Saturday, September 5, 2009
I'd like to thank Grant Knisely for the short prayer he said for me. And as a side note I have to give him, Scott Woodward, and David Flood mad props for all the work they did photoing and filming the Chain Reaction Project girls. They had some long, arduous days stuck on scooters, in the sag wagon, and waiting by the side of the road. Good on you, guys!
There weren't any crashes in the beginning, and we hit downhill right away. I was glad for the tip of shoving a newspaper down my jersey to keep the crisp morning wind out. I discarded it a while later. Riders were taking some risks on the downhills, myself included. One guy ended up with a massive laceration on his elbow and messed up his leg beyond what the hospital in Dili could diagnose.
I was fast and steady all day. I felt really strong on the hills and I just flew down the hills. I caught and passed the Kiwis and they latched on the back. They could barely draft me and I lost them after a while. Fraser and I had stocked up on mentos and I threw some handfulls to the kids as I passed. Fraser threw a huge handful which enticed even the kids from the opposite side of the road to throw all caution to the wind and charge across the road - much to the chagrin of the two riders on Fraser's tail. Everyone was alright, but Fraser was verbally abused later on that day - at least he already knew the guy.
I could almost smell the end and I could even see the Jesus statue off in the distance. I was coming home to Jesus! I tried to catch another group with the help of another rider, but he blew up and I just didn't have it in me to catch them alone. So I dragged him in for about 20km against the strong coastal wind on the condition that he not blow by me at the finish. He did not, but another group did. The finish line was elusive, and I carefully picked my moment to strike back. Only one of them managed to slip by me. I finished 66th. The first of my team and the first "Singaporean".
The riders were led to the Aussie base just behind the Palacio Royal for showers, drinks, and snacks. A hot shower in the men's barracks never felt so good!
The end was a little anticlimactic, but we had a great meal before packing up for our flights home on Saturday. Thus ended my eight days in Timor-Leste. I even came home with an official jersey from one of the Timor-Leste teams.
What a privilege to participate in such an amazing event. I can't wait for next year!
My biggest problem surfaced right after the gear trucks had left. My food mix tasted a little funny again, just like yesterday, so I shook it and popped the top again... it fully exploded like I'd dropped a mentos into diet coke. I now had a bacterial broth of fermented food, with my mix well on it's way up the hill. BLAST!
Fraser calmed me down and sent me to make peanutbutter sandwiches. I made four single-slice sammys and grabbed a baked potato. Fortunately I'd eaten a decent breakfast already.
And they're off... the five minutes of flat were glorious, but I distinctly remember several riders rolling over a rather thorny palm frond. About an hour later I would remember that frond as I pulled a thorn out of my tire. I've really gotta get faster at changing tubes... 15 minutes later... I started regaining my place and I felt pretty good.
We had intermittent respite from the uphill in the form of quick little downhills. I was particularly aggressive on one and the sharp right at the bottom had me worried - that is until I saw the gravel. That worried me more. I managed to leap from my bike as the rear wheel skidded out from under me. My knee took the blow (and a week later it's still bruised and ugly) and I rolled. I was "fine", but it took me a minute to figure out how to get my chain back around the pedal and onto the front crank again.
Back on the road, things were pretty uneventful, saving the gawks and stairs of villagers whenever they noticed the blood flowing down my shin. I started taking a few videos to document what I began to believe might be the end of the race for me. More than once I contemplated giving up, and that's against just about every fiber in me.
I made it to the one and only food zone at 44km with about two swallows of water left in my bottle - camelback on empty. The water and food were rationed to 1.8 liters and 2 small bananas. Hindsight tells me I should have eaten also the black mushy one I found on the ground before I left.
Hydration or DEhydration was no longer a worry, but the food situation was dire. I was soon out of bananas, PB sammys, and the baked potato was long gone. I actually started scanning the road for a dropped gel and unlike previous days, none of the villages had any food carts out.
At long last there was not one, but two carts and I bought the best biscuits I've eaten in my entire life. Coconut Butter! I ripped the package open with my teeth, but I couldn't get them out so I half chewed, half crushed them into my mouth, crumbs sticking to my face and neck, groaning with greedy satisfaction. The kids on the side of the road gave me a few strange looks, but I cared not. Shortly I came across the best news I'd had all day. Spraypainted in the road "1km to summit".
With a great surge I got out of my lowest gear and was actually near my highest as I hit the crest and flew into the 6km of steep, winding downhill. Braking and weaving around killer potholes I escaped unscathed, arriving at the finish in 5 hours and 22 minutes. First place? 2:47. I was 133rd.
At the med tent I dug a rock out of my knee. It wasn't huge, but just about any rock lodged between your kneecap and skin is rather uncomfortable. I was glad to hear I didn't have gangrene (yet) and amputation wasn't necessary.
Now, let me tell you a little about this amazing valley. It is completely surrounded by beautiful mountains and right in the middle is a hill with a beautiful garden and buildings on it. I managed to skitch a ride along side a UN vehicle most of the way up and I was treated to some amazing views, a warmish shower, and a massive pasta, spam & baked beans feast.
At the daily awards ceremony we learned that our encampment, just a few years prior, had been the headquarters of a rebel resistance. That would explain the significant increase in Local & UN police as well as Aussie Military. I decided to celebrate with an ice-cold Tiger beer. How is it that they can keep the beer so cold, but there wasn't any cold drinking water? Hmm.
The cold night air was very refreshing and I slept like a baby.
The morning of day three started off fairly cool and it looked to be a good day. I wasn't too tired, considering my lack of sleep due to the DJ booth fiasco. I placed myself amongst the front 75 riders or so and I found the Kiwis. Have I mentioned them yet? They were three guys I'd met and ridden with a little on days 1 & 2. Baron, Mario, and Steven.
