I’ve been attempting to write this post a few times, but every time I sit down to do it, I end up giving up, as it’s a bit too complex for a standard entry. I’m ready to face it now, so here goes.
This chunk of the Goldfields Track from Castlemaine to Vaughan Mineral Springs is fairly simple. Okay, at 18 km, it’s longish, but not very hard. There are no big hills, the track is wide and simple to follow, plus there’s enough on offer to look at over its distance. I suppose this is no problem for most people, but in my case I suffered like a complete bastard. What else is new…?
In planning, the eternal problem of the solo walker popped up straight away. It’s a one way walk, so how do I get back to the start? Oh, don’t worry, I did some thinking. I always aimed to end up at Vaughan Mineral Springs, so my common one way theme is to have the car at the finish. My initial idea was to park the car at the end, hop on a bicycle (just in case you’re wondering, I’d bring the bike, not steal one), ride to the start and lock it up in the bush somewhere. The sticking point with this though, is I’m a bicycle wanker. None of my bikes are crapola, $10 specials. I felt a little perturbed leaving a $1000 bike, ‘secured’ to a tree, which one could probably push over. Not to mention the bush around Castlemaine is open and generally, hard-to-hide-a-bike-worthy. Mm…
My secondary plan was to get a taxi. Maybe I could get a taxi at the end, or maybe at the start? It’s a possibility, but what are the cab services like in Castlemaine? Do cabs exist? Are they thin on the ground and I’d have to wait a decade for one? See how I really over-thought the whole thing, so guess what I did?
Yeah, you better believe it. I decided to do nothing at all. I’d walk from Castlemaine to Vaughan and then turn around and walk back to the car. Okay, I’m not completely insane, as I didn’t plan on retracing my steps for a lazy 18 km return. No, I’d find some other road and attempt a shorter route. Somehow.
I don’t often walk 30 km in a day, but it’s doable. What I didn’t count on was the heat factor. There I was in Melbourne, looking at the following days temperature and like a tool, noted the maximum would only be 25 °C. Easy! Except it’s always hotter inland, isn’t it? Fairly obvious I would have thought, but at no time did I consider it. Oh, I found out when I reached Castlemaine, hopped out the car with the gusto of a lubed-up Yowie on Viagra and then suddenly realised it was 30 °C.
Immediately, rays from the big, bright thing above penetrated my toupée and began burning the thin skin across my skull. I remember thinking to myself. ‘Sweet pants. Today is going to hurt’. Concerned about possible dehydration, I enacted Plan B. The best thing about having a secondary plan is it overrode Plan A, which didn’t actually exist to start off with. Hopefully I’m not being too existential.
Anyway, to supplement 3 litres of water in a hydration bladder, I bought a litre bottle of Gatorade. As you may have noticed, there’s stuff-all in Plan B. Mind you, I could have skipped it and gone straight to Plan C, which is pulling out a snub-nosed ·38 revolver (shorter barrel is preferable to the ultralight hiker, as it’s far less weight) and blowing my brains out. Sure, it’s hard to come back from Plan C, but as options go, it’s very effective.
My main exercise problem is a low, operating temperature. Preferably, my body prefers 15 °C and below, so I’m assuming you can see how a walk at double my range mightn’t be ideal. Before I get into this wander, can I offer some advice? Some people like to hike for the physical challenge, but if you want to spend a long day under the January sun for the purposes of confronting pain, may I suggest an alternative? Consider just taking 50 strikes of the cane and be done with it. Oh, you might also get a happy ending thrown in if you’re lucky. You’ll be done in an hour and you’d have saved some money on buying Gatorade, not to mention petrol costs for the drive to Castlemaine.
With the extra fluid on board, I arrived at the start, which I must admit, is not the most appetising. A dry, dusty edge of suburbia, leading into bush. It’s not exactly nirvana.
Before I describe what happened next, can I give you some background information? Believe it or not, but before my knees packed up, I ran a lot. It used to be all about the running, until some pain began, deep within the joints. Really, I should have just stopped, but instead, looked for a way around the problem. At work, I asked an ex-footballer how he managed his sore knees and he said, “Huh? Just take a fistful of anti-inflammatories and keep running.” So that’s what I did and on reflection, it may be the stupidest health advice I’ve ever heard.
