My View From the Cheap Seats

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Eyes down, keep walking.
You have somewhere to be.
Eyes down, no talking.
You have to get there on time.
Keep your smile for the ones you know deserve it.
Keep your smile for the ones who have earned it.

I am a people watcher, but it rarely does me any good.
I tell myself I do it to stop being such a judgemental tool; to attempt to see people as people and not stereotypes.
But when I’m browsing in a bike shop and a homeless guy comes in with a $500 bike he’s trying to sell to the store, it’s fucking difficult to see anything but a dude who has stolen a bike to get his next fix.

But I still tried to give him the benefit of the doubt; while he was clearly having a rough time at the moment maybe he was selling some of his last possessions to… ah fuck, who am I kidding?
I could have offered him $10, thrown the bike on social media and probably had it back to the owner and been sitting here drowning in good karma pussy instead of bemoaning the state of my conscience.
C’est la vie.

Eyes down, keep walking.
None of this is worth watching.
Eyes down, no talking.
Nothing ever happens.
If these people were worth knowing you would know them by now.
If there’s anything to learn you will learn it someday.

The hostel I’m staying in has a guitar for guests to use on the rooftop patio.
In typical hostel form it started life as a classical nylon string, but has been retrofitted with steel strings so the neck is so warped it now more closely resembles an inverted cello.
It can’t hold tune, and the action is so high you need the finger strength of a genetically modified Bruce Lee to hold a chord to the frets.
So I spent an hour in a music store downtown pretending I was willing to throw around a few grand just so I could have a bash on something worth playing on a rainy Toronto day.
The salesman had to be coerced into helping me with the guitars on display, only initially sticking his head in to tell me to take my jacket off before I picked up any guitars, as the zip would scratch the timber.
He eventually became excited when talking about the series of Guild guitars, one of which was second hand and had belonged to Ray LaMontagne and so had only appreciated in value.
We saw each other at face value, and probably read each other pretty well, because he disappeared for lunch before I could start talking travel-sized guitars and whether they would throw in a hard case with the nice little Washburn parlour I had my eye on.
The problem is I am now inspired with the full weight of emotion a Regina Spektor show will impart in someone, and the purchase of a new guitar feels like it might give me the drive I need to spend a winter getting vocal lessons and properly recording the ten years worth of shit I’ve dribbled on various bits of paper.
Nah, maybe next year.

Eyes down, keep walking.
There is safety in familiarity.
Eyes down, no talking.
Nothing new will happen today.
All of these people feel the same.
All of these people fear the same.

Last week, Kyle Thunderblanket, a poorly-named supervillain and alleged murderer stole a car and shot a police officer, shutting down the Trans Canada highway overnight as a manhunt commenced around Revelstoke.
He was found dead and an investigation is currently underway regarding police involvement with his death.
On Wednesday night at around 2am I put my friend in an Uber in downtown Toronto and made my way back to my hostel via a pizza joint being marauded by a group of 19 year-old girls.
I grabbed a couple slices of some vegan failure of a pizza and overshot the hostel, ending up in a quiet bar near the Kensington Marketplace.
There was a small crowd locked into their own vibe in front of the taps and a middle aged dude in a trench coat being refused further service by the tiny asian girl behind the bar.
He became argumentative and abusive as I ordered a beer, and a guy from the other side of the bar and I began to talk him down from whatever rooftop he rode his high horse. 
I recognised the guy who jumped into help, and he was clearly much more practiced at dealing with fools.
He was a cop from Revelstoke who had been on the front line in the manhunt the previous week, and was visiting his hometown during a week of administrative leave.
He’s as regular as a cop in a small town can be at the bar I work in in Revelstoke; but off duty in his hometown on the other side of the country he was more than willing to shout shots of tequila when we realised our small-world connection.
“You’re in my bar now,” he laughed, ordering a second round of Don Julio shots.

