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).
In the last couple weeks before I stepped off the BNT in mid-February, my feet were becoming increasingly sore at the end of each day’s hike. The weather was hot and dry; my hiking boots felt like little ovens; my legs felt tight and heavy, despite my daily maintenance regime of stretching and massage; and, top it all off, my left shoulder was giving me some trouble, regardless of how I balanced the load and adjusted my pack.
I was really looking forward to getting home and celebrating the kids’ birthdays. The fact that a 20-day break was just around the corner helped me get through when I was feeling really shagged. When I got reception, I jumped online and booked a few remedial massages. In a case of mind over matter, knowing I had treatment locked in seemed to ease the pain of my sore feet and tired legs. I’d certainly be getting my money’s worth.
Fast forward to my first appointment with Cameron, at Healesville Sports Injury Remedial Massage Clinic. I was describing the trouble I was having with my feet. “You might want to watch that” he said, “they're classic symptoms of plantar fasciitis”. He suggested I see Hurst Podiatry, as he attacked the trigger points in my calves.
I was a little freaked out as I’d read some nasty stories about plantar fasciitis (inflammation of a band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot from heel bone to toes). After seeing the podiatrist, though, I was relieved. Chris (the podiatrist) focussed on what I needed to do to manage it when I got back on the trail. I was armed with more stretching to do, how to tape it up, as well as adding over-the-counter orthotic insoles to my boots.
Resuming my hike of the National Trail, I genuinely felt recharged as I set off down Kangaroo Flat Road in Yarrowitch. It was drizzling, and I was fully loaded with 7 days’ worth of food, some new gear and my usual two-and-a-half litres of water. I had my insoles in, my feet taped, and I was pumped; I was heading into the Kunderang!
After about 5 kilometres, my feet began to hurt in new ways. It felt like something was digging into my arches. After an inspection, and a bit more taping, I pressed on - new orthotics have a solid plastic bit to support the arch. Arrghhh!!! Then, towards the end of the days’ hike I could feel my right shin starting to burn. Reminiscent of how it started off in Far North Queensland (which culminated in the injury that derailed my north-to-south attempt of the BNT).
The next day was a little cooler, with patchy rain, and fortunately only 16 kilometres. I added an extra two kilometres to the days’ hike to get to the hut the National Parks & Wildlife guys told me about. I’m glad I did, as it was a nice spot and I was able dry my gear out, rest and throw everything at my little niggles. I was most worried about my right shin.
I must have done something right, as it was a great hike to Youdales Hut. Health niggles and pain were forgotten, replaced with the excitement of arriving in the Kunderang. A bit of that excitement was apprehension, though. There was still a bit of patchy rain about, and I’d been warned about this section after rain.
The Kunderang Brook, Macleay River and George’s Creek were truly amazing. Every bit as amazing as I’d been told and then some. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the Guy Fawkes River was thrown my way after decent rains. An experience I will never forget. I wasn’t pain-free, but it was all good pain. The pain of pushing yourself to your limits, only to get the glorious release of endorphins and adrenaline as you are surrounded by awe-inspiring beauty.
If you haven’t already, check out these little videos I put together as I travelled through this area. I hope you get a sense of how privileged I felt to have been able to experience this.
Guy Fawkes River
I spent an extra day in the Guy Fawkes waiting for the river to drop. This was on top of the extra couple of days when I stayed at Marengo Station with Mick, his lovely wife Emma, and their gorgeous little daughter, Mackenzie. All not in the plan, which meant I had to ration carefully through the Valley. I pushed things pretty hard on the last day. It was threatening rain with the occasional thunder murmurs. I got to the day’s designated camp at Newton Boyd early(ish), so decided to press on to the next one. This made it a 35-kilometre day that included 14 river crossings and a steady climb. The last few kilometres from camp my right knee was telling me I’m a dickhead and I should have camped at Newton Boyd Recreational Reserve. I don’t know why it was protesting now, it’s not like I hadn’t walked 2200 kilometres and pushed myself hard before. I put it down to probably wrenching it on the walk some stage through the Guy Fawkes.
I got to Blacks Flat Travelling Stock Reserve at around 5pm. Even though it was late, I quickly set up camp and, after doing my usual maintenance, I focussed attention on my right knee.
The next day was an enjoyable hike to Mann River. My knee, however, started telling me off with a few kilometres to go.
I decided to listen to it this time. Rather than walk the extra 10 kilometres to get to the Highway, though, I was lucky there was a National Parks & Wildlife Service crew upgrading the Mann River Campsite, and I was able to get a lift to Glen Innes with them.
