Semi-Settled

Semi-Settled

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.”
― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

21st September, 2019

No. I’m not dead. Nor have I abandoned this blog. I have however, been very busy. Still in my pursuit of freedom. Now established in a kind of semi-settlement, I thought it was time to share the next chapter in the journey.

This blog started on 7th January, 2016 with me arriving back in New Zealand after several years away. I’d decided to act on my desire to free myself from dependence on the generally established order tying me to endless labour. To free myself from the cycle of working to live and living to work.

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Way back when… still unwinding from years of living away and the trauma of working in an animal shelter too long. Recovering from caring too much out near East Cape.

“I got more and more interested in these people who were downsizing their lives in order to create a lifestyle of independence and abundance. By decreasing their possessions and taking responsibility for their own needs they were lessening their dependence on the very system that enslaves so many of us to our money and debt.”

Nearly four years on, I’ve travelled some of the last corners of New Zealand that had escaped my experience so far. I’ve explored in a way that few others have and got to know the place and its people in a whole new light. Caravan life was interesting in itself, but was also training for a far more extreme downsize to “executive hobo” life in a peculiar coffin on wheels. My dogs and I walked nearly 4,000km in a meandering tour of our cities and remote rural hideaways.

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The Longest Walk NZ took me to places I never would have guessed and was a truly unique exprerience

There have been ups and downs, challenges and blessings. I met people who share my vision (link to TLW Hoki (or end?)) for a future and ended up being allowed to join in theirs.

It’s been a loosely guided safari through which I have learned to embrace uncertainty. Rigidity was holding me back. As were many limiting beliefs about my potential and ability. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with estranged family and made new friends with different perspectives. They have helped me analyse where I can trim away things I don’t need and how I can leverage those things I have to create a lifestyle of abundant independence.

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Met Hone in Kohukohu (my Grandad’s home town). He’d abandoned living for work and decided to just float on the breeze with nothing but a backpack. He’d been at it for ages by the time I met him and lived a life less ordinary

In the process I saw my bank account dwindle to as close to zero as it has ever been. Not once, but twice. At times, I’ve lived a more Spartan existence than many could imagine and because of this have examined what is really necessary. Discovering that there really is very little required for a relatively comfortable and meaningful existence. For me, purpose, acceptance and intention are the key ingredients once my basic physical needs are met. In the process, I have crossed paths with some who have not been lucky enough to have those basics and others who consciously abandoned the urge for consistency.

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Turns out I like acting and am pretty reasonable at musical theatre… Who knew?!

I met people along the way who helped me understand what I wanted in my life and how that life might look. It was tough to choose a destination to settle, but there was a certain something about only a few places that really drew me back. The pace of life, latent sense of peace, feeling of community and the people. Those were the deciders. I still have a shortlist to revisit, should I change my mind

Based now in the slow-paced coastal town of Hokitika, I’ve built a 10m2 shack to round out a living system also comprised of two generations of former dwellings. With the most basic solar system and a gravity-fed piped tank water to supplement a roof-and-bucket rainwater collection, I have all I need. Low costs allow me to spend my time doing work I love rather than work that pays well. With costs kept low, I might actually be able to save for my own land to inhabit and develop into my own sanctuary. My little shack can come with me to my little slice of freedom. With the bits of horticultural and financial education I continue to accrue, I may even one day truly thrive.

In the meantime, I have crafted a version of life in which I belong in and contribute to a cohesive community of wonderful humans. My work allows me to nurture the seed of fulfilment within young people. My networks here allow me to drive and encourage positive development in two very different but connected towns.

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Hosting a free community screening of the movie “Celia” in my rolse as a White Ribbon Ambassador and co-ordinator for our local Community Champions.

I’m fortunate enough to have found people that embrace my unorthodoxy and have deepened connections with a few of those I met on my walk. My home allows me to retreat to a peaceful human-canine family surrounded by serene native forest. We’re visited daily by the heartbeat of an ocean lapping at the not so distant shore. I look out toward the horizon to our coastal vista.

My life is not fancy and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s developing by virtue of combining opportunity with design to move in the right direction for me. At least for now. I won’t deny that my feet often get the urge to wander once again. For once a person is comfortable in themselves, the freedom of wandering will never be equalled.

I’m still not there. I understand more every day that true freedom is surrender. It is acceptance of the conditions of now, no matter what they may be.

“There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires”
-Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha)
Back to First Principles

Back to First Principles

Winter on the coast was tough. Coming into spring I find myself re-evaluating. Today I went back to the beginning to remind myself why I continue to choose hardship.

I love my life right now. I really do. I have two jobs that make me feel I am making my little corner of the world better. I have become brave enough to explore performing in front of others. Brave enough to try the things that resonate with me. Brave enough to risk failure because the chance to succeed carries more weight.

But there are always those aspects we don’t desire. There is always the flip side. My flip side is mostly condensation. This may seem like a relatively minor thing to you. Granted, it could be much worse. But I have been living in a 2m x 4m pop-top caravan with my two little dog friends since I returned to NZ in January, 2016. There was the notable exception of when we all down-sized to a 2m x 1m crawlspace to optimise mobility but condensation remained.

