End of life

I’m talking about this blog. I’ve decided to shut the WordPress blog down as my objective isn’t to maintain an actual blog. My interest lies in just writing, through my experiences and not to amplify a blog. 

Hence, I’ve started with Medium just to write ‘stories’ and if you are keen to continue reading about my experiences, please follow me here: https://medium.com/@walkingwithali. 

Thank you again for following me on this WordPress site. Much appreciated. 

Hiking reflections: It’s not just about the goal

It’s planning time for our hike once again. We’ve booked ourselves in for backcountry hikes in Jasper National Park this September and while checking out the views and researching conditions for the hike, I’m reminded again of the past hikes we’ve gone on before.

It’s often the journey which sticks with us the most and sometimes, it’s not just about getting to our goal. The journey is also the most important part of hiking. Hence, I’m hoping that my research helps us be better prepared this time. Not that we weren’t the last time during our snow camping trip. We just weren’t toughened enough to hike through the conditions. We are urban people who also yearn for the outdoors, nature and quiet.

I think backcountry hiking is something which one needs to experience before even furthering the research. Much like getting work experience first before taking your MBA. It enriches knowledge absorption and appreciation. I did not research this extensively during our first few hikes. Although, the first hiking trip at Mount Robson in 2014, turned out well, our backpack system was a mess, plus I had so many blisters and a loose toenail.

M had a backpack which looked more like a day pack, for a 4-day/3-night hike. And he had our foam mattresses hanging off the bag, in addition to some other dry sack and carried two cooler bags, like we were off for a 4-day picnic. I carried M’s clothes in my 65 liters backpack.

We have definitely ‘graduated’ from this into this:

New Zealand_Greenstone and Caples
New Zealand, Greenstone and Caples, September 2015

And this:

SNAP0611
Healy Pass to Shadow Lake, October 2017

Mount Robson, 2014, still tops all other hiking experiences so far because the route was well-marked, we were better prepared (again, despite how our backpacks were packed), Berg Lake was magical, fewer flies and bugs or even the lack thereof, deer spotting at our campsite, a curious chipmunk which came right up to our trash bag at our tentpad and warmer temperatures.

Our next hiking trip was in 2015 in New Zealand. We initially wanted to do the popular Routeburn trail, but was informed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) folks that some trails are washed out from the flood. So, we searched for other trails and decided on Greenstone and Caples.

Greenstone and Caples, 2015, is not a tough trail. It was tedious as we took a wrong turn and went AROUND the lake, which set us back a day. It was a psychological setback more than anything else. We setup camp on the first day near the river and I think that was the best spot. We were informed by DOC folks that it was too early in Spring for there to be flies at that time. We did not bring the bug spray. Big mistake. The moment we stopped, we had a swam around us and our heads. It was crazy! The next day, we hiked through a forest and river flats. The route wasn’t well-marked and we were looking out for signs and orange posts. The distances do not really match up to what was mentioned on the map. I was ill-prepared for sleep during this trip. The ground was freezing cold at night and I had this bubble mattress with lots of air circulating under me. It made me even colder and I woke up with stiff and painful back. In the end, we slept in the huts along the way. The huts were quite comfortable but you would have no privacy. The huts are mostly long bunks which you would share with other hikers. We shared a hut with another hiker who really snored…. i’ve shared a tent and room with snorers whom I thought was the worst before, but this one, topped it. I was lucky i brought my ear plugs and eye cover. They are now in my mandatory items packing list. We’ve also tried to shower stealthily with other hikers around. And exposing our bare skins to sand flies. We’ve also managed not to be hunted by hunters as we discovered that it was just at the end of hunting season then. We stayed with a roomful of five hunters at our last pitstop. There were bloody deer antlers just drying out outside the hut where we brush and wash up…We also met a chatty vagabond at that hut. He hikes from one place to another and just stays at hiking huts. He eats the leftovers from hikers who leave food behind at the huts and he grows his own sprouts…which he showed us…if it’s any consolation, it didn’t rain until our last day. There were hikers who wanted to wait it out at the hut with the hunters. We were prepared to call it a day at that point in our journey. We waited for the rain to subside a little and hiked out. Since it was our last day, we didn’t care that much about our shoes getting wet. Our raincoats didn’t really keep us dry. We perspired inside and just got wet outside. It was really a counter intuitive situation. We just wanted to get to our car. All in all, the journey was interesting on hindsight.

