New 20th Anniversary Edition of The Totem Pole...

Totem Pole Poster 2.jpg

I have just received 3000 copies of the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Totem Pole and it looks really great. Simon Carter's cover shot in B/W is positively menacing and looks to stand out from the page. Next job is to sign and send 401 copies to you awesome Pozible backers. 

 We had to store the 3000 books in my daughter's bedroom! while we build a purpose-made storeroom.

We had to store the 3000 books in my daughter's bedroom! while we build a purpose-made storeroom.

My reptilian brain is still exploring options for an online shop - I want to spend my time writing and going on adventures, not stuffing books into envelopes but that maybe why children were invented! 

As the poster shows, for those in Tasmania I am inviting you all to come celebrate the launch of  the New Edition at the Hobart Book Shop, Salamanca Place, at 5.30, 27th July. I am so looking forward to this! So, come along, hear me poorly read a segment, have a glass of wine and maybe buy a book.

And please sign up to my newsletter on this site for news on how to get your copy of The Totem Pole

PPX

 A Totem Pole of Totem Poles...

A Totem Pole of Totem Poles...

The Lowest To Highest Trailer is here!

The Lowest to Highest film documenting our journey from Kati Thanda to Kosciuszko has been finished. Here is the trailer to a beautiful (not just because it's got me in it!) film, at once funny, questioning and profound. 

 Somewhere south of Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre (c) Matthew Newton

Somewhere south of Kati Thanda/Lake Eyre (c) Matthew Newton

The film launches 24th of May at The State Cinema Hobart. The opening night is a sell out but there follows a two week season.

 

We made it!

Woohoo! Yes, we did it and then some! This means, thanks to you the backers,  I can print 3000 copies  now instead of rhe 2000 I was originally going to print. So I can reach more people. 

Thanks again everyone who pre-bought books and films. I could not have done this thing wiithout you. 

The films will be sent when I have the complete list of backers from Pozible next week. And the copies Totem Pole 20th Anniversary Edition sometime in June. I’ll keep you posted on that. 

I have already had a very constructive meeting with the graphic designer and they are working on the layout as I write (well probably not as it’s 4.30am!).

Ok, I will keep you informed every step of the way.

A great big CHEERS to you and enjoy your weekend,

PPX

The Totem Pole - 20 years on

 Photo (c) Eli Pritchard

Photo (c) Eli Pritchard

Remember The Totem Pole? The memoir of my catastrophic brain injury on the most slender piece of rock in the ocean? My amazing rescue by Celia Bull, and Neale Smith? The story of my year locked in my body and locked inside a rehab centre? 

It was the first book  to do the double of winning the Boardman/Tasker Award for Mountain Literature and the Banff Mountain Book Festival Grand Prize 20 years ago. 

For reasons beyond my control it has not been reprinted or had any new editions for 16 years.  For over a decade people have been asking me where they can buy copies - especially since I finally climbed the Totem Pole in 2016 (the subject of the Rummin film Doing It Scared). I have to tell them I think the odd copy is in circulation on the internet. 

Well, that situation is about to change...

With your help I hope to produce a new 20th anniversary edition of The Totem Pole. Going back to my original files I have restored the original text that was previously edited out - mostly on the grounds of it being offensive language (well, I was disinhibited!). Were there were sixteen photos in the middle of the book, now there are fifty-five. Plus that classic cover photo by Simon Carter.  

I would be very grateful if you would support my Pozible Campaign here by pre-purchasing The Totem Pole 20th Anniversary issue.

 The New Front cover. The lettering may change... (c) Simon Carter

The New Front cover. The lettering may change... (c) Simon Carter

World Expeditions Lowest to Highest Australia 

 Day 3 - muloorina homestead to Maree 52.7km. Photo Matt Newton  Rummin .

Day 3 - muloorina homestead to Maree 52.7km. Photo Matt Newton Rummin.

