The Ups and Downs: Climbing Gerlach

“This is so dumb, this is so, so dumb…” These were the words that I was repeating to myself as I took step after painful step up the steep mountain face. This is not, I’m sure, the mountain climbers’ usual mantra – I expect something like “one step at a time,” or “you got this, Louise” would have been more appropriate and slightly more encouraging.

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Gerlach’s “Via Ferrata”

But in the midst of the freezing landscape, white snow beneath me, white fog around me, all I could think was that climbing mountains is a ridiculous pursuit, and that I would be miles better off sat in the warm mountain lodge drinking mulled wine.

I am painting, perhaps, a slightly negatively skewed picture of our ascent up Gerlach, the highest mountain in the Tatra range. At 2,654m, in the winter it is a long, steep climb up an icy face, and although not the highest mountain we have climbed, it was the most technically challenging (and therefore nerve-wracking!).

With near vertical ascents in deep snow and ice, our guide, Jaroslav, kicking steps into fresh snowfall, and having to trust that our ice-axes would hold fast, I found myself often trying to switch off the analytical part of my brain that might assess the risk, and just concentrate on putting my feet in exactly the right spots.

But I actually do love the mountains: so much so that when I see a sweeping shot of peaks in a film, my heart leaps. They are my antidote to the concrete-and-glass, skyscraping, money-worshipping world of Hong Kong. Their mystery, majesty and beauty continues to lure me, and the days when our world is reduced to a simple goal and a series of challenges to overcome are the most glorious days of my life.

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I know it looks like we’re crawling along the ground, but this is actually a near vertical ascent!

And of course, the feeling when you actually make it to the top is unbeatable. Not just the day’s efforts, but the weeks and months of training and planning, somehow make sense. And we did make it to the peak of Gerlach after hours of self-inflicted torture, and I was exhilarated and justified and full of joy.

The journey down, which I tend to dislike even more than the arduous ascents due to the increased possibility of falling, turned out to be something of a comedy. We had descended the longest snow face, and were resting for a moment while Jaroslav answered a phone call. Michal stuck his axe into the snow and looped the rope around it to create an extra anchor point. But, the axe wasn’t in deep enough, and as he pulled the rope tight, his axe was yanked of the snow and disappeared into the icy rocks below us.

So Michal descended the rest of the face with two 15cm ice screws in his hands, instead of an axe. When we finally got to a place where we could walk facing forwards, instead of descending backwards, Jaroslav joked that the axe was a tribute to Gerlach for letting us pass.

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The Summit!

Seconds later, Jaroslav pulled his telephone out of his pocket to take a photo and the cash in his pocket flew out and took off down the valley! He dropped his axe to reach for the cash. Michal leapt to pick up the axe. His thermos dropped out of his backpack, rolling in the opposite direction!

The three of us were tied together on the rope and so by the time Jaroslav could untie himself to chase after the money, it had been carried far and wide by the mountain wind. Thankfully he managed to recover some, but the rest, along with the thermos and the axe, now belong to Gerlach. The thermos is probably resting in the lake – so for anyone in need of fruit tea, albeit, iced, please help yourself and send us a photo!

It is true that pictures paint a thousand words. But the deeper truth is that a picture can never adequately convey the essence of the moment it captures, the tearing wind, the rasping breath, the crisp crunch of snow, the over-worked heart. Photographs only begin to describe our lives and the experiences we find ourselves in. But, along with our memories, they are all we have to remind us of the things we have done, which in turn create the person we become.

So, although I do still think that mountain climbing is in some ways a pointless exercise (you go up so that you can go down…), my days on the peaks have shaped me, more than I know.

But perhaps the biggest curse of mountain climbing is what happens the day after you summit. The dreaded question… “So, what should we climb next?”

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At the summit with Jaroslav
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Not much of a view with so much cloud…
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The Summit: Ice and the Cross
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The Defender, blending in perfectly, at the mountain lodge.
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And more snow…
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Figuring out the ascent.

