Cusco, Lima, Boston, LA… everything

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this month, but I will try anyway: April 2017 was the greatest month of my life to date. If that sound’s a little silly after last month’s glowing post, just hear me out.

  • Hiked Machu Pichu
  • Ate at two of the top 10 restaurants in the world
  • Ran the Boston Marathon
  • Partied at Coachella
  • Started consulting for one of my favourite game companies of all time.

Where month 3 was the turning point, month 4 was the celebration.

Cusco

It started with a sprint. We landed in Lima with only 1 hour to make the connection on to Cusco, (on another airline!), so it was me and a panicked girl who didn’t want to miss the start of her Ayahuasca trip, racing across the airport, trying to flag down officials of the airline over dense crowds of locals. Eventually we were able to get one of their attention and check ourselves in with not a minute to spare. Heart was racing already and we’ve only just started.

Ceviche #1 of a million

We’re lucky we flew when we did. Peru had been plagued by fierce thunderstorms and floods for the weeks leading up to our arrival, and the group who were leaving the next day were turned around mid-air. But thankfully I arrived safely and got to spend my first day in the Andes wandering around the cute town square of Cusco, eating ceviche, and getting acclimated to the altitude.

Cusco’s town centre, at just over 11,000 ft

Attitude. It’s a bitch. Here I was all high and mighty because I’d been running at 8,600ft in Bogata, but Cusco sits an extra 2,500 ft above that and boy can you feel it. A bit of light yoga left you gasping for air, and the stairs back up to the hotel had be taking breaks a few times in fear I might actually pass out. Nothing a good bit of coca tea and candies couldn’t fix though.

Machu Pichu

Machu Pichu was second up on the whistle stop tour of the Andes, and what greeted us after a four hour journey was well worth the 3am wake up call.

Easily the most breathtaking sight I have even seen (sorry I’m likely repeating myself several times here), the most important tip I have for anyone going to MP is to get there early. At 7am it was beautifully serene, and thankfully the weather was perfect. 2 hours later it was awash with tourists and the clouds were hammering down sheets of rain.

The presence of the place astounding. Our guide led us through the ruins, explaining what all the buildings were used for, and the characters that inhabited them. It was a center for advanced learning, home to the most brilliant thinkers in the Incan Empire, and so cherished, that all access to it was detroyed when it became clear the Spanish would soon sweep over the land. We stood where human sacrifices were made to appease the gods, where the king and queen lay at night, where the crops were sown to feed the researchers, and all sorts of strange experiments were carried out of humans and animals alike.

Also met lamas. And ate alpaca…

Rainbow Mountain

Next day it was off to Rainbow Mountain to encounter an even earlier start time (2am!) and higher altitude (peaked at over 16,000 ft!).

Our small group of three began our trek up the mountain as the sun started to rise, our bellies full of a delicious breakfast served to us by the locals in their cosy little tin shack.

The ascent was tough, and muddy, each step getting more difficult as we rose to the highest altitude I’ve ever experienced (16,000 ft!). Approaching the peak, munching on coca candy and taking it one very slow step at a time, we were greeted by the spectacular rainbow itself, a sight well and truly worth the effort.

Once again, soon after we arrived, the tourists and the weather closed in. Get in early! There’s no amount of mud and rain that a great new Goldfrapp album can’t combat though.

Lima

Lima’s boardwalk and coastline provided some of the best running of the trip

I couldn’t spend too much time in the mountains as I had to get back to the last bit of training for Boston, and a few days in Lima before I headed off to the US. What an incredible city to run in, and finish my journey towards the world’s greatest marathon.

Running along this boardwalk at sunrise or sunset was absolute bliss. Just one 1km down the road was my super well equipped Airbnb that was a great little spot to work from for the 9 days I was there.

Add a new Soulwax album into the mix and you have a recipe for a great time.

The food in Peru is to die for, and we got to sample the best of the best. Central was featured as the finale to the latest season of Chef’s Table, one of my favourite documentary series. Ranked #4 in the world, the menu is proudly Peruvian, with each dish taking you to a different elevation of the Andes.

15 courses and a couple of bottles of exceptional wine later, we were left pretty astounded by the artistry that went into each perfectly composed plate. While the food was good and the presentation exceptional, I found the staff and ambiance to be cold and snobbish, which really detracted from the overall impact of the experience.

Maido, on the other hand, was warm, welcoming, humble, and absolutely exceptional. Right from the start I had a huge smile on my face as all the staff and chefs cheered “Maido!” as I entered the door to the dining room. I was sat at the bar where some of the best sushi chefs in the world set fire to beautifully delicate rolls, and I was seen to by a delightful waiter.

The best piece of fish I’ve ever had (Cod Miyosaki)

I thought foam was bullshit, but this appetiser proved me wrong. Little did I know so much flavour could be crammed into a little bubbly adornment to my sushi. That was jump a ramp up for the main event though, the Cod Miyosaki, which was not only the best piece of fish I’ve ever had in my life, but right up there with one of the best things I have ever eaten. You just had to close your eyes to focus on the explosion of flavour, for fear your brain might explode from sensory overload. Next time I’m going to go back and do the whole tasting menu.

Many of the remotes have said Lima was their favourite city, and I can really see why. It was sad that I could only spend 9 days there, but I will most certainly be returning.

The Boston Marathon

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that training for the world’s greatest marathon while traveling with Remote Year sounds borderline masochistic. You only need to look as far as last month’s clash of music festival and 50km max training run for proof that I’m somewhat inclined towards self harm.

Or perhaps it’s just getting the most out of life?

Whatever, it just happened this way. I qualified for Boston in 2015 after running a 2:57 in the New York City Marathon, truly one of the most special moments of my life. When I subsequently signed up for Boston, I had no idea that I would be flying from Peru and leaving my new family to join in on this great celebration of running on this most hallowed ground.

