A FatRat Abroad

Not all those who wander are lost...

Home… Again.

And so ends another journey. My stint in the mountains came to an end a couple of days ago, and Skiworld sent me and five others home on a lovely 18-hour coach ride… It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, actually, although it certainly felt like 18 hours by the end of it. We drove all the way from La Plagne high in the French Alps, up through the middle of France, past Paris at some point (in the middle of the night so I didn’t see it) and all the way to Calais. From there, it was a simple case of jumping on the 4am ferry across the channel, and a morning drive up to London where we were all dropped off.

What better way to say hello to England than with a dirty (big) fryup at Wetherspoons? My little group of newly-made friends were all very sad to have left a lot of their friends behind. I was lucky to have gotten the job at all for just the last month of the season, and I really enjoyed it for what it was but these guys had been there from the beginning back in December. They had lived and worked with the same people for the duration of the season so emotions were running high. I never really clicked with anyone as well as I did in New Zealand, but that was to be expected, I suppose, arriving so late the way I did. Not that it stopped me from enjoying the mountains, skiing whenever I could and generally making the most of my time there. I am considering doing another season properly next year, depending on where I end up.

I accidentally slept for 17 hours last night, and missed almost the entire day. At least I made up for the mostly-sleepless coach drive! It is strange to be home again, but I’m not giving it much thought. My time now is devoted to getting my novel tidied up and ready for publication. A friend of mine is reading it with the hope of being inspired enough to draw me a front cover, my grandma is reading it because she’s my grandma and she simply had to, and I am busy looking into ways of turning something I’ve poured countless number of hours into already, into an actual book… very exciting! I’ve given myself a release date which I reckon I can hit. After thumbing through my journal, I found a page where I had written the following: “Had some cool ideas for a story lately and have been working on it over the last few days. For the record, today was the day I came up with “The Toilet.” Right now I think the story has some potential…” Ten months later, here I sit with a completed first-draft on my hands. I’m aiming for the 12th June to publish it – exactly 1 year to the day after I created the Word file on my computer and wrote my first sentence.

I don’t know where I’m going to go next. But summer is approaching, and even though English summers are notoriously fickle, sometimes refusing to even show up at all, I’ve got a few ideas of what to do during it… Come back later to find out about that. In the meantime, its farewell. I’m finally home… again. Blimey.

La Plagne 1800, on the day I left. Not much snow left!

La Plagne 1800, on the day I left. Not much snow left!

I just wrote ‘THE END’

I have finished the first draft of my very first novel. What an amazing feeling! Now begins the editing process… I’ve already gone back and taken a glance at some of the early chapters to see what I can tidy up and… good grief who wrote that crap? I love everything that happens in the second two thirds of the story….but the beginning seems like it was written by somebody completely different. Argh!

My time on the road draws to a close (again) and I am glad I have managed to hit this glorious milestone before my travelling is over. Travelling on a journey is a key theme in my story and writing it whilst on my own epic adventure has been hugely rewarding and enriching to my own experiences. If you are interested in reading it, feel free to drop me a message (click ‘Ask’ up above), and give me your email address. I’ll send you a message when it’s done and available! (with a link to the Amazon page :P)

Chalet Job Musings

Cripes, transfer day is long and gruelling. My job here for the past 2 weeks has basically been a slightly glorified pot washer. I occasionally get to talk to guests and stir a sauce or help serve the dishes at mealtimes, but I have spent most of my time hunched over the sink.

But this week should be different. We’ve had a switch of team leaders, and now its chef Mike, his buddy Jack acting as ‘head host’ and me in my actual role of ‘Chalet Host Assistant.’ I’ve been awake since 4.30am today and have only just finished (its now 10oclock at night). All the old guests left and the new ones arrived throughout the day. In between, we had to reset everything and make it seem as though there had never been anyone here: washing toilets, scrubbing baths, changing the beds, sweeping the floors, changing the towels, hoovering, hoovering, hoovering, and some more hoovering. And we had to serve dinner and make afternoon tea, like any other day.

Absolutely knackered! But I did get to talk to guests and let them know that I’m not a mindless zombie whose only talent is picking burnt potatoes out of pans, but an actual human being. I’m exaggerating of course… but at least this week, with me and Jack sharing more of the ‘chalet host’ jobs, I should be able to have a slightly more varied week with a few more responsibilities. I’m very late to this season, having been here for just 2 weeks – long enough to get to grips with all the basics of running a chalet – and this is the half way point. I’ll be home again before I know it. After being away for an entire year, 2 weeks feels like practically nothing.

