So that’s it then. Dad life starts, adventure life ends. That’s what they say right? Or at least, that’s the pre-parent fear? I call bullshit. In fact, I call buffalo-shit (I assume that’s bigger). The universe changes seismically, yes , but I reckon my adventure-world has transformed for the better since my son reared his lovely, embryonic head. Here’s why!
A few weeks ago I decided to undertake a week of microadventures with my 18 month old sperm-creation, Jet Blaze Brydon. 5 days, 5 adventures. 5 memories. The conversation we had about it over brekky was a little one-sided, but I saw a glint in his eye and a momentary wry smile — a tell tale sign that he was up for a week of frivolous escapism. Or more likely, a nappy change.
A bit of context: we moved to the Byron hinterland last year on a whim, and managed to land ourselves in a bushland paradise. We live at the junction of three sub-tropical national parks; Mount Jerusalem, Nightcap and Goonengerry. Palm fronds tap against our cabin’s windows, reminding us that one day the surrounding bush will reclaim it. The Milky Way’s a cosmic splatter above; the amphibian choir in residence gives way to a dawn chorus from their feathery cousins and after rain, three waterfalls in the distance plummet 100m to the valley below.
Peaks, Creeks, Trails & Whales
From 3.00pm til 5.00pm every weekday Jet and I have 2 hours of man time together. Our close proximity to nature — approximately 1 inch from the doormat — means we have a bounty of microadventures for the taking. If we had t-shirts, they’d say Bush Buccaneers across the back.
First challenge? Climb a mountain. Simples. When the digital clock finger tickles 1500, I snap my laptop closed and switch from desk monkey to adventure dad. I hot-foot it out of my office, grab Jet, the baby carrier and a pre-packed rucksack of essentials, and charge for the door. I kick myself for not wearing a skin-tight onesie emblazoned with ‘Adventure Dad’ to dramatically reveal from beneath my hoody. Next time perhaps.
Day 1 Challenge – Climb A God-damn Mountain
5 minutes’ drive into the valley there lies a dead end and a small parking area fit for one car at a push. From there a steep walking track slithers into the Nightcap range and up to Mt Jerusalem’s lofty peak. In the year I’ve lived here I’ve seen 3 people on it, and I’ve walked or run it at least 30 times.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried strapping a small child to your back without help but take it from me, it’s a fairly intense experience that has a whiff of Cirque du Soleil about it. It’s especially tough when your acrobatic partner is a little reluctant to follow protocol. After some car park midget wrestling, we eventually made it on to trail and the games began.
I ponder the contents of the backpack I’ve strapped to my front; things have changed a tad in the last couple of years. The hip-flask and 2nd camera lens have been subbed for baby snacks and emergency turdnado supplies. Pit stops nowadays provide the added suspense of whether or not you’ve got to wipe down another man’s genitalia.
Fatherhood seems to be a knowledge relay; the passing on of things I’ve learned from my parents and my own experiences (and maybe Jet will do the same one day too). At this stage I’ve got myself a captive audience and I’m eager to impress with nuggets of nature wisdom. As we work our way up the mountain it dawns on me that my ecological prowess has a few gaps though. The poor fella’s doomed. “Hey Jet, look, a big tree!”
Before I’ve had time to properly start my mobile botanical lesson I feel dribble on my shoulder.
As the path joins a new track coming from the north the only sound I can hear is the whistle of wind in the treetops. The trail continues its upward trajectory for 30 mins before fish-hooking up to an almighty rock plateau with views across the gaping (ex) volcanic crater of the Tweed Valley. Wollumbin* stands dreamily above the landscape.
My fellow swashbuckler has timed his kip to near-perfection. He wakes to this bonafide naturefest and we spend the next while watching the sun go down over a bag of banana-flavoured kiddie biccies. Literally everything goes in his mouth though. If my back is turned for a second, all foliage and rocks within a foot radius make their way into his mouth. The dude’s a walking Hoover! He’s bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘trail mix’.
Day 2 Challenge – Cycle To Wilsons Creek
The most excited I’ve ever been about a delivery was when a kid’s bike seat arrived in the post. Following in close second: Jet’s arrival 18 months prior.
The joy of bicycle travel has had a fairly enormous impact on my life, having spent 2 years cycling across the world in 2010-12. Spending up to 10 hours a day on a saddle, lost in my own thoughts (and often in reality too) sent my imagination to unprecedented realms, one of which was the notion of being a Dad one day.
Fast forward 6 years and seeing my boy’s legs dangle excitedly from his seat behind me as we weave downhill through a dense rainforest is really quite surreal. Every so often I’ll put my hand behind my back and shout ‘HIGH 5!’; when contact is made alongside a little whoop, my heart quite literally pounds with love.
After 10km of riding, we pull over and have a mini picnic by one of the 12 creek causeway crossings in the area. Now if there’s one thing that puts a grin on Jet’s face, it’s lobbing stones into water. It induces maximum pleasure for minimum investment, so we sit there on the river bank and launch rocks for an hour.
Other than the odd self-indulgent uni night out, crapping himself in public is something he’ll hopefully grow out of, but the joy of throwing rocks into rivers will never, ever change; it’s one of the few things that remain a constant no matter how old one gets! This makes me happy.
