Reflections - Three Years and Counting
When I started this website three years ago I had no idea what it would become or if I would even commit to it long term but here we are. Before I get into a long ramble about hiking, life and the best toppings for a pizza (satay mango chicken FYI), I want to introduce myself and detail what it took to get here as it has been mentioned to me on several group hikes that no one really knows who I am despite reading about my hiking experiences. So here we go...
My name is Mark (pictured), I'm about to turn 31 shortly (also my favourite number) and I have a normal office job in the city when I am not being a weekend warrior on the trails of Western Australia. Things I love in life include living in Fremantle with my girlfriend, taking my dogs (Sadie and Kit) to the dog park every day to catch up with friends, photography, heading to the beach, basketball, movies, music, gardening, napping and of course hiking. The Life of Py was originally started to be a creative outlet for photography and writing but over the last three years it has evolved to be a predominantly hiking based website. The main reason for this was the lack of information or what to expect regarding hikes in Perth when I started hiking again. I also didn't have a lot of time to do everything, so focusing on hiking has allowed me to photograph and write all at the same time.
Early on it was a great excuse to start exploring my own backyard and alleviate some boredom over the winter when I wasn't playing cricket (I had given up playing football so had plenty of spare time on my hands). The first year I visited 11 trails, including some of my favourites I still love to hike, participated in the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker with friends and attempted an ill-fated five day expedition on the Cape to Cape with bad feet in running shoes (lessons learned). With the hiking season over I stopped for the summer and started up a "To-Hike" list, which I still have to this day. Every time I heard of a trail being mentioned or found something while I was googling then I would add the name to the list and attempt to come back to it when I had the opportunity.
2015 came along and I added a few trails early in the hiking season while enjoying some past favourites. The highlight of 2015 was a week down south to relax and expand my range beyond the Perth Hills. After a few days based in Quinninup, my girlfriend returned home and I headed off to Albany to explore some new and familiar trails. My afternoon at Bald Head was by far and away the best hike of the trip and I urge anyone down in the area to make time to do this 12.5km wonder. I returned home and started exploring more of the Bibbulmun Track and a couple of smaller hikes in the Kalamunda area. As the hiking season was coming to an end I decided the site required a much needed makeover. Those of you that visited the site in 2014 or 2015 will remember the black background/white writing format that was a little bit harsh on the eyes. For those that didn't have the pleasure of viewing it then you are lucky as you can visit here and search for www.thelifeofpy.com (pick a date pre-Oct 2015).
The move to a more traditional white background and black writing had been pushed for by my girlfriend quite a bit so I commissioned a new logo to be created (I'm terrible at drawing) and got to work on re-formatting the website with the new colour scheme. While I was at it, I organised the pages a bit better, adding more information and included a map of Perth and the South West to make it easier to pick a hike. All in all I think the difference was well received and certainly added a bit more of a professional feel to the site. All of that effort came at the end of the hiking season so as traffic tailed off over the summer I began preparations for 2016 and what would become my biggest year to date.
To keep me busy over the summer I had created a hiking calendar to go with my "To-Hike" list and planned out a rough schedule for the first few months of the hiking season. With so many trails on my list I realised I would have to be out pretty much every weekend from around late March (not a bad problem to have). One other thing I discovered over the summer was a lovely little thing called Adobe Lightroom and this changed the game significantly. My photos before Lightroom were pretty much as captured with a minor tweak using the free Nikon software provided with the camera (brightness, saturation, contrast etc). Using a free trial of the Lightroom photo editing software I realised that all of my old photos could suddenly be transformed into what I thought they looked like when I was out there.
Previously discarded shots that had a bright white sky or were too dark could easily be transformed with the movement of a few sliders on the screen. It took me a while to teach myself how to use the basics but eventually I got the hang of it and started going back over my archives. Admittedly the standard of photos on my site are alright, not great but I am happy to simply point and shoot while I am out there and try to recover the shots in Lightroom when I am at home on the couch (with a bottle of red of course). Lightroom also allowed me to dabble in astrophotography for the first time and it's definitely something that I look forward to making the time to do more of in the future.
After a summer of editing photos on the couch and planning adventures I was quite happy when the weather cooled down and I could get out and explore. It was a bit of a dry autumn but I visited a few new trails early on and vowed that I would attempt to organise another group hike. I had organised a couple in late 2015 but they weren't well attended (probably due to my Instagram followers only policy) so with a change of plan they were reintroduced as both Facebook and Instagram events. Thanks to a few well timed shares on Facebook of my posts I had managed to get to over 500 likes on my page and the first group hike to Mt Cooke was a great success. With healthy numbers I pencilled in at least one a month during the hiking season and it was a real pleasure to meet so many like minded people over the winter. I'm normally a quiet and introverted person and socialising in large groups really isn't my thing so organising group hikes has been a challenging but rewarding experience this year. Thank you to the regulars who attended and made the hikes so special, each of you added to the hikes and I'm glad to have received the opportunity to meet each and every one of you.
Around the time of the first group hike I received some great news from the Bibbulmun Track Foundation with a section opening up east of Harvey that I would be responsible for maintaining. I had been on the waiting list for a section for over a year and had been patiently biding my time (I'm not going anywhere so was happy to wait). It may not be the most interesting section but it's still pretty cool and recovering well after recent bushfires. I look forward to seeing how the landscape evolves over the years and giving back to a trail that I enjoy so much and is one of the best in the world.
