Warning: passionate swearing ahead.
In light of news this morning about the ancient Tarkine rainforest burning to the ground after a freak lightning storm, I decided to finally pull my finger out and write about my time in Tasmania.
I haven’t summoned the guts to for weeks because I was confused about my experience. I didn’t know what to say. A lot of negative statements came to mind: I failed to achieve my goal, allowed my activities to be dictated by other people, spent a fair chunk of time wallowing in self-pity, etc. etc.
I know I’d inspired a lot of people with my Tasmanian Promise, and feared that spreading my hands and declaring what actually transpired would disappoint them.
Well, none of that matters now.
Because a forest is smouldering, and I’m fucking angry about it.
So this here now is less of a confession, and more of a productive way to channel my anger for the sake of helping save the goddamn planet.
As you would know if you read my last post, a dear family friend passed away recently, and my way of coping was to plan a trip that would celebrate his life. Considering he taught my tentative six-year-old self how to ride a bike, a cycling trip seemed an obvious choice.
However, my mind is bigger than my body, and when I pondered aloud my visions of hauling ass over the Andes (cycling from Alaska to Argentina) or pitching a tent alone among the acacia thorns (riding around Africa), my wise correspondent gently suggested I tackle something smaller first.
My first instinct was New Zealand for its familiarity and extensive network of cycle paths; but then I read some comment somewhere about Tasmania supposedly being a cyclist’s paradise, realised it’s the only state of Australia I’ve never visited, and thought…why not? I’m going to conquer Tasmania, and no lack of information on the subject despite extensive Google searching will stop me!
Let me address that initial commenter before I move on with my story: You, sir/madam, are a masochist.
I spent too much time in Hobart chasing down leads who might lend some camping equipment and a bike that could be taken further than the city limits. The consensus was that there was only one guy (and everyone had heard of that one guy) who did such a thing, and he was based in Launceston. I emailed said guy, asked if equipment could be delivered to Hobart on a bus (as the reverse was apparently doable); his response was barely more decipherable than a spam email from the Prince of Nigeria, but (I think) his answer was no, I would have to travel to Launceston to collect.
Admittedly, I could have done just that…and nearly did.
But then I saw the hills.
Endless, steep, winding hills.
Combine that with winds that could siphon Moby Dick right up out of the ocean and deposit him in the jungles of Burma, and I realised with a pang my efforts were likely to produce no fruit. Even if I could wrap my head around the notion of slogging for hours and days up intimidating gradients, on exasperatingly narrow shoulders, in the cold, rain and wind, my body sure as hell couldn’t cope.
So what’s a desperate traveller to do?
I turned to Gumtree for travel buddies.
And that’s how I got stuck in a car with Ignaas, Edwin, and Felix.
I have the makings of a good joke, here: A Belgian, a Dutchman, a German, and an Aussie drive into the Tarkine rainforest. The Europeans all say, “We don’t need showers, ja? The forest is wet enough. Shame we can’t light any fires to warm ourselves up. Oh and hey, we don’t want to pay a single cent for facilities, so you’re okay with camping under bridges and against the bare cyclonic ass of the ocean, right?”
Don’t get me wrong. I love camping. I love the wilderness. I love roughing it. But when you’re the barnacle on a Euro boy’s club that hasn’t showered for five days, freezing despite wearing every piece of clothing in your possession, and spending your nights with a shitty, damp Kmart tent in your face because the pegs broke upon insertion into the ground, you tire of everything pretty darn quick.
So I took to the forest.
Granted, I was primarily doing so to a) escape the unintelligible chatter that, for all I know, could have been exclusively about mutineering me on the side of the road, and b) warm my frozen limbs…but, in the process, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer grandeur of the Tarkine. It really is like something out of fable: mossy, wet, glittering, misty, towering, tangled, old as hell. The trees looked as though they might close behind me, and I’d be trapped in West Tasmania forever. (Which, at that point, seemed preferable to climbing back inside a stinky vehicle filled with either stony silence or Dutch-German jabber.)
I realise now what felt merely like begrudging escapism at the time was actually something far more significant: experiencing this pocket of natural history — feeling the soft padding beneath my feet, wiping away droplets from a time-honoured canopy and webs strung between giants thousands of years old, inhaling deeply the smell of what all tragedies in the world have failed to whittle away — before it’s reduced to ash.
What all the damn tragedies in the world have failed to whittle away…until now.
That’s what really irks me.
We live in a world where lightning storms are no longer considered a “natural” phenomenon — because the experts say they’re only happening on such a scale because of climate change — and they’re taking down forests that otherwise withstood thousands of years of trauma.
We live in a world where the oceans are rising at such an alarming rate that entire island nations will be underwater in a few short decades. (By the way, those oceans will have no fish in them, either, as we’ve farmed the motherfuck out of them because we just can’t handle not slapping the most elusive breeds of fish on our sushi.)
