This ride has been so long in the making that it feels somewhat surreal to be actually out here in the flesh. Over the last few years I have pictured in my mind what it might be like, what it would look like at the camps, how it would feel to be with the donkeys all day. But of course no amount of imagining really prepares you for the real thing.
Our arrival at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station represented the last phase of the logistical landmine we had to negotiate just to get out on the trail. Jasmine, Basil and Fly had been picked up from the agistment property in Emerald, Victoria, earlier in the day and were in transit on the horse truck. Z and I would take the night train from Melbourne up to Yass (Near Canberra), get off at 3am, sleep for a bit, then walk a few kms to the Hume Hwy and grab a ride with the horse truck to our first campsite.
Of course, I couldnt sleep on the train. People had been asking if I was excited to be finally getting out on the trail. Truth be told, it felt more like fear than anything- kinda like that feeling when you are coming down a ladder and think you’re at the last rung’ only to find the ground is further away than you had estimated. But the horses were on their way, we were miles from home and everything had fallen into place so far, so the only way was forward.
By the time we had been picked up by the truck, found camp and dropped off, it was becoming dangerously dark. I had been aware that there was no water source at this TSR and had planned to walk the animals down a creek 2 kilometres south for a drink, having been told we would get there in the afternoon. But now it was going on dark, the animals had been in the hot truck all day and hadn’t had a drink since that morning. The truck was carrying no water and the animals were all quite dehydrated. We hadn’t even started the ride yet and i had no water to give them. I felt so awful. I decided to scramble over a fence up the road to bucket water down to them, but there was little else other than mud in that creek. It wasn’t going to work. And it was getting darker by the second.
I noticed a driveway next to the TSR, so donning my headtorch and pushing back all thoughts of Ivan Milat-esque types, we led the animals up to ask for water. After calling out a bit, we realised it was an abandoned farm. Which happened to haved a beautiful sparkling dam full of water! What a sight for sore eyes. I read a post not long ago which said that humans are wired to like sparkly things due to our primitive desire for water as a vital resource. I can totally relate- I would have my ‘water eyes’ on for at least the next week on the trail.
The animals had a big long drink and the rest of the night was memorably drama filled- two sleep deprived humans attempting to set up a tent with misplaced pegs, avoiding ants nests in the dark, no toilet paper to be found etc etc. I was a little nervous about the fencing in the TSR so put on Fly’s bell, the gentle ringing of which offered some comfort throughout the night.
Thankfully the next few days were not as angst-ridden or high stress as that first night, and we met some incredibly’ lovely people. Most of this section is along quiet country roads, and people will just pull over to ask how your day is going or if you need anything. Country hospitality appears to be alive and well here in small-town NSW, and we have been offered everything from swims in people’s pools to lemonade to bales of hay. It is amazing how a few kind words or a smile from a stranger can really pick you up when you are starting to doubt yourself or what you are doing.
The ongoing theme at the moment is lack of water- which one can obviously expect at this time of year. However, for those planning a ride through here during summer, be aware that even water sources that are marked as permanent on a map may be dry. For example, the Wollondilly River, which I am told supplies drinking water to Sydney, was only a few small (hard to reach!) pools of water when we went past. My bucket throwing and water-collecting skills are certainly on the increase!
As we come to the end of our first week on the trail, I am incredibly proud of how we have all managed. Everyone is still happy and healthy, managing the walks, and not kicking and screaming to go home. I think we’ll be okay.