But as it turned out, RY ended up being a fantastic training ground for the big day. From the altitude to the mountain runs, the massive parks and the inner-city ciclovias, keeping up this training regimine was a fantastic way to stay motivated on the road and

The morning of the race I was woken by this amazing picture…

They made me feel proud and excited and motivated in only the way that family can. Add on top of this a video compilation of the whole crew giving me personal messages of support from a boozy rooftop party, and you’ve got a recipe for an emotional wreck of a man come race day morning.

The encouragement of one fellow remote in particular made me beam especially bright.

As should be expected given the tragedy a few years ago, security for the race was extensive, but I was blown away by how smooth it was to get out to the start line. A fun chat to a fellow triathlete on the bus, a coffee and bagel in the welcome tent, and even a quiet sit in the meditation booth (complete with noise cancelling headphones), and I was off to the start line!

What an incredible feeling it was to fire off the start line of the Boston Marathon with thousands of the world’s best runners, a perfect spring day and open blue skies setting the scene for a beautiful tour of historic city’s outskirts.

The main trick with the Boston course is pacing yourself to be in good shape for the Newton Hills that start around the 30km mark. Now as anyone who will tell you that’s run a marathon, this is about the point where the hurt really starts to kick in, even if you’re on the flat. So the prospect of 3 pretty sizable hills in a row a little daunting right about now. Especially when you consider the famous “Heartbreak” hill kicks in just around 35km…

35km is my least favorite part of a marathon. You’re far enough in that you are feeling the full pain of the endeavor, yet not close enough to feel the emotional high of certain success. It’s this horrid, dark place that nothing except diligent training and dogged belief can get you though.

So now we’re experiencing this and going up hill.

To my astonishment, I hit the hills with great pace. It hurt for sure, but I summoned every ounce of zen and soaked up all the cheers from the sideline, and just kept steady. I flew up and over the hills, not panicking that the pace had dropped slightly, knowing I had some time up my sleeve, breathing and just waiting to crest the top of Heartbreak and plunge down the other side.

My goal for the race was 3:05, a time that would qualify me to enter again. As I left the hills behind me, it was clear I was on pace to be able to do my second ever sub-3 marathon, no less in Boston. I got super excited, and then, really nervous.

I was on pace going down the hill, but I could feel myself coming unstuck. The hills had drained me not just of energy stores, but precious fluid as the temperature had started to soar. Feeling massively overheated and brittle from pounding down the hill, the last two miles back on the flat were my Everest.

At least I wasn’t alone in my suffering. Some of my poor fellow runners had been dragged back to a walk, or paused on the side of the road to empty their stomachs. This is definitely the point at which we question our life decisions.

I pushed myself to the absolute limit those 2 miles, but my body could only get me over the line in 3 hours… and 30 seconds.

I had to laugh. If it had have been a couple minutes more then it wouldn’t have been an issue, but to be that close was, I can’t lie, pretty disappointing. Still, getting that time after training while traveling the world?

Okay I’ll take it.

And the Shake Shake, I’ll take that also. All of it.

Race morning light, medal in hand, Shake Shake in mouth.

Coachella

Alright enough of that training nonsense, it’s time to party!

My Dad and I have been going to music festivals together for 20 odd years, so on a whim back in 2012 we decided it might be fun to check out one of the greatest of them all. We sold Mum on the idea with the lure of poolside margaritas. It wasn’t a hard sell.

Flash forward 5 years and the show is now an excuse for an annual pilgrimage to the family home, and our collective happiest place on earth.

This year we were joined by my two best friends, a couple more excellent kiwis, and a brewer friend they had picked up along their travels. It was a great crew, were we set for a great time.

Coachella, like LA, gets a bad wrap for being full beach bros and wannabe instagram stars. Those people may exist, but they are a minority. Like all of SoCal, Coachella is a diverse, friendly, optimistic place to be, where the person standing next to you always a potential new friend, and the relentless sun shines on relentless smiles.

One thing that continues to strike me the most about the show though is just how incredibly well run it is. Everything is on time. You always know where to go. Crowds flow freely. You very rarely wait in line for anything, the main exception being if you arrive at peak time for the security check, but I’ll forgive them that because they’re thorough enough to make you feel safe.

That they are able to run such a tight ship with 120,000 (mostly wasted) people in a polo ground is really quite something.

When I say the “production values” are great I sound like a hipster git nerding out over their backline configuration. But what I really mean is that no other festival in the world (that’s I’ve seen yet!) can hold a candle to how good it looks and sounds to experience a band at Coachella. The key benefit of this is that no matter how far away you are from the stage, you really feel part of the show.

Throw in amazing art installations, food, and craft beer, and you have a recipe for this music fan’s favorite place on planet earth. I plan on going again every year forever.

A New Beginning

As if all this wasn’t enough already, there was the small matter of my career threatening to take a wild turn in a new direction.

Sparked by a few friendly discussions and feedback discussions regarding their new mobile game Sky, the opportunity had presented itself to advise thatgamecompany in a more formal capacity. Given how influential TGC’s games had been on work and my life, this was a very “pinch yourself” sort of moment, and if it weren’t for the new found confidence that Remote Year had given me, I may not have even had the gumption to put myself out there and chase the opportunity.

So bubbling away in the background throughout Peru were interviews, critique sessions, contract negotiations, and scheduling for what would become an 8 month, 1 day per week consulting gig as a Live Experience Designer for TGC, kicking off with a one week onsite in Santa Monica, a pretty remarkable way to mark 1/3 of the way through this incredible journey.

More on that, plus imposter syndrome, purpose, and the lurching emotional rollercoaster of Remote Year, next time.