- We’ve bought tickets to Adelaide! Dan will come with me to South Australia, we’ll see some friends, do a bit of extra shopping (gas, lighter), drive up and drop my three resupply boxes, then he’ll take me to the start of the walk. After that, he’ll come home (taking a couple of days), and I’ll start walking!
- I haven’t done any overnight walks, but I have camped out in the garden a couple of times. The last time I did this, it was pretty chilly - maybe about 2-3 degrees overnight - and I was almost warm enough in what I had. I do want to get a lightweight merino hoodie that I can wear as a sleep top to keep the draughts out of my neck (my buff will be on my head if it’s that cold).
- I’ve also been going back and forth on an extra pair of sleep socks and some warm mittens. I have struck a great compromise (I hope) with a bit of DIY. I’ve cut the arms off a $4 puffy jacket from the op shop, and I’m about to get on with some sewing. I’ll close in the cuff/toe/finger end, tidy up the leg/arm end, and unpick/seal a little thumb hole in the seam. Then I’ll have some lightweight, warm sleeping booties that double up as cosy mittens if I need them. And when I don’t need them for my feet I can add them to my pillow pile.
Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time.
I didn’t get a chance to do any big walks for a while after the one in the hills. We’ve been busy. We bought a house (yay!), then we were in Melbourne for Dan’s temp job (yay!) and the weather was fairly miserable (not yay!). Instead of beating myself up about not getting the distances in, I decided to work on something else: carrying my pack.
I’ve been getting bits of gear together, weighing everything, and trying to figure out how, exactly, I have managed to create such a heavy load. My tent weighs less than 500g, for goodness’ sake! Of course, the answer is boring: everything adds up. Every extra item - a second hanky or bandanna, multivitamin tablets, an extra piece of cutlery, a pair of thongs as camp shoes - contributes to overall weight. Then I add food for 3-6 days. And then I fill up my bottles and bam! - an extra 2kg just for fun.
Now, once I’ve got everything I need (or want) and have done a final weight analysis, there will be things that I decide not to bring, or will bring less/fewer of, or will make fill the function of other items. But all told, I think that when I’m fully loaded with two (or more) litres of water and food for 3-5 days, I’ll be carrying somewhere in the realm of 15-17kg. This might not sound like much, and probably a kilo of that will be in my bumbag, but let me tell you, it can feel like a sack of bricks! This is especially the case because I find my backpack is really only comfortable for carrying weights below about 13kg. Other people say the Osprey Exos 48 is very comfortable to 15kg or 18kg, but that’s not true for me.
So, in order to get used to carrying a heavy load, I’ve been... carrying gradually heavier loads. Makes sense, right? I’ve packed my backpack with our heaviest tent (for bulk), then piled in a few litres of water, padded with some extra bits and pieces to stop the bottles and thermoses clunking and rattling. I’ve left some of the usual things in my bag - first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent - and it usually brings the total carry up to around 10-13kg.
The first time I did this, I almost keeled over and had to take one of the thermoses out. It has been a long time since I’ve carried this much. In the UK, I was used to doing overnight or shorter walks, with minimal equipment and pubs on hand for lunch. That’s not quite the deal on the Heysen Trail. I needed to harden up a bit. But I needed to harden up softly - I didn’t want to injure myself.
I went out for short walks with this setup 3 or 4 times a week. They were mostly suburban strolls along relatively flat streets, but I also went on a couple of more bushy walks with my friend Emily. Only a couple of these walks lasted more than an hour, but I started getting used to the pack. I think it’s partly a mental game. It’s different when I’m actually out on an overnight walk and need the things in my pack - but when it’s just a training walk I keep thinking, “What is the point of lugging 5kgs of water around the block?” Anyway, I’m still experiencing strain on my shoulders, and still getting used to the forward lean to counterbalance the pack. I also know that when the pack’s full of things that are less dense than water it will carry differently - I’m hoping that will help a little, because it has in the past! I just need to keep slogging away, building up to carry the heaviest load I think I’ll encounter in, say, the first week on trail, then building up the distance as well.
