I’d had it in my head that once I hit Omeo, the last of the real rugged, steep climbs would be behind me. It was going to be easier from here. Judging by some of the comments of past trekkers in the BNT log books I read at Omeo Caravan Park and at Bindi Station, I wasn’t the lonesome ranger with those thoughts. Clearly Victoria wasn’t done with me yet. She was saving the best for last...cheeky bitch! No offence. When people say “I’m heading up north”, clearly the “up” bit is true for Victoria, rather than just being an expression. It’s all fucking uphill!!
Ok, I know I’m pissing and moaning, and I should stand in front of a hill and just get over it! (see what I did there...?) For me, I think it’s more about having an expectation and things not measuring up. Anyhow, this is my midlife crisis and I’m out on the BNT finding myself; it’s my hike and I’ll piss and moan if I want to.
However, I think that bit is now done. Yes, there were some unexpected massive steep climbs, but the hike from Omeo to Tom Groggin was brilliant, including the little side trip to Kosciusko, which ticks another bucket list item off. I can’t believe I walked here from home in Healesville!
The first day out from Omeo, had a bit of everything; long, steep ups and downs, misty fog, clear blue skies, wild winds, thunder, lightning and heavy rain. I was rewarded with a room in the shearer’s quarters at Bindi Station, with a lovely hot shower, and a comfortable rest day. Thanks Penny & Fraser!!
I did moz myself when in the last blog I said how comfortable I was not having made any wrong turns. From Nunniong Plains I went right instead of left. I was even making good pace in the steady rain until after an hour I saw a track off to the right that I didn’t remember the day before when studying the route. I whipped out the GPS and yes I had travelled 5 kilometres in the rain in the wrong direction. I surprised myself with how calmly I managed the situation. Ok, that’s bullshit: I threw a right tanty before collecting myself with a few deep breaths and repeating to myself 'onwards and upwards'. Actually, I don’t think the deep breaths arrested the tanty, it was probably more the resolution that I’d hitch a ride to make up the lost 10kms if I got the chance. Not that I’d seen much traffic the last few days - in fact none... I got back to where I made the wrong turn and a couple of kilometres in the rain before taking a break.
Lo and behold, a 4WD arrived that I flagged down. Bec, the driver, was doing her masters at Deakin in (I’m guessing) some sort of environmental science, and was out doing research. She had a couple of volunteers with her to help, Kyle and Sally. I got a ride with these guys and got dropped off 8 kms down the road. That ride made up most of the time I lost with my wrong turn. What an amazing spot of luck. It was a steady climb the rest of the way and, with the weather clearing, I was able to get out of my wet weather gear. I arrived at Brumby Hill - a gorgeous little spot - just as another thunderstorm was threatening. I managed to dry out my gear and pitch my tent in quick time and fortunately the rain held off, bar a few splodges that fell here and there. Getting to camp at reasonable time meant I was also able to give my legs a proper going over with the FisioCream and my massage roller (aka one of my trekking poles). All of this hill work was taking its toll, with my leg muscles feeling very tight, and I’d also felt a bit of a twinge in my left hamstring; however, the massage was able to work that all out.
I think the brumbies at Charlie’s Creek adopted me as part of the herd, which was kind of nice, but the constant munch-munch-munch around me, and the frequent squealy barnies they got into during the night, meant I had a pretty haphazard night's sleep; that and the howling winds. Leaving bright and early the next morning the race was on to get to Davies Plains Hut before the rain arrived. I won that race despite the steep climbs. Davies Hut was the quintessential Victorian bush hut, brilliant, and I was grateful for the shelter. The rain hit shortly after rounding up a bit of firewood and getting water. It didn’t stop all night, only intensifying with thunder and lightning in the small hours of the morning.
It rained all the way to Tom Groggin but, despite this, I was making great time. I got to the Buckwong Creek Camp ground with my boots starting to squelch and the damp finally winning the battle against my wet weather gear, but not yet feeling cold. As I got closer, I realised I had to fjord the creek, and when I saw it I thought, “Holy fuck, that looks a bit swollen”, and was certainly flowing quite fast. I decided to cross anyway. That moment was right up there with an equally stupid decision I made up north with my first attempt of the BNT: crossing the Daintree River knowing a big croc was around. This time my luck held as well and I made it safely across. I arrived at Tom Groggin Station an hour later to collect my food parcel looking like a drowned rat.