We were attempting something that had never been attempted before. The first journey, under purely human power, from Australia’s lowest point, Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre (-15.2m), to the continent’s summit, Mount Kosciuszko (2228m). Cycling over rough terrain, through deserts and up mountains for a distance of 2152 kilometres would be a hard enough for anyone. However, what made it more challenging for this team was the fact that it’s five members had significant disabilities. Walter Van Praag has cystic fibrosis and only thirty-eight percent lung function, Duncan Meerding is legally blind, Daniel Kojta has paraplegia and so pedals with his hands, Conrad Wansborough lives with chronic pain after a spinal injury and I have hemiplegia with associated sensory processing issues.

 Our saviour Torsten welding the tandem.

Our saviour Torsten welding the tandem.

The expedition tagline was “What could possibly go wrong?” Well when I fell out of the back of the support vehicle and cracked two ribs on the drive to the starting point, and when the troopie hit an underpass with a tandem trike on top. it seemed like everything was going wrong. The trike was wrecked - the frame was snapped in three places, the handlebar broken off and the luggage rack smashed. A tandem is the only vehicle that Duncan can ride, being blind, and me having balance issues, a trike is the only cycle I can ride. So, how were we going to ride 2000km now?

This shakey start to the expedition was all being filmed by Rummin, a Tasmanian production company, who were documenting the journey - I had previously worked with Rummin on the film Doing It Scared (2016) about my return to the Totem Pole after an accident there in 1998 left me with my disability. They were delighted (if a little worried) when we found a bush welder, to weld the tandem back together in Hawker.

 The Route. Top left Kati Thanda - Bottom right Mount Kosciuszko.

The Route. Top left Kati Thanda - Bottom right Mount Kosciuszko.

Kati Thanda is a sacred place to the Arabana people who asked us not to venture out onto the dry Lake’s surface and we did not want to begin this ‘white-fella walkabout’ on a bad note, so readily agreed. We would begin at Peake Jones Point at the southern end of Lake Eyre North. 

I was supposed to be riding the tandem with Duncan but, being in great pain, was relieved by Conrad for the first two and a half days. Dan was riding his funky hand-trike and Walter rode a fat bike. The ‘washboard hell’ road made it tough going from the outset, so the L2H team made only 20km that first day. The second day Daniel opted out as his sternum was bruised: the hand-trike requires steering with the chest and the heavily corrugated road was paining him greatly. Walter led the team on his ‘Fatty’ and pulled into Moolarina Homestead in the early afternoon. As we suspected the first leg was proving that it might actually be the crux of the whole ride.

On the third day every member of the team made a start and we progressed well averaging 10km/hr on the dirt road. As a headwind got up this momentum was a struggle to maintain. Matthew Newton of Rummin was shooting some spectacular footage, which included the trikes passing a wedge-tailed eagle feasting on road-kill. 

 The Team L-R: Conrad Wainsborough, Dan Kojta, Nati the Dog, Ed Homan, Duncan Meerding, Paul Pritchard, Walter Van Praag.

The Team L-R: Conrad Wainsborough, Dan Kojta, Nati the Dog, Ed Homan, Duncan Meerding, Paul Pritchard, Walter Van Praag.

Dan had been suffering with ill health, complications due to paraplegia, for a few days and the difficult decision to evacuate him was made at Lyndhurst. Ed drove him to Quorn Hospital with a suspected kidney infection where he would spend the best part of a week. He became paraplegic a number of years ago when a shipping container fell on him and literally folded his body in two, backwards (he described peering behind him and scraping his nose on the heel of his boot).

The rest of us continued south to Leigh Creek on baby’s bottom smooth sealed road were we sped along. What a joy after ‘Corrugation Street’. We talked to forty kids in the school there, and challenged their notions surrounding disability: we are not  poor victims in need of help, as many (adults admitably) see us, nor are we heroes succeeding against overwhelming odds; we are just people, ordinary people, working with what we’ve got; as we all do. But there was a lot of excitement and laughter when we asked the students to play a disability simulation game: open a Mars Bar with one hand behind their back and without using their teeth. The students we talked to throughout the trip were mature enough to get what we were saying, but usually enjoyed sitting on our crazy contraptions a whole lot more.

 Matthew and Jeffrey of Rummin and Duncan at an outback bar.

Matthew and Jeffrey of Rummin and Duncan at an outback bar.