We went on another hike in 2016. This ended almost prematurely. We intended to hike the Besseggen Ridge in Norway.

Besseggen Ridge, Jotunheimen, Norway, August 2016. It is a very popular hike in Norway. There were lots of people at the carpark and around the area when we started. Before we started our hike, we already had a setback then when we were about to fly from Prague to Copenhagen after attending M’s sister’s wedding. He forgot his driver’s licence back home and we were supposed to drive from Copenhagen to Oslo, where we’d booked a night at the hotel before continuing our journey to where we start our hike. In the end, I drove us from Copenhagen to Oslo that day and it was my first time driving on the right side. The challenge was actually in getting M’s driver’s licence as we’d experienced. My father sent it via DHL to us and initially, we had the delivery address down as one of the DHL centers in Lillehammer , en route to Jotunheimen. Of course, DHL does not deliver to its own delivery center. The package was rejected and returned to Oslo, DHL center at the airport. Yes, we checked the location before setting off, to chase down that elusive DHL package. We finally picked it up at the main cargo facility at Oslo airport, after three days of waiting.

It started raining on our way to Jotunheimen and continued raining. In fact, it was a pretty wet hike. It rained on and off. We took the wrong turn from the get-go. After an hour into the hike, we were wondering why hasn’t the trail started to gain in elevation. We suspected that we were on the wrong route. We were. We had a family with a young boy who overtook us a couple of times on the trail…and I slipped twice. The second time hurt so badly that I had just about given up. I fell flat on my face with my backpack and a twig on the ground at my throat. We spent two nights at the campsite deciding if we wanted to continue as the weather was not too great as well. We decided to call it a day and took the ferry out, instead of hiking back out.

We stuck to day hikes in Norway after that failed hike.

We didn’t stop hiking after that. We went on another hike in October 2017, this time back in Canada. It was past shoulder season by then and we experienced snow camping!

Healy Pass to Shadow Lake, 2017. We had to get snowshoes by the time we got down to hiking. We initially wanted to hike Skoki, which was one of the few trails still open in shoulder season. We decided on Healy Pass as there isn’t as much snow then. It started snowing on our way up and the trail was completely covered in snow on our way down. Because of the cold and darkness by the time we get to camp, we ended up eating dried food and protein bars instead of cooking. Plus, the bear poles are usually a bit further from camp. Hiking and camping in the snow certainly meant taking more load as we had heavier clothes and more equipment it seems. We had snowshoes strapped onto the bag when we weren’t using them, we brought thick gloves which looked like ski gloves and a new addition from an outlet store. It was certainly not fun waking up in the night to pee in the snow…and hiking in the snow meant that your shoes and socks are wet during the trip.

Hiking 2018: 

Each time we go hiking, we buy new gear; be it more clothes, or a change of equipment. I bought a new insulated mattress last trip, Yaktraxs and more thermal wear from MEC. My best piece of thermal wear still remains as the Rab thermal pants I bought sometime back. Good socks make such a big difference too! I’m probably able to appreciate the insights on hiking and equipment by Andrew Skurka [The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide]  now compared with before when we first started hiking or before we started.

With each hike, we learn something new. I believe we did get our sleeping equipment right. I like being slightly toasty inside my sleeping bag, so I use a liner inside my Big Agnes mummy sleeping bag. It looks huge but it is quite compressible. The foam mattress has great value. We use that as base, followed with our sleeping pad and then the sleeping bag. It keeps you off the cold ground. As I’ve learnt in New Zealand, sleeping with the cold on your back is not pleasant. Next, my small pillow. I realize may not be working very well as it moves around way too much for me to be comfortable. So that’s going into a new shopping list this year. I bring dedicated sleepwear which becomes my last day wear sometimes. I find that having dedicated camp/sleepwear adds to comfort in the tent.

For clothes, I have found myself overheating before which made me really tired and I wanted to take everything off. So I hope I have found my optimal clothes system suitable for the weather conditions. I do like my current light outer shell from Helly Hanson but probably need a better mid-layer.

What I think we can do better this time is our meal plan. We both have sensitive guts and packing food which we both like and won’t cause major stomach problems, light, easy to pack and easy to cook, can be challenging. I’ve learnt that you should just pack what you want to eat and it doesn’t need to be healthy. Trail mixes can be great for that protein and energy boost but somehow pales in comparison to a chocolate bar, nougat or even gummies. Finding a good balance of good nutrition and what we crave can make it more enjoyable.

