I recently celebrated passing the midway point heading north on the National Trail. As far as milestones go that was pretty big, but for me, crossing the nondescript border into Queensland felt bigger. I’d used that border as an arbitrary line to get to when my knee flared up, and my feet were becoming increasingly more painful with each step. I really did experience a sense of elation (mixed with relief) at making it. Whilst the border itself wasn't anything to write home about, the views on approach were nothing short of spectacular. They held the promise of what lay ahead, the reflection of what was before, and a reminder to just enjoy the moment. So that’s exactly what I did. I started to contemplate, taking a mental stocktake of where I’m at - a mid-trail crisis, if you will.
To make sense of my jumbled emotions at reaching this point I needed to remind myself of why I started the trek in the first place. It’s funny, you’d think this wouldn’t require too much thinking, especially since it’s the most common question I get asked.
“What made you decide to do this?”
Well, the real true answer is a little more complicated than than most of the replies I’ve fired off. Here are a few of those replies. All true - superficially:
“Ah, just for shits and giggles”
“Mid-life crisis. It was cheaper than therapy, or a Porsche and a young blonde”
“To raise awareness for the trail itself. It’s the world’s longest marked, non-mechanised multi-use, adventure trail and not many people know about it”
“To leave the rat-race and avoid having to get a job until I know what I want to do next”
“I just wanted to do something big, feel like I’ve really achieved something”
The real answer is a little deeper, and has its roots back a few years to when I started becoming frustrated at work; frustrated with myself. I was way overcommitted, and I stupidly overcommitted myself outside of work, too, involving myself on a number of community initiatives.
My frustration continued to grow. My usual healthy sceptical nature turned into deep seated cynicism. I was angry and apathetic all the time. I hated who I became but I felt powerless to stop it.
So, back to my work and why I started the BNT. My long service leave clocked over after I had already found out my role had become redundant in a restructure. The decision to leave was made for me but, although I was miserable at work, I had no idea what I should do next. I was spent and couldn’t imagine starting afresh in another company, particularly with where my head was at. I wanted a tree change but couldn’t see the wood for the trees. That was when the BNT idea started to form.
I told my wife and family I wasn’t quite ready to leap back into work, or start a new career. I explained that I needed to do something big for myself, to re-energise, to do something that would give me clarity. I held back from openly discussing that I was unhappy and had been for a while, that I needed to break the cycle somehow and find happiness again. I was scared to tell them because I didn't know if I'd be able to explain it properly, and was concerned that ‘unhappy with my life’ might translate to unhappy with them. I was so self-absorbed, I couldn’t see that they were unhappy too.
My family supported me going, joking that I 'needed to find myself’. I hated that description because it sounded like such a cliché (and, to be honest, a little wanky). Reflecting back, I think on some level there was some relief at me going.
There you have it, a little more of why I embarked on the BNT.
“So what does this have to do with my mid-trail crisis?” I hear you ask. Well, the answer is clarity. Clarity around the problem, and what makes me happy. You see that tired cliché wasn’t far from the truth after all. The time on the trail, away from everything hasn’t always been a bed of roses. Some of it has been tough, very tough. I’ve risked my life, several times. I’ve crossed crocodile-infested waters, I’ve climbed gruelling mountains, crossed flooded rivers. I’ve walked in wild storms, been in amongst bush fires and even trod on an Eastern Brown snake. I’ve been cold and wet. I’ve been hot and sweaty (walking 34 kilometres on a 47 degrees day), and I’ve also gone hungry, been exhausted and in pain, lots of pain. I've been passed by some real dickheads on the road, and the flies - did I tell you about the fucking flies? I got through it, I had no choice if I wanted to make it to the next camp, to water - I had to move forward. I look back and think 'Wow, what an amazing ride, how exhilarating'. Even at the time, I accepted that these things were all part of the Trail life I was loving so much. I knew that just around the corner, or over the rise, would be something amazing. I have seen so many amazing things, met the most generous, funny, interesting, awesome people and I’ve had a brilliant time. Crossing the border into QLD this clarity was starting to come to me. I realised that happiness is simply a choice - my choice. Happiness gives you energy. The things that make you unhappy? They suck that energy.
I missed my family from day one, but was bouyed knowing they were in my corner. As time went on I started feeling the distance, communications were less frequent. Life was going on without me - I started to worry that perhaps they would grab their happiness, only remembering the miserable arse I was before I left.
