Dwellingup – Collie: Goodbye Fear, Hello Sore Feet
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually grateful for how hardcore – and in many ways difficult – the first section of this track was, because in comparison this second section felt like a breeze! I am already feeling worlds more comfortable and content on the trail, and although this week came with its fair share of ups and downs, the overall feeling I had was peacefulness. How good is that!!
After the challenge of being alone during section one, alongside the many strenuous double-hut days, I decided in Dwellingup to slow down my journey by a day or two. My itinerary called for two 30+km days on this stretch, on day one and day four, and I decided to split these up and just single hut the whole way to Collie. Although this was personally a very difficult decision to make, it proved to be the best one yet! Single hutting meant I was able to properly enjoy each day and spend entire afternoons relaxing, and because I slowed down I also ended up on the same timeframe as Brenda (63) and Chris (32), two wonderful end-to-enders. We formed a close friendship over the course of the week, and their company was a highlight of this stretch!
A HORRENDOUSLY HEAVY PACK AND HORRIBLY HOT DAYS
Dwellingup – Swamp Oak, 13.3km
Despite the decision being ultimately wonderful, there was a major downside to slowing down. Instead of carrying 5 days worth of food, I had to carry 7. Yikes.
Now look, I’m fully aware that by some people’s standards my pack is fairly light. My base weight was around 11kg, and with food and water I’m guessing it hits around 14/15kg (although that could be wrong!). In comparison, some people I’ve walked with have had 20+kg! Regardless, I’m a smallish person, and strength is not necessarily my strong suit (ha ha). Let me tell you, I could really feel the extra weight.
Luckily for me, this day was short and pretty flat – aside from a horrifically steep uphill caused by a track diversion that nearly killed me – and I was able to escape the heat fast. Thank god, because this day was at least 30 degrees Celsius; a trend that has continued over the last two weeks. I don’t know what happened to the lovely, crisp, September spring days I was promised, but they have been non-existent and I am NOT happy about it. Coping with heat, I should mention, is also not my strong suit.
Swamp Oak hut is actually the only hut I’ve been to before on the Bibb, as I walked to it with my aunt Fi for a little practise overnight hike. It was really lovely to be back, and to find my name again in the visitors log. The site itself is lovely and lush, and is visited by heaps of different birds. My favourite was the Blue Wren, with its stunning bright blue belly and very curious nature. As we were eating dinner, one came up close enough to touch! Brenda, Chris and I shared a campfire with a father and his two young sons, and Chris broke out some “magic powder” that turned the flames blue. I won’t lie, Brenda and I were way more enthusiastic and impressed by this than the kids were!
Swamp Oak – Murray, 19.2km
With my pack bursting at the seams, I set off early for a long day that became the epitome of contradiction. The walk itself was fairly horrible: constant and very very steep ups and downs, a smoke-filled sky which made me nervous, oppressive heat (30+ degrees again!), and the flies.
Oh my god, the flies.
For about 4 hours straight, I was entirely covered by them. I walked with a bug net over my face, and despite the heat and difficult terrain I couldn’t stop walking, because if I did the 40 flies covering my bag would swarm all over my face net, arms, and legs. If you know me, you know I can’t stand flies, so this experience was a true test in patience. It really was so bad.
To make matters worse, the final 2km of the hike were really brutal; a tiny, twisty track that would send you climbing vertically uphill and then plummeting back down, for what felt like hours.
Once we arrived at the hut, this day became absolutely divine, and probably my favourite on the track so far. Murray hut, as its name suggests, sits right on the Murray river, and it’s a truly spectacular place. It feels like you’re in your own little oasis, with crystal clear, deliciously cold water to cool off in, a big fallen tree to sit on, birds dancing over the water and calling above you, and sunlight speckling down through the trees. After such an unpleasant, hot walk, it was totally magical. I spent the day going between swimming, warming up in the sun, reading my book, and swimming again, and I really truly never wanted the day to end! I could have stayed at this hut for days, perfectly happily. It was a truly peaceful place.
In the evening, we were joined by four lovely people – two mums and their two young daughters – and it was soooo good to have so much female energy around. It was a lovely end to an intense but ultimately wonderful day!