We started off uphill but there was a rough downhill right away. It was plenty wide - fit 10 riders abreast - and it had to be as we had no chance to spread out. All of a sudden I saw a major endo and a rider superman off the front of his bike into a cloud of bike, human, rock, and dust. No one had stopped so I did. He was East Tomorese so I knew there was little hope of communicating with him. I grabbed his arms and dragged him to the side. Then I went back for the bike. Mind you, all the while, 100 bikes are flying by and one guy even had the gall to yell at me for being in his way. Crash man started shouting "ambulancia, ambulancia" and in case you didn't figure that one out, he wanted an ambulance. I didn't see too much damage, but he was bleeding and he had managed to crush one of his bar-ends in the crash. That takes some doing.
Of course the phone I had been issued by the organizers didn't work. I got something to the effect of "you call cannot be completed as dialed..." but I didn't bother to put Crashman on the line to see if he understood. After a few minutes a motorcycle showed up and sent me on my way.
"So much for doing well today", I thought. I kicked it down and made the best time I could. It actually felt really good blowing by all the non-competitive riders at the back of the pack. I felt really fast, but I knew I had little chance of joining a fast pack.
I spent most of the day alone and off to the side I saw the Kiwis madly pumping up a tire after an apparent puncture. A little voice suggested I wait for them and ride in a pack, but I charged forward and continued to pass people. About an hour later, the Kiwis were on my tail with the tiniest Malaysian rider I've ever seen in tow. I jumped on the back and started taking turns at the front. I definitely need to start listening to the little voice more often.
Miss Malaysia wasn't contributing, but she held on for dear life. If my calculations were correct she was the 2nd female rider that day. I, on the other hand, struggled. Just when I was about to fall off the back, however, Mario felt sick. Or was it the $20 I slipped him to fake it? The Kiwis slowed down and I recovered a bit. Steven and Baron were absolute beasts, taking long, fast turns at the front and dragging the rest of us. My only saving grace was that I had a gel and some pure water in a bottle to share with Mario.
With about five km left to go I hit the wall, but the gents proved to be gentlemen indeed and they slowed the pace a little for me. Looking back, I think it may have been something to do with my food mix. It tasted a little funny all day... check out day 4 for more on that one.
We camped right on the beach and I staked out some prime real estate. The organizers had learned from the previous night's fiasco and made sure the film was nowhere near the riders encampment. A bath in the ocean, followed by dinner and I was just about finished.
But the best news of the day was that they knocked five minutes off my time for helping Crashman. I finished 67th for the day. Not too shabby.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Yesterday's top riders got pole position and I took my place wherever it seemed like 77th should go. I'd met some Kiwi's and we rode a similar pace so when I found them shortly after the start line we stuck together. I made a couple of attempts to organize a pack and made it clear that everyone drafting should darn well take their turn at the front. Just as I was about to suggest to some of the stronger guys that we leave the hangers-on behind we hit a fast downhill. I saw one guy loose his bottle on a pothole and a moment later I heard mine go too.
Had it been only water I'd have left it, but it was my food source. Having run out of food the previous day I wasn't about to go 2+ more hours with no food. I stopped and turned back to look for it. After several minutes of looking (and many riders passing) I was stopped on the edge of the road and suddenly a police vehicle came screaming up the hill against race traffic. I couldn't believe how fast it was going and the wrong way UP a hill where riders are sure to be flying down. The president had issued strict orders "ZERO traffic against the riders". Little did that driver know it was a career-ending move. He ended up getting reposted to some remote area. Oops.
Things took a positive turn, though, when a woman called from the bottom of the hill. She had a bottle in her hand and as I approached I recognized the thick brownish drink I was so worried about. A man had found it about 10 meters off in the bush and recovered it for me. I gave him a big hug & continued on.
We hit a big downhill on a VERY rocky... road? Well it was sort of a road, and it was definitely rocky. But nothing like the ice cream flavor. I realized a little too late that I had my front suspension locked out. I guess I wanted to feel every single bump and rock. A mistake I don't plan on making twice. I survived the downhill and made it onto some smooth grass and then... puncture. :( I'd put a 3/4 inch slice in my tire too. Garrgh.
With a crowd of village children watching I pulled the wheel off, disassembled the tire, put a tube patch on the inside of the tire, inserted a Singapore $2 note (for added strength), replaced the tube, and started pumping it up again. But somehow the tire bead came off and the tube burst out like some massive goiter. The valve broke off and I had to stab the tube to get it out & start over. Boo!
I finally got on my way and finished the day 133rd.
The village was lovely and lunch was pretty good. It had been a short ride so we had plenty of time to chill, repair, relax, and enjoy.
Each evening, the organizers set up a massive inflatable movie screen and showed the movie Balibo. It's the first-ever feature film about Timor-Leste and the Indonesian invasion. It was great timing as it's release came along with both the Tour de Timor and their 10-year anniversary. Everyone turned up to watch it! Unfortunately everyone didn't exactly want to go home afterward and who could blame them? This was a big deal and they wanted to party. Someone got hold of the DJ booth at 10:00pm and that's when Jesus got involved. His name is actually Sean, but he looks like Jesus.
To finally get everyone to go home (2 hours later), the UN police force had to start patrolling and the elected chief of the village got on the loudspeaker for a good hour telling them to go home. I wasn't the only one worried, but it all ended peacefully.
A short four-hour flight and we were in Timor-Leste with a VIP welcome. The four Blackhawk helicopters across the runway set the stage for what would be the most exposure I've ever had to United Nations and Australian Military forces. Though I must say I never felt any sense of danger.
The air was pretty thick with racers trying to get a feel for the level of competition. There were quite a few "finishers", but I was a "racer". I've done well in races in Singapore, but this was something altogether different. 450kms over 5 days with riders from all over the world.
The weather was hot and dry so I actually felt nice an comfortable coming from hot & humid Singapore. Advantage: Greg. But it was my first stage race. Advantage: everyone else who had done a stage race before.
Day one started with some pomp & circumstance at the royal palace followed by over 300 mountain bikes and riders lining up at the start line. The president himself did the countdown. Either my adrenaline slowed down my perception of time, or Mr. President counted back from 10 seconds very slowly.
And they're off! The Timor-Leste teams were given pole positions, but everyone was vying for position from the start. I decided to move out of the pack and take a short stint at the front. I surged about 20 meters ahead of the leader and enjoyed the view from the front. I'm glad I did it because we soon hit a hill and the leaders showed their true colors. Adios Amigos.