A micro living space is challenging in its own ways, but when the ceiling is coated with dangling raindrops, waiting to rain down on you through the evening, night and dawn, the complications mount up. It’s not the cold as such, that bothers me. Although, it is worth noting that the mountain range that forms a background directly behind us, is not coated in snow for half the year because of our tropical climate. I have two warm (canine) bodies and a hot water bottle contributing to heating my sleep space. But constant humidity and damp bring about mould, mildew, annoying droplets disturbing sleep. Holes between the walls of my pop-top caravan mean there is a draught and temperatures akin to those outdoors. Having to collect my own solar energy and drinking water directly from rain have required management. But believe it or not, that’s part of the appeal. That is to be more connected and conscious of the processes of life.

The reason is savings. The thought that reduced expenses might lower the obstacles to owning my own real estate. The chance to be responsible for significant capital investment does not really appeal. But the ability to contribute to my own equity in lieu of padding someone else’s retirement does. The house, the obligatory job, the fixed location… I could leave those too. At least the location I have chosen suits my needs.

“I’d known for a long while now that I really wanted out of cities and out of the cycle of working for the ability to pay off someone else’s mortgage and barely being able to get ahead. I have no real estate of my own, no desire to sell my life to a high paying job and its soul-sapping demands, no money to speak of, and no prospect of inheritance or a beneficent sponsor. The chances of procuring a lovely country home on a rural block, on which I could work towards a quiet, self-sustaining lifestyle were remote to say the least. And the problem of how to financially support myself once I got there always lingered in the back of my mind.” – part of my first post in this blog.

c2a9fairfax-brassett06.jpgBut the goal has always been freedom. All else was detail. I have saved a bit by living this frugal life. It means I can splash out if I want to as well. With the goal of true freedom, I find myself revisiting books on entrepreneurship and even writing ambitious beginnings to business plans. Visions of floating away on the tide to explore the open seas swim about in my mind.

Perhaps the permaculture goals I am living for are not ambitious enough. Perhaps they would become my new prison. Or perhaps they are really just another stepping stone to economic freedom and the pathway to absolute freedom. Either way, I can be sure that this process so far, has led to my mind being more free than it has ever been. Freer to truly believe in possibility.

When The West Went Wild

When The West Went Wild

March 11th, 2018

I mentioned the Wild Food Festival previously. Well, that was yesterday. A pretty crazy ol’ day relative to the usual Hokitika buzz. Music fills the whole town. The scent of cooking fills the nostrils. Thousands of vibrant costumes keep your head on a swivel and overload the imagination. The skies were even visited by a team of aerial acrobats in stunt planes. This usually understated town becomes a hub of fun and frivolity. While my wallet was a little light to partake in goings on inside the festival fence, I took the boys for a wander through all that transpired in the streets outside.

It was the end to a particularly eventful week for me. In addition to the part time work I will be doing for the It’s Not OK campaign, I got a full-time gig too. Everything has worked out really well and all because I’ve just kept directing my choices towards my end goal: a lifestyle that is in-tune with natural balance. I’m not out of the rat race yet, but I can see the end of the tunnel.

Part of this is the living situation I’ve managed to engineer, with thanks to the significant foundation work laid by Sonya and Torsten. After some major earthworks in the last few weeks and ongoing improvements happening all the time, this is a great place to just be. The best spot for that is my favourite “room” in the “house”: the bush bath. Such an awesome place.

The other half to that is community involvement. I hold very strongly, the view that most of the world’s problems stem from community dysfunction. I intend to use my time to proactively counteract that. It’s all well and good for politicians to do their thing at the macro level, but this process is slow, flawed and corrupted by conflicting interests. Voluntary change at the ‘grass roots’ level can be just as powerful, if not more so.

This is where I focussed my efforts in job searching and this is what I ended up with. I will now be working as a Youth Worker for local communities as well as working to engage local Community Champions to speak and act against domestic violence. That, to me, seems a worthwhile way to spend my time and being “the change [I] want to see in the world”. On the side, I will help out at a local pub every now and then, which will mean getting paid to get to know a few locals a bit better.

On top of all this, I have found a creative outlet in discovering the challenges of acting for musical theatre. Not something I thought I would ever find myself doing, but that’s what I got by following opportunities and gut feelings. When I think about my interests and now that I will be working out of Greymouth, it’s actually starting to make perfect sense. But it certainly didn’t seem very logical when I followed it up originally.

So that’s me now. This seems to be what the next iteration looks like. All around us are opportunities to take the dogs out and explore new little places too. I’ve included a few pics of the lads and I checking out Ross and the wilderness out near Lake Kaniere.

Life’s starting to stabilise and is looking alright at the moment. And it’s all come about from a series of deliberate steps it a common direction. I’m yet to free myself from the bonds of full-time work but that is a necessary short-term stepping stone towards accessing my own land and being able to develop it how I want to. Well, that or proof of a stable and thriving business of my own. While a business is in the future, a stable wage is a quicker way to win a bank over. At least in the meantime, my self-imposed slavery is directed towards intrinsic goals. I’m happy with that compromise.

The World is But a Stage…

The World is But a Stage…

March 1st, 2018

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [All the world’s a stage]
William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616

I managed to secure a job! It’s only a 10-hour per week gig but it pays well and involves co-ordinating a project called “Community Champions“, encouraging people in the community to assist and speak out against domestic violence.