 

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Mt Blanc Expedition

The Travellers Two are on the road again. This summer we were planning to drive from the UK to Rome to shoot an interview with an amazing photographer, and as we looked at the route we saw that we had to drive through the Alps. And the idea emerged to climb Mt Blanc on the way. We reserved 2 days in Chamonix to go up and down the mountain and then we would be on our way to sunny Italy. But as we started doing our research we realised that it’s not as easy as we initially imagined. Training, diet, altitude preparation, equipment, weather, refuge booking and finding a guide were among the things we needed to consider, research and execute.

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After four months of preparation we are on the outskirts of Chamonix in the beautiful and quiet town of Le Tour. We arrived here on Saturday the 23rd and met with people from Peak Powder, who organised guides for us. At 2 am on Sunday we woke up at the back of our Defender and drove to Geneva airport and flew to Rome where we spent 36 hours, interviewing Milton Gendel, eating pizza, pasta and gelato.

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Milton Gendel’s guest book

We came back to Le Tour at 3am, and after few hours of sleep we were on our way up our first mountain. It was not a great success as we left too late and we got caught in a storm at two and a half thousand metres above sea level, so we had to come back down. Le Buet conquered us, but despite the fact that we didn’t reach the top we did some good training in the snow with crampons.

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View of Mt Blanc from Aiguille du Midi

The next day we went up Aiguille du Midi at 3810m to get a taste of the high altitude. Walking up and down the stairs wasn’t as easy as at sea level, but we did a little bit of training there.

The following morning we met our guide Benji and headed to the Italian side of the Alps. That morning we got to the refuge in the foothills of Gran Paradiso. After a short nap we did some more crampon training, using our ice axes, ropes and harnesses, and organised our pack leaving all but the absolutely essential. At 3:20am we were the first out of the refuge heading up the mountain. After 4 hours and 25 minutes of walking on rocks and snow we got to the top. Four other teams passed us on the way but we still made it in a good time.

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Coming down from Gran Paradiso

There were moments when breathing was very tough and the thoughts of doubt came through our minds. “Why are we doing it? It’s not fun at all. It’s just walking, but really hard and up the hill in not so friendly conditions.” But we kept going, with our toes and fingers starting to get numb we reached the summit, took a photo, which we need to get from Benji, as Louise dropped her phone on the top, and headed down as quickly as possible. Slowly we started taking layers off as the morning sun warmed us up and we were getting lower and lower. I asked Benji “Why do people do it?” and he replied “I don’t know if it’s for the climb itself or the feeling after” but as we came down to the refuge by the parking lot and had lunch, he said “I think this is why people do it.”

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Breakfast at the L’Olimpique

As for today, we needed to get some rest before Mt Blanc so we decided to get a room for a couple of nights at l’Olimpique hotel in Le Tour, which was build for the Olympic Games in 1924. At breakfast we got the message that the weather forecast had changed and we have to move our ascent back by a day. So now we have a couple of days of rest, sending emails and recharging batteries for Mt Blanc. We’ll be leaving at dawn on Monday morning hoping to get to the top by sunrise on Tuesday.

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Admiring the view from Aiguille du Midi

As we started telling people about this idea a couple of months ago it was just a blurry thought without a clear vision, but as we started getting closer to the date we thought of doing it for a cause, something that will keep us going when we feel like stopping. We both work for an organisation that helps the extremely poor in the Philippines get themselves out of their current conditions. ICM focuses on education so the participants can “take the fishing rod themselves and fish, rather than feeding them once.” But as ICM trainers go to the poor communities they find many children that are malnourished. And this is the part that we felt that we wanted to highlight through our expedition. ICM gets tons of free anti-malnutrition food from a few organisations in the US but they have to pay for the shipping to the Philippines. We’ve set quite a steep goal but we’re hoping to raise enough funds to deliver half a million meals to the homes of malnourished children. You can partner with us by donating here, and if you would like to find out more about ICM please check out their website.

