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Local Characters

Karen Russell and Vic Slavensky from Wellington


Two mates, a bike called Matilda and the road ahead of them: Karen Russell and Vic Slavensky show us what it means to grow old adventurously. For these two, slowing down in the twilight years is not an option and in doing their thing, they hope to inspire the rest of us to live a little larger. 

Karen Russell and Vic Slavensky are good mates. Good mates with a passion for sucking the juice out of life. Rather than slowing down in their retirement years, the pair has picked up the pace and they refuse to sit back and watch the world go by.

There’s still too much to do.

Both are nudging 70; both have their motorcycle licences and both take turns riding Karen’s bright yellow Ural around the streets of Wellington and far beyond.

This inspirational pair has both lead amazing lives independently and together and they still have a bucket list “as long your arm”.

They’ll both tell you that when they met they quickly realised their priorities in life were similar – a love of adventure being the significant link. That love of adventure is more personality trait than conscious effort to be more than they are.

“Our health is quite reasonable for our age and neither of us likes sitting around at home; it makes it very easy because we are so similar in that sense, if one of us wants to try something it’s very likely the other one will agree,” Karen says.

Vic realises a lot of people at retirement age aren’t necessarily going to be as fearless as he and Karen, but the couple is happy to show others that slowing down is not par-for the-course when it comes to getting older.

“We would like to be an example to people, what others could aspire to if they wanted to get out there a bit more.”

Karen, who is also an author and member of the Outback Writers Club in Dubbo, agrees – referring to her recently published book When Everything Changes, Change Everything.

The book’s very essence is about how to cope when life throws you a whammy; when what seems like disaster can in fact be an opportunity for radical growth or change.

“The book is about adventure in the later years of life and I hope some of that enthusiasm and magic might rub off on anyone who reads it,” she says. “There’s really no reason why, as you get older, you can’t have as much fun as you did when you were younger - you might just have to take it a little slower and adapt things to your abilities. Age is not a reason to stop having fun.”

With adventure sometimes comes risk and last year Karen and Vic did have an accident that wrote-off another Ural motorcycle. They admit to getting a bit knocked about but once mended the pair climbed back in the saddle and purchased the new Ural they’ve named Matilda.

Vic says his family was not surprised when the couple bought the new motorbike and quickly began planning the next trip.

“My family asked me if I was going to have another crack and I said sure, why not?”

Karen’s family was much the same.

“My family really wants me to live my life to the full. Some of my friends have said we’re crazy and now you know why you shouldn’t be riding a bike at your age, but really? I think most people applaud what we do.”

Since then, the couple has clocked up around 8000 kilometres on day trips and weekend adventures to places from Ballimore to the Barrington Tops.

Vic has always been an enthusiastic cyclist. Formally employed with Telstra he has seen plenty of Australia thanks to his career and has in the past decade participated in the Zoo2Zoo rides, completing stretches between Dubbo and Canberra, Sydney and Wagga, respectively.

Vic’s love of cycling, both for pleasure and fitness, encouraged Karen to take up the pursuit again. The first big ride they completed together was on a trip to New Zealand where they rode along the Otago Central Rail Trail, a 150 kilometre former railway track that has been repurposed for walking and cycling. The pair has travelled together to the Red Centre, been on numerous fossicking expeditions and camped in remote locations throughout the Australian outback.

Karen explains that Vic knows some “special” resorts in the outback – places he calls “GP resorts”.

“That means Gravel Pit resorts – we’ve found ourselves camping in dingo-howling country in landscapes that looked like they could have been on the moon and we take our little brazier along and light our fire – they’ve been truly wonderful adventures.”

The couple’s other major project has been Karen’s historic home.

Karen, a former yoga teacher, entrepreneur and children’s magical clown now lives in Wellington in an 1850s slab home she’s named Camelot. She purchased the home as an investment 20 years ago when she was still married and living in Sydney. Camelot was run down, to say the least, and to the faint-hearted probably appeared beyond repair, with grass growing through the floor boards and a leaky roof that required many pots and pans placed in hot-spots around the kitchen. Weekend trips to Camelot with sleeves rolled up proved the old treasure was definitely salvageable and in the process the house revealed a few secrets about itself.

Camelot is very similar in construction to the hotel The Lion of Waterloo, built in 1842 (also located in Wellington in Montefiores).

The slab home has been patched and rebuilt over the span of its long life and in its current incarnation actually sits over the top of the original building.

“Underneath all that we discovered a whole other house with brilliant old wallpapers hanging off the slabs; it’s just the most incredible house that’s hidden out of view.”

Karen says she’s left a peep-hole behind the fridge, through which you can see what lies beneath.

Heritage advisors have recommended the house be left as is, as the wallpaper and other parts of the old home are not yet ready to be preserved and protected.

“I fell in love with the house and the town of Wellington,” she says.

“I never rented Camelot out for money; it was just a loving project and I never dreamed that one day it would actually be my home. But luckily it is and I adore it.”

The next adventure the two will embark on will involve their Ural, Matilda, a couple of motorbike swags, a custom-made, motorcycle friendly brazier, a map and the wide open road.

Asked to sum up their life’s philosophy, Vic smiles: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

Karen echoes the sentiment and adds one of her own: “Daring to live is the only viable option.”

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