The long and winding road to the start
“Although the task may appear overbearing at first, every adventure has a starting point. Tackled by putting one foot in front of the other, even the longest journey becomes a series of manageable steps.”
The engine of my car was straining against the gradient, as I took one sharp corner after another, my hands sweating slightly against the wheel. I wasn’t scared, just focused. The drop off on my left wasn’t a threat, only a possibility. A possibility I was hoping to avoid.
The bitumen stretched out in front of me like an endless snake as I climbed ever so slowly towards the crest of the next ridge. I patted my dashboard and promised my car a very thorough clean when all this was done. The windows were covered in dust and the rear bumper bar was hanging loose on one side. She may have been an all wheel drive, but these minor dirt roads have certainly taken their toll.
After nearly a week of driving through the Australian Alps, I was beginning to comprehend the enormity of the challenge I have decided to undertake. My aim was to traverse the full length of Australia’s snow country on foot, from just outside Melbourne to Canberra, covering a total distance of over 800km, roughly following the route of the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) along exposed ridgelines, expansive forests and wild river valleys. The remoteness of these mountains required me to be completely self sufficient during my 74 day trek.
The purpose of my week long road trip was to place the necessary provisions along the route, spaced roughly a week’s walk apart. The plastic tubs contained neatly packaged parcels of dehydrated and long life foods that would supply me with not only fuel but also great pleasure during my walk. Along the essentials, I placed a few luxury items in each drop; cans of beer, tins of plum pudding and blocks of chocolate. The simple things become divine in the mountains.
My eyes were getting lazy as the sun sank low on the horizon. After eight hours of mountain roads, I was running on autopilot. Clutch, brakes, turn wheel, accelerate. Another corner tackled successfully.
I spotted the turnoff to my night’s campsite with relief. Indicate, clutch, brakes, turn.
I rolled in to the campground just past sun down. The Snowy River was dark and flowing fast. I set up my tent on its banks, built a fire and opened a beer with satisfaction. Two more food drops placed was a good day’s work done. I could finally rest.
It was late May 2014 when I finished placing my provisions, just a couple of weeks before seasonal road closures shut off access to the mountains for the winter. My nine food tubs were hidden off-track in scrub, individually placed and spaced evenly along the 660km route of the AAWT. I would return to collect these tubs after the completion of my walk, in the company of my very proud mother who was very relieved that I didn’t fall off any cliffs during my 74 days in the Alps.
My walk was set to commence in September. It was not without some anxiety that I thought about my plastic tubs containing all my food sitting up in the woods throughout the winter. Would they be intact when I reached them on my trek? There was no way for me to know; all I could do was hope that I’ve hidden and sealed the containers adequately to prevent stray hermits and hungry wombats from helping themselves to my supplies.
My winter was spent in preparation.
Possessing a fairly good level of fitness already, my primary concern was accumulating the equipment required to face the rugged wilderness of the Australian Alps in early spring, when the mountains can still be snow bound. Lacking experience, I turned to the online bushwalking forums to seek advice. I soon became immersed in the world of technical outdoor gear; four season tents, liquid fuel stoves, and gore-tex.
The gear I was looking for had to be strong, durable, reliable, comfortable and perhaps most importantly, since it was all going on my back, light. The last point, lightness was a requirement that I didn’t treat too seriously and I ended up with a 42kg(!!!) pack at the start of the trip. I would carry this enormously overloaded, (130L!!!) canvas rucksack for the first 10 days of the trip before I decided to unload some non-essential items from it. A spare compass, my tobacco smoking pipe and some other dubious items were left in my first emptied food tub, reducing my average pack weight to 35kgs for the rest of my trip.
One piece at a time, I accumulated everything that was required. I wrote lists, crossed them off, then wrote new lists, which I crossed off, only to write new lists again… I acquired the most important items, such as my tent, sleeping bag, boots and pack, well in advance in order to test them out and wear them in. However, it wasn’t until the day of my departure that I actually had everything packed into my pack for the first time. It weighed 42 kgs.
Having always been tall and lanky, I did my best to put on some weight in the lead up to my trip. I figured it’ll be handy to have some reserves that I will no doubt burn through during my walk. I gave it my best effort, eating enormous meals of porridge, pizza and pasta and a nightly dessert of ice cream. I continued this training diet with difficulty for a week, being quite different from my usually much healthier routine. In the end, all my efforts were to no avail. After 7 days I have lost 1kg and felt relatively unwell. That was the end of my dieting. After that, I went back to my usual, balanced diet, and soon regained the spring in my step.
I also figured that a bit of strength training will be beneficial before my trip, so I developed a unique training method, which proved much more successful than my dieting. I started doing the weekly grocery shopping for our household with my 100L+ pack. I simply used to stroll over to the supermarket, which was about a 30 minute walk from our house and load up my pack with anything from 20-50kgs of goods, then walk back home. These brief walks with the excessive weight did much to strengthen the correct muscle groups in my frame and I believe greatly helped in preparing my body for the shock that was to come to it when I embarked upon my adventure.
The quiet winter days slowly ticked over. Near the end, the wait became almost unbearable. It seemed that all I could think about was my upcoming walk. There was no nervousness, only anticipation and excitement.
Eventually, the day arrived, and with the help of my friend Joel, we slid my oversized pack into the boot of his car since I had trouble lifting it by myself.
And so we drove off and left the city behind.