I have a number of applications in for jobs with a few more hours as well, from labouring and a potential building apprenticeship to disability support work and teacher support. I find landing on the ground in a new place is a great time to open myself up to new possibilities. It’s a chance to release who you have previously been and see where the new move takes you.

With that in mind, I also followed up on a thought that often occurred to me during The Longest Walk NZ. Since you are reading this blog, it’s probably no surprise to you that I am devoting a lot of energy to constructing my life as I would like it to be, as opposed to getting trapped into a default pattern. Many of these inquiries lead to changes in internal practice rather than external circumstance. The things we believe and choose are the things that determine our direction and success.

This line of thinking led me to reimagine what I thought about actors and acting as a profession. Choosing to be a professional actor, like any professional artist, is a long shot. Success is determined as much by good luck as by good management. Or at least that’s how it can seem on the surface. The reality may be different. All actors (or at least those not riding on someone else’s coat tails) face the same odds. Yet some of them convert those odds into a career. You could argue that talent plays a part in this, but I bet if you asked the successful ones, they’d say choices were far more important.

A good actor has to persevere not only in their belief that they can make it in the face of harsh and repeated rejection, but they also have to persevere in honing their craft. The former challenge is tough enough and the vast majority of people will never know such self-belief. Although that is admirable in itself, the latter task is what interests me. In order to be a good actor, one has to successfully portray a depth of character that cannot exist unless it is felt and experienced.

The actors you know from big movies are ALL good actors. Even the bad ones are only bad by comparison to a handful of elite performers. If they can’t convince an audience, they linger in the realms of pornography, bad theatre, infomercials and B movies.

The way I see it, the difference must occur at a very deep level. It must necessitate the removal, or stepping aside, of a person’s reflexive behaviours and image of self. It requires a person to strip themselves back to the basics of the human experience before layering on a whole new person. Someone with a different history, different beliefs, difference behaviours and a different perspective on life. To me, this seems like great practise for exactly the type of internal work I want to devote my energies to.

I’m not interested in fame. Not in the slightest. I had a brief taste of that last year and you can keep it, thank you very much. Money only interests me to the extent that it can invoke freedom. But the practice of confronting fears, insecurities and self-doubt as well as the actual business of re-inventing an experience of “self”… those things compel me to give it a nudge. In fact, I believe it is precisely because we see how people have accepted these challenges and excelled that drive the phenomenon of fame.

By separating others as “celebrities” from the common man/woman, we unconsciously forgive ourselves for not having risen to our own challenges. They can do it because they are “talented” or “special”. They are different or “other” when compared to us. Logically, we know it not to be true if we think about it. They are also just people after all. But if we think about it to that degree, our excuses dissolve. The difference in those who succeed (at anything) is what beliefs they choose to hold.

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And this is how THAT happened…

So when I saw the local drama society, I enquired about it on Facebook. That led to mention of a play having auditions. The men they’d had at auditions hadn’t fitted and ‘Would I like to try out?’… ‘Oh, and by the way, it’s the role as the male lead in a musical production of The Addams Family that we need to fill’. Gulp. Oh well. Sink or swim, I guess. Caution to the wind, I decided to give it a go with the attitude that the very worst that could happen is I get experience of what an audition is like.

The audition was… well… terrifying. Standing alone on stage, I had to belt out my most convincing attempt at one of the songs in the play. Unaccompanied. Just a handful of people staring up at me in serious appraisal. Scrutinising my performance and deciding whether I had what they needed in the role: A lead role with a whole heap of lines, a couple of solo songs to sing and several more in co-operation with others. In a production that, while it is no Broadway acting company, is intended to polish up as a piece of quality theatre.

Did I mention that they want their lead to be very Spanish? Next up came a cold reading with a Spanish accent at a Spanish pace. I was in WAY over my head, but I’d already confessed as much to the production crew and they were all really supportive. And I must’ve sold it because I got the part. I will be stripping away Stephen and learning to become Gomez Addams for the next few months for a stage show in Greymouth.

After that, I decided to swing by the local pub on the way home. I came in for a celebratory/wind-down beer and left with a job. Not even sure how that happened, to be honest. But the Wild Food Festival is in town in a couple of weeks and they needed a hand. So I shall be putting my barman hat on once again. Quite a week. But the next few will likely prove to be more eventful still.

Blow Me Down!

Blow Me Down!

February 23rd, 2018

Last time, I mentioned that I knew the rain would come (it is the West Coast after all). What I didn’t bank on was two back-to-back tropical cyclones. An already unstable time, became even more unstable with the advent of Cyclone Gita.

The time between my last post and this one has been very eventful indeed. Workwise, I have put my hand up for just about every type of job under the sun. I’ve landed a few odd jobs here and there, including maintenance work, reception work, and even a bit of a spell as an upholsterer. It’s been a case of just putting the word out and saying “yes” to whatever comes. I’ve always found that that approach works and if you are open to anything, it sometimes even leads down a path you never knew you would enjoy.

