Ben’s blog Red Rucksack focuses on paragliding, trekking and mountaineering adventures. There is a section where readers can upload their bucket list, then get nagged to tick things off as well as a heavily researched Travel Health section. You also would be welcome to join the lively little Facebook page Living Vicariously where people either share their adventures or get inspiration to go adventuring.
Hey Brandon, thanks for having me along mate. Well, my first trip abroad was way back in 2000. My sister was living in Indonesia working as a teacher and when she got holidays, I popped over to explore Java with her. We went to Jogjakarta and explored together for a few weeks. That trip was a huge turning point for me. With my sister spouting fluent Bahasa and keeping me safe I learnt that most people you meet abroad are genuine and that the world is not that scary. We saw Borobudur, climbed an active volcano and had an absolute hoot together.
Thirteen years, a few mini-trips, many failed romances and lots of soul searching later I acted on my passion for travel when I walked out of a prospering pharmacy business and hit the road.
–What made you start seeking out a more adventurous lifestyle? What was the turning point adventure experience that made you crave more?
That’s a really hard one. I have always been seeking adventure in one form or another. My father might be to blame (everyone blames their dad for stuff, right!) Dad was an outdoor education teacher who instilled a true love for the outdoors in me; at twelve years of age, much to the shock of my friend’s parents, I would spend weekends camping in the bush without adult supervision. Years later I learnt that when we went ‘solo’ Dad was shadowing us the whole way.
When I owned the pharmacy my sanity was maintained by heading into the hills alone to think, and to meditate through movement.
The big turning point was in 2009. I was active in the local Search and Rescue group and we did a winter training weekend. Part of the training involved climbing Cradle Mountain at 10pm, in the snow, dark and cold. I still vividly remember sitting on a ledge with a pitch black drop under my feet and thinking how great this all was. Literally, as soon as I got home I booked a ten day mountaineering course in New Zealand.
My adventures have just snowballed from there (sorry about the terrible pun). This October I am off to Nepal for the third time. My climbing buddy and I are going to tackle a mountain called Ama Dablam, a long term goal of mine. Being a dedicated blogger I have figured out how to blog as we go and how to track my exact movements as we climb.
–Why adventure-focused travel? Is it the high-altitudes? Or is it the sense of truly feeling alive with your heart beating and stomach half twisted from being scared to death? Or to be the devil’s advocate, is it just for the bragging rights?
It is funny you should ask this question. Recently I was asking the same thing myself when deciding if I should tackle Ama Dablam or just leave it alone. Obviously the answer is different for different people. Some people adventure to prove a point or to push personal limits. I have met some people in various base camps around the world who are there for their own glory and bragging rights. Thankfully this is a minority.
For me, and no doubt many others, the answer is multifaceted.
Mainly I adventure because I enjoy playing in the snow with good friends. I find it very grounding to strip life back to the basics: Eat, walk, breathe, climb.
I thrive on the all-encompassing nature of big adventures. When you are in the thick of things, the ‘mission’ is all you can think about. All your physical and mental resources are taken. There is nothing left over to ponder little things like “Where is my next paycheck coming from?” or “Did I lock the garage?” Back in the real world I am a bit of a worrier so this mental respite is great.
I also like to find my limits and push them. For me, there is nothing more satisfying to see a mountain and think, “No way...” Then to go ahead and climb it! This was the situation on my Manaslu climb in 2011. When I first saw the beast on the approach trek I almost turned around then and there. Then I said “7000 meters will be my goal”...four weeks later I was perched up on the summit at 8162 meters high wearing a somewhat surprised grin.
Regarding bragging rights, I am never bashful of my achievements but bragging rights is way down the list. If bragging rights were a priority I would be pay a sherpa thousands of dollars to carry me up Mt. Everest rather than mucking about on ‘lesser’ mountains.
Finally I am a lazy prick with a perchance for corn chips. If I didn’t have an adventure to train for I reckon I’d quickly become a big fat slob!
I have a whole blog dedicated to the why do it if you want to read more.
–If you could Ben, tell us about the most memorable experience you’ve ever had while traveling the world... Oh, and I would love to hear about your most dangerous / life-threatening adventure experience as well:
Gosh, that’s a hard one mate. I suppose I should say the most memorable was meeting my now wife on a boat in the Galapagos Islands. I doubt she’ll read this though... Discounting things that are memorable because they were terrible, I’d have to say the paintball paragliding match we held in Chile. My friends and I ‘borrowed’ two tandem rigs from the paragliding school and hired two paintball guns. We then flew over a massive sand dune near the city in tandem; each pilot had a shooter in the passenger seat. Paragliding wings are flimsy rip-stop nylon so had we shot a wing things would have gotten very nasty - read throw the reserve ‘chute and pray - but we ended up having a lovely time. That little adventure was memorable because of how ridiculous it was.