We live in a world where most environmental and societal problems are birthed, and continually influenced by, Western culture…and yet, poorer countries are doing more to shoulder, and ultimately overcome, the burden of consequence.
This, my friends, is fucked.
I know I’m opening a hefty can of worms, here. I didn’t intend to when I woke up this morning, or when I planned to eventually write about my Tasmanian experience. I planned to hastily admit my shortcomings as a cyclist, before moving on to bragging about how I did, indeed, sleep beneath a bridge, and hitchhiked up and down the East Coast with a new friend, and other such positive things.
But as I’ve learned repeatedly in my short life (and will surely write about later), life doesn’t give a crap about your plans. A bloody forest is burning down. We’re screwing our planet into the ground for no good reason. When I wake up and read about catastrophes like this, I have to say something. It’s my duty as a human with the brains to determine when something’s going badly awry, and the creativity to come up with a solution or five.
I’ve already shared in a heated debate as to why this call to act is pointless — because my generation, with its infinite access to every scrap of knowledge in existence, is being brainwashed into thinking matters are worse than they actually are, and therefore making ourselves miserable and disillusioned.
While I don’t deny we’re making ourselves miserable and disillusioned, I simply refuse to use that as an excuse. My mild discomfort at not being able live life by the status quo is not justifiable at the expense of poorer demographics, and ultimately the stability of the Earth we live on.
Who am I to relish the taste of beef or salmon when I know it’s only on my plate because of mass farming, which is responsible for a staggering amount of land clearance, water and power usage, and a fellow creature’s suffering?
Who am I to pay $10 for a T-shirt when I know the cotton farmer might go broke for not being able to keep up with the needs of the industry, or the seamstress might die in a building collapse because of neglected workplace safety regulations?
Who am I to not fork out a little extra for fair-trade, organic, handmade products that support the continued enterprise of an impoverished but exceptionally talented group of people?
Who am I to not use my brain, my skills, my sheltered geographical location as means of giving a voice to the voiceless?
We, as an educated, innovative, empathetic society need to drastically rethink our motives. Whether these not-so-distant issues are manmade, natural (as the skeptics might argue), not for us to solve, whatever, is irrelevant. Animals (people included) and habitats are dying as a result — we’re seeing the evidence over and over again — and we alone have the power to imbue even the smallest of positive changes.
Are you satisfied living with this knowledge, and continuing to look the other way?
I’m sure as hell not.
I’ve reached the point in which I must stress this is not an attack on humanity, nor is it (intended to be) troll fodder. I’m not playing a narcissistic blame game, here. Christ knows that, despite my saying all of this, I still have a loooooong way to go before I consider myself an unstoppable force for good on this planet. Even though I’ve chosen to give up eating/using animal products wherever possible, and started reading magazines like Peppermint that advocate mindfulness and prop up eco-friendly small businesses, and buy clothes almost entirely from second-hand stores so I’m not contributing to the fast-fashion cycle, and consume non-processed, organic foods, and ride my bike or catch public transport so I’m not operating a car, and partake in calming activities like yoga and meditation so I’m the kindest version of myself when dealing with people, and watch documentaries and read books in my spare time that educate me about the way things work and what I could be doing to fix my part in all these problems…I still make mistakes. There is still plastic in my house. I don’t yet volunteer for a non-profit (though it’s one of my goals for the year). I’m sure I use a little more power and water than I need to. And so on.
But no. I’m not here to berate anyone.
This is, first and foremost, quite unexpectedly, a declaration to me…though I’ll be delighted if anybody finds inspiration or reassurance in my words.
This is, secondly, a productive way to channel my frustration, as I have already pointed out…because I’m currently on a happiness and gratitude roll, of sorts, and I’d really, really like to keep on rolling for as long as possible. But I also can’t stand idly by.
This is, thirdly and lastly, a call to all of you.
I want you.
Specifically, I want your stories.
I’m attempting to reboot my Human Gallery series (for the second, third, fourth time? Oh, I don’t know). Because it’s a good thing, and other people have told me it’s a good thing, and I need an outlet for processing all this juicy knowledge I’m collecting.
But I can’t do a whole lot without the stories about who’s doing the good stuff, and where.
So clue me in!
If you’re producing a line of slow, eco-friendly fashion, I want to know. If you’re about to embark on a creative enterprise, I want to know. If you’re writing a book or zine, I want to know. If you’re helping the homeless, the animals, the environment, fighting for equality, I want to know. If you’re researching all the shitty ins-and-outs of an animal-testing, slave-labouring, baby-punching mega-business, I want to know. If you’re acting, dancing, running, cross-dressing, puppeteering, baking, flying for charity, I want to know. If you’re doing something really weird simply for fun, I want to know. If you’re a force for good in this world in any way, I want to know.
Help me help you.
Help me help the goddamn planet.
Leave a comment below, or message me through my Contact page. Hope to hear from you!