Joining me on the blogging scene for Perth hikers in 2016 was The Long Ways Better and Nature Mondays. It's always nice to read a different perspective on some of the hikes I had already done and also to get ideas and pictures about places I had either planned to do or didn't know about. I was lucky to meet Bree from Nature Mondays at the Eagle View group hike and Donovan (aka The Guru) from The Long Ways Better on the Kitty's Gorge group hike. It wasn't until the first overnight group hike from Dale Rd to Mundaring that I met the other half of The Long Ways Better, Alissa. I look forward to reading their adventures over the coming years and sharing in a few myself. It's important that more experience based blogs about hiking/exploring etc are created as it raises awareness of all the great places we have in WA, which in turn creates interest in preserving them and investing in their future. If you have a desire to start your own blog then don't be afraid to put your voice out there. There is no competition and everyone in the hiking community will give you great support. We all do it for love (there is no money anyway :P) and it's very rewarding to see your own words/pictures out there in the world wide interwebs.
2016 was also the year of the day long 35km hike, which I have to admit is a lot more fun than it sounds. It started with a proper documentation of the self-named Six Summit Challenge, a combination of two sections of the Bibbulmun Track starting at Sullivan Rock and one I enjoy every Anzac Day. The next big day was a hike I had been wanting to do for a while, the Kattamordo Heritage Trail. This old trail from the late 80s had not been maintained and didn't have much information on it so I wanted to see how easy it would be to hike it. With hiking convert and good buddy Aron by my side, we successfully retraced the track (most of it) from Bickley to Mundaring. The third long day was a really fun visit to the Bibbulmun Track with a hike to Mundaring Weir Hotel and back from the Northern Terminus with some close friends to recreate the first hike I posted for the site and was one of the better days I have had on the trails.
With one of the coldest Septembers on record and a consistently gloomy forecast for spring, the hiking season was extended and I was able to get down south to visit a couple of fantastic 10km loops near Pemberton. Around this time I also received news that I would be a Park Explorer through a program run by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. Armed with a Parks pass, free camping and a GoPro, I started planning a week long adventure down south to take in as many hikes as I could. The trip was cut short due to battery charging issues but I managed to get some great weather in the Stirling Ranges for a change, hike up some fantastic peaks and then explore a couple of trails close to Albany, including a spare of the moment visit here.
So what have I learned after three years of exploring my own backyard? There is so much more out there than you realise if you just put in the effort. Hiking is a rewarding hobby that allows you to escape into a world of fresh air, forests and peace and quiet. Luckily we have so many options to explore the outdoors in Perth and the South West and more often than not you will go long periods without seeing another soul. While I used to be a solo hiker, it has been great to introduce hiking to a good friend (Hi Aron) and explore the trails together. Along with Aron, it has been fantastic to meet so many like minded people that became regulars on the monthly group hikes and I hope the community continues to grow in 2017. Like with most things in life, it is best done with people you enjoy so the thought of spending countless hours in the bush training with the Puma Bait Squad over the next year brings me great joy. I don't do this for the money, the ads you see on the page earn me enough to cover my hosting/domain fees (and only work when you click on them) so the the drive and motivation comes from enjoying what I do and also being able to share that with people.
While Perth may not be New Zealand or Patagonia, the devil is in the detail and you are always guaranteed to see something new if you keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings. Early on I tended to see how fast I could hike a trail but these days it's all about the experience and if that means stopping more so I can appreciate an amazing scene then that's what I do. My favourite hikes? In Perth it would have to be either section from Sullivan Rock and the Numbat Trail. Down South it would have to be Bald Head, Toolbrunup and the Warren River Loop. We are so lucky to have Australia's biodiversity hotspot with the South West and I hope that the government clues on to this a bit more and invests in more national parks and rehabilitating the areas that used to be large tracts of lush forest.
So where to from here? At the ripe old age of 31, I am eligible in May for long service leave with my current job (never thought I would ever take it in my life) so 2017 will be the year of holidays. The list of Perth hikes I want to do has slowly dwindled down to a handful so I will probably knock those off early in 2017, along with still organising monthly group hikes and training for the Oxfam Trailwalker. Around the middle of the year I will be heading to Europe for a month on a holiday (might sneak in some hiking) before coming home and enjoying the lovely Western Australian spring. September will be a massive month with a planned end to end of the Munda Biddi and the previously mentioned Oxfam Trailwalker. In between everything I will organise a couple of trips down south to explore the vast quantity of trails I haven't yet visited including a multi-day adventure on the Stirling Ridge Walk.
I never thought the site would get to be where it is now and the last three years have been beyond fantastic as I've explored Western Australia and met some amazing people along the way. I have to recognise one person above all else that has supported me throughout the journey, allows me to spend days away from home and if I'm lucky, will cook a lovely roast when I return from a long hike and this is Caris my lovely girlfriend. While she doesn't fully understand why I go walking in the middle of nowhere for hours on end, she accepts me and I love her to bits for it. Thank you Caris :)
I would love to hear from everyone in the comments section with a story about why you like hiking, how you got into it, your favourite trail or even a simple hello. Thank you so much for the kind comments over the years and I look forward to continuing on into the future.
Get out there and experience it!!