7 Summits: A Real Adventure for a Real Adventurer

Want to hear about a real adventurer?

Over the course of four years Cody Hudson is summiting the seven highest mountains in the world.

Cody Hudson

Yes, that includes Everest.

And yes, it also includes Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica.

Why would someone want to do such a thing?

It’s all so he can raise a quarter of a million dollars for Save the Children, going towards children’s education in Nepal.

Cody’s lust for life and taste for adventurer comes from his late grandfather, whom Cody describes as “an avid hunter, trekker and mountain lover, often volunteering on rescue teams operating on Mount Cook: New Zealand’s highest and deadliest mountain.”

While his grandfather wasn’t able to realise his dreams of scaling peaks around the globe, he did pass on his passion for the great outdoors.

Summit 1: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa

Summit 1: Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa

Cody’s 7 Summits Project began last December, with Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The highest freestanding mountain in the world, in true Cody style he describes it as “without a doubt the most popular, and probably the easiest, of the Seven Summits – bar Australia’s own Mount Kosciuszko.”

Despite this, the effects of altitude on a climber make it far from certain that even seasoned travellers will make it the summit of the roof of Africa.

For Cody, the journey to the snow-capped peak on summit day was a mere seven hour hike.

Summit 2: Mount Kosciuszko, Australia

Summit 2: Mount Kosciuszko, Australia<Hot on the heels of Kili’s snowy peak was the tallest of the Australian Alps, Kosciuszko (“Kosi” to its mates) in New South Wales.

Cody notes on his blog that there is a lot of debate since around whether Kosi should be included among the 7 Summits. He notes that it was included in Dick Bass original list of the 7 Summits in 1985, but the controversy centres around whether Australia is a continent.

It turns out that there is no one hard-and-fast definition of what a continent is, how many continents there are, or what the continents are.

Some sources will list six continents, each starting and ending with the same letter for ease of memory. These are Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Antarctica and Australasia. Others will tell you there’s seven continents, counting North and South America as separate continents.

While agreeing on seven continents, there’s further debate about whether Australia is a continent, or whether it is Australasia or Oceania.

It might sound unimportant, but these distinctions matter: because it means the difference between the 2,228 metres of Mount Kosciuszko, the smallest of the summits, or all 4,884m of Papua New Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid.

Cody describes himself as “a circumstantial patriot” who considers Australia a continent, and Bass’ original list to be definitive – so he crossed Kosciuszko off the list in March.

All Work and no Play

Training on the Kokoda trail

What does an adventurer like Cody do between summiting mountains?

Easy: he trains. It’s no surprise that Cody’s craziness doesn’t begin and end with just the summits.

While you’d expect the usual training, like running, or swimming (which Cody swears by, for helping with lung capacity), or rock climbing, Cody goes all out.

On any one day you can expect to find him scaling the 30 steps of Jacob’s Ladder in Perth’s picturesque King’s Park 50 times in one day, or going running along the Kokoda trail: while carrying a 17kg pack on his back.

Summit 3: Mount Elbrus, Europe

Summit 3: Mount Elbrus, Europe

This month found Cody on the slopes of Europe’s Mount Elbrus.

The Russian giant rises 5,642 metres into the air, and is a long-dormant volcano — with its  snowy slopes making Cody’s home for eight days.

After a few days of acclimatisation hikes, Cody and his group setting off at 3am for the summit. Conditions were fine… at first — but by the time they had reached 5,200m a blizzard set in — and would follow them to the top of the continent’s highest peak.

This didn’t stop them reaching the summit, marking the 7 Summits Project off as three down, four to go.

Get Involved

Aside from training hard, another important activity for the 7 Summits Project is fundraising, and raising awareness of the project.

It’s with both of these in mind that Cody will be climbing the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest this August, without even leaving Perth.

At the University of Western Australia’s annual book sale event for Save the Children, Cody will spend over 15 hours on a treadmill, spread over two days. Anyone is welcome to drop in and join Cody for part of his journey: there will be a second treadmill alongside the crazy climber if you want to cross Mount Everest off your own bucket list without having to deal with the little things like training, altitude, or international air travel.

Now it’s your turn to get involved. Follow the 7 Summits Project blog, on Facebook, or Instagram – and most importantly donate to help raise vital funds for the children of Nepal. The country has been hit with two devastating earthquakes this year alone, so your help is needed more than ever.

The 7 Summits Project

The Amazing Aussie Adventure: One year on in Perth

Aussie Adventure, 1 year on

I’ve been living in this great Southern land for more than a year now, and the tipping point for what feels like a dream has been reached.

