Monday, 11 December 2017

Bibbulmun Track Gear

I wasn't certain if I'd like walking with a pack, so I didn't want to spend a lot of money on gear that I might not use again.  I've also a reluctance to buy expensive gear if something cheaper does the job "good enough". Spending more money doesn't necessarily mean better or guarantee the best experience.  This is the gear I used. It may not work for you, but it might give you some ideas of what is possible.  I'm not listing everything I carried, just the main items.

I had camped before, but in my bicycle traveling days I was a big pack rat - 40kg of gear. This was my first backpacking trip and I made an effort to cut the weight down. Lighter is better, especially when carrying it on the back.  My base weight was about 10kg. This is everything in the pack, including the pack, except consumables: food, fuel (that I didn't have), water, etc. I could have been lighter, but had 'spare items' or 'backup items' in case something failed or didn't work. I had stuff that strictly wasn't needed for the whole hike. eg I carried all the maps after the first resupply all the way to the end. Others discarded used maps, or only had the map for the current section.  I also had stuff that at the end of the hike I hadn't used at all,  that with more experience wouldn't have been taken in the first place. So there was room to lighten my load.  There were lighter base weight hikers. They were more experienced hikers, (some having hiked the Bibbulmun track multiple times already), were not carrying tents. They had spent significantly more on their equipment. Another strategy used was to use a bounce box. Mailing a box ahead to the next town, with items not need for that section. eg. town clothes, maps, etc.

My pack was an old external frame "Mountain Mule" pack - last made in the 60's or 70's I was told by some of the more knowledgeable (read: older) hikers.  I'd found it on the curb during a council cleanup. Someone threw it out!  The straps were set up weird. I never did figure out who could have used it: man, woman or child. I adjusted all the straps to get it to fit and be comfortable. Other than adjustments, I did minimal changes: added some small bits of plastic to cover a couple of sharp points that I worried might catch on my shirt.  That was it. On the trail, I had to sew patch the hip belt attachment point after a fall broke some of the stitching. I did this twice as the first time my  stitching pulled though. The second time I added a small bit of webbing to reinforce the point. In the photo it is the small bit of yellow on the hipbelt.

The main bag is in two separate compartments. The bottom with a zipper, the top with a draw string closure, with a top flap cover that uses string to tie it closed to the bottom of the pack. There are two side pockets with zippers per side. I kept water bottles in these. There is one small pocket on the top flap cover with a simple material fold closure.  This I used for my rubbish bag.  There is a small zippered pocket on the bottom compartment.

Overall I was happy with the pack. It was comfortable, though as the hike progressed the hipbelt started to break down as the internal foam collapsed most likely because of its age. This caused it to press a bit more in some places than others. Without a rest break it would get bothersome and I'd move the hipbelt about to have the spot press a new location. 

I didn't like the two separate compartments as it was sometimes  difficult to fully pack the bottom zippered compartment. I didn't want to overstuff the compartment as I was worried that stitching might fail and leave me with a repair on the trail. So it often had empty space that I thought could have been used better if the bag was one large compartment.

Wet weather protection was a garbage bag in each compartment. Nothing in the bags got wet. Put the garbage bag in and pack gear into it. Important items also were in dry bags. I didn't want to using dry bags as they are heavier than garbage bags, but I had them, and they were my backup option if the pack material failed because of age. I had three 20L dry bags. The backup plan was that everything could fit in dry bags, and I'd tie them to the frame with the ample cord that I had, and then be able to keep going on the hike. Overall one was for food, one for sleeping gear/clothing and the third for electronics. 20L bags were too big and full they wouldn't fit in the pack compartments, so day to day everything didn't go in them. Hence needing the garbage bags for waterproofing. Electronics was the only item that consistently ended up in a dry bag. On days with no chance of rain, the dry bags were sometimes not used at all -just rolled up and packed with everything just in the compartments.  The pack had minimal material - so even with it getting wet it dried out quickly.

Annoyances: the lack of easily accessible small pockets with the pack on. Accessing anything, I had to take the pack off.  I used the side pockets for water: bags empty or full, a PET bottle and a water filter.  Apart from a tube of chaff cream in a side pocket, everything else had to be accessed in the top compartment - undo the strings, open the drawstring, and then open whatever bag was needed. I wanted a small bag at the front - like a bum bag - to keep stuff like snacks, phone, etc. As it was I only had my shirt pockets.

I tried the sleeping mats (see below) on top of the bag -  annoying to open the top compartment. Underneath - meant the bag wouldn't sit up when you put it down.  Lastly, vertically at the back. This worked the best. The bag would sit up vertically and I could access the top compartment. It also gave a narrower profile - which was important for fitting through some gaps between trees.