After 3 operations on my right knee to repair a torn meniscus, there’s pretty much no meniscus left. My orthopaedic surgeon told me the knee was arthritic, and that I may need a knee replacement in 5 to 10 years. That was about 5 years ago. Nearly 2,900 kilometres without any sign of my past woes, I was climbing out of the Guy Fawkes Valley when my knee blew up like a balloon. Fuck!
I had no luck getting in to see any of the local GPs in Glen Innes, so decided to front up to the Glen Innes Hospital ED.
I’m now spending Easter here in Glen Innes resting the knee and taking anti-inflammatories; setting off again Tuesday.
I’ve heard what’s ahead of me is as good, if not better - one way or another I’m coming through! Pain, pain go away, fuck clean off and stay away!
Some people define themselves as either a cat or a dog person. I was fortunate to be brought up in a bit of a menagerie and developed quite a love for all animals. As a fairly introverted kid I think animals liked me more than people did, or at least that was how it seemed to me. I certainly was more comfortable around animals and related to them more. On that basis if you were going to bang me into a pigeon hole, it’d be the one for “animal people”. At home now, we have two beautiful dogs, Sacha and Maggie; two gorgeous cats, Izzy and Tish; and a pond full of gold fish; not to mention the wild birds that abound in the Yarra Valley.
As a kid growing up, I wasn’t the sporty type. I was usually one of the last kids to get picked for team sports - I hated that. I was fit, though, as I’d ride my bike everywhere. Whilst I wasn’t sporty in the classic sense, and as defined by the PE teachers at school, I was reasonably successful in my chosen sport outside of school: eventing and showjumping. Naturally I didn’t do this on my own, I had a partner-in-crime: Cheeky Lad (Fella), my best friend. For a little bloke, he had a massive heart. I got most of the credit for his athleticism, with people calling me “Kamikaze Chris” when we would be clearing A- Grade pony club jumps.
My love of horses never left me, but I stopped riding competitively when I was around 17 or 18. After Fella, there was no other, but I rode both my sisters' horses here and there until I was arount 21, and after that, nothing . Speaking of, it was my beautiful little sis that recently gave my wife and I a voucher for a beach trail ride down on the Mornington Peninsula. This was used (along with a night staying in a villa at a winery down there) to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary.
So a question that I have thought long and hard about since setting off on this little adventure of mine is “Why aren’t I doing this on horseback?” The answer is the same reason we denied our children the joy of growing up around horses: I took the easy path. I know what is involved in looking after horses, and it’s hard work. You’ve got to put their needs above yours and they’re expensive.
It’s funny how the Trail gives you a lot of “me” time, and, after more than 100 days and 1500 kilometres, I haven’t really shared any self reflection. Fear not, I won’t freak you all out with all my philosophical revelations, it just seemed to fit with this particular update and where my head is at currently.
So Dr Doolittle, what’s that all about I hear some of you ask. Good question, and time for another revelation.... I talk to animals. It's ok, I’m not going to tell you they talk back, not in English anyway. Along the trail I thought I would be lonely; plenty of wildlife, yes (“wild” being the operative word), but not the interaction I had in lieu of my limited human relationships. A weird thing seems to be happening to me so far on the Trail. Based on my previous updates, you may be surprised to learn that I was a little socially awkward, not the one to make new friends easily. I won’t go so far as saying that's all in the past, but my experiences along the way suggest I’m a little more comforable putting myself out there with strangers and instigating conversations. Well, it hasn’t been lonely; not only has my interaction with people improved, but, unexpectedly animals seem to be reaching out to me as well. Awesome, right? I noticed this occurring when I first set off on the BNT from Cooktown.
I camped at a place called Roaring Meg Falls, a sacred aboriginal site in the Daintree Rainforest. During the night some native bush rats came along to say hello and, when I didn’t wake up to play, they helped themselves to my breakfast.
Up north, when I first encountered brumbies, if I stood still long enough, the stallion would prance on up, close(ish). The second I’d move, though, he’d lose his courage and call out to his mares, saying (I assume) “Come on ladies, nothing to see here, time to go”.
Things escalated in Innot Hot Springs, I think the animals must have known I’d needed a bit of cheering up, what with the leg injury and all. First it was the cat that followed me everywhere and waited for me to pull up a chair in the kitchen so he could climb up and chat with me whilst I had my dinner. Then it was the wild noisy miner, who flew up and perched on a seat beside me, as I was contemplating a swim - he just wanted a pat. Before I left, a couple of kangaroos bounced up to say hello.
There were many encounters up north that I didn’t get photos of, including wild pigs crashing through 2-metre spear grass to drop into my camp spot, just to say hello. They didn’t appreciate it though when I yelled at them to bugger off - amazing how they squeezed through a barbed wire fence to act on my instructions though.