With any big change the new ‘reality’ feels completely unreal — this is particularly true if you leave a dark, cold and rainy London and find yourself in sunny Perth.

However, there comes a point where the balance shifts and it’s now what was there before that doesn’t seem quite real any more.

This Aussie adventure of mine is about the lifestyle more than anything. Sure, living in a city in Australia isn’t so very different to living in a city in England — but then it’s the small things that make the difference.

Fish & chips and the sunset

Small things like eating fish and chips at Scarborough beach and watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean — or just getting out of work promptly on a scorching hot day to join the rest of the population swimming in the ocean to cool off.

My Home is Your Home by Ken UnsworthOn any particular day, you will find people swimming in the ocean and playing games on the beach until it gets dark.

Or the lifestyle is things like the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition started at Cottesloe beach, and though it’s spread east to Bondi beach and internationally to Denmark, it feels very WA — the setting sun adding an extra element to the art works.

Not just beach…

The lifestyle is not all about the beach life, either.

With friends, we meet up each month for a BBQ in a different spot in Perth — from Leighton beach, to the river foreshore, to Banks Reserve, and Kings Park: going for a picnic every month is something I couldn’t dream of doing in the UK. Unless you didn’t mind having your picnic inside the car or in the rain. And most people in the UK have done both of those things on more than one occasion.

the PinnaclesA short drive out of the city takes you to national parks where you can see koalas (they’re not native to WA, it should be noted, so don’t expect to just see them in all parks) and kangaroos.

You don’t even have to travel to see kangaroos — at dusk they will be hopping all over your nearest oval. I hope that the small thrill of seeing koalas and kangaroos doesn’t get ever old — except for the kangaroos that jump into the road when you’re driving.

Busselton Jetty, WAA longer drive north of Perth will take you to the Pinnacles, but even when you’re standing on a hill in the desert and admiring the rock formations, you can still see the sun glinting off waves not far away.

Driving south from Perth takes you through forest and down to Busselton and its famous jetty, and on to the vineyards of Margaret River — where people will go for a week or a weekend and decide to never leave.

Shorts and thongs

I still stand out as a stranger, here. Although I find myself unintentionally saying words like “thongs” when I mean “flip flops”, and greeting friends with “Hazzitgawn?”, other times I am very conscious of how posh and English I sound when I ask “Please may I have…” instead of the more Aussie “Can I grab…” and being caught off guard when someone asks me “How are you travelling?” when they mean “How are you?”scarborough beach sunset

Summer is waning in Perth and it reminds me of the best times of year in England, when it’s warm and fine. Although I know that winter is on its way and our house has no heating and very little insulation, it isn’t like there will be wintry things like ice, frost or snow in Perth.

Life here has tipped over so that now 30-something years in England now seem like the part that’s unreal.

The World is a Book

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Image Credit: wekosh.com

I met a man once who didn’t have a passport. He was middle aged, a respectable businessman. You know the sort.

I don’t know if there were complicated reasons behind his inability to travel outside of the United Kingdom, but he said that when people ask him about it he tells them that he is too busy working to go on holiday. Whose work is so important that it relies on them to be at home 365 days of the year?

Living in the UK, I can’t imagine not wanting to travel.

To me not having a passport says “This is good enough”, and that the rest of the world doesn’t measure up. What about the pyramids in the deserts of Egypt and the jungles of Central and South America? Not that interesting.

The Colosseum in Rome? Boring.

The canals of Venice? Second best to the Droitwich Junction canal.

Tokyo is waiting in the night, lit up like Piccadilly Circus on crack.

Or there’s rain forests where you can stop, and listen, and hear no signs of civilisation.
When you’ve seen how big the world is, how can you make do with this?

There are various lists of the “7 Wonders of the World”, and you can compare and contrast them all day, but at best in the UK the only real “Wonder” you are going to see without a passport is Stonehenge — even if you wanted to count the Channel Tunnel (as the American Society of Civil Engineers do with their list) you’d still need a passport.

Don’t get me wrong, Stonehenge is an amazing place in its own right — but is it so good that once you’ve seen it you don’t have to think about the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal…?

You can see most of Europe by car if you are so inclined — the channel tunnel takes no time at all, and before you know it the rest of the continent opens up before you.  Distinct and individual countries and people, side by side with their own private ways, old alliances and rivalries, rich varieties of languages and food.

Take in the view of Paris from the hills of Monmartre. Walk the streets of Madrid or Barcelona, and savour the smell of orange blossoms on the trees. Feel humbled among the orange tiled rooftops and green shutters of Dubrovnik, a city that has withstood centuries of earthquakes, fires and mortars to remain one of the closest places you will come to paradise on earth. Parts of the Berlin wall still stand, and even the city as a whole is like a living testament to some of the most important events of twentieth century.