As we were climbing a particularly rough hill up to Blinman in the Flinder’s Ranges the back wheel on the tandem seized. There was no other choice than to call Greenspeed and order a new one. As this could only be posted to Broken Hill, about ten days away, we resorted to cannibalising Conrad’s trike for the back wheel. From now on he would ride Walter’s emergency bike. Conrad was proving his worth at fixing bikes and from that moment on became the expedition mechanic. In the Flinder’s Dan returned and it was good to see him back to his old self. 

The reactions to the team from the broader public were noteworthy and, as one of the reasons for venturing on this ride was to challenge common misconceptions, they were of great interest. For the most part we had positive responses, such as the shearer who had Duncan touch the wool of a sheep to feel what it was like. But we still faced institutionalised ablism on an almost daily basis - be it the camp site owner who came up behind Dan, who was in his wheelchair, and tucked his shirt into his trousers without asking (we all fell about laughing when Dan told us this). Or the assumption, by many people that we were unable to take care of ourselves. Rumours even got back to friends and family in Tasmania that we weren’t being ‘looked after’. However, mass hysteria was averted by some timely phone calls.

 Steve Findlay accompanied us on the first half and was a great help.

Steve Findlay accompanied us on the first half and was a great help.

From the Flinders Ranges the team would head out East on the most remote leg of the journey, being accommodated in shearing sheds. All we  encountered was kindness from the musterers and shearers, well, and severe headwinds on the dirt road to Curnamona Station. Unfortunately, the gears on Dan’s drive wheel stuffed up so he would now ride in the troopie unto Broken Hill. Dan was not having the best of luck. We hit the Barrier Highway at Yunta and had to do battle with road trains and kangaroo carcasses for three days east. Duncan renamed it ‘The Highway of Death’ because he would gag every fifty metres when we approached a corpse of a ‘Big Red’.

 Ed had his time on the trike...

Ed had his time on the trike...

Duncan lost his vision when he was in his late teens to an unpronounceable  genetic condition. After a decade and a half he now has a successful lighting design business in Hobart were he may be the world’s only blind lighting designer. But, it is a testament to his dexterity that he still has all ten digits.

 Medic Vonna was worth her weight in gold. Here she helps Duncan fix a cleat in Barmah Forest.

Medic Vonna was worth her weight in gold. Here she helps Duncan fix a cleat in Barmah Forest.

“So, you’re like the X-Men but shitter”, one kid said to us in Broken Hill about three weeks into the trip. We had only had one rest day, and our cycles were in desperate need of repair. Ed felt like Mosses guiding the blind, the crippled and insane out of the desert and into ‘Big W’. It was a strange experience for us, and possibly the other customers, seeing five dust laden, dirty, mangled bodies limping and wheeling through the air-conditioned store. 

From Broken Hill we rode the delightful Silver City Highway from barren desert to the lush Murray Riverina. Walter cried when he laid his eyes on vast groves of oranges, avocados and tree nuts, and of course vineyards. At Wentworth Vonna Keller joined the team as medic. 

From here, we would follow the course of The Murray for 1000km up until Tom Groggin on the Alpine Way. Speeding motorists made this the most hazardous part of our journey. We found ourselves taking long detours just to avoid the exceedingly dangerous Murray Valley Highway. Not wanting to lump all motorists into one basket but the members of the team on trikes (trikes take up more of the road) copped abuse on a daily basis. 

 The tandem crew in Yarawonga, one of the Murray towns. Photo: Walter Van Praag.

The tandem crew in Yarawonga, one of the Murray towns. Photo: Walter Van Praag.

At Echuca we had a rest day andit was a real treat to meet up with family. There were wondrous moments along the Murray as we crossed in and out of Victoria and New South Wales several times a day.  At times the team would split up and take different routes according to their modes of transport. The tandem for instance was up to four times as fast on metalled road surfaces, whereas the dirt roads along the river bank were more scenic and ideal for the hybrids. Along this leg of the journey the L2H team were riding over 100km a day. Upon reaching Albury we took a rest day at the Big 4 and continued along Lake Hume. Not far along the lake, with it’s skeletal trees poking out of the still water, the landscape changed from flat Riverina to alpine foothills. 

