PCT time …

Well, here I go, about to walk the greatest secular walking track in the world: The Pacific Crest Trail. A quote from Wittgenstein to kick off proceedings:

It’s like this: In the city, streets are nicely laid out. And you drive on the right and you have traffic lights, etc. There are rules. When you leave the city, there are still rules, but no traffic lights. And when you get far off there are no roads, no lights, no rules, nothing to guide you. It’s all woods. And when you return to the city you may feel that the rules are wrong, that there should be no rules, etc…. It comes to something like this. If you have a light, I say: Follow it. It may be right. Certainly life in the city won’t do.

Now I don’t subscribe to some romantic notion that there’s ‘wilderness’ or anything like that. The only thing wild on Earth is the tension between the insanity of the world and the demands of reason. Yes, a bear might rip my head off, but some bastard will be out there a few hours later with a rifle and a knife to split its belly open.

Wittgenstein is right, though, as he usually is, the rules do feel different when you’re out on a track. You enter a de-familiarised place, or maybe it’s a re-familarisation to a kind of paradise. A re-territorialisation, so to speak. If, in cities, we are de-territoralised, then in the woods, we must be re-territorialsed, no? And if de-territorialsation and re-territorialisation must exist simultaneously, then that’s probably what most walkers are doing when they compare and contrast, and familarise themselves with ‘the track’. Clear as mud, yeah?

(Before I talk about gear I want to make a cheap passing shot at the state of hiking blogs and videos on the internet. Gear, in my opinion, should only be a conduit to bigger discussions about walking. To bigger questions about life. I find blogs etc that only discuss gear a bit flat. Too many bloggers see gear as the subject upon which they generate a following and create some sense of community. No community has ever and will ever be centered around material possessions.)

This is the selection of ultralight goodies I’ve chosen for this walk. Link to lighterpack pie chart thing here. I’m using as much old stuff as possible.

After much umming and ahh-ing I’ll be sleeping outside using a zpacks splash bivy whenever it’s not raining, so it’s handy to have a synthetic quilt to soak up condensation. I love that I can just throw the synthetic quilt in the washing machine with my other clothes. Down bags don’t do this, really. Going with the ultralight MLD FKT synthetic quilt. The latter has a poncho head-slot to supplement the Montbell jacket that’s awesome, but not super-warm. I’m also taking the Cumulus Pullover for a pillow and if temperatures drop below zero.

I expect a few nights to get to below freezing and I may get caught in a snow storm or two in the Sierra’s, hopefully. On those nights I will go under the zpacks duplex tarp with freestanding poles. Net tents kill the space advantages afforded by the roomy tarp. I’ll just have to put up with bugs while sitting around in the afternoons. Got a head net for that. The sissy North America mosquitoes won’t really be an issue, I don’t think. The main thing is to feel separated from bugs while you try to sleep. The bivy has a bathtub floor in case I wake up in a puddle.

I could go with a frameless pack to save a bit of weight, but a) I own the best framed pack in the world, b) frameless packs give you a sweaty back, which I hate, and, most importantly, c ) I don’t enjoy leaving town with seven days worth of food in a frameless bag, thanks. My view is that you only really need a frameless pack if you’re doing big miles quickly, and I’m doing big miles slowly, so a frame is warranted.

In any case, the gear will probably evolve over the course of the 4200km walk. Click on the picture below for full gear list.

 

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First Experiments with the Zpacks Duplex Flex Tarp

Tucked quietly away on the zpacks website is the Duplex tarp. That’s the Duplex tent minus the groundsheet and bug netting. Or maybe the duplex tent is the tarp plus the groundsheet and bug netting?

Why I am I being facetious? The way the Duplex tarp is presented, or should I say not presented, one could come to conclude that the tent came before the tarp. Or the tent is so vastly superior to the tarp that the tarp isn’t even worth considering. There’s not even a picture of the Duplex tarp on the zpacks website. There’s just an option to buy the tarp, sight unseen. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s not a single photo of a Duplex tarp on the web, to my knowledge.