There was a group of trail riders sheltering from the rain under the balconies of the Tom Groggin Station Homestead. I learned they were doing a charity ride with The Purple Bucket Foundation, and had booked out the accommodation and facilities on offer at Tom Groggin Station.
I was just expecting to collect my food parcel and then traipse back the two kilometres to the Dogmans Hut to camp. Alison (Chick), the president of The Purple Bucket Foundation, suggested I hang around and dry out there, and that they were about to dish up lunch, and I was more than welcome to join them. Chick pointed me in the direction of the bathroom and said there’s a hot shower waiting for me - I didn’t need to be told twice. Sheer bliss! [Ed: and probably for them, too, after getting a whiff...]
I got to chatting to Chick and her story is amazing. Her daughter Emily had an accident falling from her horse and fracturing her wrist. After a number of complications, and also a couple more unfortunate accidents, Emily developed a debilitating illness that saw her crippled with chronic pain and ultimately confined to a wheelchair, requiring constant care. The Australian medical community were at a loss to diagnose the problem and offered surgical options with hideous risks and an at best a 50% success rate. Never giving up hope, Chick came across a specialist in the US that was offering treatment with a 96% success rate, no risky side effects and non-invasive. After jumping through hoops to get Emily over to the States, Emily’s life was turned around after a dozen or treatments. I’ve significantly abbreviated this amazing story, but it was years of anguish, pain and suffering to get to this point. Chick was appalled this treatment is not available in Austalia, and that the illness isn’t even formally recognised. After long fights with government agencies and the Australian medical community, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is now formally recognised as an illness, and Chick continues to champion the cause to raise awareness of it. When Emily’s pain specialist first heard she was going to the States to seek this treatment he had never heard of, he said if it worked he would check it out. After the amazing turnaround with Emily, Chick has held him to his commitment, with the specialist having been trained in the procedure and equipment. This treatment will soon be made available in Australia to other sufferers of CRPS. I met one, Nel, a lovely young lady, battling and suffering this illness. Nel, was there for the trail ride, with her father, Rob, who cares for her 24x7. Lovely people, and their lives will be made significantly easier with this new treatment. Chick is doing great work with The Purple Bucket Foundation; check out their website, www.tpbf.org.au or www.Facebook.com/purplebucket, any support will help suffers like Nel get treatment sooner.
I had a lot of fun at Tom Groggin Station with the Purple Bucket team and the folk participating in the trail ride. I enjoyed dinner, chatting around the campfire, way past my bed-time, sleeping on a comfy bed and followed up with a wonderful egg and bacon brekky. I even got a lift to Thredbo for my little side trip to summit Mt Kosciuszko. Not only did I get lucky crossing the flooded Buckwong Creek, I got immensely lucky to have met these wonderful people.
After arriving at Thredbo I checked into the hotel and had a look around. Great little village! I enjoyed my pub meal and having a few beers with Scott and Dave, who were both tackling the Australian Alpine Walking Trail. Poor Scott had been stranded in Thredbo for nearly a week after sustaining what sounds like to be the same injury that derailed my BNT north-to-south attempt. He was in good spirits though, good on him.
After having a great brekky, today was the day for me to mark off an item that had been on my bucket list for a long time; the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. I took the enjoyable route, chairlift for the first 500 metres, then a lovely 14 kilometre return hike. It was a shame it was clouded in, but still quite magical to have done this. I copped a bit of stinging sleet, then snow, as I neared the peak.
Standing at the peak of Australia’s highest mountain was a humbling experience. Reflecting on my pissing and moaning about the steep climbs through Victoria, I cast my thoughts to Chick & Emily, and Rob & Nel, and the real challenges they have, and continue to face - I am a right twat: these guys climb mountains every day and just get on with it, no pissing and moaning. The Kosciuszko summit isn’t part of the BNT, it was a bucket list item for me, a side trip. I have now ticked that off the list, my Purple Bucket List! Onwards and Upwards.
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.