Aud vs. Australia: the Blue Mountains

You guys – after nearly 3 years, I got to see the Blue Mountains.

FINALLY!

There has always been something stopping me from getting there – mostly because I wanted to go with Joel the first time I went, and our schedules, the weather, money, and someone with a car just never lined up. But last weekend, the stars aligned. I bought some active wear (active wear!), we woke up before dawn, and set out with our friend Rob, his flatmate Eloise and her pal Oxanna to see Empress Falls in the Blue Mountains National Park.

IMG_2088
6:00AM. SO cold. SO sleepy. But the early bird beats the tour busses.
IMG_2094
We reached the trail around 8:30AM. It was a brisk 7*C. 

After a traffic free, two and half hour drive, we reached the mountains. It felt cold. It felt like actual winter cold, with real frost in the air. So that was exciting. It was less exciting that I was wearing super thin, stretchy active wear pants and that didn’t do a thing to keep me warm unless I was moving in them (clever girl, active wear).

We parked the car and set out to begin our 3.5 km trail. I was too excited to get to the first look out to take many pictures, but I did see some killer rocks, and a pair of underpants in a tree (nature!).

IMG_2097
rocks!

Eloise and Oxanna and I had never been to the mountains, so when we reached the first look out, there were collective OOooOooOOo’s and AAAaaaAAAhhHhHhhs. It was incredible. All the photos I’ve seen, all the movies they’ve been featured in, nothing does them justice. And seeing the bright white cockatoo’s flying against the green trees was beautiful. It’s like looking down at a masterpiece.

DSCF6607
OOoOoOooo
IMG_2099
AhhHHhHhHhhh
DSCF6610
AAAaaAaaHhhHhhh
DSCF6617
camera frenz
DSCF6621
I love how spindly the gum trees look against the greenery
DSCF6622
fence/schmence
DSCF6625
so majestic

We continued down, down the trail, down the trail steps, down the rickety wooden stairs, down the slick, narrow, metal stairs, and we finally got to a valley that looked straight out of Ferngully. Or even Jurrassic Park. All rock walls and hanging plants and waterfalls and boulders.

DSCF6627

 

DSCF6630
staring up at the rock wall above us was almost dizzying

And there we got our first look at Empress Falls.

DSCF6632
don’t let those little stairs fool you – walking up them is no treat.

DSCF6635

It was absolutely beautiful down in the valley. We were down far enough for the sun to barely touch us, and we were surrounded by so many trees and water falls that it felt like walking in a rain forest. I felt like I couldn’t take enough videos or pictures, like I was trying to memorise the entire scene with my camera. It’s just beautiful. Also I kept waiting for a dinosaur to jump out at me.

DSCF6659
People ab-sail these falls. People die. People are ballsy for no reason.

 

DSCF6640

DSCF6645

DSCF6643

DSCF6649
So Ferngully
DSCF6647
I imagine this would be a cool place to swim in summer. If I wasn’t terrified of everything living inside it. And if this place weren’t crawling with tourists in warm weather.

DSCF6655

It was so still and quiet. Since we made it there so early, there weren’t many people around besides us. All you could hear was the waterfall and the birds. No planes, no cars, no people, no phones buzzing. Everything smelled wet and Earthy. I felt the cold air settling in my lungs. It was phenomenal.

DSCF6653

DSCF6654
poignant photos of pheet
DSCF6656
this is a playground that 9 year old Audrey would’ve died for
DSCF6668
RAPIDZ
DSCF6663
Jabba the Rock
DSCF6674
Joel taught me how to use my long exposure setting (i.e. the one good photo taken all day)
DSCF6671
An artist prepares. Also disobeys the perimeter markers. #rebel

DSCF6666

DSCF6681
the tiniest spider in all Australia
DSCF6683
I love finding love locks

Joel and Rob spent a lot of time getting photos of the waterfall.

Like, A LOT of time.

DSCF6680
so there was a lot of time for reflection and chill

At one point I took out my book, sat on a rock and read a couple of chapters. Totes felt one with the world and nature — sitting outside in the almost sun, listening to the waterfall, breathing in the pure mountain air, wearing my active wear— and I was nearly overwhelmed by how lucky I was to experience all this splendour and solitude and how I should do this more often, when I realised my butt was frozen to the cold rock and I almost pulled a muscle when I extricated myself from it. And then I slipped on the moss when I got down and nearly fell in the water.

Maybe I’m not 100% ready for nature.

DSCF6664
More poignant photos of pheet (also, slippery moss)

Eventually the photographers packed up and we all continued down the trail the next waterfall, Sylvia Falls.

