In my last post I gave you a little taste of what this walk descended to, but I might as well go back to the beginning. Back then things were so much simpler.
The Great South West Walk had been on my walking radar for a while, but the logistics of it were a bit hard to take in. Not so much how to get there and organise, but the fact I’d need a fair chunk of time off to get it done. At 250 km it would be the longest walk I’ve ever done and frankly I’d need at least 14 days.
Yeah, I’m sure there are plenty of others who could chew through it in under ten. I’m happy to do 20 km a day (or really ecstatic at 15 a day!), but with the short winter day, I couldn’t see myself walking anything outrageous distance-wise.
As it is, I tend to have more of a locomotive pace. Generally, the speed I’m going at the start, is the same at the end of a day. It’s certainly not zippy and not even a recent occurrence. Years ago I was on a 10 km fun run, which I finished in 52 minutes, but was overtaken by someone walking. Not one of my better fun run memories, that’s for sure.
Anyway, I had some time off and it was time to knock off this Great South West Walk (oh yeah, for the sake of writing that mouthful it’ll now be referred to as the GSWW) once and for all and eliminate it from my brain. Once a hike gets in there it drives me nuts constantly thinking about it. You reckon I’ve thought about the GSWW a lot? How about the Larapinta Trail which has been nagging me since 1999 when I first thought of doing it? There’s always next year.
So, a plan came about of a tilt on the GSWW in winter which suited me fine, as it meant I wouldn’t spend all day boiling to death. I’m built for winter walking and I managed to persuade occasional hiking sidekick Smuffin to come along. With the Smuffin though came different ideas which consisted of the following.
There was no way he was going to carry a weeks worth of supplies until the half way point of Nelson in which I planned to restock. He said he wouldn’t and couldn’t, so Lady Smuffin volunteered to holiday in Portland whilst we walked and she would drop food and essentials off along the way. It’s not a bad idea if one can do it, as it meant really light packs.
The next Smuffin requirement was that the first day was not to begin in Portland which the track notes indicate. The walk description for the first day is a 20 km stroll from Portland to Cubbys Camp. No, Smuffin wanted to start at Cubbys Camp for the following reason. “There’s no way I’m going to walk through town with a pack on. Dressed like a wanker and follow roads for the first day”.
Mm… You know what? He has a bit of a point, as not a lot enthused me about the days walk description and especially so after reading one report online.
One bloke describes the first day as,
“…to be quite honest, I didn’t find the first day out of Portland very inspiring…I seemed to be walking on either residential streets, sealed or secondary unsealed roads and it was only in last few kilometres that I felt I’d actually left civilisation…”
Well, that sounds crap, but do you know what? The official track notes has this as the first day for the hike, which attracts a mental condition I have. It’s the strange notion that if I skip a bit, I haven’t done the walk. Yeah, I might have done a hundred kilometres, but I’ve missed a bit!
I’m not sure what that thinking is, but the hiking guru I’ve walked with ‘MK’ has a simple theory. She has to be the fittest person I’ve ever met, yet has never hiked more than four days in a row. Why? Well, “Why make things so hard for yourself? I want to carry good food and some wine.” See, that’s the complete opposite of me, but then she says, “All of you ex-army people are the same. You want to punish yourselves so much. You don’t enjoy it unless you try to hurt yourself”.
This is not the Smuffin way of thinking and he was adamant. “We’ll get dropped off outside town near the bush and start from there”. It was a theory my suffering loving brain struggled with, but it did make sense and really, I should start hiking more and more to enjoy it and not use it as an excuse to flog myself senseless. Then again, let’s not get too carried away with this fluffy walking stuff.
So, the plan was set. We’d get dropped off just short of Cubbys Camp which is meant to be the first nights stay. It was always going to be unlike any hike I’ve ever done when we loaded our packs with sandwiches for the days lunch and the thought that I didn’t need to carry dinner, as it was going to be delivered at 5 pm. My brain! I can’t come to grips with the comfort!
If there’s one thing about Portland in winter and that’s it’s rather chilly. I might even lash out with a ‘what I took’ post at the end of all this, as I really needed to rug up. The night before was icy and whilst staying at a caravan park I was aware the docks really do run all night. Can you keep the noise down please?
The start of ‘walk day’ went smoothly. We registered our walking intentions at the Maritime Discovery Centre in Portland which has a sign out the front indicating the starting point of the hike. I’d show you a photo, but Smuffin has it and he doesn’t like to share his photos, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Then it was all aboard the 4WD as Lady Smuffin drove us to Blackwoods Road just near Cubbys Camp, dismounted and then we were off and racing. Cubbys Camp to Cut-Out Camp would be a day of about 15 km of walking through the Cobboboonee State Forest.
Now, the Cobboboonee State Forest. I was hoping I’d like it, otherwise it could be a bit of a mind numbing start. Actually, do you think I could ever let the word ‘Cobboboonee’ just roll off my tongue? It was one of those words that if I said it quickly I’d end up adding a few extra ‘b’s’ along the way. In the end, we pronounced it as the ‘Ricky Bobby’ forest, which was a whole lot easier.
I’d been told that the area has plenty of emu’s, but I was a little suspicious until I saw this footprint. It certainly looked emu-like or if not, we were headed into Jurassic Park State Forest.
I’ll let this one out early on. If you’ve got a full blown fungi fetish then this walk is for you. It was fungi crazy within the forest and some of them were massive. Smuffin put his foot in this shot as a size comparison. If you want to know, he has a size 25 (UK) boot.