A big statue of a dog on top of a mountain. This was near Courcheval in the French Alps.

A big statue of a dog on top of a mountain. This was near Courcheval in the French Alps.

Me and the little bro. Not seen him in over a year!

Me and the little bro. Not seen him in over a year!

Courchevel Airport in the French Alps. It was seen in the James Bond movie ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and is ranked the 7th Most Dangerous Airport in the world, according to Wikipedia…

Courchevel Airport in the French Alps. It was seen in the James Bond movie ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ and is ranked the 7th Most Dangerous Airport in the world, according to Wikipedia…

First day off!

My day started rather well when my supervisor James met me first thing to give me my lift pass and ski hire – one of the perks of being a seasonaire working in a ski resort. After getting my boots fitted, I realised James had in fact buggered off up the mountain with my pass still in his pocket. Luckily, he was on a gondola lift when I called so he simply came back down. After a short bus ride full of schoolkids that seemed to appear out of nowhere, I met him again and was free to hit the mountain. I immediately made for Les Arcs to meet my mates in the area we had all skied a few days before. I read the piste map and plotted a route along a blue run that led to the Vanoise Express, a big cable car in the shape of a giant handbag that connects La Plagne to Les Arcs over a gaping valley. Blue runs are usually nice gentle slopes, but this was more like a flat road, and I had to pole it for most of the way – knackering!

I eventually made it over to Les Arcs and met up with my mates. Sam, who has been here for several months now, asked me how I planned to get back to La Plagne, and I answered confidently “I’ll just get the bus later.” The group of us did a bunch of runs, including a few goes in the snowpark. I watched some pros clearing 10 foot high ramps and halfpipes, while doing 360 spins and tricks, and some others practiced backflips into a huge blow-up pillow. I then proceeded to do a tiny starjump over the smallest ramp I could find. By this point, the time was approaching 5oclock, and Sam asked me what time my bus would be leaving.

I abruptly realised where I was. There is no bus that goes from Les Arcs to La Plagne.

Remembering this fact, I said a hasty goodbye to my mates and flew off in the hope of catching the handbag back across the valley… it had closed a good 40 minutes ago. I was stranded on the mountain, in a completely different resort, and I had work the next day.

So, deep breath… I shot down the mountain and made it back to 1800 Les Arcs, caught a bus down to 1600 and the ‘Funiculare’, which is a tram that ferries people up and down the mountain. I arrived just in time to catch it, and made it down to Bourg St Maurice, where I had to wait an hour and catch the last train of the day to Aime La Plagne, still 20kms away from where I needed to be. I met Tess and Mark wandering around outside the train station, two other English seasonaires who had somehow managed to strand themselves as well, and who happened to work in the same village as me. What were the chances? We walked for a while carrying our skis, poles, and stopped by a sign for La Plagne in the dark, and stuck out our thumbs. A small car pulled up. The driver turned out to be a French firefighter woman who kindly offered to give us a ride to 1800 La Plagne despite the fact she was already late for work and squeezing all 4 of us along with our ski equipment took about 10 minutes of Tetris-like manouvers to get everything in. She dropped us off at the village, I said farewell to my 2 random new friends and I made it back to my dorm at 9pm, some four hours after the Vanoise Express had closed and I realised I was stranded on the wrong side of a mountain.

All in all, a good first day off!

La Plagne 1800, my home for the next month.

La Plagne 1800, my home for the next month.

Adventure in the Alps

I am in the French Alps! After a rather brief stop at home in England to say hello to friends and family that I’ve not seen in over a year, my itchy feet have brought me to the mountain resort of La Plagne, where I have managed to get myself a job in a chalet, which will allow me to stay until the end of the season. Here’s a rundown of how the last two days have gone.

Friday 21st – Saturday 22nd March 2014

Today I have travelled from England to the French Alps via a night time Eurostar train. It was very surreal experience getting on a train in London, then getting off 8 hours later in the French Alps. Me and a few mates arrived in Les Arcs after barely any sleep and an uncomfortable ride but we have made the absolute most of our first day here.