Heading north from Healesville, my trip so far has featured many animals amazingly popping up for a greeting, for pats, or simply to freak me out.
Horses have been my favourite. There have been so many times that I have been walking along a lonely road only to hear the characteristic whinnie and then nicker as they trot or gallop to the fence. Here are but a few of the new mates I’ve met along they way.
Then there are my furry feline friends. Usually I encounter these guys in a town where I’m walking down a street and they’d simply come up to me and say “hello human”. Or it might be where I’m staying, and they’d seek me out amongst other campers to hang out.
And then there’s man’s best friend. Ok, I’ll admit it, it’s been hit and miss with canis lupus familiaris - I’ve had a few situations where clearly they didn’t like the look of me, barking aggressive abuse until I walked clear of them. Most of the time, though, they’ve been wonderful, particularly this little spunk muffin, Ruby.
Cattle are funny things, you could be in a big noisy car driving past, and they won’t bat an eye lid, but me walking past they’re absolutely fascinated. They will charge up to the fence line, all of them, to have a gawk, and to say hello to the funny looking animal with four legs and a hump (walking poles and a pack). I’m sure they think I’m the offspring of one of their brethren that did the funky monkey with a camel. They will then follow along as far as their fence will allow them, constantly mooing to any of their mates who might not be there to witness this spectacle.
And what about the reptiles? Alright, I won’t go as far as saying any that I’ve met have been particularly friendly, but why the hell are the Highland copperheads not getting out of my way when I’m stomping along a track? Why didn’t that Brown bite me when I rudely stomped on him\her? Seriously, they are beautiful creatures and I’ve been lucky to see a few without being too worried by them.
I’ve finished another guidebook, having arrived in Aberdeen yesterday. I’m enjoying a nice beer after having a remedial massage to release some really tight and sore muscles, and I got a haircut. I’ve got 14 days of straight hiking ahead of me before getting to the Oxley Highway where I aim to hitch a ride to Walcha, and then a coach, and then trains back Melbourne. I’ve decided that I can’t miss our wonderful kids' birthdays. I can’t think of a thing particularly significant about June, apart from it being cold, but all our kids were born in February - this year it’s a 16th, a 19th and a 21st. I can’t wait to see my family again!!!
I’m not sure I’ll get a congratulations from the Prime Minister, that only happened for real cricket legends when Johnnie Howard was in the chair. Nonetheless, reaching 100 days on the Bicentennial National Trail feels pretty special to me. I had never done a multi-day hike before setting out on the BNT, so after the 30-day “practice run” up north, I’m elated to be able to raise my trekking poles in salute towards the members gallery. There’d be no shame if I was clean bowled the very next ball, as often happens to many centurions in cricket parley, however this innings isn’t over for me just yet. After acknowledging the crowd and the members stand, I realise I need to knuckle down and aim for a triple century, if I have any hope of winning this match.
As is customary after reaching a century, on come the replays and highlights of the innings. I won’t rehash my full trip to date, but will pick things up where I last left you - all the way back in Gundaroo.
I had so much fun hanging out with Kathryn and Preston in Gundaroo. I was lucky to be invited along on a trail ride with them around their property on Dusty, one of the horses they’d completed the BNT on. Dusty is a gorgeous horse, and it was a thrill having a ride despite me being very rusty.
It was also nice having great company on New Years Eve from a picture perfect vantage point on Kathryn and Preston’s property. Ruby, their beautiful Kelpie, clearly agreed.
I set off again New Year’s Day, bright and early, and hangover free. I got all the way to Crookwell, enjoying some fabulous scenery along the way, before seeing Kathryn and Preston again. At the BNT AGM in Narbethong, we’d agreed to participate in a Planning and Strategy day with the board. Who would have thought my corporate experience would come in handy on the trail? Well it did (for this day at least) for I was the facilitator, with Kathryn being an honourary board member and designated chauffeur, picking me up and dropping me down to Caloola Farm, south of Canberra, for what turned out to be a great day. A big call out to the BNT board members for getting through a very big agenda and making it such a successful and fun day.
I returned to the Trail in Crookwell, bracing myself for some very hot weather. It was fantastic of Kathryn and Preston to take me on a reconnaissance mission, sussing out the route to Roslyn, and finding a good shady spot for me to camp with plenty of good water. That certainly took the worry out of the next day's hike, and I set off extra early to beat the heat, arriving in Roslyn around 9am.