But without a passport, they might as well be on Mars.

Even if you don’t like cities, you can find peace and solitude among the Alps, the Rockies, the Andes, the Himalayas. When you wake up one morning in the mountains and you are above the cloud layer, you know that even when you go back to your daily routine you won’t be the same again.

You can see giraffes grazing by the side of the road like cows on the African savannah, or travel the 1,100 kilometres of the Nullarbor plain through the Australian outback. Or you can stay where you are, at home, and these things will stay where they are, because there’s always work to be done.

You can take a pack of huskies across frozen lakes and hills between red painted barns and not see another living soul.

If the world’s a book and you’re on page one, who’s to say you will even like page two? You may not. You may hate it. But what about page three, or page 33? You could visit somewhere else every month for the rest of your life and never need to return to the same place twice.

Arguably, one of the greatest things about travel is returning home. Maybe nowhere will ever be as good or measure up to home, but not to travel is the equivalent of never reading more than one book because you already have a favourite, or refusing to listen to another song again because of there being one you like so much.

Sometimes I like to list all the cities whose rain I’ve known. Dublin where the locals shout across the street to comment about the weather and Lisbon, whose mosaic-tiled hills turn deadly in a storm.

Rainy cities where rivulets carry traffic cones down the road and sultry cities where middle-aged women pause with their cigarettes to offer sex when you’d rather an umbrella and cities where the dark clouds roll in over the surfers, bobbing in the water like seals. Cities where the rain is salty from the great lake. Cities where the rain fills the fountains and smooths the stone streets and cities where the rain has become part of the architecture and part of the soul of the people.

What you experience and what you learn when you explore gives richer depth and meaning to where you call home.

Originally published on Under30CEO 

The Successful and the Passionate: An Interview with Therese Hansen

imageIt seems to me that people who are passionate and successful in one area of their life are often just as passionate in other areas. In this interview series “The Successful and the Passionate” I will talk to some successful and passionate people about some of the things they share a passion for that they aren’t so well-known.

Today we talk to Therese Hansen about living small and travelling.

Therese is a Computer Scientist, Programmer, Blogger and Startup Weekend Mentor. On top of this, Therese is also the co-founder of Monzoom, and the woman behind xiive.com (the social media filtering site) and rouqk.com (analyzing Twitter every 20 minutes).

Therese’s passion is for travelling and living small. Therese says the two go together pretty well with her professional life as a entrepreneur, but they are her passion and she would be doing it even if she wasn’t a successful entrepreneur.

Therese, you tell me that your passion for living small started when you and your husband moved in with your father when you were 30. What prompted you both to quit your jobs and work full-time on your professional passions in this way?

My husband and I were part of a Startup Weekend (weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if their startup ideas are viable) in our then-home town of Aarhus. That weekend we met other entrepreneurs, worked on something we were passionate about, and were injected with the entrepreneurial spirit.

It was a transforming experience, and we decided halfway through the weekend that this was the kind of thing we wanted to do full-time. We both had well-paying jobs in IT, so we had quite the nice buffer of money saved and after that weekend we started talking about how to stretch our savings so we had as much time as possible before we had to make money from our new company.

My father was living alone in a really big house at the time, and he had an unused attic as big as our apartment, and when we told him our plans he invited us to stay with him. My father was also an entrepreneur, though with a physical shop, and so was his father, and my great-grandfather.

It runs in the family, and I think my father was quite happy to learn that I had the startup-spirit as well. With the support of our family and a lot of great feedback from our social circle we decided to do it.

Alongside this another side of the story developed. I was stressed out from commuting 4 hours a day to and from work, and sometimes staying in hotel rooms alone to avoid the long commute. The Startup Weekend woke me up to see that there are other ways to live.

You mentioned to me beforehand that your travels to date have so far mostly been to Asia, with cheap trips also within Europe. Can you tell me about your first trip — or about a particularly memorable trip?

Our first long trip took us to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Krabi, Kuala Lumpur, Krabi, Hua Hin, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and then home. We were travelling for 7 months and loved it. I learned a lot about myself and my husband on that trip. It changed our view on our daily life.

Anyone who travels a lot will tell you that seeing how other cultures organize themselves and what they hold as truths will make you do some introspection and question the things you take for granted.

It also inspires you. Nothing compares to the freedom you feel when you know you only have the things in your suitcase (we are too old to be backpackers). You can’t spend a lot of money because if you buy new things you will need to discard something old to be able to still carry your things with you.

