- 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.
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.
The familiar has become unfamiliar…
A few days after our You Yangs outing, Dan and I were due to meet a friend for morning tea at Ceres. We arrived a couple of hours early and headed north on Merri Merri (Merri Creek) in the almost-drizzle. We made it all the way up to Coburg Lake Reserve before turning around.
This was a path we walked many, many times when we lived near the creek in Thornbury, and it was lovely to revisit the area - even if some of the changes made us feel like strangers in our old neighbourhood! There’s a big new footbridge across the creek at Ceres, the trees and shrubs have all grown up, there’s new signage (directional and informational), the market garden at the swing bridge (which has “save our bridge” banners on it) has become quite the destination as an outpost of Ceres with its little cafe. It was a lovely walk, and I hardly took any photos, so I’m not going to dwell on it here
My training notes for this outing are: it helped ease my achy calves from our You Yangs walk (and so did a serious stretching session afterwards); I almost got another blister on my right toe; and thankfully I can actually walk fast - if only over flat terrain, on easy paths and without a pack (11km in 2hrs 15min).
Thoughts about gadgetry
I haven’t posted a lot about my Heysen Trail prep other than training walks I’ve done, but I’ve been making some decisions about what gear to take. I thought some of you might be interested. If not, feel free to close the tab now! This little ramble is about navigation, emergency beacons (PLBs) and gadgets.
One thing you need to think about when walking in remote places is safety. Let me start by saying: I already have a one-use-only emergency beacon (Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB) and a smart phone. I went back and forth on getting a Garmin Inreach or a SPOT for the Heysen. I’d pretty much ruled out the SPOT and was really researching the benefits of the Mini vs Explorer Inreach. But in the end, I decided against it. Why? Cost and weight/bulk.
The benefits of getting a Garmin, depending on the model, can include: topo maps, GPS tracking (e.g. onto a map that friends/family can check from afar), texting (even/especially when phone reception is bad), weather updates, emergency beacon and additional comms options in case of an emergency. This makes it a lot more useful than my one-use-only PLB. Also, the battery life isn’t bad and it would extend the battery of my phone (because using GPS on the phone when looking at maps uses a lot of juice).
These are all great things, so what’s holding me back? First, it’s hundreds of dollars for the device ($400+ for the Mini, $600+ for the Explorer), then you have to pay a subscription fee for $20-$100 a month (with the more basic plans, you also have to pay for tracking points and extra messaging). NB: there are cheaper ways to do it - either by buying second hand, borrowing or renting the device. So, that’s something to keep in mind if you really want to take a Garmin with you on a trip.
The other issue is I don’t want to carry more devices than I need to. My phone should be able to do a lot of what the Garmin does. I can download topo maps for offline use (e.g. Gaia premium), I can get weather updates (though only when I have internet reception, but I can check the 5 day forecast when available), I can text (when I have phone reception), I can get updates on the water tanks from other walkers (i.e. FarOut/Guthook). Paying for premium Gaia and buying FarOut for the track costs less than buying a Garmin and paying for the subscription. Plus, my phone can take photos (I have made the decision - which I may regret! - to leave my camera behind).
Of course, the phone won’t be any good in an emergency if I'm out of range and, as I said, using it for GPS tracking gobbles up the battery. It’s also possible that it will just crack the shits and stop working (Garmin is, as far as I’m aware, a much sturdier piece of equipment). So, what are my plans for that?
I guess the main things I’ll miss (which I’d have with a Garmin) are the ability to have (e.g.) hourly “pings” onto a map so family/friends can trace my progress, and the ability to text when I have no phone reception. But the former is a nice to have rather than an essential, and the latter… well, people managed to do long walks before mobile phones were invented, so I think I’ll be OK. Maybe I’ll have to miss out on a couple of days of comms with loved ones, but that’s just part of the experience.
Merri Merri (Merri Creek) is part of the lands of the Wurrundjeri people, as is much of the wider Melbourne area. This country was never ceded and it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
A different kind of walk-and-swim outing.
I didn’t want to spend a day of our short Melbourne break doing a 25km walk and rendering myself useless for any socialising in the evening. But I did want to do a walk long enough to count as ‘training’ - i.e. a minimum of around 10km. So, we decided to walk from our spot on Sydney Rd in Brunswick to my sister’s place high up in the sky on Southbank. The direct route is more like 8km (and a bit boring), so we added a few scenic diversions.
We started off by calling in to Tabets for some late lunchy snacks, then stepped over onto the bike path that runs beside the Upfield line. It’s always fun to revisit the old haunts and see what’s changed and what hasn’t since we lived in the area. And on the bike path we ran into an old friend! Kate, who made so much tasty food for us on our Snowy River adventure. That was lovely, not just to stop and have a chat but to be reminded that yep, we lived in this city for 10+ years and know enough people that we can just randomly bump into them.
The bike path curves into Royal Park, joining the Capital City Trail (we once walked this loop in one day - and it remains one of my longest distances covered in a day at 30-something kilometres). We jumped off that path behind the zoo, and instead made our way to the native grasslands circle. This was our main additional detour of the walk - we did an almost complete loop, adding about 1km. It’s quite a nice spot to go for a stroll, with big skies and views of the city skyline.
We enjoyed the park beside the children’s hospital as the last bit of this long section of non-roadside walking, then headed through the streets of North Melbourne. A helicopter landed on the Royal Melbourne Hospital as we waited for the traffic lights. We passed the old Meat Market then headed south to stroll through Flagstaff Gardens. The skyscrapers of the city sprang up around us and we crossed William Street to avoid the stream of workers heading to the station. A nice little surprise was the Market Street Park, which gave us a great view of our destination: the super tall building with a golden ‘skirt’.
It was a quick walk from there across the river and into Southbank. In keeping with my theme of having a swim after a walk, my sister took me to the infinity pool on floor 70 for a dip. Maybe not as refreshing as the creek, but pretty spectacular. I’ve definitely never been swimming somewhere that gives me a view over the top of other high rise buildings, parks, suburbs and the bay before!
This was an easy 10km walk, and the only possible issue was that the majority of it was on sealed surfaces. My feet were slightly sore immediately afterwards, but I didn’t notice any twinges the next day. Having a swim helped stop any lingering stiffness, too.
Honestly, I wondered if I should even write this up as a training walk. But then, I started with 10km walks in January, so I might as well. It did tell me that my walking fitness has improved since then!
This walk in Naarm (Melbourne) is on Wurundjeri Country. Sovereignty was never ceded and this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.
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