the things i do for me

In the two+ months since I last updated (since Sydney) I:
– Interviewed and was selected for an amazing job
– Travelled to Hong Kong with said job
– Came back to Melbourne to cram for my next uni subject
– Travelled to the far-north-eastern-most point of Arnhem Land and spent a week in an Aboriginal arts centre
– Came back to Melbourne and did a course in conservation of plastics at Melbourne Museum
– Decorated my house in an attempt at procrastinating from uni assignments
– Thrashed out my assignments on Aboriginal art and finished uni for 2015 (much more to come in 2016 though)
– Started my new job in earnest.

But whilst all of the above would make fascinating blog posts, complete with interesting and/or beautiful photos and maybe even some meaningful reflections on art and culture…

…I’m posting now because I am needing to do the whole “today I did this for me” thing again to help me stay positive as I adapt to working very-much-full-time again and try not to lapse back into fatigue. Not very interesting for other people but very much a coping strategy for me!

SO this weekend:
– I got up early on Saturday and cleaned and tidied my house, ran down to Coles to pick up the groceries I pre-ordered online to avoid buying anything that wasn’t FODMAP-friendly (this strategy works wonders for me)
– Met with my new Chinese friend Rinny to smash out 6 (yes SIX) hours of Chinese conversation practice (the new job requires me to be able to talk about archaeology and Chinese history and UNESCO with fluency — isn’t that marvellous?)
– Watched 10 Things I Hate About You
– Read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (a wonderful hommage to The Jungle Book!)
– Failed to get to Bikram on Sunday morning, due to staying up late reading the above (I have lapsed in my Bikram practice and been maybe twice in three weeks, due to intermittent fatigue + working again being a bit much to combine, but I’m confident I’ll be back soon).
– Met my friend Kerry to see Trainwreck at the cinema (loved it)
– Came home and napped (I’ve been told to schedule naps in the day and not feel bad about it, and you know what, it’s so liberating!)
– Cooked low-FODMAPs coq au vin and ragu for the week’s lunches (plus a ton of white rice and hard-boiled eggs) (and can I just say that coq au vin is out of this world delicious for a low-FODMAPs recipe A+++).

Now it’s 9:30pm and time to wind things up for bed. Goals for the week:

– No panicking
– Practice Chinese every night (and not lazy writing or reading, proper speaking and listening!)
– Whether you think you can, or you think can’t, you’re right… so Rosie, know that you can.
– Maybe squeeze in a Bikram class.

views from the 11th floor

There have been ups and downs this week. Rather than follow a chronological narrative, here’s some of my ups, and then maybe I’ll have forgotten about the downs by the end.

  • Bikram is going great. I listen carefully and do exactly what the teacher says, and my body follows. I feel very strong despite my horrid shins (oh yes, update: definitely not a stress fracture; I’m on the waiting list to see a shin pain specialist) and I think I sat out maybe one position of my last 5 classes. I finish each class shaking and stand for as long as possible under a freezing cold shower, feeling wonderful.
  • To celebrate I got myself a new Bikram outfit from lululemon (who I had sworn off, because they are so dodgy, but I then got sucked back in because they do make such great clothes and I took Polly on a shopping spree to kit her out with running skirts and cute tops… WORTH IT). I have been hunting for a bikini in this Klein blue for years, and not only is this top adorable, but the ocean-print bottoms are great for Bikram because they camouflage the inevitable cameltoe.

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  • I also got myself a Camelbak insulated water bottle. I have been going back and forth between getting a Camelbak, which my work-wife Nat has and which is obviously awesome, and something insulated so I am not drinking hot water by the time the floor series starts. The one I got is gorgeous, but I am discovering it has the insulation properties of a paper cup so it’s not great. Regardless, it’s a great drinking bottle and I love how much more I drink because of it. Also, one of my staff got me a little desk fan which matches it perfectly!