With some long walks on my horizon I wanted a shelter that could do it all. I’m already a flat tarp user and while I love having a flat tarp it usually takes me about an hour altogether to get set up perfect. The time it takes from site selection to locking the bug net down can seem like a eternity.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this process. Having a flat tarp means every shelter is customised to your selected site. I enjoy this on walks less than two weeks long but any longer than that and I want a shelter that can be put up quickly and assuredly.

Coming from the perspective of a flat tarp user, I wanted a shelter that could give me the versatility of a flat tarp and the convenience of a freestanding tent. Oh yeah, and it needed to be light. Ultralight. What about bomb proof? What about with massive floorspace? Sound impossible?

So do I take a gamble on the Duplex tent without the groundsheet and bug netting? I’m thinking well, you’re a bit over walking poles. You have been using a zpacks staff for a few years. I love the staff but they’re not the best shelter support unless the peak is the same height as the staff (you have to take the staff apart and then the height is not micro-adjustable).

Also, I said to myself, I want to be able to write while I’m walking. Furthermore, I like picking my nose a lot, and walking poles and nose picking do not go hand in hand.

That was the limit of my thought processes.

I picked the woodland/camo because it’s a bit thicker and a bit darker inside.

Enter the ‘Flex’ freestanding poles. These are some carbon fiber poles that zpacks get from Easton. They weight 280 grams. When the ‘Flex’ freestanding poles were released by zpacks some of the critics over at the Backpackinglight forums chucked in their two cents. Here are some of the objections:

“This flex design seems to me more a case of trying to make the flexible poles fit the design of the Duplex rather than making the most of the poles by having 2 longer continuous poles that cross on each side of the shelter and redesigning the shelter to suit the poles.”

“The idea of using a Duplex without trekking poles sounds cool, except of course the addition of 12oz poles eats a lot of the weight savings that makes the Duplex so great.”

and

“Hmm… agreed… just looking at it, intuitively I don’t see how it can withstand a substantial wind load without collapsing, let alone a good dump of snow. Can that ridge line really support as much tension as one pitched with trekking poles? Looks as if Joe had a pretty good test venue there… Scotland?
But even if it does work, I too cannot see carrying around an extra 11 ounces when I’ve got two perfectly good trekking poles weighing 7.2 oz total.”

The overall consensus was that the ‘Flex’ poles were superfluous ‘if you walk with trekking poles’. A lot of the comments also said that they had never had a situation where  a non-freestanding tent was difficult to pitch easily. Having had some experience with non-freestanding tents, I find this statement hard to believe. I like a drum tight pitch and will spend ages re-positioning stakes and tightening  guylines until it works the way I like. Some people I’ve seen can set their non-freestanding tent up and not care.

For me however I don’t want to carry walking poles and I prefer to have a floor-less shelter. The more I thought about a Duplex tarp combined with the freestanding poles, the more the combination started to make sense. Since I’m limiting my options to not having walking poles, for this comparison I presume you would be carrying the carbon fiber poles with the Duplex tent (not the freestanding poles) that zpacks sells that go into the peaks.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m banging on about, this is the Duplex tent:

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You’ll notice the groundsheet and the netting is sewn to the tarp. You’ll also notice that there are two poles keeping the tent up, one in the middle of each door. These are the dedicated carbon poles zpacks sells. Many hikers use their walking poles to keep the tent up instead of the carbon poles pictured.

I’m comparing the above to this:

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In this photo the netting and the groundsheet are connected but they are separable. There are a variety of groundsheets and nets you can use instead of the ones shown. The netting creates an inner (second) cocoon for the sleeper, this is called a double walled tent. The poles keeping the tent up are on the outside of the canopy and do not require stakes to keep it up.

Some astute readers might point out that the comparison isn’t fair – a non-freestanding single wall Duplex versus a freestanding double walled modular Duplex? Apples and oranges, as the saying goes. Yes, but I’ll give the non-freestanding a head start.