I'd be classed as a side sleeper. I can fall asleep on a hardwood floor, so a thin CCF foam mat is sufficient for me. My CCF foam pad from K-Mart: $8 or $10. The sleeping mat insulates you from the ground and is very important for sleeping warm. You can lose a lot of heat downwards by conduction. From my bicycle travelling days, I knew I could use a foam mat happily no matter how compressed, unless it was below 10C and especially not on rock or cement. In those cases, one mat isn't thick enough insulation. I'd not tested on a wooden platform, but guessed that it would not be a problem as wood is more of an insulator than rock or cement. Ground sleeping I'd find the 'soft spot' - on leaf litter - which is a good insulator if thick enough. The Kmart mats compress over time. I use them nightly - even when staying with friends or in hotels or cabins; I still sleep on the floor with a mat. The pad I took, I'd used nightly for several months before the hike started and it had collapsed a bit. It continued to collapse, and I found the wooden platforms cooler than I had though. At my first resupply I got a second pad (that had even more nights use on it) and doubled them up. Near the end of the hike, the second pad was doubled up on itself and only used under my torso. So effectively I had three layers of pad under my torso. But it was still thinner than a new pad. By this time the overnight temps were warmer, but next time I would start with a newer Kmart pad.  Carrying two pads - even though they had compressed was still bulky compared to one new pad.

Sleeping bag was a 1.06kg $85 (on sale) synthetic bag from Anaconda. Only purchased as my usual Kmart Summer bag isn't rated below 10C and that was expected.  I didn't take the stuff sack with me - but squashed it into a $10 Kmart 20L dry bag (that would have weighed more), or just into the bottom compartment in a garbage bag. I didn't use a bag liner - sleeping in thermals, light clothing or everything at one point early on. I also rarely used the bag as a bag - using it as a quilt over the top of me. I sprawl about sleeping, and find zipped up bags confining. But if cold, would try zipped up. Not as good as a quilt - as the bag has different thicknesses on the "bottom" and the "top". Also the hood was not that useful, or the baffles about the top and to seal around the zipper. So it is heavier than a quilt would be. 

Initially I had problems with waking up cool - usually just after midnight and continuing till morning. The first two weeks were spent trying different combinations of sleep wear and bag zipped up or open, to try and work out why. The first resupply I had a second sleeping bag for one night as a further test. A $12 Kmart synthetic summer bag that I use on the east coast. I spread it over the top to increase the warmth. It didn't help. The conclusion I come to was that the Anaconda bag wasn't breathing well - so moisture couldn't escape, I'd eventually get damp, and then chilled and wake up. Trying to leave vent gaps just let in cool air.  It wasn't bad enough to want to stop hiking, but it was mildly annoying. Adding a small (127 cm x 130 cm) $7 synthetic lap blanket purchased in Dwellingup shop - improved sleeping comfort immeasurably and I never woke cold again. This weighed 330 grams. I still used the bag as a quilt. Coldest night was then about 2C, and I just slept in light clothing and was toasty arm. So with thermals and clothing I would have been able to sleep in lower temps. I used the blanket in camp as a cape - wrapped around me sitting or standing for warmth at times.  After getting the blanket I discarded my op shop fleece jumper in Balingup to free up pack space - as I found the blanket was smaller, lighter, warmer and more useful.

I didn't take a stove or cooking pot. I was "no cook". Reason for this was to save weight and pack space. I've been "no cook" in the past bicycle travelling, so knew it wouldn't be a problem for the trip. Food was purchased in towns as needed. Except for a parcel send by a friend to Donnelly River Village I didn't have mailed resupply. The parcel was to resupply for the next five days - but due to a miscommunication, the food was unsatisfactory, so I discarded most of it and used left overs and items purchased at Donnelly River Village to get to Pemberton.  It was minimal rations for that section and I was hungry on arrival.

My method was generally wake up, pack up and start walking. Get to the shelter and eat, which was usually about lunch time. Save something for a bit of a snack closer to evening, but eat most of the food for lunch.  Sometimes I planned a snack before lunch or had a "breakfast", but most times didn't. Various trail mixtures, peanuts, cashews, almonds and chocolate was the main food items. Muesli, oats, sultanas, tinned fish, packet fish, snack bars also had an appearance at different times.  Trail mix and chocolate was a reliable resupply. Calorie dense food. A block of chocolate is about 1000 calories. Trail mix was about 2000 calories. Together they weighed about 600 grams. I always planned to eat before leaving town - so only needed an afternoon snack for that day. The day arriving in town, the plan was to have no food left for that day as I would eat on arriving in town. With unplanned double hutting or not eating enough, only once did I get into town with nothing left. 

My tent was a silpoly 3x3 meter tarp with a Sea to Summit nano bug net with a plastic groundsheet. Using trekking poles, I could put this up "free standing". But usually I'd use a tree or two.  I'd used this previously so was comfortable with it. On the trail I used it a few times - when shelters were full or when I wanted to camp away from the shelter. I carried way too much cordage with me. Some was for the fall back pack mending with dry bags option. But even then, I had more than I needed, and I gathered more cordage that I found discarded at camp sites.

Trekking poles were some ebay $16 items. Nothing special about them. I had to mend one with epoxy in Dwelling up as the hand grip was slipping. I definitely found the poles useful for walking. Helped with balance especially when wading through water or walking on clay. My one fall, was on clay, and the poles slipped out also. I had the rubber tips on, when it would have been more sensible to have removed them. I did prefer the rubber tips on though - they didn't sink into the ground as much. But after the fall, I did the rubber tips when on long clay sections.

Clothes were op-shop or low cost K-mart purchases - apart from shoes and socks. I had the clothing I was walking in, thermals and clothing to sleeping in, and a town set. Long trousers would have been better for the coastal section as the brush there is scratchy. More on this below.