Of course we are aware that we could have donated the money that we invested in the expedition directly to ICM, stay at home and make videos of very slim children, with heartbreaking violin music in the background, but that’s what we do outside of our holidays anyway.

Four Corners

With Michal having to take a short trip to Poland, I spent a fantastic week in Seattle with dear friends. They were terrific hosts; and my week was full of music, wonderful food and watching my first baseball game.

But as soon as Michal landed, we were back on the road, and as we’re getting close to the end of our trip, we have just accomplished one of the challenges that we set ourselves: to visit the most extreme compass points of the 48 States.

East: Quoddy Head State Park, Maine – 1st May

The perfect place to officially start our trip. With strong winds, freezing temperatures and rugged rocks, it was a chilly start, but the sunrise was just breathtaking and we got our first glimpse into Canadian territory.

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South: Key West, Florida – 22nd May

Three hours from Miami, and only 90 miles from Cuba, Key West is an interesting mix of tourists and free spirits. You can almost taste the spirit of the Carribean! And with the relationship between the USA and Cuba getting warmer,  that Cuban spirit is only going to get stronger!

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North: Lake of The Woods, Minnesota – 17th June

Unfortunately, you can’t actually drive up to the northern tip during the summer without going through Canada. In winter, you can drive right over the frozen lake. So, we drove right up to the southern shore of this stunning lake, and enjoyed a sunset dinner.

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We reached the western tip of the 48 States with our friends from Hong Kong who drove all the way down from Vancouver to join us. It was foggy, and so when we heard deep, loud noises coming from offshore, we weren’t sure if they were ships or whales! With huge cliffs and mysterious caves, the western tip was a lookout for local tribes for centuries passed…_MG_9011

We only have seven states left to visit on the quest to visit all 48… but at the end of the day, it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters.

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Californication

My perception of California has been, up until now, pretty one sided. California in my mind was Hollywood, Santa Monica Beach, Napa Valley and the Golden-Gate Bridge; in other words; beautiful cities and beautiful people.

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But, after being in the state for a few days, it became clear that The Golden State is one of the USA’s most diverse.

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Within 24 hours, we were at the lowest point in the country, Death Valley (-282 ft), and trekking up through the 48 States’ highest point, Mount Whitney (14,505 ft). They are less than 50 miles away from each other.

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Death Valley – it is easy to see how it earned its name. Just getting up and down the hills to arrive into the valley, our car almost overheated several times; we had to stop every few minutes on the intense climbs at extreme heats just to cool it off!

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Once we were back on the flat, driving along with the windows down, the heat and wind combination was like someone blowing a hair-dryer into our faces. Chapped lips, dry eyes… we were drinking at least a litre of water per hour…

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In our water-guzzling, sun-screen lathering state, I am always amazed at the resourcefulness of animals and plants that have adapted to survive in these incredibly harsh climates. But, in one of the most hostile environments on the planet, the landscapes are parched and bare, and the few creatures that do manage to survive here are quiet and still beneath the scorching sun.

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The next morning, we woke in the foothills of Mount Whitney, in the southern Sierra-Nevada, where waterfalls gush from rocky crags, dense, lush vegetation fills every inch of fertile ground, bears, big cats, deer and myriads of birds all live and thrive. What an amazing contrast!

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It became clear pretty quickly that we were not prepared to summit the mountain, and so we took a fantastic hike up to one of the mountain’s many lakes.

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Following the mountains north, we found ourselves in the Sequoia Forest with the most majestic trees I have ever seen. It is interesting that scientists are still only just figuring out the life cycle and optimal living conditions for these trees: they actually never die naturally! They are sometimes toppled in storms, but most often forest fires weaken and eventually eat away at the trunks until they die.

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So in an attempt to protect them, the park stopped all fires; both natural and man-made. But soon, they saw a decline in the number of young trees. Eventually, they realised that small forest fires are the only way the seedpods will dry and be opened, releasing their seeds… So the fires are back… but under the careful watch of Ranger Rick ☺

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Yosemite National Park is breathtaking – literally, when you hike up the hill for hours :). We did one of the most challenging hikes we have attempted – the famous Half Dome.

