Sydney Olympic Park: Week 105

A Polaroid of a fountain inside the Sydney Olympic Park, Australia

“They got lolly showbags n’ chip showbags,” the security guard listed off. He had dark blond hair, bronze neck and forearms, and a thick accent like Crocodile Dundee. I was pretty sure he wasn’t from Sydney.

“Where’s the train station?” I began to ask, but he didn’t hear me. He was still on a roll.

“The Easter show is only once a year and it’s a good chance for the city folk to see horses, n’ chooks, n’ roller coaster rides. If you’re still around in two weeks… Well, I’d recommend it.”

We were standing just outside the stadium complex in the heart of the Sydney Olympic Park. In the middle of the street was a booth with temporary road blocks in front. From behind the barrier we could hear the squeal of animals and the beeping of reversing semi-trailers. The metal skeletons of carnival rides poked up in the horizon.

Because the park was created for Olympics, it felt utilitarian. There were no botanical gardens or reading sunbathers, instead there were bike trails and manicured archery lawns. It was also a lot quieter than I expected for a warm Sunday afternoon.

The security guard rattled off a few more types of showbags before pointing us in the direction of the Olympic memorial statues. The showbags seemed like they were an important part of the carnival, but I was a little baffled why he though they were such a selling point for two adults.

Unlike the swag bags I have picked up at shows and conventions, lolly showbags were marketed to a slightly younger crowd and they weren’t even free. They were completely covered with cartoon characters and bad fonts, and only partially filled with cheap candy.

“Thanks for the info,” we replied before heading for the ANZ Stadium. On the way we passed a fountain made from metal rods. The water arched over a pathway and splashed into a pool below. At the edge of the rectangular pool was a hill shaped like a spiral.

Barret arched an eyebrow at me.

“How could that guy talk about lolly showbags when this fountain was just down the road?”

How to get to the Sydney Olympic Park: CityRail train to Lidcombe Station, transfer to Olympic Park train line. Alternatively- take a train to Concord West and walk from the station to the park.

Vertical Rock: Week 78

“Your arms are so tiny!”

“They’re not that tiny.”

“Yes they are, like a little baby! Baby Steph. I can’t believe my arms used to be as small as yours,” my sister Nan said as we looked in the mirror.

Most women don’t react with such enthusiasm when comparing bicep girths, but then again most women aren’t firefighters. Since Nan first started training she has gained some serious muscle. We hadn’t seen each other in two years, so she was excited to remember where she had started- the same muscle tone as me.

“Look at how much more developed my forearm is. And I’m tanner than you.”


Nan had also recently started a new part-time job at a rock climbing gym and she wanted to show me the ropes. Since I didn’t want to look like the only bumbling idiot, I decided to take my brother. Like our sister, Kyle works out but I would say his muscles were less functional. More like trophy muscles.

I had never done any rock climbing, so I didn’t want to go first. Kyle didn’t like looking stupid, so he didn’t want to go first either. It was only after we saw little kids scale the bouldering wall like spiders that we decided to give it a go. He and I tried all the same routes and after a few runs Kyle’s toe started ‘hurting.’ So we sat and waited for Nan to help us use the harnesses and climb the big walls.

“You go first, show me your skills,” I taunted my brother.

“Steph, stop it. My toe is still hurting,” Kyle replied as he gingerly cupped his foot.

“Come on, use those stupid muscles of yours. I saw you lifting heavy weights last night while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

“You’re being stupid.”

“No you are.”

“No you are.”

“No you are.”

“I’ll take photos of you climbing,” my brother finally offered.


I felt confident as I began the climb (No, the above photo is not me). My route was the lowest difficulty level so all the hand holds were pronounced and evenly spaced all the way up. I shouldn’t have looked down though. I was just at the halfway point when I realized how far away the ground was. It didn’t seem very comforting that only a thin rope, anchored to a wedgie-inducing harness, could save me from catastrophe.

As I neared the top my pace slowed and my legs became more wobbly. When at last my hands touched the final stone my sister yelled out her next instructions.

“I’ve got you, let go!”

“Uh,” I called down whilst staring at the wall, “are you sure?”

“Yes! Let go, I’ve got the rope.”

I took one foot off, but none of my other appendages followed.

Just let go!”

It felt so counter-intuitive to release my firm grasp, but I convinced myself to trust my sister. It was at that moment, when I didn’t plummet to the ground, that I felt grateful for Nan having stronger arms than me.

How to get to Vertical Rock: 10225 Nokesville Road, Manassas VA

Sancheoneo Mountain Trout Festival: Week 46

Brrrrr bbbbbrrrrrrrrrr brrrrrr bbbbrrrrr bbbrrrrr bbbrrr brrr

The crisp winter air along the river was infused with exhaust fumes, like a gas station potpourri. The noise of the go karts and ATVs dominated the ice and created a mechanical soundtrack for the festival. I found the largest helmet I could and when it didn’t fit I smiled at the ATV instructor and said “kun mari” (big head). As he tried to contain his laughter we hit the gas and inched off around the doughnut shaped track.

Brr  bbbbrrr  brrrrrrrrr. The noise was loud and our progress so frustratingly slow.

“Barret, I can’t stop skidding.”

“We’re on ice- that’s the point.”

“Well this is a silly idea.”

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A great portion of the frozen river was crowded with fishers patiently peering down holes in the ice. Using a special ice fishing rod that resembled a fly swatter, the sancheoneo (mountain trout) were coaxed out from the icy depths. Every time I saw the curved plastic rod it reminded me of an older woman I had seen ice fishing on TV. She was strutting around the hole in the ice with her friends, completely oblivious of her cameltoe.

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Further along the river people had gathered around a shallow circular pool. We took our place amongst the crowd just as a group of children emerged from a locker room wearing flip flops, shorts, and tucked cotton T-shirts. They shivered and drew their numb limbs close to their body as they stood by the pool. At the sound of a gong they flung themselves into the glacial water.

While many jumped out as eagerly as they had jumped in, there were some dogged contestants. One by one the resolute grasped the slippery mountain trout and squirreled them inside the neck of their T-shirts. The crowd cheered as they emerged with quivering bodies and wriggling marsupial pouches.

Brrrrrrrrrrrr bbbbrr bbbr  bbrbbbrbrrrr bbbbbrrrrrrrrr

The ice tube slide was deceptively scary. At the top, the slope looked impossibly steep and I wondered how we would be able to stop. Before I could consider that any longer the attendant pushed my tube and I was flying down backwards. Being unable to see the direction you are speeding towards touches on a primal fear inside you, and as I screamed in pure terror my eyes locked on Barret’s eyes. Once his arm curled into a fetal position against his chest I knew it wasn’t concern plastered across his face- he was dying of laughter. I didn’t need to see ahead anymore because I realized the worst possible outcome was an embarrassing video- which is something I know I can survive.

Brrrrr bbbbbrrrrrrrrrr brrrrrr bbbbrrrrr bbbrrrrr bbbrrr brrr

How to get to the Hwacheon: From Dongseoul or Sangbong Terminal catch a bus bound for Hwacheon. You can also take a bus or the Gyeongchun metro line to Chuncheon and then catch a bus to Hwacheon. (Buses run more frequently between Hwacheon & Chuncheon than between Hwacheon & Seoul)

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