Footwear generates a lot of discussion. The "you need boots - thick, strong, waterproof, ankle support, high laces, etc." seem the most vocal. People do use trail runners or joggers. Online I've read of barefoot hikers.  Other hikers wore a mixture of boots, shoes, insoles. Some had problems with blisters, or soreness in various parts of the foot some didn't. Find what works for you. 

My shoes and socks were different and gathered a lot of comments on and off trail. Apart from electronics, they are my most expensive purchase. Vibram Five Fingers. Also known as "barefoot shoes". This model is the "Trek Ascent" with a 4mm layer of rubber, and a 4mm insole. Total of 8mm. Thin enough to feel what you are walking on. Vibrams are not waterproof. Water enters and leaves fast. This was an advantage in the wet and water wading sections. But equally,  morning dew or just wet ground would leave me with wet socks. 

Socks, unsurprisingly, need to be toe socks. Injini are the goto brand and usually found about $20 a pair.

I've worn Vibram Five Fingers before. Do take notice of the need to change gradually. Most shoes that people wear have the heel raised. Five Fingers don't - they are known as zero drop shoes (The "drop" is a measure of the heel to top drop).  Changing from a heel to zero drop suddenly can cause problems as the body needs to adjust to the change.  While they were not my first choice they were what I ended up walking in. They worked well for me. I started with an older pair (size 44)  and switched to a  newer pair (size 45) at the first resupply. 

With this pair, one toe pocket has a slightly malformed seam right at the tip. One day after wearing them for a week, I developed a tiny blister from this on the tip of my big toe. That day was a 'long day', enough dampness to have wet feet, and I was hurrying. So wasn't paying attention or willing to stop to check what was happening. I did think later, that not tightening the lace would probably have been the reason my toe was able to touch the front. Not wanting to mess about with a blister,  I put tape over it and never had problems again. Since the hike, I've worn this pair without the tape and without getting a blister.  I also put tape on the center part of one foot - no blister, it just felt odd and I was concerned about it, so after a while I tried tape to see if that made a difference. It felt better, so I just kept the tape on after that. The tape once applied stayed for about a week before peeling off - so usually removed it on the first shower in town, and reapplied it on the morning of leaving.

I did have to pay attention to foot placement and the terrain. I couldn't blindly blunder along.  Walking with other (fast) hikers - I was slightly slower walking in some places because of this. That said, overall, I was a fast walker compared to others on the trail. Apart from the blister above, I didn't have any foot injuries while wearing these shoes. There were rare steps were there was something uncomfortable underfoot - but that meant that I didn't put full weight down on that part of the foot. Some parts on the trail with lots of gum nuts, I'm not sure how I managed to walk through without stepping on them. Sometimes I'd look back and think: how'd I manage that! I think the brain learns to work out where to put the feet from a glance, even without you having to constantly pay attention. I noticed that the foot strike changed step to step: sometimes forefoot, sometimes midfoot strike, sometimes heel. Each step was different. Roads and cement paths feel boring - each step exactly the same over and over. The trail was more interesting.  Heel striking was often with "stepping out" - trying to take big steps. I found that shorter steps felt better than longer steps. Also gives more options for foot placement and to shift weight about.

Besides the cost of Vibrams, and toe socks, and the difficulty of finding stock, the only downside I had was the grip. They have phenomenal grip on rock but terrible on clay.  Guess its a trade off - other hikers had better grip on clay, but terrible on rock.  But there was more clay walking than rock on the Bibbulmun, especially on the southern half where there was water to wade though.

Homemade gaiter.
I walked in a long sleeve shirt, shorts or gym tights until Walpole, were I made some 'gaiters' from a pair of old tights and 4 cardboard milk cartons and string. Some of the trail was very narrow with scratchy bushes heading into Walpole and I was getting scratched on the legs a lot. Concerned this might continue on the coastal sections I made gaiters, but didn't find this was the case after Walpole.  It very much depends on when the trail was last maintained. The section into Walpole hadn't been cut back recently - so the bushes were closer to the trail. I ended up wearing my gaiters some days, but not others. When making the gaiters I thought they could also be 'snake proof', based on how thick the material of the milk carton was. It was thicker and harder than gaiters others had purchased and were wearing. Though, I never saw a snake while wearing the gaiters.

Rain coat was a $4 plastic poncho with a garbage bag skirt. The poncho was put on and the pack put on over the top. Shoulder straps and hip belt stopped it billowing about. I did have a old Marmot rain jacket - that is no longer a waterproof - that I used as a coat under, or in high winds, over the plastic poncho.  I also use this jacket to help with warmth in camp as another layer, or when it was windy as a wind block.  I'd like to find a silnylon jacket - as it would be lighter, but as I have this Marmot jacket I use it. Besides its lack of waterproofness, it is in great shape for the many years I've had it.