One rider broke his pelvis on the first downhill and I can see why. Steep hills, sharp curves, cliffs and incognito potholes make a recipe for injury. But we had incredible views of the coast for hours. Two more big hills and some vast, arid no-man's land followed. In the end I dragged a gal from the Malaysian team and a Timorese rider a few kms until gravity absolutely flung me downhill to the finish line.
We were greeted, as in every village, by hundreds of cheering villagers. After a quick swim, I had a massage and we set up camp for the night. It was a great first day.
Let's rewind a few weeks. Just off the jet-way into Changi Airport, arriving back from my amazing trip to Australia, I received an SMS from my good friend, Grant Knisely. (To whom I'm forever grateful for filming & editing my best job in the world application video). "Are you in Singapore?" said Grant's SMS. "Yes, why?" I reply. "Check your email." said Grant.
My email contained nothing more than a link to www.tourdetimor.com. Little bits of information jumped out at me. First annual, 450km mountain bike race, Timor-Leste, etc. Needless to say I was excited. Now Grant had told me about the race because he was hoping I'd be interested in helping shoot a documentary of the ladies from The Chain Reaction Project, but I thought it would be fun to ride. Fortunately for Grant, he got all the help he needed.
So my training began. 3 weeks to get race ready and I have to give major props to Fraser Morrison for the amazing training regimen.
Huge credit goes to Hup Leong Bicycle Shop for the demo bike on which I both trained and raced. Gilbert is the man! If you need anything bicycle, head down to Chinatown - at Pearl's Hill & Upper Cross St.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Below are the highlights, but please check out all the detail I couldn't be bothered to type out again here: www.queenslandholiday.com.au/
Day 1: skyrail cable car over rainforest & gorge, mountain biking, stay at Pepper's
Day 2: scuba diving off Port Douglas 3 dives, stay at Thala Beach Lodge
Day 3: Eco-tour of Thala Beach rainforest & plantation, crabbing & spear-fishing with aboriginal dudes, flying fox in Daintree Rainforest canopy, then we missed the croc-spotting tour. Stay at ferntree lodge
Day 4: helicopter from cape tribulation to Cairns, scuba diving, stay at Shangri-La
Day 5: helicopter from Cairns to Cobbold Gorge & gorge boat tour up close & personal with freshwater crocs, heli ride from there to The Undara Experience in the outback. Met by good ole country boy: über Aussie cowboy, very cool guy who runs the place. Had the coat of arms meal: kangaroo, emu, steak, croc, sausage, soup, salad, delicious! Sleep & tour of lava tubes in the AM
Day 6: lava tubes, heli ride over the outback to a beautiful waterfall & wicked gorge tour via helicopter-wow! Lunch at some ridiculously nice hotel, and transfer to Dunk Island via amphibious watercraft. Jet skiing & kayaking. Stay at Dunk Island Resort
Day 7: Luxury boat transfer back to mainland, whitewater rafting! Nearly killed myself falling out on a grade 4 rapid. Tour of Blue Sky Brewery in Cairns, stay at Gilligan's backpacker.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Being a bit of a slacker in my travel plans, I didn't research anything about where to stay in Kinabalu City, so when I arrived I just hit the airport's tour stand.
I was pleased to find out several of the peeps running the place are Christians. Despite my later realization that they make 20ringit (S$10) comission on hotel bookings, they were great. In fact they saved me 20ringit on a cab fare by taking me directly to the bus station. But not before taking me to their favorite restaurant for lunch. After hoppng into the car with three complete strangers I realized my mom definitely wouldn't approve.
I love that feeling: what in the world have I gotten myself into here? Is this really happening? It's so surreal and lately I've become rather accustomed to it. I wonder if that's a little closer to how God would have me live my life - completely at His mercy and trusting Him fully with complete control of my life.
Well I arrived safely at the bus to Kinabalu park. My favorite line that came from the bus jockey was in response to my inquiry as to how often the bus goes (yeah, I did very little research beforehand). He said "Full house, OK!"
I got shotgun in the 10 person van, and all seemed to be going well until we stopped at what I was positive was NOT Kinabalu Park. Turned out we were just picking up one passenger's wife and kids.. I love the way these things work when people aren't stuck in rigid "must do it this way" mindsets.
Arriving at the park I checked in and all was well with my reservation, the one thing I did plan. Next up: shower and dinner!
I sat down with 2 other travellers, sharing travel stories and excitement for the climb in the morning over a rather large buffet. Chris and Viv were fun.
In the morning we hooked up with Tom & Rachel and met Martyn. Let me digress for a moment and tell you that Martyn is a Scotsman if there ever was one. Picture William Wallace's red-haired friend in Braveheart, funny and hard as. I was glad to share a guide with him as we challenged each other to push it and go hard.
Speaking of the obligatory guides, if possible, make your reservation with some mates and share one. They don't really do much except report to someone if you get hurt and you need one to get past the 2 checkpoints on your way to the summit.
What else do you need? Winter hat, warm coat, an impermeable, light longsleeved shirt, tshirt, 2 pr smartwool socks, shorts, hiking pants, waterproof hiking boots. 2 pr underwear, long underwear, winter gloves-waterproof if possible, trekking poles, head lamp, sunglasses, sunscreen. If you can: flip flops, panadol, moleskin, band-aids. You might also want a small waist pack so you can summit with just a few little things whilst leaving non-essentials behind at Laban Rata, but I've gone way off course now.
Martyn and I reached Laban Rata in 3 hours and were pretty soaked and cold by then. I'd refused to put on my fleece as I didn't have much more than a worthless rain poncho to keep it dry. That's the unfortunate end of leaving winter stuff on another continent, lesson learned.
The afternoon and evening were spent warming up with tea, scrabble, cards, and great conversation. That's what you get at 3,300 meters.