On the return leg home pademelons hop across the road and rafters of bush turkeys rustle around the forest. We stop at a paddock to admire 3 strapping young horses. I attempt to mimic a horse sounds but instead spray flob across Jet’s face.
Day 3 Challenge – Explore An Abandoned Building
On a recent drive, I’d spied an abandoned cabin tucked away in the dense vegetation that was clearly in the latter stages of being consumed by the forest. It looked like something out of a Hansel and Gretel fairytale only with less baked goods in the exterior paneling. Had the tenant vacated in a hurry and forgotten to take her trunk-full of rare vintage vinyls? Was someone tied up inside surviving on bush rats and magic mushrooms?
I guess we’d have to take a closer look…
Mode of transport today? My legs, in run mode. I hurtled down the hill towards the jungle grotto with Jet in the Mountain Buggy, my childish excitement reaching fever pitch for the discovery ahead. The rainforest clears at the base of the valley and we follow the creek before rejoining the thick canopied bushland once more.
Once I’d eyed up the jungle grotto, I pulled over to the side to find Jet had passed out. Damn me and my smooth running technique! I quickly double-checked that it wasn’t anything more sinister (I’d definitely hit a few potholes), hid him and the buggy behind a tree, and then carried on to investigate the cabin.
The roof appeared to have re-turfed itself and vines had crept their way in like gangling fingers.
Sadly, I couldn’t get into it as the stairway to the cabin entrance had completely rotted away, but I poked a view in through one of the windows and saw a clown standing in the corner, waving at me. Jokes!
I grabbed a few shots of the crib and pegged it back to make sure Jet hadn’t been swallowed by a python.
Day 4 Challenge – Find The Top Of A Waterfall
As the road to my house leaves the neighbouring valley, there’s a view on the right that has stoked my wanderlust. In summer there’s a roaring waterfall in the distance that plunges from Mt Jerusalem but in these drought-riddled times it’s a far more restrained trickle.
Having been tipped off by my neighbour as to how to reach the top of it, we set forth at 3.00pm on day 4!
We park at the top of a walking track in the Koonyum Ranges and amble downhill, stopping regularly so my fellow hiker can squeeze another stick into his impressive underarm pile. On reaching a flatter section we clock the remnants of a creek and then duck off track for a 5-minute bash filled with the delightful scent of wild bush mint.
The pools at the top of the waterfall should be the basis of a neo-Turner painting, although granted, Jet would make a challenging subject. The late afternoon’s golden flare bursts around us and not a whisper breaks the silence except the occasional whip bird, and the plonking of rocks and subsequent giggles as Jet sets to work.
Edges of 100m cliffs pose a certain degree of threat to an unstable 18-month-old. Two feet now needs to be two meters. Our sense of freedom together reigns high, but the sudden sense of responsibility weighs heavily too.
Danger takes on a new perspective in parenthood. Literally and figuratively. Things that I’ve done on my own adventures suddenly become utterly ludicrous acts that even contemplating my boy doing makes me quiver. I don’t think I’m an overly cautious parent but increased self-awareness and worry are two non-returnable by-products of becoming a parent.
There’s an incredibly joyous, empowering, but intimidating feeling of responsibility in the wild — it’s one thing protecting yourself from her risks but it’s another with a bambino on board.
Day 5 Challenge – Spot A Whale
For the final microadventure of the week we drove into Byron to catch a glimpse of one of the world’s largest mammals frolicking in the ocean.
I strap Jet in and we start the walk towards the lighthouse; words coming thick and fast now as his inner dictionary seemingly doubles on the daily. It’s like having parrot on my back when we hike together! Slipping on rocks is one thing but it’s my subsequent burst of expletives that are now the primary hazard; it could equip him with an arsenal of swear words that would make Gordon Ramsay reel in horror.
Unfortunately a strong swell and southerly wind creates a sea awash with white-caps, making it near impossible to identify a surfacing whale. We conclude that we’d have more luck seeing Malcom Turnbull and Peter Dutton skip hand-in-hand down Main Beach, so we plod back into town for dinner.
In one week we climbed a mountain, cycled 20km through rainforest to a creek, found rockpools atop an elusive waterfall, explored abandoned forest dwellings and (almost) spied a breaching whale.
Does adventure end when you’re a Dad? Does it bollocks. Does it change? Absolutely, but I’d argue for the better. There’s more worry, there’s more planning and there’s more caution.
Have you ever introduced someone you love to the outdoors for the first time? Sharing the experience, celebrating curiosity and observing the powerful impact the experience can have on someone close to you is really quite wonderful.
Well, raising kids and creating new experiences together is a bit like that every day. I want to show Jet the things I love and the things that are important to me.
To combine what you love with the people you love, well, that’s what’s it’s all about right?
NB: The week was so successful, Henry and Jet now microadventure from 3.00pm-5.00pm Monday to Friday EVERY week.
Rumour has it that a man wearing a skin-tight Adventure Dad outfit was recently spotted in the hinterland.
Adventure Is For The Children (Adults Can Come Too)