As an entrepreneur, when you are travelling have you found there are marked differences to how you are received in different places to how you are at home?

I wouldn’t say that I know how it feels like to be received as an entrepreneur in different cultures because it has never been something we told people. We always just say “we work in IT” and the response you get for that is not much different in Thailand to what we hear in Denmark.

In what ways has living small changed life for you and your husband? What impact has it had on your outlook on life?

Living from a suitcase and living on a small budget has changed a lot of things for us. We are able to support ourselves by doing relatively little paid work. Our budget requires us to work 2 days a week on paid work and we can do what we want with the rest of the time.

It turns out what we want is to work some more on getting our own products out there, and I can’t say that that was what I had predicted when we started cutting back on spending.

I have had a lot more mornings waking up and thinking that I’m too lucky after we made this change in our life. In the old days I would work hard to earn a lot of money to spend on expensive clothes and gadgets and now my clothes and gadgets are mostly packed away and my newest dress cost 150 Thai Baht (about 30 DKK, $5 USD, £3.50 GBP or €4 Euro).

I do not spend a lot of money, but when I do, I spend it on things that will make it easier to travel. My latest purchase was a foldable whiteboard – something we really have missed while travelling. I have a whole new outlook on spending and consuming. “Do I really need it?” is the one question I have with me all the time – not “Do I want it in this second?” which were my old criteria for shopping.

You tell me that living small and travelling go well with your professional life as a entrepreneur. Can you tell me about the benefits and challenges your lifestyle has had on your professional life?

The benefits are simple. I don’t have to spend a lot of time making money to put food on the table, because my expenses are low. That allows me to create the products that I want to make and not focus on the profit from day one. My priorities are different.

The challenges I have faced while travelling have been relatively small. We couldn’t go to a certain island because the internet connection was not good enough for us to work. We can’t meet with customers in person when they are in Denmark and we are in Thailand. My professional network in Denmark is shrinking because we are not there a lot of the time and I have to use a lot of time online to keep it.

Cutting back on expenses also means a lot of public transport and that makes it a bit difficult to get places to meet with customers. It also takes a lot of time to save money.

What are the top pieces of advice you would offer to others who wanted to start living small but are unsure how to break the cycle of always collecting more “stuff”?

Start with changing your thinking. Brand “collecting stuff” as something undesirable in your head. Stop and think before you buy. Do an experiment: don’t buy anything for a week (except food) and when you get tempted, write it down. If at the end of the week you can’t live without the things you have written down then buy it; my guess is that you won’t miss anything on the list.

Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years time? Do you and your husband plan to always keep travelling, or do you think you might travel less while still living small?

When my father died last year we reexamined our priorities. Yes, we do want to keep travelling, but we will probably do it less because of our business and how it is changing.

I really don’t want to spend another winter in Denmark, ever, so that means that we have to make plans for the period of November-March in another country: with the exception of Christmas. Our mothers don’t allow us to travel on Christmas; we did it one year and they missed us too much.

Living small is now part of who we are. Even if we were millionaires we wouldn’t change much about our current lifestyle. My attitude towards my mindless spending can’t be changed back. I think collecting “stuff” was weighing me down mentally, and I will never go back to that life. Now the top of my priority list is the people around me. Material things has never meant less to me than they do now — it is a learned mindset. Less is more.

This attitude has seeped into all parts of my life.

For example, we launched our company website (monzoom.net) a few weeks ago. The website is one page, and it only has the things on it that our customers asked for. Not the many, many things we could tell about ourselves, but the things that are needed.

You can almost see the change in our mindset in the products that we create.

In our first product, xiive.com (search and statistics about keywords across social media sites), we put in all the features we could think of. Now we create apps and websites that are small and with only a handful of features – and we invite people into the process, not just to see the result.

Other than your work, travelling and living small, do you have any other passions?

I do genealogy as well, but that is a relatively new passion of mine, so there’s not much to tell yet. Although I did find out that my family has blood ties to the Danish royal family far, far back, but this is something I probably share with most Danes :)

Right now I live in a small Danish city where I have found family members all the way back to the year 1600.

Therese is now a mentor at Startup Weekend, and recommends the experience to anyone who thinks they might have entrepreneurial blood. Therese would also like to invite anyone with an interest in travels, entrepreneurship or social media to connect with her on LinkedIn dk.linkedin.com/in/theresehansen
or twitter @qedtherese
.

From Deadhorse to Ushuaia

Image courtesy of http://www.theconstantrambler.com/
Alaska. Image source: http://www.theconstantrambler.com/

I was thinking about, and discussing, earlier By Any Means Necessary and I felt that I should look up some of the details of what such a journey would involve.