2:00am wake up so we were early to bed. One poor bloke was altitude sick. Remedy: lots of water, paracetomol, and rest. We 6 were fine. 2:30 breakfast. If you want to move quickly to the summit, get out before the crowd as the trail is narrow and it only takes one to slow down 80 in single lane traffic. We were able to pass here and there and at the checkpoint Martyn & I were the 3rd & 4th climbers through. Passing #2 in short order we set our sights on first. As the air grew thin so did our chances. In the end, Barney prevailed and we settled in as the 2nd group to summit that day, after just 2 hours climb (Barney took 2.5!).
No complaints though as we had it all to ourselves for a while and took amazing photos of the mountain landscape as the sun rose.
There few things that have quickened my soul like reaching a summit and just absorbing as God paints an ever-evolving tapestry across the sky all the while revealing His earth below bit my bit. What a beautiful metaphor of His relationship with each of us. As we pursue Him with our all, He responds by slowly revealing Himself and His beauty to us. What an amazing God we have!
All good things must come to an end (else we wouldn't appreciate or recognize them when they come) and we had to make our way back down once again.
A phone call to mom at first sight of the cell tower, a stop for breakfast at Laban Rata, and down we came. This is where trekking poles are essential... If you value your knees!
7hours down hike and a lovely bus!
So, 5.5 hours up and 7 down... Did I mention the annual race? The record holder did it in 2hours, 37minutes - that's up AND back. 21km, and don't forget the nearly 2.5km up/down!
Needless to say I was WRECKED! Food, shower and back to KK City.
I was meant to take the 15ringit bus, but I stumbled upon a car hoping for 20ringit & a passenger heading back, plus he'd drop me right at my hostel. Thank you very much!
Not much exciting at the end... Massage, dinner, sleep, ill, rest, fly back to Singapore. What an amazing few days!
Next stop - the Best Holiday in the World in Tropical North Queensland courtesy of Toursim Queenslan!
Check out my facebook (gregreynen) for photos of Kinabalu
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
We were dropped at a picturesque high point and started another 2 hour journey - this one on foot – and we finally arrived at Batad. It's known to some as the 8th wonder of the world and, indeed, the 2000 year-old rice terraces are a sight to behold!
Old habits die hard and I felt compelled to count the levels. I counted over 130 strong losing them behind trees down the mountain. That’s absolutely amazing. Apparently what makes these rice terraces so unique is that their walls are made completely of stone with mud cement, rather then just a rock façade.
Our biggest day there began with a little hike up to the top of the terraces... 2hours later we reached the top. But what amazing views from there! Even in the middle of nowhere, prime realty comes with a price. Here the price is one heck of a climb every time you need to visit friends, family, or the village.
After some photo ops we hiked down the back of the mountain and around the side to even more breathtaking views as we headed down and followed the noise of a raging river.
It turned out the river wasn't raging nearly so much as the waterfall. Try as I might, there just wasn't any way to swim into the falls. It’s just as well, hindsight tells me it was a bad idea. But I did manage to scale the rock wall leading around & behind the falls. Now I've had some awesome showers in my life. I've even stood underneath a fire hose shower once. But this is something completely different! The icy drops of water bit into my skin and leeched my body heat so quickly that I had all I could do just to hang on to the wall after about a minute. Scaling slippery walls above sharp rocks lurking just beneath the water with ice-cold hands and bare feet, all the while shivering to keep warm is officially a bad idea. But I've never let that stop me before so why start now? We had a nice picnic and nap there by the waterfall before making our way back to the village. It was a big day so we finished with more naps and early sleeps!
The following day brought us sore legs and a 2-hour hike back out. Expecting to see our jeep transport at the top, we were all a little surprised to hear is wasn't coming. Doh! This was when I learned that empty jeeps don't handle landslides as well as laden jeeps. At least the 1km hike was downhill.
Just a short ride back to Benaue... Oh and another 8 hour ride back to Manila.
My utmost gratitude goes to Joyce Fong and her family for their hospitality and the use of their guest house for a lovely nap and HOT shower! It's the little things in life, really.
I'm glad to have met Jidesh, Junie, and Vicki on this trip. Joyce was a wonderful hostess and made the trip loads of fun. Muchas Danke Shein, Joyce!
If you want some photos - check out the Rice Terraces album on my Facebook
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Shocked at the Hilton Spa massage prices we made our way down to one outside, stopping on the way for some delicious Spanish cuisine. I rather enjoyed the massage, but Grant said he felt like he'd received some sort of corporal punishment. I was in a different room so I can neither confirm nor deny his claim, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt this time.
Dinner was an adventure as we narrowly avoided the S$120 lobster from a hole in the wall seafood place. And the tricycle driver just couldn't get it through his head that, YES, I DO want a nice lady, but that I'd prefer to meet her at church rather than wherever he wanted to take us. Needless to say we parted ways quickly.
The Gustavian bistro was our fare of choice and the dining was delish!
Tuesday morning brought us a bright, clear, sunny day. Perfect for a dive! At the dive shop next door we met Big D who sorted out all the details for out dives and after catching a few rays we set out. Dive number one took us down to a beautiful wall. It's amazing the way the ocean floor just disappears beneath you! We saw lots if corals and sponges and at one point, sitting at 60ft deep, we saw a large school of fish just chilling above us. We also came across the remnant of a wooden ship's bow that has become home to several schools of fish. They all seemed to have staked a claim to a different decaying plank or board. That made for a nice finish.
Our second dive brought us numerous sponges and some cool fish. While getting a closer look at a clown fish and it's anemone it decided I was a threat and started attacking my mask. Fearless little creatures, those clown fish... Funny too. OK, yeah, that was bad, but had to be done. We also saw some barracuda, a cuttlefish, and one friendly remora liked Grant and took to swimming all around him and his tank and managed to avoid his detection even after I pointed it out.
After our dives Big D reminisced about the diving less than 10 years ago when he'd frequently see whale sharks, there was beautiful coral right off the shore, and scads of fish. Sadly dynamite fishing, and continued over fishing, as well as pollution have had dramatic effects and it will take ages for nature to come back. And that process can only begin once we stop destroying God's beautiful creation.
