. On my way down I fell again. Trust me, falling over and over again really weighs on your mental state of being. I was feeling pissed off and I was starting to feel really scared and insecure of my riding skills. Also: I was trashing my bike like crazy. My steering wheel was already crooked.

As I tried again I climbed and climbed and climbed and at the point where I fell over before, I anticipated and tried to get out of my pedals faster. I figured that would be a good exercise. But same thing happened. The fall was even more spectacular this time. I didn’t even feel like getting back on my bike again. I was so displeased, I walked my way down on my stupid clown shoes and called it a day.

My parents were there waiting for me and were worried about me participating after what they had just witnessed. Since this day was a measure for nothing, we figured we might get something out of it while enjoying some traditional ‘mattentaarten‘.

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A sweet pastry, made with matten paste or cheese curd. Something Geraardsbergen is very famous for. Something that could compensate this total waste of energy.

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The disappointment is real.

On my way back home I felt like shit.

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What was I thinking? You can’t tame a mustang just like that.

Did Jake just randomly jump on his Ikran and fly away? Don’t think so.

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I have to make the bond (starting 00:30sec) if I want to live and tell my grandkids.

First I need to gain confidence on my bike, being outdoors. Only then I can try on the climbs clipped-in. Starting with the little hills. Then the big monuments.

I need to fucking learn how to walk before I can run.

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Then it dawned on me. One year ago I was riding bikes in Australia and China. On the left side of the road with kangaroos crossing, through busy Chinese streets with no traffic rules whatsoever. Was I scared then? No way. Why? Because I was wearing sneakers.

If this is the only thing weighing me down for this challenge, then why should I risk hurting myself, my bike or other people participating? If I’m not confident on my bike, because of those clip-ins then this race would be total mayhem for me and everyone involved. I couldn’t take that chance. I much rather have my full confidence and lose all the pulling advantage clip-less pedals offer. My strength is in my legs and mind anyway.

After feeling bad for a day or two, I regained confidence. I had no other choice. I had decided to ride an other road race the week before my big challenge. I figured it would be a good final rehearsal. The ride would be 90 K. But the furthest milage outside (the hundreds and hundreds of kilometers on my rollers not included) was 25 K!

So the day before the race I went to Linkeroever to warm up.

And did a 50 K ride in a little over 2 hours.

Turned out it was a good preparation because the next day I managed to complete the 90 K in Gent-Wevelgem. The final 40 K I had to face tough wind which really pulled down my average speed. But another participant warned me in advance and advised me to spread my strength.

Type Gerrit from Bavikhove .

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“Make sure to save your strength. The final 40 K there’s heavy wind.”

Roger that! My team mates from Cyclokorsakov were already putting the muscle in the mustard from minute one. But after 17 minutes I detached from my group and rode solo for the rest of the race. Also facing the wind solo. My neck and shoulders were cramping up so bad from battling Mother Nature. The final 10 K were killing me. I was hoping to find a fat arse to tug myself behind. But Gerrit was nowhere to be seen.

One minute out of wind can make a world of difference for your recovery.

That and many other things I learned from that first official ride.

  • Don’t grab your drinking bottle during descents, for example.
  • Nor on cobble stones.
  • Also don’t bite your tongue on cobbles or you’ll bite it right off.
  • Always warn if there’s a car coming. And make flight attendant gestures with your hands to make other points across.
  • Make sure you drink enough to avoid muscle cramps. I made sure I had a sip every 15 minutes. I had one water bottle with me and one bottle filled with some hydrate mix to provide me with the necessary salts and minerals during my workout.

At provision there’s also a chance to refill your water bottle. And at Gent-Wevelgem there were big tanks with green stuff to keep you energized too. It looked as if the Ghostbusters had put Slimer in different containers. It smelled like the eighties too.

After 4 hours and 30 minutes in the saddle I reached the finish and it felt as if the weight of the world fell of my shoulders. I was extremely pleased with my result and felt ready for my big challenge the week after.

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I knew I would have to dose my efforts in the week to come, though. Especially since I had to work and stand on my legs all day.

On Wednesday I went for a nice and easy 30 K ride.

And on Friday I did a quick recovery ride of only 45 minutes.

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On my rollers. For old time’s sake…

I was almost ready for my big adventure. Almost. I just needed to loosen up the muscles and fill my energy tank with some healthy greens.

Luckily there was a fresh juice shop right at the end of the street where the massage place is.

=> Antwerp Thai Massage, Museumstraat 8, 2000 Antwerp
=> Fruxino, Museumstraat 1, 2000 Antwerp 

I had one more day at the bar …

waitress

And then it was off to bed! I had set my alarm clock at 5 am. I wanted to be at the start at 7 and it is advisory to eat at least 2 hours before commencing a training or a race. 5 minutes before the start I like to eat an energy bar to keep me energized until the first provision. Usually two hours in.

I had 1 cup of coffee an two shots of espresso to give me that extra energy boost. The good thing about coffee is that it makes you hyper. The bad thing is that it makes you have to pee faster. And with bib shorts, that’s not an easy thing to do. For evident reasons…

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APRIL 1st, D DAY 

I felt like a clueless soldier rowing a boat to Normandy, signing up for a suicide job.

Due to some delay on the way, some administration and a pee break at the start, I left at 8 instead of 7am. It was raining, a little bit cold, and the sky was 50 shades of grey.

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The first 30 K were psychological warfare. My goal was still a long way ahead of me and I wasn’t feeling confident I would make it. I wasn’t impressed with my legs, I was losing precious time on the climbs and the cobbles, and I realized I would be in the saddle for at least 6-8 hours. I was trying to pep talk myself into it but I missed the clue on why I was doing this.

#clueless.

At 30 K we had our first provision and there I made the click.

justdoit

At provision you can find all kinds of food displayed for you. It’s easy to overindulge. I am still experiencing which foods benefit me and which don’t, but I find gingerbread to be easy digestible and quite enjoyable too. So at the first provision I had a slice of gingerbread and a cereal bar and a sip of orange energy drink.

At 77 K we had another provision right before the Koppenberg. There, I figured I would be in need of plenty of fast sugars so I ate a slice of gingerbread, a sugar waffle and a slice of banana. I also stretched for 2 minutes since I was experiencing some mild strain in my lower back.

The sugar sure did it’s job (not on the Koppenberg, since there were too many people and everybody had to walk up) but in my fifth hour I conquered 3 climbs in a row. I was impressed. It felt as if I had pressed a hidden power button.

During my final provision at 100 K I had a light meal consisting of 1 banana and 1 orange.

I was carrying a Powerbar which would come in handy in my final hour.

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I can’t stress the importance to stay hydrated enough. You lose a lot of water during an intense workout and your muscles need this to recover. I tried to drink a sip of water with some added minerals each 15-20 minutes. As a result I stayed surprisingly fresh. Even after six hours I still wasn’t tired of riding.

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Especially since I saw some riders at the side of the road bending over, rubbing their legs, pointing at their bikes, being too stiff to pick them up. I also saw a lot of riders being carried away by ambulances with broken bones. Also on the climbs riders fell over due to their clip-less pedals.

I knew the 141 K was in reach. The finish line was pulling me in like a lasso. The last 10 K, right after the impossible Paterberg, I was racing to the finish line at 30 K/hour. I felt so energized, I just had to give my all and ride myself empty until the very end.

I was living in my head the entire time. I was seeing flashbacks of my life. Of this past year. How, EXACTLY one year ago, I was riding a bike in Beijing.

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And how, today, I was riding my own race bike during Flanders’ most beautiful road race. Over paved cobble stones where Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Boonen and Sagan would suffer (and even fall) the next day.

I was amazed about how my life keeps taking unexpected, but exciting turns. And how much it energizes me.

I couldn’t be happier with where I am today.

From the chain smoking journo I used to be. To the independent world explorer I became. And the Sporty Spice I am now. What a rollercoaster ride it has been.

And it felt great I was doing all this on my NIKES.

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These sneakers have led me over mountain tops in Australia, through rough roads in Tasmania and through intense Kung Fu training in China. The CHI is in these shoes. And that April 1st, the CHI was with me. Shifu Gao, my Kung Fu friends (Celine, Audrey and many more), Tasmanian Cannibal Helmut, Sammy and all my other Tooperang farm friends, Goedele and Nairn, my gorgeous girl Steph … all of them were there to encourage me and push me over that finish line.

I was pleased with the symbolism. It made the circle complete. It almost brought me to tears.

All because of a pair of iconic sneakers.

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First never follows. I like doing things my way. Make my own rules. Blonde/Clueless-style. I’m stubborn like cobbles.

Mac Miller

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I know there’s a lot of undiscovered potential inside of me. Inside all of us.

And I am going to explore this to the (Air) max.

On and off the bike. Who knows what other things I am capable of. It feels rewarding to discover myself in new ways. And I couldn’t be more proud of where I am today.

Once I reached the finish I was so pleased with my rodeo, I just wanted to fall into my parents’ arms and hug them. Too bad they were nowhere to be seen. I found them 45 minutes later napping in the car 5 K from the finish… emoji

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They made it up to me by taking me out for dinner immediately. I needed to refuel and it’s best to do this somewhere between 1 and 120 minutes after your workout.

refuel

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Taking this to bed.

The next day I enjoyed washing my bike and watching the Tour of Flanders for pros.

I was happy to see Gilbert win. And to have Greg as his runner-up. I also think Niki is kinda cool too. I love to hear him talk.

The Tour of Flanders had a fairy tale ending in many ways.

I’m going to enjoy the moment for the days to come, and keep on training and riding. Next goal is to get better, faster and stronger on the bike.

Time to master that clip-less pedal learning curve. Helmets and seatbelts on everybody.

Can I clip it?

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Yes I can!

Peace out

XO

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The beast of competition

HI-DE-HOO!

You: “Well Ev, you’re cheery. I thought you would be having the ol’ travel blues since you got back from Canada. Plus: looking at where you were last year, you probably will be full of nostalgia.”

That is correct You-san. Facebook does punch me in the face with anniversaries of precious moments I lived last year. January 29th it was one year ago I was standing on The Bluff overviewing one of the most amazing views of my life. Yesterday it was the anniversary of the first time I drove on the left.

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And I will be confronted with many more precious memories in the weeks to come. But blue? …

I kinda like the color blue.

It also happened to be the color of the car I represented at the Car Expo in Brussels a couple of weeks ago.

As you may know, I returned from Canada on January 9th and the next day I was already attending training sessions to become a car sales(wo)man for MINI.

I applied for the job months ago and around September I found out I was hired. The company even had so much confidence in me they put me responsible for their newest model. The European premiere of the new and improved MINI COUNTRYMAN.

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I could totally see myself driving this ‘Island Blue’ baby on the left side of the road.

It kinda gave me some cold sweats knowing I would be in charge of one of the most sought after models of the event, but I was honored they confided in me.

Hell, I wouldn’t if I were them!

But there I was. Friday the 13th of January. All dressed up to sell my car to the audience for the next ten days.

Our team would work long days. Getting up early in the morning, walking and talking for at least 9 hours straight, driving home, eating and going to bed at a reasonable hour to repeat everything the next morning.

It’s like living in a bubble with very little to no time at all to do anything else.

Actually….

It’s kind of like participating in a big cycling race!