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Scaling an, at times, 80 degree wall after four hours of steep ascent, was one of the most exhilarating, exhausting moments on our trip so far.

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And the views from the top were just beautiful!

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But as we headed back West, down from the Sierra Nevada range, the effects of the drought that we had been hearing about became devastatingly clear. Empty cattle barns, fields parched gold, dried up lakes…

The only green fields that seemed to be worth the investment were, quite ironically, vineyards.

Now in its fourth year, this catastrophic drought is forcing farmers to either pay water usage fines or leave their fields unplanted. State agriculturalists are getting desperate, and even considering doing a mass move of California crops to Arkansas…

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But one very clear way that we see California’s environment truly benefitting its residents is the countless wind farms across the state. Driving through turbine forests along the highway was quite something!

And, one more thing about California… the traffic… As we drove north, headed up into Portland, it took us five hours to get out of San Francisco onto the freeway… but the Golden Gate Bridge was worth it… just about!

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Now that we only have seven states left to visit, we are starting to be able to pick our favourites. And, with its absolutely incredible diversity, beauty and amazing national parks, California is definitely high on the list.

Wild West

Louise’s 2nd July Concert to kick off the 4th July weekend seemed a little ironic – a Brit wishing Texans Happy Independence Day?

But, music is a universal language and the concert connected superbly with the audience. And since we had given ourselves one week to get to Los Angeles from Austin, as soon as the gig was over, we packed up the car and headed into the night.

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West. Wild West, truly!

We had seen some pretty remote parts of the states; the Badlands in the Dakotas, tiny little towns in Minnesota, never-ending fields of farmland in Missouri and Kansas.

But the vast expanses of desert in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were something even more incredible.

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The Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas and New Mexico border were our introduction to the rugged, wild terrain that continues across the south of the USA. Rich rocks filled with quartz, mountains lions, cacti and forest, snakes and deer – the mountains held a diversity of life thanks to their abundant water supply.

But as we headed further into the desert, the numbers of species fell and soon we were alone with lizards, birds, and bugs. There is nothing like the quiet, the darkness, the heat, the expanse of the desert.

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In towering sand dunes or vast canyons, with the unforgiving sun and no sign of water, it is easy to see how lost and helpless we are under the forces of nature.

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As we approached one of the world’s most stunning features, the great crack in its crust formed by a formidable earthquake, Grand Canyon, we wanted to have a different experience than we had had before – something more than taking that same photo that everyone has.

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So we started hiking down into the canyon. As soon as you start to descend, you start to understand the sheer size of the place. We walked for hours, and had not even got close to the bottom. One can not easily conquer these wild places.

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One of the most fascinating features of the Wild West is the number of abandoned, or almost-abandoned towns that are scattered across the landscape. We came across several mining towns that had fallen into ruin, with their run-down buildings, scrap cars in yards, and mine shafts – some still with undetonated explosives!

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It is amazing to let your imagination create the stories of those who lived here; why they came, how life was, what finally forced them to leave. And for those who have stayed, how do they possibly survive when there is no-one for miles and nothing to build a life around?

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Amazingly, the post office and the railroads are the veins that keep the life blood flowing; connecting and crisscrossing and keeping these tiny towns alive. In the most remote of towns, high in the mountains or deep in the desert, post boxes line the roads and are a welcome sign of life.

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Perhaps the creepiest place that we came across was while we were off-roading in the Mojave desert. We had turned onto tiny dirt tracks, when we crested a hill and found an old trailer; the windows were gone, and it was covered in plastic sheeting.

