To Byron & Beyond

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The world clock on my iPhone currently reads time for three different cities in three different countries: San Francisco, California, for my family on the Central Coast; Edmonton, Alberta, for my estranged partner in crime firefighting his way through Canadian bush; and Sydney, New South Wales, where I am currently switching from tank tops to sweaters and trying to figure out how to use an umbrella (laugh it up, but the wind here is out of this world, making me feel like a clumsy Mary Poppins).  As winter settles into the Southern Hemisphere, I can’t help but dream about Mitch’s and my last hoorah in a majestic piece of Australian paradise- Byron Bay.   

From the moment we informed people of our decision to move to Australia, everyone unanimously told us we needed to visit or live in Byron. No one really gave us a great reason, but reiterated how much we’d love it. We were almost expecting a box office flop- too much hype, too many A-list celebs awkwardly packed into one movie, and no plot.  Therefore, we had a backup plan in case this beloved bay fell short. We were flying into the Gold Coast, renting a car, and if it proved to be all talk and no yield (similar to most political campaigns), we would road trip until we found our own hidden gems.  Fast-forward the duration of our trip: we stayed in the Byron area for our entire holiday.  It was extraordinary.

It took us about a day to chill out from our current customer-service-laden, dashing-for-public-transportation, tiny-dog-walking, fancy-pansy, fast-faster-fastest, city lifestyles. (Clarification: we do not have small dogs and are not fancy- this is illustrated by Mitch not wearing a V-neck cotton T-shirt for casual-wear because he claims V-necks are “fancy”.  Sadly, I am no better. We just happen to live in a city with posh poodles and Vogue-worthy stylists.)  The entire first day on holiday, we were trying hard to relax into the small, beach-town lifestyle we were so accustomed to in California.  It was a bit forced, I admit.  Everyone else cruised by us like they were on island time.  There were toddler boys with hair as long as mine, bleached a bright blonde by the sun, kids playing bongos on the streets for coins, surfboards being carried down sidewalks in no hurry to slice through waves, and the entire town appeared to be in some sort of shoe shortage.  In a nutshell, those signs you see in California (“No SHOES, No SHIRT, No SERVICE”) don’t exist here.  It would be two more days before Mitch joined the no shoes party.

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We had decided to spend our nights camping, as it allowed us to save our money and spend a few extra days exploring before we would both head back to work- me in Sydney, and Mitch in Canada.  Minus my affinity for mosquitos and the problem of fitting two small, inflatable mattresses side-by-side in a tent that is far too small for two inflatable mattresses side-by-side (hello slanted-sleeper), camping was perfect.  A friend from Sydney gave us prime places to go, and we camped each night next to the trailhead for our adventure the following day.  I was thankful for our constant relocation, even with the blowing up and deflating of our transient, sloped bedroom, when our alarms went off at 3:45am one morning. We fought the desire to hit snooze and prepped our headlamps for a pre-dawn hike up Mount Warning.

This special peak is said to receive the first light of day on the mainland of Australia during winter months because of its towering, eastern placement.  Sure, I was genuinely excited to witness sunrise from this auspicious vantage point; however, after a childhood of watching the animated, fairy-movie Ferngully, I could have sworn this was the very “Mount Warning” the fairies (and Robin William’s character, “Batty”) refer to.  Two decades later, I was ready to see it in person.

The beginning of the hike was a lot of trudging upward in the dark and fighting the kind of “airport nausea” that reminds you there was more sleep to be had.  Luckily, to make the trek bearable, Mitch had come through with an amazing birthday gift that literally illuminated my life that morning.  After teasing me relentlessly about how I was going to fall off the mountain because the light on my, then, current headlamp had seen better days, he gifted me with a rechargeable, ridiculously bright, fancy-pansy headlamp (okay, sometimes, we get fancy- in a rough-around-the-edges kind of way).  His gift was thoughtful and sweet even if his delivery was… well, Mitch-style.

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The sky began to glow as we neared the three-quarter mark- the sun shortly behind its reaching light.  Mitch snapped photos quickly.  It was occurring to us we better get a move on if we wanted to reach the apex before the sun appeared.  We started to move faster and faster, not yet chasing, but staying just ahead of the morning sun.  We ascended steadily and switched a shared pack between us, the back of it damp with sweat even with the morning chill.