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You get together every morning for team briefing. By that time you’re already fully dressed and equipped for another day on the super hero front. You will kick ass. You will not shark around. You will get the job done. And by the end of the day there’s the sweet release of food and sleep.

Plus: there is a classification. Every day there is a team winner. Someone who did the upmost. Someone who deserves the 24 hour title of ‘Sales(wo)man of the day’. Presents are handed out. Stats are being showed.

And every time we would be reminded of one thing: to aim higher each day.

It was the first time I was engaging in something this competitive. And I was feeling something inside of me I had never thought I possessed: the beast of competition.

Even though the newspaper business was and is a very competitive business too, I never really played my cards that way. I just did my thing in the hopes it would all turn out well. Sure I was happy whenever I would have a scoop someone else didn’t have, but I easily could have lived without that adrenalin rush. It was just a nice little extra on top of the rest of the work.

But now, the tables had turned. I was eager to do a great job. To kick ass and to make me, MINI and the agency  who got me this job, proud.

Battle mode on √

The setting was great. I was in charge of the most adventurous car. I found its identity to be more than meets the eye. Still a MINI, but also spacious, well thought out of the box. I identified with this car. I figured if I would throw in a little wit, a little charm, I could sell this puppy like sweet cherry pie.

But my car was a Diesel. So I started off a little slow too. I was assured I would attain my top speed in no time and from then on be unstoppable. On my third day I was doing so great, I was convinced I would become ‘Saleswoman of the day’.

The next morning I was all ready to receive my prize. I was cheery and confident and ready for another day of ass kicking.

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“I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the sky”

Team leader: “Okay team, let’s look at some statistics from yesterday’s leads. As you can see, you are doing a magnificent job! We are attaining our goals and even going the extra mile. Sales team, I am extremely proud of how you’re doing. And yesterday one person in particular did a great job and deserves to be sales person of the day. That person is…”

Me: “This is it, this is my moment of glory.”

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Team Leader: “Mike!”

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I didn’t understand. Mike told me he had a bad day yesterday. And here he is, being elected to Salesman of the day…

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I was feeling so low. I knew I shouldn’t let this get to me. I’m doing a great job. If the rest won’t acknowledge that, I will just have to keep doing what I’m doing until they do.

After a brief zen meditation in the toilet…

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I decided to continue the work I was doing. Soon as the visitors arrived, I was back in the game. Dispensing all the valuable information people wanted from me in Dutch, English and French. Interacting with children and showing them some cool features.

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And then there it was. The thing that melted all my sorrows away. The cutest little baby in a pink baby carriage.

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Me: “Oh my! Aren’t you the cutest little baby in the world!” I reached out my hand to pet it on the little head, when it suddenly turned around and changed into an absolute…

chihuahua

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MONSTER!

The little bitch (it’s a dog, I’m allowed to use that word) bit me right in the index finger and kept holding it between her little, but very sharp, teeth for a good 10 seconds.

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I screamed. When the dog finally let go she was barking and making a scene as if I had just molested her. I didn’t know what to do or say, and was keeping my hand behind my back, rubbing my thumb over my index finger to find out if it was bleeding or not. I didn’t want to look at it since I already fainted once from a bleeding finger and I didn’t want it to happen again. I had a goal to attain! And Sales(wo)men of the day don’t faint!

Owner: “No, no, no you can’t do that! Not while she’s in her carriage.”

Me: “Well good God woman! You could at least have a sign or some warning attached to her stroller!”

Maybe this was the sign. Maybe, this little calamity, was my warning to not get too caught up in the act. And the chihuahuas muzzle was just a metaphor.

All day I was out of my element because of that dog.

Eventually I generated some leads but I wasn’t at my best. The next morning I wasn’t elected. But that was no surprise.

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I decided to lick my wounds and just focus on the job. After all, helping people find the car of their requirements was already pretty rewarding too. And that night we would order pizza for the entire team. So I had something to look forward to.

Our outfits were sent to the dry cleaners and everybody was just wearing jeans and sneakers to the occasion. I was wearing the black bear I scored in Canada. Read: the faux fur I bought at Value Village.

Team leader: “Woah Evelien, thats a pretty big coat.”

Me: “Yep, I’m a pimp in real life.”

pim

Bitches call me Gator

I took a slice of pepperoni pizza and considered talking to our team leader. After all, two days had passed since my little bathroom tantrum and I still hadn’t made it to Saleswoman of the day. Almost everyone of our team had already been elected. But I was staying neglected.

Me: “Say…. Team leader. Does the fact that I haven’t been ‘Saleswoman of the day’ yet, a sign that I’m behind in the classification?”

Team leader: “Not at all. You’re doing a really good job. We always try to make everybody Salesperson of the day at least once. The fact that it takes a long time with you is because we think you don’t need that reassurance as much as some other people on the team. We kinda presumed you were pretty confident about what you did.”

Me: “Yeah, totally…”

I wanted to disappear behind a pizza box. I had been such a fool. Getting carried away by my emotions.

pimps

I should have known by now to never doubt my work and what I’m capable of.

The day after, this trooper got named Saleswoman of the Day. I got a beautiful pen and an applause from my team mates. By then we were already a strong team and that was the biggest reward to me. To be part of that. And to help each other get over the finish line in one piece.

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You: “Talking of cycling, how is your so-called cycling career going?”

Me: “I thought you’d never ask!”

I am glad to announce I will be participating in quite a challenging race in less than 10 weeks to come. I have been training really hard and hope to be ready just in time.

Everybody around me has been really encouraging.

At a recent family outing -where I wasn’t present- my mother was telling her kin about my participation.

Kin: “Err..the chance she will make it till the finish line is pretty…”

My mother: “Small?”

Kin: “Non existent.”

It was only days later I found out about their little conversation.

Well let me tell you all a little something about Evelien Delgouffe:

SHE DOESN’T QUIT. 

End of story.

I am a MINI Saleswoman of the Day (Yes, you get to wear the title for the rest of your years, it’s kind of like being Miss Universe). I may appear small on the outside. But I am surprisingly powerful on the inside.

Plus! I have the advantage of a hidden engine.

You: “A hidden engine in your bike frame?!”

Me: My mind.

yoda

I have grazed skin on my ass. And my lady parts feels like punched lasagna. Don’t tell me I won’t make it until you suffer from one of these discomforts yourself.

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“Wouldn’t you be better off putting more energy in a career than shitting away precious energy for some cycling interlude?” Someone recently asked me.

My answer:

I need this.

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This is a way to re-energize me for my professional life.

Don’t forget I was near burnout by the end of 2015.

I wanna return healthy and fit.

I have been healthy and fit for some months now. From the moment I left for Australia it felt like the weight of the world fell off my shoulders. I was driving in Australia hoping one day I would be like those amateur cyclists I saw riding on the side of the road. In the hot summer sun. Free. One with the outdoors. Fit.

One year later I am training.

My bike makes me feel good about myself. Gives me the energy I need. Makes me strong. Healthy and young. Bikes keep people young, people!

But most importantly: my bike reminds me I have no limits.

I will never take “No you can’t” for an answer.

I am a believer.

It’s my default preset.

Like the ‘Mini’ who kept believing he could be a ‘Maxi’.

That’s what gets me through all my challenges. Whether it is writing stories, going on far away adventures or selling freedom on four wheels.

mini

The day after the Car Expo ended, it was officially Blue Monday. Last year I left for Australia on Blue Monday. I wanted to leave on the most depressing day of the year. This year Blue Monday was -just like my Countryman- an Island Blue Monday. Filled with good vibes and memories. The 1390 liters of maximum trunk space. And that suited me just fine…

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Always remember to live in the now. And appreciate what you’re doing now. Even if it’s planning a holiday, prepping yourself for a night out with friends, making your first home made lasagna (sorry if I ruined this for you). It’s precious memory making. SO LIVE NOW. You probably will never get these moments back.

Also: don’t be afraid to be competitive or fight for what’s important to you. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll succeed. You will never know for sure, until you try. People will always try to knock you down. Unfortunately, it’s their default preset. When they do. Just remember to:


1) Not give a fuck

2) Get back up again.

XO

Jingle bells, the game of life smells

I did it again.

Just like your world-class villain,

I fled the country.

I wasn’t planning on jumping on a plane. I was thinking about going to the forest just a two hour drive away and rent a cottage there to do some reminiscing.

cabin-fever

Well, I am in a foresty area. Just not a two hour drive away but more like 3.743 miles away.

I’m currently in the land of the maple tree, the birth town of Justin Bieber and Jim Carrey, a place wear I can wear jeans on jeans and watch lumber jacks in checkered shirts all day. I’m talking ‘aboet‘:

CAN-A-DA!

… CANA-DA! …

… CA-NA-DA!

terrencephilipcanada

You guys all know I took a 2016 gap year to travel and widen my horizons. Well, my break year is almost coming to an end now. Starting February 2017 I have to get back to work in some form or way. And since I have not yet got the faintest idea of what I want to do with my life, I felt I should go looking for answers once again.

Australia, China an Japan provided me with a lot of insights but I was still not clear on a couple of things. So I decided to go west this time. And visit that other part of this globe in order to make the circle round and my world trip complete. Just in time for the new year. And just in time for US citizens to flee from Trump’s presidency and shit all over the canadian heritage.

It isn’t only a good thing for me. My room mate is happy to have me out of the house for a couple of weeks. The people at the café don’t have to drink crappy cappuccinos any more and you get to read about another exciting adventure. Everybody gains!

You: “I think I can speak for all of us when I say we are glad we don’t have to read any more fake interviews with yourself.”

Me: “You’re absolutely right. It must be hard to cope with the fact I actually get interviewed and you don’t.”

Anyway. After a little more than three months of being back in Belgium, I really needed to get away again. I felt like the walls were coming at me. I felt the stress of the deadline strangling me. And worse: I was starting to lose my Kung Fu zen.

Ok, catch the joke:

I was borderline burnout when I left for Australia at the beginning of this year, right? Well, compared to where I am now, I was a freaking optimist back then! The girl that strongly believed everything happens for a reason, who believes in destiny and destination, who romanticizes everything and everyone, has suffered one too many letdowns on her quest. On top of that: her days of working as a bar maid injected her with a shot of realism and she started to throw all her beliefs overboard. Everything she fought and travelled for. She was tired of fighting against the prejudice of others. Just about ready to surrender to safe mediocrity, just so everybody would stop giving her a hard time about how to live her life.

I couldn’t let that happen. I needed to get the faith back.

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Damn right Georgie ❤

So Friday the 23rd I jumped on the plane to Toronto, Lester B. Pearson International Airport. To fly right into the arms of Celine. My Canadian room mate I met in the Kung Fu school in China and with whom I spent one of my best times with this year. She is my spirit animal and thought me not to hope, but trust. Trust in yourself. Trust in the universe. Trust in a happy end. She is incredibly centered and always has a way of dealing with life graciously.

She picked me up at the airport and stayed at her sister’s place in Guelph, Ontario to spend the day before Christmas with them. It felt great to be smothered and welcomed by such a warm family. It was as if I was being cradled like a baby. Being fed candy canes and chocolate.

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Celine’s sister: “So Celine tells me you’re a writer.”

Me: “Yeah, I’ve been working as a newspaper reporter for over half a decade. I started as a showbizz journo attending all these events and red carpets. Then I got promoted. Then I got promoted again. And again and again and that’s when I decided to quit my job for a year.”