Dinner brought Grant and I into Cebu City. We were unimpressed with the food near Mango Square, but I did meet numerous street kids all asking for money or food. The one first to find me was lucky as I cleaned out my wallet on him at Jollibee with fried chicken, rice, upsize, coke, and ice cream. But I don't think he shared. Anyway, he said thank you. Please don't give money to the kids. It only goes to the big boss. Buy them food instead!
With a little time to kill we hit another massage place and oh boy! One tenth the price and better quality. Nice!
We decide to hit club Vudu, but only after u was assured there wouldn't actually be any voodoo performed on the premises. It wasn't quite what I expected. Karaoke was the main draw and in the end Grant and I stayed true to whitey by performing Ice Ice Baby!
The morrow brought more lounging and the impending departure for Manila where Grant and I Parted ways.
Surviving “The Best Job in the World” Interview Process
Being selected as one of the 16 finalists for The Best Job in the World was quite an honor and an incredible experience. In fact life has been so crazy since then that the writing of this article may well be the first time I’ll be able to process the whole thing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
In the weeks leading up to my departure for the interview process on Hamilton Island I experienced more media than I thought I’d see in a lifetime. Apparently I had no idea what I was in for upon my arrival to the Great Barrier Reef! Meeting the other fifteen candidates from all over the world started us off on the right track. I’m glad to report, and much to the chagrin of the on-site media, there wasn’t any jostling for position or ill will amongst any of the sixteen of us. Bonds of friendship formed quickly and before long we were all quite comfortable with one another. Comfort in front of the plethora of cameras was a different story. Having what I judge to be the least amount of media exposure, I felt rather in over my head. Touching down on Hamilton Island with this elite group of candidates attracted media from all over the world. We were the last to disembark and we were met by what I called “a firing squad of cameras.” Unsure of their expectation a short rendition of the Can-can broke out and then we were off to collect our luggage and smile for more and, yes, even more cameras.
We were also greeted by several of the lovely Tourism Queensland (TQ) staff with whom we’d been in so frequent contact and putting faces to names was great. TQ staff proceeded to herd us onto a bus where the excitement continued to mount as we made out way to The Reef View Hotel which was to be our accommodation for the duration of the interview process.
The majority of us were on the same floor and I happened to room next to Ben, the guy who will shortly be assuming the role of Island Caretaker. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Ben right here at Changi Airport where I almost literally ran into him as we were both meandering about. He, however, had an entourage of BBC documentary-makers with him. I also met George at Changi, and I’m happy to say I became pretty good friends with the both of them during our short stay in paradise. But I digress.
Outside my room was a balcony with an amazing view and in the miniscule amount of free time we had, Ben and I would enjoy a bit of respite from cameras while watching the colony of squawking cockatiels.
Speaking of cockatiels, please heed the advice of The Reef View staff and be sure to close your balcony doors when you’re not around as they will ransack your room and even get into the mini bar – they know where it is! I know this for a fact as I was in the restroom when I heard strange noises from my room. I ran out with nothing more than a towel and had to whip it at them to get them to leave. It’s amazing how vulnerable one feels after one must remove one’s towel to chase away several large birds milling about one’s hotel room. But I’m getting way ahead of myself and must back up a little.
Before we were even allowed to check into our hotel, all sixteen of us were ushered into our debriefing/prep area for our first introduction to al the TQ staff and to hear our expectations. In true military style, we were given the entire schedule that seemed planned better than any black-ops mission I’ve ever heard of. The overarching theme of the debrief was “you’re being assessed”. This statement was repeated at the end of most details in our itinerary and by the end I was asking myself what in the world I had gotten myself into; and I’m pretty sure we all felt about the same.
Next up was a swimming test and I was surprised to learn a few of the candidates had only just learnt to swim in recent months. Having been arranged in alphabetical order by first name I was ninth for everything and this gave me plenty of time to get nervous. Why? I’m not really sure. I’m a certified lifeguard, open-water diver, triathlete, and former competitive swimmer. I guess it was the cameras. I was struggling to decide if I should go for some humor or just dive in and swim. Fortunately George did a massive belly flop, unintentionally, just before me and knowing I couldn’t top that I decided to just swim.
I realize, good readers, you may wish for continued elaboration on everything that happened, but as I’ve already exceeded my limit, I must be brief. The next day consisted of early morning debriefs, personality & IQ tests, and full-on itineraries from snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef to helicopter and sea plane transfers to sampling world-class cuisine in six-star restaurants, if there is such a thing, and a luxury cruise back to Hamilton. Follow all that up with media interviews, a random question about swine flu, blogging assessments, and dinner, and you’ve got day two in a nutshell.
Day three had a similar pace, but with a small respite at the Daydream Island spa where we each received different treatments. Mine was rather Frankenstein-esque, as I was hooked up to electrodes that supposedly read my internal age. I’m 31 on the outside, but some of my students say I’m more like a 10-year-old trapped in a 31-year-old body. It turns out I’m actually 26 on the inside. My “therapist” said that my 5-year-younger difference was the most she’d ever seen. Sweet!
Day four, the day of reckoning for us as candidates! TQ did their best to put us at easy and keep us occupied with various activities whilst bringing us one by one to the formal interviews throughout the morning. Little good that did me – I’d managed to get myself rather worked up before arriving to face the selection committee for some official face time. I guess I did alright, but I thought of about thirty-eight things I should have said or wished I hadn’t said. Alas, my time-travel device is still in its prototype stages; I still haven’t seen hide nor hair of that gerbil. But, again, I digress.
Military mode was once again upon us as we were ushered into a formal meet and greet with Queensland’s Premier, Anna Bligh. From there we lined up, sat down, lined up, sat down, and lined up once again to go LIVE TO THE WORLD! I think I looked like I was in pain the whole time, standing just behind Anna Bligh with a bright spotlight in my face. My stress had risen so high by the point that when she announced Ben as the Island Caretaker I actually breathed a sigh of relief! He was an excellent choice and I believe we all agree.
