Being a real hiker… for two seconds!

Due to a necessary element of trying to find a property to purchase as my first home, which meant every spare moment trudging around property inspections, and then facing Bree’s anniversary, I hadn’t been on a hike for over six weeks. Who would have ever thought I would be agitated to get out there? Certainly not me, but there I was, putting myself on every Ladybird waitlist possible and crossing my fingers people would drop off and I would be the Steven Bradbury of hiking.

To my eternal gratitude, I got the medal and made it onto a hike in Walhalla, the weekend after Bree’s anniversary. Often, the lead up to an anniversary is worse than the actual day, but this time, the week after was awful, so making it onto this walk was a true blessing. I was over-emotional and with a rough week at work, I was at breaking point. I made a last minute decision to try and find some accommodation and take the whole weekend to get some quiet time to myself. Bree was clearly looking after me because for those who don’t know, Walhalla is a tiny little village with very little accommodation options. When I said last minute, I meant the night before, so the chances of finding accommodation for the weekend were slim but one place I contacted called me and said they had had a last minute cancellation and the cottage was mine if I wanted. Hell, yes!

By late afternoon, I was on my way… along with every other resident in Melbourne it seemed. My visions of arriving relaxed and taking a slow wander through town at sunset went out the car window and drained away beside me on the road as I sat in long trails of cars with people who had the same idea! The reality was an early dinner at a roadside diner and an anxious drive up the mountain at dusk, terrified of kangaroos deciding that the time to cross the road is exactly right in front of you.

Arriving safe, I was delighted with my tiny little cottage hugging the side of the mountain and nothing but the sounds of the bush around me. Less delighted that evening when the guests of the cottage next door arrived and the sounds of the bush were replaced with loud music and talking til after 1am! Even less so when I was woken up to banging on my door at 5am. When I was telling someone this story afterwards, they asked me what they wanted. I DON’T KNOW!! I was on my own in the middle of nowhere at 5am in the morning. As if I am going to go open the door!!

So, bleary eyed, I got up to pack my gear, ready for the hike. I was excited about this one because it was the first hike where I felt like I would be a real hiker, with the gear I needed. I had just bought my backpack I’m taking on the Camino, my hiking poles had arrived, had my water pouch and boots, I was ready. Quickly discovered I had forgotten my rain jacket and the forecast was of course, rain. Was saved from losing my real hiker status (what kind of hiker forgets a rain jacket?) by my little cottage with two rain jackets hanging on the wall.

Since deciding to do the Camino and getting out walking, Poverty Point Bridge had become a hiking bucket list destination of local places to try (by local, I mean within a two hour drive radius), so it was energising to arrive at Thomson Railway Station for the 9km circuit hike along with 20 other Ladybirds. Amid all the chatter and discussions about the rain and leeches(!), I was feeling even more confidant because a) I had a rain jacket and b) after the leech discussions, I was one the one sharing my Bushmans around for all the ladies who didn’t have anything to protect them from those bloodsucking creatures. To be honest, this was more fluke than actual planning as it just happened to be in my bag, but still, I was on a roll.

I stepped off with a bounce in my step, ready to take on the world. And…. this lasted for as long as it took me to turn the corner and start the walk straight up the hill. In all my brimming over-confidence, I had forgotten to get myself sorted for the actual hike. The point of the poles was to assist me in climbs and descents. Where were my poles as I was climbing up the hill? Strapped to the side of my backpack where I couldn’t reach them.

As the slow climb progressed, misstep number two made itself known. The water pouch is a bladder that sits in your bag with a tube for easy access to water whenever you need. Think Homer…

In order for this easy access to water to occur, the tube needs to be looped through the front strap of your backpack so it stays secure for when you need it. Where was my tube when I was gasping for air and needing water? Flapping around uselessly behind me and I was like a dog chasing its tail trying to reach it!

Still climbing, (it makes it sound like it was a huge mountain, but it was really only a steep hill, I’m just a slow walker) and my next brain freeze moment came when the rain started. To protect my backpack against rain, it has an inbuilt raincover. As I looked up to see all these seasoned women with the raincovers already over their packs from the start in readiness for the downpour, I think I actually groaned out loud to realise it was another thing I had forgotten to do as my cover was still safely tucked away in its pocket, rather than protecting my belongings inside my backpack from the rain!

Thank goodness for the lovely ladies around me who kindly pulled everything out of my pack with each struggle and saved me from turning into a turtle stuck on its back. My status as a real hiker was officially disqualified and I was back to someone who was out walking with no idea what she is doing.

Once I had reached the top of that hill though (and stopped wheezing like an emphysema ridden old man), the walking worked its natural magic and I felt at peace for the first time in weeks. I didn’t feel the need to maintain conversations with the people around me, I could just be. I think this is what I am most looking forward to on the Camino. There will be nothing competing for my attention, I won’t be stretched thin trying to juggle various commitments. It will be physically and mentally challenging, but it will be just me… and Bree. For this, I can’t wait.

Walhalla is a breathtaking place. If you haven’t been, add it to your list. The scenery and the calmness that comes from this place is epic.

Maybe that’s all a real hiker is, just being out there and being present in the moment with the natural therapy nature provides. I don’t think I am quite there yet, but I am definitely on my way.

 

 

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