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  • The desk fan is much needed, because as you will see from the below pictures, I am surrounded by glass and sunshine, and it gets very hot in my office. But so beautiful and sunny!

Glass wall behind my desk:
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Glass wall to the left of my desk:
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View to the front left sat at my desk:
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View to the rear left sat at my desk:
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View behind me when I turn right to talk to Nat:
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It’s not always bright and sunny… here’s a view from a more atmospheric morning of the week:
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In case you hadn’t got it yet… I love my view.

  • For an even happier picture of desk distractions cheering me: James DID order me my very own copy of Pioneer Girl. It’s a massive and beautiful coffee table book, wombat is not quite to scale but not far off! I am reading it very slowly as it is heavily annotated and has so much information about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her relationship with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. It’s also quite heavy and unwieldy so not the kind of book I can throw in my handbag to read on the tram, but in a sense I like it better that way, it lasts longer…

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  • On my way to Bikram I go past a car salesroom. When I am on my way to the 6am class, I see a man cleaning the salesroom almost every morning, and I always smile and wave. The first time, back in January, he was obviously startled but then immediately smiled and waved back, and it’s become a tradition for us to do so. I’m not sure why I had that impulse, except that early morning cities are a bit more like villages, and a cleaner behind a window is a safe person to smile and wave at, as opposed to the clubbers who are weaving their way along Chapel St looking for a cab. This Tuesday morning the man was waiting for me out the front, and he said “I wanted to say thank you for always saying hello in the morning!” and I felt very smiley and happy and “the world is such a wonderful place!”… then my yoga class was HARD and work kind of sucked, so I probably read too much into it. Still, it was nice.
  • Today I ran lots of errands for my soon-to-be new home, and now own a fridge and a chopping board and a fancy Scanpan knife that was $35 marked down from $80, and at long last, a salad spinner. I wore my Marcelline dress — another gift from James, who really is such a sweetheart, and I am terrible for never sending him anything in Iraq!! — which I hadn’t worn all summer because I felt too self-conscious, but actually I really like it!

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  • I also made a floor plan for my new home in InDesign, to scale, with all my furniture, plus a couch and table which I need to buy. This is a very consumerist post! I am sorry…

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  • Non-consumerly pictures I found unexpectedly this week, of James and me on my friend Benjin’s barge, in London, at St Katharine’s Docks, back in May 2011. Benjin runs a fantastic NFP called Floating Films where he screens films and documentaries on the barge, if you’re in London you should take a look!

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  • My manager (who went on maternity leave then moved to Queensland, and whom effectively I have been more or less replacing for the last six months, which is why I hate my job so much) is down for 10 days, and she brings the baby into the office. The baby is 4 months old and is so god damn cute my ovaries won’t stop wailing the entire time. She plays on the floor next to my desk, gurgling and doing happy baby pose, and I want a baby, I want a baby, I want a baby and NOT to have to work.
  • Last but not least: James has finally shaved his beard off! The whole time he has been in Iraq he has been growing a hideous “Wild Man of the Woods” mass of ginger hair and moustache and beard, and I hate them. I was so grumpy when he sent me a particularly hirsute picture, and so excited and happy when he sent me a second cleanshaven one as a surprise!

The downs were really just one down: at one point this week, I thought maybe my job was quite bearable after all, and was even thinking I could keep things up for longer, maybe even till the Spring/September. But URGH I had a horrible day on Friday and I know the real reason things have been ok is because somehow I haven’t had much work to do; there’s been a lull in my campaigns and it’s just the calm before the storm. But hey, 7 weeks down… maximum 43 weeks left to go?

posit even

It’s so hard to stay positive! I am finding it hard to feel pleased with myself at the end of this weekend. I wait all week for work to be over, and then the weekend goes by and I have nothing to show for it but naps. What did I even do with myself?