That evening we could finally relax and TQ threw a huge party for everyone involved in the entire process. Good times! The next morning I was off on my extended itinerary to see Hervey Bay, Lady Elliot Island, Fraser Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the Australia Zoo. There’s much more to say about all that, but I’m writing this from Cebu, my hour of PC usage is almost up, and I’m writing pro bono. Hence the abrupt ending and this ensuing shameless plug… If you liked what you read, let the editor know and maybe I can dish some more details next month. In the meantime, I’ll be headed to Queensland again to do an 8-day promo of their adventure tourism and I’ll be creating web content for http://www.queenslandholidays.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We were treated to a lovely day of relaxing on the beach - that's made up entirely of old, broken-down coral. In fact, the entire island is a coral cay. It exists only due to old dead coral piling up on itself. Eventually birds carried seeds and plant life started. Birds are the only animals living on the island. And some of them are a little cheeky, sneaking into the simple restaurant and stealing bits and pieces when they get a chance.
It only took about 45 minutes to walk all the way around the island and then it was almost time to go snorkeling, but I'll save the snorkeling bit for another update. In the afternoon we had lunch, played some ping pong (very badly) and just relaxed on the beach again. It was perfect. Just what we needed being that we were so shattered after the intense interview process.
Lady Elliot is the southernmost of the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and they have some simple accommodation there so you can arrange some dives. It's one of the best places to see the giant manta rays with seven-meter wingspans! You can even see them snorkeling, but I wasn't lucky enough this time.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Wow, welcome to Hamilton Island! What the heck did I get myself into here? Andrew giving us the drill sergeant intro, the selection panel sitting directly behind us, the other fifteen candidates sitting around me, all with the same look on our faces - HOLY CRAP.
I guess it wasn't that bad, but I think we were all taken aback by how GRANDE it all was. Finally the other day it sorta hit me. I have a dictionary with 38,000 words in it. That's close to 34,684 so I flipped it open and chose a word - just one word out of hundreds of pages full of words. Even the top 16 of us were less than one page. Incredible. God does some amazing things, but all you have to do is take a look around at His amazing creation to realize that.
This is what they think our galaxy looks like... it's so massive they can only guess.
This is earth from 4 billion miles away! Everyone we've ever known, all our triumphs and failures, our peace and our war is right there on that Pale Blue Dot. Puts things in perspective.
But I digress... venturing back to an even smaller dot on that dot - Hamilton Island!
It was so amazing getting to know all the other candidates. We had much in common, but we're also very different. Coming from all over the world, the jargon and accents were very interesting and we shared more than a few laughs over confused speech. That is what was so amazing about it - we all got along so well. And I don't think it was just for show either. There was a very real sense of camaraderie. The TV and radio interviewers kept asking us who our biggest competition was, or what juicy details I could give, but there really weren't any. We all genuinely enjoyed each others company.
Having met Ben S and George at the SIN airport I got to know them early on and we got along really well. George is hilarious and Ben is going to be a GREAT Island Caretaker! Everyone was great, and now that I'm almost done in Singapore I'm considering a world tour of all their home cities. I'll welcome any suggestions on getting my air travel sponsored :)
This experience has opened my eyes to a whole new world. I never even considered traveling for a living, but now I am. I only just realized I'd be perfect for adventure tourism, and I'm going to pursue it! It's not time to go back to Minnesota yet. There is so much yet to do!
So, life-changing? Yes
Incredible trip? Yes
More updates to come since I'm totally spent and can't think? Yes
See the original: http://islandreefjob.tumblr.com/post/103714909/greg0505
Today we headed to Daydream Island and I’ll tell you, this island lives up to its name! With mermaids awaiting our arrival and such a friendly staff, who couldn’t unwind and have a daydream or two here?
The weather didn’t allow us to sail to beautiful Whitehaven Beach, but thanks to Daydream Island’s amazing staff and flexibility, we had a memorable day anyway. There’s nothing like a little respite at Daydream Rejuvenation Spa! While I love a good massage, the Naturopath treatment suited me perfectly - it’s not every day I’m connected to electrodes! Don’t worry, there were no attempts to resurrect Frankenstein. This was the real deal and my therapist gave me some great news. The small electrical current running through my body provided lots of information about my fat content as well as my muscles’ condition. Tally it all up and I’m happy to report that my biometric age is 26! That’s five years younger – the most my therapist had ever seen! Made my day!
We went on to perform an Island Caretaker duty – Feed the Fish. If you’ve never fed stingrays or seen sharks tear fish to shreds, this is the place to go! My personal favorite was Pancake, the stingray, belching water out of the opening behind his eye… and onto me! Compliments to the chef!
Lunch was amazing! I’m seriously going to pack on some kilos during my six months here. Steak, lamb, crab, couscous, pasta, chocolate fondue, and much more! I loved it, enough said!
Lastly, we got to turn the cameras around on our media friends as they enjoyed the spa! A lovely taste of their own medicine, I say!
We took another lovely cruise home and were met by an interesting task to perform for our friendly media. Grab a bottle from the beach, find your team, and in fifteen minutes prepare a five-minute presentation on your topic. We presented on the natural wonder of the GBR! To do so, each of us became one of the reef’s many residents: turtle, groper, manta, crab, shark, and dugong. With a strange mixture of British and Eeore I somehow managed an apt dugong voice. And that’s how I woke up a tourist and became a dugong!
Monday, May 18, 2009
In a word, today was Spectacular! The beauty and intricacy of the Great Barrier Reef cannot be aptly described in words, but I’ll give you my best shot.
Starting out on a Fantasea cruise out to the reef we had a rather bumpy ride. The strong wind brought in some large rolling waves, but we managed it just fine. I think it made the ride a little more interesting. En route we were privileged to learn all about Fantasea, Reefworld, and the Great Barrier Reef!
Did you know that Hardy Reef – the one we visited today – is a great place to spot humpback whales and manta rays with a seven-meter wingspan? Now you do! That’s not all; this is also a great place to go if you’re curious about mass-coral-spawning. It’s also home to coral that grows so close to the surface that it can actually be exposed to the air at low tide.
Fantasea and Reefworld work together to not only educate people about the largest reef in the world, but get them up close and personal too. Did you know the GBR is the largest and best protected reef in the entire world? That protection got its start 35 years ago, meaning that this is where you’ll have the best chance of seeing pristine coal of all sorts. And with Fantasea and Reefworld operating in the Whitsunday Islands it’s SO easy to see. All you have to do is enjoy the ride!