Murray – Dookanelly, 19.5km
We woke to the most beautiful hazy morning, and I ate brekkie by the river and watched the mist slowly rise up off the water as the sun rose.
I was slow to pack up, and wasn’t out till 8am – a very late start for me! It was worth it, though, as I spent the morning chatting with the two mums and their kids, which was nice. One of the women was a nurse, and even bandaged up a graze I’d given myself in the river the day before which I appreciated!
This day was flat and fairly easy, although for the first time on the track I started the day feeling reaaaally lethargic and blugh. After an hour or two, though, I felt fine, and the day passed quickly.
After a few days of walking with Chris and Brenda, we’d fallen into a routine. Chris would leave first, then Brenda, then me. After an hour or so of walking, I’d catch up to Brenda, who’d often be stopped having her brekkie on a nice tree stump in a pretty clearing (or at the top of a harsh uphill!), and I’d then charge on to meet Chris at the hut about half an hour / hour after he’d arrived.
This day involved a lot of overgrown track – something we’d be forced to get used to in this stretch – and in certain spots I walked through an green tunnel of bush with wildflowers towering above my head. I got a big fright at one point, when I almost stepped right on top of an enormous tiger snake, but I gave him plenty of room and he moved on.
At Dookanelly hut we met Phil, a hilarious old English guy who Chris loved, who told us some really interesting and funny stories.
Dookanelly – Possum Springs, 22.7km
This was the first morning of the entire track that I woke up and thought to myself, “Mmm. Not sure I feel like walking today”. Unfortunately for me, that’s not an option, so on I plodded!
It was a rainy morning, which I really liked, and despite it being a longer day it was mostly flat and I arrived at the hut by 1pm. Again, lots of the trail was overgrown, and at one point we shared the track with heaps and heaps of adults and kids on bmx and quad bikes, which was pretty rank to be honest. It’s quite a jarring thing to be on this slow, peaceful, introspective journey that’s really intertwined with nature, and then be forced off the track by people on motorbikes, revving their engines and spraying mud everywhere while the Australian flag attached to their bike streams behind them.
We’d been told by Phil (who was walking NOBO) that this hut was full of mozzies, so I decided to rig up my tent inside. It’s not a freestanding tent, so I created a hilarious set up with rocks and string that did eventually work well!
In the arvo we were joined by three lovely German women, and sat around the fire chatting with them for ages.
Unfortunately, I had another night tossing and turning; about the fifth day in a row of not sleeping through the night. It’s annoying, cause I’d had a few nights of sleeping perfectly well in the first stretch and through I’d sorted it, but recently I’ve been having nightmares and/or really weird and intense dreams. On this night, I had a really lovely long dream about someone I’m missing a lot, and was so disappointed to wake up and realise it wasn’t real!
DON’T LIKE THE HEAT? TRY RAIN AND HAIL!
Possum Springs – Yourdamung, 19.3km.
All three of us in the hut (Brenda, Chris and I) woke at 5am, which has become the norm, but despite the early wake ups I’ve actually been slowing down my mornings a fair bit. This is mostly cause I’ve been having such interesting morning chats with the overnight hikers we’ve been meeting! On this morning, I had a long chat to the three German women over brekkie, and didn’t leave till 7:15am – basically an hour after Chris and Brenda! It doesn’t matter, though, cause I still arrive at the huts between 11-1. As I’m trying to learn, there’s no point rushing!
This was suuuuch an interesting day! The landscape was incredibly diverse, and it felt like it radically changed at every turn. The day was very rainy and windy, which gave the air an eerie, exciting atmosphere. I hiked FAST, in part to outrun the rain but also just to see if I could. This has become a bit of a trend – I like to see how fast I can go – but has also ushered in VERY sore feet at the end of each day that I’ve had to keep a close eye on!
The wildflowers were incredible in this stretch, and the oranges, pinks, and yellows stood out starkly against the grey sky.
With all this bizarre, intense weather, I’ve really begun to notice how crazily different the landscape and colours appear depending on weather.
