So one would think that after ten or so months on the trail, we would be fairly adept at it all. Gear sorted. Fitness on par. Animals running on auto-pilot. Our days ticking along like a well-oiled machine. But once we hit Victoria (and Omeo in particular), EVERYTHING changed. Here’s how…
1. Things Fell Apart. Literally.
For a while there, I had been smugly congratulating myself on my careful planning. By starting in Canberra, and finishing with the Victorian section of the BNT, we would essentially be saving ‘the hardest part for last’. Every year, a large proportion of the trekkers beginning in Healesville fail to make it through their first month. And who can blame them? Talk about leaping into the deep end. So my idea made sense. By the time WE got to Victoria, we would have had the rest of the trail ‘under our belts’ and be well- qualified to tackle the notoriously challenging high country.
Yes, well. What hadn’t occurred to me was that as a result of being so darn well-practised on the trail, we might also be feeling slightly well-worn. While trekkers beginning in Healesville were gearing up for the challenge ahead, we could feel the finish line getting close and were instead winding down. And while THEY were heading out with bright-eyed, fresh animals, their own limbs aching to chase the distant horizon for the next year or so, we were looking forward to fluffy sheets and nights of unbroken sleep.
So it was pretty clear that by the time we reached Omeo, the five of us had, well, run out of of puff. The trail was taking its toll. We were finding it hard to keep weight on Fly, the donkeys were nigglier than ever at each other, and it seemed my long-suffering feet had developed a case of plantar fasciitis, which does indeed feel just as bad as it sounds.
In addition, our gear also decided to jump on the ‘Ive-had-enough’ bandwagon, with holes, tears and stains adorning every item of clothing and almost every zip we owned conspiring to go on strike. In the middle of the night at Tom Groggin, one of our tent poles snapped as Z unzipped the tent door, tearing a large hole in our already flimsy ceiling.
‘’At least we can see the stars now’’, the ever positive Z chirped, but as we scrambled about in the cold midnight air with torches, duct tape, needles and thread, I realised what a poor substitute a few flimsy pieces of nylon were for a home.
2. Rubs and sores
This was what really threw me. Like all long-term BNT trekkers, we had had a few teething problems with gear at the beginning. However, we visited a couple of saddlers, adjusted our tack and said goodbye to rubs or pressure points on our animals.
Or so I thought.
And just to make sure that our babies would make it through to Healesville in a decent state , we had spent two days working with an amazing master saddler during our time in Canberra.
“There”, he claimed proudly, as he admired his handiwork. “You wont have anther problem with this gear. Ever.”
Well, I have a feeling he may have come to regret that statement when I telephoned several weeks later from a mountain top near Dargo, with news of the beginnings of a rub on Fly. The fact of the matter is, you can get away with things on the flat that you can’t in the mountains. Animals are working harder, things move around, and it becomes a constant juggle between tightening things to stop slipping, loosening them up after a while so as not to cause a pressure sore, and constant saddling/ unsaddling and checking up. Of course, the best thing you can do is have your animals carry a super lightweight load, which in Victoria is made more difficult by the fact that….
3. There are no resupply points
At least not for the long and arduous stretch between Omeo and Healesville. True, you can tweak things a bit by detouring down to Dargo or Licola (as we did), or enlist a willing helper to drive miles out into the middle of nowhere to replenish your noodle supply (as we also did- thanks to Gary) or find an enthusiastic friend who naively thinks it might be fun to do support vehicle for your last week on the trail (as we also did- thanks Cathy!)
4. No paddocks
Starting further north, it is easy to take TSRs, grass or existing fences for granted. What I was totally unprepared for was that once we left the ACT, there were basically no paddocks or stock fencing until we got to Keppels Hut, near Marysville.
That is weeks and weeks of non-stop hobbling, tethering, or portable electric taping. For the first time ever on the trail, Fly actually started to get the beginnings of a rub from his hobbles, which until then had only been whipped out on the odd occasion. I was horrified, but quickly discovered that those awful elastic sweatbands from the 80s can be conveniently repurposed to prevent hobble rubs.
Although the BNT gods had smiled on us and blessed our travels with a long spring and copies quantise of green grass and water, many of the camps through Victoria were nothing more than a patch of scrubby grass in the corner of the bush. Amazing rivers. Awesome fishing. incredible views. Nature at its finest. But the bubs weren’t overly impressed with the accommodation on offer.
5. The books are backwards
Unlike the NSW section of the BNT, the Victorian guidebooks haven’t been updated since the 90s (although an awesome team of volunteers are working on it right now as you read this). Also, they were written for people travelling in the other direction. Also, the track names in the book are often different from the signposts in real life. Also, many of the roads mentioned in the guidebook are now overgrown. Needless to say, I had a great excuse to indulge my map fetish with Rooftop maps.
6. I had to reassess my idea of ‘steep’.
Okay, so to be fair I had been warned of this. By many, many, people. But in the lead up to our time in Victoria, I had often wondered rather anxiously, “What exactly does ‘steep and rough’ mean anyway?”.
Like, ‘steep’ as in unrelenting, physically draining ups-and-downs all day long?
Or ‘steep and rough’ as in slippery, falling-down-the-side-of-the mountain?
Or, God forbid, ‘steep and rough’ as in ‘the hidden ground was full of wombat holes and every step was death’, Man-From-Snowy-River style rough?
Luckily, it turned out to be more of the first two and less of the latter. But curiously enough, on returning home I found that our ever-so-steep Silver Road had mysteriously shrunk to a mere pimple. And as we drove past Mt Lindesay yesterday (our highest local mountain at all of four hundred or so metres), Z burst out laughing.
“I used to think Mount Lindesay was huge! I could practically skip up it now!”.
So really I don’t mean to complain. Although it presented many challenges, the Victorian section is unarguably one of the most breathtaking, speculator sections on the whole BNT. But even more importantly, travel is supposed to change the way you think, right? To help you reassess and look at things with new eyes.
And if it can help a girl go from heaving and puffing her way up Mt Lindesay a few years ago, to now considering it a mere bump on the horizon, then Victoria was all worth it.