By the look of her face, it seemed as if I had just thrown an amazing turkey sandwich with a moist maker in the trash.

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I know it’s impossible for a lot of people to understand. Heck, I don’t understand myself most of the time either. All I know is: the balance was off, the formula didn’t work and now I’m looking for the right balance in order to live a happy and fulfilling life molded to my terms and needs.

And that comes with a lot of trial and error. And with a lot of doubt. I am constantly in doubt. I’m constantly doubting what I want. Even after a year of unplugging and reconnecting with myself.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for me but I feel I want way too much out of this life. I have too much attention for everything going on around me and question everything that goes on around me. I’m on life’s ass with a magnifying glass. I just wish I could shut up my brain for five seconds and just chose a life and stick with it. Be happy with a job I’m good at. Get rid of all this worrying and just find a balance. I know my previous life wasn’t bad. But it’s just not me any more. I opened too many doors to return to the exact same way it was.

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My poor aching gulliver

The kids were making gingerbread houses in the kitchen. I joined them but soon realized my building units were a little off. I refused looking at the guidelines since I was too lazy to lift the box and started making something out of it. I went for a flat roof and with the two redundant panels I made little christmas trees for the yard and the roof. I had my own little unique cottage. My own Dr. Suess dream house.

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See? You don’t always have to follow instructions. Dare to break the rules.

Gingerbread therapy was doing great for me. I was happy my stubbornness started to get back to me. But then somebody opened the door to all hell. Somebody took out the board game that would unleash mayhem on everybody!

You:

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Me: “No, The Game of Life.”

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It’s a people’s guideline to living a life without a spark of imagination. A wheel of fortune which tricks kid’s minds and teaches them all the wrong values. In all the wrong orders. Only five steps into the game it already orders you to grow up, choose between a degree or a career, get a house, get some children, cough up money for a loan, work work work work work and at the end of the game you get to decide whether you want to retire on A. Countryside acres or B. Millionaire mansion.

There is only a gazillion things wrong with this board game. For starters you cannot deny to get married or to have kids. If the game says so, you have to put two little ones and a hubby in that little plastic car with you. A blue pawn if it’s a boy. A pink one if it’s a girl.

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Forget all that gender neutral stuff. Or unmarried moms. Or free spirited people not wanting to have a full time job, an overly expensive car and all that jazz. If you don’t meet those standards then you’re dead meat. Don’t even think of having a comfortable old day either, punk.

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“Stay on the safe side of life kids, otherwise you’ll end up in the gutter!”

What bothers me the most is that kids get brought up with these overly strict and outdated christian values. It’s basically learning you how to not think for yourself and just follow a blueprint everybody else is already following and chances are likely you will stay in the game. Don’t take risks!

… It’s a totally different board game…

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And it will only get you into trouble.

Before you know it you’re stuck in a household losing every single bit of control – “I can’t buy no beach house in California, I gots mouths to feed!”-  just because you chose to be dictated a certain way.

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If you don’t want the textbook/blueprint life, don’t be afraid to use your imagination. Stay true to what you want to do with your life. Your own balance. Some will say your life elixir tastes too sweet. Or too sour. But tastes differ. And everybody should sweep in front of their own door first!

Me: “I’m getting bored of this life.”

I was just about to throw my money over to the bank when my eyes watered up to the rims of my glasses. The kitchen and living room started to fill up with smoke and spices.

Celine’s sister: “Kids, the turkey’s ready!”

Me: “Gobble gobble, let me see!”

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Isn’t she a beaut?

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Celine’s dad flipping the bird. How rude.

(Enter narrator’s voice:)

“It was a first Christmas miracle to a girl who wasn’t familiar with this way of celebrating Christmas. And the first of many to come…”

Read all about my magically mirrory Christmas Eve celebration next! Where an angel in Grinch clothing lighted my path!

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To be continued in a day or two.
I gots mouths to feed y’know.

XO

The Sunshine Coast

I’ve always wanted to stay at a motel.

They have this fascinating atmosphere hanging around them and weird stuff always end up happening in motels. At least from what I learned from movies like ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’, ‘Me Myself & Irene’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’. I wasn’t actively looking for a motel room, I just stumbled upon a great deal through Booking.com that offered me a 70% discount.

I wasn’t expecting much even though the reviews were excellent. I just figured they were filled in by drug addicts, under-traveled older couples and poor people who were just glad to have a broken TV they could slam the hell out of. I was at least expecting cockroaches, stainy carpet and a leaking shower. But I just figured -coming from a shed, a car and a caravan- for the first time in two months I will have a room all to myself, with a queen size bed, a shower, a kitchenette, a terrace with pool access, a private beach access, a TV set and an all you can watch movie library. Oh and free WIFI too. To me this place looked like heaven.

And it was even BETTER!

It was incredibly clean. No carpet, but tiles! Clean tiles! Free cookies, tea and coffee, even fresh milk. Chilled water, tiny bath soaps, clean sheets, nice mattress, the pool in front of my door step, an extra bed to put all of my stuff on, a couch, …. I love it so much I contributed an entire blog post to this place.

Well, at least 1/3rd.

You: “So a piece of heaven for 70% discount…. What’s the catch here, Ev?”

Well ahm… every hour a plane flies over really low and it’s kind of really loud (…)

Apparently the Sunshine Coast airport is just 5K away.

But I think it’s just A LOT OF FUN.

It feels like I’m right in the middle of Top Gun or better Pearl Harbor!

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(Nurse Evelyn)

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Go Rafe! Go get them Japs!

(To the Japanese community: I’m just in character here, I have all the respect for you and your reasons to go to war with America and killing off Danny. Even though I cried a lot when that happened.)

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Pic of dying Danny

The ‘Pacific Palm Motor Inn’ is rooted in Marcoola. It’s a very small town, but centrally located to get to some nice Sunshine Coast hotspots. Well, if you can get from A to B easily. Since I don’t have a car, I have to be resourceful. Take a bus. Trust my two Hobbit feet. Or -maybe- hitchhike. I’m still very sceptic about this subject. But maybe one good opportunity is enough to make me flip the thumb.

But for now, I just decided to keep myself busy in the surroundings. I heard the sunrise is supposed to be amazing at this mountain top called Mount Coolum. The base was only 2km away from the motel. Okay, quick math: the sun rises at 5.45 that means I will have to get up at….4.40 and leave five minutes later.

You: Yeah right, who gets up in the middle of the night to catch a sunrise?

“Well, me… (jerk)”

When I opened up the front door that morning it was pitch dark. I couldn’t see a hand in front of my face. The entire way I had to use my tiny flash light, looking like a burglar since I had my black hoodie on to shelter me from mild showers. Since I didn’t want to walk next to the main road, I didn’t want to get run over like a wild animal, I followed the beach path. In other words: the unlit path.

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For about 35 minutes I walked into the darkness surrounded by weird noises, bugs and other things jumping on me or either rushing away into the bushes. At first I thought it were snakes, until I almost squished a toad that was just sitting in the middle of the road. When it hopped in the bushes the sound matched the soundtrack of the past 30 minutes. Phieuw, they’re just toads. When I arrived at the base of Mount Coolum the sky was already clearing up and the sunrise was just minutes away. I was rushing to catch it on the top and almost tripped over some slippery rocks. It was a steady 25 min hike upwards. When I arrived to the top, all bewildered from the branches brushing against my head and hair, and all sweaty from the humid climate, there was no sun to be seen. It had decided to stay under its covers. Yo wake up you big lazy ball of lava (*), this is the Sunshine Coast, you’re supposed to be on every day!

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(*) The sun is composed of hydrogen and helium plasma. It is much hotter than lava. Actually it is a big ball of hot gases.

Tough break, but still a good place to have breaky.

An hour later I was enjoying a well deserved coconut cappuccino at a coffee place nearby. Over that cup of coffee I started thinking what I should do with my time here in Marcoola. Since I had just done the major attraction and still had 6 more days to go. I decided to just chill for a change. Enjoy my pool and private beach, walk the area a bit, maybe go all the way up to Coolum Beach. Around 6 K away. Just nice and easy. Relaxing instead of rushing from A to B and draining my energy levels. There, that sounded like a deal. We even shook on it. Once I arrived in my motel room it was only 10 am and I was already bored out of my mind. I had just finished the dishes when someone knocked on the door.

Tiny voice: “Room service.”

I opened the door since I was standing right next to it and saw the wrinkly smiley face of what appeared to be the female hotel manager. Personally looking after my cookie, coffee and towel needs.

Wrinkly smiley face: “So what are you up to today, love?”

Me: “Well I don’t know, I was asking myself that same question actually.”

Wrinkly smiley face: “Oh are you into markets? There’s a market at Eumundi.”

Me: “Yeah I heard about it, but it’s a 2 hour bus drive even though it’s just 30 minutes by car. “

Wrinkly smiley face: “Oh and you don’t have a car?”

I looked at the vacant parking spot in front of my doorstep, sighed, and said: “No. No car, unfortunately. Say, you don’t happen to know if I can rent a bike here somewhere, do you?”

Wrinkly smiley face: “Well I can ask my husband if he takes you to a place where they rent out stuff. Maybe you can have a look?”

Me: “Coolness, thanks a lot wrinkly … I mean friendly lady. I’ll come by the reception at 1 pm.”

I decided to have a little tanning session by the pool first.

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When we arrived at the shop I met up with a guy named Tim. Turned out he only rented out scooters….And Mini Mokes.

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You see a Mini Moke is like a buggy, a golf cart even, but for on road purpose only. It’s built out of Mini parts -hence the first part of the name- and ‘Moke’ is an archaic dialect term for donkey. It goes up to about 80 km per hour. 90 if you really push it. They stopped being produced in 1993.

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Me: “Err… I don’t know Tim, I was actually looking for a bike. Like a mountain bike or something. Besides this is way too expensive. I’m on a budget here.”

Tim: “Well I’ll throw in this day for free, since it’s already 2 pm, and I’ll give you a ten percent discount on each day because you’re staying at the Pacific Palm and I’m hoping to do future business with them.”

That little pooch was smiling at me like a little minion. I could already picture all the fun we would have together.

minionMe: “Okay Tim, I’ll take him!”

After some paper work Tim handed me over the keys. And therefor access to the super high way towards new and unforeseen adventures. Well not really the high way, I had to stick to the scenic routes since it only has 4 gears.

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When I switched on the engine I noticed just a miiiiiiinor detail however:

THIS THING IS A MANUAL?!

Thinking bubble: “I – I – I’ve never driven a stick here in Oz. It’s already hard enough focussing on the left driving.”

My conscience: “Errr.. I don’t know Evvy, are you sure you wanna do this??”

Me and my conscience having a mental debriefing: “I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do this. But I already filled in the form… I will have to try and see…We can always pull out if I don’t make it to the end of the street.”

Tim: “Something the matter?”

Me: “Err no, no everything’s fine! Say ahm Tim, does this thing come with a helmet by any chance?”

Tim: “No…”

Me: “It’s just, I noticed it hasn’t got any airbags…And tomorrow’s the 13th…”

Tim: “Your seat belt is your safety net. (knocks twice on the roof) Have fun!”

