Wow, what a ride it's been since my last post! I should be well into the second guidebook by now, but, like the classic board game Snakes & Ladders, I landed on a square with a snake on it and have been forced back about five squares. Relax, it's not a snake bite, and there wasn't a real snake involved, instead it was an injury that necessitated medical assistance. More about that soon; first, let's get strapped in and start this roller coaster ride.
Just as I was finishing my last post I had the privilege of meeting Alienor Le Gouvello, who had just arrived at Innot Hot Springs. Alienor has nearly finished her BNT trek with her three ponies - a real inspiration! I got so caught up chatting about our BNT experiences so far and enjoying the offered beers that I neglected to take advantage of the good phone reception to phone ahead to the various stations to let them know I'll soon be passing through. "Sit back and relax and enjoy the beers" Alienor said, "It's ok, I'll ring them for you tomorrow." I'm still blown away by the Alienor's generosity, she even went through the second guidebook with me giving me tips and advice.
The next morning I woke as usual before sun up. Instead of setting off straight away, I typed up what I hoped to be more useful notes for Alienor than the rather inadequate "Maps 10, 11 and 12 will be a bit tricky" I'd shared with her the day before.
Setting off was straightforward enough and I was treated to a nice clear crisp morning to farewell Innot Hot Springs. If you are ever up this way, it really needs to be on your must-visit list!
Hang on folks, our little carriage is near the crest and we're approaching the corkscrew.
I was making good time when I came across a turnoff. The guidebook said turn left here, but the marker on a fence post seemingly indicated to continue straight on. I checked my GPS and the way point marker I'd plotted ages ago clearly had me going straight on. "Straight on it is then!" I muttered to myself. I got about 100m on when I saw another gate with a marker indicating I should go back the way I came. I thought to myself that I must have misunderstood the first marker and figured I'd stuffed up with my GPS plotting of this section during planning. Back I went and turned into the dirt road as per the guidebook instructions, looking for a fork in the road for where I should be going right. The right fork never materialised and after a few kilometres I consulted my GPS and could see I was totally off track. I figured I could probably continue on and pick up the trail further on, but decided against this after checking Google Earth. I was worried there might not be a way across the Herbert River so I decided to turn back . Bugger! Two hours and about eight kilometres wasted. I trudged back the way I came, muttering all sorts of nasty words describing my intelligence.
I passed this sign after getting on track and thought to myself "Well here it is, the place I've been told to go so many times over the years."
I finally got to camp around 3pm and found the awesome little spot Alienor had suggested. Apparently fresh water crocs frequent this area, but I was genuinely disappointed not to see one. I slept well with a fantastic camp fire that went all night thanks to a couple of honking great logs I found.
The next day I set off early and was excited because it was the last map for guidebook one. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself thinking I now deserved to be called a BNT trekker with one guidebook and about 500 kilometres under my belt.
The final day should have been easy; about 23kms following power lines and then a main road.
After 9 kilometres of following power lines I reached the main road, but instead of resting I decided to press on for another couple of kilometres to reach the halfway point.
I thought I was close, so pulled up to rest and had a bite to eat. After a good rest I thought, "Right! Time to power on and claim victory over guidebook one". I hoiked up my pack and pulled the waist strap to tighten.
"SNAP" said my pack waist buckle.
"Oh fuck!! Noooo!!! You are fucking kidding me!!!!" I cried back.
The waist strap and buckle are probably the most important bits on a pack. They hold the pack securely so the weight sits on your hip not your shoulders and back. On closer inspection , the buckle wasn't totally stuffed, but pretty close. I wasn't able to have it as tight as it needed to be so the weight was not sitting comfortably. "Onwards and upwards" I thought ( Well... I actually said "Fuck it, I'll sort something out when I get to camp".)
After a few kilometres I started to feel a burning sensation and sharp stabbing pains in my right lower leg. I pulled up and noticed a swollen lump on the outside of my leg at the boot line. I was reminded of the trouble I had with my left leg on the way to Mossman. "Right, time for the big guns" I thought, as I got out the Voltarin rub, magnesium oil, and a 50mg Voltarin anti-inflammatory pill. This eased things up a bit and I pressed on.
There must have been some sort of car rally on as there was a procession of cars covered in sponsorship stickers, barrelling along the road at regular intervals, throwing up massive plumes of dust. I was a little worried that if the groupings got any tighter I might be in trouble, as the trailing car would find it difficult to see me trudging on the side of the road. Some of the rally cars slowed as they neared, but most just roared past at I'm guessing to be around 100 km/h, coming within a metre of me. So much for the big sign at the start of the dirt section warning drivers to drive to the prevailing conditions. Oh well, they were having fun, it's not their fault the prevailing conditions included a middle-aged dude walking on the side of the road.