Now, the all important weight numbers.

From the zpacks website, the Duplex full tent numbers are:

– The Duplex Tarp with taped seams and sewn in linelocs weighs 9.5 ounces (269 grams)

– The included guy lines and door clips weigh about 1.2 ounces (34 grams)

– The sewn in Cuben Fiber bathtub floor and bug screen weighs 10.0 ounces (284 grams)

– The included medium-plus 7″ x 13″ stuff sack adds .3 ounces (8 grams)

– The total weight for the packed tent is 21.0 ounces (595 grams).

– If you’re carrying the dedicated carbon poles they’re 60 grams each, so + 120 grams

Total = 715g.

On the other hand, the freestanding Duplex tarp combination comes in at:

– The duplex tarp alone is 9.5 ounces or 269 grams.

– The flex pole set and hardware is 10 oz or 282g.

– Add your own groundsheet (MLD DUO 60g, or zpacks solo bathtub 91g)

– Bug net = Sea to Summit solo nano = 80 grams.

– Guylines = 34 grams

Total = 725g.

Starting to get interesting?

Both weights do not include stakes. Arguably you’ll need less stakes for the freestanding tent than the non-freestanding tent. You could argue you don’t need any stakes, just like Joe does in his set up video.

Zpacks says the non-freestanding tent requires a minimum of 8 stakes, so at 6 grams a piece (for some shepherd hooks and carbon stake combo) = 48 grams, bringing the total to 763 grams.

From my limited experience with the freestanding Duplex tarp (in windy conditions) you’ll need 6 stakes as a minimum; so 12 grams less, bringing the total to 761 grams.

EXACTLY the same weight. A double walled tent at the same weight as a single walled tent? I’m in.

You could use a bivy instead of the groundsheet/net combo as well, saving weight but sacrificing sleeping space.

I saved up and watched the poor AUD/USD exchange rate put the object a few more weeks out of reach and then placed my order and waited eight weeks.

Okay here’s some photos:

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Above: Duplex Flex tarp with shortened x-therm max. Note no bug net.

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The interior space is huge. With all the doors closed there’s 2.2m to roll around in.

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Above: with the DUO Sea to Summit bug net. I’ve since figured out the corners of the bug net are better off being hooked to where the tarp poles meet the ground.

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Above: There are two mid panel tie outs. I’ve read in various places the panels can flap around a lot in high winds. Maybe having two tie outs will help? With the mid-panel toggle connecting the freestanding poles to the tarp there is more head room in the center of the tarp by default.

Not having used a Duplex tent, here are my imagined advantages and disadvantages of the Duplex freestanding tarp over the non-freestanding Duplex tent (integrated floor and bug netting). Some of these comparisons apply to all modular floor-less tarps to integrated tents.

Firstly, price:

When you factor in the price of the carbon poles the Duplex tent is $600 (USD) plus $60. If you had a freestanding full Duplex tent, you’re looking at $750 USD.

The Duplex tarp is $375 USD plus $150 for the Flex poles totaling $525. You then have to factor in the bug net and groundsheet price; S2S bug net ($40USD) and tyvek or polycryo ($10).

Next, set up.

One advantage of the integrated full Duplex tent is that there would be a little bit less stuffing around. Maybe ‘stuffing around’ is the wrong phrase – perhaps, ‘less initial set up time’ is more accurate. I’ve spent a few hours cutting bungee cords and getting the inner net working.

The apparent convenience of the integrated tent comes at the cost of versatility.

As said, for me, I value versatility and ‘modularity’ over maximum convenience. In the context of the freestanding duplex tarp against the non-freestanding duplex tent the convenience is subjective. The floor-less freestanding tarp is more convenient if you’re ‘cowboy camping’ and it starts raining in the middle of the night.  In this video I have a waterproof shelter erected in less than 3 minutes. Keep in mind this is probably the fourth time I have set the tarp up. (The first night I set the tarp up was a day before this in the dark and drizzling rain.)

