In the fall of 1997 I made the unprecedented (for me) move of quitting my supercool job in the high tech industry to travel the world and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was 34 years old.
My brother Rob, who was living with me in California at the time, was scheduled to start at the police academy in the east bay the following January. He agreed to accompany me on a couple of trips to get my feet wet; then I planned to travel more the following year by myself.
We decided that our first trip would begin with a Pub Crawl in Australia, and then culminate in a long pack trip through the mountains of New Zealand, with several luxury segues in the mix, including a ten-day backpacking trip on the island of Tasmania. Both of the main trips were to be undertaken on horseback.
This was funny because Rob really didn’t then, and definitely doesn’t now, like to ride horses. Midway through the Pub Crawl this sentiment was to be strongly reinforced. But I get ahead of myself.
As we all know, travel involves a lot of waiting. Here I’m waiting around outside an airport terminal somewhere in Australia.
Our First Stop: Sydney
We started out our trip with a few days in Sydney, time to get acclimated to the time zone and see a bit of the city. I was a little in shock by the fact that I had actually quit my job and was completely footloose and fancy free.
Rob was on the hunt for three things 1) Beer, 2) Girls, 3) More Beer.
It was immediately obvious that his quest for number (2) on the above list was going to be severely hampered by the fact that everyone who saw us travelling together thought we were on our honeymoon. How they reconciled the fact that we always had two separate hotel rooms was beyond me – I guess they thought we were starting right off with an open marriage.
In Sydney we stayed at the Hotel InterContinental. Anyone who has travelled a bit or ever stayed in any InterContinental knows that they are always among the top luxury hotels in any city.
I described the hotel in my journal as “….a nice old hotel, well-trained staff, though the furnishings are a bit dated.”
Boy, I was a snobby little thing back then.
We spent three days in Sydney, most of which Rob spent at a pub called the “Fortunes of War.” After he went there alone one night and I hadn’t heard from him by mid-morning the next day I started to get a little worried. He turned out to be fine though.
My journal entry read “Well, Rob turned up. He apparently woke at 6, decided he might not live ‘til 7, and went back to sleep until 11.” This was a pattern that was to be oft-repeated during the trip.
The Pub Crawl Begins
We flew to the tiny hamlet of Glen Innes and were picked up by the tour operators. They had not received confirmation of our arrival and they weren’t expecting us that day, but they took us in with good grace nonetheless. I am not sure what we would have done it they hadn’t happened by the tiny airport at the right time.
We went to their small ranch and had some refreshments. There we met our fellow rider, a lovely woman named Jill, who was visiting from Wales. Actually, the way she introduced herself was to say she was from “Wales. Which is NOT a part of England.” This was a fact she was to repeat several times a day during the ride. I don’t know why.
Then we went over the details of the excursion, which were as follows: we would begin our riding the next morning. After a couple of day trips around the base ranch to get used to the horses and the riding time we would head out, riding cross country for about 20 or 30 kilometers (our rides varied between 10 to 20 miles per day) to arrive at a small hotel/bar/restaurant (the pub). Our luggage would be transported via automobile to meet us at the pub. We would have dinner and play some pool (and if you were Rob, stay up ‘til the wee hours of the morning drinking local beer and chatting with the drovers who came in from the outback to see the American guests). After four days of cross country riding we would return to the ranch and see some local sites, spending a few more days there. Our whole experience would be eight days long.
Once we had the plan down, it was time to meet our horses.
Rob was assigned a gentle old appaloosa gelding name Shandy.
I got a spirited thoroughbred-type gelding of indeterminate age called Cognac.
We got our saddles assigned and adjusted by our hosts. Here is Rob with one of our hosts Joan, getting his saddle adjusted.
At least that’s what they said they were doing.
He swings into the saddle for his maiden voyage on Shandy.
And adjusts himself for his first ride in Australia. Shandy looks so calm. But I get ahead of myself again.
After a good night’s rest we were up early the next morning for our first day of riding. It was raining.
The rain only added to the ambiance of the whole thing.
Join me next week when we embark on the adventure. I can promise lots of rain, extremely rough country, excessive amounts of beer, and plenty of pool.
And you can find out why Rob grows to hate Shandy.