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Bullet casings and shotgun shells were strewn everywhere, and our minds immediately jumped to Walter White and Breaking Bad! It was a great hideout… shielded from view and protected from the rear by mountains. So either someone there had a score to settle with the coyotes, or the King of the Hill had something else going on…

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But that night, we found a perfect camp of our own. In the middle of nowhere, peaceful, with the brightest stars we have ever seen. It is easy to see why our ancestors worshiped the moon and the stars; these bright oracles bring light in the midst of darkness, and their beauty is astounding!

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As night fell, the howl of coyotes greeted our ears. We made sure the door was firmly locked that night!

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While the days are hot and bright, the nights are usually dark and cool and peaceful. But when storms come, the lightning is awe-inspiring. Driving towards Las Vegas, the air was thick with the smell of electric charge – it looked like “Sin City” was under attack with fierce vengeance! With lightning all around us, in every direction, piercing through the night sky with great cracks of light, once again we felt the force of nature – knowing we were at its mercy and have no power to stop it.

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It is an amazing feeling to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty and wildness of our world. It can be uncomfortable, daunting, truly scary. But it is always an enriching, humbling and inspiring experience.

Half Way There

Half way through our journey. Half way through the year.

The half way point is an interesting place to be – you look back just as much as you look forward. It’s the beginning of the end, but right in the middle.

We are almost exactly in the middle of our trip. We have been on the road for nine weeks, and have just over nine weeks until we say goodbye to the Land Rover for a little while. We’ve been to the most Eastern, Southern and Northern points of the continental USA, and still have the Wild Wild West ahead of us.

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And we are almost exactly in the middle of the USA! Although we only have 13 states left to visit, those 13 make up almost half of the country and we will probably double the 11,000 miles that we have put on the odometer.

So, at the half way point we look back at the truly beautiful times: the parks, the people, the concerts and the open roads. And the challenges: the heat, the cold, the bugs, the lack-of-hot-showers!

And we look forward to even more to come: meeting amazing people with their stories, breath-taking views and being inspired creatively.

This is our first long overland expedition, and even though we’re driving through a “first world” country, it’s definitely a learning curve. We’re using this as preparation for future trips in more remote places in the world.

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From Austin, we’re on our way into the desert, mountains and then, if we make it out the other side, back to the ocean!

If you’re enjoying being part of our journey, please click “Follow” on the right of the post, to subscribe to our blog, and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. We’ll try to keep it fun!

The Travellers Too

One morning, a few weeks ago, we were sat in a McDonalds in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to use the wifi when a lady approached us… “Michal? Louise?”

Our first thought… ‘What have we done now?’

And then she said, “We’re travellers too. We saw your truck outside, and we’ve been looking at your website.”

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She carried with her a big, beautiful hardback book of her husband’s paintings, called the Wandering Watercolorist, that she presented to us! “From artists to artists, from travellers to travellers. And if you’re ever in Missouri, come and visit.”

So we did!

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After passing through Marshall, MO, to visit Michal’s first college in the USA, Missouri Valley College, we arrived at Paul and Marla Jackson’s home in Colombia.

After being greeted by their diva-dog, Paul took us up to his studio. He had just finished an absolutely huge, stunning watercolour of Budapest at night. It is breathtaking!

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Paul is sure that it’s the largest watercolour in the USA, and says that it might possibly be the biggest in the world. None of his painting colleagues, in all the nations that he has travelled to, have ever come across one bigger. The colours are rich and deep, and the lights on the water seem to actually glow. You feel as if you are flying right above Budapest.

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And Paul actually was flying above Budapest… he uses drone footage to capture unique angles of landscapes, and bases many of his paintings off of these. Two years ago, he flew drones over every National Park in the USA, before they were prohibited. And he continues to fly almost every day.

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One of his favourite local spots to fly and to paint is Burr Oak; an ancient oak tree outside of the city, where legend has it that Abraham Lincoln would sit, looking out over the fields, and wait for his love to arrive.

A storm was coming, but Paul knew that there would be a break in the clouds and a great sunset, so we drove down to the spot and started up the drone.

Five minutes later… crash…

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“ I hadn’t crashed for over a year… It’s funny that it’s always when you’re trying to show off that you crash!”