In this spirit, I joined the local MenzShed, which is a community organisation aimed at providing a space for men (statistically having smaller social circles than women) to congregate socially. In doing so, MenzSheds contribute to community projects by building, renovating and restoring all manner of things for school groups, community groups, public spaces etc. MenzSheds are great for helping men feel more connected and to share skills. I’m looking forward to what I might learn and eventually, what I might pass on to others.

All this only a few short weeks after a the dying remnants of Tropical Cyclone Fehi collided with the coast and caused devastation to roads, individual properties and whole towns. Yet, on February 22nd, coastal communities seemed destined to face the full brunt of a second cyclone. Tropical Cyclone Gita was a weather system with an even greater force, which maintained an official classification as a cyclone further into southern waters than most. The very same unseasonal heat I mentioned in my last post was also heating the seas and maintaining tropical storms far south of the tropics. When the rain finally did come, it was time to batten down the hatches. Literally attaching battens to doors and securing movable objects as well as preparing supplies for a likely civil defence emergency.

For me, this meant packing down my house to lower its wind profile and protect it from potential damage. It meant the dogs and I were going to be living out of my van for a couple of very wet, very windy days. I’m normally pretty unconcerned by weather warnings, earthquake warnings and the like. This time it was meant to be a direct hit by a cyclone that had already crushed Tonga, then gone on to actually strengthen rather than weaken. It seemed wise to take precautions.

(CLICK graphics to see a computer simulation of Gita’s passage)

The way it turned out though, Gita pulled a big side-step when she saw the Southern Alps. She gathered up her sari and high-tailed it through the Cook Strait instead. Her rage was left and right bringing destruction to both the northern and southern shores. Kapiti and Tasman seemed to be worst affected before bringing yet another wave of disaster to coastal regions on the east coast. Kaikoura had to face another round of road closures while they are still recovering from last year’s earthquake damage and Christchurch added another natural disaster to its already depressing run of tragedy.

For us, formerly thought to be in the centre of a massively damaging weather system, it manifested in very light rainfall interspersed with periods of complete calm. No wind to speak of at all. All the while, I was camped in my van because my house was packed down into its “over-sized suitcase” mode.

Such are the ways of weather though. Back to normal after that: Job hunting and settling into our new community.

Reboot

Reboot

February 11th, 2018

With The Longest Walk NZ coming to a close, I guess the journey to create my freedom returns to this forum. Last year was a unique and amazing year, through which I gained many insights about myself, my country and what is important. This year is shaping up to be just as formative.

The main goals for The Longest Walk NZ were about animal welfare. It was about promoting what was going on out there in New Zealand communities. There were also a number of personal goals tied up amongst it. The most relevant to this update was the search for a place where my soul felt at peace.

There were a couple of false starts along the way, including the idea of joining the current members of Riverside Community in Motueka and possibly becoming a resident worker at The Black Sheep animal sanctuary in Otaki Forks. In the end though, I settled on a place that stayed in my thoughts throughout the whole trip. I ended up choosing a “Cool little town” named Hokitika.

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Moody ol’ Hoki with its sullen clouds one day and brilliant sunshiny beaches the next
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Cyclone Fehi broke the West Coast, stranding tourists and locals alike for several days

I arrived here first in March last year as I emerged from the immensity of a walk through the Southern Alps. Before I even met civilisation, the Arahura Valley was winning me over. From there, the vibe just continued to feel warm. Nearly a year on, I returned to a striking peach sunset blooming in the clouds, then fading over the horizon. The sea pacified after a day of raging storms (Cyclone Fehi) that tore away whole sections of coastal roads and barred my original route the day before. I can only imagine it was the contrast between this peaceful scene and the turmoil of the evening before that even had the locals out, wielding cameras.

This first return was just a drop-and-run though. It took another couple of days to collect my two dogs from their boarding arrangements with my parents in Wellington. All told, this relocation, including acquiring car (in Invercargill), retrieving my hillbilly house (from Gore) and reuniting with my dogs (back in Wellington) had cost nearly two weeks and thousands of dollars. I was working on the theory that it would all be worth it once life found itself in some semblance of “normal”. It was a chance to consciously choose where and how I wanted to live after taking a good deal of time to really consider my choices.

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Never been afraid of a little hands on work. Getting stuck in

I hit the ground running. Reaching out to the few people I had met on my way through managed to land a few days of maintenance work the very next day. After the first day of this, came the start of the hunt for longer-term employment. A year off earning money followed by a costly relocation doesn’t do the bank balance any favours. A couple of nibbles and one very promising application later, I am still short of a plan for long-term employment. It has only been a few days yet though and I feel positive about the prospects.

If you have been following previous posts, you would probably realise that my efforts will also be going into some sort of side hustle working towards a bit of financial freedom. For now though and for quite some time to come, I need to make sure I take care of my financial responsibilities first. In a couple of years, that side hustle may well ripen into a main income but it’ll all come one step at a time.

Right now, I have landed in a tranquil spot, sharing a developing permaculture plot with a couple of likeminded people. Our arrangement is mutually beneficial and the setting is ideal for both me and the dogs. Jake runs around blissfully in a state of relative calm that is rare for him. Piccolo seems much more at peace in the stability and familiarity of our 2016 home. I enjoy the fact I can safely walk my dogs in a number of picturesque spots off-lead. A bush walk at our front gate, another just down the street. The stony beach of a beautiful river and a wide, expansive sands of the West Coast both only a five minute drive away. As we walk down the road on the way out, the seascape beckons from the horizon and as we return, a formidable mountain range enfolds our home.

