Checking out the stats on this blog, I find it rather interesting that the most frequently viewed posts are by no means examples of my best writing. Instead, they tend to be those with titles that promise woe, mishap or drama. For example, Five Mistakes We Made on The National Trail. Or Basil and the Great Gate Fiasco. Or perhaps Our Dilemma. Is this a desire to satiate our appetite with intensity and excitement to escape the mundane, or just morbid curiosity? Anyhow, in the interest of drama, death and dire straits, here is a brief run down of the four times I thought disaster would befall one (or all) of us out on the trail.
The First of the Gate Fiascos
Wollemi and Gardens of Stone National Parks are full of locked gates, so I made doubly sure that I had notified Parks of our passage and had the required combo codes. However, unbeknownst to me, the ranger had been through the day before and changed the codes, as per the annual schedule.
So halfway up a steep mountain and in various states of exhaustion, we were faced with a locked metal gate and a handful of now-obsolete combination lock numbers. Luckily, there was a small gap in between the gate and the rock wall, so we unloaded everyone and squeezed through. To cut a long story short, Fly slipped on the uneven rock, cut his leg, I tried not to abuse the ranger once we came into mobile range, and I learned never, EVER to assume that gate codes are going to work.
It is with some embarrassment that I admit to getting hopelessly, dangerously lost on one of the most straightforward sections of the entire trail- the stretch through Eskdale Station and down to Maria Creek. With freshly bulldozed tracks and gentle, undulating terrain, even the greenest of trekkers should be able to navigate this section with their eyes closed. But lost in a flurry of daydreams and walking on automatic pilot, I had somehow managed to miss a turnoff and ended up, well, somewhere where I shouldn’t have ended up. I was loathe to backtrack 9 kilometres and my GPS navigator informed me that there was a track ahead which could shortcut us back to the trail. Long story short- the GPS lied, I was in the baddest of bad books with the rest of the team, and just on dark, we managed to find water and an emergency campsite. Moral of the Story: Despite its extreme level of self-assurance, The GPS does NOT always know best.
The Great Escape
Oh dear. I still cringe when I think of this one. This was by far the scariest incident on the whole trail. And considering that every day was tinged with varying shades of ‘scary’ (I’m actually a pretty wimpy person), that is saying something. In fact, I think I’m still a bit too traumatised by the whole episode to write about it in its entirety, so here’s a few pieces of the picture. I’m sure you can manage to fill in the blanks.
The setting: a dark night, three bored, over-rested animals, and a caravan park paddock beside the busy Golden Highway. With a dodgy gate latch.
The climax: thundering hoofbeats, a worrisome knock on the door of our cabin, a blaring horn, and pyjama-clad children sprinting down the side of the highway with headtorches.
The resolution: Sweaty animals, sweaty people, relieved sighs, and the realisation of how very possible it is to be crazily, scarily in love with your animals.
The Case of The Missing Support Vehicle
During our time on the bicycle, we were lucky enough to have our friends Cathy and Mollie camping with us and transporting our supplies in the car during the day. It was a typically hot North Queensland morning as we cycled out through the dry station country from Gunnawarra camp. We had arranged to meet Cathy down the road in a few hours after she returned from running a couple of errands in town. As we made our way though the inhospitable landscape, Z and I both commented on Leichhardt’s tenacity and how awful it would to be lost or stuck out here. Little water, no sign of civilisation for miles, no shade, and the unrelenting heat to contend with.
Several hours and 40 hard-won kilometres later, our muesli bar rations had been devoured and there was still no sign of Cathy. We stopped on the side of the road, nervously scuffing feet and straining ears, eagerly anticipating the dull hum of a car engine approaching. Nothing. I began to grow worried. What if something had happened? A breakdown? Or, god forbid, an accident. And here were Z and I in the back-of-beyond, with only half a bar of chocolate, our dwindling drink bottles, no phone coverage, no shelter, and no means of treating water.
Not that there was any around to treat. I knew there was a creek in another 20km, but there wasn’t any guarantee there would be anything in it, and besides, it was getting late. Some of these roads may see a car perhaps once a week. So we opted to pedal for another 10km instead and hang around the turn-off to a station, just in case worse came to worse. When dusk fell, along with our hopes, we approached the homestead with the intention of asking for water and shelter. Just as we noticed the locked gates, boarded up doors, and lack of human habitation, Cathy pulled in. She had been delayed in town. Poor Cathy learned the wrath of my anger and I learned that even when blessed with a back-up vehicle, ALWAYS carry a filter, tarp, lighter and extra muesli bars.
Embarrassingly enough, this is certainly not the extent of our near-death experiences on the trail, which are mostly blindingly obvious examples of my own early incompetence. Take, for example, the first of our failed creek crossings. Or my blunder with drunken locals at the Glen Alice cemetery, or the time I thought we would be shot by hunters at Howitt Hut. Or when Z got bitten and (very) temporarily blinded by a tick. Reflecting on it all now, it’s a miracle we all came back alive, really. But despite the risks and adversity involved, I wouldn’t change any of it change it for the world. This was and always will be the year that we REALLY LIVED. Every day was a rollercoaster ride of happiness, euphoria, dread, hopelessness, joy, fear, anxiety, love, relief. IF you’re interested in reading more about my blunders, dramas and flailings along the National Trail, in cringingly juicy detail, then you might like to sign up (at the bottom of this page) to be notified when our book is out.
Thanks for reading, and happy trails!