The Les Arcs mountain pistes are mostly blue and red runs (easy and medium skill level) but because of the overdose of warm weather and sunshine they have had recently, the snow conditions were not ideal. Patches of ice and hard snow dotted with brown dirt where the grass below has been uncovered was a common sight. That was until about midday, when a snowcloud arrived, and began pummelling the mountainside with a huge snow fall. We skiers and snowboarders tend to refer to this as a ‘dump’. It was a glorious dump. And it’s still going on. We couldn’t have timed our arrival more perfectly, because for the next week or so at least, we’ll have awesome fresh powdery snow to play on.

Sunday 23rd March

We woke up in time to catch the first lift p the pistes today, and spent a full day on the mountain. Since this is the first time I’ve been skiing for over 6 years, I felt very rusty, but as the day went on, I’ve felt more and more at ease. Skiing is like riding a bike, apparently. You just don’t forget.

My friends are all snowboarders, making me the black sheep of the group. It’s the first time I have ever been on a ski trip with friends instead of family, and it is awesome. I’m pretty impressed with how good they all are, considering they have only started learning within the last few years. I was lucky enough to have been skiing since I was five, since my family would go on annual trips to places like Selva val Gardena in Italy. Perhaps that is where my love of the mountains stems from, because there is just something about being in the presence of a snowy peak that makes me feel happy.

Sadly, I had to cut my holiday short in order to start my new job, but we ended the night in true ‘seasonaire’ style with a few drinks in the apartment and a local bar called BKM, who happen to have the biggest burger I have ever seen on their menu. It’s called The Boss, and my mate Sam who is currently living here too sketched this completely non-exaggerating picture of the burger on their sandwich board. It’s a definite contender for ‘best burger ever,’ and would definitely give the Fergburger in Queenstown a run for its money…

Monday 24th March

I am now in La Plagne, where I will be working for the next month or so. I caught a free shuttle over here this morning, and got a ride with another Skiworld seasonaire up the mountain road which happens to have 21 hairpin bends.

After a brief greeting with my co-workers and my boss, I’ve got the rest of the day to hang out and enjoy the mountain until starting my first shift this evening. The snow is still falling, setting the pistes up nicely for when I get my ski lift pass tomorrow.

Heading to the Alps!

Well, that didn’t take long, did it? I’ve been home in England for less than 2 weeks, and I’ve managed to wrangle myself a job at a chalet in the French Alps. I’ll be helping out as an assistant in the resort of La Plagne, until the end of the season (roughly 4 weeks or so).

This trip was originally intended as a mates holiday, but I always intended to try to get work while I was there in order to stay for longer. Now, after being ridiculously fortunate enough to get a job before I’ve even arrived, I will be cutting my holiday short in order to start working almost straight away.

Anyway, my train (we’re going on the Eurostar) leaves in a few hours and I haven’t even finished packing! See you on the mountains.

Reflecting on the Best Year Ever

Well, it’s finally over. Twelve months ago to the day I set out on this adventure, and now it has reached its end. I always suspected this year would fly by, but now that I’m just hours away from boarding the plane that will take me home, I can’t quite believe it’s already time to go. When I was planning this trip back in England, I learnt that all the clichés are true. Well, we all know what they say about time when you’re having fun. This year has been a dream.

It turns out New Zealand is the perfect place to push your boundaries, and try out all those things you always wanted to do, or never wanted to do, but should do them anyway. During my time there, I started making a list of all the things I had done for the first time. I managed to fill up 4 pages, and I purposely wrote with small handwriting… To name but a few, I have now done a bungee jump, a skydive, I’ve milked cows, I conquered mountains, learnt how to surf, went white water rafting, I hunted and killed a goat for my dinner, I worked with real sheep dogs, I lived for 3 months without spending a penny, I hiked over a glacier, saw a real volcano, I wrote a poem for a girl, drove a tractor, ate a turnip straight from the ground, hitch hiked, I worked behind a bar, I visited almost every single Lord of the Rings film location and I have almost finished writing my very first novel. And all of that only covers one of the four pages.

Travelling and working and living in another country has opened my eyes to a way of life that I never realised was within my grasp. I feel utterly privileged to be alive in such a time when I can do this. Now, as my year long adventure comes to a close, I find myself looking to the future with a revitalised confidence and excitement for what might come next. I have no idea what I will do when I get home, and that excites me. I used to be scared of the unknown, but I believe I have come to embrace it…at least a little. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that “I don’t know” is a perfectly good answer to any question, no matter how big or small – the thrill comes in trying to find out.