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Hoki from the hills

The roar of the sea rolling in can be heard all day from our vantage point on the hill. Stars blanket the skies at night. Kiwi and weka begin to sing at dusk. It’s not at all uncommon for a weka to pop over and pay a visit either. This unusual dry spell has meant hot days tempered with a mild sea breeze when the area is usually known for its heavy rainfall. Although the rain is sure to come, along with the challenges accompanying it, for now we enjoy an Indian summer. Today being the first day of rain so far and it was a light one at that.

All is well. And while I don’t believe there is a “right” path or choice, it certainly seems this is a good one.

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional Self-Care

Emotions have been the single most difficult thing about my journey recently. At the risk of sounding a little to “Dear Diary”, I decided to share a few thoughts in the hopes it may serve someone else.

Coming into The Longest Walk NZ, it was the emotional ride to finally deciding to commit that was the biggest challenge. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I knew it was important to me. I knew I had faced similar crossroads… made the other choice… and regretted it. Yet still, I found it incredibly hard to take that leap into the unknown. There was no security. There was no ‘how to’ guide. I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Now that I’ve been on the road for over six months, I’ve found peace with the unknown elements and I actually enjoy the creative aspect of not having a blueprint. Not only that, but I have found security of sorts in history of supportive interactions with a vast number of people in every single place we have travelled to. The freedom I’ve found through making that commitment is unparalleled by any other experience of my life so far.

There are different emotional challenges now though. It took me a while to accept the hospitality and charity of others too. Having dealt with that, I am now often reminded of a very important lesson: to be aware of emotional vampirism.

The beast that is animal welfare draws forth strong emotions in many people. With that, comes a strange kind of attraction for emotional vampires. I refer to those who choose to dwell on drama or focus on painful loops and problems outside their sphere of influence. They thrive on ‘venting’ and constantly seek empathy for their perceived struggles. Black and white thinking tends to dominate their world view and everything seems to be hopeless or unfair. They leech others’ energy to feed their own insatiable hunger for high emotion and they flock to causes such as animal welfare.

Over the years and through my travels, I have become pretty skilled at conversing with people of varied backgrounds. It’s fair to say that I can have a reasonable conversation quite comfortably with most people I am meeting for the first time. Just because I CAN talk to most people, doesn’t mean I ENJOY talking to them all.

My psychic defences are poor. I feel other people’s emotions quite strongly and I have a very hard time not taking them on-board. The flip side of this is that I am also very aware of my own emotions and these days, I have learned to understand when they signal the need for action or change. That hasn’t always been the case and my inability to manage emotions as guiding signals has led to deep pain and suffering at times.

When these emotional vampires come into my life, I feel myself being drained and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain logic. They pull me into their pain and wear down my ability to resist. I can suffer their need for a sympathetic ear for a time but I reach a limit and have to physically remove myself from their presence in order to regroup. These encounters are dangerous for me because I often find myself close to the brink of re-joining them in their habits of unhealthy thoughts: the negative spiral of tainted/skewed logic.

To be honest, the thought scares me. It scares me because I know that pain. It scares me because I know how slippery the slope is and how hard it is to change. I have to be careful not to let empathy for their pain draw me in because I know THEY are ultimately the only person in the whole world that can help them. THEY have to choose to be ready and THEY have to commit to changing that pattern. Some aren’t ready yet (and I’m not qualified or able to help get them there) and others probably never will be. Either way, I have to consciously avoid letting it be my problem.

I want to be clear that these are not necessarily malevolent or nasty people. The ones I am coming across are generally killing themselves with kindness. They care so much that they too struggle to disconnect. Nevertheless, the cause is irrelevant. I still need to care for myself. The freedom I have fostered in my life right now balances on the knife edge of my beliefs and emotions. My freedom hinges maintaining healthy, useful thinking habits.

The other major challenge for me is dealing with being so publicly available. At first, the kind of minor celebrity that this venture has brought was novel and a bit fun. Now, while it is mostly just neutral, it has a definite down-side. I am always “on show” when I am around my trailer. I am almost always around my camper. Often, I am staying at kind people’s homes and that comes with an unspoken understanding that I chat about the journey and cause. I am happy to oblige and I am grateful for their hospitality, but it also means time to myself can be severely limited.

To put this in perspective, I prefer to be alone most of the time. I don’t mean that in an unfriendly way. I am also a very personable person. That might seem a contradiction and maybe it is. All I know is that I feel at my best when I have time alone to recharge and it allows me to enjoy time with others.

In combination with New Zealand’s ridiculous “freedom” camping regulations, it unfortunately means that the only time I can truly withdraw and recharge (legally) is inside my camper in a fairly public place like a campground. With this new-found “celebrity” comes a breakdown in normal etiquette. If people see the camper, they “have to see what it’s about”. If they’ve also been following the campaign, some feel they have earned the right to access me any time they might happen on me.