With those words I head off. And… I got the hang of it in no time. I still don’t know how I did it. But I found my way back to the motel effortlessly. Shifting gears, watching the road, driving on the left… Sometimes I just really surprise myself. The next day I was out of there in no time. I drove all the way to the Glass House Mountains, a one hour drive away. Quite challenging with all the steep inclines, winding roads and strong downhills. I felt like I was in an amusement park. The occasional showers made it even more challenging as well as losing navigation signal on my phone, almost running out of gas in the middle of nowhere and other cars pushing my ass forcing me to pull over.

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After one hour I finally arrived at the tourist information center of The Glass House Mountains. I had already climbed the biggest obstacle of the day, and it was just getting started. I was over the moon I got there safe and sound. The two guys at the counter helped me plan out my day. They were 70+ and could have easily been mistaken for twins. Identical tourist information outfit, even the same shade of grey hair and matching mustaches.

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They supplied me with other brochures for the area once they found out I wanted to roadtrip the Hinterlands. I had no idea what the Hinterlands were 24 hours ago. If it wasn’t for wrinkly smiley face, randomly mentioning them, I would have been clueless about them.

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Apparently it’s still a well kept secret in the Sunshine Coast. Tourists do go there, especially the older ones, but mostly locals enjoy spending time in the little towns, national parks and amazing lookout points. See you don’t need all the planning in advance. It’s a waste of time and it eliminates the element of surprise.

Tourism office twins: “So you’re traveling by yourself? It’s not often we see a solo female traveler coming here. Especially not one driving a Moke. How did you get a hold of that?”

Me: “Long story. And I gotta be back before dark!”

I could already picture other backpackers sticking close to the shore. Surfing the Gold Coast, getting drunk or high at Byron Bay. Doing these busy tours to Fraser Island. Well fuck Fraser Island. Who wants to visit a breath taking all sand island with a 4WD if they can’t even drive those big sand jeeps themselves? Why would I go on a guided tour if I can manage my own tour just fine. That day I had a blast. I walked for hours, enjoyed my lunch break with an amazing view and drove back before dark. From now on I’m really roadtripping by myself. And all possibilities lie before me. Well it takes a little time to reach them, especially if they’re on the top of a steep hill, but I’ll get there!

The look on people’s faces when they see me drive by is just hilarious. It reminds me of one of those fair carts I used to not get enough from as a kid. It’s funny cause I thought about going to Landsborough, the largest commercial go-cart track in Australia, and maybe an amusement park as well. But this is the all-in-one experience. Roadtrip, fun, me-time, sightseeing and adventure.

By next year I’m sure travel agencies will have made it into a thing. Moke safaris or something.

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I will put a video online shortly. Make sure to check it out on the official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/blondeclueless) and while you’re there give us a like 🙂

If you’re looking for an authentic experience on the Sunshine Coast I would definitely recommend a Mini Moke selfdrive. You will only be the second tourist to ever do it and it has been hands down the highlight of my trip.

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Isn’t this a beaut?

The next day I continued cruising the Hinterlands. I encountered some very nice sceneries on the way, great national parks, nice little towns to have a coffee stop, … At a certain point I decided to have a stroll in a town called Nambour. Apparently this used to be the beating heart of the Sunshine Coast with lots of quirky vintage and vinyl shops. In recent years Maroochydore took over the sweepstakes. Leaving Nambour in a turmoil. The rent went through the roof, forcing shops to either relocate or close business turning it into a ghost town that attracts more junkies than tourists. Apparently drugs is becoming a big issue here. Even though they just erected a big methadone clinic, they can’t seem to get these kids off the needle.

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This is a needle I couldn’t stay off of myself. These treats are to be found right here at the Sunshine Coast at Sunshine Sunshine Espresso in Currimundi

“If these kids ought to be unemployed, they rather do it somewhere where it’s nice weather”. Talking is Leigh, he’s the owner of BackBeat Records, a record store tucked away in the streets of Nambour. And the handsomest 57 year old I’ve ever laid…

… my eyes on! Gee, disturbed mind much?! He was wearing the typical Elvis short sleeved Memphis shirt with knee shorts. Every bit of his body was clad with colorful rockabilly tattoos. And his greasy hair was pulled back nicely in a full quiff. I started talking to him after I asked him if I could take some pictures of his shop for my Instagram account. He is originally from New Zealand and has a son my age who has traveled the world by himself as well. Even though he used to be a recluse as a kid. Leigh very much supported him traveling. It had opened him up to the world and kept him off the bad track.

Leigh: “A lot of young people are fighting depression these days. It’s good that you decided to travel to get to know yourself, make up your mind about where to go instead of locking yourself up, fighting demons. Sometimes the answers just can’t be found in your own bedroom and you have to just explore those horizons. I had a depression happened to me once. Luckily I climbed out of there by myself. I was unemployed and came to the coast to be unemployed and surf all day. Nowadays lots of young people come here to be unemployed and use drugs. If they don’t have money they steal. We’ve been getting lots of complaints recently. Locals are starting to worry, leaving town. Or die, since the people who live here are mostly retired.”

Leigh had touched a very important subject there. A lot of (young) people are very much struggling with mental issues. In my opinion society just puts a lot of pressure on them/us. Pressuring us to find jobs, start a family, buy a house, making the economic system turn full throttle… With disregard of our mental health.

Especially my generation is suffering. We are brought up believing that anything is possible, we can attend any university we want, pick any career we like, earn whatever wage we prefer. A big house and two cars? You name it, if you work hard, hand in your freedom and give up your personal life it’s all yours. Some people end up working hard their entire lives and start living once they’re 50+. But some people don’t get past that busy crossroad they reach in their early twenties. They stare to all those different directions and the image turns black. They freeze. And the longer they stand there, frozen, the more their self confidence melts down the drain. They lose faith. In themselves. In their future. The more society confirms the idea they’re not achieving, not applying, simply throwing away all their possibilities, simply being useless. The deeper they sink.

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The worst feeling in life is failure. And the only cure is achievement. We tend to look for this in a job, a family life, a big ass TV, … . Some end up using drugs. Because it’s the only way to get that confidence back, feel like they can conquer the world.

Well if you’re standing on that crossroad and feel lost, get even more lost. Go travel. Find out what drives you, what excites you, what fires your engine. Use some time to grow within yourself, to broaden your horizons, and open your narrow mind to see that some of the obstacles you deal with can be conquered and you possess that power to do so. A lot of people I know feel they aren’t succeeding in life. They feel like everybody else around them is doing so much better, they even included me to be one of those ‘in charge of everything’-people. Well if there’s one thing people are really good at: it is keeping up appearances.

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We love to make others believe we have the best jobs, the most compatible partner, the brightest kids, … Facebook and other social media are a big instigator to other people’s unhappiness. It’s a place where people throw the sprinkles of their lives right in your face. But maybe those sprinkles are sitting on a pile of shit, instead of a Chocolate Fudge Sundae? No one posts pictures of a rainy day. But believe me, nobody lives on the sunshine coast either. Everybody has his or her cross to bare and even on the Sunshine Coast showers are part of the daily life. They even happen 5 or 6 times a day. Heavy and abrupt. But after 5 minutes the sun comes out. And that’s the comforting part of it. And besides. 365 days of sun wouldn’t be much exciting either, would it?

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I was getting a downpour here at the top of Mount Ngungun the other day. A colleague commented on this picture, saying that rain is underrated. Let’s turn that into the quote of the day. Or the week even.

Let the sunshine in, don’t be a recluse and close yourself off from the world, the safe surroundings of your bedroom won’t give you the answers. But don’t get scared away by a little rain either. Take the good with the bad. And when things go wrong, just remember there’s something good or even better on the way. Just have faith. And let go.

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Mental health is one of the most important things you can possess guys. If you lose your marbles it’s all downhill from there. I am typing this while Australia Today is reporting about a guy in Cairns who has just stabbed his wife and mother in law to death this morning. Apparently when authorities arrested him, he was laughing.

Keep safe. Keep sane. And here are some more inspiring quotes from the greatest motivational speaker of all time.

XO

Investing in the future

(Caution 1: this is an even longer read than the previous one)
(Caution 2: this may contain nudity)

At least once a week I’m having an off day. A day where nothing excites me and I’m stressing over my budget, my time left in this country and the traveling choices I have made and am about to make. It’s usually a Monday, Tuesday or -in this case- a Wednesday. I just came back from walking the Story Bridge (1000 steps and 80 meters above the Brisbane river (it is enough to kill you, people have tried it)). I had imagined it to be a James Bond kind of adventure with lots of adrenalin, action and stunts since the description on the website was already very exhilarating, but if my heart rate would have gone any slower, I swear I could have fallen asleep then and there.

I had stepped into a tourist trap. One that had cost me 79 dollars. I didn’t even get one decent photo out of it AND I got insulted since the guy at the counter gave me an XL overall. I mean WTF??

Money is definitely on my mind here in Oz. Everything is just so damn expensive. Your accommodation (a dorm you usually share with minimum 6 people) costs at least 30 bucks a night and then you still have to pay for food, public transport, a coffee on the road, postcards and stamps, data for your phone, washing powder, and the occasional recreational activity such as renting a bike or hiring a kayak. Traveling is all a matter of keeping yourself active and entertained. And usually that doesn’t come for free.

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When I look at my billing history I get these crazy premenopause like hot flashes. Then I continue cursing myself for not traveling just a fraction more money conscious. For having that big bowl of amazing bircher muesli in that cute little coffee place instead of using that money to buy a large bag of muesli and some yoghurt of which you can eat an entire week.

It’s a tough balancing act. I don’t want to hold myself back too much either. I still want to enjoy myself. And I am already sleeping in hostels to keep my budget down, not because I like them. I don’t want anything to do with them or the people that live in them. I don’t participate in any of the social happenings, happy hours or bingo nights. I much rather have a picnic in the park by myself. (I have an interesting story on that later, hold on!)

I don’t know why but wherever I go, I like sticking out like a sore thumb. My curiosity always makes me end up in weird places.

Instructor (who very much looked like Daniel Craig): “You’re a tourist? Why the fuck do you want to come to a boxing class at 7 in the morning with a bunch of sweaty men?”

Me: “Errr…”

Honestly, I don’t know why. ‘Why’, is a question I can’t answer. Sometimes my feet just take me places, and my head just follows.

Well, that boxing class was one of the best memories I have about Melbourne. That and the rooftop cinema. People often have the feeling they have to do all these ‘AMAZING, EXCLUSIVE, TEMPORARILY LOWERED IN PRICE, NOT TO BE MISSED’ sightseeing tours to make their trip worth wile. Of course everybody is free to travel differently. But for me, it’s like white bread. It just doesn’t still my appetite. I like to do trivial every day stuff while traveling -‘TrivialTraveling’, damn it that would have made a great name for the blog!- I think it’s the best way to the local heart.

As you know I don’t follow any tour guides or Lonely Planets while I am on this trip. I just walk around -mostly for hours on end since my coordination isn’t all too good- and eventually something will attract my eye and curiosity. Thus happened the first day in Brisbane. I was walking around town -since the hostel wouldn’t let me check in before 2pm- and ended up on the wrong side of Boundary Street. I was looking for the graffiti wall with the infamous angel wings (I do follow the Instagram accounts of some Australian cities, to see what some of the highlights are) but instead of turning right, I went left. It was a fiercely hot day and when I realized the neighborhood started to decommercialize since all of a sudden there had stopped being coffee bars on every corner. I paused at a white house whilst trying to connect to Google Maps. As I’m waiting for the navigation to show me where I messed up, I look up and see that I’m actually standing in front of a Greek Orthodox church. On the right side of the door there’s a sign saying ‘all welcome’. See, that’s asking for trouble. They were pretty much begging for a clueless blonde to enter.