I people watch, and it rarely does me any good.
But occasionally my conscientious observer status gives way to foolhardy involvement, and yields results.
I consider myself a traveller, despite having just been on my first flight in two years two days ago.
I hold myself above them when I smile at someone in the street and they look away, and then I pick up the rubbish they just dropped to affirm my opinion.
But I try not to be too judgemental? Ha, that’s a lie.
I just try to be right in how I judge them, those people also watching from the cheap seats.

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Binge

The golf clubs have been replaced with ski poles in the Revelstoke thrift store rack.
I’ve noticed the leaves changing on the trees, I’ve felt the cold night air and dressed appropriately.
I’ve re-attached the mudguards on my bike so I don’t turn up to work looking like the earthy inspiration for a Jackson Pollock painting, and I bought slippers to wear from my bedroom to the bathroom in the mornings.
My toes went numb with cold halfway up Dusty Beaver yesterday and I wasn’t drenched in sweat after another hour of climbing those winding single track trails.
But today, there are second hand ski poles where last week there was second hand golf clubs, and to me this is the most stark indication of the changing Canadian seasons.

I tried to leave town early this morning, but the highway was closed and I went back to bed instead.
They’re blasting the cliffs that line the highways as early avalanche control measures, and they’re closing the main road into town for a couple of hours every day.
In my hungover state and my excitement for getting on the road for a few hours to renew my Canadian working VISA with a flagpole run to the US, I forgot the road would be closed.
I guess it’s somewhat ironic that I was unable to leave Revelstoke to do the one thing that will allow me to stay in Revelstoke for the coming winter.
So I went back to bed and rewarded my attempt at productivity with the first few episodes of the new Netflix show Easy; which is basically softcore porn with well written characters.
Or it’s a black comedy with well written sex scenes.
And as the mercury failed to climb above 15ºC I was more than content use my morning to plough through the first half of the series.

Give me excess of it.
I’ve been gifted it, had privileged encounters with it and worked hard for it.
I’ll make my excuses or justifications and have another drink.
I’ll use any previous productivity or personal success and stay in bed another hour.
I’m coming up on 27 and rationalising a life spent in search of basic pleasure without guilt.
21st Century gluttony and a first world aversion to self awareness is what I seek.
I’ll take it all.
Give me craft beer, $5 lattes and cheeses with names I can’t pronounce.
Give me access to a lifestyle many would call a holiday and let me take it for granted, because I can’t surfeit on any of this; I don’t know how.

It’s all a binge, so much so that it’s becoming a marketing device for media mobs like Netflix.
It’s instant gratification, and it never runs out.
It’s a cold swim on a hot day.
A hot chocolate on a powder day.
It’s everything you ever wanted, and it’s available to you right now for the low low price of taking pleasure in doing whatever the fuck you want.

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creature/comfort

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Photo by Jakub Barcik

Ten years ago in the departure lounge of Brisbane International Airport, Mum gave me some advice.
As I prepared to board a plane on my first solo international trip she told me to always say yes to new experiences, and that I could figure out the details later.
While this came with the obvious caveats associated with parental advice to a seventeen-year-old (don’t do condoms and always use drugs etc), I took it to heart.
I have lived my life since attempting to find a balance between taking her advice too literally and finding myself in situations some foresight could have prevented or being over cautious and missing out on once-in-a-lifetime events.
I have just barely avoided being mugged in New York City because the new friends I had just met had disappeared between bars and I was walking around drunk and alone at 3am, and I’m sure there’s a handful of experiences I’ve missed or was unaware I could have been a part of.
But what good is it to live life remembering the lives others have lived?

Two days ago I was standing next to a lake on the Illecillewaet Glacier in central British Columbia.
I was naked and waiting for the clouds to part and the sun to shine to give some brief comfort from intense discomfort I was about to endure.
The water was about three degrees celsius and I’m pretty sure every inch (lol) of my body was aware of that.
It’s not that I’m a masochist, seeking pain for pleasure, but maybe I take the sight of every inanimate body of water as a challenge – just to see if I can.
And that’s not such an unusual aspect of the life of someone who might call themselves a traveller.
For me, as a tourist and as someone who loves a good story, if I can look at something and see something which sure as shit won’t be pleasurable, but will make for a good tale in the future you can be sure I’ll be getting involved.
Why else would we do these things if not for the fact we can share them?
And while jumping into that glacial lake, I’ll admit, was an attempt to live up to Mum’s advice of a decade ago, it was also to satiate the very 21st-Century need to share every piece of my life for online gratification.