  • I went to just one yoga class on Saturday, and none on Friday or Sunday, although it was a really good class. I’m starting to wonder if Bikram is more enjoyable going every other day instead of 5 times a week. Maybe if I set that as a goal I would stop beating myself up when I don’t go, too.
  • I taped up some boxes and packed up most of my books (they are always the easiest thing to pack, after all).
  • After a few issues, I finally installed the Blackboard application for the online workshop on intangible cultural heritage I have signed up for. The three sessions will be run on Thursday mornings in February from 10am to 12pm Melbourne time, which means I will have to be strong and determined and step away from my work for two hours, and not let anything stand in the way of that. I’m already worried about a meeting coming up this Thursday, which I’m pretty sure my boss hasn’t bothered to put into my diary but will want me to attend, but I will just have to put my foot down. The third session is the same day as an absolutely incredible-sounding lecture I want to attend at Deakin: Building Capacity for Reducing Disaster Risks to Cultural Heritage Challenges and Opportunities in Asia Pacific. So… so I will take the entire morning off work. Scary! But I have to get some small amount of study in, having otherwise given up uni this semester.

(This listing thing is cheering me immensely. This is why I have this blog, which is basically a long list of things I did)

  • I offered a load of my pre-loved high heels on Facebook to whomever amongst my friends wanted them. I was surprised by the positive response I had, and it feels really good to re-home them! Plus it means I have/will be seeing friends who come to shoe-shop, which is nice. James’ sister came over and picked up 3 pairs for a start.
  • Sent a huge pile of books off to donate to the op-shop.
  • Sorted through all my papers (and even organised them into an accordion file with little stickers and everything) whilst listening to the audiobook of Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, for old times’ sake. Polly and I listened to the Red Dwarf audiobooks at least 20 times over the course of our childhood, and it’s very soothing to me!
  • Found no fewer than 5 unfinished needlework projects (a scarf I have been knitting for several years, and 4 different needlepoint projects (a duck, some lavendar, some wildflowers, and another which I have already forgotten again). These can go in the queue behind the sashiko I am literally 30 minutes away from finishing.
  • Cooked egg fried rice and tofu, with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yes that was the only thing I cooked. I don’t even know what else I ate in the last 48 hours, apart from ice cream.
  • Spent lots of time Skyping with my wonderful, albeit monstrously hirsute, boyfriend, who I just am too lucky to have, even if he sometimes does weird things like send me unsolicited, unwearable onesies. Although he has also booked us an AirBnb bush retreat for when he gets back from Iraq so it evens out (also following mysterious requests for my mailing address, I am pretty sure he has also got me Pioneer Girl, the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, which is pretty much sold out everywhere. Or maybe it was a salad spinner! both are highly coveted objects of desire…)!

So I suppose overall I have done SOME things. Eeeep it’s 10:45pm and I need to pack my bag for 6am Bikram… urgh… mornings… work… must resist temptation to get miserable again.

things

I took advantage of a Monday off work to try and pull myself together.

I made baked eggs from this recipe, and it was easy and delicious. It has spices! I want to get better at using spices because without onions and garlic, food gets boring very fast.

Raw:
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Slightly overcooked (which is how I prefer them really):
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These unsexy badly-lit pictures of my wardrobe? The result of extensive organisation and purging of what is habitually referred to as the Floordrobe. I’m proud, thus they are going on the blog.

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Polly is rather keen on the hairdye scene, and we picked up some coloured hair chalks on the weekend. She experimented with blue and purple as usual, and for fun, I picked up the red, pink, orange and yellow to make a little Flame Princess makeover. I thought it would have washed out after Bikram this morning, but it turns out, I still have teensy reddish highlights (if you can spot them). I quite like them, although I trust none of my clients noticed today at work.

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Speaking of Bikram and work: my backpack at 5:30am… again, boring picture for everyone else, but it holds: breakfast, lunch, two towels, my Bikram costume, my work shoes and clothes, my toiletries, and my water bottle. I was quite impressed with my packing and organisational skills. Onto the blog it goes.

