"There are two certainties which make one's life richer. Suffering and underpants, although not necessarily in that order." - Julius Caesar.
Well, in my last post I gave you a little taste of what this walk descended to, but I might as well go back to the beginning. Back then things were so much simpler!
The Great South West Walk had been on my walking radar for a while, but the logistics of it were a bit hard to take in. Not so much how to get there and organise, but the fact I'd need a fair chunk of time off to get it done. At 250 kms it would be the longest walk I've ever done and frankly I'd need at least 14 days.
Yeah, yeah there's people out there who can chew through it in under ten and if you want some extra insanity you can read how Christine over at The Big Trip did it in eight. I'm happy to do 20 kms a day (or really ecstatic at 15 a day!), but Christine aims for 35 kms a day...in winter. Okay, with the short winter day I've no idea how that's possible, other than she's supremely fit and must be practically running? Then again, have I mentioned how I was on a 10 km fun run once in which I finished in 52 minutes, but was overtaken by someone walking? Not one of my better fun run memories, that's for sure.
Anyway, I had some time off and it was time to knock off this Great South West Walk (oh yeah, for the sake of writing that mouthful it'll now be referred to as the GSWW) once and for all and eliminate it from my brain. Once a hike gets in there it drives me nuts constantly thinking about it. You reckon I've thought about the GSWW a lot? How about the Larapinta Trail which has been nagging me since 1999 when I first thought of doing it?! There's always next year!
|Winter surfing - Portland|
So, a plan came about of a tilt on the GSWW in winter which suited me fine, as it meant I wouldn't spend all day boiling to death. I'm built for winter walking and I managed to persuade occasional hiking sidekick Smuffin to come along. With the Smuffin though came different ideas which consisted of the following. There was no way he was going to carry a weeks worth of supplies until the half way point of Nelson in which I planned to restock. He said he wouldn't and couldn't, so Lady Smuffin volunteered to holiday in Portland whilst we walked and she would drop food and essentials off along the way. It's not a bad idea if one can do it, as it meant really light packs!
The next Smuffin requirement was that the first day was not to begin in Portland which the track notes indicate. The walk description for the first day is a 20 km stroll from Portland to Cubbys Camp. No, Smuffin wanted to start at Cubbys Camp for the following reason. "There's no way I'm going to walk through town with a pack on dressed like a wanker and follow roads for the first day".
|Bluff Lighthouse - Portland|
Mm... You know what? He has a bit of a point as there's nothing that enthused me much about the days walk description and especially so after I read one of the few things on the internet about it. There's an entry over on Franks 'Our Hiking Blog' in which the bloke who does the GSWW describes the first day as "...to be quite honest, I didn't find the first day out of Portland very inspiring...I seemed to be walking on either residential streets, sealed or secondary unsealed roads and it was only in last few kilometres that I felt I'd actually left civilisation..."
Well, that sounds crap, but you know what? The official track notes has this as the first day for the hike to be complete, which attracts a mental condition I have. It's the strange notion that if I skip a bit, I haven't done the walk. Yeah, I might have done a hundred kilometres, but I've missed a bit!
I'm not sure what that thinking is, but the hiking guru I've walked with 'MK' has a simple theory. She has to be the fittest person I've ever met, yet has never hiked more than four days in a row. Why? Well, "Why make things so hard for yourself? I want to carry good food and some wine." See, that's the complete opposite of me, but then she says, "All of you ex-army people are the same. You want to punish yourselves so much. You don't enjoy it unless you try to hurt yourself".
Yeah, okay, where's Freud when you need him? Dark room and a chesterfield couch maybe? How's this for my brains thinking? It's true in that if I don't suffer I find the walk not very worthy. Why do I look back on my Croajingolong hike with the most fondness? Not at the time mind you, but I don't think I've suffered so much on a continual basis during a walk which means on reflection it was perfect! Bitterly cold, constant rain, soft sand, no water day after day. What's not to love?!