It turns out that the northernmost point of Alaska is a place called Barrow. If you look it up on Google Maps, it doesn’t even appear to be on the mainland — and I understand from some brief research that it has restricted access. The furthest north you could actually drive would be to a delightfully-named place called “Deadhorse” in Alaska.

Doesn’t the name alone just fill you with confidence?

The Pan-American highway apparently exists as a loose system of roads connecting North and South America that one could follow to get all the way down to the Southernmost tip: Ushuaia in Argentina. But there is a also a pesky gap in the network of about 60 miles between Panama and Colombia, where it is just rainforest.

Presuming that one was to drive the entire 48,000km (which isn’t really in the spirit of this adventure, but just for argument’s sake), and then hike through the rainforest, the journey would take roughly three months from start to finish.
That’s not so bad.
On the other hand, if one was to try and walk the entire way… At a steady rate of about eight hours a day, the journey would take more like 7 years.

None of this takes into account all the little things like wolves, bears, mountain lions, armed robbers and kidnappers, or any number of things that could kill you in the rainforest.

This isn’t to say that the adventure couldn’t be done — on paper, this shows that in theory

Ushuaia, Argentina
Argentina. Image source: www.exploreargentina.com

it is entirely possible, and not even that long a journey. If we made this a more flexible journey — so not just following the road, but going across country and rivers — I don’t know how much that would to the journey.

But I really should set up a Kickstarter project to fund the adventure.

5 days in Berlin

IMG_20130227_124125It’s a bright morning in Berlin. I’ve spent the night in a single room apartment on the 9th floor of a 18-storey tower block in east Germany. All around are tower blocks of a similar size and nature. The outside of the building has brightly coloured red and yellow facades, but I get the impression these were added much more recently to make the building more attractive.

The ornate fountain outside is dry and falling apart. That probably was part of the original design.

For one person living alone, it’s a nice flat. Bright and airy, with pretty much space for all you’d need. You could even have guests stay the night if they didn’t mind sleeping on the floor. But then you remember, this was probably built a long time ago in the days of the Soviets, and it wouldn’t have been one person living here back then, but probably a whole family.

The whole building is quite loud, not with the sound of music or televisions, but the hard floors in the corridors and apartments and thin walls means you hear people walking about all the time. Double glazed windows don’t keep the sound of the traffic out, either. But you’d get used to that.

The apartment has a view over the city and the dominating telecoms tower, and in a strange way the sound of the trains going by is almost comforting, it reminds me of the sound of the planes back home by London City Airport.

It’s a very short walk from the train station, when you know where you are going, and there is a Lidl supermarket right next door to the supermarket, making it well provided for — and actually better served than my own Docklands flat. It’s also a short walk from Alexanderplatz, which is a kind of city centre.

When I visit a city, I like to try and understand it. What does it mean to live here? What do the people feel? Antwerp was a difficult city for me, I didn’t feel like I ever really did understand what it meant to be from Antwerp. Berlin is obviously a city of so many different personalities and nationality that you can’t define just one characteristic.

Obviously, it was once a city divided and while the dividing wall is long gone, there are distinct differences in architecture between the sides. There are the memorials and museums, and painful memories for a lot of people. But there is also excitement and innovation and a bright technology scene, as well as the techno clubs that seem to come from nowhere at night in areas you thought were quiet during the day.

It’s a cop out to just call it a city of contradictions, contrasts and complexities — despite the alliteration. Berlin isn’t a place I can summarise so easily just yet, it needs more return visits, and I think I can confidently add it to the list of European cities I could live in — along with Paris, Lisbon, and Barcelona.

A chilly city suits a troubled soul

Landing in Berlin, it was almost as if I had never left London.

London had been grey and cold when I left, and Berlin’s airport looked just the same. Even the snow could have been explained if you’d told me we’d taken off from London and circled for 90 minutes — during which time it had snowed.

But from the air I’d seen towns and half frozen lakes, instead of the sprawling English home counties and the city I call home.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think all airports do look the same — from my limited experience, I have found airports in places like Scandinavia and Switzerland to have very different personalities to those of Italy and Spain. In a very generalised way about the characteristics of those nations, perhaps.

Berlin airport was confusing, there was no obvious place to go at first for taxis and being a stranger in a strange land I didn’t know what the procedure or etiquette was. Outside there seemed to be plenty of taxis, and some unmarked cars that may or may not have been taxis, and a guy who seemed to maybe be trying to get people into taxis, but it didn’t seem very efficient, or very German.

Instead, I wandered around inside the airport looking for an information desk. There they told me what area to go for taxis, and the leaflet that said not to go anywhere else.