As I write this I’m sitting alone in a bar as if I’m waiting for someone, but I’m not.
I’m alone and comfortable with that because as far as you know I could be waiting for a friend, a lover.
I’m scrawling on a notepad as I could be waiting on an interviewee; a subject of a career on indefinite hiatus.
And these hypothetical options bring me comfort amongst questions no one is asking.
And with that anxiety comes the physical awareness that, yes, I am sitting at a bar alone and what do I do with my feet they don’t reach the floor from this stool and is my arse hanging out and goddamn I don’t have enough hair to be out in public without a hat on.
Stupid vanity, always ruining my thoughtful introspection.

Herein lies social media’s saving grace; I can justify my existence simply by making every aspect available to engage and make envious anyone with working thumbs.
I can spew some inspirational bullshit accompanying a photo of myself atop a mountain like I was the first to summit it; and with each Instagram ‘like’ I’ll give myself another hour in bed the next day.
Maybe if I had a nicer arse leaving it to hang out on a webcam and posting it in a NSFW subreddit would validate me.
Maybe if I was prettier each of my followers would send me abusive messages and I could live my life by schadenfreude.
But on each hike, on each day mountain biking or canoeing or snowboarding or just getting the fuck outside to continue actually experiencing this online fodder I can still get lost in it.
Thanks Mum, I’m still figuring out the details.

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I Will Come Home

I could count my moments of homesickness in a few ways;
Instagram posts I’ve deleted an hour after posting because they were too melancholic.
Facebook status updates that have met the same fate.
Emails to Mum sharing the overflow of emotion I don’t know how to share with anyone else.
Hours spent alone in beautiful locations in search of some divine intervention.
Scraps of paper containing song lyrics and mindless musings.
But so far I can’t count it in dollars spent on plane tickets home.

When my mind wanders and I lose focus on anything important or tangible, subconsciously I visualise the backyard of my parents’ home.
I’m sitting at the outdoor dining table, and maybe Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album is playing on the speakers overhead.
It’s either that or The Waifs’ live album; my memory of my parents’ musical tastes spans about four albums total.
The view from the porch is the same I had while my veterinarian father euthanised our geriatric blue heeler, Holly.
The same view I had while I looked up from reading an obituary in The Australian about the death of Heath Ledger.
The same view my dad posted a photo of on Facebook recently, noteworthy as the lawn played host to a family of kangaroos.
It’s where I go in my head when I think about nothing; when little else seems important.
It’s home – and it is always there, even if it seems like there is nothing else.

I don’t write letters anymore; in truth I rarely even write emails.
I tell myself my long winded Instagram captions and Facebook musings are enough to let my friends and family know how I’m doing.
I recently joined Snapchat because a friend, whose writing I admire, told me it’s a good way of ‘keeping long distance relationships on life support,’ just enough to keep them alive.
The irony of hearing that from a friend living on the other side of the country was not lost on me.
I think myself a luddite if I don’t adapt to the newest ways of communicating, and a victim to trends if I do.
The reality is that the people who deserve updates on where I am and what I’m doing are the ones who won’t get them, at least not direct from the source.
As Dan Mangan sang; “It’s so easy to be awful to the ones you need the most, so in the end all I hope is that they know.”