At this point in my training - around 5 weeks out from the start date - I’m pretty confident that I can walk the distances and elevation required every day. Some of them will be long, hard days, but I’m not in bad walking condition. I’m less confident that I can do it with a fully loaded pack. So, I need to keep working at it. Again, it’s boring, but that’s how it is.
Other updates are:
Pictures taken on Wurundjeri Country and Gunaikurnai Country. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
I want to see mountains again. Mountains, Gandalf! (NB: These are more hills than mountains.)
I’ve been saying I need to get out in the hills more, and that I need to get my mileage up, so this was the day! The forecast was for sunny weather, though as we drove through Briagolong and up Freestone Creek Road the mist was heavy on the plains and in the valleys. Mum and Dad came along for the first bit of the walk (Dan was in Melbourne) - 25 minutes of constant uphill along the first bit of Ten Mile Track - and they were both more spritely than I was.
We admired the sunlight filtering through the mist and the bright pink spears and clusters of heath along the road as I tried and failed to keep up. Going straight into a big uphill first thing is not my favourite way to start a walk!
As my folks turned back, the mist was starting to clear, and after scooting through a short dip in the road, I was well out of it. I got glimpses of it hovering in the valleys below for a little while, but soon enough it was gone. Up and up I went, with a few moments of respite, past the intersection with Bonus Spur Track (now that was an uphill walk!) and finally to the summit of Mount Moornapa.
The views were once again fantastic, and after our last visit I was better able to identify various ridges and peaks. The sun was now out in full force, along with the birds and a handful of flies. I took a break a little further down the track, sitting in the shade for a few minutes to eat a muesli bar and have a drink of water.
I’d been quite in my head for the first part of the walk, thinking about the differences between walking with others and going solo, and this continued as I headed down Tower Link Road. I do like sharing the experience with other people - whether that’s Dan, other friends and family, or a walking group of some kind. I like being able to share the joys of the day, to point out (and have pointed out) views and birds and flowers, to have someone to get my water bottle out of my bag without practising my contortionist moves, to laugh about finding a place to wee, to chat about anything and everything. But I also like walking by myself, not having to negotiate with anyone else where and when to stop, randomly singing or chatting to the birds without anyone there to hear, being completely in charge of my speed, knowing that my decisions only affect me. It wasn’t until I went for some solo day walks that I realised how much energy I expend negotiating with co-travellers. I really do think everyone who likes walking should go for a long walk by themselves at some point, to experience both the accountability and the liberation.
Soon Tower Link Road deposited me at the bottom of the hill, where I turned up Bullockhead Creek Road. This track turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the walk - it was lush and shady, small creeks were flowing (presumably one or more of which was the eponymous Bullockhead), there was lots of greenery and the rowdy birds kept me company. Around here, I finally gained a bit of presence, which was nice.
It was kind of cool how this walk traced a similar arc to my Stockdale-Blue Pool walk, only in reverse and a hill or two further north. The junction of Insolvent Track was the closest my feet came to the last walk - less than a kilometre away - but I turned in the other direction and headed north. I was starting to think about lunch, but wanted to hold on until I was over halfway done, so instead I tried out an energy gel - my first ever! It was sweet and its most notable immediate effect was to give me something to do for a while as I slowly sucked the gloop out of the sachet. I guess it worked, because before I knew it I was at the intersection of Winkie Creek Road, and it was lunch time.
I’d decided to have noodles for lunch in part to force myself to take a proper break, and I was very pleased about it. It’s so nice to take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the fresh air while cooking noodles in the middle of the bush. Not even the undesired visit from a couple of mozzies really annoyed me - they seemed more interested in my sweaty pack, anyway. After lunch, I balanced out my water and mixed up an electrolyte sachet, then set off, turning on to Mount Ray Road soon after.
My route took me around the south side of a lot of the hills, meaning I was in the shade (no need to break out the dorky removable flaps on my new legionnaires cap!) and the road wound around a lot of lush gullies full of green ferns, moss, lichens and soft red soil. Occasionally, though, the track passed through a saddle and onto the north face, as it did while I very gradually climbed towards Mount Ray.