Fortunately the hike to Taralga was cooler, as it was twice the distance, but I still needed to wet my whistle at the local pub after collecting my food parcel from the post office. I camped at the Taralga Showgrounds, meeting up with a bunch of students from Hong Kong University, experiencing Aussie bush life through a voluntary work program to clean up the showgrounds ahead of an upcoming rodeo. It was pretty impressive watching local cocky, John, give a demonstration of his working dogs. Clearly, I timed my arrival in Taralga perfectly; I even got an invite to have dinner with Steve and the students from Hong Kong. The students were staying at Steve’s place at his historic homestead just out of town. Steve is a volunteer with International Volunteering for Peace (IVP), the newly established Australian arm of Services Civil International (SCI), the group who had coordinated the trip for these students. What a great bunch of people they all were, I really enjoyed hanging out with them and sharing some of my stories about Trail life, as well as hearing about their lives in Hong Kong - what an awesome adventure they are all having.
I took a rest day in a Taralga and witnessed a stunning thunderstorm (accompanied by torrential rain). My little tent held up, though, and I had a good night's sleep, but had to pack up wet gear the following morning. What’s an extra few kilos anyway at this stage of the hike....arghhh. Little did I know, but this weather foreshadowed what was ahead of me. Searing heat, and then thunderstorms.
The next few days I got a bit of rain, with afternoon thunderstorms, but things cleared up as I hit the southern end of the Blue Mountains National Park. I don’t know why exactly, but I was really excited about entering the Blue Mountains National Park. Yes, they are beautiful; yes, it’s a world a Heritage Area, but there’s something else that I can’t quite put my finger on that made this so special. It was like getting to the summit of Kosciuszko, I felt like I’d achieved something really big in my life. Initially, the Blue Mountains welcomed me with icy cool weather and mist, however this cleared to reveal some stunning views ahead of me arriving to a great hut atop of Mt Werong. It was that evening that I witnessed the most amazing dry electrical storm. Hundreds of lightning strikes seconds apart, a show that the organisers of Sydney’s New Year's Eve fireworks display would have been envious of.
Arriving at Jenolan Caves, I treated myself to a couple of nights of luxury at the Jenolan Cabins. I was very lucky that the proprietor, Barry, dropped me down to visit the Caves. What a truly amazing experience.
From Jenolan, it was a few days of great hiking between pub stops. Leeanne and Peta looked after me at the Hampton Pub, with Leeanne thinking it hysterical, dubbing me “Forrest Gump”. Well life is like a box of chocolates, with the one I unwrapped at Rydal being particularly sweet. Clearly big supporters and fans of the BNT at Rydal. I stayed at the Showgrounds where Rachel bent over backwards to make sure I had access to the facilities there. I really enjoyed that hot shower that evening! Before setting up for the night though, I wandered down to the Rydal pub to blow the froth of a few quiet ones. I met Phil, the publican and his partner, Judy. Phil shouted me a beer and Judy made me the best toastie ever, as I regaled them with stories of my adventures on the trail.
After leaving Wallerwang ending my recent pub crawl, I headed off to Baal Bone Gap and the Gardens of Stone National Park. The rock formations through here were amazing. Actually, amazing doesn’t do this day justice, picture better than amazing, I loved this day's hike and reckon it's one of the best on the trail so far.
Leaving Baal Bone Gap involves a long steep descent into the Capertee Valley. I left just before 6am, as I was expecting it to be quite warm and wanted to get the 34 kilometres to Glen Davis before it got too hot. I would have enjoyed the views along the Capertee Valley more if I hadn’t totally underestimated how hot the day was going to be. Even during the descent at 6am it was becoming uncomfortably warm, however this was nothing compared to the 47 degrees I endured for a fair chunk of the day. Running out of water with 4 kilometres to go was not fun I can assure you. I staggered into the Glen Davis campground around 3pm and was delighted the community centre was open. I made short work of the litre of iced water that was offered to me, however it immediately leaked out of every pore, so I downed another.
One of the most cherished things on the trail is getting to a place with a hot shower. The campground at Glen Davis has hot showers, but I can assure you I didn’t touch the hot water tap. Shortly after downing 2 litres of water, the cold shower was blissful.
You’d think I’d look back on this day and shudder, thinking how tough it was. Not so, thanks to the amazing efforts of Trail Angel, and BNT trekker aspirant, Russel Forbes. I will now look back on this day as one of the best. Russell drove all the way out from Wollongong with a massive esky full of yummyness. We pigged out on prawns, scoffed into a roast chook with salad on bread rolls, washing it all down with Fat Yak beer - I really enjoyed Russell’s company as I did my impersonation of the Warner Bros Tassy Devil scoffing into this feast. Russell headed off after a couple of hours, but not before leaving me with enough for another massive feast for dinner, a pile of apples, a few more beers, ice to keep it all cool, and a replacement gas canister that I needed.
