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DAY 364: Falling out of a plane

30 Aug

TALKING of being an agnostic at Christmas (as we were, a couple of days ago), I was fully expecting to be hypocritically praying for my life today, or at least screaming FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK.

In actual fact, there’s just one solitary “oh fuck” as I’m shoved out of a plane door with a thrust of my tandem instructor’s hips and we do a violent forward roll into nothing, then curiosity takes over. Skydiving’s not nearly as scary as I thought.

When Larrikin Larry, the unofficial mayor of Hervey Bay, suggested it, I thought yep: I’m in exactly the right sort of mood to hurl myself out of a plane. How often is that going to happen?

The next morning it’s just me and a new divorcee, Amy, picked up in a van with no seatbelts, I notice. At the airfield, we’re strapped into our harnesses, a long and intimate process, and talked through the jump by our instructors, who have totally mastered the well-polished bad jokes and slightest-hint-of-a come-on peculiar to the tourism trade.

There’s barely enough room for the four of us on the floor of the plane, and I’m sitting on Travis’s lap for half of it as he keeps checking my straps, or something. My back’s up right against his chest and I can feel his heart beating fast. Next to my hip, his finger is drumming a tattoo on the ground, and every now and then he takes a really sharp breath. Hopefully it’s just performance anxiety that’s making him antsy, because I’m feeling fine about all this.

Nothing prepares you for the temper tantrum of the plane door opening at 13,000 feet, though. The wind slaps in, and it’s thunderous. Amy starts freaking out and holding on to the doorframe. Thankfully her instructor gives her a shunt and they disappear.

Travis and I scoot over to the door; I swing my feet over the wheel and wait for him to push me out.

It doesn’t feel like you’re falling, but the wind pummels you in the face and knocks your body about. You can’t breathe. It’s like belly-flopping into a pool of caustic chlorine and feeling it rush up your nose. I’m not having the I’m-falling-through-the-sky brain freeze we were warned about, but I am looking forward to the parachute bit kicking in.

When it does I totally forget you get yanked violently back up through the sky, so there’s a bit of a wail, but still no promises to behave if only I will be delivered through this, etc. The wind’s assault on your ears stops abruptly and everything’s peaceful. Travis points out various parts of Fraser Island, and his hometown of Bundaberg. Down below everything looks like Toytown, with Fuzzy-Felt grass.

The touchdown’s gentle and bang on course, and when I stand up I’m neither shaking nor shaken. A good half of the year’s challenges had my palms sweating, maybe because I had to trust myself for those, rather than blindly put my trust in someone else, which I enjoy.

These guys must clean up in the pubs of Hervey Bay.

Keeper? Definitely; whenever I want to kick heads.

DAY 363: Kayaking with stingrays

29 Aug

Warning: humour-free, sickeningly sappy entry.

Day 2 in Hervey Bay and I’m already calculating how long it would take me to sell my house. You can get a three-bedroom pad here for $250k and all you’d have to do is eat seafood, swim in glassy waters and hoon around on jet skis all day; maybe a bit of bar work. I can’t think of any low punches I could pull to describe the place for your amusement; it’s pretty good.

Today’s a scorcher. I head out to Fraser Island and hire a kayak, to paddle around a part of the island with still, clear waters that Aboriginal settlers used as training ground for their most inept canoeists. I’m pleased to find I’m naturally good at kayaking, though – the downside about doing something new every day is that you’re usually terrible at it.

I’m skimming over so many stingrays I lose count, and schools of hardy heads arc over the surface of the water like tiny silver dolphins. I follow a path through the mangroves, watching the water get darker, and thick with the scum of tea trees. I’m keeping an eye out for carpet pythons, but also a rare spider flower. A local guide told me about it earlier. Shaped like an avocado inside, Aboriginal women used to drink a shot glass-worth when they were in labour. It would essentially poison them, acting as a sedative, while hastening their contractions. Half an hour later they’d either have a baby in a fraction of the usual time, or be dead. I’m guessing in very small doses it could be interesting.

I’ve also been told mangrove mud is sold in swanky spas for extortionate prices and that it’s the best thing you can put on your skin, so by the time I paddle back to the hire place I’ve got so much smeared on me I look like a swamp creature. I hope it wasn’t a joke.

Keeper? Yes. Sand-chafed, ravenous and stupidly happy. What’s more, I have a feeling I am going to be a champion kayaker one day.

DAY 361: Riding a jet ski

27 Aug

Death Cheata.

I’VE come to Queensland’s Hervey Bay for hols, and ol’ larrikin Larry of the local watersports joint has taken me under his wing. (“He reckons he’s mayor of Hervey Bay,” someone grumbles to me later.)

First off, he gets me a jet ski, chucks in some free kayaking, and suggests a spot of free falling.