This is not the Smuffin way of thinking and he was adamant. "We'll get dropped off outside town near the bush and start from there". It was a theory that my suffering loving brain struggled with, but it did make sense and really I should start hiking more and more to enjoy it and not use it as an excuse to flog myself senseless. Then again, let's not get too carried away with this fluffy walking stuff.
So, the plan was set. We'd get dropped off just short of Cubbys Camp which is meant to be the first nights stay. It was always going to be unlike any hike I've ever done when we loaded our packs with sandwiches for the days lunch and the thought that I didn't need to carry dinner as it was going to be delivered at 5 pm. My brain! I can't come to grips with the comfort!
If there's one thing about Portland in winter and that is it's rather chilly. I might even lash out with a 'what I took' post at the end of all this as I really needed to rug up. The night before was icy and whilst staying at a caravan park I was aware that the docks really do run all night. Can you keep the noise down please?
The start of 'walk day' went smoothly. We registered our walking intentions at the Maritime Discovery Centre in Portland which has a sign out the front indicating the starting point of the hike. I'd show you a photo, but Smuffin has it and he doesn't like to share his photos, so you'll have to take my word for it. Then it was all aboard the 4WD as Lady Smuffin drove us to Blackwoods Road just near Cubbys Camp, dismounted and then we were off and racing.
The first few days of walking are within the Cobboboonee State Forest, which I was hoping I'd like, otherwise it could be a bit of a mind numbing start. Actually, do you think I could ever let the word 'Cobboboonee' just roll off my tongue? It was one of those words that if I said it quickly I'd end up adding a few extra 'b's' along the way. In the end, we pronounced it as the 'Ricky Bobby' forest, which was a whole lot easier.
|Heading into Cobboboonee State Forest...|
I'd been told that the area has plenty of emu's, but I was a little suspicious until I saw this footprint. It certainly looked emu-like or if not, we were headed into Jurassic Park State Forest.
I'll let this one out early on. If you've got a full blown fungi fetish then this walk is for you. It was fungi crazy within the forest and some of them were massive. Smuffin put his foot in this shot as a size comparison. If you want to know, he has a size 25 (UK) boot.
Under the trees, light conditions were pretty dim and I was wishing for my faster 35mm lens rather than the 18-105mm I was toting on the camera. Getting detail shots were a little tricky, but there was plenty of moss hanging from trees to get a picture in focus eventually.
At points the track opened out a little...
...but, it didn't stop the fungi though...
...and we had the odd, weather battered information post to peruse along the way.
It may have been while leaving the track by a matter of a few metres to read these boards and take photos...
...that our problems began.
We stopped on a fairly open section of track to chow down on our days sandwiches. I think it was ham, cheese and spring onions for this lunch, plus a peanut butter sandwich each. Do you realise how good peanut butter is out bush? It's like a delicacy descended from heaven and if it wasn't for ants I'd reckon I'd wear it across my face as aftershave.
Anyway, whilst munching away, Smuffin perused his leg and let rip with, "You bastard!" No, it wasn't me he was yelling at, but a leech that was munching on his leg. I really shouldn't jump the gun as my words exactly were, "Don't do anything. Just suffer for a moment longer whilst I take a photo."
Whilst he struggled to remove that blood sucker a dim light bulb finally flickered into life in my brain and said, "What about me? I guess I should check myself?"
You know what? It's a pity that the following sequence in the blog can't be put to music. Instead I'm going to have to describe the mood as I casually checked my right leg, both front and back. It would be perfect if you could hear some lo-fi, elevator style music that suits sitting by the pool on a boiling hot day in the sun without a care in the world. A bit like this...
...but danger is lurking and before you know it your casual day is about to change in an instant...
..."Right leg... looks good. Left leg, front looks good. Check the back..." Oh yeah, there's something coming that I didn't expect..."Hang on? What's that?"...
Now this is what I'm talking about...
...and that elevator music I described earlier has suddenly switched to Hendrix playing the 'Star Spangled Banner' at Woodstock...
