What is a typical day on the National Trail like? Well, there isn’t one. With so many external influences at play, like the weather or availability of feed and water, every day is a lucky dip. While you have a vague idea of where you are headed that day, you are unlikely to have seen the camp or the way there with your own eyes before, and it brings surprises and challenges that you can’t always plan for. This can be both stressful (ie a random dog on the road growling and snapping around your donkeys’ heels) and amazing (a stranger who drives 30km to bring you a surprise birthday cake) .
Perhaps it is due to this fact that trekkers are notoriously ‘anal’ about tracking distance, sticking to a schedule, and having ‘a place for everything and everything in it’s place’. Because we often feel like we have so little control over what happens to us out on the trail, some semblance of a daily routine allows us to feel like we are taking back the reins, so to speak. So here is more or less what happens to me, Z and the three beasties every day.
6am (3 or 4 am when the weather is hot):
Wake up, get dressed, pack sleeping bags, mats and all other items in tent.
-Make breakfast (porridge or muesli usually) while Z takes down tent
-Eat, then pack and weigh saddle bags and panniers and prepare morning feed for Fly
– Get beasties in, tie up, feed, brush down, pick out feet, thorough check over for sores, bites, ticks etc, saddle up, put on donkeys packs
On a good day, we arrive at camp by 1pm. I try to leave at or before 8.30am so that we will be done travelling by lunchtime and the beasties can then have the rest of the afternoon off to eat and relax. Unlike walkers, most horse trekkers do not stop for lunch- its not much fun to munch away while your horses are tied up nearby with heavy saddle bags, and its not much fun either to take them all off, fiddle around with hobbles and tethers, and then repack- all when you’ve got a camp to get to.
So we try to get there by 1pm or 2pm and have lunch at camp, unless we are doing over 30km, in which case I’ll pack some sandwiches for a quick lunch.
We usually travel at an average of 4.5km/h- a significant improvement from our early days on the trail at 2 or 3km an hour . Needless to say, there was a lot of coaxing and donkey dragging going on there – luckily they’ve pretty much got the hang of it now!
However, probably half of the time, we don’t get to camp by midday. To slow us down, one of the following will usually occur:
a. A dog will decide to chase us, sending Basil into attack mode
b. A scary looking creek which requires crossing will appear, necessitating much coaxing, reassuring, and, when all else fails, donkey hauling.
c. The trail will disappear into oblivion, leaving us in thigh-high grass frantically checking the gps and scanning the horizon for those elusive little yellow markers.
d. Something will come loose, break, or fall off, usually while we are:
i. Being chased by said dog
ii crossing the creek
iii. getting lost in the long grass.
Luckily these things are occurring less and less as we become more adept!
After unsaddling the beasties at camp and making sure they are all comfortable, Z sets up the tent while I make lunch. Then we have the rest of the afternoon to do some school work, write in our journals, wash clothes, repair things, collect firewood, check trail notes and maps for the next day’s travel, phone home or phone ahead for camping permission (phone reception permitting) and read. After lighting the fire, we give the beasties their evening feed, have our own dinner and go to sleep early-ish!