One of the coolest things for me is that you can plonk the tarp over the top of your sleeping bag, mattress and groundsheet. You can’t do that with an integrated tent.

 

Other advantages of the modular Duplex tarp over the non-freestanding Duplex tent:

I can unhook the inner and use the inner with the freestanding poles and have a freestanding net tent to use in bug infested areas on clear nights or during the day when the flies are out.

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When decamping I can lift the tarp up and move it away from the contents inside. No crouching and crawling in and out of the tent as I pack my backpack. Bonus.

I can then make the walls vertical of the freestanding tarp and let it dry while I finish packing up. Bonus.

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Did I say there are no poles in the doorway?

What if it’s blowing a gale? I can set the tent up with both the inner poles/walking poles and the freestanding poles together. You can grab a stick or two in bad weather to support the ‘Flex’ mode. Bombproof.

Shepherd hooks are actually useful in the corner tie-outs where the poles meet the ground. The tension in the carbon poles pulls the stake loop taught meaning the shepherd hooks won’t rotate and flip out. In fact, in these corners shepherd hooks work better than larger stakes because they are easier to fit in.

You can set it up with the walls vertical or with the walls more horizontal depending on the site size.

Even in a light wind you need at least two stakes to keep the tarp down.

You can carry it around one handed. If I set up on an ants nest, moving is quick.

Finding a flat site is not as critical with a floor-less tarp. The corners of the freestanding tarp can be staked down if one pole hangs in the air. There is no sagging of the bathtub floor if you’re on a uneven site, as discussed at Willis Wall.

With the bug netting set up this is a double walled tent. I already owned a Sea to Summit nano solo and double net-tent from my flat-tarp days. These work well in my opinion. The double wall will collect condensation that gets dislodged when the tarp shakes in wind or by large drops from a tree.

A few companies make inners that would be appropriate for the Duplex tarp. zpacks once made one, but do not offer them for unknown reasons. They do offer a single door hexamid. I was wrong, they don’t.

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Above: the elusive zpacks Duplex inner. Maybe this year zpacks will offer the inners?

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Above: Tarptent make a few that might work?

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Above: Six Moon Designs make a Haven net tent. The ridge line is off centre though, so I’m not sure if it’ll work.

Can you think of any others? Please share. (If you have a good condition second hand one of these inner nets, please message me)

I might try one of these one day but for the moment I’m happy having the bug net and groundsheet separate. If I have the full double walled tarp and bug net set up I can leave the groundsheet and contents where they are on the ground and pull the upper way out of the way. Alternatively I can set up the groundsheet and mattress etc as I need them and add the bug net or tarp later. Usually at lunch or at the end of the day you just want to throw your groundsheet and mattress down and not have to think about how everything is going to work.

Some people like having a seamless groundsheet and bug net, which I can understand. You can get the Sea to Summit bug net and groundsheet pretty tight, especially with oversized tyvek or the polycryo. It won’t be a ‘perfect’ seal though.

Speaking of groundsheets, with this set up they are interchangeable as they wear out.

If there is a downpour in the middle of the day, I do not mind setting the tarp up to sit out the worst of it. When I owned a non-freestanding tent even if I was walking in four foot of water I couldn’t be bothered setting the tent up at lunch-time. Lunch didn’t occur on those days.

This for me defines the beauty of the Duplex ‘Flex’ Tarp – its simplicity. For long hikes I want a shelter I want to use, not a compromise for weight savings. Psychologically I know it’s easy and I know it works. I want to put it up, even when it’s not raining, because it’s so easy.

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Shout out to John Abela for talking through the options with me before making this purchase.

Lastly, here is an example of a summer gear list with the MLD Core pack pictured above.

Bibbulmun Track

 

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:

 

 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?

‘oooohhhhhh yyeeeeeessssssssssssss.’

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.’

Excellent.

[Me and the tiger snake hug]

Not that tight tiger snake.

‘Sssssssssooorrryyy.’

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.

James Quinton