 Mount Kosciuszko had the best spring snow in modern history...

Mount Kosciuszko had the best spring snow in modern history...

Once the lake was behind us we had our first view of the mountain. And what a view! Still dressed in it’s winter coat of snow and seemingly hovering above yellow canola fields, we wondered how the hell we were going to ride up there. Lucky for the skiers, but unlucky for us, it was the best spring snow in Kosciuszko’s recent history. This prompted the team to make several frantic phone calls: one to the National Park office, who told us there was eight meters of snow on the mountain. We then called people asking them to lend us the mountain gear we lacked, such as ski poles and snow shoes.

Above Khancoban, on the huge hill past the Snowy Mountain Hydro Dan started feeling unwell again and vomiting uncontrollably, so medic Vonna made the wise decision to have Ed evacuate him to Corryong hospital. The rest of us went on with an emergency shelter and food. Once we had summited the pass came the best descent of our lives, a narrow winding road carving and dropping through many tunnel-like cuttings. 

 Walter with his O2 saturator.

Walter with his O2 saturator.

The team reached Geehi Flats. We had cited Tom Groggin as the days final destination, knowing that the next day, up the steepest hill in Australia, to Dead Horse Gap, would perhaps, be the toughest of the trip. However, with the delay caused by the evacuation of Dan we would now have to climb another pass to arrive at Tom Groggin, and then two more to get to Dead Horse and down to Thredbo. As it was, Wally and I were fatigued and we voted to camp at Geehi. 

We prepared everything the night before, lunch, water, checking bikes and trikes, and departed at 7am the next day. The team soon became scattered with Conrad and Vonna a few kilometres ahead ahead of Duncan and I, and Wally, preferring to start later, after his morning nebulising session, was fetching up the rear. Ed waited every five kilometres for the group to pass as, after nearly forty days on the road, we were becoming extremely fatigued. Thredbo was a mere twenty three kilometres away, though for a man with cystic fibrosis, a hemiplegic and a blind guy often travelling at two kilometres per hour, it might have been a world away.

After a pasta lunch and a litre of Hydrolite we took on the second and toughest of the three passes to be crossed that day, Leather Barrel.  With gradients of up to 17% all of the team had to dig deep. At points Duncan found he could increase the speed of the tandem by dismounting and pushing while Paul pedalled and steered. Walter, having only 38% lung function, was forced to use his oxygen saturator; he looked rather out of place cycling up the steepest hill in Australia with plastic pipes going up his nostrils. 

 Paul and Duncan on Leather Barrel.

Paul and Duncan on Leather Barrel.

Walter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age eight when it became obvious he wasn’t your average kid; skinny arms, pot bellied and always coughing. We nicknamed him Darth Vader because of the sound of his nebulising each morning and night.

We reached Leather Barrel Creek and after a brief rest set off for Dead Horse Gap. This last pass was mildly lower angle but, still 10km of serious uphill. The first snow was a drift at Siberia, just short of the gap. The tandem team touched it and had a moment to appreciate just how far they had come since the salty surface of Kati Thanda all those weeks ago.

 Duncan and I at Dead Horse Gap. Photo: Kirsten Seaver.

Duncan and I at Dead Horse Gap. Photo: Kirsten Seaver.

After a day of rest at Thredbo the team headed down Crackenback and into Jindabyne. The next morning we embarked on the last pedalling day of the trip - from Jindabyne to Charlotte Pass. This was another twelve hundred meter climb. We cycled up into the snow with Matt Newton’s drone a constant companion. The gate at Perisher was opened three hours before we arrived there, thus allowing us to cycle the remaining 12km up to Charlotte Pass. The spring melt was well under way. Nevertheless there were snow banks by the road side several metres deep and cornices overhanging the outer bends of swollen silver streams. The whole scene was one of magic. 

 The Spring melt was well underway as we approached Charlotte Pass...

The Spring melt was well underway as we approached Charlotte Pass...

Charlotte’s actually felt like the end of the trip, as the snow would prevent us cycling the last 9km to the summit of Australia. From here we would have to trek. Lachlan, the resort owner, opened to door to the staff quarters and after a dinner of high protean salmon, we crashed out and arose at 4am. We had decided on an alpine start so that the surface of the snow would be frozen enough to support our weight. 

