176 days ago I finished a 92 day journey. A journey that I had been planning for over 12 months. A journey that did not go to plan.
At the end of previous trips, I've been able to dust myself clean, step back into normality and move on with my life. This last trip hasn't been the same, and there's a very simple reason why. Because the trip did not go to plan, for a long time I felt like I failed.
I've attempted to write this 'tell-all/insightful' blog a number of times now and each time I've been unable to complete it. Each time I sat down to write the emotion of the way the trip finished came flooding back, and it was too much. I struggled to put how I was feeling into words, mainly because I was struggling to understand how I was feeling.
Having just spent two weeks more or less alone living and working up on the Gold Coast I think for the first time since finishing the trip I've begun to process what happened and how I feel about it. So here goes, an attempt at trying to explain what happened over the course of the past 176 days...
On day 67 of that trip, as I walked into Nowa Nowa, VIC I called my mum. Before she could say anything I apologised for my arrogance, and then proceeded to tell her how I was the greatest human who ever lived (word for word more or less..). I was feeling good, incredibly good. I had completed 3,872km of cycling, I had one day left of running and then I had completed 943km of that. I was a few hundred kilometers (by road) from the finish line at Wilsons Promontory, and at that moment there was nothing in the world that could stop me from reaching that finish line. I had traveled almost the length of Australia through nothing but my own sweat. I felt close to invincible. Looking back on it, my supreme confidence is the first clue of just how emotive I had become.
The constant physical effort I was undertaking (I arrived in Nowa Nowa averaging a marathon, 42km, a day) meant mentally my judgement and decision making was never at it's best. Adding to this was the stress of completing the trip self supported. Essentially I was homeless. Each night I searched for a place to sleep where I wouldn't be woken by strangers or by the police. I was travelling to places I'd never been and wasn't always sure that there was food or water waiting for me. I was completely alone for almost the duration of the trip. My own company had long since bored me and I would think of increasingly bizarre and erratic things just to keep my internal monologue entertaining.
After 67 days of this stress and exhaustion I beginning to rely on the emotive side of me to react to what I was facing, and the results were extreme. As I walked into Nowa Nowa, I was feeling good. As a result, my emotive brain took that positivity and tripled it, leading to the quite egotistic phone call to mum.
I was still somewhat rational though. Mum had actually come down to visit me for a couple of days, and was waiting in the Nowa Nowa Hotel. Like any good mother, if I had walked into the pub and started to rant and rave about my superiority, she would have reminded me that without her I wouldn't have been born and would have promptly told me to shut up. (A phone call meant if I needed to I could hang up on her before she could win the argument)
It's interesting looking back, because at that moment I can see that I was becoming increasingly emotive but was still in control, just. At that point the trip had continually tested me, but I had been equal to the challenge, bent but never broken. Each challenge had weakened me though and that break was about to come.
Two days later, Day 69, I began my swim leg and as I stepped into the water I was quite literally shaking with fear. Leaving the road behind and entering the water took me completely out of the comfort zone I had developed over the past 2 and a bit months. As I put my face in the water fear filled my mind. I was terrified to look down and see the marine life waiting to pull me down into the depths. I hadn't swam in almost 70 days and I didn't trust my arms to keep my head above the water. One minute after beginning the swim leg of my trip my hand brushed against something and my mind reeled. I panicked and tucked my legs up to my body protectively. As I did so my feet dragged across the sand my hand had touched and I sheepishly stood up in knee deep water. I was actually being filmed as I stood up (details on why and what for will come soon) and in a way I was lucky that I had a camera on me. The camera allowed me to see myself from the perspective of others and gave me enough sense to realise that what was going on in my mind was completely irrational. Standing there in the shallows I pretended to fix my goggles and began to swim again, but the mental wall of defence had started to crumble.
Over the first few days of that swim leg, problems continued to arise. Water currents were stronger than expected, I had my raft (as I was still self supported) stolen, and then the weather turned. These problems, in addition to the struggles I was already facing, pushed me beyond what I could endure. Mentally I began to shut down. At first again I was able to delay it. The surprise company of my friends, Max, Laura and Luke, similar to the camera, helped me focus externally on who I was outside the trip and how close I was to the finish. They also fashioned a new raft and pulley out of a sports bra and blow up dinghy. A day later when the weather turned, I had two angels in Ray and Maureen Kleinitz take me into their home giving me shelter, and my distraction was to be introduced to the family of these amazing people. Eventually though, the distractions (protections) ran out. Swimming out from Reeve's Channel, and past Metung, I entered the edge of Lake King and had my first experience of what swimming in the Gippsland Lakes would really be like. Thrown around in the choppy water there were stages were I was fearful of not returning to the surface. I stepped out of the water to find two police cars waiting for me. I found out the police there had been instructed to collect a drowned person from the lake, someone watching from the banks had shared my fear that I wouldn't return to the surface and had called the emergency services.
With the weather set to worsen again over the next month, it quickly became apparent that in the physical and mental condition I was in, it was unsafe for me to continue as I was. Something needed to change. This new stress, my emotive brain, and with no distraction available meant the exhaustion I had been suppressing since day one of the journey caught up.