Water filter. All the rainwater tanks had a warning about the water needing treatment. A lot of people drank without treating the water. They had various beliefs about why it was safe, and not necessary to treat the water.  I used a Sawyer Squeeze and always filtered my water. There were a few other hikers that also treated their water. One had a Sawyer Mini. Comparing size and filtering speed, the Mini  was significantly slower to filter for minimal weight savings.  Given a choice, get the the Squeeze.  I had an adaptor to backflush the filter with me, but didn't use it. A few times when the filter seemed to slow down I'd leave it attached to the bag and standing upright. So that water would drain backwards into the bag. Sometimes I'd even blow to push the water into the bag. I'd then discard this water. It seemed to help. In town I'd flush it under a tap using my hand as a connector.  Online some overseas hikers reported that the Sawyer bags had failed for them. I carried a 1.25 PET bottle in case this happened. I suspect it depends on how the bags are treated. With the rainwater minimal effort was needed to filter the water, so I doubt they would have failed. A rat did chew holes in two of the bags at one shelter.  I don't know if the rat was unable to chew the PET bottle, or gave up without trying.

I carried a trowel - a $3 children's garden trowel from Bunnings. Only used it once.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Bibbulmun Track Round Up

A collection of random notes about the trail.

I completed the walk in 50 days total.  Starting 20 August 2017 in Kalamunda and finishing 9 October 2017 in Albany.   I had a four zero days (days of not walking on trail at all): one in Mt Cooke campsite, two in Dwellingup, one in Collie. I wasn't trail fit before starting. My "training" was going for a morning walk of about 12km along the Perth riverbank carrying a mobile phone, listening to music or podcasts. The day in Kalamunda was the first day I put the loaded pack on.  The plan was to walk and if I run into problems I could return to Kalamunda or bail out along the roads nearby.  I had the first resupply near at Sullivan's Rock, where I had another chance to call it quits if I was struggling.

A rest day was had at Mt Cooke campsite because the resupply near Sullivan Rock was on the Saturday.  I'd thought if I was running late, I could delay it a day. But I didn't think if I was ahead of schedule. So I walked to Mt Cooke campsite on Friday, and on Saturday walked back the 5km to the meetup point. I had intended to go to the next shelter that day. But due to a big stuff up (forgetting the rest of the maps in the car) I had to return again to the meetup point. So managed 20km and finished back in Mt Cooke in the afternoon.  I took a zero the next day to recover.

I didn't pre book any accommodation before starting. Some were booked on the trail. Others I just arrived and looked about.

Dwellingup and Collie were where I had rest days in town. After that I kept walking onwards.  I would have taken more zero days in Pemberton but it was the long weekend, and the start of school holidays. No rooms left in the backpackers, so booked into a more expensive motel.  I found out later that people cancelled because of the rain and I could have got a room at the backpackers rather than stay at the motel.

Walpole was also only the one night because I wanted to get ahead and have a chance at solo shelter.

Denmark, I was planning a rest day, but got lucky and was offered a trip around the bay while I was sitting outside the IGA eating. Since this was before I would have checked into the backpackers, I headed off.

Albany I stayed overnight. This was because I wasn't' sure if I could make it to the end before the bus left. As it was I was there with plenty of time. But it was nice to not have to worry about making time. That last day on the trail was an unusually fine day - the first in a long time.  There are three busses that leave to Perth - which I only figured out when talking to the helpful staff at the booking office.

The Northern half was dry weather. Missed the couple of days of showers by arriving in town for resupply just as they started and leaving a couple days later when it was over.  Also missed showers by arriving in shelter before they started. Or they were so gentle that rain gear wasn't put on.  So all dry walking.  The southern half seemed all the opposite. All wet weather. Every day was rain gear - sometimes on/off multiple times.  Seemed to be constantly wading through water between Northcliff to Denmark. More so Northcliffe to Walpole. Diverted around Lake Manjimup because of the water.

Snakes - saw one on Snake road heading into Donnelly River.  The only other time I saw snakes was just after Peaceful Bay - a day I didn't have my gaiters on. I think I saw so few most of my walking was in the morning.  That day after Peaceful Bay was probably the only 'warmer' day where I was on the trail after lunch.  Other post lunch walking days were wet, cloudy or cool, so the snakes weren't out.

While there was a concern about rats or mice in all the campsites, I wasn't worried about them until Mount Franklin campsite. There, rats chewed my water bags. I'd hung everything else up. Don't know why they chewed my water bags, but that left me on minimum water carrying capacity.  They seemed to get lots of people there. After that I took the signs much more seriously and hung everything.

All inlets were crossed. Torbay had a  'too deep, too fast' reports from a north bound section hiker and locals. But ended up being only shin deep when I arrived at high tide.

Only lost the trail a few times - missed markers when not looking or daydreaming.  But soon realised and got back on track. There were more times where I was uncertain if I was still on the trail. But the general deal was keep going in the same direction as the last marker you saw. Also, look backwards to spot the reverse direction markers.  Look to footprints on the trail or trekking pole marks. A lot of time it was also follow the tire marks.  After a while developed 'waugal' skills, and was able to spot them seemingly no matter where they where placed or hidden. One memorable carpark after Torbay Inlet had the Waugal hidden behind parked cars.  Also got better at figuring where the track was likely to go based on the terrain. Having the paper maps definitely helped more times than not.  I never used the gps to check if I was on trail - because my phone was buried in my pack, but I did met walkers who didn't have any maps an only relied on the markers and their gps.

Not a lot of other people on the trail. Most were at the northern end on the weekend.  Apart from the other end to enders, there was section hikers, overnighters and day walkers. 