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The next morning I decided to roll out of bed early, put on my Sunday dress and head to church. While I was walking -it was a firm 45min walk- I thought I’d better come up with a fake background story. Something about my grandmother (God rest her soul) having Greek roots or something. Just in case anyone would come up to me and ask why the hell I am attending a Greek Orthodox mass. In Greek. (..)

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But then again, who will come up to me and talk to me anyway? It’s a church, people are there to be with God. Not to start socializing with a 20 something girl.

Boy, was I wrong…

Two minutes almost every soul in there knew my name. The ‘master of ceremony’ (don’t know what else to call him) even introduced me right at the beginning of the mass. I felt like the honorary guest. Even though guest speaker Elias travelled all the way from Greece on his leather sandals to give an elaborate speech on how the Greek Orthodox church community had helped so many people in Greece when the country was dealing with the financial crisis and the refugee crisis (…) Sincerely sorry to have stolen your thunder there, Elias.

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It surprisingly took me about half an hour to ask myself the question: ‘what the hell am I doing here’.

The master of ceremony’s name was Peter. He was Australian and did the guiding in English. He was also the keyboard player, singer, occasional preacher, … and the loving husband of Heather, who was honored to sit next to me since she thought I was wearing such a pretty dress. My 4 dollar Op Shop find sure is getting compliments over here. She was completely fond of me once she found out me and her mother (God rest her soul) share the same name. I didn’t get the feeling Heather was overly religious. I thought of her more as the supporting wife to a man living his life in honor of God. A wife who had settled for second place.

(Peter enthusiastically telling a story about his early life being full of sin) :

“I was in a horrible place in my twenties. But thanks to the love and power of God, I turned that around and traveled further than I could have ever traveled. Now I am looking for my next journey and that is (childishly points his index finger towards the ceiling) all the way up there!” (chuckles)

I glared over to Heather to see what her feelings were on this subject. But she was glazing at her song book like she had just suffered a minor stroke.

After one hour and 15 minutes the mass was nearing the end. But first there was -of course- the sharing of the bread. In catholic churches usually only the priest is the one lucky enough to have a sip of that church wine. Here, they started handing out tiny glasses to everybody. And it wasn’t just cheap wine, it was port! Delicious port!

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Pic of port!

There was also a saucer with actual bread (non of that cardboard stuff we get). Someone could have thrown in some Tzatziki and we could have had a party in there! After the service everybody kind of wanted me to stick around but I decided to carry on with my day. The fact that they accepted me like they did, without asking WHY I attended, filled my heart with warmth for the rest of the day…

When I came back in the hostel that afternoon -I was sharing a female dorm with three other backpackers- they had all left. Even the Claudia Schiffer lookalike from Germany, who was supposed to stay another 2 weeks. She was so kind of leaving her leftover beer nuts near my bed as a sober goodbye gift.

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I was touched by the gesture since backpackers usually don’t share food. Everybody stores their stuff in the common kitchen. You have to put your name on your bags otherwise things will either get stolen or chucked out. The Claudia Schiffer lookalike from Germany had it happen to her the other day. Her bag with all her cutlery, containers, food, cereal, … was suddenly nowhere to be found. Of course that was a big drama. Backpackers who live on really small budgets hang on to those bags as if their lives depended on them. The other day I bought myself some groceries and labeled it -as instructed- with my name, departure date and room number. Instead of putting ‘Ev, Eve or Evelien’ on the bag, I decided to go for ‘Big Al’. A strong butcher’s name. I reckoned no one would want to steal food from a guy who sounds like a man with a big appetite. And a small temper.

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As I sat on my bed in an empty dorm, I checked the tan line the silver ring on my left middle finger had left. It reminded me of a little thing happening at the end of the mass when Peter dug up a giant silver coin out of his pants pocket and handed it over to Elias as a donation. Apparently it was worth a four digit number.

Peter: “The price of silver is going up, people. If I would advise anyone to do an investment. Buy silver.”

I started thinking about what Peter said. About investing in the future. And I thought:

“I’m running a pretty decent investment right here. Me.”

You interrupting: OH I see, because you’re GOLD, right? Spandau ballet? Nice one!

Me: Err, not really….

I started out as a penny stock. A pink sheet. But slowly my share is climbing up every day.

Leo

So yeah, I spend a lot of money, sometimes a little too much, on this journey. But maybe it’s not all money down the drain… Maybe ‘you’ is the only asset worth taking a (financial) risk for.

You: But what if your share crashes? What if you end up with nothing?

Well I always say: if things really go south, you can always consider a career as a topless barmaid.

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(WOOPS! You weren’t supposed to see that)

It’s a bullshit safety net, I know. But it’s just my way to say to myself I won’t end up starving in a ditch so easily. No stress. By the way it is impossible to end up with nothing cause even the tiniest failure, or the dumbest mishap, is a lesson. And every lesson is an enrichment.

The only thing you will have to be aware of, and look out for, is projectile fear vomiting.

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Projectile what?

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People will try to put you off track by projecting their fear and prejudice on your perfectly fear and prejudice-free projection screen. Remember what I said at the beginning of this read? People asking you the ‘why are you here, or why do you do that’ – question. That question didn’t go down well for me at the beginning. I found it offensive. And I don’t like to explain myself. Sometimes you just feel the need to do something and that is your reason. Final.

For example: People are constantly asking me if I’m traveling alone.

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When I confirm that I am traveling solo (I only say I am to other women, when a murder/rapist type man asks me, I usually tell him my boyfriend is meeting me somewhere) they always give me the weird surprised look.

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… followed by : ‘Ooh, aren’t you scared?’

Maybe I should just tell people I’m here for investment business. That’ll shut them up.

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Is it sooooo weird to travel by yourself? Let’s rephrase the question. Why do people choose to not travel by themselves?? And now I’m back at explaining why you should see this as an investment: It is the best thing one can do to:

a) acquire a bunch of new skills,
b) surpass a lot of boundaries and
c) evolve fast and get to know oneself extremely well in a short period of time
( and if you’re into that => d) meet a lot of new people)

Everyday you are putting yourself in a new situation, you are I faced with new challenges and you have to be inventive and creative to deal with those situations on the spot. If you don’t take the initiative. No one will. The fact that I am the only one responsible for having a bed to sleep in, for putting food in my body and for getting from A to B just gives me an incredibly rewarding feeling. Never underestimate the power of a sense of achievement. It will make you feel like you can conquer the world. Or climb a bridge. But even a foetus could have done that walk.

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Hang on to those umbilical cords, guys!

That weird surprised reaction people give, will probably stick on me for some time to come. For instance every time I go to have lunch or dinner and the waitress asks me if I want to wait for my company to arrive…

But why would I need someone to take care of me anyway? Or accompany me? We are all individuals here. We are all responsible for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you travel with 10 people or just one, ‘you’ is never a group. ‘You’ is just you and if you don’t learn how to live, travel and function by yourself then I pity the man or woman who you end up sharing your life with. Always check in with yourself first before you check in into a relationship. If you cannot think for yourself, act for yourself, speak for yourself or even eat by yourself… you are basically back to being a toddler and you will never know what you’re actually capable of. And you are capable of great things, believe me.

I guess a lot of people shy away from walking unknown paths by themselves… Because deep inside, they’re scared of them. Scared of the risks. Scared of the mirrors, …  So they set up their tent at base camp.

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I SAID BASE CAMP YOU STUPID TWAT!

They set up in base camp. Steer away from the climb, telling themselves the view is already pretty nice from down here. Well if you climb that mountain -and you don’t have to go all the way to the top- you will gain new perspectives, see new vistas and your point of ‘view/you’ will receive much more depth. I thought I already knew everything about me and who I am but everyday I keep learning about myself. It is silly to think you know who you are. Since we are constantly adapting to new situations, changes, struggles and challenges on the way, we never stop evolving. We are CCC’s. Constantly Changing Creatures. Sure, you know which wood you’re made of. What your fundaments are. But there are constantly things changing around us. The forces of nature. Maybe we need more than one lifetime to really understand who we are.

But in case reincarnation is just a myth and we only have one I strongly advise everyone to go on a big solo journey once. It doesn’t have to be a year, it doesn’t have to be six months, even a couple of weeks is enough. It will make you gain perspective and will basically teach you how to live life in your best capable way. Since traveling is very much like living: It is limited in time, you cannot do or see everything you’d like and you will have to go some day.

Consider it to be a spin off of the big television show called ‘Your Life’. A story existing on its own. How the story line of the main tv show will be influenced, isn’t important yet. Some overpaid executive producer will deal with that later. Just try living in the moment. You cannot see in the future. You can only look in the past and it will be a lot worse when you look back and regret the things you didn’t do. The moments you didn’t fully appreciated. Those are never coming back.

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You: “Yeah yeah, easy for you to say, you’re still young. I’m old, I can’t do jack.”

Me: “Well tomorrow you will be even older and you will regret you didn’t take the one opportunity you were actually close to achieving something out of the ordinary.”

Thus….

Invest. Invest. Invest. Step outside boxes, try to think differently, force yourself to do new things. Start slow. Start the day with brushing your teeth first and then have coffee. Or maybe don’t do that, that’s gnarly. I am just trying to find a way to make my point clear here. Don’t do the exact same thing every day. Challenge yourself. Try looking at things from different point of view, don’t put yourself or others in a box. Lose the judgement. Live free. Don’t look down on other people. Don’t look down on yourself. Don’t think too much of yourself either. The reason why angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that.

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Always believe in your soul
You’ve got the power to know
You’re indestructible, always believe in, ‘cos you are

GOLD

XO

You: “Hey, wait! What about that interesting story you had for us?”

Oh yeah. I was sitting in the park in Brisbane the other night and I didn’t realize until later but apparently I was sitting in some animal poo. When I strolled back to the hostel I suddenly started craving ice cream. I stopped at the 7 Eleven and bought myself a mini cup of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie fudge. When I walked over to the hostel and wedged the cup between my arm and body to grab my key to activate the elevator door, I entered and saw in the mirror I had a brown stain on my jeans. I wiped it off with my finger, since I thought the cup must have leaked, … and licked it clean. I bet you can guess the end of that story… That’ll teach me to have ice cream past 10 pm…

The mirrors are coming *

(* caution: this is a long one)

A friend recently stated: “The first month of traveling on your own, you’re going to be like a sponge. You’re gonna soak in every experience and get loads of energy from it. The second month you’re going to feel the first signs of homesickness. The third month the mirror comes. And you will be confronted with yourself in an often not so pleasant way.”

I think I have jumped straight to the mirror phase.

I must say, I have been avoiding mirrors until now. Or better: mirrors have been avoiding me. At the farm there was one little one in the bathroom. You could just see your face and a little bit of your neck and chest if you stood on your toes right. On the way to Melbourne the only mirror I had was the little make up mirror in the passengers seat of Pierre’s car. Sometimes even the rear-view mirror would do to put in my contacts or throw on a little bit of mascara. When we would go shower in public rest areas, or just pull over to go to the toilet, I always found it odd there weren’t any mirrors there. It’s weird, but the first day I was in the Tasmanian mountains with Helmut, he asked me to accompany him on a roadtrip to Hobart. To pick up a new wardrobe closet. And a full length mirror…

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It had just spent my first night in the woods. It was lovely. I woke up with the most amazing view from the caravan and saw the wallabies grazing on the lawn. My day started wonderfully.

