I used to believe that fear was something we get stuck with, like unruly hair or embarrassing parents or cankles, and that suffering from the malady of fear was an acceptable reason to stay fixed within one’s comfort zone.
Those who climbed mountains and crossed oceans seemed to me like another breed of humans, born with a steel armour of fearlessness that Mother Nature did not give me.
I could never do that, I believed. I’m too afraid.
Life was easy inside my comfort zone. By my mid-twenties, I had all the must-haves of adulthood: a degree, a good job, and a steady (if romantically lackluster) relationship, yet being a grown-up seemed like a pretty dull affair.
I became convinced that life is like a box of chocolates, but a box you find wedged under your car seat six months after Easter: tasteless, soggy, and disappointing.
Desperately bored, I knew I needed to do something radical.
I decided to leave my job, my relationship, and my family behind to venture alone to California for a year. San Francisco seemed like a good choice because of its reputation for being similar to Melbourne, which meant I wouldn’t have to venture too far from my comfort zone.
Terror overwhelmed me as soon as my plane took off. The body of water that separates Melbourne from San Francisco looked like a savage void of cold, deep blue, and I found myself fretting that the plane would crash and we’d end up swimming with sharks. This nightmare worsened the apprehension I felt over being on a one-way flight to an unfamiliar place, and I ignored the seatbelt sign to run to the toilet and be sick.
We didn’t crash into the Pacific and San Francisco was everything I hoped it would be: easy, welcoming, and exciting. Soon after I got there, a night out with new friends ended up with me finding myself in the bed of a passionate Argentinean man named Ivan.
Though I had no idea at the time, Ivan would end up rocking my world—literally.
He was an IT professional who worked in Silicon Valley, but he dreamed of escaping convention. On our second date, he revealed that he had a fixed plan to throw the docklines off his 1979 sailboat, and explore the gems of the South Pacific—the Marquesas, the Societies, Tonga, Fiji…
It sounded beautiful and utterly insane.
“I could never do that,” I told him. “I’m too afraid.” As someone who also gets seasick, the appeal of sailing oceans was lost on me. But out of curiosity, I bombarded him with questions, like: “Aren’t you afraid to die?”
“No,” he said. “If I die while living my dream, that’ll be a good way to die.”
A good way to die? Personally, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than drowning. I’ve always been terrified of deep water.
I kept some distance from Ivan, but continued to see him for the sheer excitement of knowing an adventurer. Since I was planning to return to Melbourne, I felt the relationship was perfect: we could date, have fun, and then go our separate ways when the time came for him to depart, eight months after we’d met in a bar.
Eight months later, we were hopelessly in love.
“Come with me,” he said, “I’ll sail you home.” I told him, “That. Will. Never. Happen.” He didn’t listen. Instead, he’d gush about breeching whales and skies dusted with galaxies, and how, from sea, you can smell land before you can see it. What does land smell like? I wondered.
When Ivan wasn’t home, I’d flip through his sailing books, peeking at pictures of the South Pacific islands and their turquoise lagoons. The thought heading home via a string of exotic stepping-stones gave me a surge of excitement.
“But I’m too afraid,” I’d repeat to Ivan, to anyone who’d listen. Supportive friends would nod, validating me, and yet I imagined myself as a bitter old lady with deep scars of regret. In my heart I knew that fear was no excuse.
Which is why I jumped aboard.
We left America behind on my twenty-sixth birthday. Dolphins played at our bow, and the moon waxed and waned until one exhilarating morning, after twenty-six days, we finally smelled land. In the expanse of the Pacific, we dropped anchor in idyllic coves, one after another, over two years.
To pay for such beauty, we fought storms, and struggled to keep the boat—and the relationship—afloat.
I never got over being seasick, and I never got over being afraid.
Fear remained lodged in my primitive brain, ready to chill my spine if my mind turned to dark thoughts. But over time, I learned to tame it; to say, “That’s interesting, but irrational.” And eventually it sat quietly in the back of the room like a well-disciplined child.
Once upon a time, I thought that the people who crossed oceans and climbed mountains were fearless. I told myself: I could never do that. I’m too afraid. But now I know better.
Nowadays I’m a fearful adventurer.
I wrote a book about this very story. Buy it here.
What to expect from this blog
I create on a whim and speak from the heart, which means I’m sometimes cheeky, sometimes reflective, but always honest. My subjects span from adventure to mishaps to writing to fear to art to love. Consider this blog to be a literary potluck party, Mad Hatter style.
I’ve been told that I write like a man. I don’t know what that means, but it could have something to do with my gratuitous use of the word “balls.” My parents taught me that it’s okay to swear as long as you’re using language consciously. That said, my mother once grabbed a pair of goat’s testicles at a children’s petting zoo and yelled out: “I wonder how much these weigh?” So yeah, maybe I was just overexposed to balls.
Anyway, my point: if you can’t stand the occasional bleeeeep, then click that little X in the top left corner of this page and go Google some unicorns. (Spoiler: Unicorns have balls!)
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A short history
I first started blogging in 2004.
Back then, there was no Facebook or Twitter, and blogging was known as “Talking smack ’bout yo’self on the interwebz.” (Not really. Nobody ever said that except me, just now, regrettably.) However, like a tree falling in empty woods, there was nobody there to hear it.
When I took off travelling for the first time, I began a website called valiantvoyage.com as a way to share stories and pictures with friends and family, and—most importantly—to reassure my mother that I was not dead.
This is my ninth year of blogging about my life. I’m not sure if that’s an accomplishment worthy of an award, or a level of chronic narcissism that’s worthy of psychotherapy. Probably both.
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