We took advantage of most of their offerings - riding the waves on the way out, snorkeling along the reef, and departing by air. But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me tell you about the amazing snorkeling.
If you’ve ever looked over a cliff you’ll understand what it’s like to look over the edge of a reef. Then again, you’ll have no idea at all. Sure, the drop-off into the depths of the ocean is similar, but nothing can compare to a cliff made by billions of living organisms scarcely two millimeters in diameter. All of these tiny creatures, called polyps, work together to form the reef by excreting limestone as an exoskeleton. Each different kind forms a different structure, and believe me when I tell you there are TONS of different corals. With a myriad of shapes, sizes, colors, and structures, you could visit the same reef over and again and still have a new experience every time.
Oh, and don’t even get me started about the fish! They’re everywhere. Showing no fear I even had one come up and ask me to take his picture! I wasn’t able to find the fish-cleaning station, but I guess it’s meant only for the fish to use anyway. In case you didn’t know that’s a part of the reef many larger predators and prey lay down their arms to work together as the little guys swim in, out, around and through to help the big guys by cleaning out their mouth, teeth, and gills. What an amazing symbiosis. Divinely inspired, I’d say! I can’t forget to mention George, the resident groper fish. George is actually a female and she’s very famous. Being three meters long she should be! Make sure you ask the Fantasea staff about her when you make your visit!
After checking out the fish, giant clams, and reef up close and personal, we headed out from Reefworld in an entourage of two sea planes and two helicopters. That ride was pretty amazing! We had incredible 360o views of Hardy Reef (part of the GBR) from above. And it is just right out there in the middle of the ocean! As you trace the waterline from the horizon… BAM! There it is, out of nowhere, one of the most beautiful creations in the world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take photos like the ones you’ve seen on your favorite travel shows! I highly recommend it. Here’s my favorite of many photos.
Landing on Hayman Island we were treated to cuisine from around the world. The master chefs on staff spoiled us with treats from all the countries our group represented! I must say Singapore’s entry, chili mud crab noodles, were pretty tasty! I do have to give a nod of genius to the delicious concoction from Canada too. Ice cream, maple syrup, and Cracker Jack goodness on a spoon! But don’t be mistaken, I think I tried nearly every food and dessert, despite having my fill, and all were… Delicious would sum it up in a word. And the resort? Gorgeous! It is luxury and style done to perfection! Everything from the building layout to the décor to the landscaping was idyllic! We were even treated with a tour of the Hayman Island chocolate room, kitchens, and Chef’s Table. If exclusive dining is your thing then the Chef’s Table is your destination! Seating only 24, the Chef’s Table is located right in the heart of Hayman Island’s kitchen area. This is fine dining! I was also a fan of the outdoor seating at the oriental restaurant. Hayman definitely lives up to its reputation of being a food paradise! Leaving Hayman behind we were indulged with a luxury boat transfer all the way back to Hamilton Island. It was a great ride with some fantastic wind in my hair – er… stubble – and delicious beverages were provided for all.
This has been a day to remember… and we’ve only just begun. The Whitsunday Islands are a MUST VISIT - twice!
See the original: http://islandreefjob.tumblr.com/post/103630013/greg0405
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
It's been an eye-opening and life changing experience! And I'm so thankful for it all. God has really walked me through and I am determined to use this experience for His glory!
I'll arrive back in Singapore in about 8 hours and I'm back teaching tomorrow. Absolute madness!
More to come as soon as my head stops spinning.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I'm currently traveling the Fraser and Sunshine Coasts with Clarke and it's been pretty incredible! We're both pretty shattered/wrecked/tired (whatever you say where you're from) after the intense interview process and the ensuing travel. I'll fill you in soon and I promise pix are coming.. Still haven't laid hands on a laptop!
Walking and blogging are a dangerous combination... So ta for now!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
My official interview is tomorrow at 10:40am and the Island Caretaker is revealed at 3:00pm. That's 8:40 & 1:00 in Singapore, and 7:40pm (Tuesday evening) & midnight in Minnesota.
I love you guys!
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Today was amazing. When we landed on Hamilton Island we were greeted by a flurry of media! I liken it to a cameraman firing squad. There were cameras and reporters everywhere! Poor Mieko was absolutely attacked by the three Japanese TV stations that came out. I don't think the US realized how big this us-they didn't send anyone. Neither did Singapore :( BUT we'll be live to the world, superceeding all other current affairs! Hopefully your media supplier gets it's feeds from Roiters!
We had a swimming test today and we all passed. Then came a briefing of the entire schedule-WOW! This is going to be FULL-ON and tons of fun. Next came media interviews, followed by a tour of my new home :) the Blue Pearl. It is amazing and I'll get you some photos a soon as I can upload them! (I'm writing from my phone). We finished with a nice BBQ, mingling, and for Greggy, a little bit of dancing!
Tomorrow is full and it's getting late.
It has been quite a blur! I ran into Ben and George at the SIN airport! We flew to Brisbane, got checked in and did a little walkabout in Brisbane. It's a very cool city with a nice chill attitude. All the people we saw on the streets looked like they were just out for a nice evening. There were people of all ages and we even saw a group of street bikers not too far from a group of road bikers. Such harmony!
The weather is AMAZING! Most of the other finalists are coming from winter/early spring so it's nice and warm for them. I'm excited that it's a cool change. It's nice to need a jacket in the cool crisp autumn air. Evenings and morning are absolutely beautiful and the daytime has been equally good.
I was able to explore a little bit of Brisbane yesterday and made my way with Ben and Clark to South Bank which was abuzz with excitement, markets, and performances. Much of it was in preparation for Vesak Day. I was attacked by a water fountain. It was one of those that spout a thick stream over your head. I was being a cheeky tourist, standing under it and the pressure dropped off. I was doused from shoulder to knee! Visitors: Beward the attacking fountains!