Even though I was a dedicated runner, there were still occasions where it didn’t got to plan, no matter how fit I was. I’d have good and bad days, which I’d know within the first few hundred metres of starting. On a good day, I’d glide across the ground and the breathing would be perfect. On a bad day, my breathing would immediately be laboured and there’d be no gliding of the feet. Instead I’d feel like an elephant, hitting the ground hard. The resultant effect of these heavy foot strikes are known by the Latin phrase, ‘mancan nutchin‘. Essentially, it’s when each out of kilter elephant step, causes the man-cans to alternate between striking the nuts and then the chin. Just picture this for a moment.
My running days are past, but some things remain on every hike I ever do. Literally, within the first few hundred metres I’ll know if there’ll be any suffering. If I’m dying at the start, it doesn’t get any better. It seems my pulse goes into thrash-metal mode and no matter how much I ease back in order to reach a Michael Bublé level, it never gets there. Guess what? This was one of those days. I reckon I was about 400 metres into the walk, when I felt compelled to bend over and put my hands to my knees, as I was knackered. It wasn’t a promising sign.
I followed a water-race, which climbed steadily. I guess I could give you photos of this, but they’re insanely dull due to the summer surroundings. The parched theme was in full swing. Oh, I’ve walked parts of this three times before, but haven’t written about them previously, so the photos will be a mish-mash of multiple trips.
After a bit of uphill wandering, a dam is reached, which interestingly is called, Poverty Gully Basin. With a name like that, I guess it wasn’t all riches during the gold rush? I’ve seen this dam a few times now and it’s never had a drop of water in it. Is there ever any water in Castlemaine? I’ve done winter walks up there and it seems the landscape doesn’t look any different. No wonder the gold miners in the ye’ olde days had to build races and divert water, as it seems to be a rare commodity.
Leaving the dry hole in the ground, I continued on and soon came to the turn off for the Monk, which is the highest point in the area. I know what you’re thinking, why’s it called the Monk? I’ve no idea. I could Google it, but I’m too busy. I’ve taped both the cricket and cycling last night, which overrides any Googling.
Actually, I didn’t need to wander to the top of the Monk, as I’d been there before and really, the views are restricted, plus I was feeling exhausted after 2 km of walking. I considered saving some energy for the rest of the day, but in the end it was one of those things. Is a walk complete unless all parts are done? I’m not sure, but after hesitating, I slowly strolled up before collapsing on a soft rock at the top. Taking in the view, there was one thing in my favour. The sky was suitable for polariser abuse.
Heading back down, I followed an easy track and slipped into soporific-mode. Essentially this involves staring at the ground whilst day dreaming. If done effectively, I will cover a fair bit of ground and not even notice I’d done so. The only drama with this method is I might miss something of interest, plus have no recollection of what happened.
Now and again though, an item on the ground will stand out, causing me to put the brakes on. I’ve said it before, but without fail, on any walk in the Goldfield areas, I’ll find a piece of willow pattern crockery. Usually they’re clearly seen on the tracks, as their blue pattern stands out on the dusty surface. Here’s one…
…and another, which was a short distance away.
I find them intriguing, as they add a human element of people long passed into history. Such thoughts were fleeting though, as I had to keep moving, with my next point of interest, being Spring Gully Mine.
A few crumbling ruins remain…
…plus the occasional wall.
That’s not all though, as the ground it littered with bits of refuse and interestingly enough, a number of bricks. Look, this one came from Northcote.
I pottered around for a while, as the mine area is quite large. One could spend a few hours there, having a proper look away from the tracks. I didn’t have the time though, as I needed the entire day for this elongated extravaganza.
It’s hard to come up with some tasty landscape photos with the sun beating down and surrounded by dry bush. Instead, I kept my eye out for something more detailed and this spider was a perfect sighting, as I homed in with a zoom lens. Ah, the wonders of photography. He probably wasn’t even the size of a 10 cent coin, but here he looks man-size.
A few other objects were of interest. The writing on this sign had long faded…
…and a weathered bolt, clung to a fence post.
Private land is everywhere along this walk and fences are all over the place. Some are in better nick than others. This one was powerless to withstand a tree fall like this. It’s hard to illustrate size in a photo, but this tree was huge.
My next target was a sleepy area called Fryerstown. A handful of houses are all that remain and it’s hard to believe 25,000 people lived there in the gold rush days. The track exits onto a road, which heads downhill to the town.
A short wander amongst the houses, I passed by the Burke and Wills Mechanics Institute. Upon sighting it, I began to scratch my head. Burke and Wills didn’t pass through here. Did they? It wasn’t until later I had a look online and found out it was built in 1863 as a memorial.
