Each month we feature one of our most valuable Explorers, the lifeblood of the We Are Explorers community. This month we’ve chosen Gabby and Neil Massey — adventure couple extraordinaire. They come as a content creation unit, combining Neil’s photos and Gabby’s words, so we thought we’d get their joint take on their adventurous ways. Read on to find out about the good times that can happen once you get caught on the slippery slope of adventure-addiction…
What’s your day job?
Gabby: I’m currently taking a break from retail and looking for the next challenge and Neil works as an Insurance Broker
What got you involved in the outdoors in the first place?
Gabby: We both started climbing in Wagga Wagga, NSW and the nearest outdoor crag is the Rock. In the off season, we took to walking and bird watching there. Have you ever seen a peregrine falcon stoop or a falcon chasing off a wedge-tailed eagle? It got us interested in walking for walking’s sake rather than just walking to a crag to climb – and it was so much lighter walking without all the climbing ironmongery in our packs!
Some climbing friends invited us on an overnight hike to Mount Jagungal and we fell in love with the Alpine environment of the Kosciuszko National Park. After that we divided our time between climbing and walking. Until we discovered snow sports, then surfing, cycle touring and lately, snorkelling…
What continues to get you out the door to explore?
Gabby: Working at indoor, customer/client facing jobs means we need to get outdoors to restore sanity. It keeps us human. There’s also the necessary balance between eating lots of yummy food (we both like cooking) and expending large amounts of energy outdoors!
What’s the go-to piece of outdoor gear you never adventure without (and why?)
Gabby: You’re talking to people who carried a spice rack and a lump of Pecorino Romano cheese when they cycled across Europe, so there’s no way we can narrow this down to just one. Our top 3 are:
It takes only a couple of minutes to set up and is roomy enough inside for two people (one reasonably tall) to both sit and lie comfortably. Two vestibules easily fit the four panniers and bar bag that we each carry on a longer bike tour or a couple of 60 litre packs, keeping them out of the weather.
Recently retired, after 7 years hard labour, we replaced our Nemo Losi with the new version – the Losi LS – because we seriously love this tent and couldn’t find anything better. Awesome for cycle touring and car camping, it is also (just) light enough to carry on multi-day hikes. And it’s a lovely shade of green.
# 2 – MSR Dragonfly stove. We like food, we like cooking and we like good food outdoors, so prefer a stove that is versatile rather than just good at boiling water. We also find it advantageous to be able to refill fuel bottles, rather than to discard empty canisters. Having the option of using different fuels is handy too, especially when travelling overseas.
# 3 – Ortlieb kitchen sink. Yep, we even take the kitchen sink. This foldable bucket is handy for washing dishes, clothes, as a bucket, as a bath.
Where’s your favourite place to microadventure in Australia or NZ?
Gabby: It’s hard to choose. Two of our favourites are Bungonia Gorge in NSW and Namadgi National Park in the ACT.
Bungonia Gorge has got to have one of the most fun day walks around, through the slot canyon — if we can include a little bit of climbing with our walking, so much the better.
Namadgi has lots of different things to do — walking and climbing, it is also culturally and historically interesting. The variety of sub-alpine and eucalypt forest, the granite outcrops, rock art, bush huts and space observation history makes it a great place to meet up with a group or take the family; there really is something for everyone. To top it off, most of the campgrounds have fire pits so you can gather around after a fun day and tell tall stories while toasting marshmallows or cooking damper. It’s also the start of the 650km Australian Alps Walking Track.
What’s your funniest adventure story to date?
Neil: There’s no one occasion that stands out but our unerring ability to find the longest way around to just about any crag, generally by way of wombat or wallaby trails of ever-decreasing height has lead to some interesting bush-bashing shenanigans over the years.
Gabby: Then there’s Neil’s little contretemps with the fence above PC Crag in Nowra… think a barely controlled swing wih a cliff face underneath. It could have been nasty but I’m told by reliable sources that his face at the time was hilarious.
And what’s your favourite activity to sink your teeth into outdoors?
Gabby: Climbing. Nothing else comes close to that feeling of tuning out everything but the rock and yourself, of unlocking a move or a sequence by pushing both your physical and mental limits.
That’s not to say we’re particularly good at it, but we love it.
What camera gear do you use?
Neil: I’m with team Nikon. D610 for the camera body and my go-to lens is a Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 for those nice wide landscapes. It also works really well for bouldering images and it’s a fantastic lens for astrophotography. Plus, it’s built like a tank, which comes in handy when you bash it off rocks all the time like I do…
Like all photographers, I’d love to spend lots of money on shiny toys, but these have served me really well over the last year or so. Next stop will be some professional-grade glass like a nice and heavy 24-70mm as an all-rounder. Plus a D850, plus a longer telephoto for wildlife, plus…
Have you had any disasters on any of your trips? What happened?
Neil: Dehydration in the Touga region of Morton National Park. We were told there’d be no issues with water, “The biggest problem is when the creeks get too full.” So we took enough to get us in, planning on refilling/purifying as we crossed the numerous creeks. I’m pretty sure that when we hiked it, it was the driest that region has ever been.
As the day wore on, we ran out of water and then started getting turned around in the various creekbeds and gullies as our heads got messed up from dehydration. We staggered around a bit more, including nearly making friends with a big brown snake, which I still think was overkill for an already messed up day, and finally found some water in a stagnant puddle (yum!). We boiled the crap out of it and camped for the night. Barely had enough to get us back out. I have never complained about carrying extra water since.
Gabby: Then there are the inevitable gear failure stories, like when we were cycling through the French countryside and Neil bent his chainring so badly he couldn’t turn the crankshaft. After using his bike as a scooter for 12km to get to the next village, where we were assisted by a guy with some metalsmithing skills, Neil then had to cycle his fully loaded bike 500km through High Normandy (i.e. the hilly part of Normandy) with no low gears until we found somewhere to get the suitable replacement part. Character building.
Why did you get involved in the Explorer Project?
What are you most digging about the Explorer Project?
Gabby: There is an amazing breadth of enthusiasm, experience and ideas in this group of people, which is really inspiring.
If you could change one thing about the outdoor scene what would it be?
Gabby: Stop leaving your used toilet paper everywhere, people!
What advice do you have for others living (or looking to live) an outdoor lifestyle?
Gabby: Just get outside — life’s too short to be stuck inside. Start local and follow your interests. If you’re not sure about gear, ask around — but the best way is to get out there and find out what works (plus it makes for the best stories).
Where are you off to next?
Gabby: Next long weekend — Jagungal Wilderness Area in the Northern Kosciuszko National Park. We have some unfinished business. Our last trip here ended early after a pack leak and wet sleeping bag saw us retreating through hail and snow.
Next holiday, not sure, still working on that. Perhaps Mount Buffalo, we’ve climbed there but would like to go back and do some walking as well, or Croajingolong. Then there’s Tasmania, we cycled up the east coast a couple of years ago and saw so many places that we want to explore further, on foot. Or New Zealand.
This question always opens a can of worms.
More normal dudes who love adventure…