At no point have I thought anything about the BNT would be easy, and whilst I knew the planning and preparation stage would be challenging, I've certainly had my eyes opened with reality slap number two.
Looking back, it is staggering how much money I've spent kitting myself out. Initially I was thinking I'd have a bit of a head start, because I already had most of the gear I'd be needing. Off I went to the shed on a mission, after much rummaging around, ta da - I pulled out my little dome tent, my super comfy self-inflating sleeping mat, my 4 season sleeping bag, cooking gear etc etc. I spread it all out and thought "How the hell is all that going to fit in a pack?". I then weighed it and realised even if I could find a pack big enough, by the time I added food and water, my pack weight would be well over 30kgs.
I hit the keyboard and discovered the term 'Ultralight backpacking' and, being the impulsive, impatient fucker that I am, I wrote out a shopping list and headed straight out to Kathmandu. The salesman loved me - I walked out of the shop a grand down. After getting home and doing more research, a new list of needed items started forming - water filters and purifiers, power banks and solar systems, GPS units, emergency beacons etc.. Off I went, this time to Anaconda to bolster the Australian economy.
At this stage I had about two thirds of the gear I though I'd be needing so it was time to test it all out.
I packed up my new 75-litre backpack, with it weighing in at 15kgs, and picked a route from Google Earth, one that we'd been to many times in the 4WD - Murrundindi Scenic Reserve here I come. Bright and early Saturday morning my wife Beth kindly dropped me off.
I think I noticed a bit of a twinge in my ankle around noon and the thought of pulling up for a rest and a spot of lunch crossed my mind, however I foolishly dismissed the idea thinking a better lunch spot would be just around the corner. I pressed on until around 1:30pm and by that stage it was quite warm and not only was my ankle yelling at me to stop, my left hip was screaming at me in protest, too, so lunchtime it was. I figured it was roughly 10kms to my chosen campsite and I set off again after lunch. As I was getting closer to my destination I was in real pain and certainly moving a lot slower. I thought I was reasonably familiar with the area, but walking instead of driving, plays tricks on your mind, particularly when you are fatigued. I'd look down the road and have it in my head that camp was just around that corner only to get there and see another long straight. This happened a number of times before I got to camp. The first few times I had a little laugh to myself, but it soon wore thin and was replaced with a few angry and then despondent expletives. I was really shuffling along when camp did emerge at the end of one of those long straights.
Being super confident when I first set out, I'd originally arranged for Beth to pick me up the next afternoon from where she dropped me off. There was barely any reception at camp but I managed to get a text off requesting to be collected first thing in the morning from the camp instead as I could barely walk. I must say I was very relieved when the calvary arrived early the next morning.
I called this my calibration run, and whilst I wound up with an inflamed bursa in my ankle and hip, and could barely move, I did get a chance to gauge my fitness, try a out my gear and get a feel for what each day on the BNT may be like. Here's my thinking after this calibration run:
View from Mt Terrible
As at writing this post there are 22 days remaining before I hit the trail in Cooktown. In that time I need to lock in the arrangements for 14 resupply points, make contact with a few more section coordinators, emailing the rest my current plan with a promise I'll call them when I'm a little closer, and make contact with the relevant land owners in the first two guidebooks. I also hope to finish PDF'ing the remaining 5 Guidebooks and plotting the remaining 9 guidebooks in Google Earth and uploading the files to my GPS and iPhone.
Am I prepared enough? I think so. I have absolutely no doubt however, things will change, and I'll need to adjust when I'm on the trail.
Ready or not here I come.
"I couldn't just quit work - I'm needed...."
"We'd have to wait a few years til Jack finishes school..."
"We could only take a few months off for long service leave not enough to do the whole trail.."
"We'd need to wait til we've paid the mortgage off at least..."
"Ok, bugger, we'd be in our early 50's then..."
"Do you reckon your knee would hold out ya old fart..."
"Ok so let's head back then. It'd be great though wouldn't it?"
"Yeah! fucking awesome."
It's funny how things work out. If I look back at the number of times an idea has entered my head, turned into something I really want, dismissed as a pipe dream, but then eventuating, well I won't list them and sound like a wanker, but there have been more than a handful of big things in my life that have materialised like this, and being in a position to tackle the BNT is one of them.
I think I was starting to rust at work, just going through the motions, and the days where I felt "Wow I love my job, I've really made a difference today" were becoming far and few between. In the past, changing jobs and setting new goals worked wonders as the cure for this, but nearing the 10-year mark, the longest I had ever worked for one employer, I had it in the back of my mind that it would be good to stick around and clock over this big milestone. Taking three months off for long service leave was also lurking around in the back of my mind. The company I worked for was also one of Australia's largest corporations which, over the 10 years, also provided opportunity for changing roles whilst staying with the company - this thought was rattling around in my head too, as the cure-all for my lost mojo. I think ultimately what was holding me back was the thought that I needed a real "tree change" in my career but not quite knowing what that would be or being brave enough to just take the plunge. So back to my point about how its funny how things tend to work out. The decision was made for me and I won the corporation's "Redundancy Lotto". I saw it coming but I didn't. I knew there was a restructure happening in my area, in fact I was working on it and thought I'd land on the right side of it and get the recharge with a refreshed role I was looking for. Ultimately it was fortunate for me this wasn't the case.
Let's go back to that earlier reality slap - Wow, some of those hurdles don't look so big now, I could do this.
I decided its now or never. I figured I'm not getting any younger, the redundancy buys some financial peace, and I need to recharge and figure out what I will be happy doing next. After a pile of research, copious hours doing budgets and spreadsheets, to demonstrate this would stack up, I floated the idea with my wife Beth first. I am amazed how supportive Beth and my family have been - initially the idea was for me to take a few months out and do Healesville to Kosciusko; however, the time I could realistically start meant it'd be winter going over the Victorian highlands which I figured would be a little too challenging. Plans began to form doing the full north-to-south attempt as the season timings seemed to align . As they say "go big or go home" and, in November 2016, I shared with family and friends my intention to tackle the BNT and taking a year out to do it. Serious planning started at that point - that's when I got my second reality slap... but that's a story for another day.
At 47 years young, Chris Anthony, who is married with 3 wonderful kids, tried his hand at being an adventurer for the 12 months tackling the BNT.