It is my family that makes me most happy, and whilst I've loved my time on the trail, a year away from my family is more than I'm prepared to give for now. I’ve hung up my BNT hiking boots in Blackbutt and have headed home. My full-time gig will still be the pursuit of what makes me happy, but just not solo - who knows what adventures I’ll get up to next. I'm banking on being back to complete guidebooks 5, 4, 3 and the rest of 2 in the future sometime, just not necessarily in one hit.
What started for me as a bit of a mid-life crisis has morphed into a mid-trail crisis, where I’ve been given the gift of clarity and had a mid-life awakening.
I have loved every minute of my time on this remarkable trail. In stepping off in Blackbutt, I have done so with no regrets and holding my head up high. I walk away feeling proud that I have shared so many of my experiences with you. I hope that through my eyes, I’ve managed to capture a little of the splendour that represents BNT Trail Life. That if an unfit old fart like me can get as far as I have, have as much fun as I have, then perhaps maybe you might be inspired to sign up and have a crack. You see it doesn’t matter if or when you finish, because if you open your heart and your mind, you will learn it’s not just a trail, it’s not just a hike, it’s a true blue Aussie experience like no other. It’s certainly been the tonic I needed.
I would like to extend a big thank-you to all the wonderful people who I’ve met and have supported me along the way, particularly the incredibly generous property owners the trail passes through, the amazing national parks people (Vic, NSW & Qld) and lastly the whole BNT team. There has simply been too many wonderful people that have made this journey so amazing for me to list by name - but you know who you are, thank you so much! This remarkable trail is kept alive by hard working volunteers, with many sections passing through private landholdings, available only to BNT members who have registered their trek and sought permission.
I would also like to thank all of you for following along and supporting me on my journey, it has meant a lot to me. It would make me immensely happy to see you like this post enough to share it round, to get the message out there that the BNT is awesome, a truly life changing experience if you let it. If you'd like to become a member or support the Trail go to https://www.bicentennialnationaltrail.com.au/get-involved/
Lastly, I would like to thank my wife Beth, and my adorable kids Hayley, Brooke and Jack.
There is one last thing. I’m now looking for work; If you know of anything available down south, let me know and put a good word in for me 😁. It’ll be fun trying something new, and I’m usually pretty good at anything I set me mind to.
I’m getting on track, but to make sure I don't stray too far down the wrong path, I got some ink done as a reminder of which way to go.
Thanks & au revoir
PS: Stay tuned as I'll share my next adventure - big or small, it's sure to be fun.
I’ve decided to break my blog drought. My last proper blog update was all the way back in Glen Innes, nearly 600 kilometres and a month and a half ago, when I was having a whinge about sore feet and a dodgy knee. I’m now well into Queensland, and have past the half way point of this amazing Trail. So much has happened, and it would be selfish of me not to share.
The break over Easter staying in Glen Innes did me good. After filling my prescription of anti-inflamatories, and medication to prevent ulcers from the heavy doses I was advised to take, I felt like a walking (and rattling) pharmacy. Popping these pills, light exercise and rest did the trick. Tuesday came along, and I was itching to get going again. I really had enjoyed my time in Glen Innes, though, thanks to the great support and company from John Raymond, one of the dedicated BNT supporters and section coordinators. John had driven a few hours from near Sandy Hill to spend a couple of days with me. I also enjoyed the company of Peter and Kim, my neighbours camping at the Glen Innes Showgrounds.
I set off early down the Gwydir Highway, looking to hitch a ride to get me to the point where I needed to resume my hike. No luck unfortunately, and after 45 minutes I gave up and called a taxi.
My knee felt good the first day out, but pulled up sore the next. “Fuck it” I told myself, “I don’t care." I stretched, massaged it, popped more pills, strapped it up, put it out of my mind, and pushed on.
I lost the track hiking to Boundary Falls and had to bush-bash over the top of a mountain, very relieved when I stumbled across the trail again. The hard work in plotting the trail all those months ago, and loading it to an app on my phone, was still paying off; and at no point was I really worried about getting lost. I pushed the worry of stepping (again) on a snake from my mind, and just got on with it. It was a long exhausting hike, but I was rewarded by these gorgeous falls, and a great campsite. I was pleased to see the same NPWS ranger who gave me a ride into Glen Innes. “Don’t you guys ever rest?” I asked as I wandered over to shake his hand. He was there dropping off a load of firewood, and cleaning up around the campsite. I tip my hat to the hard working men and women of NPWS - they do amazing work and really have looked after me all they way through NSW. I had a honking great fire that night and enjoyed the spectacular night sky.