“Haa, there you are finally”, Helmut shouted when I entered the house with my toiletries piled up in my arms. We would spend 6 hours in the car together that day. I reckoned that should give us some time to get to know each other. And maybe he could already hammer some wisdom into me. “We gotta get going if we want to make it to Hobart in time. Come, have breakfast.”

Me: “Err, I was thinking of having a shower first…”

Helmut: “A shaaaauwwer? (very German) Why do you need a shaaaaaauwer for?”

Me: “To wash my hair…And all…”

Helmut: “Don’t even think about using a hair dryer, i’m running this place on solar power.”

(Me rolling over the floor with laughter. Followed by an uncomfortable staring competition)

Helmut: “Well I ain’t laughing. Yesterday Maryam tried it and I had to tell her to never do that again. The voltage is way too high. You can wash your hair tomorrow and let it dry during the day. Come, sit down, I’m making you breakfast and I want you to follow closely.”

What I witnessed next was chemist lab level. Helmut dug up two big empty breakfast bowls, put some chia seeds in there and poured it over with hot water. While he was letting it sink in, he dived up heaps of giant white plastic pots. One with some green alkalizing powder, some with what supposed to be ‘pea powder from Belgium’ (never heard of this), another with beetroot powder, another with garlic powder, spirulina, raisins, almonds, …

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He poured it over with the oats he had boiled on the stove, added a big spoon of greek yoghurt, some berries and a nice teaspoon of Leatherwood honey. That was not only a 20 dollar breakfast sitting there. That was also enough food to get you through the entire week!

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Helmut: “Eat.”

I took a first spoon and I was… delighted. This felt like a great, healthy start to our day of bonding.

Helmut: “Alright, pack up your gear, we’re heading to Hobart.”

Once we were in the car, an old Mazda pick up truck which was rambling and shaking from every angle, I decided to give it to him straight up.

Me: “So seriously Helmut, why did you give me such a hard time coming here?”

Helmut: “Well because of the things I told you yesterday. I thought you were a glamour girl. But from the moment I started talking to you, I soon found out we would get along.”

“So tell me what do you wanna know?”

Me: “Pardon?”

Helmut: “Well most of you young females want to come live with an old guy like me because they wanna learn stuff. So tell me, what do you wanna know?”

Me: “Err…”

Helmut: “Well, I will give you a piece of advice to start with. From now on you will live by the four agreements, alright?”

1) Be impeccable with your word;

2) Don’t take anything personally;

3) Don’t make assumptions;

4) Always do your best.

And I’ll throw in a fifth one in for you: Change your posture, it’s horrible!

Me: “Pardon??”

Helmut: “You hunch. It’s from being curled up over your computer (he means my phone) all the time. Sit up straight. Your back will thank me later.”

The landscapes flew by. From the green meadows, to the nice coastlines leading up to the harbor of Hobart two and a half hours later. Not one minute we spent not talking. Me and Helmut were on the way to bonding alright. We spent the entire time laughing, talking about life and filling each other in on our history and background. Turns out Helmut has had a very turbulent life so far. He got married 3 times and he could have died about 8 times. He ended up in a ditch with his Subaru, almost died in two motorcycle accidents, a skydive almost ended up on the wrong side of the tunnel, … And when he talks about his grandchildren he’s just miles away from that grumpy Tasmanian Devil he likes people to believe he is.

Once I found out he has kids and grandchildren, I wasn’t afraid of him eating me anymore.

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(Weird shizzle: Helmut gave me the exact same jumper after cleaning out his old wardrobe closet. Yikes! What a coincidence!)

On the way back we stopped for ice cream. The shop was owned by a Belgian woman. It was the first time I spoke Dutch in a long time. It sounded funny. She kind of gave me a weird look once she found out I was living with a 73 year old guy who wasn’t my grandpa, nor any other family member. But I guess I better get used to that. The next day we went hiking in Freycinet National Park and I met Susan. A nice, fit looking lady. I couldn’t believe she was 50. She was tighter than me! Turns out she joined the army a few years ago. And she was very sporty as a kid as well. Muscle memory. Mine suffers from early dementia, by the look of it.

Susan tagged along with us that day. She came all the way from Launceston to accompany us on our hike. I reckoned she was an old friend of Helmuts. Later I found out she actually was a woman he met through an internet dating website and me and Maryam were actually witnessing their first date! That’s why Helmut was in such a fit mood that day. And why he was peacocking so much.

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You should see him go up that Mount Amos. I must say, that mountain was tough! A very steep climb over and through big boulders. No paths. No rails. Pure on muscle power. And -in Helmut’s case- a walking stick. But then again, he got up there seemingly effortless. I was impressed.

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The way down was a little less impressing. We just had lunch on top of the mountain, made some photos and sailed down in a too confident mood. Me and Helmut kind of evoked the reckless kid in each other. And we were marching down the mountain, acting stupid. While we were taking the steep walk down, Helmut suddenly slipped away, landing on his bum, sliding down faster than my eyes could follow. I panicked, since the rocks were so steep and slippery and dived in behind him to stop him. As I did, I slipped as well, smacked hard on my back and tailbone and slid down with him to -only meters later- be stopped by a big branch that was sticking out of the rocks. Helmut and I looked at each other with big eyes welling up with tears of laughter. He was mostly laughing with me and my lousy attempt to save his ass. Mine was hurting pretty bad that night, while he didn’t have a scratch on him. Lucky bastard with his nine lives…

The next two days at the house were gloomy. The weather had changed and the sun didn’t come out at all. It was raining. Instead of seeing actual showers, it looked like the landscapes were vaporizing, sweating. Mist surrounded the house and the temperature dropped. We even had to fire up the fire place. The first day I came down with a cold. I had experienced a thermo crash of about 20 degrees coming from Melbourne to Tasmania. My throat was sore, my nose stuffed. I wasn’t feeling it at all that day. In the afternoon I disappeared into the caravan and slept for more than three hours. I had a bite to eat and slept for another 9 hours.

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View from the house

The day after we were again locked up inside. The breathtaking view of the coastline from the house was nowhere to be seen. Helmut put on a little Neil Young, after he found out I liked it, and Maryam and I started baking cakes with everything we could find in the cupboard. The place smelt of carrot cake and chocolate fudge, mixed together with the odor of burnt cake mixture dripping on the base of the oven due to the lack of self raising flower. After one hour the cakes looked worse for wear. Maryam’s one was way too liquid and mine way too salty. I accidentally pinched in one teaspoon of salt instead of half a spoon. That does make a difference, alright. But they turned out looking amazing after we tweaked it a little and let them rest for another 30 minutes. They made a pretty good lunch the day after when the sun came back full power. Finally. First thing we did was hit the beach. White sandy beaches, turquoise clear water, … I felt in tropical heaven. Nobody told me Tasmania is such paradise!

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Bay of Fires

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Afterwards Helmut drove us up to one of the biggest waterfalls in Tassie. I took in the moment and decided I had made the most of my time in Tasmania. I could return to the mainland.

You: “Wait, whut? Didn’t you say you wanted to learn all about life and pick Helmut’s brain?”

Well, while spending six days with Helmut (and Maryam) I did learn a lot… But I didn’t get the answers I was hoping for. Truth is, I’ve put way too much expectation on Helmut’s shoulders. I was looking for an oracle. Someone to explain me all about life in layman’s terms since I’m looking so much for answers, directions, guidelines, … . I pictured Helmut to be the right fit. A big German dictator, who would hammer an iron clad Law of Life into my brain. But that was wishful thinking.

That sunny beach day I encountered my first big mirror. I got out of bed that morning, very much excited about the sun making her long awaited return. During breakfast Maryam started talking about Iran, her home country. About the history, and how far her people have come. How far she has come as a person. And how rare her travel is for a woman from her background. Coming from a country where women only possess half the rights of men. To top that her mother is really ill so she’s juggling quite a lot of emotional things here. But she never ceases to keep enjoying life. I very much admire that in her. And at the same time she makes me feel uncomfortable because my struggles that are such big and powerful obstacles in my head -mostly caused by lovesickness- seem very trivial compared to her. I’m healthy, my loved ones are fine, I have loving friends and I’m doing great by myself… I shouldn’t have a care in the world.

My attention was drawn to a saying that was hanging on Helmut’s wall.

Faith of consciousness is freedom,

Faith of feeling is weakness,

Faith of body is stupidity.

Love of consciousness evokes the same in response,

Love of feeling evokes the opposite,

Love of body depends only on type and polarity.

Hope of consciousness is strength,

Hope of feeling is slavery,

Hope of body is disease.

I understood the words without really understanding them so I turned to Helmut for a little help. Layman’s terms, remember.

At first he started hammering the fact that all life is non-permanent and that we all DIE. There’s nothing we can do about it, DIE we will. Since nothing is permanent, we all must suffer. Since every enjoyable thing in life is ending. BUT, the ‘good news’ is, that too shall pass. Since nothing is permanent…

Then he started explaining that all feelings like love are mostly driven by lust and believing to find a soulmate is basically weak and stupid.

That’s where my mirror broke.

My eyes welled up. I reckon Helmut noticed, since he invited me outside to take the washing out and hang it up to dry. I was walking in front of him.

Helmut: “Why the tears?”

I turned around, stared into the big blue eyes with which he had looked three women in the eye when saying ‘I do’, and broke down. “If love doesn’t exist then what’s the point of living anyway?” (snif, snif)

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He gave me a big bear hug and I cried on his shoulder for a firm minute. It was a cleanse. And a realization:

I don’t have to agree with Helmut. It’s not because he has experienced a couple of rough rides in ‘the love & relationship department’ that the same goes for me. I am a person that is very much looking for love. If I can’t give and receive love in this life, then there’s no point for me. No matter how many heartbreaks I suffer -and I had my fair share- I will never stop hoping. I will never stop having faith. In myself, relationships or life in general. That depressed girl in Melbourne got something right. She IS worth of finding someone and being loved. Don’t let any nonbeliever or cynic ever change that thought, girl!

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From there on everything fell into place: I shouldn’t rely on others to spell everything out for me. I am responsible for my own lessons, my own happiness and the best way of getting the answers I’m looking for is by experiencing and discovering by myself. I suddenly remembered a beautiful sentence Susan randomly flickered at me while hiking down Mount Amos.

“Go travel, the best way of finding yourself is losing yourself.”

The next day I packed my bag, booked a ticket to Brisbane and flew out there like the wind. Helmut probably didn’t get much of a Helpx out of me, but hopefully I kicked some wisdom into that cranium too. To go easy on the judgement.

I don’t know if it were Helmut’s poor washing skills but my jumper felt smaller that day. “You must have grown, he laughed.” I guess I must have. I felt so much more confident after that little breakdown I suffered. I realized I have a lot of power inside me. And a very strong will. I just need to start trusting my gut more -it has never let me down so far- and not follow guidelines or recipes so much. I didn’t follow any recipe while I was baking that chocolate cake and guess what? I like my life very much like how that cake tasted. With a pinch too much of salt.