Yesterday I felt more at home than I have in months, but that may just be because I got the worst sunburn I’ve had in the northern hemisphere.
There’s just something about a whisky enhanced breakfast that relegates any self preservation such as sunscreen or not snowboarding under the influence to the back seat.
I joined friends from Noosa in their Revelstoke kitchen for a breakfast that included thick cut bacon, avocado and Vegemite on toast and I felt at home.
We stood in the sun on their patio casting our gaze to the mountain, drinking coffee and Revelstoke Pecan Spiced Whisky and I felt at home.
I spoke with a friend from work about how he was in Margaret River about a month after I left in 2014, while he cooked up one of the best potato bakes I’ve ever eaten.
Up on the mountain the sun was out and with it came the kind of mass celebrated nudity you might find on a European beach.
It was Gnar Day, a day dedicated to Shane McConkey; a professional skier who thought the sport took itself too seriously, and amongst my naked and drunken friends, I felt at home. 

Home is safe. Home is familiar. Home is a catchy-as-fuck folk song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
Right now I’m sitting in a local restaurant being served by a friend I went snowboarding with a few days ago.
I’m about to ride my bike to my apartment and I’ll probably whistle the tune of the Edward Sharpe song on my way there.
I might see some friends on my way, and their presence will comfort me.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and decide the people I need to see most are my family, in Australia, and that’s where home will be.
But for today, home is just the idea of love.
And I’m full of ideas. 

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2015, Year of the Narcissist

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A few weeks ago I wrote a thousand or so words on fear.
I didn’t share it, and I haven’t even saved the document I wrote it on.
It still sits there, open on my desktop, maybe waiting for my six-year-old computer to crash and for the file to be corrupted, or maybe for a further spell of inspiration to turn a few hundred words of bullshit in to something worth reading.
It was an attempt at humour framed by a back injury which had landed me in hospital earlier in December, and the idea that the fear of such injuries could hold me back from this life of adventure and fantasy I’ve sought for myself in the last 18 months.

But what it really came down to, after I’d ill-advisedly made a link between the fears I hold for myself and the world at large, was that I was again just writing a self-indulgent rant.
And so I realised that this year, which began for me being yelled at by some spoilt son drunk on Dad’s dime in the restaurant I bartend at, and which will likely end in a similar fashion, was the Year of the Narcissist.
The following is a few paragraphs from what I wrote earlier in the month, before I realised that the year ending was not one worth relating to fear or sadness, but to all things great.

“I’m not scared of spiders or snakes.
I don’t fear rapture or the fall.
It’s the hitting the ground, the nothingness of oblivion I can’t handle.
I’m scared of ideologies, of forced lifestyles and an existence out of my control.
When I was young I feared failure; I avoided talking to girls and trying new experiences for fear of it not working out in my favour.
The introversion I suffered from has been eroded over the years since I left high school and I’ve come to meet people who admire the skills I have and the person I’ve become.
So I travel, and I search for those whose passions I can share in and who will bring out the  best version of myself, while hoping I can do the same for them.
But still fear drives me from both directions; the fear of inadequacy swells behind me, pushing me on, while the fear of having the ability to move forward taken away seems to hover at the horizon.

There’s nothing to do there, like Cold War Kids sang, in a hospital bed, but to lie and complain.
The fear of a snow-season-ending injury crawled around my head, as I flirted with the nurses in grunts, gasping for breath as a pain like a vice made an attempt to introduce my sternum to my spine, disregarding my protesting ribs.
It’s a fear I’ve felt throughout my travels; that some injury will send me home, bags packed and without a chance of return; leaving stones unturned, people unmet, destinations unvisited. Those Italian operas and Vietnamese fishing trips.

I’ve felt fear and been hysterical.
I’ve met fear with an attempt at bravery.
The protagonist of every movie or book or tv show or radio serial you’ve ever loved has been guided by fear.
It is as ever present as love, as we fear the loss of love.
Just as the protagonist needs the antagonist for the story to progress, I need fear push me to do the things I love.
Fear is the catalyst for the world’s many and varied issues.
A mass hysteria.
A broadcast xenophobia.
A reason to perpetuate hatred under the guise of safety.” 