On the northern slopes, the bush is completely different - dry, with blue-grey foliage and grey-brown leaf litter covering the hard ground. The views were also very different. To the south I could catch glimpses of the plains and a silver band of water (Lake Wellington, I presume). To the north, between and behind the closer hills, the blue horizon of distant peaks shifted very slightly as I walked.
I stopped for a quick break to eat an apple and stretch out my legs on the north side of Mount Ray. I spent a good 5 minutes trying to decide if the Noones in Noones Road was pronounced like midday or nobody or noonies. And then I was at the top of the climb. I’d thought that I might bushbash up to the summit from the road, but when I got there, the notion didn’t appeal - I couldn’t imagine there would be much more to see, the brush was pretty thick. Instead, I started the long downhill, enjoying the vistas that opened up to the east across the pine plantations and farmland to Mount Taylor and its fire tower on the horizon. The downhilling wasn’t as bad as I feared, but it was still pretty brutal on my toes and knees. So, I stopped again. Because I could. I sat down in the dirt near a little dam full of orange, clay-filled water, took my shoes and socks off and nibbled on Nobby’s nuts. It was great. A bit later, I heard a lyrebird.
The electrolytes were doing their job, and I felt pretty good as I dropped down past various boundary tracks, a shed of some kind (PRIVATE PROPERTY KEEP OUT!), a couple of deer (not obeying the sign to keep out of the private property), a couple of wallabies (who disappeared almost before I could see them - just the telltale sound of them jumping through the bush) and the scraggly first paddocks.
I was aiming to get to Beverleys Road at 4pm to meet Dan, and I was on time until I came upon the cows. At first they didn’t notice me, as the closest one was a couple of hundred metres away across the paddock. But soon enough they decided I was a terrifying threat, and the entire herd gathered from across the hillside to bellow at each other and run ahead of me up the hill. They waited there until I came near again, then thundered off into the next paddock. And so it went until they were unable to go further, so they just had to mill around and look at me as I took my extremely threatening bag and hair-raising walking sticks and made my fearsome way along the road.
And then, there was Dan, wandering up the sandy track in the golden afternoon light - the first person I’d seen since I’d said goodbye to my folks several hours before. Home time!
I walked about 24km with 980m+ of both ascent and descent. I started at around 8:15am and finished at 4pm, with more than an hour of rest stops (45 mins for lunch, two breaks of 10-15mins and a couple of shorter ones). I carried a lighter pack than usual, knowing that this was going to be a more strenuous walk, so bear that in mind in the following paragraphs.
I felt unusually chipper at the end of this walk. Almost as if - and I know this is weird, but stay with me here - putting enough fuel in your body and replenishing certain nutrients as you walk actually makes a difference? Who knew! So, I would say that both the energy gel and the electrolyte mix helped, as did stopping for rests and generally taking my time. The energy gel is something I’m only going to take a few of on the Heysen Trail - one in each drop box to add to my first aid kit - but it’s good to know it will help in a pinch. I wasn’t planning to take electrolyte drinks every day, but I might change my mind on that.
My feet were moderately sore by the end, and my right toe was in a pre-blister state. I didn’t put any plasters on, because I wanted to see if just stopping, taking off my shoes and socks and airing everything out in the sunshine would help (blister formation is exacerbated by moisture). It seemed to help. A more lightweight solution than carrying lots of extra bandaids - saving myself a fraction of a gram every a day!
I had plenty of other aches and pains in the evening - legs and hips in particular. I slept extremely well that night (the most sleep I’ve had in months). The next day I did some nice stretching, especially for my calves, which are always really tight. And by the following day, I only had some slight achiness in my ankles and calves to remind me of doing such a long walk.
This walk is on the unceded Country of the Brayakaulung (Gunaikurnai) people. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
At least it keeps us off the streets…
Just before 8am, we popped out onto Sydney Road, then took a little detour through Warr Park before heading up Albion Street to A Minor Place. We hadn’t been there since getting back to Australia this time around, so this was a long overdue breakfast! I had the tofu poke bowl and Dan had Henry’s White Beans with an egg. The white beans are a classic and have been on the menu since I used to come here to “work” on my PhD. They’re still excellent, as is the coffee (my breakfast was good overall, but some of the items were a little lacklustre). Absolutely stuffed with food, we joked we wouldn’t need to eat again until dinner with friends at the Cornish Arms.