Clearly, there are phrases I need to learn in every language. Things like “I’m sorry, I don’t understand” (je suis désolé, je ne comprendes pas), “I would like a taxi”, or “I don’t remember, I was very drunk”. The only drawback is when you can ask questions in another language, you need to be able to understand the answers. It was very well for me in Paris to be able to ask “Where is…?” but if you don’t understand when someone answers, you just simple stupidly, and walk away none the wiser.

I’m here for MongoDB Berlin on Monday and Tuesday, then I have Wednesday to myself to explore the city and learn a little about Berlin, before returning home on Thursday. Since my hotel reservation is only until Wednesday, I am staying one night in an apartment I found on Airbnb. Since Lisbon, and the charming Portuguese family I lived with, I have learned to search for whole apartments. Though I did enjoy in Lisbon being fed, being shown around the city, and taken out for Gelato, so maybe there is something to be said for just booking a room.

I hope to update several more times while I’m in Berlin!

2012: a year in review

End of the world weather

“It occurred to me the other day the Age of Aquarius is supposed to have begun. Everyone thinks it’s going to be this new age — I hope it is! It would be nice if people were more interested in spiritual things, instead of…buying settees. But maybe what it really means is we’re all going to live under water.” – Jarvis Cocker, Glastonbury 1998

Another doomsday has come and gone without event. After Harold Camping’s failed prophecies of the rapture last year, attention turned to the Mayan 2012 prophecies. Or lack or prophecy, since the Mayans didn’t ever really predict anything for 2012, it was the end of the thirteenth b’aktun’, a cycle of 5,125 years which marked the end of one age and the beginning of another. According to some, each b’aktun’ ends with great cataclysm, or great upheaval from one age to the next. And a lot of people hoped it would mark the start of a new age: just like people did when 1999 turned into 2000.

I remember 1999 — I was an 18-year old undergraduate in the first year of my degree. I remember one night in a pub a friend was evangelising about how in Egyptian philosophy the 20th century represented an adolescent male, while the 21st century was symbolised by a 20-something female. What he was saying was that the 20th century was immature and tumultuous, while the 21st was going to be wiser and more mature — things would get put into perspective better. I suspect he made the whole thing up, but it was a comforting thought: that we could be entering a new, more mature age. Unfortunately, Dave also believed there was vampires living in the catacombs under Paris, and there was a secret UFO in the Millennium Dome and at midnight on the turn of the century, the Prime Minister was going to reveal the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

One year turned into the next, and like the hopes for the 20th century once were, the 21st century has turned out to be more of the same. Like the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, nothing happened. No spiritual awakening, no great tribulation. In the UK, it’s pouring with rain and after an unusually wet year, there is widespread flooding — but the dolphins are still here, and we’re all a long way from living under water.

I should really have written this post earlier in the week, just in case the world did end yesterday. There’s no point writing “A Year in Review” post if the world has already ended and there’s nobody left to read it, so it’s lucky for me that there was no massive solar flare or gamma-ray burst obliterating life on earth.

2012 started with “A new year for adventure“. The Arctic Adventure was rapidly approaching, and people were looking me up and down, asking if I had done any training because it was surely going to be hard work. I was increasingly terrified by what I was letting myself in for. It’s a good way to start the new year: with the terror of a looming adventure. I bet Ranulph Fiennes never starts the new year feeling that way.

The adventure was in March, and you can read about every day of it in this blog so I won’t summarise it now: other than to say it was exhilarating and awful and inspiring and tremendous all at the same time. I fell in love with a beautiful Norwegian in the Arctic. Her name was Anneka, she had the most soulful brown eyes and she was crazy about me too. She also had a wet nose and a very waggy tail, and of all the dogs in my dog sled team, she was my favourite — I wanted to take her home with me, but I expect she was just one of those very affectionate dogs who was like that with everyone she met.

In 2012, I had the opportunity to see my favourite band Our Lady Peace for the first time: and a day later, for the second time. We’ve been celebrating Canada Day, my friends and I, for years now: even after our token Canadian friend returned to the great frozen North. And for years, we’ve joked about how wouldn’t it be good if Our Lady Peace were to perform at the celebrations. We didn’t expect it to ever happen, but this year it did: the band were every bit as good as I hoped they would be. When we saw them again the next night in a small venue in Islington, they were even better. Once or twice, I have tweeted about listening to them while I’m at work and one day they even replied.