Let’s hit the road, blondie. It’s gonna be me and you from now on. Whatever mirrors we encounter on our way, we will try to conquer them together. In an ergonomically correct way, of course: with a straight back. But if we want to get rid of some subordinate feelings, let’s start with losing some of that excess baggage first. I decided to bring some of the clothes I had been dragging with me to the second hand shop. There were some great memories attached to some of those shirts and trousers, but the fact that my backpack felt lighter, already brought me so much more joy and freedom. Good tip: the first thing every self-made traveler should do is to learn how to live without comfort zones. (And Lonely Planets, DON’T BRING THEM.) You’ll be surprised how damn comfortable that actually feels.

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Goodbye caravan I called ‘home’ for a week!

XO

PS: This => Picture 2016-03-04 om 03.39.12

brought me so much pleasure today: to read that my views are booming! Thank you for reading the blog and for relating to it. I’m currently waiting on my plane to Brisbane. I had lunch in a café and the guy at the counter had to charge me 4 dollars less due to a mistake with the cash register. “You’re winning today”, he laughed. Damn right! Two hours earlier I bought an orange juice at a local truck stop. I took a sip and spat it right back out again, to notice the date has expired with over a week. I went back in and asked (politely) if I could have a new one. I got double the size! That morning I had made breakfast for Helmut and Maryam. Something my mom always used to make on the first day of school: ‘Winning bread’, we call it. Because it’s old bread you ‘win’ by creating a new dish with it instead of throwing it out. I guess I set the tone right there. So thanks for reading! I hope you guys keep enjoying it!

The Tasmanian cannibal

“Aaah the glamour girl from Belgium.”

He walked up to me from behind his truck with what only could be discribed as the grin of a male chauvinist pig around his mouth. I looked far from my glamourous self that day. I had just spent two hours on a bus on a Friday afternoon with a bunch of noisy school kids who were traveling home for the weekend. I had 20 kilos strapped to my back, another 7 around my left shoulder and another 5 cutting off the blood stream of my right wrist. My head was surrounded with bits of dry blonde locks, waving around in the wind like radiants around the sun. My face, however, must have looked like a sunny side down. I was knackered. My back broken. I just wanted to call it a night as soon as possible. And it was only 6pm.

“Glamour girl?” I molded my face in a cemented smile while walking up to him. Not giving away I was already kind of offended.

You see, before I got there I was already building myself up.  I was expecting this encounter to be a bit rough at the beginning. So I already prepared myself for some prejudice. I just couldn’t believe that a guy who’s had so man lessons in life, who is all about zen and spirituality, would just judge me that quickly. I mean, isn’t that the first thing they teach you? To NOT judge a book by its cover?

“You are full of judgement already, Helmut? That’s not a very good attitude”, I candidly smiled at him while -seemingly effortless- whipping the bag off my shoulders. It wasn’t effortless, my back was burning with pain!

“Ha-ha”, he laughed strongly. “I was expecting you to have a suitcase on wheels with a big iPad strapped on to it. How man pictures have you put online today? About 7?”

He was right. I had gone a little over my everyday 5 limit… So he looked at my online activities again… He already did this when I was in Melbourne, I discovered. That’s where I received an email from him, asking me to reconsider staying at his place. Since he reckoned it wouldn’t be something for me. I don’t know based on what he made that assumption, but it had something to do with my online presence, that’s a fact. He just thought I was another shallow girl, not worth of his time or effort.

It was about a 20 minute drive from the center of St Mary’s to his place. We drove up a narrow road, very steep and full of rocks. His 4×4 had its work cut out getting up there. It was a bumpy ride too.

“See that patch of stretched land there? That’s where I’m gonna bury you. I got all kinds of helpers burried there. Hahaha.”

I suddenly felt a weird feeling creeping up on me. Could it be that while he was doing a background check on me on the internet, he accidentally find my blog and read it?? The blog where I portrayed him as the cannibal of Tasmania, saying how much I feared he was going to eat my liver for dinner?? Bugger! Maybe I brought him to ideas. Maybe he is going to get really mad at me about the things I wrote and kill me very slowly in his slow cooker…

As we drove up his eternal driveway I realized there was no way in the world I would ever get away from this place by myself. Like if I really needed to, in an emergency situation. Since I was so tired, I accepted my faith there and then. I surrendered. I’ve had some nice views so far. I can go in peace.

Suddenly we climbed up to another piece of stretched land. There were wild wallabies having a picnic on the grass and I recognized the solar panels from the pictures, surrounding his house. Next to it was the caravan. My new home.

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“You will have to share it with an Iranian girl, alright. She’s a backpacker as well and has probably cooked us a nice dinner by now.”

I don’t know what I was more relieved about. That there was another backpacker, still very much alive, or that there was already dinner prepared for that night. Meaning I wouldn’t end up on a plate just yet.

I enteren the caravan to put my things in there first. There were two beds made, cute little colorful drapes on the windows and some cupboards to store my things. To my own surprise, this place looked lovely. And far better than the passenger seat of Pierre’s car I stayed in before. Even better than the hostels I was in. I quickly droppen off my things and followed Helmut to the main house up the hill. He built it himself with the hand of some handy helpers. The place is stunning. From the dinner table you have the most amazing view on the mountains and the ocean. With high windows stretching all the way along the kitchen. This is a million dollar view. And the place smelt amazing. Maryam was in the kitchen preparing chia chocolate cake and some Iranian dish for dinner. She came up to me all smiling. She just arrived 3 days ago and was already feeling very much at home. I don’t know if it’s because she’s Iranian but she very much looks like Kim Kardashian without the plastic surgery and all that. Big brown eyes, narrow nose, full lips. And a great personality to match. I wanted to hate her already. But I couldn’t. She was too sweet! I started asking her all about her travels. She left Iran to backpack through Australia by herself. She has been doing Helpx, crashing on people’s couches hitchhiking her way around,… traveling very low budget and VERY courageous. I mean, I couldn’t just ring up to someone’s house asking them to let me sleep on their couch without being rape that same day. At least not in these short shorts I’m wearing. Good thinking, Ev. Put some clothes on will ya!

She was telling me all about her travels and I was a little overwhelmed. Her aura filled up the room. She oozed confident and was very much in control of her journey, budget and further life goals. I felt like a complete clums compared to her. Turns out she became Instagram famous overnight in her country. Inspiring people to travel in a different way. There I was coming from a country that’s unimpressed with about everything. A country that has seen and done everything before and is not impressed until you travel to Mars or -even better- discover an entirely new planet. An Iranian  magazine even reached out to her to keep a travel diary. And here I am, Mrs Big Newspaper Reporter from Belgium, not even getting a centimeter of writing space in the paper I’ve been working for since 5 years. I mean GEE!

Yes Maryam was very much living my dream. But instead of feeling jealous or annoyed, I found a way to turn  that around. I just thought to myself, well that’s great for Maryam but I have a different approach and that’s what makes my journey unique. Or something like that. But I do like listening to her stories. She has experienced some great rides.

That night we had dinner together, enjoying the lovely view. Helmut started asking all about me and I tried my best to give him a good impression. But he was just…very German.

Me: “So Helmut, I had quite the convincing to do, why were you so hard on me?”

Helmut: “Well I wasn’t looking for a Helpx girl, I was looking for a strong man to help me with the fire wood.”

(…)

Me: “Uhu…And what about Maryam then?”

Helmut: “Well she was different, I reached out to her myself after reading her bio.”

Me: “You reached out to her? …B…b…but why didn’t you do that with me??” (FEELING REALLY SORRY FOR MYSELF HERE)

Helmut: “Because I looked you up on the internet and I usually don’t do this with my Helpx but somehow I did it with you. And I saw this picture of you with this cycling guy (THE Jens Voigt) and I just thought: no way she’s coming up here. She will drive me NUTS! I was trying to send you off with an excuse, that there wasn’t any room and this trip wasn’t for you anyway but you kept insisting coming over. You are very persistent, I got that from the first email you sent me. If I didn’t find out I was the only host you reached out to in Tasmania, then I wouldn’t have let you come over here. But I tracked down your ‘mail outs’ and discovered you only sent one email. To me. So I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. But if I don’t like you, you can scram. I’ve sent other helpers walking before.”

(Long uncomfortable silence)

When I tugged myself in that night, I took a deep breath and went through the day. I said good night to Maryam, put my sleeping mask on, tightened my hoodie and thought to myself: these next days ought to be interesting.

And they were.

To be continued.

XO

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Wanderlost

I got to thinking the other day. I wonder how you people experience my travels… You probably think I’m doing only fun stuff, that every day is a Saturday and that I’m living in a dream bubble that will make me unable to ever fit into everyday society again.

Well I must disappoint you.

I’m not just traveling. I’m struggeling. Hurting. Pushing myself to my limits. Every day.

I’m not taking a gap year to run away from things. I’m taking a personal year to run right into things. Face challenges. Asking reality to punch me in the face.

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You raising your eyebrows: “Well if you’re hurting, then why do we only see happy travel pics on your Instagram Ev?”

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Well, first of all, Instagram is built for these kinds of pics. You just present things in the nicest way possible. It’s fun to play around with it. To build a network. Getting to know other travelers who are as wanderlust as you through breath taking pictures. It’s meant to inspire. It is meant to be liked. If I post a pic of myself, comment ‘bad day, FML, everybody go to hell’. Then who’s gonna paint that little heart in that loving shade of red? ❤

If you want to look behind ‘the scenes’ of colorful Instagram posts and perfect filters. Go check out the blog. That’s where I like to put the genuine emotions into words.

I’ve been clear from the beginning that this is an honest blog about traveling and finding a destination in life. Well, I can inform you that I had a first meltdown. In Melbourne. As you know, I’m traveling alone from now. And it’s not because I’m now flying solo I suddenly hit a low. It was just the first time, after being around a lot of people at the farm and all, I got a chance to realize some stuff. Since there is no one other than me, myself and I to distract me. I’ve realized I’m not only wanderlust. I’m pretty damn wanderlost. I wander this place not knowing where I’m going.

You raising your eyebrows again: “I thought that was kinda the point Evvy?”

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Well yeah, of course, but only now I realize: This is not the right way.

To be honest. I hate these hostels. I hate it has all these people in them. And I hate the posters on the walls promoting these stupid binge drinking cruises. ‘This is your ticket to party and travel!’ I hate this shallow lifestyle and I hate being part of it.

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You adding a sigh (and maybe some alcohol) to those highly raised eyebrows: “Well do you wanna go home??”

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Me: “Hell no!”

I’m glad I’m away. I’d rather feel ‘depressed’ (I’m trying to look for a less heavy loaded word) at the other side of the world, where it’s 40 degrees, rather than sit in that stupid country I call home. But I need to get of the beaten track ASAP! Once you’re in the backpacker scene you kind of get pushed into a direction that expects you to hop from one touristic hotspot to another. But actually, I don’t want this at all. I don’t want to spend heaps of money experiencing mind numbing tours and day trips that thousands, probably even millions of people have done before me just because travel agencies advise it as a ‘Must See’. Remember what happened on the Great Ocean Road? The Great Ocean Let Down is what it was to me. It just doesn’t fulfill me. And it is not the goal of my journey to begin with. I strive to look for meaningful experiences, here. The added value, you know? I see this trip as a way to explore, experience different things in order to find my destination in life. I want to be challenged and I am willing to suffer. I’m shaking so much while I’m typing this since I just traveled all the way to the airport with 30 kilo’s strapped around my body. I could have just taken the tram to the bus station before coming to the airport, but sometimes, I just prefer the hard way. I think it’s all part of the trip. Pushing limits, see how far your mind and body can go. Stepping out of the safe waters and taking a plunge into the unknown.