Somehow, I managed to convince myself that my masturbatory teenage shyness could be related within a few hundred words to the idea that Donald Trump’s hatred is more dangerous than the danger posed by extremists of all nationalities and religions around the world.
Really, I was just writing about myself and not accepting that, but instead hoping to write something that would reach further, that would hit home for those not concerned that I spent an afternoon in hospital and the resulting bills may mean I have to wait a few extra weeks for a new piece of snowboarding paraphernalia.
i.e; everyone.

Each and every movement I made in 2015 was for my own personal gain; for my own thrill seeking selfishness; for my own self indulgent adventure; for something to write about in the hopes that you would read it and think about me and how fucking interesting my life is.
It’s the social media effect; the perfectly curated online presence validated by double taps on an Instagram account.
But as the curtains close on 2015 a flash of awareness has dawned across your narrator’s face, and although I have no qualms with my year of well documented introspection, I look forward to 2016 with excitement of seeing my family for the first time in nearly two years, thinking that maybe, maybe I could learn to live not for the things I fear, but for the people I love and those who tolerate me in return.

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Lighting Fires

Last night it took me four attempts to get my campfire going.
I’ve never claimed to be the most manly of men, but that sort of effort is akin to having one’s genitals removed to be replaced only by a deep pit of shame.
I could have forgiven myself if it had taken four attempts after I had foraged in the wet Washington wilderness with nought but my axe to gather a campfire’s worth of timber.
Timber that was soaking wet, but ready to be burnt by a cunning outdoorsmen such as I thought myself.
But, nah, I’d just picked up two rolls of perfectly dry cedar from the gas station outside the beachside campground and dropped it in the rusted truck wheel at my campsite.
The whole tragedy also included an entire local newspaper (including advertising liftouts), several pages of the very notebook I drafted this pisstake of a post in, and the dust cover of Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Don’t worry, the book itself is fine, and a spectacularly depressing world war two novel that owes a great deal to classical Japanese literature; if you’re into that sort of thing.
After I’d managed to deplete the small supply of twigs that came with the firewood I’d bought, I split one of the logs into a better stack of kindling with my trusty axe (that, in retrospect, I scarcely deserve) and rebuilt the fire.
And I only managed to get that going after another two attempts with the aforementioned toilet roll, noteboook papers, a string of expletives and a couple swigs from the “Loser” Pale Ale I’d bought to keep me warm in case my fire lighting skills did leave something to be desired.
The beer’s label proclaims that ‘Corporate Beer Still Sucks’ is an homage to Sub Pop Records, the home of Nirvana. And indie beers. Or something.
But on that fourth attempt, having rebuilt my teepee of kindling, replaced the noteboook paper, readjusted the toilet paper (Oh yeah! My third attempt was so god awful I had somehow fucked up setting a roll of toilet paper on fire successfully), and stepped down the enthusiasm of my fanning, she caught.
She caught and she caught beautifully, rising from the base of the luxury three-ply through the structurally integral teepee of identical hewn kindling and then outwards to the larger logs, no doubt fighting for the oxygen I sought to inhale between gaping sighs of relief.
Not only did I retain the right to call myself an outdoorsy type dude in any future online dating profiles, I had something to use to cook my shitty, processed, barely-even-food Franks hotdogs.

Worth it!