I was nearing camp (at a guess about a kilometre or two to go) when I heard a car behind me. At first I'm thinking " Oh great, I'm hungry - more dust to eat", but this car slowed, passed and then pulled up.
"Sue!!" I yelled. I was thrilled to see Sue, a BNT board member, who was driving the support vehicle for Lesley, another BNT board member, who is riding south from Cooktown on the trail. I met Sue and Leslie at the BNT shindig I went to in Mareeba. I was wondering when they would catch up to me - they must have set a cracking pace!
Sue offered to take my pack for me and meet me at the camp. My leg was getting really sore and the weight just wasn't sitting right, so I gladly agreed. The last kilometre or so felt amazing: without the weight on, it was like I was 2 feet taller and floating.
I got to camp and set up, gathering wood for a fire, and chatting to Sue. I told her about my confusion the day before that cost me about 8 kilometres and 2 hours. Sue said Lesley was travelling through that area this morning but should be here soon. After a while Lesley still hadn't arrived and both Sue and I were getting a little concerned. Sue headed up the road to see if she could get some reception to call Lesley and upon her return said she had some good and bad news. "I managed to get through to Lesley but she made that same turn you did and pressed on and has gotten totally bushed on the wrong side of the river"
Looking at Google Earth I couldn't see an obvious way for Lesley to get across the River. After a few phone calls with reception dropping in and out we decided to see if we could get to her by car. Sue got us as far along the track as we could get in her 4WD just as the sun was starting to set. Lesley had earlier said she would retrace her track and meet us at this point. Sue and I were concerned it was getting cold and dark and I set off with a head torch, GPS and jacket aiming to meet Lesley to try to make it a bit easier for her on the way back. Lesley is an experienced Trekker, but didn't have all her gear with her on her bike as it was in the support vehicle.
Not long after leaving the car I got to a fence and wondered whether Lesley had gone through or followed the track along the fence. I thought about going back but I was concerned for Lesley and decided to press on, even though I knew there was a good chance I'd miss her.
My leg was troubling me but I think adrenaline got me through. I probably walked a couple of kilometres until I saw on the GPS I was close to where Lesley had said she was earlier before deciding to turn back . I realised Lesley must have taken a different path otherwise I would have bumped into her by now so I decided to head back.
As I was getting closer to the car I could hear a few "Cooees" and could see a campfire. Yay, Lesley was back! We decided a pub meal was in order so unanimously agreed to head to camp via the Innot Hot Springs pub.
By the time we got back camp and finished setting up there was consensus that a rest day was in order. That decision made things easier.
It was a pretty relaxing day the next day, and I think both Sue and Lesley were on a mission to get me back to the first hole on my belt rather than the four holes in the last 500kms had taken - the camp food was fantastic and my pack was stuffed full with extra supplies. We also had a roaring camp fire - I was ready to make a start at guidebook 2 the next morning.
The first day of guidebook 2 is a big one - 34kms with limited water on route. I was grateful that Sue had agreed to drop my pack off at camp. I separated the top of the pack which acts as a day pack and was only carrying snacks and 2 litres of water. My leg wasn't as sore this morning and with the lightened load I was as confident I would be able to walk it off.
Lesley caught up with me at the 4km mark and after a quick chat off she went. I was starting to feel a bit sore at this point but told myself to have a stiff drink of concrete and toughen the fuck up.
I tried everything: pain killers, magnesium rub, Voltarin, massaging and stretching; nothing worked, and by the 16 kilometre mark I was in too much pain to go any further. I had no sooner messaged Sue asking for help when her car appeared over the rise.
I was despondent and really worried I'd done some serious damage that would end or seriously delay my BNT adventure- my absolute worse nightmare. I'll never be able to thank Sue enough for all her help - she is a truly remarkable and generous woman! She drove me into Mt Garnet to the medical clinic. The clinic wasn't actually open, but the nurse was there and luckily opened up and saw me. The nurse didn't like the look of the swelling bulging at the top of my boot and suggested I get myself to Atherton Hospital. Sue drove me the 100 kilometres to Atherton Hospital and patiently waited four hours for me to be seen. The doctor suggested a heavy course of anti-inflamatories and a week or two rest. He gave me the name of a local physio, saying she had an interest in sports medicine and would be able to more accurately tell me what is going on and give me options to recover.