But Paul was right, the sunset was gorgeous.

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His work has taken him across the globe; to teach, to fly and for commissioned works. But one project that was supposed to be closer to home was when he won the state-wide contest to design Missouri’s quarter coin.

Happy with his winning design, depicting explorers on a boat below the arch, Paul was shocked to see that when the quarter actually came into circulation, his design had been ripped off by the US Mint.

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It was similar enough for Paul to know that it had been stolen from him, but different enough that the Mint wouldn’t have to acknowledge him as the artist! Furious, Paul contacted the Mint asking them why they had done that, and they unapologetically told him that the state shouldn’t have held a contest.

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But the coins were already in circulation, so with an oversized quarter that travelled with him for publicity, Paul and his small team printed over a million stickers of the original design and set about sticking them onto the “imposter” quarters over the ripped-off design.

“At first we would go to the bank, get a bag of quarters, stick stickers on, and then go and exchange them for another bag of quarters. But then the bank hired people at minimum wage to pull them off… In the end we won because they couldn’t afford to hire as many people as I had!”

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Paul and his ‘rebels’ travelled far and wide to put their stickered-quarters into circulation, and estimate that over half a million made it in to circulation.

“There’s a bar at the very edge of Alaska that got stuck with a few thousand of them!”

Whether you see it as vandalism or copyright protection, there’s one thing that is for sure: Paul is committed to the integrity of his art.

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He ordered some of the biggest watercolour paintbrushes, having to have them custom made in China, so that he could complete his Budapest scene, but they didn’t arrive until after he finished it. Instead, he had to use a broom! But now that they’re here, he is ready to paint something even bigger.

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It was a joy to meet with Paul and Marla, and to see that the travelling-artist lifestyle is a sustainable one. One of the ways that they inspired us was with their new concept of Throwaway Thursday. Paul used to be a marathon runner and was able to eat anything he wanted. But getting older, with the toll that constant travel takes on his body, he knows that he needs to stop eating processed junk food and live healthier.

So now, instead of Throwback Thursday, each Thursday both him and Marla choose one “throwaway” – something that they will give up. Sometimes for good, like Marla who gave up ice cream (“unless I’m in Italy… I’m allowed to eat Gelato!”) or sometimes temporarily, like giving up solid food for a ten day liquid diet period.

In a culture where we are always looking for what we can gain, and for what we can add to our lives, it is an amazing idea to look for things to give up: maybe a month without sugar, giving up speaking negatively, 24 hours away from your cell phone…

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One of the things that we are learning to give up while we’re on the road is the comfort of a hot shower whenever we want it. And the day after meeting Paul and Marla, as we headed south, we had the chance to take our first bath in a river. Thankfully, there were no crocodiles to share the bath with us, although Michal did get a peck on the toe from some hungry fish ☺

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We were in the middle of Arkansas; a state that we had no idea about but that is absolutely beautiful! Full of lakes, rivers, forests and diverse wildlife, we tried our hand at fishing and caught a grand total of zero fish… We still need to rely on supermarkets for a little while longer…

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In Little Rock, we managed to meet up with another pair of “travellers too”: Rob and Christine Lilwall. For anyone who thinks that Michal and I are tough for travelling in our non-air-conditioned Land Rover, Rob and Christine are 10x tougher – cycling across the country on a tandem!

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From LA to NYC, their five-month journey is taking them across deserts, mountains and plains, as well as through some major cities. Although Rob has done several similar expeditions, including a three-year cycle across Asia, Australasia and Europe and a walk from Siberia to Hong Kong, this one was actually Christine’s idea.

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“This one is different because I’ve always done them with another guy. Now I have to deal with the wife-factor!” Rob laughs.

Because of the scorching heat across the southern states, the hard-core cyclists have got into a routine of waking up at 5am, and cycling from 6am-1pm most days.