Under the trees, light conditions were pretty dim and I was wishing for my faster 35mm lens rather than the 18-105mm I was toting on the camera. Getting detail shots were a little tricky, but there was plenty of moss hanging from trees to get a picture in focus eventually.
At points the track opened out a little…
…but, it didn’t stop the fungi though…
…and we had the odd, weather battered information post to peruse along the way.
It may have been while leaving the track by a matter of a few metres to read these boards and take photos…
…that our problems began.
We stopped on a fairly open section of track to chow down on our days sandwiches. I think it was ham, cheese and spring onions for this lunch, plus a peanut butter sandwich each. Do you realise how good peanut butter is out bush? It’s like a delicacy descended from heaven and if it wasn’t for ants I’d reckon I’d wear it across my face as aftershave.
Anyway, whilst munching away, Smuffin perused his leg and let rip with, “You bastard!” No, it wasn’t me he was yelling at, but at a leech munching on his leg. I really shouldn’t jump the gun as my words exactly were, “Don’t do anything. Just suffer for a moment longer whilst I take a photo.”
Whilst he struggled to remove that blood sucker a dim light bulb finally flickered into life in my brain and said, “What about me? I guess I should check myself?”
You know what? I could go ahead and explain what happened in stock standard form, but where’s the fun if I do? I’d rather do it another way and it’s a pity the following can’t be put to music. Some audio would reflect my thinking, as I casually checked my right leg, both front and back.
Imagine some lo-fi, elevator music that suits sitting by the pool on a boiling hot day in the sun without a care in the world. A bit like this…
…but something else is lurking and before you know it, your casual day is about to change in an instant.
Okay… right leg… looks good. Left leg, front looks good. Check the back. Hang on..? What’s that…?”
I’ll tell you exactly what ‘that’ is.
Upon realising what had happened, the calming elevator music has suddenly switched to Hendrix playing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock…
…and it’s not just the sound of a bloke playing a guitar, but instead it’s a guitar factory. Leaving one feeling as if they’re hanging onto the back of a spaceship being sucked into a black hole, as it descends into magnificent ear splitting oblivion. It’s no longer music, but more reminiscent of the dive bomber assault on the Kaga at the Battle of Midway. What does all of this mean? Not much, but look where just one leech bite can take you. Imagine a dozen? I mean, they’re not going to kill you…
…but they leave you a little pissed off and lastly, soaking wet.
Anyway, leaving Ray Winstone and Jimi Hendrix behind. I was way too early to gloat at Smuffin, which he reminded me for the rest of the hike, but I really didn’t expect to see my shoe so full of blood. How much did this leech want?
Actually, why was it wasting so much? By the look of things he was catching about a third of what was spilling out. It was at this point I began to dislike low-cut shoes. My ankles were about to spend three days of leech assault and with these initial bites we went for the ‘old school removal method’ that has well and truly being discarded. We lit matches and burned them off.
The trouble is I’d remembered reading this wasn’t the best way, but it didn’t really register at the time. If there’s anyone else still living in the Dark Ages, burning them off causes the leech to regurgitate their stomach contents into the wound, which can cause an infection.
I can believe it, as a week later the bite is still itchy and red whilst Smuffin’s looks as if he’s caught leprosy and his leg is about to drop off. The red patch on his leg may consume his body in the next few days. Every leech that managed to latch on after these ones, we removed by sliding a fingernail or knife under them and they dropped off. To hell with the leech vomit. It’s a killer.
Oh yeah, the photos are interesting, as it shows they’re lazy bastards and couldn’t be stuffed sucking blood through a sock. What? Don’t they like to filter what they’re drinking? They’ve got above the sock line and dug in there. You know what? I wish had my gaiters, but that’s for another day. I’ve got some great gaiters, but they happened to be sitting 400 km away in my house resting up for a big hike. Grrr….
Well, on we bled and I did find myself stopping for shorter periods to take photos…
…before reaching one of the interesting sights for the day. Ralphs Bridge which spans the Surrey River…
…is quite a low bridge. I read in the pre-walk blurb the Cobboboonee Forest water table can rise up to 45 cm during winter. I can imagine this bridge being at risk of getting a bit damp if that happened.
There was also a sizeable whack taken by the bridge railing by a falling tree at some stage.
This was a nice spot although light was pretty dim, so we continued on and climbed away from the river to our first camp for the night. Cut-Out Camp was a short distance away and it was nice to dump the packs, put the feet up and try to stop bleeding. Other than being molested by the leech it was quite a good days walk. We’d covered just on 16 km in pretty good time.
Now we sat back for Lady Smuffin to arrive at 5 pm which she did on cue. Dinner for the evening? It was chicken sausages and I think we ate 10. I’m not sure what happened as it was a blur of hands, sauce and bread. There was more food, but do you think I can remember only one week later? I’ve no idea, but I did note I had to scrape four more leeches off my socks that I hadn’t noticed earlier. They really did get excited at my ankles which made me daydream about guess what? Yes, my leather boots.
Anyway, the day was done and there’s more frivolity to come. How much do you reckon? Well, the whole sandal caper is up and coming, but this might be my last post for a few weeks. How’s this for a completely bonkers idea?
Barring mishaps in the next few days (with me, anything is possible) on Tuesday 12th June I’m heading out to tackle the GSWW again. I’ve taken the failure of this hike personally and I’ve had a sudden urge to head down to Portland pronto and proceed to smash the whole walk. Well, smash it via hobbling maybe.
Remember all that business earlier about trying to enjoy the hiking? Do the good bits? If not, at least just do the bits I missed? What? Are you nuts? I’ll be doing the opening round of 20 km from Portland, plus the whole lot again.