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I came out of a particularly draining call conference to find a parcel from mummy on my desk, with a fancy magical butter dish and a tapestry kit from Erhman Tapestry. I’m itching to get started but I must finish the sashiko first!! I’ve only got about an hour’s work left to do so I must knuckle down.

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Work today was a 9 in terms of loathing. I shut myself away and cried in the training room at 9:30am, although things slowly improved over the course of the day. It’s nearly always the first day back that is the worst, I suppose I should not have long weekends…

Preparing for a trek: Part 3 – What to bring

This is more of a list of the things that I find invaluable for hiking. Even though I don’t have many treks under my belt, I nearly always go on long hikes wherever I travel to, so I have a few tips and tricks. I haven’t covered off the backpack; to be honest I don’t feel I have enough experience to give advice on choosing a backpack and there are a lot of variables, but I’ll think about it and come back if I have any tips that spring to mind other than don’t get too big of a bag as you will be tempted to put more into it, and whilst 12kg seems acceptable on the first morning, even by the first night you’ll have thrown out anything you can because it will seem so ridiculously, unbearably heavy when you’re going up a mountain. Pack it, then unpack it, remove everything that you can survive 3 nights without, pack it again, wear it for a day-long hike, and then purge some more.

Clothes:

Merino everything.  No, seriously, just keep layering it until you’re warm. James taught me this and I was sceptical at first because I get rashes whenever I go near wool, but merino is different. It’s warm in cold weather, it’s breathable in hot weather, it doesn’t get stank, it washes (even in the machine) beautifully, it’s lightweight, it bundles down very small without crumpling, it’s soft, and it’s a beautiful natural fabric. I have so much Icebreaker in my wardrobe and I only wish I had more.  So ladies, find an Icebreaker outlet or shop around online, because even if you think it’s too expensive, in terms of cost per wear it is cheap (as you’ll be able to wear it daily, for years, even when you’re back home):

–       A merino travel dress: this may seem surprising as a “trekking” item, but actually it’s so wonderful to be able to crawl into it after a day of hiking, and it’s warm and soft and, dare-I-say-it, pretty, whilst generally being fairly modest when you are in more traditional parts of the world. You can also wear it to travel in as it doesn’t crumple, and you can wear it to go out of an evening without feeling frumpy, and you can sleep in it and hike in it and generally just never take it off. I have three. Expect pictures below, at a later date, of me frolicking in various environments in my Icebreaker dresses.

–       1 merino zipped hoodie

–       1 merino vest

–       1 merino long-sleeve t-shirt

–       1 wind-proof and water-proof hooded shell (I have a super lightweight one from Patagonia that zips down into its own pocket and I love it)

–       (if trekking in winter: 1 down jacket)

–       1 pair merino leggings

–       1 pair hiking trousers

–       1 pair shorts (some people go for the type of trousers that zip into shorts. I have never found a comfortable pair that looked decent but I’m sure they exist. My hiking trousers do have little snaps to turn them into capris though).

–       Underwear: unsurprisingly I have a merino sports bra that I love, which is simple and cheerful and doesn’t look sexy. It’s supportive yet comfortable enough to sleep in and it doesn’t get stinky… you’re unlikely to want to change bras much when you’re in a tent halfway up a mountain. I’m of the smaller-chested variety so I have no advice on bras for big boobs, sorry! But I’d imagine you also want something that is comfy and supportive but not crazily so – you’re not running, so you don’t need to strap them down too much. 2 bras is generally enough, one to wash and one to wear.

–       As for knickers – get something lightweight, that will breathe, won’t chafe (ohhhh the chafing… I’ll admit there have been hikes where I ditched underwear rather than chafe) and that will wash and dry quickly overnight. NO COTTON. Again, trust me.  2-3 pairs (and if camping, I don’t change them unless I need to, cos I’m gross/practical like that).

–       Socksalready covered in part one. To recap… merino! 2-3 pairs of hiking socks.

