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.