DSCF6691
great rock walls
DSCF6699
and more greenery
DSCF6705
and this gorgeous stack of waterfall

I could have stared at this waterfall all day. It was beautiful. We got there right as the afternoon sun was hitting the rocks perfectly — it was hazy and glittery and very much dreamy.

DSCF6689
dat sun
unnamed
my favourite

The sun was also casting amazing light on the trees above us. At this point the tip of my nose and my finger tips were insanely cold (yassss winter cold) and all I wanted to do was take a nap in that sun. But I liked the look of the highlighted gum trees and the dark shadows where the light didn’t touch. Yeah, I had Mufasa’s voice in my head the whole time.

DSCF6716
Love
DSCF6718
Love more

After spending some more time with Sylvia, the moment I had been dreading since we made plans to go to the mountains finally came. It was time… to hike back up to the car.

I’m woefully out of shape. Like, I have the cardiovascular endurance of a 700lb diabetic smoker who’s been bed-ridden for years. It’s baffling to the doctors I work with, who think I must be asthmatic to get excruciatingly, painfully winded with even moderate exertion, but really, I’m just horrifically unfit. Climbing stairs makes me winded, and the slightest incline makes my thighs hurt. And with every step I took going down on the initial journey, I knew that would be one more step going up on the return. So I said a little prayer to the active wear Gods and started followed the rest of my team up the first set of stairs.

I quickly realised Eloise was behind me. I let her pass in front of me, saying “I’m going to be really slow, you won’t want to get caught behind me.”

“Oh that’s ok, I’m really slow too!”

“Nope, you have no idea how slow I’ll be.”

And it was true. Just climbing the short bit of rock stairs between Sylvia Falls and Empress Falls left me gasping and pretending to video the guys ab-sailing so I could catch my breath. Joel hung back with me and pushed me up parts of the stairs, and stopped with me whenever I started seeing stars and needed to stop. I was trying to be positive, trying to feel the inspiration of my active wear and JUST PUSH THROUGH IT! NO PAIN NO GAIN! HUSTLE GETS MUSCLE! INSPIRATIONAL PHRASE but all that kept running through my head was Sam telling Frodo that they needed to save the elfish bread for the return trip home and Frodo looking at him and being all “yeah, we aren’t making it home.” I was quite certain I would die, even as people twice my age were bounding up the stairs and that asshole fitness jock passed us jogging — again.

It took me about 20, maybe 30 hours mins longer to make the walk back to the car. I couldn’t breathe deep enough. My heart was straining from beating so fast, my lungs felt like steel wool, my ribs all felt cracked, my throat and nose were killing me, my head was splitting, and my arms and legs were spaghetti. My face was beet red and I was ready to collapse. At one point I tasted blood (I swear!). It was actually pretty scary. My chest and throat hurts just thinking about it.

But, I survived. And we made our way to the Conservatory Hut to have breakfast. And milkshakes. Because after facing death in the face, you get a milkshake.

IMG_2118
Hello pal (did you come to signal my death? Contrary to popular belief, I survived)
IMG_2122
Milkshake frenz
IMG_2124
Breakfast of Champions. We all ordered simple breakfasts, but the waitress brought us all GIANT BREAKFAST PLATTER. I ate almost all of it, and killed that milkshake. #yolo

We picked up some take away coffees and made our way to the car. I was warm, happy, and snug in the backseat, but too full of caffeine and adrenaline to sleep. When we got home, though, I was instantly so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I slept for 2.5 hours and woke up feeling like I got hit by a truck.

I’ve been sick all week as a result of my cold-weather-over-exertion and resulting sinus/chest infection, but shit. It was absolutely gorgeous and I would do all again next weekend.

Except this time, I’d hire a helicopter to save me from the hike back.

IMG_2115
Goodbye Mountains. Thank you for not killing me.

Verdict: +10, will mountain again. Must get in shape, or I will die.

Onwards to the next adventure!

My bed, my choice

Last September — no, it goes farther back than that.

Back in October 2015, I got a slightly better paying job, which meant I finally had the extra scratch to re-do our bed linens: new sheets, new pillows, new mattress pad, new duvet cover, and it was basically the best day of my life. Continue reading “My bed, my choice”

Audrey vs the Ocean

Halloween isn’t a big deal here like it is in the states, which is a bummer because it’s one of my favorite holidays. Plus, I’m still adjusting to October being spring and not fall, so that’s still a thing. But, Joel and I both had the day off, and the weather report showed that we were in for a hot one, so we decided to make it a beach day.

