The following is an account of experiences on the Bibbulmun track.
Word doc. here Bibbulman Track
My father drove me to Balingup on the 21st of November 2003. I left Balingup because I was due to meet some friends in Denmark on the 17th of December. In the car the Traveling Wilburries and John Farnham were on the radio. I was somewhat nervous and excited about the trek, mainly because I was entering the unknown. I’d never been hiking before. I had no idea how my body would cope walking/hiking approximately 20kms a day over 25 days. In particular, I have a dodgy hamstring with a tendency to pop at any moment. The other thing that made me slightly nervous was that I was entering unfamiliar terrain, alone. I didn’t know what to expect. What counteracted this nervousness and excitement was the nature of the primary activity; walking. We all know what walking involves.
Standing outside of the car in Balingup wearing new boots, new clothes and a new pack, I felt like a real amateur. The pack was overloaded with food making it about 19-20kg. I had no idea how much I’d eat on a daily basis and what I could buy at Donnelly River Village three days away. Giving myself 6 hours to walk 18km was a good steady, slow pace for my first day. It was about 35 degrees. There was a massive hill about ¾ the way and constant adjustment of the pack was annoying. But it was a relief to be actually walking the track after thinking about it for a couple of years, setting a date early in the year and finally following it through.
I didn’t really have any notions about getting in touch with nature or self discovery. I convinced myself that any preconceived ideas would probably hinder the experience. Walking into Blackwood Campsite was a small relief. I knew that if I could make it past the first two days without injury, I’d be fine for the remainder. The first hurdle had been jumped. Indulging in a little nap when I arrived at the hut was a 64 year old man named Bill Husky. He’d been walking for some 18 days. He was very healthy in both mind and body. He looked about 50; a strong, handsome man. We were heading in the same direction and therefore shared huts for the next four nights where Bill was ending his trek. When he asked me what I was reading I told him it was Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript and he claimed he tried not to think too deeply about things. With my metaphorical tweezers I discovered that Bill is quite a deep and critical thinker.
At Donnely river village he took to reading every single word of the newspaper. Bill has been married for 40 years. Claimed it was love at first sight at a dance in Kalgoorlie in 1964. The last hut we shared was Tom Road campsite 16 km south of Donnelly River Village. That night proved to be the most populated campsite of my walk. Joining us were three middle aged office workers walking the 963km from Kalamunda to Albany and a couple from Canada walking to Pemberton from Donnelly River. It was a beautiful place and it inspired me to write this poem:
Not A Single Presupposition, Except My Ignorance
“The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way.”– Lao Tzu
Here you are in your chimerical disposition
creeks shallow and simple to follow.
I hear you’ve bequeathed all arivistic tendencies
for omnipotent bliss and ubiquitous rest
I hear you can dance sage-like upon
snake-scale on a stream through a honky nut.
Yet attempts to broach your most genuine
masqueradefall in a heap of demented parlance.
In this languageI struggle to see your limbs.
Non omnes omnia pussumus:we cannot all do everything.
Supremely patient beside rapids
I observe the clouds in me change
easy metamorphosis, easyour only gauge of time is itself.
Out here one cannot create stress;
we find no conclusion, because there is no system.
By the sixth day I was in the groove of walking. I’d eaten the excess food and worked out with Bill the best way to set up my back pack. 20km a day was beginning to get a little light on as after an hours rest I was full of beans again. I considered doing double huts. Consulting the maps, if I accelerated I could make to Albany then hitchhike back to Denmark to meet my friends Jim, Fe and Emma. I decided however to monitor my body at least until I reached Pemberton 4 days later. Usually I’d wake up at about 6am. I’d tuck into a bowl of muesli while the water was boiling for a cup of black tea. Then I’d pack everything up and hit the road. Feeling fantastic meant I could stop and enjoy the scenery and wildlife at my leisure. Snacks were an apple and a health bar. Regardless of the distance between huts I’d always drink two litres of water. If I got dehydrated I’d drink extra when I reached camp. On a given day 20km takes about 4 to 5 hours depending on how fast you can be bothered going and how many hills you have to climb.