General:

–       A hat – preferably an actual hat and not a baseball cap, because the brim of the cap will not protect your ears or neck (or at least it can only protect one of these at a time, as I can testify).

–       A scarf – I am a redhead and I need a scarf no matter what time of year, but most of all in summer, to protect me from the sun. When it’s really hot, you can soak a scarf in cold water and wear it over your head and shoulders to keep cool. Other scarf functions: impromptu towel; tent for shade when you’re taking a break; extra sheet for bedding or rolled up as a pillow; folded into a handy carry bag; mask when walking through stinky, smoky or insect-infested areas; eyemask when napping; skirt or shawl when bare legs or shoulders are inappropriate; protection from burning hot pleather seats on a bus or tuk-tuk… and many more. Get a nice huge lightweight scarf and never let it go.

–       Sunglasses

–       Headband. This can be the type for warmth, or just to keep your hair out of your eyes/face/everything, especially if it’s windy and you don’t have the kind of hair that can just be tied back. Get one that’s adjustable (like this) so that it’s never too tight (headaches) or too loose (useless and easily lost).

–       Flip-flops – if you’ve ever travelled, you probably know this, but have a plastic pair of thongs stashed away. If you can bear it, Crocs are actually heaven after a day of trekking in boots. Full disclaimer: I cannot bear it, and have never fallen to the Crocs, but instead watched others enviously, and once borrowed my mother’s whilst on the Camino which is how I know just how amazing they feel.

Sleeping:

–       Silk sleeping bag liner. This is a MAJOR one. A MUST-HAVE. They are fairly inexpensive (I’ve seen them priced from 9 Euro to AUD $50 but I got mine for I think AUD $25) and they will revolutionise your experience. Their basic function is to make your sleeping bag up to 5º C warmer… which is nice… and they are much more easily washed than a sleeping-bag, so you can basically keep the sleeping bag cleaner and enjoy the “clean sheet” effect regularly. But I love them because:

  • They are soft and silky and nicer to lay in than most hostel or camping bedding
  • I find I get itchy skin from the detergent used on most sheets and the silk is a great (and hygienic!) barrier
  • When it’s hot, I can lay on the bed in just the silk liner rather than sheets (ideal when you don’t want to be naked cos of sharing a room with other people)
  • When it’s TROPICAL levels of hot I lay on top of it as it doesn’t hold sweat the way cotton does
  • I tend to get paranoid about mosquitos and bugs crawling on me (don’t judge! everyone’s been there at least once in their lives!) and I can relax when I know I’m safe in my silk bag
  • When there definitely are mosquitos around, I can hide inside my liner completely sealed off!
  • It also makes a great scarf (especially on sunburnt skin or when you’re drenched with rain) and you now know how much I love scarves
  • It can be wrapped around you under other layers for extra warmth, even when wet.

–       Earplugs. Never ever travel without earplugs. From bustling crazy cities, inconsiderate hostel room-mates, villages where the dogs bark.all.night.long, and even the startling silence of camping in complete isolation from the civilised world… you’ll never know when you’ll need them. I bulk buy them and then stash them in every pocket and bag for easy access in the middle of the night or on a long train-journey.

–       Eyemask if you’re a bit precious like me. I don’t always use it, but in my travels 80% of the places I have slept in, from tents in Bhutan to serviced apartments in Seoul, had nothing to shutter out the bright early morning light. This can be a good thing if you need to get up, but if you desperately need any sleep you can get, then I find eyemasks from Muji to be my favourite – reasonable price, soft to wear, don’t get sweaty, and block out the light quite effectively.

Toiletries:

–       Sunscreen – I love this affordable moisturiser from Nivea that’s SPF 30 and is instantly absorbed, soothing dry skin at the same time. Then bring any basic SPF 30 for arms, neck and legs, and a chapstick with SPF. If you’re in the mountains, you’ll get a lot of sun, and regardless, you’re outside all day long. This is obviously a guide for the ladies, so ladies – do it.