At this stage, I must add that usually, I am fine with that and I enjoy meeting people who have been following the journey. It’s nice to talk to new people and even nicer if I don’t have to start by explaining what is going on. In fairness, even I have trouble defining the limits of when it feels alright to be approached and when I’d prefer to be left alone. But II am starting to get a better appreciation for how it must feel to be a REAL celebrity. If I am trying to do some banking, I feel like common courtesy (at least in NZ culture) says to give me space. If I am sitting inside my camper with the door closed, it’s akin to someone in a zipped up tent. Personally, I would leave them alone unless it was someone I already knew.

Overall, I must say that it has been a great journey and I haven’t regretted the choice to undertake it. These little gripes are small in the grand scheme of things. My hope in airing them so publicly is that it might help someone else. If it does help you, I would love to hear it if you’d like to share it.

The Personal Power of Batman

The Personal Power of Batman

I have been a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins since it first came out in 2005. In watching it again last night I was reminded of a number of important life lessons that apply to us all. Batman is the crime fighter but what Bruce Wayne learns on his journey there teaches us how to achieve everything we have ever hoped for… whatever that may be.

There have been several reincarnations of Batman. The thing that makes Christopher Nolan’s Batman a little different is the depth he gives his protagonist. I always struggled with the unrealistic fighting skill that Batman, the alter ego of a billionaire business man, displays against hardened criminals living every day in their violent street reality. Fittingly, this thought is voiced by the crime boss Falcone when Bruce Wayne confronts him in a restaurant. He tells Bruce that he could never understand their world or the way that power works within it because of his wholesome background,

This is where we begin to see Bruce choosing to understand. The moment he steps into the alley and swaps all his cash and his expensive coat for a homeless man’s beaten up jacket, he decides to learn what it is to live hard. Unbeknownst to him, he takes his first steps to learning the truth in his sweetheart Rachel’s words “There’s a difference between justice and revenge”.

This is where we stray from Batman’s path. Unless of course, you too desire to defend the weak, fight crime and bring justice to a lawless society. In which case, I suppose this movie is like a ‘how to’ manual. (You may also enjoy Super (2010) which offers a more down-to-earth version for the non-billionaires among us). For the rest of us, we turn to a ninjitsu master wielding a plethora of clichés and a rare blue flower.

Ra’s Al Ghul not only refines Bruce’s fighting skill, but takes Bruce on a journey through his psyche which we all must take if we are ever to meet our potential. In fact, I believe we must take this journey several times over. Me ol’ mate Raz challenges Bruce to face his fears. Too many of us let our fears dominate our decision-making. We may justify those decisions in a number of far more empowering ways, but if we are brave enough to really confront our truths, we know it to be so.

He tells Bruce that he fears his own potential for greatness. His own potential to be powerful. His sentiments echo those of the oft-quoted Marianne Williamson, who says in her book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Take or leave the bits about God and the message still stands firm. It is fear of failing that prevents us reaching for that which is really important (to us). You could argue that it is Bruce’s fear of what he may truly be capable of achieving with all his money, power and influence that leads him into the shadows to begin with. Equally, it is his “playing small” which finds him fighting petty criminals in prison before Raz gives him a path to liberation from his own fear and we see his presence automatically liberating others throughout the movie.

I’ve been living this reality this year and last. Last year, I chose to really confront my wishes for life. I chose to pursue freedom by acting. That choice brought about this blog and everything that has followed. This year has been a continuation of that choice, with many more choices that needed to be made and followed up on. The Longest Walk NZ is the culmination of many hard choices and the confrontation of many fears. I suspect there are many fears yet to come. I hope to have the courage to confront them and to act.

You may not have a hallucinogenic blue flower to reveal your deepest fears, but if you choose to confront uncomfortable truths, you unlock a power beyond measure. Your fears are there to guide you. They reveal that to which is most important to attend. The choice to understand fear is the choice to be free. In understanding what prevents action, we take the most important step in overcoming the obstacle. Define the barrier. It is the first step to learning how to bring down the wall. Where it cannot be brought down, it is the first step to scaling it.

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Source: wikimedia.org
The “Freedom” Camping Farce

The “Freedom” Camping Farce

In today’s blog, I’d like to discuss Freedom Camping. I say “discuss” because I would love to get your feedback on the issue. I am living a camping life and am aware the fact that emotions run high and are strongly divided on this issue.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, New Zealand has adopted this term to define issues related to the large number of backpackers in our tourism industry. Specifically, everyone is strangely obsessed with shit but also parking and freeloaders.

First, the facts:
1) A large number of travellers come to New Zealand under the impression they won’t have to pay for travel or accommodation. They believe you can hitchhike everywhere. They seem to also believe you can buy a van or a tent and pretty much pitch up anywhere. And that is perfectly safe and acceptable to do both.
They think this is great because if they skimp on food too, it frees up their dollars for all the wonderful adventure activities they have heard about in the ads and brochures.
2) Local councils believe that the best way to deal with this is to regulate everything with strict, restrictive rules and boundaries.
3) Local hospitality businesses resent the trend because they believe it reduces their earning potential and undermines the efforts they make to provide quality services.
4) Local residents often resent this ‘vagrant’ population and perceive that they are not respecting the area as they would their own homeland.
5) This trend represents a HUGE opportunity for entrepreneurially-minded individuals and business owners to capture tourist dollars.