‘Life is short, and the world is big.’ Aron Ralston wrote that in his autobiographical 127 Hours, after going through an almost unimaginable trauma and living to tell about it. When I first saw the movie, I felt so inspired and yearned to feel the appreciation for life that such an experience brought to him. I wasn’t envious of the way he gained that new perspective, but I was envious of the result. I didn’t lose my arm, or anything of the sort, but being away from home and living a completely different lifestyle has made me see the world very differently, and all for the better. It’s not something I can easily explain with words, the same way simply watching Aron’s story cannot imprint the wisdom on the viewer. It has to be experienced for yourself.

This blog has been a big part of my journey over the last 12 months, and I want to show my appreciation for my dedicated collection of readers who have followed me from their own little corner of the world. Your comments and messages have meant more to me than you can imagine – my friends, my family, my tumblr followers – thank you, each and every one of you.

And so, I’m coming home. This will be the last post for a while. I have a ski trip planned at the end of March and will be sure to post some more photos of mountains since I can’t get enough of the things, but other than that the blog will be quiet for a while. This travelling business has certainly scratched an itch, but I fear it will need to be scratched again before long…

The question is where should I go next? Excitingly, I don’t know.

The Avenue of Giants. The scenic 101 route in California, home of the Redwoods. 

The Avenue of Giants. The scenic 101 route in California, home of the Redwoods. 

The Golden Gate Bridge, silhouetted against a sunset sky.

The Golden Gate Bridge, silhouetted against a sunset sky.

America Roadtrip! – Days Nine, Ten and Eleven

After dropping my friends Steve and Jenny at the airport (to catch their flight back to Florida), I drove from LA to San Jose to visit some long-lost relatives. The 6 hour drive turned into an 8 hour one when my car suffered a flat tire while I was flying up the 101 Highway just outside Santa Maria. Fortunately, I managed to get off the main road and to a side street. Even more fortunately, I had bought a prepaid phone the day before, and had a way to call my car rental company for a mechanic. While I waited, a kind bloke saw me stranded, and offered to help fix my tire, but since it’s a rental car, I didn’t want to risk voiding my insurance by not using their proper mechanic, so I just had to sit in the car reading Feast for Crows, waiting. A couple of hours and trip to a nearby mechanic to buy a new tire later, I was back on the road.

San Jose is home to Silicon Valley, and it’s no wonder my long lost grandma’s-cousin’s-son lives there with his family, as he is the head of a big technology company. He kindly hosted my very first website some ten years ago, which got me on my way to becoming a web-designer, and it was awesome to finally meet in the flesh, after countless hours chatting through technical problems over MSN and Skype back in the day… We had a day out exploring San Francisco bay area. The Presidio is home to Lucasarts and ILM, and we wandered around their stunning garden grounds. There’s apparently a statue of Yoda there somewhere, but we couldn’t find him. Steve pointed out all the many HQs of big companies, such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Adobe’s big skyscrapers in downtown San Jose. We passed by Apple’s main building too, which looked suitably rubbish.

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The following day, I drove up to Berkeley to visit another online friend. Since writing my novel over the past year, I have become a member of an online community of writers who read each other’s work and offer helpful critiques to one another so we can improve. Leah and I found each other’s advice very helpful, and agreed to exchange novels in full – I became her first ‘beta-reader’ and read the entirety of her novel over a period of a couple of months late last year. It was lovely to meet up and discuss our progress and talk about generally geeky topics involving writing and whatnot. We also walked her dog in the nearby hills and saw a magnificent sunset view of the bay area, looking towards the Golden Gate Bridge, way off in the distance.

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Today, I drove even farther north up the 101 Highway to see the Avenue of Giants. It’s a 31 mile detour that weaves its way alongside the highway in amongst the Redwood forest. The trees here grow extremely tall and straight, and make for an amazing scenic drive. The rain hasn’t stopped pouring all day, but I was happy to cruise through the trees with the road mostly to myself, enjoying the feeling of being an ant. Now I’m stopped at a motel for a couple of nights with the single goal of trying to finish my novel… I’ve got the inspiring scenery, the time, and a Chinese takeaway just around the corner. What more could a wannabe writer need?