Actually, it’s a pity I wasn’t on that trip as it would have been the ultimate fiasco hike. Imagine how much material I could have got for the blog? Not to mention the amount of times I could have taken the piss out of Burke? I guess they had an iconic set of names though. If I did it with my usual outdoor sidekick it wouldn’t be quite the same. Who would read about the travels of ‘Smuffin and Greg’ in the future? It sounds more like a couple of circus performers than explorers. Not unless we used a name mash-up? The adventures of ‘Smurke and Grills’? Mm…
Anyway, onwards I continued and I must admit, it was bloody hot. Months later I know this, just by viewing the photos. Once I start wilting the camera is parked and I barely take a picture. If I do, something like this happens. I’ve absolutely no regard concerning lens flare intruding into the image.
As the photo above shows, a lot of the time there’s no relief from the heat. No wandering under shady trees, so most of the time my brain was cooking. In the middle of nowhere, an object like this caused some surprise. How do golf balls end up in the bush?
Earlier, I mentioned how hard it was to show the size of some trees in a photograph. My previous ponderings were about a fallen one. Well, here’s another still standing. This one’s a beast.
Honestly, there were quite a few more kilometres to Vaughan Mineral Springs, but I’ve no idea what happened, as the camera was no longer in use. About the only item I remember is a couple of Melbourne trams up on a hill in the distance. Sure, you might be thinking the heat had got to me, but I took a photo just to prove I wasn’t seeing things.
Plodding along, following dry, dusty tracks, I eventually arriving at the springs, feeling absolutely rooted.
The Plan B Gatorade was long gone and although I had some water left from the hydration bag, there wasn’t a lot. I sat down at a table and generally contemplated Plan C, before deciding I was done for the day and maybe it was best to call for a taxi. Getting the phone out though, there was a slight problem. Powering it up, I was presented with one bar of service. I don’t know about you, but one bar on my phone essentially means I can do bugger all, other than sending a text. Well, there went that grand plan.
Sitting on the bench, I pondered a few things, knowing full well at some point, I’d have to actually stand and continue on. I didn’t really have an exact route to return to the start, but following a road to Midland Highway, which I knew led back into Castlemaine would be a good start. I guess I sat there for about 30 minutes? Seeking motivation I considered moments in history and the Roman Empire seemed a good place for inspiration.
Prior to the Battle of Zama, Scipio, the leader of the Roman army, sat down next to the general, Fabius Maximus and voiced his concern about facing the intimidating force of Hannibal’s elephants. Maximus scornfully declared to the rattled Scipio, ‘Just get up and stop being a soft cockitus’. It seemed to help, as suddenly I felt like Scipio and with the words of Maximus ringing in my ears, got up to continue on.
Wandering through the park, I spied the Jim Paull mineral spring.
Firstly, I felt intrigued by the title. What’s with the two ‘L’ method? Was it to try and jazz up a dull name? If so, I can understand, as my name sends me to sleep. I suppose I could try and add some street-cred by adding another ‘G’. You know, ‘Gregg’. Don’t you love people with additional letters in their name for no apparent reason? ‘Glenn’, plus the best of all, ‘Garry’. Spare me. Face up to it fellas, it’s dull and your additions are not helping. Mind you, I reckon they’ve got it all wrong, as my method would be flip the whole thing. No ‘Gregg’ for me. I’d go ‘Ggreg’ just to rock the boat a little.
Anyway, back to dying. Sighting the lonely hand pump, a thought came to me. What about a bottle of natural mineral water for the rest of the journey? It was a long shot, as I’ve never really been a fan of these waters. Generally, I find they’re like ingesting what tastes similar to rust flavoured water, with a hint of rotten egg. Not very appetising or nice to the stomach.
I was low on options though, so I gave it a go. Filling the empty Gatorade bottle…
…I then had a swig. Pondering what was in my mouth, I was suddenly struck by the taste. This was no rusted, metal tasting filth. It was cool water with a mild flavour of minerals and slightly bubbly. At that moment, I had only one thought and it was like a lightning bolt had struck me.
IT WAS THE GREATEST THING I’VE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE.
I stood there like an aroused Neanderthal, with my back arched rearwards and head tilted until it was level with my hips and gulped down a litre of fluid, straight from the ground. Literally, I felt its liquid-ness add energy to my corpse-like, heat affected body. You know what? I’ve always been a little suspicious of the life giving properties of this sort of stuff. I always felt it was a bit like alternative medicine and what’s that joke? If alternative medicine actually worked, they’d call it medicine?