The beach! Yay! When I was growing up, we moved to Maryland and suddenly we lived between 3.5-5 hours away from a hand full of beaches. So it was always a Big Deal and a Big Trip whenever we went. Joel, on the other hand, grew up with beaches practically in his back yard. Lucky dog. I like going to the beach. I like the idea of being anywhere where the only thing you can do is relax. I am first and foremost, lazy.

When I was kid, I was a water baby. I’d run straight into the ocean and not look back. I remember being scared of sting rays and jelly fish, but once I hit the water, I wouldn’t care. I watched Jaws a million times and still wanted nothing but to play in the ocean.

Tiny Aud, circa 1994
Tiny Aud, circa 1994 at Assateague Beach, VA

Something happened though, as I got older. Maybe I’ve seen too many ocean documentaries, or maybe all those years of watching Jaws have finally caught up with me. But now, I’m a total wuss when it comes to getting in the water. It takes me so much time and and psyching up to get myself beyond the crashers and out to where I can jump the waves. Once I’m wave jumping and I’m comfortable, it’s the best thing and I never want to leave. Unless something brushes up against me. Then I’m all NOPE GTFO.

Maybe it’s a control thing. The ocean is vast and waves are terrifying. And then there are sharks and jellyfish and other fun guys. And with the beaches I grew up with, you couldn’t see anything in the water. There’s a lot going on and I have no idea about it. I’d never win if it came down to me vs. the ocean. That shit’s scary. And I’m ok with that. I have mad respect for the ocean.

So now, my relationship with the beach is a bit complicated. And on Friday, it got a bit more complicated. The beaches here may be beautiful, but they are a world away from the beaches I’m used to. For example, Gordon’s Bay. It’s one of Joel’s favorite swimming spots, and our first stop that day.

photo(2)

It’s a  beautiful spot. It’s quiet, and there are plenty of cliffs and large, flat rocks to set up camp and watch the water. It’s a bay though, so it’s mostly a shore filled with large rocks that you have to get past to get into the water. Even the sandy “beach” part is tricky to navigate because of rocks and debris. We put out our towels and I tried to convince myself to get in. The waves were crashing, and I saw crabs crawling over the rocks near the tide. But the rocks worried me. I’m not sure footed on land, and I could only imagine what I’d get into being nervous and trying to stand on a wet rock with freezing waves hitting me. And then, there were fish and crabs and things to worry about. I decided against getting in. Maybe one day when I get swimming shoes or a bigger set of balls or less neuroses, but it wasn’t going to be today.

Goodbye, Gordon's Bay. You win this round.
Goodbye, Gordon’s Bay. You win this round.

Joel suggested walking over to Clovelly Beach, which has a blocked off swimming area, but is still a beach. I accepted defeat, and skulked away, bathed in shame.

Clovelly Beach! (Source)

Clovelly was another story. There is a narrow stretch that’s been cemented off on the sides, with stairs installed. The waves that came through were nice and rolling, and only broke and crashed around the stairs. You could see through most of the water to the rocks and ledges. We put our stuff down and trucked down the stairs. After a mental push, I jumped off the stair ledge and past the rocks. Then I turned into a small child who has never touched salt water before.

Every time I kicked my legs to tread water, I touched some sort of rock or sea grass or sea plant. Every time I looked down, I saw (what looked like to me) an undersea universe. I kept hitting waves face on and getting salt water in my mouth. Joel would touch me and I felt like I would drown. After a little while, though, I warmed up to the water, passed all the rocks, and it felt nice. I relaxed a little, and even floated on my back for a bit.

Some of the underwater life at Clovelly. (source)

But, I saw something move in the water, and when I realized that we were far away from the sides, my brain went into hyper drive. I felt my arms go a bit numb, and I had a freak out. Which is the third best thing you can do when you’re in the ocean, behind swallowing salt water and bleeding near sharks. Joel was a saint, and towed me to the stairs, getting me to focus on swimming and treading water, not the 8 million thoughts of terror that were going through my mind.

Always a possibility.

We got out of the water without incident, but I was broken. The ocean had defeated me. And it’s hard to remember a time where I felt more embarrassed. Oh, maybe just after we got out of the water and that 5 year old grabbed a pool noodle and went into the water all by himself, proving himself to be much more badass than me. This is a beach where lots of people learn to swim for the first time. I learned to swim in a tiny swimming pool in Florida. I’ve only been in beaches with soft sand and the occasional blade of seaweed. I’m just not used to having an ocean with so much life in it. And it was overwhelming.

Next beach trip, though. I’m going in armed with sea shoes. And maybe a pool noodle. I might be too scared to defeat the ocean, but I’d like to be friends with it. Or at the very least, spend 10 minutes in the water without having a panic attack.

Baby steps.

I AM READY TO OCEAN
I AM READY TO OCEAN