On a hot day, the piercing blue sky makes the pea gravel underfoot seem a vibrant red/orange, contrasting starkly against the saturated greens of the grass trees and bushes.
On a cloudy day, the grey sky somehow mutes everything and turns the landscape into a sea of greens and greys, upon which the colours of the wildflowers jump out.
Both are incredibly beautiful – although if I’m being honest, the latter reminds me the most of home, so I think I’m partial to it.
My speedy walking meant I was at the hut by 11:30am, where I was greeted by three lovely Bibbulmun Track volunteers, who had cleaned out the hut and gave us homemade bikkies!
We passed this afternoon hilariously snoozily. It was just me, Chris and Brenda, and the three of us got straight into our sleeping bags to keep warm, and just read our books, chatted, and snoozed the day away. It was lovely to have a night of just us, and we even ate our dinners in bed. How luxurious!
Yourdamung – Harris Dam, 14.3km
It turned out to be an incredibly rainy and stormy night, and I slept in till 6:30am (sumptuous!), and then stayed in my sleeping bag for another few hours. The forecast was rain till midday, and with such a short day ahead of us it didn’t feel like there was any point rushing out. I had my morning coffee in bed and read for a few hours, but by 9am we were all antsy to the max, and just had to get up and going.
I was on the trail by 10am, and was almost immediately hailed on. The rain and hail continued on and off throughout the walk, and I loved it! If you walk fast, you won’t get cold, and it really feels exciting and like you’re on an adventure! I sang my way along the track, soaking wet and enjoying every second. Again, I walked really quickly – almost as a little challenge to myself to see how fast I could go – and once again paid the price with veeeeery sore feet. As long as I massage them and use lots of tiger balm in the afternoons, they’re fine by the next day, so I’m not worried. With an undertaking like this, a bit of pain is normal – it’d be strange not to have any, I reckon!
Harris Dam is a sweet, tiny hut in a recently-burnt section of forest, and we spent the arvo huddled away against the rain and wind. It was on this day that heaaaps of end to enders finally caught up to us, so the campsite was fairly full! One of these people included Zoe, a primary school friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in probably a decade, but who actually lived a block away from me in Melbourne, it turns out! It was slightly weird and very lovely to catch up and get to know each other again as adults, and as our itineraries line up think we’ll be walking together for a while, which is exciting!
Harris Dam – Collie, 22.2km
Town day!! Hooray!! I woke up and got out as early as I could, in order to squeeze as much time out of my day in civilisation as I could. I’ll talk about this in the next post, I think, but the days walking into towns are always a bit shit, and this was no exception. I don’t remember anything really of this walk – which says a lot – although I remember the first section being quite pretty, and the rest of it being flat and boring and looooong. I had one quite depressing moment when, upon hitting a main road, I went on google maps to see how far I had left to Collie. My phone was set to driving mode, and told me I had 5 minutes till I got there, until I switched to walking and it was an hour and seven minutes. Grim.
Because I had service, I decided to call my friend Elle to distract myself from the yucky final hour of road walking through Collie, which was great, and by 11am I had finally arrived at my accomodation. Unbeknownst to me, check in time was in fact 2pm, so I spent a couple of hours in the attached cafe, eating a breakfast that tasted incredibly delicious and drinking coffees that were basically otherworldly. (I’d be fascinated to taste it all again without hiker hunger, to see if it was really that incredible!)
Once in my room, I had the absolutely delight and privilege of having a HOT SHOWER (!!!!!), my first since beginning in Kalamunda. It was a genuinely transcendental experience. That night, I had a really fun dinner with the 6 other thru-hikers I’d met on the trail, and the next morning was met by my Nan and Aunt, who drove from Perth to have brekkie with me and help drive me around to do odd jobs before I headed back on the trail. It was sooooooo wonderful to see them, and a lovely end to this stretch.
There you go! 342km done, and over a third of the way through. It’s amazing how different this stretch felt to the first one; I feel comfortable on the track, have really settled into a routine, and have really transitioned out of the hardcore, emotional, fearful, lonely space I was in in the first few weeks. I’m just loving the Bibb, and the thought of being a third of the way through already is shocking. I better soak up every single moment, cause it’s already going way too fast!!
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