I’m browsing every street, every corner, looking for something. Anything to feed my soul. I’ve noticed I’ve started looking for schools and stuff. I just really feel the need to learn and develop myself. That’s why I did some martial arts training while in Melbourne. That’s why I reached out to this guy in Tasmania, the so called cannibal who’s going to eat me for dinner. He calls himself a traveler in life. He has had a long one so far -he’s 70 or something- with lots of different directions and he is very much into zen. I just know I can learn so much from this person but I must say I am having some difficulties trying to convince him. Once he found out I was in Melbourne, he sent me an email asking me to reconsider coming over. Since his place is super secluded. And there’s nothing there but trees, mountains and animals – yes, also brown snakes and redbacks. Well, I felt really sad after this email. I am one thousand, one million!, percent sure I want to go there. I am dying to find a place away from these hostels, this busy road, to finally experience something real, and here he is writing me off as some shallow backpacker, who is looking for shallow thrills and nightly hookups. Don’t tell me what’s good or not good for me, the only person who knows what’s good or not good for me is me. I have been living with ME for 27 years. And here you are thinking you only need 27 seconds to pin me down. I’m much more than what meets the eye, mister. I just want to pick your brain.

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That particular meltdown day in Melbourne I sat on my bunk and stared into the big nothingness for a while. When I got up I looked in the mirror and told myself to give us a smile. After all I have nothing to not smile about. While my eyes looked down, they spotted a booklet on the chair. ‘The Answers are Blowing in The Wind’, the cover whispered to me. It belonged to the British girl I’m sharing the room with who wasn’t in at the moment. I thought it was an actual book, so I was triggered to open it, but soon I found out it was some kind of diary. I didn’t mean to read it, but my eye caught a couple of bullet points on what seemed a ‘to do list for 2016’.

* Go to therapy (…)

* Try living by yourself (…)

* Go on a date. Be convinced you are worth of meeting someone and deserve to be loved.

* Eat with your hands without being afraid of germs.

* …

It was only then I saw there were wet anti-bacterial wipes lying next to it…

And it suddenly became more clear to me why she popped pills in the middle of the night. Maybe she’s on some meds to fight against depression or something…

Then it dawned on me. Maybe I’m not the only one who feels a little out of place here. Maybe we are all pretty damn wanderlost. We all carry our backpack on a road that is mostly to be defined while walking it. Life is a journey and it is no shame to be honest about this to yourself. A booklet. Or a blog.

With these comforting thoughts I went outside. And booked myself a boxing class for the next morning. I figured I needed to punch some negativity out of my knuckles before my zen retreat in the Tasmanian mountains. I don’t know when I will meet up with Helmut. But if he doesn’t want me I will knock on his door either way, look him in the eye and convince him that I’m worth his time and effort.

(Please still remember to send a heli over St Mary’s if you don’t hear from me in more than a week. I am still a little worried I might end up on his plate with a nice side of homegrown veggies)

XO

‘The Gleat Ocean Load’

I am delighted to tell you: We’re on The Great Ocean Road !!

This is our route directly leading to Melbourne. So what is the Great Ocean Road exactly? Well, it’s a road….that leads along the ocean…AND IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE GREAT!

I dunno, you’re supposed to see a lot of nice sceneries on the way or something. And according to Cadel Evans, it is THE thing to see when around Melbourne. And who wants to disagree with Cuddles??

So, what do you need?

* A car, evidently;

* A solid play list with some nice road music;

* A camera;

* And maybe stop at a K-Mart for some basic necessities like… err, I dunno, … A SELFIE STICK!

I resisted the hype in Belgium, and now they’re totally uncool I decided to buy one. I just figured it might come in handy to take epic panorama pictures from a higher point of view since I’m not that tall to begin with. They should call it a ‘loner stick’, since it’s the best way to take pictures while traveling solo without constantly having to ask someone to take the picture for you.

So once you have all that, you’re good to hit THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD! (yes, people elevate their voice when they pronounce it, ’cause apparently it’s something to get very very excited about)

So we, my farm buddy Pierre and I, arrived on the GOR coming from Warrnambool. First scenery-stop was Bay of Islands. I stormed my way on the viewing platform, aggressively wielding my selfie stick, not knowing where to begin first. There were nice picture opportunities EVERYWHERE! I must have looked like a fat kid craving sugar, I was all over the place. Click, click, click, click … I LOVE THIS STICK!

After 20 minutes of ‘loner stick’ fun, we continued to The Grotto. Only a couple of hundred meters away. Then another couple of hundred to see the London Bridge, then another to see God knows what.

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The Great Ocean Grotto

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London Bridge

Rocks are nice. I mean, rocks rock! But seeing rocks is very much the same as visiting temples in Asia. At first you’re like :

“OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING, THIS HAS TO BE ONE OF THE COOLEST THINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. Click click click click. LOOK! THERE! A REAL LIFE MONK! Click click click click. LOOK THERE! TEMPLE BIRDS!! LOOK! TEMPLE BIRDS SITTING ON REAL LIFE MONKS!

– Second one : This is flipping epic! I go could never get tired of this. Give me more, I want more! Click click click click…

– Third: This is so pretty I could dieee. Click click click click click….

-Fourth: So beautiful! Click click click!

-Fifht: Ahh yeah, this one is also nice! Click, click….click

– Sixth: Yeah…Sweet! Click. Cl… (no click)

– Seventh: Click….

– Eighth: (yawn) Yo, you wanna go grab a burger or something?

So yeah, after a while you’re just driving, pulling over, driving, pulling over, driving, pulling over, …. . I don’t know if it was just me, but I wasn’t feeling the rhythm. Mostly I was feeling car sickness.

It wasn’t really the authentic experience I was hoping for. I guess I forgot other people would be there as well. Mostly heaps of Chinese tourists. Once you reach the Twelve Apostles, the high point of the GOR, there are bus loads of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Chinese, I’m going there next but it wasn’t until I would go there I was expecting to be mobbed by them. Bombing every picture I take. They come running wrapped up in blankies, wielding their selfie sticks about even taking pictures with a random seagull (…).

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They even dress up for it…

I guess the Great Ocean Road is to them what the Chinese Wall is to Caucasians. Turns out the GOR really banks on the Asian tourists. With menu cards in Chinese, Chinese toilet instructions, Chinese sightseeing maps and welcoming boards. They even put on traffic signs to remind them that in Australia people drive on the left…

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To be honest, at the end of the day I was glad to be back in The Great Outdoors. Cooking our meal in the back of the car, camping in the wild. The day after we decided to take some alternative routes, do some random hikes and this lead us to some very nice places actually. It was much more fulfilling to me. And we end up seeing the most amazing sunset.

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Guess where I am.

Here’s a traveling tip for you: If there’s no Chinese in sight, you’re doing a good job.

Just remember to really take in the moment. And appreciate life.

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Taking in the moment.

But even do that with Chinese around. Life’s too short to let your panorama be ruined by a negative attitude. So if you want to elongate your stay on this globe and keep enjoying the views. Be positive.

… Or use a loner stick.

XO

BTW: Seeing all those Chinese tourists really made me crave Asian food. This pork belly with jasmine rice was TO DIE FOR. If you’re ever in Lorne, make sure to go to Chopstix. They even make their own fans out of chopsticks! You see how handy sticks can be??

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Drool.

No worries, mate.

Here in Oz people keep saying ‘No worries’, whenever I ask or do something. Like… am I supposed to be worried?? Seriously, is there something you’re not telling me?

Turns out I’m a complete paranoid at times. I guess this happens when you’re a little clueless about certain things. You turn a little sceptic against them. If you don’t know something, you think it’ll turn out a certain way and mostly your brain makes you believe it will turn out bad since -generally- it is programmed to protect you from ….

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And all things you don’t know are to be avoided…

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I think it’s from all the horror stories I hear in the news. On our way to the Grampians we stopped in Tintinara, a place not far from the Victoria border where I met this sweet little old lady owning a shop in the middle of nowhere. I was telling her where I was going.

Sweet little old lady: “Oh The Grampians. That’s a lovely place. You’ll like it. A bit dry for the moment.”

My face froze.

Me: “What do you mean dry? Like FIRE HAZARD?”

I started asking her all these questions about bush blazes. I think I maybe scared her a little… Then I felt bad and bought this ridiculous headband. Well, maybe it turns into a thing. ‘Tintiaras’.

Another horror story I discovered was the kidnapping of two young female backpackers in Salt Creek recently. Only 20K from the farm I stayed at! Apparently the girls hitched a ride from this 59 year old dude. They camped on the way to their destination and this is the part where he digs up a hammer, knocks them down and tries to rape them. One girl got away and ran out of the bushes all bloody. And naked. To be rescued by some fishermen. I mean GEE! Could you imagine?

And here I am going to Tasmania soon to live with a 70 year old guy in the woods for a week. I met him through Helpx, the website where you offer your help in exchange for food and accommodation. Amazing reviews and his place looks like a dream place as well. But if he decides to hammer me down then and there, there won’t be any fishermen out there to save me. Only Tasmanian devils, And I’m pretty sure they’re on his side.

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Am I crazy to go there? Or just crazy thinking he might have written his own reviews and is looking forward to eating my kidneys for dinner while drinking the bottle of Shiraz I brought him as a welcoming gift? I mean why would he point out in his bio he’s a vegetarian, anyway? To put me off track, that’s why!

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But what am I supposed to do? To be honest I’m dreading hostels even more. The last time I shared a room with more than 4 people was in grade school when we went on some forest class. A girl threw up on my brand new gym shoes right after dinner. She then accidentally used MY wash cloth to clean it up… Yeah, I didn’t get great memories from that trip. Later I found out two of my best friends made out with my love interest in the back of the bus. AT THE SAME TIME. We were like 10…

So hostels and bunks, not really a fan. But I did live in a shed for almost a month. And slept in a car for a week. Everything else should seem like an upgrade, right? But I do hear people just have sex while you’re lying in the same room with them. I just can’t be bothered. Make babies in your own god damn time. Or at least rent one of the single rooms. It’s worse enough I had to spend Valentine’s night in the passenger’s seat of a Skoda in a free camp called ‘The Sawpit’ -doesn’t really sound like a place you get out in one piece- with campers all resembling the profile of the famous rapist of Salt Creek…

So yeah, after Melbourne I’ll probably head further down under and go to Tassie (that’s slang for Tasmania). If you don’t hear from me in a week send a helicopter over St Mary’s and look for a vegetarian guy named Helmut having a blonde for dinner.

*** Users warning: Even though all blog posts are 100% true and non-fiction, I do tend to enlarge certain emotions. I have learnt that once you’re on a road, things don’t seem so scary and everything just happens really organically. So NO WORRIES

XO

FYI (since everyone is asking) : No, I’m not homesick yet. I’m just really happy.

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Hiking in the Grampians

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I was only adjusting my cap…

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Home

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Where we cook our road kill, err, road meal.

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About to saddle up for The Great Ocean Road