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The Highs and Lows, the Anticipation and Apprehension of Adventure Travel

I’m now in Noumea in New Caledonia on the verge of organising all of my gear and supplies to load into my kayak tomorrow, and paddle to my first destination, the beautiful Ile de Pins (Isle of Pines). As usual I have a great sense of anticipation, but tempered with a well seasoned measure of apprehension, because as with all such ambitious trips, and I haven’t done one like this for a few years now, there will be the inevitable mishaps, like the first day of my kayaking journey up the exposed east coast of Madagascar in 2003 when I got dumped by the heavy surf and nearly lost everything on a trip that I had been planning for many months. A few days ago I arrived here with 55 kilos of baggage after many flights between here and England, and just as I was unloading the baggage from the trolley my most expensive camera and lens slipped off my shoulder and the front of the lens hit the pavement with a painful thud. I had been carrying it outside my camera backpack just in case my carry-on bag was weighed because it’s always well over the limit, but I should have put it back inside the bag. There are always a combination of factors that conspire to make your bad luck bear fruit, and in this instance the dastardly bearer of my misfortune was the fleece jumper that my niece had brought out to New Zealand for me, and that as I discovered does not grip the shoulder strap of my camera as well as a t-shirt does.

Packing for this kayaking trip was an enormous challenge, as indeed they usually are. I was unable to bring my large capacious backpack because of weight limitations so I was limited to trying to squeeze as much extra gear as possible into the black and blue backpack that holds my Gumotex Helios 2 kayak or my yellow backpack dry bag. I knew that it would be unlikely that I would be able to take my 2 part paddle onto the plane as carry-on baggage so the only alternative was to integrate it inside the yellow bag with all my other gear.  It took about two hours to pack everything in like a complicated 3D jigsaw puzzle inside a bag. To get around the 7 kilo weight restriction for carry-on bags I put all the small heavy items like batteries inside my bum bag and hide that under my shirt, and also always wear cargo trousers with plenty of pockets into which I stuff things like my portable hard drives. It's always a tedious rigmarole every time I go through security and have to strip myself down of all concealed items. I wasn't prepared for the fanatical biosecurity at Auckland Airport and I had to show that my hammock was clean, and unfortunately it was stuffed right at the bottom of the congested yellow bag!! They were all very friendly, and I joked with the official that I would ask for him by name when I came back and make sure that I pack the hammock on top next time. At Noumea Airport I was just waved through biosecurity and my passport wasn't even stamped.

Packing for this kayaking trip was an enormous challenge, as indeed they usually are. I was unable to bring my large capacious backpack because of weight limitations so I was limited to trying to squeeze as much extra gear as possible into the black and blue backpack that holds my Gumotex Helios 2 kayak or my yellow backpack dry bag. I knew that it would be unlikely that I would be able to take my 2 part paddle onto the plane as carry-on baggage so the only alternative was to integrate it inside the yellow bag with all my other gear. It took about two hours to pack everything in like a complicated 3D jigsaw puzzle inside a bag. To get around the 7 kilo weight restriction for carry-on bags I put all the small heavy items like batteries inside my bum bag and hide that under my shirt, and also always wear cargo trousers with plenty of pockets into which I stuff things like my portable hard drives. It’s always a tedious rigmarole every time I go through security and have to strip myself down of all concealed items. I wasn’t prepared for the fanatical biosecurity at Auckland Airport and I had to show that my hammock was clean, and unfortunately it was stuffed right at the bottom of the congested yellow bag!! They were all very friendly, and I joked with the official that I would ask for him by name when I came back and make sure that I pack the hammock on top next time. At Noumea Airport I was just waved through biosecurity and my passport wasn’t even stamped.

Anyway, the damage was not as expected a cracked lens, but just as bad, the image stabiliser motor had been shocked into spasmodic motion so instead of stabilising the image the lens was being jerked from side to side with a horrible grinding sound! On the flight from Auckland I had felt that familiar euphoria of realising that many weeks of planning and preparation were finally nearing fruition. I felt the great open expanse of the Pacific Ocean unfolding beneath me clearing the backlog of accumulated congestion in my head of an endless conveyor of things that had to be done, one after another…and another…and another. The tedium had taken over from the simple seed of delight that was sown with my initial idea of a fantasy that I could make a reality…eventually. Practicalities stifled daydreaming, but now the shutters were opening again on exciting new horizons, but then as soon as I landed those practicalities kicked me in the face with the thud of my precious and very expensive 70-200mm zoom lens hitting the pavement. I should have just been grateful to be arriving in such a beautiful tropical paradise as New Caledonia, with or without the tools of my trade, but after all I’m a professional photographer, and I’d been planning this trip to revive my work and give me something new and exciting to get my teeth into, to photograph and write about. I’m a communicator and educator as much as a traveller, and they are inseparable facets of my life, and have motivated my educational work in many schools in the UK and USA. But all was not lost because I figured out that by shooting in rapid bursts I could get one or two shots that were in focus in between the jerking spasms of the motor. It would have been a lot worse had it been my shorter zoom, which I will be using for landscapes and underwater.

I often wish that I wasn’t travelling with so much expensive, fragile equipment, especially when I’m kayaking in the most equipment hostile environment. The stress factor would probably be substantially reduced but I would still have to deal with the personal physical mishaps that are always lurking in the wings of outdoor adventure travel, especially when I have a history of inviting such mishaps on my journeys, and why I have travelled alone for most of my life. As a National Geographic photographer I encountered in Alaska once observed, “you really know how to do things the hard way”. It’s not that I necessarily choose to do things the hard way, but the hard way has always followed me as an unwelcome companion, and become my lot in life, and the trademark of my journeys.

I’m nearly 62 now and maybe I don’t have the physical resilience to withstand “the hard way” anymore, and maybe it’s time for a bit more luxury lubrication on my trips. But it has been a while since my last big kayaking trip, and my more normal life in-between trips has had more time for softening, especially as my last two trips have been backpacking trips staying in designated accommodation. Kayaking trips are a completely different kettle of fish. I’m not setting off on any known routes; I’m literally going with the flow wherever distant horizons, coastlines and islands beckon. I’ve never been much of a rigid itinerary planner or set any particular goals like being the first to kayak between A and B or circumnavigate an island for the first time. I can never see the point of that because I’m always focussed on what’s in front of me or what lies around the next corner, rather than a must-do finishing line with all the glory and other commercial trappings. I just like to do my own thing man and to hell with the consequences. So who knows what this trip holds in store for me but as always it begins with a delicate blend of anticipation and apprehension, and there will undoubtedly be some amazing highs, and I already had my first low minutes after getting off the plane. If it’s not a roller-coaster ride then you haven’t travelled at all, well not the hard way ; )

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