Oh, I was even able to find some bubble tea! I love the little gelatinous globules mixed with the tea! I don't think Clark and Ben are big fans though. It grows on you, trust me. I guess it's a little like vegemite :) Don't worry, Australia, I won't eat all your Vegemite.
I knew meeting all the other Best Job finalists would be cool, but I think I underestimated the experience. Getting to know this crem de la crem, if you will, has been nothing short of awesome! I'm pretty humbled to be a part of such a fantastic group of people. It's still amazing to me that I'm here. What a tremendous blessing. Thank you, Jesus!
We haven't been attacked by media too much, but there are plenty of cameras around. They're coming from all over the world! My half-German heritage earned me an interview with the German interviewer! I suppose we can expect a lot more media as we progress. It is the best job in the world, after all :)
I'm sitting in the Virgin Blue airline lounge right now and we're about to head out to HAMILTON ISLAND! How exciting is that! We start off with a swimming test. I hope I pass!
I'll be updating as often as I can! Thanks for your prayers and support. Oh, Taylor - I'll do my best to upload as many pictures of the Great Barrier Reef as I can. Tell your 2nd grade class that "Uncle Greg says 'G-day mate!'". I love you!
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
Right now I'm in the air on my way to Brisbane, Australia! I'm SO excited! I can't wait to meet all the other candidates and head out to the islands for some sweet adventures! I would greatly appreciate your prayers for safety for all of us. And that I will be able to witness and minister to everyone I encounter there.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Excited scarcely begins to describe it. This week has been an absolute squall of media interviews, packing, research, interview preparation... oh, and teaching full time too. I can't wait to get on that plane and head off to The Best Job in the World, but let's not get too ahead of ourselves here. I need to be chosen first. Though I feel like I've already been chosen. This entire process has been challenging yet very rewarding. I've been so blessed to experience just a bit of celebrity and now I get to fly out to some of the most beautiful islands in the world to meet a crew selected from out of more than 34,000 applicants! This is one to tell the great-grandchildren about. But since that's a ways off I'll just stick to telling my faithful readers.
Thank you again to everyone who voted and spread the word. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement. Thank you for prayers for safety whilst traveling, and for God's blessing as I experience His beautiful creation and interview for this amazing job. I want this job, but even more, I want His will done in my life.
I fly out Friday morning at 9:55AM Singapore time and the media madness and awesome itinerary begin on Saturday. Stay tuned for some updates!
I just got this cool quote from my friend, Grant - my application filmographer - he was just trekking in New Zealand and was rescued from floods by helicopter!
"Attempt something so impossible that failure is certain unless God steps in and helps!"
PS: Liz, if you're reading, I hope you're loving Guatemala!
Monday, April 27, 2009
We spend the weekend at a very chill resort called, The Shady Shack (mosquito nets included), in Bintan, Indonesia. It's a very apt name as each of us got a shack and some shade right on the beach. The mee and nasi goreng were pretty standard, but the dinner spread was a thing of beauty. Ayam curry, tempe, tofu, fried chicken, fried sotong, nasi, vegetables. DELICIOUS! Lobo (aka, The Wolfman) puts on a good spread.
The highlights for me were the food, the fireworks, underwater bocce, and the water. Now the fireworks weren't anything like the fireworks most people would expect. These fireworks came in the form of a large bushfire that started upwind from our driftwood & thatched roof shacks.
We'd all headed out for a swim and nearly chocked on the smoke by the time we got to the stinger-free water. The conversation migrated from carefree comments on the smoke and fire to genuine concern about the fire burning down our accommodations and how much of a damper that would put on an otherwise-well-planned stag party.
Back at "The Shack" we finished lunch amidst drifting ash, but Lobo assured us there was nothing to worry about. After lunch our beach bocce game ended up migrating into the water - partly due to the smoke and partly due to our pioneering nature. And Underwater Bocce was born. We played numerous permutations of the game, but found it is best to play in water no deeper than waist-deep. One optional rule is that all players must toss their ball before the pallino (little ball) hits the water. Though a word of caution - HEADS UP!
My favorite part of the weekend was the water. It was a gorgeous aquamarine color and the visibility was amazing! Several of us donned masks & snorkels and headed out to see what we could; we weren't disappointed!
Floating in the calm blue water, looking down upon another world is such a wonderful experience. There wasn't a lot of variety in the coral, nor were there lots of fish, but taking in the quiet ocean and visiting this other world only added to my excitement about visiting the Great Barrier Reef! That will be a sight, or many sights, to behold. I can't wait for Friday to come!
Needless to say, our shacks didn't burn down, and The Wolfman's resort lives to treat other guests to simplicity and smorgasbord. Thanks for the good times, Lobo, and thanks for getting married, Chris. We all need a good reason to celebrate now and then.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Hope you all have a blessed Good Friday!
Check out: www.islandreefjob.com
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I just had a cool interview with John from The Courrier-Mail, Queensland's largest daily newspaper! I'll post the link as soon as the article is up!
You can also listen for me on Minneapolis on Thursday morning around 7:30 am on the KS95 Greg & Melissa Morning Show.
Looks like the Albert Lea Tribune will be covering the story as well.
Monday, April 6, 2009
The day proceeded with a title wave of interest. We had a school assembly (which was already planned for other purposes) where over 900 middle-schoolers cheered for me. Then came interviews with TV, radio, and newspapers. I even did phone interview while supervising students playing water polo! Lastly, I had to follow through on a promise...
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to say, "If I make the top 11 I'll shave my head, paint the Singapore flag on it and run down Orchard Road in my fins, snorkel & mask." The things I get myself into. Well they called me out on it and a years worth of hair was shaved down to stubble. But I felt compelled to leave a wicked Mohawk.
With Mohawk in place I proceeded to have two Singapore flags painted on my head whilst sitting along the Orchard Road Sidewalk. Needless to say I had more than a few gawkers. After one last interview I took off for my run down Orchard Road with entourage in tow. What a day!
Thank you to everyone who voted for me, promoted me, and helped make this possible. Grant, you're the man; this wouldn't have happened without your movie magic. And most of all, my thanks to Jesus for this tremendous blessing!