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“The heat is pretty unbearable for the last two hours. But earlier in the day it’s actually quite nice. In the more populated areas we carry about 3-4 litres of water, and we can usually find somewhere to fill up no problem. But there have been days where we carried 27 litres!

“People have been so hospitable. Sometimes people have pulled up beside us in their cars and invited us to stay with them, given us dinner. One day when we were running out of water, a whole motorbike crew pulled over and gave us a load of water!”

Like us, Rob and Christine are unused to dealing with the threat of wildlife, but soon they will be leaving bear-country behind, and are making their way East and North, through Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia and then up the coast to New York.

We will both be finishing our journeys in NYC at around the same time, so we’ll hopefully be having a celebration together in August.

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If you happen to come across this beautiful couple on a tandem, or a painter flying a drone at sunset… say hello from The Travellers Two ☺

Paul Jackson – http://www.pauljackson.com

Photos of Rob and Christine Lilwall pulled from their instagram – https://instagram.com/roblilwall/

Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!

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Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!

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Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).

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Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.

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Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.

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Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺

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Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!

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To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.

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Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.

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Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!

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On the Road Again

Fort Houston

The soldiers line the fort. 

Their chariots await, their armour on the on stands.

The smiths of wood and metal and glass

Fire forth the strong and straight.

Print the banner, raise the flag.

Within the forge

The artisans 

Belong.

Function finds its form.

Unexampled, never seen before.

They’ve no enemy to fight,

No blood to shed,

No tears to draw.

But to draw forth the tangible from light.

Ten thousand dreams to bring to life.

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Guys taking a break behind Fort Houston

Nashville is a city that is rooted in music. It seems that everyone here is, or used to be, a musician or their parents are musicians or promoters or agents or songwriters…

And just like in LA, where every waiter is an actor with their big break just around the corner, in Nashville every waiter is a songwriter… with their big break just around the corner! So I guess we fit right in…

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Erin Murphy, artist.

But, it is not all about music. There is a growing scene of makers and craftspeople and artists and artisans that give Nashville a beautiful home grown, home made, home designed and taken-home identity.

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Our first day at the Fort, with Nick.

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One of their homes is Fort Houston: a 10,000 square foot old hosiery factory that is a living, breathing, sparking space where things are made. Not made digitally, with pixels, binary or code, like so much of our 21st Century world.

But made with sweat, machines, oil, metal, glass, ink, wood, power tools, sound, light, fire.

Falling into this space, tucked behind the railway line, we willingly lost ourselves in the Fort Houston creative atmosphere. A maze of workshops, where you literally trip over tools and can find anything from fine art to a gear wrench, the fort is alive with the sound of makers.

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Ryan, co-founder of Fort Houston, giving us a brief history of everything

Spending a week around its talented craftsmen, we began to see the secret of Fort Houston’s success. It is not ‘perfect’, it was not meticulously set out with a ten year business plan set in stone. It is an evolving creation itself, with artists and mechanics and smiths coming and going, being given the tools that they need and the inspiration around them in the form of people and space, giving back from within themselves, leaving their thumbprint on the walls and floors, and being challenged to create better.

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Atlas Motorworks custom build

Atlas Motorworks and the motorcycle boys are the welcoming committee that spill out into the parking lot. A collection of their own bikes, along with the bikes of their clients, fills the stands.

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Tyson at Knuckle Up Speed Shop

And as you move through their shops with parts and spanners and spare petrol tanks streamed everywhere, you begin the journey towards the print shop. With their headphones on, keeping their movements flowing and rhythmic, these boys work hard and long and their endless print cycles are almost robotic.

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A Woodworker’s Dream

Then there is the woodshop, with its carpet of sawdust and the metalshop with flying sparks and hot, sunburned smiths.

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Sparks will fly

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Layer on layer at the print shop

And dotted here and there, a jewellery maker, a painter or two, a glass blower, and a puppy.

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The newest member of the team.

It’s not a tourist attraction or and exhibit, although they do show work, but if you are ever passing through Nashville, make sure you visit 500 Houston Street, and say hello from The Travellers Two.