Between Donnelly River and Pemberton it rained in the afternoon for a few hours then stopped in the evening. Fortunately I never got rained on as I always made it to camp before it started. I’d have a cup of tea, some lunch, read and then fall asleep for an hour or so. The rain was great. The feeling of being all warm, dry and cuddly inside the sleeping bag made me feel like a little kid. I’d go to sleep while heavy drops thudded on the tin roof of the three sided hut. I woke surrounded by Karri’s; their proud torsos circled by a sliding puddle of drops. Leaving a brown stain dripping down their flanks. The Canadians and I sat around the fire chatting on those nights. They were lovely people; very calm. They gave me a strip of this blister protection adhesive called moleskin. I didn’t have any blisters yet, but in new boots it was highly probable.
The Canadians wimped out at Karri Valley Resort and took a taxi into Pemberton. I joined them for a few beers on the foreshore in the sun. By now my body had been flushed of toxins so after two beers I was a far bit under the weather. After saying goodbye I stumbled to the hut thrashing through the jungle. That was my first night alone. I was about a week into the walk and for the first time started to feel out of sorts. Often when I go for long walks in the city it’s in an attempt to purge troubling/lingering thoughts out of my head or resolve a long standing problem. Up until that point nature had the effect of quieting my mind and overwhelming any thwarting thoughts. That day however, I felt like I was walking in the city. Furthermore I started to miss some people:
A Chance Encounter
Crouching, feeling nimbler
Flicking boogies in the stream.
Gushes, liquid hitting rock
Sounds like voices;
Speech of friends I miss.
Then there they are
Standing across the water
Flicking boogies in the stream
Watching them float and swirl
My friends smileI cannot help but smile.
I reached Pemberton the following day around noon and booked into the backpackers for two nights. Planned a days rest before I started gunning it to Albany. I finished Kierkegaard and was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Bob Hawke’s memoirs in the backpacker’s office. The latter was too heavy to carry so I tried to read all of it on my day off. The second night I shared a room with a dude named Dennis. He’d ridden his push-bike from Sydney to Cairns and then across to Broome. The lazy bastard had taken the bus to Perth from there and was now riding from Perth to Esperance and possibly across the Nullabor to Adelaide. We shared dinner and a few laughs. He gave me a Hunter S. Thompson book. I gave him a new sponge.
The three day walk to Northcliffe was rather uneventful. Again I was in the huts alone. I ran into a stray farm dog out in the middle of the forest. It was terrified and appeared to have been lost for a number of days. I stood waiting for it as it approached me on the track. I had a large stick ready incase it was crazy and wanted to bite me. When it finally discovered I was there it ran away. Nothing I could do. I left Northcliffe on Friday morning and wasn’t to see or talk any humans until I reached Walpole the following Thursday. The next six nights were the most interesting, challenging and rewarding.
First day out of Northcliffe I double-hutted 31km to Lake Maringup. I left Northcliffe motel at approximately5:30am and reached the first hut (Gardner) at 8am. That’s about 7km an hour with a 20kg pack. I was practically running. The prospect of reaching Albany was fresh and alive in my mind. At Gardner I took my boots off to let my feet breathe. I noticed a callous-like blister on my left heel. I applied a small strip of the moleskin gear the Canadians gave me. Covering it up with sports tape I was certain it would do the trick and the callous wouldn’t spread.
While I was doing this I was attacked by a seemingly endless supply of march flies which served to hurry the operation. (Down there, those little bastards don’t land and then bite, they just fly straight into you with their little barbs out, drawing blood.) The small strip of moleskin created a small mound inside the tape. Mounds are not recommended inside boots. Over the next 16km the heel started to hurt more and more. Now, I’m a bit of a dummy when I comes to pain. I ignore pain the hope that it will disappear by its own accord. I reached Lake Maringup certain that by the next morning it would have healed. Stupidly, I didn’t take the bandage off to inspect the damage.
Lake Maringup is a fantastic place. Your can hear ocean waves roll in as you go to sleep.