Mind you, once upon a time, if something was out there, I’d believe it. As a kid, I once couldn’t sleep, as I swore there was a UFO above the house. Not to mention one summer evening where I tossed and turned, thinking Bigfoot was outside the bedroom window. Sure, it seems a bit weird, having a Bigfoot in the suburbs of Melbourne, not to mention he’s meant to be in another country, but that’s not important right now. Essentially, I believed everything weird, from ghosts, aliens, Yeti’s, blokes on the grassy knoll and white men having large dingalings. The lot. Not to mention all sorts of weird, herbal concoctions.
Something happened one night though, as I woke up one morning, sat bolt upright and pronounced, ‘Hang on. It’s all crap!’ After that, things were no longer as wondrous, but at least I was getting a full nights sleep.
You know what? I’m swayed back to weird world again, as literally the mineral water added juice to my step. Who needs a taxi? I was back in town and I’m now a firm convert and believer of the following.
VOTE 1: JIM PAULL
With some late afternoon mojo, I exited the Vaughan Mineral Springs and headed out onto the road. Nearby there’s an old Chinese cemetery, which dates back to the Goldfields days. A handful of graves remain and unfortunately most are now a pile of collapsed stones, with no discerning features. From memory, there’s only one headstone in the cemetery, but it’s not Chinese. In Australian settler terms, it’s pretty old though.
I was now walking a road with my destination being the Midland Highway. I took a few photos, but generally it was pretty average photographically. Regularly swigging the Jim Paull elixir, I was moving well. One notable interest was the Vaughan Cemetery. I didn’t even know it existed, but bookmarked it for a return visit. Set back from the road and surrounded by bush, it has a lonely feel…
…with a mix of old and new graves. These ornaments caught my eye…
…not to mention some flowers on a granite slab.
Leaving the departed behind, I trudged up a couple of hills, but after that it was pretty easy going. A quick GPS check allowed me to find a shortcut and head on gravel roads for a while, before finally reaching Midland Highway. It was now full steam ahead back to Castlemaine.
The minerals were continuing to work and I was beyond delirious in energy. So much so, I was wandering alongside the highway when a car pulled up. A bloke hung out the window and said, “Hey, I saw you about two hours ago. Do you want a lift…?”
Normally, I’d have said yes, but I was under the influence of Paull’s potion and declined his offer. Roadside walking wasn’t the greatest, but there was possibly an alternative. A few hundred metres inland, I could see a railway line, straight as an arrow and heading in my direction. I considered following it, but then thought of the whole, getting run over by a train aspect and elected to hug the road instead. You know what? I really shouldn’t have worried about trains too much, as after about five kilometres, I found a turn off. Crossing the railway line, I saw this.
Umm… Okay, now I know. Take the railway line next time, as the possibility of being run over is slim, plus it would be a lot nicer than following the road.
On this side street, I was firmly back in the Castlemaine suburban outskirts. I had one moment of angst when wandering along, I took the camera off my shoulder, but it’s strap caught my hat and pulled it off, before becoming entangled in the GPS near my pocket. Sure, the minerals had increased my energy, but it was getting late in the day, so a bit of the wilt-factor was returning. I wasn’t really impressed by this tangling and exclaimed at high decibels, ‘You fucking muthafucking prick of a thing!’
As I finished, I looked up and saw a bloke watering his front lawn, approximately five feet away and for the life of me, hadn’t seen him before yelling. He had a blank look on his face as he stared at me. Maybe he was pondering who this sweat-soaked, cursing interloper was, but he played a straight bat by saying, ‘Nice day for a walk?’ I had nothing to give back to him, other than an excitable ‘yeah’.
A few more side-streets and suddenly I was back with the car in sight. Wow. What a day. In hindsight, I think it went okay, but really, it was way too hot. I checked the weather for the day and it didn’t really alter out of the 30 °C range for the day. Oh, I’d also be dead without the mineral magic. Believe it or not, but I’ve returned to that spring, just for the water. I’ve tasted a few over the years and by far, it’s my favourite.
How about an overview? All in all, it ended up being a tick over 30 km, which is more than enough on a hot day when you weigh as much as a standard Volkswagen.
In hindsight, this walk has given me the following:
Plan A: There is no plan A.
Plan B: Gatorade.
Plan C: ·38 revolver.
Plan D: Buy a cheap bicycle.
Plan E: Jim Paull.
It’s also been a long post and I’m sure there was more to say, but I’ve forgotten what it was. It might come to me tomorrow. Maybe.