The most scared I’ve been on an adventure not surprisingly was in Nepal. After a 16 hour summit day we had descended to camp 3. I was feeling ‘wonky’ and decided to push on to camp 2. The lower you sleep the better. My climbing buddy was tucked up in bed at camp 3 but I was of the understanding that a sherpa was going to follow. After I left, the sherpa just popped off to bed. Totally exhausted and not thinking straight I went off track just as the sun was setting. As I bumbled around I kept falling into waist-deep crevasses. It was exhausting to haul myself out, only to fall in again after a few steps. Running through my mind was the nasty little fact that this area was rather close to where a well known Australian Mountaineer (Sue Fear) fell into a big crevasse and lost her life. My mate’s radio was switched off to save batteries so I plonked down on the snow, had a little cry and watched the sun set.
Thankfully, my mate woke with a funny feeling, turned on his radio and sent the cavalry. I had not gone far off track but in my tired state I could not think straight.
–Please list off the various adventure experiences you’ve had so far...
- Bungee jumping: New Zealand, Thailand, Australia
- Paragliding: Switzerland, Chile, Bolivia, Australia
- Skydiving in Australia and New Zealand
- That horrendous canyon swing thing in New Zealand (so damn scary!)
- SCUBA diving: Thailand, Australia, Milford sound-New Zealand, Vauatu
- Solo trekking: Ecaudor, Peruvian Andes, Patagonia, Australia, Bolivia & plenty more...
- Two weeks riding a dirt bike through the jungle of Northern Vietnam
- Climbing active volcanos: Jogjakarta, Mt Yasur-Vanuatu
- Trekking the Inca trail
- Snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands (and most places I go that are wet).
- Mountaineering: Nepal, Ecuador, Peru, New Zealand
- Wore a mankini at the Sambodrome in Rio de Janiero
- Once said, “No” to my wife.
–Now, what have you not done that you are itching to experience? And what are some oddities on your bucket list?
It seems as though whenever I tick something off my list ten more things jump on there! All my skydives have been tandems so this summer I will be taking skydiving lessons. I would love to climb a big snowy mountain and paraglide from the top. One bucket list item that I will be thrilled to tick off is this November when my book is published. This has taken more work and self belief than anything else I have ever done.
Oddities on my list, hmm, maybe get over my fear of public speaking or rock out at karaoke...sober.
–For newbie’s who are looking to dip their toe into the adventure pool, where should one start and then work their way up to? It’s probably not the best idea to immediately jump out of a plane for the first time, eh? But then again, perhaps it’s just what the doctor ordered... Could you talk about your thoughts on the subject?
Everyone is built differently, some thrive on going completely nuts, some need to test the water. If you want to dip your toe into adventure travel the main thing I would recommend would be to make your own decisions.
If it doesn’t feel safe, ask questions.
Ask again if you don’t like the answer or don’t understand.
Being scared, pushing through limits and all that crap sounds very romantic but at the end of the day, your safety is your responsibility.
Bungy jumping in some third world country without safety precautions and frayed cord is plain dumb. Knowing the risks, weighing up the odds and making an informed decision is smart.
Finally, forget peer pressure. Once I left a mountain only 100 meters from the summit (as the guide heckled me) because I didn’t like the snow conditions. Once you make a decision, stick to it.
–I often read other interviews with other travelers, and one of the more interesting questions asked that I’d like you to answer is, “If you were a super hero for one day, what powers would you have and why?”
Flying because I have spent a lot of time and money learning how to paraglide. The feeing you get paragliding, I think, is the closest humans can come to a true flight experience. I would love to experience that without all the kit needed.
–Do you think you’re a bit of an adventure gear-head? What are some pieces of equipment that you always find to come in handy? Any silly/guilty pleasure items that you tend to pack in your rucksack?
Yup. My name is Ben and I am a gear addict! (soft, supportive clapping). I always carry my music and a tube of Vegemite wherever I go. My addiction is getting worse though, as I mentioned above, on my next expedition I’m taking internet, a gps tracker and all sorts of techo-nerdy stuff.
–Ben, I really appreciate your time! I’d like to end with this... Through all of your travels and life experiences, what has meant the most to you? Plus, what has developed you the most, into who you are today?
There are two travel and life experiences which choke me up every time: Marrying my lovely Danish girl in the Tasmanian bush where I grew up and finishing the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu at sunrise with my parents either side of me.
Easily the life experience that developed me the most was when I committed to adventure. When I sold my pharmacy, house, all my furniture, my car...all that extraneous stuff and went off to see what was over that next hill.