First step the next day was painful. I should have stopped right there and re-bandaged to remove the moleskin mound. But I thought the pain would subsist after about 5km. It didn’t. I walked 25km that day over 8 hours of absolute agony. I thought that that was what all blisters were like. The only relief from the pain was a two minute adrenaline rush after nearly stepping on a fully grown tiger snake. I had and would have many, many interludes with snakes but this was the first close encounter. I was trudging along with my head down and was half way through a step when I noticed the scaly creature below me. I had to freeze my foot in mid air, jump over it and start running. When I turned around it had reared and flattened its head, before working its way gracefully into the bush. I don’t know what would have happened if bitten. In that encounter the snake and I had this to say:
Interview with a tiger snake:
Â Good morning tiger snake, how are you?
‘Very pleashhhhed to beshhh sshere.’
What have you been doing so far today?
‘Ive mainhhhly sssssssaat in the ssssssssshunnnnnn.Ennnnnjoyed a delightful fffffrrroggg breakfast.Thisssssss affffteeerrrrnooooonnnI’m lllllookking forward to mmmuch of the ssssssssaaaammmee.’
Are frogs your favourite food?
A lot of my fellow human beings are frightened of your species; do you eat humans?
‘ooohhhhhh nooooo, toooooo sssssssssaaaaallty.’
I must admit tiger snake, I’m a little scared of you myself, could you help me to overcome my fear by giving me a hug?
‘Hissssss, assssss longgg assssss noone seeeeeesssss.’
[Me and the tiger snake hug]
Not that tight tiger snake.
Oh this is nice isn’t it, hugging a tiger snake feels wonderful.
‘Sssssss what If I do thisssssssssssss?’
Ouch. You bit me! What did you do that for?
‘Jusssssttt curiousssssssss, you’re not asssssss sssssssalty assssssss the otherssssssssss.’
Can you do you something? I need help here.
‘SSSSSSorrrrry, nothing can be done.’
Looks like I’m a goner. Please, if you see them, say goodbye to my family and friends. Give them a hug for me. No, wait, don’t do that.
‘I’ll do mmmmmmmmmmy bessssssst.’Hang on a second. I’m actually starting to feel better rather than worse. Now there’s a sweet taste in my mouth, like candy.
‘Ohhhhh, ssssssssss. That musssssst be from the toffeeeeeeeeeee I sssssssssstole and mmmmmmmmmmmunched while you’re on the ttttttttttttoilet.’
My you are a slippery one aren’t you?
‘Yesssssssssssssss, I guess I am. Bessssssst be offffffffff now.’
Bye tiger snake.
Inexperience combined with a silly stoic attitude made me believe that the worst was over and the next day would be easier. Nevertheless, the following days 19km through heath and swamp proved to be a serious obstacle. Every single step of the last 5 or so kilometres almost brought me to tears. The final kilometre took about an hour.
When I finally reached camp I peeled the tape/bandage off to reveal a throbbing water filled, purple blister the size of two 50 cent coins side by side. The mound of the moleskin caused friction on the skin above it, hence softening and pushing the exposed skin toward my ankle. Lesson: always make sure your bandages are completely flat. I knew immediately I had to take a days rest. It also became clear that Albany was out of the question. Up until this point I’d been focused on how fast I was going, how many kilometres I could do in a day etc. I almost lost sight of the fact that it wasn’t a race. It wouldn’t be entirely true to state that I was totally driven by ego. I felt that I was open to new experiences/knowledge and I didn’t always need to be control. (The serenity and enormity of nature has the power to overawe me and make me feel comfortably insignificant. Combined with the fact that nature has no opinion and harbours no judgment there’s little left for the ego.) But I hadn’t really changed since I left Perth. Where I rested for a day is a massive granite outcrop called Mt Chance. Its summit offers 360 degree views of heath land, inlets to the west and a morsel of ocean beyond the hardened dunes.
I spent 13 or 14 hours on top of that rock. I had a set of binoculars to spy on anything that moved. Black cockatoos being the most active and they’re interested in humans too. I was very much alone. I ran out of books to read. I sang every song I could remember over and over. My mind churned up lost memories. I thought about the positive aspects of my life. What I had to look forward to. I considered the mistakes I had made and how they were or could be resolved. I observed the thoughts that could not be dealt with on my own and constructed a plan of action on my return to civilization. This may seem a little obvious and possible in your house in the city, but when you’re in a foreign environment and lonely, it appears far more immediate and real.
