Saturday, October 8, 2011

12 Months Retrospective (Or "How the Collingwood Magpies got me into hiking")

Roughly a year ago I got back into hiking and started this blog.  This anniversary of sorts seems as good a time as any to do a little retrospective of the past 12 months.

I have the Collingwood Magpies to thank for my return to hiking after a 25 year hiatus.  To explain:

Stevie J hand passes
For anyone born outside of Australia, Australian Rules Football (AFL) is a peculiar brand of football - the ball is oval but is bounced like a basketball (I will let one of my fav players, David Wojcinski, demonstrate how it's done); hand passes are done by a sort of punching motion; the players wear sleeveless shirts, there are 4 goal-posts at each end, etc - but if you happen to live in Australia and in particular, in Melbourne, then Aussie Rules is pretty much the only game in town.  In Melbourne, 'footy' is also a tribal thing - of the 17 teams in the national competition, 10 are based in or near Melbourne - and one of the first questions you can expect from a Melbournite is "who do you  barrack for?" It's a key question and don't be misled by the casual way it will be asked - your response is of great importance and will be quietly noted.  In fact, for a Melbourne dad, finding out your son is gay would be treated with a shrug - but finding out he has switched allegiances to a different football team would be shattering.

Of the many footy teams of Melbourne, one team stands alone as being singularly the most loved and most despised: the Collingwood Magpies.  The 'Pies' have the largest supporter base of all the teams, they tend to make the most noise at and away from games and are generally pretty feral.   For the purposes of this story the other key thing for you to know about the Pies is that they're my wife's team - and she is very much in the mold of the typical Pies supporter (except maybe the bit about them being feral  - she might read this - shhhh :) )

God takes a mighty pack mark
My chosen team is the Geelong Cats.  The Cats have enjoyed a lot of success over the past 5 years, finishing around the top of the competition each year and winning the premiership in 3 of them.

Supporters of other teams, on hearing your barrack for the Cats, will inevitably enquire as to how long you have supported them - the unspoken accusation being that you might be that worst of all supporters - someone that only supports your team when they're winning.  For the record, I got behind the Cats in the early 90s, when I was entranced by a aging, balding player named Gary Ablett - a goal-kicking and marking freak, who the fans simply called 'God'.

All Blacks haka
Quick digression: I should mention that I am a late-comer to Aussie Rules as, coming from New Zealand, where the state religion is rugby, I grew up loving our national team, the All-Blacks - famous for their pregame haka - a war dance traditionally done by the Maoris prior to inter-tribal skirmishes to scare the bejesus out of the other side.   (For a great haka moment, do yourself a favour and watch this 3.5 minutes of sporting electricity as the Wales rugby team provide the best ever response to a haka.)

So anyway, around this time last year Geelong met Collingwood in the semi-final.  Up to that point in the season both teams had been tracking well and it was expected to be a tight match with the Pies having the advantage.   My wife and I plus other family members gathered in our lounge to enjoy the spectacle.

Well, the Pies absolutely walloped the Cats.  It was a total hiding. A flogging.   I was shell-shocked and slunk away with my tail between my legs as my wife's roars of delight filled the house.

Melbourne Show
A week later Collingwood met the St Kilda Saints in the Grand Final.  My pain from the drubbing was still fresh, so, rather than watch our conqueror again and needing a plausible excuse to miss the game, I took the kids to the Melbourne Show - the annual agricultural event, with carnival rides, wood chopping and more types of dog, cat, cow, sheep, fowl, etc than you can poke a cattle prod at.    It was a fun, full afternoon and I was blissfully unaware of the football game being played about a mile away.

As history now shows, the Grand Final of 2010 was a classic - a hard fought, bruising encounter that ended in draw. Now while other football codes would choose to resolve a draw by playing extra time, having a 'shoot out' or some such, another peculiarity of aussie rules is that a drawn Grand Final is replayed the following week ie. My cunning plan of attending the Show to avoid having to watch the Pies in the final was foiled!

And now we come to how I got back into hiking.  I had bought a book on short walks near Melbourne a month or so earlier, but to this point had done nothing about it.  Now needing inspiration to avoid the final replay, I retrieved the book from under a pile of unpaid bills, flicked through it and settled on a nice-sounding walk at Lake Eildon, a couple of hours drive away - perfect!

I headed off the next Saturday on what was to be the first step of my rediscovery of the wilderness and the spirit of adventure.

= = = =

Over the past 12 months my day walks turned into over-nighters, then into multi-day hikes, culminating in an amazing 5-day winter snow-shoeing trek in the Victorian high country.  My gear list has changed in line with the increasing challenges and the lessons along the way, including the 'enlightenment' of the light weight philosophy.  I have also discovered the satisfaction of making my own gear, starting with a tarptent, then a tyvek bivvy, a floorless pyramid tent, a synthetic quilt and other bits and pieces.  I am also fitter, lighter and generally feel great.  A sedentary outlook has been replaced with a forward-looking, adventure-seeking attitude that brought positive impacts for me, my family, even my work.  As an added bonus, I have discovered a vast community of people who share this passion for the outdoors.  It is not an understatement to say that for me getting back into hiking has been life-changing. Really.

And to think I owe it all to Collingwood.


  1. "Good old Collingwood forever"

  2. So what did you do on GF day this year?

  3. Ifoletta - This year?  I stayed at home and watched the Cats wrestle with and eventually overcome the Pies in one of the great GFs. No hiking and no Melb Show for the GF weekend this year.  :)

  4. Great story! I have a similar history with the outdoors. After I got back into kayaking, hiking, and backpacking, my life was also revitalized.

  5. Hey Andrew,
    Great blog.
    I also haven't really done any serious bushwalking since the arrival of children, 13+ years ago. You've inspired me.
    Chris Klep

  6. Hi Chris
    Thanks.  I guess you could take the kids walking with you - but you better get in quick before they develop teenage parent-itis.  
    PS. Missed you at Jerry's 70th last weekend.

  7. Thanks, Philip.  Great to hear there are others who are enjoying the same resurgence!   I have been enjoying your articles too. 

  8. Hope you got some hiking in last Friday night!
    I have the 'pies (as well as FC Barcelona) to thank for motivating this 50 year old body to get out on the field every week and kick the ball around.

  9. Hi Icemel


    Actually, I love to be out in the wilderness, for sure, but I wouldn't have missed that game - it was a beauty!


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