The last climb of Mount Warning is entirely steep rock and planted cables. Our tired legs finally got a break as we hoisted ourselves via arm-strength the remainder of the uphill.  In the end, we made it three minutes before the sun peeked over the edge of the earth.  My phone died as I attempted a time-lapse, Mitch bent under and tiptoed over other patrons equally eager with cameras, and the snowboarder from Colorado handed out gummy worms.  I did not see any fairies or find Hexxus (please watch Ferngully), but all in all, it was a success.

As the week went on we had one more exciting jungle trek that included unrestricted pre-dawn sleep and less of an incline.  Some would consider this more reasonable when on holiday.  We ventured back into the bush to find a one hundred meter waterfall in Nightcap National Park.  The walk was stunning- thick with palms, twisted roots, and towering canopies.  What was equally astonishing was the massive spider that had stretched a web across the trail right at the point where the waterfall came into view.  My eyes were tracing the beauty of the web as I was walking, but my feet stopped short as I took in its legs stretching out the entire width of my hand.  It was too pretty for me to be scared, so I just stared open-mouthed with one arm in the air pointing in the spider’s direction.  At first, Mitch thought I was being dramatic and silly about the waterfall that just came into view.  His own awe and surprise was suddenly noticeable by a profane exclamation.

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Taking much care to ensure we did not take part of the big boy’s web with us, we made it to the edge of the pool Minyon Falls cascades into.  There were a few people already stripping down to christen their trek.  Mitch and I followed suit.  Mitch gingerly got in first and stood waist deep in the clear water.  I shouted over the fall’s self-created wind and mist, and asked how it was. He replied, “It’s not that bad!”

A girl across the way asked her boyfriend the same question and he responded with, “It’s like a nice summer day in the English Channel!” Hmmm.  As I hunched over and submerged my big toe first, like any courageous adventurer would do, the numbing shock was instant.

“It’s freezing!!!”  This led me to parade around sticking in one toe at a time until Mitch finally used the toddler treatment on me.

“I am swimming across.  You can come in or I’m leaving you there!” he shouted.  I quickly grasped for rocks with my feet, awkwardly waded in, and dove toward him as he swam away.  I was immediately reminded of my parents, a minivan, and swim practice.  Except, I do not think they would have actually left me.  Well done, Mitch.  One point.

I ended up somewhere in the middle of the pool, enjoying the rush felt from the waterfall- both from the flurry of drops and the pressing of air rushing around me.  Mitch went immediately under the pelting fall, to which I had many questions.  The water was dropping from over one hundred meters… Did it hurt? What did it feel like? Could you open your eyes?  In male fashion, I didn’t get too many answers, though it was clear he enjoyed himself.  From the goose-bump inducing water, I watched another girl on land dancing around while a group of her friends scolded her for being a wimp.  Pride in hand and big toes intact, I exited the pool.

That night we celebrated back near the town of Byron with a bottle of wine.  At this point, our tent looked more like a mini dorm room at the time when inflatable couches were in style.  We didn’t mind.  As we passed the bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon back and forth, my mind wandered to our first trip together in Canada.  We had been sitting on a riverbank in Jasper National Park with a bottle of wine.  Mitch had used his Gerber knife to slice two, empty, plastic water bottles in half to be used as makeshift glasses.  Looking at us now, I laughed at our decline in both glassware (plasticware?) and etiquette.  The funny part was, neither of us seemed to mind… pass, glug, pass.  I think he and I can both agree there is no one with whom we would rather share the cheapest bottle of wine.

Byron Bay was no box office flop.  The golden sun, warm tides, and the town's unique, slow-paced vibes were enough to make us shed our city rush and relax onto island time.  Barefoot-Mitch shredded some waves.  I pretended my fair skin loves baking in the sun (and even scored a tan line).  We indulged in gluten-free, free- range, dairy-free, wheat-free, GMO-free, raw, and vegan (what am I missing?) food.  And we did what we do best: chased sunrises and sunsets, grateful to catch the first and last light of each day.  Although Mitch is back in Canada, where the days are growing longer and the nights shorter, I know it won’t be long until we are back on the road again- chasing the light, following the sun, and living every moment in between.

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(photo credit: Mitchell Taylor)