After avoiding exhaustion for so long, when it finally caught me, it hit me hard. An overwhelming sense of emptiness came over me and took with it all the confidence within my trip, and within myself. I began doubt myself. I still wanted to complete my trip, to get to Wilsons Promontory. but I also just wanted it to be over. I lost control, and my spirit broke. Unsure of what to do, I weighed up the options. Part of me that said that if I could push through this moment and complete the trip as I had initially planned, to imagine how rewarding the finish line would be. How great that very moment, where I decided to keep pushing forward, would be. The other part of me argued that what I was physical and emotionally exhausted, my body had given me a sign. Trying to push further would be risking my long term physical and mental health and potentially could die in the process. To which I would argue back that it only made the decision to push on greater. The trip had become my life and I was partially willing to sacrifice everything else to fulfill that trip.
I took two videos of myself in this state and I haven't yet been able to watch them back fully. One was taken on the banks of Lake King as I sat in freezing rain and questioned why I was there. The second was 24 hours later in a hotel room as I questioned what I would do. The person in those videos is someone I don't recognise. Someone almost selfish enough to throw my life away for the chance at a little bit of glory. Someone I hope I don't see again.
In the end it was phone calls to home and the support I was receiving from those following online (and just a little bit of rest too) that allowed me to regain control. I brokered a deal with myself. I borrowed a kayak, crossed the Lakes in full, then completed the originally planned Ironman to reach the southernmost tip of Australia. I wasn't completing the triathlon I hoped to, but I would still reach Wilsons Prom. And I was going to come out of the trip alive. 2 beats 1
11 Days after having what I now think was an emotional breakdown, and just 5 hours after being the southernmost human in Australia, I was in Melbourne. The trip was over. Arriving home desperately broke, another 3 days later and I was back working full time. .
This was the first trip that I had returned to home/normality with that was not a pure success in my eyes. I was lucky to return to family and friends (even a job) I love and I was able to just enjoy being 'normal' again. The problem with that was, because I didn't have to think about the way the trip ended, I chose not to. When people asked how I was feeling, I couldn't tell them, I hadn't had time to process, I didn't allow myself time to process. As a result of this and the whirlwind finish to the trip, I was still carrying the sense of emptiness that overtook me on the edge of Lake King. Instead I was always quick to shrug it off, to turn the attention away from the trip and back onto whoever I was speaking to.
I tried only once to describe how it felt. I used the very poor analogy of a break up in a relationship or more specifically, being dumped. The loss I was feeling was due to something out of my control, it wasn't what I wanted. I had poured over 12 months of my life into this trip, and had tried everything to make it work. I had been building a future around the idea of having the success of the trip a part of my life forever, and now I wouldn't have that.
Due to the experience of my first trip (something I've written a book about and hope to one day get it published) my positive coping method for the 'post trip blues' has been to celebrate the achievement but to focus on a new trip. It helps remind me there's more to explore, to see, to do.
To build on the break-up analogy, I was still mourning the loss of my last relationship, and couldn't dream of moving on. Instead of excitedly planning the next trip I caught up with friends, filled my days with fun and short term happiness to cover up the deeper pain. I caught a bit of the 'post trip blues' and I began to neglect my adventuring career.
The reality is that like any break up, it sucks, and no amount of distraction, denial, or self pity can stop it from sucking.
(After that analogy if you're shaking your head wondering just how messed up the trip left me, you'll understand why I only attempted to use the analogy once. Unfortunately it was the only way I could, and still now, can go close describing what it felt like).
Even now, the fact I didn't complete the trip I wanted sucks. If you look at the way I refer to the trip in this blog I refer to it only as "my last trip" or "the journey". I don't feel comfortable calling the trip by the name I used to promote it, "Australia's Longest Triathlon", simply because it wasn't a triathlon. Yet, after finally giving myself the time to reflect on the trip, I can see the more positive side. This trip was more than the triathlon I planned ever could be. It was an incredible trip for me personally, and look forward to learning from the experience for many years to come.
The reason I tell the story is not for pity or attention, but to hopefully empower others. The lessons I've taken so far are an extension of the lessons I've learnt on my previous trips. I've always said that despite the big kilometers these trips are more-so a mental challenge than a physical one. Each trip has shown me that it's our mindset that determines how we perceive challenges, and how we overcome them. The more we can strengthen our mindset the more we can overcome. The human body is capable of far more than we imagine, it's only our mindset that holds us back from unlocking our potential. I hope that if I can share the lessons I learn with others, then they can take an empowered mindset to their own passions, and do amazing things in their own field. Hopefully someone will someday use this knowledge for something better than a poor break-up analogy.
The last trip has definitely put me through a fair bit, but I now feel as if I'm mentally back, close to my best. As a result, I'm looking forward. I've been planning a new trip, new additions to the Interview Series, and new extensions on the 'Advocacy through Adventure' concept.
To everyone that followed my first attempt at Australia's Longest Triathlon, thank-you. Thank-you for your unwavering support. Thank-you for never mentioning the trip I completed was not the one I promised I would. Thank-you for being there for me in my darkest moment, whether you knew I was going through it or not. Thank-you for helping me come out of that moment and continue forward. Thank-you for continuing to follow and interact on this page. Thank-you for putting up with my poor responding, my poor updates and poor interaction in these last 176 days. Thank-you for doing far more for me then I asked for, and far more than I could hope for.
I may not have the largest following, but I'm very proud of the one I have.