After a pub meal and organising a couple of hotel rooms I was pretty knackered and we called it quits for the night.
First thing Saturday morning I tried getting hold of the physio, hoping the practice was open on Saturday's. I was lucky the physio called me back, but dismayed to hear she doesn't open in Atherton on Saturdays. I continue to be astounded by the generosity of people I meet along the Trail. When I explained my situation, Melanie said she was intrigued by my story and agreed to see me. She diagnosed the problem as 'chronic exertional compartment syndrome of the tibialis anterior muscle', explaining that left untreated it could develop into a medical emergency. Melanie clearly knows her stuff explaining the cause, what I need to do to recover, and how to manage flare ups on the Trail - I was very relieved to hear "days" when discussing recovery and my return to the trail. I told Melanie I planned on heading to Innot Hot Springs to rest and was pleased to hear that was the best possible thing I could do - Melanie jested that a few coldies whilst in the hot springs would be beneficial as well. So after all of the detailed advice from Melanie that I need to follow to assist in a rapid recovery, I will summarise the professional medical advice received thus "Don't get out of the Hot Springs for a few days and drink plenty of beer." I can live with that.
So after riding the BNT roller coaster for 500 kilometres, I was really scared I had been spat off for good. And, if not for the immense generosity and professionalism of a few great people, that may well have been the case. I am following the advice I have been given carefully ( including soaking in the springs and drinking beer) and aim to return to Guidebook Two on Wednesday. Hopefully I can then get off the roller coaster and onto a gentle, scenic ferris wheel...
I've been telling everyone that I'm hiking the BNT. Ok, I'll fess up, I'm actually on a bloody big pub crawl. I'm finding, though, that the distance between pubs is considerable, and the crawling is not alcohol induced but rather big hills and fatigue.
Since my last post in Mount Molloy I've travelled another 200 kilometres. In that time there have been all sorts of challenges, including a couple of tumbles, but only two pubs.
After Mount Molloy I was expecting some really remote and harsh country - I wasn't disappointed.
The first day out from the comforts of Mt Molloy pub was a big one, a 30-kilometre hike. The going was mostly ok, with a relatively well-defined trail to follow. The last section before camp got a bit tricky with the trail all but disappearing into two-metre high spear grass. I think I found the designated camp spot; however I decided to give it a miss because of the spear grass. I presssd on for another kilometre looking for a better spot, and, upon checking my GPS, I realised I was off course and on the wrong side of the dry creek. It was too late in the day to circle back so I set up camp in a small clearing I stumbled across. Knowing I was slightly off course, and that I needed to conserve water as I wasn't able replenish at days end, I didn't sleep very well that night. The massive wild pig that came crashing through the spear grass into camp just after dark probably contributed to my unease and pretty shitty night's sleep. Crocs, pigs and mozzies are at the top of my hate list - I'm learning to live with the mozzies, but still have a pathological fear of crocs and pigs.
I couldn't wait to get going in the morning, but had to wait until it was light enough to try to pick up the faint track amongst the spear grass. Initially I thought I could follow the track I was on and that it would cross the creek and pick up the Trail again. No such luck, it ended at some cattleyards, so I had to circle back. I retraced my steps for a couple of hundred metres to where the track came closest to Dora Creek. I checked my GPS and figured I could bush bash for about 400m and rejoin the Trail. As daunting as it was fighting my way through spear grass and scrub without any track, it worked out ok. I stumbled across a track, and was hugely relieved to see a marker after travelling along it for a bit. This pretty much summed up my experience for the next two days.
When I met up with some of the BNT team in Mareeba, I agreed to leave my GPS switched on to record my track to assist with map updates etc. Looking at the track my GPS recorded through this area, I kind of wished I hadn't agreed to this now. "Bloody pub crawl is right, the crazy old codger is filling up his hydration pack with booze at his pub stops, too, judging by this GPS track" I imagine them saying after I've handed it over.
Clearly I need to brush up on my orientation skills. That said, some of the notes suggest following brumby trails, which I did until enthusiasm was replaced with exasperation when they started branching off in multiple directions. Shortly after crossing St Kilda Creek I came across some brumbies. "Oh good" I thought " I'll get the low down on the right brumby trail to follow straight from the horse's mouth." Horse's arse, more like it, they just snorted at me and buggered off. Even though they weren't that helpful, I really liked meeting these brumbies.
