I’m normally known as Macpac mad, but I indulged on the weekend and finally got around to buying an Aarn flowmo bodypack; something I’ve been eyeing off for a while. I saw these packs first in use during my trip to New Zealand, earlier this year and was interested at the concept of counterbalancing weight with front pockets. A few weeks later I saw it in action again, this time in the Snowy Mountains and got to try it on briefly and was astounded at how easily it sat on my back and how upright it made me stand. And the weight didn’t register as much as it would normally do. Since my back has its issues and I’ve found the going a bit tougher with my normal (but much loved and simply indestructible) Macpac Torre, I promised myself I’d invest in one of these packs to ease the strain on my back and keep walking for longer.

Backpacking Light in Melbourne sells the Aarn packs and the guys there use the packs themselves, so they know how to adjust them and what suits your style of walking. They also offer a fitting service using Skype if you’re having difficulty adjusting your pack once you’re home with it and filling it with your own stuff.

I settled on the Featherlite Freedom, a lightweight pack that will just fit sufficient gear for multiple days walking. The pack has an inbuilt liner bag to keep your gear dry and the front pockets have their individual liner bags as well. The idea is that you store the light to medium weight gear in the back and fill your front pockets with the heavy stuff, such as water and food, as well as any items you need to have quick access to when you’re on the track. When I tried it on in the shop, we filled it up with about 15kgs of weight and I swear it simply did not feel like that. I can’t wait to try it out on an overnight walk, but it’s doubtful I’ll get around to that in the next few weeks.

And in case you’re wondering: I’m not sponsored by Aarn, nor by Backpacking Light. Simply, when I find out about interesting equipment and experience great service, I like to pass the word on to others. That’s all there is to this post.

Back to civilisation

OK, I’ll admit it. I went back to Rome early. But in my defence, it was freezing cold on Monday morning and when I got to Assergi after an hour’s walk it did not exactly look inviting. The place where I was thinking of staying had a big, nasty canine barking its head off at me and the whole village didn’t look that nice a place. Did I mention it was cold?

So I decided I’d just pick up the bus from there and go back to Rome and spend another day sightseeing instead. “Just pick up a bus” turned into a two hour wait, so I was a tad stiff with cold when it finally arrived, but from taking the bus at one, I was back in Rome by 4pm, checked into the hotel shortly after. Happy days.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I went to the National Museum of Modern Art in the surroundings of the Villa Borghese. Great place and the cafe was lovely too. From there I meandered through the city, all the way to Trastevere where I had a late lunch and back up again, had a gelato at Ciampini and then decided to have a nice drink on the rooftop bar at the Spanish Steps. A great place to watch life in the city as I slowly savoured my campari soda and nibbled on olives.

Today, in less than two hours from now I’ll get on the train to Milan. I’ve never been there, except for passing through, so it’s a good opportunity to quickly see it, before flying from there to Amsterdam.

On reaching my limits

Inner Game has been a bit slack with her walking of late, so I’ll make up for that with part three of the NZ trip earlier this year, which should have been the crowning glory of the entire trip.

I had booked the Ball Pass Crossing with Alpine Recreation eight months out. I knew it was going to be tough and set up my training schedule so I’d be in peak condition for the trek. The only thing I was really concerned with was how my knees would hold up on the descent from the Ball Pass. Turns out I didn’t really need to worry about that.

On the first day of the three day trip our group of eight and our two guides bumped along a crazy, stony track (really a rather flattering description for what it was) until we could go no further. We got our gear out of the Troopy and started walking along the edges of the Tasman Glacier towards Ball Shelter. When we started ascending the ridge my legs soon felt like two large pieces of lead. It was hot and with not even a whisper of a breeze it felt like we were in an oven. I started to feel unwell, slightly nauseous, thirsty beyond belief, despite having had plenty to drink, and had to stop to catch my breath. Two more stops like this and things did not improve and I was only one third of the way up on the ridge. I was shaking, wanted to throw up, but was worried that it would dehydrate me. The guides pretty quickly realised I was suffering from heat exhaustion and decided to turn me around and take me back down the mountain.

As someone who soldiers on regardless of the circumstances, I always expected when faced with a situation like this I’d fight on and not accept defeat. Certainly my friend expected arguments and a little tantrum and was surprised when I simply nodded when told they were turning me around. But it was crystal clear to me that there was no way I was going to make it to the Caroline Hut, not that day, not in my condition. My body was pulling the pin on this one and my brain was in complete agreement. I knew that even turning back the way we had come was going to draw on all my reserves, something confirmed when on the way down I didn’t recognise half the terrain we had climbed up only 20 minutes earlier!

Ultimately it took almost two weeks to feel that my body had really recovered from its dehydration and exhaustion and I am truly grateful to the guides who recognised the problem early and acted swiftly to prevent me from suffering worse. So often nowadays we are encouraged to push our own boundaries; people embark on increasingly wild and crazy adventures and we hear about their triumphs at length. Little is written, however, on when we are not so successful in pushing those boundaries; perhaps with the exception of dramatic failures resulting in serious injury or death; after all those sell just as well as success stories.

Based on my experience, I think there is much to discover when you push your boundaries and come up against a wall. I think the most important learning for me was that I didn’t feel like I had failed, or that I had been ill-prepared for what was awaiting me. What happened was simply me pushing my body and the body saying ‘sorry pet, but I’m not doing that for you this time’. It wasn’t saying it would never do it, just that it wouldn’t do it this time. No biggie, the Ball Pass will still be there in the future and life goes on.

Right now Inner Game is about to get on plane to Europe for some exploration in Italy and a family visit. Provided my internet set up works, I will be posting pictures and stories from the road, so stay tuned, but don’t expect anything as dramatic and challenging as the Ball Pass!