Other highlights of 2012 undoubtedly include the change of job for me: from one job to another might not sound that interesting to me, but my work has taken me to new cities including Munich, Dublin, Lisbon, Paris and Antwerp in the last 6 months, and next year it promises Brussels, Miami, Stockholm, Berlin, Frankfurt and Tel Aviv on the immediate horizon. I’ve taken planes and trains, I’ve stayed with a Portuguese family in Lisbon, taken a walking tour of Paris, lost myself in Antwerp and enjoyed trying to work out if I had amnesia whether I would be able to work out what country I was in.

July had me try dragon boat racing for the first time — and enjoyed it so much, I promptly went out and joined a local team, the Thames Dragons: and set myself a challenge to take part in an international competition with the team within one year. I already have taken part in a regatta in the UK, so I’m part of the way there: unfortunately, the first two races of the Henley Winter Series have both been cancelled due to dangerous water levels, but there’s more races and adventures to be had with the team in 2013.

The Olympics came to East London this year, and the whole world was surprised when everything went well. London included. The rain that we’d had all year long so far stopped just long enough for the games, nobody needed to use the rooftop-mounted surface to air missiles, the transport network managed to hold itself together, and Boris Johnson continued to act like anything good that has ever happened in London (including winning the bid for the Olympics) was entirely his doing and that we’d all been living in caves before he came along. So, nothing new year. I didn’t get to any Olympic events — not being a huge fan of just watching sport, but I did try and get tickets occasionally, without success. For the most part, I was unmoved by the Olympics: it was nice and all, but not really my scene, I was just happy enough that it went well and London didn’t erupt into rioting, like the summer of 2011.

According to Facebook, I’ve made 40-something new friends in the last year — so I might wonder why it is always such a struggle to get more three or four people to come over if I have a birthday party. But there has been lots of new people to call a “friend”: from colleagues who then became friends — either because we parted ways professionally, or because we met for the first time at got along — to Calvin’s, one of my very best friends, wedding — that brought with it a heap of new people to meet and like in Canada, as well as the opportunity to visit Canada for the first time and discover that Canadians are probably the nicest people on the planet.

As well as raising £6,000 with the Arctic Adventure, in November I was part of my work’s Movember team I also helped to raise over £1,000 for mens health, and could possibly have raised even more had I been able to grow a moustache that was visible in photographs.

There’s more than a week of 2012 left to go, and a lot can happen in a week. In a week you can trek the whole of the Inca Trail, or sled some 200km across the frozen Arctic with a pack of huskies. You can spend the time at a conference in Belgium, before realising the day before you leave that this part of Belgium isn’t really French-speaking. Or, more likely at this time of year, you can eat and drink a lot, see family, see friends, and in the midst of it all try and get some work done because 2013 is going to be a busy year: even without any apocalypses planned, that I’m aware of.

Sometimes fires don’t go out when you’re done playing with them

The Mongolian Derby

The Mongolian Derby
Source: http://bit.ly/SkQxxb
Adventuring has been quiet of late. For the entire month of October, I didn’t leave the country — and it seems strange that it has become normal for me to be packing up and flying out, dashing from one place to the next, waking up in the night and feeling a sense of panic when I can’t remember where I am.  As I say, October has been quiet.

But November is back to business as usual: this week holds a last minute trip to Paris for a couple of events, and some time digging stuff, then a couple of days at home before I board the Eurostar again to Antwerp  These are a bunch of first times for me: my first trip on the Eurostar, my first trip to Paris (as a disclaimer, I have visited France before, and even driven my car to Lille on one occasion, just never Paris), and my first trip to Belgium. We can expect more blog posts with pictures and journal entries from these new cities: and I should really brush up on my French.

In other news, last month I presented to a crowd of about 500 people at the Hacker News London meetup.  As I had arranged for my company to be a sponsor, I got to have two minutes just to say a few words about us.  I had planned my presentation carefully to be almost exactly two minutes long and cover all the important points I needed: but on the night, I changed my mind. The sponsor before me said only a few words, and I didn’t want to look out of place giving a more prepared and much longer intro — so I followed suit, just explained who I was, who my company are, and told the crowd to come to our next user group meeting.  I regretted this when the two sponsors who followed me did give longer intros.  I have resolved to do better next time, and to somehow make it interesting and if possible slightly funny. It’s not beyond me: I can make people laugh with self deprecating humour when I perform at open mike nights, I just have to work on it.

At this Hacker News I was lucky enough to see a presentation from Linda Sandvik on, in her words, “Making things better”.  Linda was inspirational to me as an adventurer: she takes Mondays as an opportunity to force herself to do things she wouldn’t normally do, from little things like making phone calls to much larger things — such as the longest, toughest horse race in the world, the Mongol Derby.