East on Albion, then along one of Melbourne’s bluestone alleys to Allard Park and the oval. The idea of this route was to (a) keep off conventional streets and roads as much as possible and (b) make the loop into a ~15km walk by going the long way around any parks we encountered. So, around the oval we went, pleased to see the bocce pitch (field? court?) was still there. Up onto the little hill to survey Jones Park, the trees along the creek, the golden domes of the orthodox church. Then finally down to the Merri Creek path.
There were works on the path to the south, and the detour took us through Ceres, which offered lots to look at (gardens, chooks, sculpture) and some toilets for a quick pit stop. We enjoyed the new-to-us footbridge and viewing platform under Blyth Street, then crossed the creek to continue on the unsealed paths on the other side. There were a lot of signs warning for snakes. Attenzione serpenti! We didn’t see any serpenti. But we did see a kindergarten group doing activities, and were greeted enthusiastically by one of the kids (reminded me of the kid at the You Yangs!). It was really pleasant to follow the familiar-but-unfamiliar path along the creek. Apparently it was opened by Bob Hawke - now there’s some political history for you. (Politics was on our mind, as the federal election loomed. Thankfully the result wasn't terrible.)
The path loops under and back around on St Georges Road (NB: Australia doesn't use apostrophes in place names), and then a little while later we turned off onto the Capital City Trail. We hadn’t brought our raincoats, so when the light sprinkle started turning to drizzle, we sat under a picnic/BBQ shelter along with various evacuees of the play ground and a few fuzzy pigeons. We also spoke to my aunt, who has recently had surgery - everything went well, and she’s recovering nicely, which is great news.
Walking along Park Street reminded us of one time when we walked the whole Capital City Trail in a day - which remains, I believe, the furthest I’ve walked in a single day. As we got towards Lygon Street, I also recalled what the area looked like when I lived near Drummond Street in my second year in Melbourne, before we met. The trees have grown up so much, and places like the North Carlton Railway Neighbourhood House really enliven the green corridor.
At Princes Park, we strolled down and around the Carlton football ground (I think it’s called Ikon Oval at the moment) and enjoyed the autumnal colours of the deciduous trees. The weather was also suitably autumnal - occasionally chilly enough to pull my sleeves down and do up the zipper on my fleece, but five minutes later warm enough that I almost considered taking the jumper off altogether.
We didn’t go all the way into Royal Park this time, instead heading down another long bluestone alley into Brunswick West, then starting our extremely meandering route back north via Temple Park, Gilpin Park, Clifton Park and Clifton Park West, Brunswick Park and the Gillon Oval.
Somewhere in these parks, we both started flagging. I think the main issue was that we knew we were so close to home, but still had a few kilometres to walk before getting there! But of course, eventually we were done. We headed east along Hope Street (possibly our longest conventional street stretch of the whole walk), then north on the Upfield Bike Path to connect the loop. Despite having sworn I was too full for lunch, I managed a very hearty slice of toast before we crashed for an afternoon nap.
This was an easy walk, without a pack, over fairly flat terrain. My feet felt OK, though towards the end I opted to walk on the grass rather than the hard path where possible. I didn’t get any blisters, but probably would have if I’d kept going another 5km (especially if I hadn’t been able to dry out my socks a bit).
I got quite a sore lower back as I sometimes do, especially when I'm not carrying a pack. This is something I’m hoping might start to improve in future as a friend of mine offered me some free online Alexander Technique sessions after reading about this issue in a previous post. I'm enjoying the sessions and I’ve noticed I’m getting far less sore in my neck area, which is great. Two of the techniques I was given to try during the lesson before this walk were (1) to ask myself, “How can I do less?” and (2) to tell myself, “I am not walking” (when walking, or standing when standing), and see what changes occur in my body. It was quite interesting, and something I’m sure will continue to evolve!
This walk is on the lands of the Wurrundjeri people. This country was never ceded and it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
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