They hitchhike because of the many anecdotal examples they have heard of this working and working quickly. All the travel guides also assure them that this is a valid option for the traveller on a budget. They may not be aware of just how many people are banking on it working, but they figure they will give it a go. Makes sense really. We brought that on ourselves by having a culture of kindness, I guess.

Camping at Mavora Lakes
Ads depict camping in NZ as it perhaps once was but is now very rarely allowed Source: http://www.doc.govt.nz

The term ‘freedom camping’ suggests the idea that people can camp freely. This idea is propagated and encouraged by our tourism industry with advertisements showing happy young people parked up by camp fires on the beach by some idyllic backdrop. The reality is not so glamourous.

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More likely ‘freedom’ reality these days Source: http://www.odt.co.nz

Camping used to be relatively unregulated so this was possible in many places. However in response to public frustrations, local laws now prohibit camping anywhere other than in specifically designated overnight stay areas. These will either be campgrounds or carparks (sometimes paddocks which essentially resemble carparks). For campgrounds, you will almost always need to pay a fee but they will often allow tents and vans/cars that aren’t self-contained. Nearly all carparks will require you to be self-contained and many require New Zealand Motor Campervan Association (NZMCA) membership (which requires you to be self-contained).

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Source: http://www.NZMCA.org.nz

Despite this change in reality, companies such as commercial camper rental operators have a vested interest in maintaining the image. Thus, the ads continue to grace airport lounges and travel agents throughout the world. Still the idea of free camping in picturesque scenery is touted to the unknowing prospective traveller.

Furthermore, they are offered refunds on their rental fee if the chemical toilet they are given to comply with ‘self-contained’ status is returned unused. Should we be surprised then that campers are choosing to use public toilets over carrying a container of excrement around with them? Wouldn’t you choose a café toilet over many of the foul outhouses provided at our scenic reserves and parks? And why exactly are these self-contained campervans so often confined to areas that also feature a public toilet anyway? Isn’t the point that they can go anywhere and still be able to contain their waste?

It seems to me to be a problem of infrastructure, regulation and marketing as much (if not more than) a problem with the campers themselves. They are merely trying to do what needs to be done.

The facilities are not there for them. So why are we marketing it as an option? Some will undoubtedly continue without the marketing, but it only becomes a problem in great numbers. Some councils provide shower facilities… but then do make them available only between 8am and 4pm (i.e. while they are out doing tourist things, spending tourist dollars). Is it any wonder they are overrunning the public pool showers and washing laundry in their sinks?

One community pool clocked fees for showers (only) doubling each of three years running until they stopped offering the option. Tourist continue to come, happily paying the extra for pool use despite not using it. There is money to be made here!

Business owners could choose to see this market as the opportunity that it is. Those complaining of the lost revenue because they aren’t buying food at their restaurant or staying at their motel need to realise that they probably never would have in the first place! Many of these tourists would have at best chosen a dorm bed at a backpackers or may otherwise not have come to the country at all. These travellers represent a developing growth market and they have money. They may be frugal in how they spend it, but they can be convinced if it is a matter of convenience or necessity.

What could you add to your current situation to make this a positive thing for you? It’s a fool’s errand blaming local government or lobbying them to fix the issue for two reasons: 1) They are bureaucratic by design and they move slowly; 2) during the time the services don’t yet exist, there is a niche market for just about anyone to tap into if they choose to. Consider buying into the share economy of Air BnB or EatWith.com. If you own land, maybe you could market your property’s unique features like an onsite river or dam and offer it as a self-contained park-up. Maybe you limit numbers to guarantee a more outdoors experience than the densely populated carparks. If you own a motel, consider offering free camp sites with facilities charged for. Want to go bigger? Maybe you could set up a collective with other moteliers you know. Set up a club travellers can buy membership in and get reduced rates at for facility use all over the country… for a membership fee of course.

Feeling frustrated that tourist aren’t buying your products? Consider whether they fit into your current target market and if they do, look at what food they would buy and what price they expect to pay. Maybe you add some low-end foods to your otherwise high-end menu or even have a ‘tourist top-up’ kiosk or vending machine for on the road essentials like pasta, sausages, baked beans, camp cooker gas, tampons, toilet paper and toothpaste. Perhaps you have this station fitted with a pay-per-charge ‘fast charge’ USB port or plug socket.

People who have travelled a bit have likely come across a small town where they felt unwelcome. I’ve never felt it in New Zealand until Murchison on my current trip. Signs discouraging the use of anything before proper payment were everywhere and locals in conversation gave away their true feelings about the influx of tourists due to the bypass around poor ol’ earthquake-damaged Kaikoura. It’s no way to encourage tourists to hang around any longer than they have to. Count on them leaving quickly instead of staying to buy supplies, enjoy eateries, visit local art dealers, or tip your wait staff.

We could instead be following the lead of BP’s Wild Bean Cafes where there are charging stations with multiple connection types, encouraging the charging of all kinds of devices. While you are there, enjoy the free wifi and if you have any rubbish they’d love you to use their bins. Oh and by the way, they have recycling bins you can use too. Taps to fill your water bottles? Toilet? No dramas. They’ve got ‘em. I know where I’d be topping up my car’s petrol tank. I’d also probably grab a snack if I was a hitchhiker waiting for my phone to charge.

