A year of transition – 2018

2018 was a tricky year for me in many ways. After a few years living out of my backpack I knew I was ready for a new chapter. Here’s an insight into my transition from living as an outdoor gypsy to working a Monday-Friday job.

In grasses

It started with me giving up my spot on a two month sea kayaking expedition in Greenland to sign a permanent job contract in Nelson. This is where many people reading may be thinking ‘You did what?! Are you crazy…why would you do that?!’

The truth is that a life of back-to-back expeditions and travel starts to wear thin. You can be in the most beautiful places in the world having the most epic adventures but eventually you start to get lonely and crave being part of a geographical community again. I felt myself getting close to adventure burnout. Not spending more than 10 days in one place in around four years is both a dream and a curse. I wrote a bit about this a few years ago in a blog ‘Life of an Outdoor Gypsy’

“Many of us are addicted to the gypsy lifestyle. We enjoy the freedom, the time spent outside and the kinds of people who are in this industry. There’s a lot of good energy. It’s a kind of never-never land. Afraid of monotony, afraid of working in a stifling environment or in an industry where the values don’t align with my personal values, my life as an outdoor gypsy continues. An appetite for new adventures, uncertainty, and a relentless thirst for spending time in nature. Some days I smile to myself, wondering how on earth what I’m doing can be considered a job. Other times I daydream about living in some kind of Hobbiton, nursing a basil plant and popping over the back fence to a friend’s place for a cuppa. I know that one day I’ll juggle those two worlds a bit better.”


My goal for the past two years has been to work on a more sustainable balance between routine and adventure. To get the balance right I knew I had to let myself settle into a geographical community again. The first year I tried to work on that I failed miserably. One week into a job for a tech startup company a friend invited me on a ski-mountaineering-packrafting expedition in Alaska. A few weeks later I was touching down in Anchorage for two different expeditions followed by a trip to Iceland. Epic (but awesome) fail!

Five months later I was back in New Zealand. In late October I was at Knobs Flat in Fiordland when I received the news via satellite phone – I’d been offered a permanent job contract teaching Outdoor Education in Nelson. I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. Second time lucky?! I had flashbacks of my attempt to stay in one place the previous year. The rest of summer was full of adventures. A month-long Southern Alps Traverse (a few words on this to be published within the next week), a two week packrafting mission in Fiordland and lots of other small trips. Bike-packing loops, Mitre Peak, rugged tramping missions in Mt Aspiring National Park, obscure packrafting routes.



Then in late January I moved to Nelson and started working. Initially I was stoked. Every day after work I’d be riding my mountain bike, going sea kayaking or jogging. In March I competed in my first adventure race, Godzone Fiordland. And a couple of weeks later I was on a two week packrafting trip with crocodiles in remote Australia. That took me to late April, with summer starting to fade away and the time I’d usually fly to Alaska or Nepal creeping up fast.


doonan standing with epic view

I felt stifled in my job and out of place surrounded by many colleagues who had been working the same job for a few decades. I missed my international adventure community. I distinctly remember one evening at a dinner party when the conversation turned to leaf blowers. Leaf blowers! My mind wandered to glaciers in Alaska, sea kayaking with icebergs, watching grizzly bears stuff their faces with blueberries. Living in a town felt superficial, I felt stifled and I missed the simplicity of living mostly outside. Part of me wondered if I’d done the right thing. There were a few weeks when I wondered if I’d make it a whole year. My emotions ebbed and flowed as offers to join various adventures popped up in my email inbox regularly throughout the NZ winter months:

“Come and join the film crew in Europe”

“Join our Packrafting trip in Alaska”

“We managed to get a Grand Canyon permit. Want to come?”

I managed to stick it out by reminding myself the transition wouldn’t be immediate. Even if you’re ready for change it can be common to mourn what you had. I think moving on from a very nomadic existence is comparable to a professional athlete retiring from their sport. I found myself mourning my lifestyle and the adventure community, and I felt like my identity had been stripped in some ways. My whole social circle changed and the way I planned my life was different. I loved my new lifestyle yet resented it at the same time. There were so many awesome things…. I loved having more routine and starting to build a normal social circle. Being able to meet up with mates for a ride or coffee regularly was so novel. There were new opportunities and challenges. I started doing some public speaking and putting more energy into creative hobbies again.


Macpac bike chill.jpg

I survived my first full winter in seven years by night riding (mountain biking) and trail running several times a week. And weekends were mostly spent heading for the snow or going on wilderness mountain bike rides.


Suddenly it was November and for the first time since I was 16 years old, I celebrated my birthday in the urban world. A crew of around 20 friends joined me for my 30th birthday adventure…we whizzed down the Wiggle-Waggle trails in Sharlands in a big party train and then went to the pub. It was my least adventurous birthday in over a decade but I was really happy. Not much beats biking with mates! It reminded me that I was doing pretty well with my goal of finding a better balance between routine and adventure.  

bday ride

I ended up working in the mountains down south and then India for a month at the end of the school year. After a six week mountain biking and packrafting hiatus in December-January I returned home rearing to get out on some missions! In typical Dulkara style I flew back to New Zealand with my bags already packed for a quick turnaround. Less than 24hrs after touching down in NZ I was walking in on the St James track, heading for the headwaters of the Matakitaki River for a packrafting mission.


I’m now four weeks into my second consecutive year of Monday-Friday work. I should probably mention that it comes with 3+ months of holidays per year! It has its ups and downs…I feel like I’m still settling in and working towards a life balance that suits me but overall I’m really happy with where I’m at. One super exciting thing for me this year is that I’m finally ready to build in Te Anau!

Cheers to a second year of routine, coffee shops, creative activities, weekend adventures and a couple of longer and more rugged adventures sprinkled in…. I couldn’t live without them.

Next up? Tasmania in April. Beyond then nothing is in stone but a combo of Southern Alps and Patagonia time at the end of the year seems the most likely. I think I’m on my way to nailing The Double Life

But please don’t talk to me about leaf blowers!