See the next post for information on my gear.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Albany - and Finished!

Done. Finished.

After leaving Denmark, I stayed overnight at Nullaki Campsite, intending to skip the next shelter and go to the Torbay Campsite.  One of the concerns for the walk was the inlet crossings. Either a short walk across the inlet, or a long road diversion.  Torbay Inlet was the last remaining inlet to cross. I'd met a northbound hiker just before entering Denmark. He told me that Torbay Inlet was flowing too fast, and he took the 20km road diversion. But he got lucky and got a lift.  The Torbay Campsite is 8km before the inlet. My plan was to walk to the inlet and cross it.  Well, hopefully cross it, if not, that left the rest of the day for the diversion walk, and the additional kilometers after the diversion to the next shelter.  It would be a big day.

The next day was wet, cold, and windy.  I felt like I was in a demented washing machine walking along the coastal trail. Wind gusting strong enough to push me about the track, or trash me with the bushes.  I arrived early enough at West Cape Howe shelter to continue to the Torbay shelter, but it just didn't happen. Besides the weather, I come up with the plan that the water flowing out of the inlet would be slower at high tide - which would be at about 12:20.  If I walked the 16.5km to Torbay shelter the next day and then continued to the inlet, I'd get there close to high tide, and then of course I'd cross. That was the big hope. Failing to cross, I'd either have to return to the Torbay shelter, or start the unappealing 20km road diversion.

Sunday, off I set for Torbay. All was going to plan. As I walked along the beach, I met a local and asked him about the inlet. The news wasn't good. He said it was too deep and too fast to cross. He'd watched two guys crossing with packs held over their heads a couple days ago and it was chest high then. More rain would have make it higher and faster. This was bad. But he suggested going there as since it was Sunday maybe some boat people were about on the bay and I could get a lift across. As I looked at the wind and showers gusting in, the white caps on the waves and foam on the beach, I doubted anyone would be out. But to get the road diversion I had to go to the inlet anyway. I'd decided that I wouldn't return along the beach to the campsite. It was onwards no matter what.  He also warned me about the creek outflow that had to be crossed.

The creek was deep. I walked along the side for a bit before finding a spot to cross - stepping across deep channels onto islands. When I did have to wade, it was knee high. Not promising for the inlet if this was the creek.

On I walked, thinking about how long it was going to take to walk around the diversion.  I wasn't entirely sure where I was along the beach section, just kept going. 

The inlet when I came to it was tiny. I wasn't even sure it was the inlet till later in the walk when the track left the beach. It was ankle deep, but crossing it a wave splashed me and my knees got wet.  Never believe what people tell you - make up your own mind. 

I made the day a 40km day, and would have gone higher, but the last 12km into Albany would have run out of daylight.  The next day, in a break with the recent weather was fine and sunny.  Was nice doing a slow walk around the bay into Albany. Then sitting in the sun eating lunch.

I can now say I've walked the Bibbulmun Track.


Friday, 6 October 2017

Denmark

In a superb case of timing, I arrived in Denmark to just miss the YHA office closed for lunch. Off I go to do the food shopping for the next section and then sitting outside eating lunch I get a generous offer of a lift around the bay. Couldn't turn that down. So I'll skip staying in town and just keep walking. Albany in three or four days. Some doubt about an inlet crossing. That might require a 20km diversion, and as a day. 

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Walpole

Water water everywhere and no boats in sight. Rain, and wading through water has been the highlights of the past section. Feet have not been dry for over a week. Each day is put on wet socks and wet shoes. Some of the water has been hip high. But long sections of ankle or shin high wading. 
But the bright spot is that the weather might be fine this next week. Okay, the occasional shower is forecast, but I'm hopeful.
Made some gaters today from a pair of tights, cardboard milk cartons and some duck tape. Also bought some tradie sock savers to go with my gaters to help keep sand out of my Vibram Five Fingers.  The arrival at the coast has been accompanied by walking through small scratchy bushes. My legs are getting scratched raw in places. I've been walking in knee high bicycle shorts since Collie after my pants became too loose.  I'm hopeful that the milk cartons are also snake bite proof as well. Though the plan is to not test that out. 
I cut the tights in half from the crotch through to the waist band, and sewed up each half into a long tube. I pull one half onto my leg, wrap the two milk cartons joined with duck tape around my calf. They stay overlapping, and then I roll the top of the tights down over them to hold them in place. The sock saver at the bottom holds the bottom together. Bike shorts at the top help hold it up. Short walk testing today seemed promising. Time will tell. I'll have duck tape with me to make any repairs needed in case.  But I'm sure no more scratched legs and hopefully less sand in my shoes and really hopefully snake protection.  Not seen any snakes since Donnley River, but keep hearing about them. 
Only about 200km to go. Suddenly the end is in sight. 