The pools of head torch light revealed a crusty solid surface as we trudged through the darkness. Walking was a struggle after 42 days sat down; it was as if we had forgotten how to do it. By the time we had reached the Snowy River we were in a wonderland of alpenglow and the dawn had scattered twinkling diamonds on the carpet of snow. We had given ourselves the turn-around time of noon but it was barely 8am when we paused at Seaman’s Hut to sip warm sweet tea. We were still walking on top of the crust up until Rawson’s Pass where we saw the tops of bike racks poking farcically out of the snow. This should have been the high point of our cycle journey, just 1.5 kilometres from the summit.

From here we took a traversing path across a snow field. The time was approximately 10.20am when we trickled onto the top of Australia, Vonna and Ed, or the TABs (Temporarily Able Bodied), as we called them first, then Conrad and I followed by Duncan and Walter. We all got very emotional. The strain of keeping it together for 42 days, and suddenly being freed, was as though a levee had broken. We all shed tears and then it was time to take interviews from local and national radio, and Kirsten Seaver of the Monaro Post who came snow shoeing over the summit as we sat drinking whisky that Duncan’s grandmother had given us. We toasted ourselves, but more-so Wally who was the only member of the team to ride uninterrupted for 2152km from start to finish. We joked that he was our Tenzing, and that all our hard work was just to put him on the summit.     

 The summit of Australia. Note Conrad's Wellington Boots. You may notice only four of us on the summit. Dan was in hospital still but is well now and vows to return.

The summit of Australia. Note Conrad's Wellington Boots. You may notice only four of us on the summit. Dan was in hospital still but is well now and vows to return.

When it came time to descend, the snow had turned to slush in the heat and we all had a difficult time wading through what amounted to a metre of soft serve ice cream. Wally’s head turned purple as he kept on chatting to Kirsten and forgetting to breathe. We hit the car park in the late afternoon and a four year dream had become a reality. 

Not only had we achieved the first journey from the lowest point to the highest point of the Australian continent under human power but, much more than that: we had shown that people with disabilities are capable of world firsts, not just ‘first disabled challenges’. 

And I think we had shown that there is actually no room for the term ‘disabled’ in todays society. Differently-abled maybe. We all face our own peculiar challenges. 

 

 

 

Our profound thank's must go once again to World Expeditions for their support of this venture. It would not have been possible without your help. Also we are exceedingly grateful to Greenspeed Trikes, Mountain Equipment, Keen Footwear Australia and the host of Expedition backers the full list of whom is available at the Lowest to Highest website. Lastly huge thanks to our Pozible backers for the L2H film and Rummin Productions for believing in us. The film is looking sensational! I will keep you posted on this site too.

 

 

Doing It Scared in Australia.

For those who haven't yet seen it, Doing It Scared will be screened at the following Venues as part of The Banff World Tour Dates in Australia:

BRISBANE 3-8 April – Brisbane Powerhouse
SYDNEY SEYMOUR 2-6 May – Seymour Centre
SYDNEY EAST 8 May – Randwick Ritz
SYDNEY NORTH 9, 10, 11 May – Hayden Orpheum, Cremorne
KATOOMBA 10 May – The Edge Cinema
NEWCASTLE 11 May – Tower Cinemas
AVOCA 12 May – Avoca Beach Picture Theatre
TOWNSVILLE 12 May – Townsville Civic Theatre 
CANBERRA 13, 14, 15, 16
 May – National Film and Sound Archives (matinee & evening)
WOLLONGONG 18 May – University Hall, University of Wollongong
CAIRNS 18, 19, 20 May – Centre of Contemporary Arts (matinee & evening)
ADELAIDE 20 May – The Capri Theatre (matinee & evening)
GOLD COAST 23 May – The Arts Centre, The Gold Coast
NOOSA 24 May – The J NEW LOCATION
BYRON BAY 25 May – Byron Theatre NEW LOCATION
WAGGA 24 May – Forum6 Cinema
ALBURY 25 May – Albury Entertainment Centre NEW VENUE
DARWIN 30 & 31 May – Deckchair Cinema
ALICE SPRINGS 1 June – Araluen Arts Centre
MELBOURNE - 5 & 6 June Village Crown, 7 & 8 June Astor Theatre
LAUNCESTON 2 June – The Princess Theatre
HOBART 17 June – Farrall Centre, The Friends School
PERTH 19-24 June – The State Theatre Centre of WA
MT BULLER 24 June – Mt Buller Cinema