Hiking through on the first part of the World Heritage Trail was pretty special, as was the amazing Timbarra Valley. I think I met nearly all of the station owners passing through this spectacular section. They were all very welcoming, and I even received a couple of tempting job offers. I may have to come back to this lovely part of the world.
I lost the trail a few times on the way to Demon Creek and again had to bush-bash. Even though I have the trail route on a GPS app on my phone, it is always reassuring to stumble across a marker and a formed track back on the trail again. I finally arrived at Noel and Felicity Cousins place in Demon Creek, after taking wrong turns and visiting their neighbours. The place reminded me a little of the Robinson Crusoe home – it was so blended in with nature. It was set in a creek valley, surrounded by subtropical rainforest. They were fully off the grid, and mostly self sufficient, but still enjoyed all the mod cons. I was thrilled to be invited to stay with them, and was put up for the night in a big tent already set up across the creek. To get to it, I had to walk across a rickety old log bridge – very cool. I enjoyed a hot shower (outside, and deep in a kiwi fruit vine thicket) that was powered by a wood fired boiler. After a wonderful dinner with the Cousins, I crossed back over the rickety bridge and had a wonderful sleep. What an absolute slice of paradise - I didn’t want to leave.
The morning came around all too quickly, and yes it was time for me to go. Noel was taking his granddaughter to the Tenterfield Pony Club that morning and agreed to carry my pack up to the top of the hill. This is where they keep their horse float, as it is too steep to float the horse up from where they are. Felicity pointed out the spur I needed to climb up to save me having to loop back to pick up the trail. It certainly was a steep old climb, but I was pleased to see Caeley, riding along on Monty, when I finally met up with the road, as it meant I’d made good progress. I pretty much kept pace with Caeley and Monty the rest of the way up the hill to the float. “I think you must be a lot fitter than Monty," Caeley exclaimed. Monty certainly was puffing loudly as I walked beside him and Caeley. “Yeah but I’ve earned my fitness after walking 2000 or so kilometres,” I replied, without pointing out that I’d worked up quite a sweat, and I didn’t have my heavy pack on. We finally got to the top and I enjoyed downing a litre of water and taking a bit of time to recover.
I pressed on to Sandy Hill, but couldn’t find the “BNT” Hut. I wound up doing an extra 4 kilometre loop looking for it before camping in a freshly mown paddock by the river. It was already a long hike that day and I was absolutely buggered. I saw a car pull up and someone get out and start to walk over. “Crap!” I thought, “This will be the property owner telling me to bugger off.” I was very relieved to see that it was John Raymond, he’d come looking for me after he didn’t see me at the BNT camp site. “No way!” I cried when he told me the actual campsite was only an extra 20m from where I had turned off and started my 4km loop.
“You up for a pub dinner?” John asked. "The Drake pub is about 20 minutes drive down the road, it’s called the Lunatic.”
How could I answer but in the affirmative? It sounds like I’ll fit right in.
From Sandy Hill there was more lovely hiking, more friendly station people dropping by to say g’day and, lucky me, more steep climbing. The climb up out of Gilgurry Creek certainly got the pulse racing.
From Gilgurry Travelling Stock Reserve I hiked through Liston and onto the Aloomba Lavendar Farm. What a great place just to unwind. I met up with Gary and Lyndon who are cycling the BNT south from Killarney for a month on eBikes. They assure me you work just as hard but they go faster. These guys were certainly no strangers to endurance adventures, being accredited sea kayak trainers, who have kayaked across the Bass Strait and down to the Tasman Peninsula, and up the east coast of Australia to Cooktown. Wow, maybe when I’m done hiking I might have a crack at that... or not.
The next day I left early and arrived at Wylie Creek early. I decided to skip that camp. There was nothing wrong with it other than I was keen to push on to Cullendore and the Queensland border. I’d been told there was no water at the Cullendore camp, and to get water at Cullendore Creek, about a kilometre back. Unfortunately, the creek was dry so I hoiked my pack back on, forewent a much needed rest break, and trundled off down the road to the border. The views were amazing.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but the border itself was pretty nondescript. I dropped my pack off at the camp, the old tick control site, and crossed the border over a grid and through the rabbit proof fence. I wandered up the driveway of a property just over the border, so I could say hello to my first Queenslanders of the hike. Ok, I had an ulterior motive - water. I told Ben and Sara my story and they were only too happy to let me fill up.