–       Bug spray – check online to see if strong insect repellent is available where you’re going (top tip: there’s none in Sri Lanka). Get something small and easy to apply; if it’s windy, spray into your hand and then smear it on.

–       Bite-eze or whatever it’s called – because despite everything you will get bitten by something. I have this Burt’s Bees one that I like; I think it’s mostly placebo with camphor and whatnot to distract from the bite, but it just makes such a difference when feeling assaulted by mozzies! And don’t scratch, but you knew that…

–       Body glide/ silicon anti-chafing gel. Great for ladies because bras, knickers, and thighs chafe very easily. As discussed in Part 1, also valuable for keeping your feet blister-free.

–       Wet wipes, and a ziplock baggie for disposing of them. Wet wipes are so useful but unlike toilet paper, not at all biodegradable, so make sure you have a dedicated “bin-bag” and don’t dump them in nature.

–       Travel size toothpaste and toothbrush. More ziplock bags. Lots of ziplock bags.

–       A small travel towel, mostly just as a gesture. Washing is unlikely to be a priority unless it’s really hot and you’re really sweaty and you have access to showers, and if it’s really hot you’ll dry off quickly anyway.

–       Haircare: Be prepared to have crazy hair. Maybe you’re luckier than me, but I have no idea how to avoid crazy hair when trekking. Sorry. However if you’re staying in hostels and have access to showers then it’s better to carry a little bottle of shampoo (in a ziplock, of course) and then use that to clean your underwear in the shower as well. Shampoo seems to be a superior surfactant, as it foams up quickly and rinses out easily without damaging your clothes.

Other stuff:

My friend asked me about travel guides, and whether to go for paper or ebooks. My advice is: download all the ebook guides you can find, but always travel with a paperback Lonely Planet. I find ebook guides can be frustrating and you can’t flip through them and randomly fall upon information the way you can with paper. I love ebooks but also sometimes you have no electricity and you need a book, either for guidance or for sheer sanity as something to read when you’re stranded at a remote train station for 7 hours; Lonely Planet guides are designed with this in mind and always have anecdotes, bits of history, and of course a phrasebook integrated.

If you are trekking with a smartphone (switched on sporadically, on airplane mode, so you can use it as a camera, ipod, map and perhaps even Runkeeper…) you will want to make sure you can top up the battery with a travel charger. I have an ANKER external battery, which can feed a power-hungry iPhone 5 multiple times over the course of a week.  I used my iPhone as a camera and took hundreds of photos daily during my trek in the Himalayas, as well as reading ebooks or listening to audiobooks during the long, cold, dark evenings, and even in the cold my ANKER was enough to last me for days. James used his iPhone and an ANKER and it was enough to track our trek through a GPS app.

Preparing for a trek: Part 1 – Your feet

Disclaimers (optional reading but required for any piece of advice anyone puts out on the internet): I’ll start with the disclaimer that I am not a professional ANYTHING, and this is not professional advice so much as a list of things that worked for me. It’s the result of experience, consultations with a couple of physios and podiatrists, and learning from other people such as the magnificent, extremely well-travelled James. This advice is also written with a certain demographic in mind: mine, ie. a not hugely fit, not massively experienced traveller in her late twenties/early thirties, who wants to go trekking but who also isn’t used to living rough and has a couple of idiosyncrasies such as a dislike of being cold, itchy, sunburnt or in significant pain. With all this humbly in mind, I have been asked for advice in the past, based on a couple of short treks I did (two weeks alone on the Camino, partially documented here and here, and 5 days in the Himalayas with James, briefly mentioned here). I also have done a fair bit of hiking and travelling so again, not an expert, but more experienced than many of my acquaintances. So, please accept my disclaimers and I apologise if you are much more knowledgeable than me and would like to correct anything I get wrong.