I finally navigated my way to the gate and a clearly visible track taking me to Kingsborough. I met Ken who was doing a spot of prospecting off to the side of the track, and gladly accepted the offer of water. It was great not having to treat it first and to simply guzzle it all down - lovely! I wasn't sure of what to expect at Kingsborough, as the Trail notes simply say 'refer Ike,' Kingsborough's only resident, for a suitable place to camp. Ken told me it is a campground with hot showers- well that sure put a spring in my step for the last few kilometres.
When I got to Kingsborough ( after taking a stupid wrong turn and having to bush-bash down the side of a mountain to get there) I was again surprised - it was an amazing little oasis in the middle of an otherwise harsh and arid landscape. Ike gave me a big bunch of banana's, which I scoffed into after setting up camp. I found Ken and shared his camp fire and greatfully sipped the offered coffee and enjoyed swapping stories of what we're up to. I slept wonderfully that night - no pigs!
The next couple of days hiking were relatively uneventful but very enjoyable. I even cranked up the music singing along to some tunes; I have this fantasy that by the time I finish the BNT I might be able to hold a tune [Ed: it's never going to happen...]. Ok, I might need to drink more water as I've heard delusions are a symptom of severe dehydration. [Ed: up that water rationing a lot!]
I was looking forward to Mutchilba, being able to have a beer, get my supplies, and enjoy some good reception to catch up on things.
Tragedy struck! There's no pub in Mutchilba, and (quite likely, less importantly) it's an Optus town, so no reception for this Telstra boy, followed by "Didn't you pick up that parcel last week?"
Things worked out ok though. I had a rest day in Mutchilba, and the kind lady at the post office drove me into Mareeba and paid for some replacement supplies. Late morning I hiked about 6 kms down the road and found a comfy spot where I got three bars of reception yay! It was great calling home.
The next few days of hiking took me back into some really remote and dry country. So, fully loaded with supplies and water, I found the hike to Stannary Hills physically demanding. The series of short sharp climbs were through a (seemingly) never ending valley, on a track that was like a dry river bed, with rock and sand constantly shifting under foot. I was a little weary when I finally reached the large dam for camp. I lit my first campfire of the trip to relax by. I slept well but was woken by brumbies bolting past the camp in the middle of the night.
The last updates to the BNT guidebooks stated the pub at Irvinebank closed in 2015. I was reminded of this as I passed very old signs advertising it with the words "cold beer" barely readable, faded with age.
It was just after lunch when I got into Irvinebank and I was delighted to discover the pub was actually open. It had been a long time between drinks on this pub crawl; and geez, those first couple went down well.
Irvinebank was a great little spot. I enjoyed a hot shower at the free camp, beer and a pub meal, visited the museum, and gas bagged with the locals over more beer.
The next morning I headed out at sunrise. The climb over Mt Misery was great, and the views all the way down Silver Valley Rd were simply spectacular.
A pleasant camp at the waterhole by dry river, another campfire, double rations for dinner, and had a great night's sleep.
I was off the next morning at first light as I had 28 kilometres to get through before reaching my next pub stop at Innot Hot Springs.
I don't know why I found this day's hike so tough. Whilst it was long(ish), there were no major climbs to speak of and it was a good trail to follow. My feet were getting really sore, though, and I was dog-tired - I rested a few times, taking off my boots and applying the magic magnesium rub - that helped, but it didn't cure.
I arrived at Innot Hot Springs around 3pm. I promptly checked in and grabbed my resupply parcel I had mailed a while back. Yep, you guessed it, I also ordered a beer, but my mind was on other things - the hot springs of Hot Springs in fact. I soaked in those thermal pools of warmth, medicated myself with a couple of cold tinnies, and enjoyed the great company of some Italian backpackers I struck up a conversation with.
Before closing out this post I'll share with you a direct quote from Tom Mauloni of Mt Albion Station who I met on the road to Irvinebank: "You need to get your fucking head read!" I was a little taken aback at first by this remark, until Tom elaborated: "Why on earth would you want to be walking all that way? Wouldn't doing it on a horse be easier?" It was great chatting to Tom, and we both had a few good laughs. "Tom, it's no big deal really, I only need to walk about 20 or so kilometres....and keep on doing this for the next 300 or so days"
As I sit here, thinking it is nearly beer o'clock and time to have another soak in the Hot Springs, it has dawned on me that I've walked about 450 kilometres with only about 40 to go before I finish the first guidebook. Finishing this beast doesn't seem so daunting now that that it's under 5000 kilometres to the end - even less when I count it by pub stops. Cheers!
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.