The Cure for a Sick Mind

The Cure for a Sick Mind

As a drunk attempting to get back from the pub I staggered up the cliff. My heart was throbbing… I was so scared my right side stiffened with spasticity… And yet, curiously, I felt like the drunk was indeed making it home. One meter out from the bolt and I was fumbling with the key in the lock. I already felt vulnerable to injury. But it was when I ventured to two meters that I fell through the door and the real fun began.

RETURN TO THE TOTEM

We knocked the bastard off!

— Edmund Hillary

Eighteen years after the rock smashed into my skull, leaving me partially paralysed, and with expressive aphasia, I returned to the scene of the accident in Tasmania and climbed the Totem Pole, closing a chapter on my life. At the moment I am still in shock, but as the weeks go by I'm sure I will make sense of what it actually means. I aim to write further on it and dedicate the final chapter of my forthcoming book to it. 

  Climbing the Totem Pole. Steve Monks on the summit for the 8th time. Photo: Melinda Oogjes.

 Climbing the Totem Pole. Steve Monks on the summit for the 8th time. Photo: Melinda Oogjes.

It was my mate John Middendorf, that convinced me I could jumar up the 65 metres to the top of the sea stack with only one functioning arm and leg. Late last year I began experimenting with all kinds of rope ascending systems, including three to one and two to one pulleys, but these were too complicated for my literally ‘half-a-brain’. In the end I settled on a simple one to one which meant having to haul my full 69 kilo’s with one arm. On the day I counted 126 one armers (well, with a bit of help from my leg).

Steve Monks led me up the Totem Pole and I followed on rope ascenders. Everything went like a dream. Monksy has a great deal of history with the Totem Pole. It was Steve, who made the first free ascent of the stack with Simon Mentz in 1995 and cleaned up the gear and mess left behind the accident. We had a laugh – he was relieved that the huge pool of blood wasn’t there any more!

On the climb all the memories came flooding back – I was at the base, the same place where all those years ago I got soaked up to the chest by the sea, before the rock hit me. I took the identical swing that dislodged the rock. And as I climbed the first pitch I was confronted by the huge rock scar, the hole where the block came from that changed everything.

The crux for me was getting onto the actual summit – I couldn’t do a one armed mantel shelf and so had to face plant on a pile of rope and flop around like a fish out of water. The scariest moment was launching off on the Tyrollean over the void to get back to the mainland. I’d not done a rope traverse for nigh on 20 years.

 Crew at Cape Hauy. L - R Top: Melinda Oogjes, Vonner Keller, Steve Monks, Matt Newton. Bottom: Andy Cianchi, Paul Pritchard, Zoe Wilkinson, John Middendorf. Photo Margi Jenkin.

Crew at Cape Hauy. L - R Top: Melinda Oogjes, Vonner Keller, Steve Monks, Matt Newton. Bottom: Andy Cianchi, Paul Pritchard, Zoe Wilkinson, John Middendorf. Photo Margi Jenkin.

It was very much a team effort and I feel a deep gratitude for the assistance I received. But couldn’t all of us use a little help now and again? Without the team of 10 people that helped me I could never have climbed the Totem Pole.

The Point To Pinnacle

The Point To Pinnacle

I had it all planned out. Right down to the therapeutic botulinum toxin I had five days previously: eight injections in my right arm and seven in the right leg to combat the ever present spasticity. So, I was feeling nice and loose and was training every day for Tasmania’s Point To Pinnacle, which the media had coined ‘The World’s Toughest Half Marathon’. It was only three days to the race and I was due to be the first ‘adaptive cycle’ entrant...

... And then my world began to crumble.