What I miss is having some snacks at hand in the tent. That is something we can’t have when camping in Canada as most campsites have very strict rules around keeping a clean site – with no food trace. All food and cookery must be kept in bear lockers or bear poles.

Sometimes, the fun is also in the planning. I am looking forward to our next journey…our goal, making it an enjoyable journey.

What are you reading?

With so many distractions and things to do after work and over the weekends, I have not been disciplined with reading or completing a book. Functional reading such as catching up on news and reading for work take over reading which feeds the soul.

Even when it comes to reading, there’s a question of what do I read now, with the limited time and attention and yet, so much more out there to consume. I’ve hard copy books which are still waiting for some attention. Books on Kindle waiting for that long, chill holiday. On top of that, there’s hiking research and planning to be done for that upcoming backcountry hiking trip in September 2018. Don’t get me wrong. This is a not complaint. I love reading, researching and planning. This is about my recent read…

I managed to complete a book on my Kindle within two days of my purchase! Which is now a feat. No, it’s not a short story. In fact, it’s a rather inspiring true story of four women who are doing well in their careers and at home. They each have two children and they are in their mid-forties and early-fifties.

The book: Four Mums in a Boat

The read was easy and entertaining, so I managed to devour the book over the weekend, owing to our rare lazy Sunday.

They defied all odds and were the first women to row across the North Sea and the oldest women to complete the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. They had no ocean rowing experience and in the book, I learnt that there’s a big difference between river rowing and ocean rowing. They had so many obstacles standing in the way of their dreams before they had even gotten to the actual race.

What I’ve learnt from their story: 

These are not new but we get drawn into the cycle of our routines, work and life.

  • Change is in your hands and you have the power to change something you don’t like in your life.
  • Push on even with some physical challenges. A good reminder for long hiking trips.
  • Dare to dream
  • Grab an opportunity
  • Pack only what you would eat and love in a snack pack…. everything else goes overboard…or in our case, we would end up carrying them [food we don’t want] in and out of the park.

As what Frances has mentioned in the book, “…it takes all sorts to make a world. Some people will never understand. They feel uneasy when other people try to break the mould, rock the boat, and do something a little different; when they stop treading the same path as everyone else.”

Watch this video of their journey (in a nutshell): https://youtu.be/KwVrYWHjqLI 

I’m glad I made the decision to stay home and finish a book on a Sunday. What I’d missed was Tom Cruise’s, apparently best, Mission Impossible movie yet…and training for our hike.

The special walk

I was proposed to about fourteen days ago, on a bridge above a canopy of trees, in Singapore, in the rain, while on a day hike. It was apt since we both love the outdoors, greenery, hiking and it was one of our first hikes together in Singapore. Since then, we’ve gone on longer hikes in New Zealand, Canada and Norway, in the rain, under the sun and in the snow. We’ve made many good memories while on those hikes that’s for sure.

There are so many memories and thoughts that I’m struggling to put this in a blog article read by people who do not know us and hence, the lack of context. For us, getting engaged is a milestone in our lives after five years of living together, but it does not change many other things. Commitment is above any law and it is what holds people accountable to something. However, that said, I grew up in a more conservative culture whereby couples who live together should be legally married and there is still a slight stigma for women who live together with a partner, without getting married or an indication of that happening in the near future. So this was definitely good news for my parents too. They did find out about this earlier than me…when M asked them for permission and blessing before the proposal.

Tradition aside, it is also a goal for many women – to have their very special day, being a princess (although sometimes, we probably do not stop being princesses…). Thanks to all those TV influences – both Western and Eastern, what we are brought up with and societal mindset. Many women see that [getting attached or married] as a part of their value or self-worth.

Coming back to simpler and happier thoughts, hiking and our journey so far which cumulated to the day of being proposed to. It was definitely a special moment which seems more important than signing any legal document. The first few hikes we had as a couple in Singapore and later brought us on many other adventures.

The adventures we had together were great experiences which brought us closer as partners. Multi-day hikes are a great way to bond for sure, when you are ‘bonded’ together for that number of days and nights…

There are so many memories and stories to tell around each hike, adventure and experience we’ve had together. Although we’ve had some bad ones too, just like any other couples, I think it takes work from both parties to work out any issues.

Some things I’ve learn so far after being in a good and healthy relationship. We may not be perfect at doing this yet but a relationship is a learning journey.