“Bear Grylls broke his back in three places free falling,” I lisp.

“I’ve broken my back in four places,” he immediately scoffs, leaning jauntily on the desk. “I did it when I was running prisons. Anyone can do it. The point is, you probably won’t.”

Once out on the jet ski, I relive all my childhood A*Team fantasies. I am escaping from a baddie. No. I am chasing a baddie. At the top permitted speed of 30 knots I’m unlikely to catch the baddie, but I do discover that accelerating swiftly from 0 to 30 knots over and over is good fun.

After half an hour I return the jet ski to Larry, who shouts me a latte and settles in to tell me about his time in the rodeos.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 280: Geocaching my way to victory

8 Jun

I’M late to the party, but I’ll explain geocaching – or ‘hi-tech hide and seek’ – to the absent guests.

The cryptic crossword of outdoor activities, it requires participants to use a GPS to locate a waterproof container (hidden by a previous participant) within a short radius of supplied coordinates. There are over 1.3 million active geocaches listed on websites, spanning over 100 countries.

Sometimes you might have to work the final coordinates out from a series of clues: by taking last letters of a series of road names and then using the numbers those letters fall into the alphabet at, for example. Once you find your haul, you add the date and your details into the logbook hidden within, and add a little something of your own to the package.

My interest wanes almost immediately as my young nephew wields the GPS and takes us at a fair trot towards the harbour… until we’re about five feet away and I spot the life ring. I leg it over while the little fella’s gazing about at stones and bushes, and shove my hand into the hole at the front.

I’ve found a dirty tissue decoy, but when I move around and shove my hand into the back, I pull out an old vitamin bottle. Triumph! Sucked in, kid.

Inside is miscellaneous rubbish and a photo off some kids. The first geocache, 10 years ago, was hidden in the wilds of Oregon and contained software, videos, books, food, money and a slingshot – so things have obviously taken a bit of a slide since then.

I can’t really talk though, as all I have to offer is a Malaysian coin. If I’d planned properly I would have brought along Chinese crackers, a gobstopper and one of those fortune telling fish, to really show the next person how it’s done.

Keeper? Feels a bit like you’re cheating, using a GPS. If you have your orienteering badge, you might want to try a more organic game.

DAY 262: Shooting arrows

20 May

Don't hold it like this.

KUALA Lumpur’s a maze of upmarket malls, but Times Square is the most bizarre by far.

With escalators rising to dizzying heights and Lady Gaga pumping out of every dazzling white store, it’s got a theme park slap bang in the middle, around seven storeys up. Among the rides is a roller coaster, which weaves in and out of the eaves, curling down past shops and fast food joints.

Bugger that, though, I’m going to the archery range.

For three dollars I’m given 10 arrows and a full-size bow, and shown how to pull the thing. Right on cue Akon’s ‘That Girl is So Dangerous’ starts blaring out. It’s like they know about my wobbly eye and chronic myopia. (I call it mytopia – the world’s so much better all blurry.)

Archery’s hard on the ol’ bowing arm, but I manage to get all 10 arrows more or less on the target.

Man alive! It's a friggin' roller coaster!

Keeper? Would be hotter if it wasn’t in a mall.

DAY 256: Driving naked

14 May

THAT’S about it, really.

Keeper? Yes. Would prefer an automatic next time.

DAY 225: Tai Chi-ing commuters into a rage

13 Apr

“RIDICULE is nothing to be scared of,” said Adam Ant, who should know.

I’m in an extremely central Melbourne precinct with 10 softly-spoken pensioners in sweatshirts, pants and gloves, repulsing the monkey.

And a strange thing happens. Gentle, gentle, I’m feeling so gentle. I’m so used to bowling over pedestrians and skewering my hipbones on the edges of desks, I didn’t know I could feel like this. It’s as though I’m pushing and sculpting treacle instead of air. Warm, lovin’ treacle. I look over at my friend Lou and she’s similarly entranced.

Tai chi is an internal martial art that translates as ‘great extremes boxing’ (it involves ‘yielding and sticking’ to an incoming attack. Maybe this limpet-like tactic repels the attacker into shaking you off). Stay serious, reader – I’m working muscles I never even knew I had as I form magical tigers, snakes and storks with my body, and there’s not an ounce of fat, nor orthopedic shoe, on any of these elderly athletes.

We’re in the middle of a complex leg balancing sequence to a watery Mandarin rendition of Irene Cara’s ‘What A Feeling’ when some huffing bronco in a suit ploughs through the middle of us, scattering old people in his wake. Luckily, I have achieved great mental clarity, so I don’t mind.

Other commuters may smirk, but I know they’re jealous. I’m starting the day parting the wild horse’s mane and they’re … well … they’re not.

Keeper: Definitely going to do this lots. Feel all smooshy.