Whether being interrogated by army officers or trying to stay above water in a flash flood, beauty, surprise, adventure as well as peace, inspiration and deep gratitude are just around the next corner for David and Pennie Briese. Their Photodiary of a Nomad website share many of their awe inspiring adventures and I am thankful for their stories from afar as they share captivating tales in the interview below.
You may also enjoy their incredible and inspiring photo’s that take you away to lands afar on their website but be sure to consume the stories of freedom from the daily grind, achievement of personal goals and fullfilment of dreams as you peruse the pages of the Photodiary of a Nomad. Like many great goals, David and Pennie’s journey do not come without danger and sacrifice.
How and where were you introduced to the outdoors?
As students we did a bit of bushwalking and cross-country skiing in the Australian Alps and, as a family when our daughter was young, we regularly did day walks into the bush around our home town of Canberra or elsewhere when on holidays. Our epiphany came when we took early retirement six years ago, walked for 3 months down part of the Australian coastline and liked it so much that we haven’t stopped heading off on long walking adventures since.
What has been your favourite walk?
This is difficult as every walk has its own charms and experiences (good and bad). We’ve listened to advice and followed this to New Zealand, the South American Andes, the Himalayas and different parts of our own vast continent, Australia. In the end our favourite walk is the next one!
Please share an outdoor story related to one of the above areas.
One memorable trek we did was to Green Lake in North Sikkim a pristine wilderness area, following a valley and glacier up almost to the base of Kangchenjunga. It sticks in our minds for one particular reason:- not for the fact that we seven trekkers set out with 30 plus porters and guides (because that is how many the local village chiefs say will be needed and if you don’t like it you don’t walk), not the trip up from the village to the start with everyone piled into and onto a massive old Tata truck, with the little sikkimese driver yanking the steering wheel to round the hairpin corners high above the mountain rivers I was looking down on out of the window, not the two Indian army officers that accompanied us as well because we were so close to the Chinese border, nor the mysterious trip with them in an army truck back to their base after the walk because they wanted to download my photos of this strategic area, not even the wonderful mountain and valley scenery of this wild and remote part of the world. It was simply the fact that the seven of us who reached Green Lake were the only ones to do so that season, while during the same time over 500 people had reached the summit of Everest. That really put everything into perspective!
Have you ever experienced a wilderness medical emergency or been lost in the wilderness? If so please describe this adventure and any lessons learned.
On our walking trips, we have never been lost. I like to think that I have a good sense of space and direction and always carry a GPS in unfamiliar terrain. A couple of times this has led us out of some thick bush and back on route, but usually we use it to plot our track. Mind you, batteries can die, so always back up the GPS with a paper map and compass.
When in New Zealand, a couple of years back, we were caught out in the open on the Rees-Dart Track on a day when 300mm of rain fell – stuck between two impassable side-streams watching big tree trunks and debris speeding down the raging Dart River. Even goretex could not keep the rain out. Eventually, after 12 hours and 30 km wading and sloshing we ended up back at the hut that we had set out from – my how that fireplace looked good! It was the “hairiest” day we have experienced on any walk. A poor German hiker was swept away that day and drowned in the next valley, so we left with a much greater respect for the power of nature.
Can you share any unique encounters with wild animals?
On our first long-distance walk down the South Coast of New South Wales a few years back, we visited a mountain sacred to the local aboriginal people and were told that people have an animal totem, but that the animal chooses you. Barely a day went by during that 630km walk when we did not see at least one magnificent sea-eagle fly close overhead. We decided that the eagle had chosen us and the fly-bys were to check out how we were going on the walk (the mind does start to wander on these long walks!).
If not previously mentioned, have you ever completed a thru-hike or multi-day backpacking trip and what nuggets of wisdom did you glean from it?
We did the South Coast Walk mentioned above shortly after we had retired from full-time work. I’ll plagiarise the nugget of wisdom gleaned from my webpage description of this walk.
“Our trek was to put some distance between our lives in the workforce and our future lives; a time to walk, a time to reflect and a time to rejuvenate. I think that it has largely succeeded in this goal. There is no better place to reflect than while walking silently down a long isolated stretch of beach, and we passed many of these. Some of the cynicism built up during 30 years of work has been shed and we certainly have no fears for what life now holds. The Great South Coast Walk taught us that, to feel fulfilled, you need to constantly provide yourself with a challenge, of which an adventure such as this is only one form.”
Since then our guiding philosophy is that on any long-distance walk there are always two parts, the physical journey and the emotional/spiritual journey, and both need to be explored and enjoyed to the fullest.
What are your favourite outdoor websites?
The web is our first port of call for information on a new trek that we might be thinking about. For a world-wide database on potential tracks to do, I always check out Best Hike.com. For the sheer volume of track descriptions, technical information, photos, community fora etc about hiking in a particularly region, and all in a well-designed website, you can’t go past New Zealand Tramper. At the local end of the scale, I really like the Canberra Bushwalking Club website, but this is a bit of a vanity – I designed it. I probably should put in a plug for our own website Photodiary of a Nomad. This started as a simple way to let family and friends know where we were when we set off on our walking adventures, but somehow took on a life of its own when other people started taking an interest in our ramblings (both ambulatory and verbal).
What is your favourite outdoor hiking gear store?
Paddy Pallin and Mountain Designs are two iconic Australian companies that carry their own ranges of outdoor gear .Their stores are just across the road from one another in my home town – if I can’t find what I want from one it is almost always available at the other.
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Photodiary of a Nomad: www.gang-gang.net/nomad