But how do they make money if they give all this stuff for free? Power costs… We’re charged for water nowadays… Why should we pay for toilet paper and consumables if they don’t buy anything?!!!

You’ll have to ask BP for the details. But I guarantee they wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t working out. I’m positive some people take advantage of it regularly, but I notice there are always ads for specials nearby and I’m equally sure that the investment pays off in the bottom line. This exact model obviously won’t work for each business either. BP obviously has the advantage of having a high-profit commodity (petrol), which travellers need in order to travel. Half the work is done for them, but these initiatives tip the choice of WHICH petrol station to use in their favour. The point is to start thinking how to capture the market and make them feel welcomed at the same time instead of used.

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Edmond Bagient Memorial Domain in Wakefield is one of the few free campgrounds without self-contained restrictions… Still mostly just a carpark

Wakefield is one of the few places I have seen on this trip that have separate areas allowing free camping in different modes. Others may have had it, but as an unaware tourist myself, I only know the information that is blatantly easy to find. I’m not going to bother looking hard unless I absolutely have to… and neither will many others. Wakefield had a camp ground with toilets, running water, a carpark for vehicles and space in a small bush reserve which seemed available for pitching tents. There was a little river running alongside and a walking track to town. It was free and was also one of the very few places that allows dogs. Vehicles didn’t need to be self-contained there but there was also another site that allowed NZCA members clearly signposted from the main road. It was still missing the ability to camp in any old spot they want (as the ads suggest), but it’s a step in the right direction.

Although I advocate not counting on your local council to solve the problems, they are slowly getting there. For some reason though, they’re all doing it differently. I don’t see the sense in that. If I am a tourist, foreign to this place, new to the system, trying to work out my travel arrangements, overwhelmed by all the exciting places and experiences etc., the last thing I want to do is work out the different requirements of local governance and I have no idea where the boundaries are between them. As if I pay any attention to the signs saying “Welcome to Tasman” or have any idea what that means to my freedom camping experience. I’m looking for the sign that says “Kayak in the Abel Tasman National Park” or “Going hiking? We can bring your car to meet you at the other end”

I liked the direction that the council in Gisborne was taking, for example. Freedom campers had to register their intention to use designated freedom camp sites at the council office. Camping was ‘free’ but you were required to buy council rubbish bags for the period you intended to use the sites. There were designated drop-off points for the full rubbish bags and effluent disposal ports at the sites. You still had to be self-contained, which seemed silly as there were toilets right at the beach sites (pretty sure it was only those with the $200,000 RVs/motorhomes using their own toilets).

If this system (or similar) was applied to ALL campers and the areas specified only for those who were NOT self-contained, you’ve provided effective management for rubbish which is at the campers expense and simple enough that compliance is likely. Have free campsites equipped with toilets that can handle the appropriate volume of use and require users to provide toilet paper. This reduced the burden of consumables on the council and provides an opportunity for local businesses to sell toilet paper (along with other camping goods at the same time). Alternatively, it provides an opening for a niche business providing vending machines for consumables onsite or even provide it with the rubbish bags at council offices.

If self-contained campers are required to register but allowed to roam, this gives council a chance to:

  • educate them on where they can easily drop off their effluent waste and rubbish bags
  • educate on acceptable camping etiquette
  • specify ‘no go’ zones such as right beside attractions or in city centres (as opposed to specifying designated camp sites)

This makes it as easy as possible to supply campers with the information they need to comply as well as making them accountable for doing so. Campers would naturally disperse more widely and present less of a problem. If this system is universal and communicated to travellers as often as possible, a level of guidance can be given without unnecessary restriction.

It’s easy to downplay the idea that campers may not know kiwi expectations but cultures vary vastly in their acceptable practices. In some countries for example, it is commonplace to litter freely. The practice means that people who can otherwise not work or receive welcome, have a means of generating an income collecting trash. In some places, urination and even defecation in public streets is not uncommon.

Perhaps less shocking, is the fact that maintains a pretty high standard of care for its tracks and conservation in general. This includes offering toilet facilities where many other countries may not. Given the relative lack of facilities in other places, it is understandable that expectations for rubbish and excrement disposal make fall short of our ideas of ‘common’ sense. So why not run a campaign handing out fliers along with landing cards on planes and when booking Department of Conservation huts etc?

Also it is important to recognise the most important fact of them all:

There’s no way anyone is ever going to commit the resources to effectively policing freedom camping rules so it’s in everyone’s best interests to make them simple, universal and guiding rather than restrictive

In the meantime entrepreneurs can cash in like this guy in Marlborough with Kiwicamp. His free camp sites are paired with a smartphone app which people can use to buy charge time, showers, toilet use etc. Good on ya bro! It’d be a great model for councils to eventually follow (or license/contract) to provide 24 hour amenities blocks without the risk of overnight vandalism or vagrancy because the user would be required to log their use on entry. Given the app would be linked to a credit card, it gives the user responsibility for their conduct. Again, this central point provides a sales point for vending machines and/or advertising space for local operators.

I know this all takes the investment of time and money. I know it is easy to say and harder to do. But that’s life. The opportunity is there and the people who invest the time and money early will reap the rewards.