...that's not just the sound of a bloke playing a guitar, but instead it's a guitar factory. Leaving one feeling as if they're hanging onto the back of a spaceship being sucked into a black hole as it descends into magnificent ear splitting oblivion between 1.20 and 2.30. It's no longer music, but more reminiscent of the dive bomber assault on the Kaga at the Battle of Midway. What does all of this mean? Not much, but look where just one leech bite can take you! Imagine a dozen?! I mean, they're not really going to kill you...
...but they leave you a little pissed off and lastly, soaking wet.
Anyway, leaving Ray Winstone and Jimi Hendrix behind. I was way too early to gloat at Smuffin in which he reminded me for the rest of the hike, but I really didn't expect to see my shoe full of blood. How much did this leech want? Actually, why was it wasting so much? By the look of things he was catching about a third of what was spilling out. It was at this point that I began to dislike low-cut shoes. My ankles were about to spend three days of leech assault and with these initial bites we went for the 'old school removal method' that has well and truly being discarded. We lit matches and burned them off.
The trouble is I'd remembered reading that this wasn't the best way, but it didn't really register at the time. If there's anyone else still living in the Dark Ages, burning them off causes the leech to regurgitate their stomach contents into the wound which causes a risk of infection. I can believe it, as a week later the bite is still itchy and red whilst Smuffin's looks as if he's caught leprosy and his leg is about to drop off. The red patch on his leg may consume his body in the next few days. Every leech that managed to latch on after these ones, we removed with either a fingernail or knife slid under them and they dropped off. To hell with the leech vomit. It's a killer.
Oh yeah, the photos are interesting as it shows they're lazy bastards and couldn't be stuffed sucking blood through a sock. What? Don't they like to filter what they're drinking? They've got above the sock line and dug in there. You know what? I wish had my gaiters, but that's for another day. I've got some great gaiters, but they happened to be sitting 400 kms away in my house resting up for a big hike. Grrr....
Well, on we bled and I did find myself stopping for shorter periods to take photos...
...before reaching one of the interesting sights for the day. Ralphs Bridge which spans the Surrey River...
...is quite a low bridge. I read in the pre-walk blurb that the Cobboboonee Forest water table can rise up to 45 cms during winter. I can imagine this bridge at risk of getting a bit damp if that was the case.
|Fallen tree across the Surrey River|
There was also a sizeable whack taken by the bridge railing by a falling tree at some stage.
This was a nice spot although light was pretty dim, so we continued on and climbed away from the river to our first camp for the night. Cut-Out Camp was a short distance away and it was nice to dump the packs, put the feet up and try to stop bleeding.
Other than being molested by the leech it was quite a good days walk. We'd covered just on 16 kms in pretty good time and for what it's worth, here's the GPS read out which I've uploaded to Garmin Connect.
Now we sat back for Lady Smuffin to arrive at 5 pm which she did on cue. Dinner for the evening? It was chicken sausages and I think we ate 10. I'm not sure what happened as it was a blur of hands, sauce and bread. There was more food, but do you think I can remember only one week later? I've no idea, but I did note that I had to scrape four more leeches off my socks that I hadn't noticed earlier. They really did get excited at my ankles which made me daydream about guess what? Yes, my leather boots.
Anyway, the day was done and there was more frivolity to come. How much do you reckon? Well, the whole sandal caper is up and coming, but this might be my last post for a few weeks. How's this for a completely bonkers idea? Barring mishaps in the next few days (with me, anything is possible) on Tuesday 12th June I'm heading out to tackle the GSWW again. I've taken the failure of this hike personally and I've had a sudden urge to head down to Portland pronto and proceed to smash the whole walk. Well, smash it via hobbling maybe.
Remember all that business earlier about trying to enjoy the hiking? Do the good bits? If not, at least just do the bits I missed? What? Are you nuts? I'll be doing the opening round of 20 kms from Portland, plus the whole lot again!
|Reflections on the Surrey River|