Now let us begin, hopefully a good 3 months before your trip. I’ve broken it down into three sections: Your feet Training, and What to bring. And, because I’m a bit of a Type A kind of girl, I’ve also put together an 18-week training plan. I may come back and add in photos later, but my priority is to get all this up first.

Part One: Your feet (also the most important advice of all).

If you’re preparing for your first trek, before you consider ANYTHING else – the question is: Do you own a good pair of hiking boots? Because if you don’t, you want to get a pair and start breaking them in as soon as possible. Good doesn’t necessarily mean expensive, but they need to be the right size and a comfortable, fairly snug fit when wearing hiking socks.  If the answer to this is, Yes – good for you! You can skip most of the rest of this section. If you are reading this though, chances are you don’t have the right boots yet, but before you run out and buy them…

Have you ever seen a podiatrist? Now, this may seem overkill, but many people actually have a less than ideal situation going on with their feet, especially when in sports shoes, and if you’re about to spend several consecutive days hiking, you want your feet to be in top form. You may have slightly collapsed arches or a tendency to pronation, and not even know it – but a single visit to a podiatrist will generally equip you with a better understanding of how you walk, and how to walk better. For maximum efficiency, bring all your shoes with you so they can see how you walk – your running shoes, the work shoes you wear every day, the boots you defer to in winter, and off course the hiking boots if you already have them. The podiatrist will quite likely get you into orthotic soles to stabilise your feet, and wearing them daily will strengthen your ankles as you prepare for your trip.

Cost: The total cost will vary depending on where you are and how much you’re prepared to fork out for the orthotics, but it’s a worthy investment.

Now, once you have your orthotics (or a bill of clean feet from the podiatrist), head to a camping shop, armed with the orthotics and some thick socks. Socks are just as important as the boots – you want woollen socks, slightly contoured and padded, designed for hiking. Icebreaker make fantastic ones; my favourites are ones I found in Spain, but they all have in common a high percentage of wool and contouring – the contours will stop the sock from slipping and the reinforced padding protects against blisters. NO COTTON. I know we have been brought up to believe cotton is a lovely natural fabric, but it’s not lovely when you’re sweating. And artificial fibres may feel nice while you’re hiking, but they get stinky and stay stinky – trust me. Go with the woollen ones (merino is the best if you find wool itchy and uncomfortable).

Cost: Outlets or online stores will generally have affordable merino socks; you only really need 2-3 pairs (one to wash, one to wear, and one for when both are wet and you really need dry socks).

Getting someone knowledgeable to help you fit your boots will be a major asset, and if there’s no-one other than some teenage part-timer, it’s worth coming back later. You may end up dropping several hundred dollars on your boots and you don’t want the wrong ones. Whether you end up buying from the shop or taking notes and buying them cheaper online is up to you, but the advantage of buying from the shop is there will be a return/exchange policy, which gives you some time to stomp around at home and work out if they are a good fit. Choose shoes with a good strong sole – after walking for a few days, normal soles feel about as protective as tissue paper when your sore feet are walking on a gravel path. Trial them with the orthotics and socks, going both up and down an incline (most shops have a little mini-hill to climb up and down). Take your time.

Cost: I would expect to pay AUD $160 for a decent pair of boots, you might find cheaper offers online though. Also I ended up paying AUD $220 for mine and I have no regrets.

Now you’ve got your boots, you’re going to need to break them in. You can soften your boots up a bit by holding them, toes to the floor and then repeatedly flexing and bending the soles. Don’t worry, it won’t damage them, and it will soften up the stiff soles so they are more gentle on your feet. You can also experiment with the way you lace them, to reduce pressure on different parts of your feet.  Obviously the real breaking in involves wearing them in. The training plan comes with a Boot-Breaking plan, but it can be summarised as:

  • Wear them at home for at least a week first.
  • Then start taking them on walks: a short trip to the supermarket, a brief walk around the block.
  • Then the first couple of kilometres of your training walks/hikes, before swapping them for your running shoes.
  • Even once you start doing longer hikes in them, keep your running shoes in your backpack just in case.