  • Do not leave issues as they are. Work them out and find a middle ground if there is and then move on.
  • As partners, we need to lift each other up. From simple things like sharing domestic chores to something more emotional and mental.
  • Listening to each other. Really listen. This is so important for any form of relationship – friends, colleagues, family…yet so tough. Many people listen ‘shallowly’ and jump right off to what they want to say. I’m more aware of this now, but still room for improvement.
  • If there are deal breakers in the relationship, learn to say no and break away as early as possible. Life is too short for staying unhappy for too long.
  • Learn to discover and travel solo first before travelling with your partner. Find that space, peace and happiness within yourself as you should not rely solely on someone else to make you happy.
  • Mutual respect, honesty and trust form the basis of a healthy relationship.

We are so alike in so many ways that it is easy for me to be my weird self. I don’t think there could have been another answer to the proposal other than, yes.

Sailing in Singapore

Sailing can be pretty fun. We took a four-day course over two weekends at Changi Sailing Club. It was a good course and I recommend it.

The first day required us to pass a swimming test in the swimming pool. Next, we had theory class in an open-air classroom. After lunch, we had a few hands-on practice using a structure which simulates movement of the boat. That was kind of fun. Another fun part was learning how to get up the boat after capsizing. That was done right off the jetty. We took turns to do a half capsize, with the sail just floating on top of the water surface, and a full capsize. To simulate a full capsize, we had to lay on top of the sail until the entire sail goes under. It’s tough enough to right a sailboat after a half capsize and this is very useful considering that capsizing is actually quite common in windy conditions.

  • After you fall into the water, swim around the boat to where the centreboard sticks out. Watch out for the ropes as they can be a hazard.
  • Pull the centreboard out and put your weight on it. The difficult part for me here was getting on top of the centreboard while you are floating around in the ocean, neck deep in water.

We got to rig up our own boats as part of the course. This requires regular practice… It’s been a while since our course and I’ve forgotten how to rig up the boat. We collect our Picos from the boat parking bay and drag them to the open space for washing down the boats and rigging them up. Dragging the boats around is not easy. They are heavy!

Next, we collect our mast, boom, ropes, mainsheet, rudder, centreboard and wind direction indicator. We get good guidance from the instructor on how to rig it up the first time.

We did not get very good winds during the duration of our course and even had to be towed back to shore on one of the days like boat ducklings.

We’ve been back sailing a few more times at Constantwind before we stopped and considered ourselves a little too rusty to go out again without additional classes…

Lunar New Year!

For Chinese who observe some traditions of Lunar New Year, you get a second chance to kickstart your resolutions!
Usually it includes getting fit and losing weight especially after all that feasting. Not forgetting that at this point we are still working off the calories from Christmas and New Year!

Some things which come to mind during Chinese New Year….

Food
My immediate family is seen as less traditional.Visiting is kept to a minimal and we’ve gone through the same Chinese New Year routine for the last two decades. Chinese New Year for us is about sitting around and waiting for everyone to turn up before moving out to my dad’s grand aunt’s place. By that time, we are all exhausted from sitting around and exercising our willpower from not finishing the pineapple tarts, kueh bangkit and chocolates etc. That’s when I get motivated to go run around the field, start playing tennis again, cycling and hiking. Good news is that we have a long weekend for Chinese New Year this year and we intend to do either one of those activities during the long weekend.

Red packets
There is a tradition of giving hong baos, or red packets, which I wished can be changed. The red packets with some token of cash is usually given to relatives younger than you are, who isn’t married yet. So, my partner and I are not married but we’ve been living together for close to five years. That counts for being de facto in some countries. However, not in the Chinese tradition. They need us to be legally registered and also families need to be updated and informed. Last year, we received red packets from my cousins and that was awkward for us since we’re both above 35 years old and usually the practice of giving red packets stop at the twenties for many – given that that’s usually the average age one gets married.

New clothes 
It’s Chinese New Year day 1 today and we don at least one new item which symbolises starting afresh for the new year. Often, people wear red for the first day which symbolises good luck. Or they wear the colour of their year. This is usually found in chinese horoscopes.

Chinese horoscopes 
There’s this big book of horoscopes which we read to past time on day 1. It can be amusing and entertaining. We read about our own animal signs for what may happen during the year….and can be fun when we start comparing notes. But we forget about it almost immediately. As what my mom once described it, they’re ‘horror-scopes’, and to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Happy Chinese New Year!