I was pretty chuffed that I’d walked all the way to QLD. Elation was soon replaced with trepidation though, at a the realisation that I’m still not even halfway yet. Wanting to savour the moment a bit longer, I reflected back on my time through NSW. Only one word come to mind (very unlike me to be be lost for words): Wow. Not very eloquent but it fits nicely. What an amazing time I’d had all the way through NSW. Stunning National Parks and world heritage areas, amazingly generous and hospitable people, and one hell of an adventure so far. I was thinking at this point Queensland would be hard pressed to top this.
Straight off the bat, Queensland was up to the challenge. I spent a couple of lovely evenings with Ben and Sara, which included a fabulous steak dinner, home brewed beer, nice wine and great company.
I think universal forces were trying to push Queensland down from the awesomeness top rung. It was a longish hike to Killarney and my knee seized up on me with a kilometre to go, and, to cap it off, my tent pole snapped when I was setting up camp at the Showgrounds. That seemed to have simply given Queensland an opportunity to flex its muscles. Everyone I met in Killarney was delightful, I spent five days at the Showgrounds waiting for a replacement pole to arrive, resting my knee and thoroughly enjoying myself. The first night was abuzz with a big horse riding endurance event, making me wonder that perhaps I could add a horse as a new family pet when I get home [memo Ed: not going to happen].
Condamine Gorge was pretty special. I walked past a gorgeous little hut, up on a cliff, on the corner of the river, with the most amazing view of the mountains behind it. I was thinking how cool it would be to hang up my hiking boots when I’m done, and live the simple life in a place like this. It rained heavily that night, and my tent told me it was tired, too, by leaking - bugger. I got out, threw my tarp over the tent, and slept well.
The next few days saw some spectacular views as I was passing the Gold Coast Hinterland, through Cunningham’s Gap, and into Rosevale. I enjoyed fabulous company and hospitality, staying with Shane Ryan and his partner Jane. Their property was beautiful, and I made a good friend in Bindi, their dog (their horses were pretty cute, too).
It was a lovely hike to Thornton, even better when I met up with Sue Cumming, who took my pack the last couple of kilometres to the Thornton campsite. I felt so much taller and lighter on my feet without my pack. I even tried jogging for a few hundred metres, before my knee reminded me it was still cranky with me, telling me to settle my old creaky self down. I obeyed and arrived in camp soon after. It was so nice catching up with Sue again. I first met Sue all the way up in Far North Queensland when I had just finished the first guidebook. Sue had bought a whole pile of goodies for me to munch on on the way to a late lunch with her family. Just like when I met her in FNQ, Sue was intent on feeding me up. Who am I to argue?
Thornton to Mt Sylvia was a tad over 30 kilometres with a couple steep climbs. Instead of doing it in one hit, I broke it in two by staying on Trevor and Del Shaw’s property at Left Hand Branch. I’m so glad I did. Trevor was a crack-up and such an awesome story teller. The next morning I set off to Mt Sylvia, where along the way I met Leanne and Jane-Ann who were out for a morning walk. I enjoyed their company for a few kilometres, with Jane-Ann walking her two dogs in a sled dog hitch. I asked her if she was in training for an Akaskan sledding event. That was probably as funny as the comments I always get about my trekking poles (“There’s not much snow around here mate”, but Jane-Ann surprised me by replying “Well actually...”. Apparently she had looked into it, but the rules in Australia precluded having more than one dog if you weren’t on a scooter. Sounds to me more like a ‘walking the dog’ event rather than a sledding competition and I can understand why she gave it a miss. I thought Trevor was funny, but this pair took it to another level. They reminded me a bit like Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous. And I mean that as a high compliment - they were lovely. I ended my hike that day at Mt Sylvia Farm fresh, a large cropping property and operation. It was a delight meeting Brian, the owner, who really made me feel welcome. Brian gave me a whole pile of lychees (soooo yummy) and told me to help myself and pick some fresh vegetables from the fields. The Chinese broccoli went down a treat with dinner!
From Mt Sylvia it was a beautiful hike to Fordsdale, in the Lockyer Valley. It started with a nice long climb out, where I met a couple of locals who offered me a ride, with the warning that I had a few hills to go. I politely declined, enjoying the hike up, and the stunning views at the top.