Friday, 22 September 2017

Pemberton

Changed the cancer causing sunshine for the benign liquid type. So the last three days have been cool and damp. Very damp actually. This is going to continue through to Wednesday. After weeks of fine weather walking, it's a bit of a shock. Arrived in Pemberton this morning in heavy falls. Only staying overnight. It's a long weekend, and the start of school holidays, so all accommodation is booked out. Somehow walking in the rain seems like it will be easier.
Body is holding up well. Gear mostly ok. Doing more sewing repairs to my pack. With almost 600km done, it'll hold up for the rest. 
Mostly the same people at each shelter at night. Unless someone takes a rest day or double huts. Town's swap it about a bit. People staying longer, or leaving early. You hope for the non snorers. Had the early risers lately. Up at 4:30 to pack and have breakfast and start walking at first light to arrive at the next shelter before lunch. Then they'd have a nap. Why couldn't the sleep in till first light? 

With the rain, maybe not so many weekend hikers will be out this weekend...



Thursday, 14 September 2017

Balingup

Town's are nice enough; food, gear, water and washing. I'm even having hot showers as a change from cold.  But staying in doors especially with accommodation with central air conditioning if not for me. Not being able to open the window here in Collie is a real issue for me. The air con doesn't go lower than 17C ever.  Add in that I don't sleep in the beds, I'm paying a lot for that hot shower.  
Decided to hold onto the fleece till Balingup. And after a 2C night without needing it, it was abandoned today. 
Balingup is camp only unless you pre book the backpackers. Though it's hard to find that information out. 
Meet some of the local walkers this section. Surprisingly they rose at 4:30am to breakfast and pack and then walk in the dark. Not slow walkers either, arriving at the next shelter before lunch.  Lots of interesting stories though about the track and characters on it. The foundation should capture their stores and publish a book.
Onwards towards Donnelly River Village in the morning. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Collie

Another week down and just over 330km finished. While the first weeks were go hard and "do it", the last week had been more moderate. Taking it easy and pacing for the distance still to come.  Small aches and pains have crept in, and with the realisation of the  almost 700km to go, there's no wish to test the limits just yet and risk not finishing. Huts have been about 20km apart, also dampening the double hut enthusiasm.

More fire trail walking with some single track. The fire trails varied from unexciting hard packed clay to interesting, rambling old paths. It's a bit of a chore on the unexciting roads as the mind wanders into day dreams. Suddenly wrenched back with gut clenching anxiety when you realise you haven't seen or looked for a trail marker in a while. Then the fear of "have you missed a turn off!", followed by profound relief when one is finally spotted. There follows a commitment to pay attention, but you keep drifting off.  The mind also wanders off on the single track, but less likely to miss a marker there.

The markers are not always as frequent as you'd like. The rule is keep going in the same direction as the last marker. That works, except when it doesn't. Everyone backtracks sometimes to check the last marker. Sometimes you need a very eagle eye to spot them. Looking backwards for the northbound markers can help, as looking for old markers. Sometimes you go forward with hope that another will appear. If it doesn't, your lost. Go back!

I had a fall on one slippery clay section of track. The Vibram Five Fingers grip like a gecko on rock, but on clay it's like walking on ice. Both feet and hands into the muddy wheel ruts. More unhappily, the hip belt on my pack tore. I completed the next four hours with it leaning drunkenly to one side, leaving a sizeable bruise on one side. My pack is a Mountain Mule. An external frame pack which I'm told by more knowledgeable older walkers is at least 30 years old. 

I was gifted it one night, about midnight. It was pouring rain. A slight fog.  I was walking a suburban street when a beam of light broke through the gloom, striking the pack buried deep in a rubbish heap on the kerb. It called to me. And after some digging, I liberated it and it's accompanied me ever since. 

It's an external frame pack, with two sections. The bottom section is closed by a zipper. The top by a flap of fabric that ties shut. Neither seem large enough.  Apart from some adjustments to the straps, and replacing a missing pin with a bolt, if not done anything else to it. The fall tore the stitching on the hip belt. But a couple hours sewing and it's better than it was. As good as new I declared the next day. During the repairs I removed the belt and on restoring it, tried a different attachment pattern that is a bit more comfortable. 

My sleeping system problems have been solved by the addition of a small polyester lap blanket. Bought at Dwellingup for $7. It's small 1.27m x 1.35m, but big enough to cover most of me if I scrunch up. I lie down, drap the blanket over, then put the sleeping bag over like a quilt. I think the blanket stops the cold air getting in, while allowing warm moist air to leave. 

I'm still using two foam mats. The K-Mart mats compress with time and lose insulation ability. Starting at about 1cm thick when new, one is now 3mm think. The limit of its compression. The other newer mat is a more robust 5mm thick. I'm unable to part with the thinner mat as testing has shown that both needed.

One particular morning was very brisk. I set out walking along a path bordered with frost. But since then the temperatures have shot up with about 9C nights and some 25C days. It's so much warmer sleeping and with the weather that I'm contemplating leaving behind my fleece jumper in Collie. A sizeable space saving. I'll also leave my pants behind. With weight loss they are too loose, and chaff on my legs. Back to lycra bicycle pants, unpadded courtesy of the local Target store.