It was night number 10 of however many nights it’s going to take me to run my Chevy Astro, Laika, in to the ground on this great Pacific North West road trip, and I’d just circumnavigated the entire Olympic Peninsular.
I’d hiked some beautiful trails, encountered some of the country’s most notorious fauna and scored some rad beach break surf; goddamn, I was going to celebrate with a decent beer, some shitty food and a campfire.
It was only the fourth fire I’d had, despite having camped every night but the two I spent at a hostel in Victoria, where I hear they frown on you lighting fires next to your bed.
I would have lit one on my second night, on the edge of Horne Lake and under a mountain peak the name of which I’m let to learn, but I forgot a lighter and I’m yet to master creating fire by rubbing two sticks together.
It wasn’t until two nights later on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at the Sombrio campground on the Juan De Fuca hiking trail, that I managed to get a decent fire going with a combination of driftwood and previous campers’ left over kindling.
And the third campfire, on the shores of La Push, I can’t even claim as mine – but I was invited to share it with a few great people, so I count it as a success.
But maybe it doesn’t get easier with practice.
Maybe even with perfect conditions and the right equipment, even the most well built campfire can collapse and leave nothing but a smoldering pile of ashes from which I can attempt to revive something worth gathering around.
Each of these days I gather the necessary supplies for a day’s efforts; some days it catches in to just the spark of an idea and occasionally the roar of a full blown adventure.
But I’m yet to figure out the perfect mix that will leave my lying in bed at the end of the day without some lingering feeling I could have done more.
Maybe that’s not the idea though, maybe there’s something that will always be left undone and something that will be worth doing again tomorrow.
So I will continue to light these fires and hope that the spit and hiss of the flame whispers something in my ear worth listening to.

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My Body is a Machine

My body is a machine!
All rods and ribs. All torque and tongue.
My body is a machine!
All guts and gauges. All pistons and personality.
My body is a machine!
A well-used, poorly-maintained, 26-year-old machine limping across the starting line of the adventure that is today.

I treat my body like I treat my car.
With great enthusiasm, and very little understanding.
I treat my body like I treat my car.
With horrendous abuse, and great expectations of survival.
Brand new I came with parts missing, barely off the showroom floor I was all bursting valves and return trips to the mechanic.
After 10 years and many thousands of kilometres on the clock I had sustained a decent amount of front end damage experimenting with tasks I wasn’t designed for, couldn’t complete and would go on to attempt again and again for years on end.
After 20 years the damage had only continued, but if the cracks and scars, the leaks and smoke have left me with nothing but a well-weathered patina at least I know I still look good in the right light.
And the intervening six years have brought me here, physically comparing myself to my Chevy Astro Van.

While she waits on a spare wheel that isn’t rusted to her undercarriage and a coolant line inbound from Alberta, I patiently and routinely swallow penicillin to defeat a bout of strep throat, moving gingerly from the couch to the fridge hoping to find something that will provide some nutrients to ease joints and muscles aching from a dehydrated and malnourished week in bed.
Sometimes I envy machines – sentience is such a burden.
It was my choice to surf Canadian waters last Monday morning despite the early signs of a sore throat, and then to attempt to drink away said sore throat with Tofino Brewing Company’s excellent Kettle Sour ale on Monday afternoon.
It was my choice to take 4000mg of ibuprofen in 24 hours on Wednesday after I hadn’t managed to use a bout of gastro to shit and/or vomit the other sickness out of my system, which resulted in a wildly attractive rash on my torso and arms.
So on Friday afternoon with a fever approaching 40ºC and a new found of appreciation of Powerade, I stumbled into the pharmacy for the third time that week to collect a penicillin prescription from my lady surfer Dr Gilbert and the pharmacist had good laugh at me for being a one-man-band of theatrical illnesses.
I like her for that.

There was a point on Wednesday night where I was convinced I must be healthy again because I woke up and went to grab a sip of water and poured the majority down my nose and all of my face/pillow, and began laughing immediately.
In such slumbered confusion I could only laugh. And then vomit profusely.
It’s a brutal realisation that the only occasion you’ve had for laughter in a couple of days also caused you to bring up your dinner of salted crackers, Powerade and lemon ginger tea.
But worse things have happened to better people, and I write none of this for sympathy.
Maybe it’s just self deprecation, self flagellation and a PSA about reading the dosage labels on medicine bottles.
But after a week of missed work Tofino has once again sunk it’s beautiful claws deeper into my wanting skin I am finding it harder to leave this town I came to for two weeks five months ago.
So maybe I will stop making plans.
I will forgo a little sentience and hope my body can simply fire on all cylinders, headed straight on a winding road with someone entertaining riding shotgun and a version of myself carrying a little spontaneity and indifference to the destination at the wheel.

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