Just in case of what? Well the gradually increasing walks will take care of building strength in your feet so they don’t feel like they’ve been attacked with a meat tenderiser, but of course you also are looking to avoid blisters. The seams inside your boots, your sweaty socks chafing against your skin, or the general weirdness of learning to walk with your ankles fully supported mean that you are likely to get blisters. However you can avoid this by pre-emptive use of blister protection band-aids. Within the first few days of breaking in your boots, you’ll know which parts of your feet get red and sore from wearing boots. Get hold of the little doughnut-shaped pads for protecting corns, and before your hike, place them strategically over the bony bits of your feet and toes. Make sure the skin is clean and dry, and heat up the pads first by rubbing them between your hands before peeling off the backing. Then after they’re on, a dusting of baby powder will help keep things dry and prevent them from catching on the inside of your sock. You can also use an anti-chafing silicon-based gel to protect your feet – I find this useful if you have just a little bit of rubbing but nothing really painful, and it’s probably more effective once your boots are more broken in.

Cost: The corn-protection plasters can be a bit expensive if you’re getting through a dozen a week, so keep your eye out for special offers and bulk buy. The gel can be expensive but you’ll be able to use it for other things too…

Source: My Camino hike was done completely unprepared in running shoes. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in so much pain in my life as I was by day 4.  My Himalayan trek was done following all of the above advice (after researching online, talking with podiatrists, physios and sports doctors) and I never gave a second’s thought to my feet. You can pick and choose which of the above tips to follow, but trust me that you do not want to spoil your hike because you’re distracted by the pain in your feet…

is it legal?

Not sure it can be legal to feel as good as I do. I have been in my new home a week now, and yesterday I finally got my room unpacked and organised. I took a panoramic picture on my iphone that can give an idea of my room (and a peek into the living-room) but I don’t know how well it will come through on my blog, it might be necessary to click through to see it properly. It’s actually really cool how you can zoom in on all the details! the iphone 5’s camera really is amazing.
IMG_0510

I am enjoying my current readings for my essay. I finished The Buddhas of Bamiyan (reviewed here in the Guardian) which gave me a really fascinating insight into the history of Afghanistan and into understanding how the Buddhas were perceived throughout their existence, whether by Buddhists, Muslims or intrigued Western travellers and soldiers. I’m currently reading Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy and Practice, which covers a broad range of topics of course, and it’s hard not to get distracted by all the case studies of cultural artefacts plundered or destroyed due to the travesty of war.

I’m particularly intrigued right now by the case of the Ethiopian Stele of Axum, originally because of the inconsistencies between what is in my book (published 2006) and what is on Wikipedia, notably because Wikipedia’s spin sounds more plausible but is lacking in citations (and also contradicts itself). The book says the stele was broken into 3 pieces by the Italians so they could carry it back to Rome in 1937, as a spoil of war. Wikipedia points out that the 24m-high stele was erected in the 4th century, in an area prone to earthquakes, and that it collapsed more or less immediately, laying on the ground in either 3 or 5 pieces until the Italians carried it off.

Stele of Axum

Of course I could head off and search for more information but it’s not the topic of my essay and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. But firstly, it’s made me doubt the reliability (and objectivity) of this book, and secondly, OMG HOW COOL IS ETHIOPIAN HISTORY? It frustrates me that even though my BA is in History of Art and Archaeology of Asia and Africa, I was so focused on East Asia and China that I never had more than a brief flirtation with African art in my first year. And now I need to get back to Afghanistan… but there is so much out there to read!!

Also in the works for the rest of my Sunday: hit up Bikram at 6, and cook a giant pot of soup for my work lunches this week. It’s already 3:30! where did my day go? (the answer is easy: I was up till 5am emailing with James in Afghanistan so I slept in till 11… NO REGRETS).