The next section is 12 days to the next large town, but with two small shopping options before then. Much thought expended on how much food to take. Enough for 12 days, or enough to get to the small shops. With my no cook meal plan, I'm wary of limited choices, so am taking food for seven days with a parcel sent ahead for the last five days. Still on minimal rations, but increase the amount slightly. I arrived in Collie with no food left having finished everything the day earlier. I was lucky to get another block of chocolate and bag of peanuts before leaving Dwellingup, and had some fruit cake kindly left at one of the huts. Without that, it would have been a very hungry arrival in Collie. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Dwellingup

Made it to the first town. Two weeks and 211km. Less than 800km to go! Walked a couple of 30km days. The last had the 20km walk into town following it. 
At the start of the day all is good, then get to the first hut and it's early and feeling good. Before lunch early. Enough time for another hut: double hutting. Eat up, shoes on, pack on and head off. After the first couple of km, thinking it was a mistake. Could have been resting back at the hut, but committed now, not turning back. The hours pass with lots of rests, stretching and more thoughts is why didn't I just stay at the last hut. Next time I will, I tell myself. Finally the hut is spotted and everything is better. Not better as in wake-up better, but relief that you've made it. 
Feeling it with tender feet after the 30km days. One small blister with the new Vibram Five Fingers. A seam at the end of a toe just touches. Will have tape that toe. Not sure what else I can do about that seam. Otherwise the Five Fingers are working well for me.
The trail is easy walking, (if not double hutting). A lot of it is fire trails. Some parts are recovering from bush fires of the past, showing the different stages of recovery. Some good views from the mountain tops. Pleasant days with only the last couple threatening and delivering on showers. Sitting out two nights in town to miss further showers, winds, and a 2c overnight. A bit of a drop from the usual overnights. And of course washing, hot showers and food. Did I mention the caravan park huts are heated?
The trail huts are wonderful. Not heated, but water tanks, seating and shelter. Can be busy though and I've slept out a couple of times under my tarp when they have been full. With fine weather a lot of people are out walking.
My pack weight is about 11kg before food and water. At the moment I've about 500-600 grams of food a day at the moment. Water, at most 2 liters so far.  I'll leave Dwellingup with food for five days for the seven day walk. I'll eat before I leave town and have a small snack that night, last day not eat till I'm in Collie. Not a ultralight pack, but not super heavy. Not everyone's idea of comfort either. Just weighed it again. I'll leave with 15kg all up, including one liter of water.
A small annoyance is my sleeping system. No matter what I've tried, I wake up sweating and chilled. In the bag, using it as a quilt, thermals on/off, light cloths, naked. Early morning I'll wake sweating and chilly. It's been 5-12c nights. Lately had some success wearing all my cloths, sleeping without the bag till I get cool, then use the bag as a quilt with vent gaps around the edge. Not sure what the problem is.  One thought is the bag isn't breathing enough, trapping moisture, hence the venting helping. I'll try using a small throw blanket to see if that helps on the next six nights. I'm getting enough sleep each night, sleeping from sun down to midnight or later before waking the first time, then every couple of hours till first light. 12 hours nights at the moment. It would be nice to not wake sweating and chilled. If I can sort that out I'll cut down a bit more on clothing carried. But till then I get to mix and match at night. 
In town, lots of eating. The cafe and pub serve large delicious meals. Then there is restocking the larder for the next leg. The local IGA has a good range of food for me. Breakfasts are oats, cashews, sultanas soaked over night. Chocolate, and trail mix, peanut butter, flat bread and some condensed milk make up the rest of the food.  Apart from breakfast, food is varied each day to make up  lunch/dinner. Best to save some to eat just before bed.  I'm not cooking, so less weight: no stove or fuel and only a peanut butter jar for soaking food. I'm calorie deficient on the meals, so am losing weight. Depending how much I lose, I'll have to increase the meals in the coming weeks.


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

In the great out doors

Walking with a pack is going fine. Body is holding up and in making good time for the sections. Not been really lost once yet. Getting the hang of the map, terrain and my walking speed. Cold nights though. No pushups yet, just wake with the chill.  So all good on day three.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Shakedown hike

Finally the body is all working and I'm able to get out and do a shakedown hike. Weather is also smiling on me - only a few showers forecast, but its mostly going to be fine.  Been lots of packing/unpacking, pondering - is this really needed, can I leave it out.  Pack weight keeps dropping. 

And now I'm out on the trail.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Perth

Arrived in Perth busting to get walking and within the first week come a gutser. After months of not being able to walk far, I rushed about to get gear ready and quickly ended up with sore knees. The next couple weeks, waiting for knees to heal, injured my feet. I had been sitting cross legged on a hardwood floor and the irritated the bone joint points on the outside edges of the feet that pressed into the floor. I stopped soon as it was sore, but the damage was done by that time.  Lesson: sit on soft things. Frustratingly, it seemed like all the fine days were drifted past as I waited for healing.  Eventually, went to see a podiatrist to check if there was anything I could do to heal faster as the feet were the worst problem.

First podiatrist was really bad.  With just a glance they could tell me that I needed an over $400 worth of X-ray and ultrasounds tests, that I definitely needed orthotics and a custom shoe fit.  All this was because in their words, my shoes were injuring my feet by rubbing on the sore spots. I had told them I hadn't been wearing shoes, and was always in sandals - that didn't touch the sore spots and hadn't walked in weeks because of sore knees.  Unhappy with that podiatrist and their diagnosis,  I went for a second opinion. Second podiatrist was much better. Video assessment of walking/running and the good news was all was good - no orthotics needed. The soreness, nothing to do but wait for that to calm down.  And obviously, don't do that again.