I arrived in Fordsdale and was lucky to be invited to stay in the donga on the Sutton’s property. Bev drove me down to show me where BNT trekkers used to camp. The waterhole would have been awesome with decent water in it, but unfortunately they haven’t had decent rain since the devastating floods in 2011, and the waterhole was just a tiny slimy green puddle. To ram the point home, a cow, hoof deep, started having a piss to top up the puddle. No amount of filtering or boiling would make me want to drink from there. That night Bev & John took me to the local pub for a tasty pub dinner, what great company they were.
I set off bright and early the next morning, feeling relaxed after a nice hot shower the night before, and a good sleep in a real bed. I was only a few kilometres into the days hike, just after sun-up, when a voice called out from an old Queenslander that I was admiring “Would you like a cuppa?”
“Sounds bloody lovely” I replied as I turned into the driveway.
I got back to my hike about 30 minutes later after enjoying a nice coffee, some bickies, and having a good old yarn with the friendly chap who owned the property (to my regret, I've forgotten his name).
From Rockmount, I hiked to Withcott, where I collected my supplies from the post office. “I hope you are not going to make a habit of this” said the cranky lady at the licensed post office. “You should get a post office box.” I muttered that she doesn’t need to worry, as I made a hasty exit. Outside I quickly unboxed and stuffed my supplies in my pack and marched back down the highway to the Withcott Hotel. I had barely knocked the froth off a nice cold beer, when John Dwyer, the Guidebook 6 Section Coordinator, arrived.
I spent a couple of nights with John and Pauline Dwyer at their beautiful home in Toowoomba. In amongst being thoroughly spoiled with beautiful meals and great company, I managed to patch my sleeping mat, re-waterproof my tent, and get in a remedial massage. Matt Howard from Toowoomba Remedial Massage Clinic was a magician. It hurt like hell, but as painful as it was, I knew the muscle release was desperately needed. He focussed in on the problem area being my left shoulder, right knee, and my feet. Whilst in Toowoomba, I also restocked my medical and maintenance supplies, and got some gel heel pads. It was a bit sad leaving John and Pauline, they were both so good to me - amazing examples of the great people that support the National Trail, and make it so much more than just a trek.
From Withcott it was a short hike to Murphy’s Creek, the BNT campsite on Lynne Anderson’s property. Wow, what a camp. Not really a camp though, more like a studio, consisting 2 bedrooms each with real beds, a bathroom (and I really needed that hot shower), a kitchen, and an alfresco lounge area. I must have looked a bit skinny as Lynne insisted I take a rest day and proceeded to feed me up - beautiful cooked breakfasts, lovely lunches and scrumptious dinners. Lynne was a fan of bubbles, and with no argument from me, shared a couple of glasses with me over dinner. Did I mention Lynne runs Seatonfire Chilli Chocolates? I didn’t argue too hard about sampling some of her delightful range. Sadly, after an enjoyable rest day, it was time to go.
The next days hike to Ravensbourne, a little over 26 kilometres, consisted of a steady climb to 800m in the middle section before leveling out. Lynne offered to take my pack up to the camp site after she heard how much I enjoyed the short pack-free stretch coming into Thornton. I certainly made good time that day. Lynne met me later in the afternoon with my pack and even brought spaghetti bolognese for dinner, boiled eggs and fruit for breaky, and cheese and ham for lunch. I enjoyed my spag bol that night, whilst watching some tennis and chatting to the locals at the sports ground where I camped.
The next morning I awoke to a spectacular sunrise - Mother Nature knows when to turn it on to get you up and going.
From Ravensbourne, it was another biggish hike to Emervale Station, where I met the Maden family, along with a surprise visitor, Lynne McKie Blythe, a past BNT trekker who I met in Far North Queensland when I completed the first guidebook heading south. I only stayed a single night in the gorgeous hut at Emervale Station, setting out for Cressbrook Creek the next morning.
Maria Creek was the next destination and it was there I discovered I wasn’t successful with my re-waterproofing efforts back in Toowoomba. It rained solidly all afternoon and half the night, but I stayed dry thanks to the tarp I’m now carrying. Luckily, come morning it stopped and I was able pack up quickly to get away early, skipping the camp at Emu Creek, and making it to Blackbutt. It’s just as well there was a good undercover area at the Showgrounds as it started raining solidly 10 kilometres out and didn’t stop until well into the evening.
Time to get out the champagne and celebrate some big milestones. I have completed BNT guidebook 6, making me more than half way South to North having now walked 2,764 kilometres. Adding in the first guide book and a bit of the second, all up I have walked 3,280 kilometres solo and unsupported (in a manner of speaking).
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.