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...
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.