My mind started to get tired of itself and I went a little crazy. I played a little game and distanced my mind from my thoughts a little. I had the theory that there must be some mental apparatus which enables me to view my thoughts and memories in such a way. I considered that since I had recalled and exhausted almost all of my memories that there must be some way of altering that apparatus in order to view my thoughts differently or even recall more memories. It became clear that over the years I had developed merely a few modes of habitual self-awareness. Obviously that mode had altered and changed as I grew older but I’d never really examined the examiner in this clarity before.
Furthermore, contrary to my hitherto speedy ego disposition I was literally forced to relax. A conscious effort to slow my body down was needed. In the sun I fell asleep on top of that mountain. I woke to a ladybug crawling in front of me. Perched on top of the mountain, I watched the sun move down to meet the horizon. I watched the birth of shadows out of hills, trees and shrubs. Slowly the shadows grew longer, larger and taller. I imagined them in five minutes, in ten minutes, trying to predict the shapes they would make; trying to imagine the colors they will make, what animals will be revealed. I tried to remember the shadows from five minutes ago, ten minutes ago, when I first started observing. It was as difficult to remember what had happened as to imagine what will happen. Alone, there was no trans-subjective agreement to support my observations, no language to communicate with nature in order to define a sense of place.
The following day, the 7th of December, was a 21km walk. The ground was too rugged and hot to walk bare foot. Again, every step hurt. The blister preoccupied my thoughts. I could feel it spreading as it pulsated in the boot. The track was littered with spider webs. I was in pain, but I had a new secret weapon; patience. I hobbled along at about two km an hour. I learnt to embrace the blister. I wanted more blisters. I beseeched my whole foot to be covered in blisters so I had to walk slower than an ant. I figured that at least then I’d know something about what it was like to be an ant.
Behind the next campsite (Woolbales) was another granite outcrop which provided excellent views. Barefoot I ran up there missing a tiger snake by about 20cm. I’ve never felt nimbler or freer than I did that afternoon. As planet earth revolved the cliffs moved in front of the sun and it seemed like the ocean was set on fire. Out of joy I cried for all the beautiful and warm friendships I’d shared in my time. I re-learnt how to love myself and found a new sense of happiness. Ironically it was the blister which facilitated all of this.
The next day I encroached on the ocean and smelt the salt and thought about what people had been writing in the hut registers. Someone had mentioned self-discovery. Did I find myself? Well, not really. I concluded that I am simply the amalgamation of observations, thoughts and experiences as this body, connected to this consciousness traverses the land. If I see a kangaroo I become that Kangaroo. If I sip a cup of tea I become that cup of tea. If I swat a fly I become that fly. Wherever there is an absence of trees/forest, there is the presence of flies. At times my pack was covered in them; standing room only. Every time I brushed a bush they’d go mad and buzz around for a while before settling down again. After a few hours you get really annoyed with them landing on your face. You start swearing at them. One time, I reversed into a blackboy/balga tree to try and get rid of the little bastards. After about five minutes of shooing them off of my front they all landed on the green straw-like strands of the blackboy. Looking at them they all looked like they were smiling, like it was some kind of game. Attempting to catch them off guard I ran as fast as I could until I got really puffed. They caught up.
I’d have my revenge though. Not only did the cliffs along the coast offer spectacular views they also brought a welcome and refreshing breeze. When a good gust built up, I’d whip the back of my pack with my hand sending flies everywhere. The wind would wisp them away and it was too strong for the little bastards to fly back to me. They were too small to tell if they were smiling or not. To an outside observer it would have been a pretty funny sight watching this dude on a cliff pulling a finger sign at these tiny little black dots floating in front of an immense blue background.
Walking 20kms a day meant that I was pretty tired by the time I reached camp. The voice inside of me that says that I cannot enjoy life until I’ve worked was satisfied and satiated. All that was left to do was to enjoy the rest of my days. I walked about 200km without shoes on. Only the second half of the last day did I wear boots. But I didn’t care by that stage. The waltz from Walpole to Denmark was sheer pleasure. I shared most of the walk with a lovely lady named Jean, with a totally unobtrusive disposition. She pointed out to me that kookaburra’s only ever laugh in twos. I kept pinching myself because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be walking the Bibbulman.