After a good rest day, and thanks to the efforts of Russell, I headed off from Glen Davis feeling fully recharged. I was originally going to have a couple of short hikes, but after getting to Glen Alice around 10am I decided to press onto to the hut atop Grassy Mountain, making this a 35-kilometre day. It wasn’t quite the 47 degrees, but I think it must have got to high 30s; hot enough, particularly when the last 5 kilometres involved a very steep climb. I was very relieved to see Claude Agnes’s Hut, as I was absolutely knackered. I was even more relieved to find the water tank full as I guzzled down a couple of litres.
Did I mention that every afternoon since leaving Wallerwang, there’d been thunder and electrical storms?
After hydrating, I headed behind the hut up the rock formation, to the look out. As I laid there for a while, taking in the stunning views, I noticed a lot of smoke drifting in - bugger. I checked the RFS website and could see lots of fires, but nothing that looked like posing me any problems, so I laid back down in my comfy little rocky nook. A few big rain splodges smacked me in the face as the thunder rumbles started intensifying. It was only after a few close lightening strikes told me that it might be time to find shelter, that I headed back down to the hut for refuge.
It pelted down for a good 20 minutes, with a spectacular lightning display that made me a little nervous. A while after it cleared, I climbed back up to the lookout, and my little rocky nook, where there was good reception, and rechecked the RFS website. Bugger, 2 new fires now appeared on the map in the area of my hike for the next couple of days.
I got up earlier the next morning and called the RFS Bushfire info line. They were not able to give me any more info than what was on their website, and simply said it was a decision I would need to make, so I did. It was cool, there’d been good rain overnight, and there was no wind, so off I went. The hike down Grassy Mountain through the Wollemi National Park, along the Glen Alice Trail was gorgeous. As I was nearing Coricudgy Road I could hear the fire fighting choppers fairly close by. The earlier wet forest had made way for dry forest and scrub, which made me a little nervous, but once I got to Coricudgy Road with cleared paddocks on one side I relaxed a bit. The camp spot that night was by the Cudgegong River, along the Dewy 40 Trail in Wollemi National Park. There had been a recent fire through there, so the fuel load was low, and there were big waterholes, and rocky outcrops for me to seek shelter if I needed to. I felt safe, but climbed a hill to get reception and made a few phone calls to let people know where I was anyway.
I set off for Nullo Mountain the next morning. The climb up Nullo Mountain was very steep and as I neared the top, the views would have been spectacular had it not been for the smoke. I switched my phone on, with it buzzing and vibrating like crazy as it found reception and messages came through. “Please call NPWS urgently on xx - You are in Danger”
Reception wasn’t great. I eventually got onto NPWS, and found that I’d be fine getting to a Nullo Mountain, but the trail north of there might be a problem, and to check back later on its status. Well the rest of the hike to a Nullo Mountain started off ok, but for the last 5 kilometres I’ve never been more terrified in my life. I was caught up in an intense storm, with torrential rain, thunderclaps so loud it hurt my ears, and lightning strikes all around me. Not much I could do about it so, reminding myself that I’d be more likely to win tattslotto than be hit by lightning, I pressed on. I was certainly relieved to get to Nullo Mountain, as well as very soggy. Wow, what a nerve wracking day 99 on the Trail.
After getting my tent pitched, I walked around the paddock to find a good spot to get reception and call NPWS. “Sorry, the Myrtle Trail is closed at the moment due to fire activity. If you can get to our office in Rylstone, one of our crews can get you to the other side in the Widden Valley. Do you have a support team that can get you here?”
Bugger, the dreaded 99, and there’s a big appeal for LBW.
“No, I’m hiking the BNT unsupported.” I replied.
“I’ll make a few phone calls to see what I can do. I’ll call you back.” The NPWS area manager advised.
I got got the call back and was given the local RFS Captain’s number who would be able to make arrangements to get me and drop me off there on the Sunday.
The bowling team were all gathered around the pitch shouting, “Howzatt”, with the bowler glaring down the pitch with his arm raised and finger poking a hole in the clouds. After a nervous moment the umpire shook his head, “not out” he replied quietly signalling for play to get back underway.
Day one hundred, Saturday 27th January 2018, was not spent hiking. It was celebrated in style, nonetheless. I was at Michael Suttor’s place, a large cattle property just outside of Rylestone. I had an awesome time. An esky full of beer, a BBQ dinner and the awesome company of Michael, his boys and the steady stream of family friends dropping in.
Thank-you to the hard working men and women of NPWS, and the volunteers at NSW RFS - you rock!
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.