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.
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.