Linda decided one day to enter the Mongol Derby, despite not being a professional nor having ever competed in anything more strenuous than gymkhanas and openly admitting to not having been fit in several years.  Linda just decided she would enter — and what’s more, she did it, too.  She didn’t just talk about it, she didn’t give it up as a bad idea: she actually went ahead and competed in the Mongol Derby.

Admittedly, she didn’t complete the race and was hospitalised for several days with a collapsed lung, and other injuries, but to me it’s the taking part that’s important. Linda is the kind of person who would enter the Dakar, even if they had never ridden a motorbike before — and even if people said it was crazy and dangerous.  After all, when I first started talking about it people said that my dog sledding challenge was crazy and that I’d freeze to death.

For the minute, I have slightly less lofty goals: as well as the year of the dragon (which is progressing well, even if I think it will take many years to master the art of dragon boat paddling) I’m discussing the idea of presenting at one of my work’s conferences some time next year.  Not being technical, all I could present on would be community management. My boss is fully supportive of the idea, to the extent that with her encouragement I am founding a meetup group for community managers: just a place for people like me to discuss their experiences, and on opportunity for me to learn what I have to offer.  I would also like to present a whole talk to the Hacker News London meetup, rather than just the two minute intro.

These might not seem like big adventures, but they form a part of trying to be a better person: as well as getting fitter (I am now visiting the gym several times a week, as well as dragon boat paddling), and trying to be more positive (to be happier), I am also trying to be the person that does things, and doesn’t just talk about them.  I also have to balance this with trying not to take on too much or risk burning out: so there’s an adventure in trying not to have too many different adventures all at the same time.

4 days in Lisbon

Lisbon rooftops

Rua do Allecrim, LisboaI was back in work for 3 days after Canada before I was packing a bag, grabbing my passport and heading out the door before dawn to catch a flight to Lisbon for a Javascript conference.

Due to be generally disorganised, I left things too late to book the conference organisers’ suggested hotel and though it would be a work expense, I thought the other hotels I looked at were either too expensive or too far away. So I turned to Airbnb.  Airbnb worked out well when the girl and I stayed in Barcelona, so I found somewhere good value and close to the conference — even though it was only a room (plus extras), rather than a whole hotel.

It was a little surreal to find myself staying with my host, plus his Dad, younger sister and younger brother, but I quickly preferred it to staying in a hotel alone.  Santiago was apparently typical of Portuguese hospitality, he would always greet me warmly when I came home, offer me meals or tell me to help myself to anything I wanted from the fridge — he also took me sightseeing in the city on my last day in Lisbon.

The Portuguese are interesting people. It occurs to me that Portugal is to Spain like Canada is to the USA and New Zealand is to Australia: they are the underdog nation to a bigger and more influential neighbour — and consider themselves to the friendlier of the two.  Like Canada/USA, perhaps, Santiago told me that Portugal and Spain have “always been neighbours but never friends”, despite sharing a peaceful border.

For about a hundred years, Portugal was a world-leading nation: in the age of discovery Portugal was one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, as well as establishing a vast empire that included Brazil.  Now the Portuguese lament that they have gone from this to being “one of the PIGS“.  As with anywhere, speaking to the locals about history can be a minefield: while one person told me proudly about the military coup in the 1970s that overthrew the country’s Fascist dictator, another told me that he thought the dictator had been Portugal’s best ruler.

Aside from having warm and hospitable people, Lisbon is a beautiful and hilly city. Nearly all of its streets are still cobbled, and many are tiled like mosaics — though when it started to rain I quickly stopped wishing London had more hills and pretty tiled streets: if you’ve ever slipped on a wet bathroom floor try to imagine a whole city feeling like that.

LisbonI must have explored most of Lisbon with my host on Sunday: going to Belém for the famous pastel de Belém, climbing the steps to the top of the Belém tower, admiring the views from the Monument to the Discoveries, and witnessing the last part of a very surreal theatrical performance in Jerónimos Monastery.  I have tried and failed to find a video clip of the play, but all I can tell you is that it featured Knights Templar (recognisable from their garments displaying the cross of St George), an angel, and a hanged man.  The gathered crowd enjoyed it very much, and I might have understood more had I seen the beginning.  I asked Santiago about it, and he didn’t know what was going on either.

Later we walked to one of the highest points in the city and looked out over the red roofs and the sun beginning to set in the distance. Lisbon really is a beautiful city and quite romantic — for obvious reasons, Portugal does have a lot in common with Spain and other countries of southern Europe, including the old winding streets, but it also has a distinct character of its own.  Though I only saw a very small part of Lisbon, I look forward to returning sometime in the near future to see more.

(see more of my pictures from Lisbon here)