To round out the doctors visits - I also saw a physio about the knees and a shoulder.  Got some exercises to do. But the big take away from the appointment was - get active. But gently!  Don't over do it.  Listen to your body and give it recovery time. So started back into walking training.

Footwear is still a problem for me. Why are shoes made with narrow pointed toes, when feet are broad and boxy shaped? Why can't you buy sandals in winter? Why is it so hard to get a good fit?

I tried on so many shoe styles: running, hiking, walking , cross fit, gym, racing, and many more that I've forgotten. A big discovery was that I needed to move up a size or sometimes two depending on the brand.  Not so new discovery was that shoes are very narrow and made for uniform feet. I have very wide non uniform feet.

Left DIY soled. Right Merrell Siltwater Strap.
My DIY soled sandals worked, but the 2mm sole was wearing out. The low height also let a lot of debris under the foot when the track was anything but packed dirt.

I tried the pair of Merrell sandals I had, but it seemed like they were irritating the sore points. The edge of the straps pressed right across the swollen spots. Wearing them was to uncomfortable for anything more than a short walk. I didn't like to wear them at all.

After a time, I decided to stick to just wearing with a pair Vibram Five Fingers I had. They were good - well worn in and stretched.  Only problem was they were almost worn out. I added a shoe glue to the sole to extend their life a bit longer.  I wasn't going to replace them when they wore out, but in the end, failing to find another pair of sandals or shoes, and just wanting to stick to what was working, I ordered a new pair - exactly the same.

Seemed all sorted.


Old Vibram Five Fingers with Altra Instinct 3.5
Then Murphy's law strikes. Checking them for the first time - just before a shakedown hike they broke.  Lace strap stitching come apart. It looks like the tabs missed the sewing machine. Back to the seller with them. I would have replaced them then, but they are now out of stock. I had the last pair.

Tired of trying on shoes, and needing something asap, I went and bought the best option I found locally; pair of Altra Instinct 3.5.  Altra is known for shoes with a human foot shaped toe box.  Downside is finding a pair can be tricky.

With the old Vibrams, I was able to walk 12km days without a pack and feel good - foot wise - at the end of it.  First couple days in the new shoes and my feet were complaining bitterly. Not around the toes, but further back.  Its improving as they (shoes or feet?)  'break in', but I do miss sandals. Just put them on and adjust to comfortable. Adjust the velcro when needed - tight or loose.

A shakedown hike is coming up to test out my gear, and my body. I've been paring my gear down to just the essentials.  Helpfully its the wet season, so plenty of water about.  I won't have to carry a solar panel for the phone charging either with all the clouds and rain.

Looking forward to it.


Australian Slang:
gutser : a bad mistake or have an accident

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A brief catchup in time (part 2)

As part of the clean up of gear, I sold my stove.  The MSR Whisperlite International is a fine stove, but it was heavier than I wanted to be carrying.  My only practical alternative was an alcohol stove.  Gas I ruled out as its only possible to get the canisters in the cities. Wood fires attract too much attention.
I used this Evernew Titanium stove with pot stand for a while, but eventually I had enough of it.  The pot stand was a bit too small for my pot, and the pot slide on it easily, meaning you held the pot a lot or risked it falling off.  When the stove was warmed up, the flames would bulge downwards and almost scorch the ground around it. It needing a flame proof base.  Even with the fuel measurements stamps on the inside, it was hard to measure a small amount into it. There is fibreglass wool between the two walls, and this soaks up the fuel. Pour a small amount in, and it all vanished into the wool - how much is there? So you add more, till there is fuel visible in the bottom. The stove has to burn out - it isn't possible to blow or snuff it out. And it always kept the smell of fuel in it.  It did cook my lunch fast though.

My new stove would solve all these problems, make my lunch and clean up too.  I started making stoves againZen stoves  has a wealth of stove types and build information,  but google found other interesting stove designs.

After a several builds of stoves like the fancy feast (see flaws of this stove), and some other variations I decided I wanted something simpler.  Stoves that needed certain sized holes punched or drilled, precision cuts, carefull press fits or gluing ended up being too fiddly. When assembled correctly, they worked well, but I wanted simple and quick to make.  I also tried home build models with fibreglass wool wicks, stainless steel mesh tops like the starlyte stoves.  These decided that I didn't like not being able to see how much fuel was in the pot, nor the left over smell of fuel after using.  This might have been better if I had found a lid I could seal the stove with like the Starlyte offers.  Lots of hunting about shops for metal tins with fitted lids. Note: the website doesn't ship internationally.

In the testing, tea candle stoves seemed promising, but never held enough fuel to fully boil 2 cups (500ml) of water. It got close, but just not enough. Eventually I hit on the red bull can stove.  Find a red bull can. Cut the bottom off 25mm (1 inch) from the bottom. Done. Stove finished.

The stove would hold enough fuel to boil 2 cups water for a few minutes. Was easy to make, easy to fill. Able to see how much fuel was left. Didn't need to be filled to the brim. Is very light. Lighter than the titanium stove!  If a red bull can can't be found, a coke can will do, but I found the red bull was easier to gauge the fuel amount when filling.  After it burns out, it cools quickly, so can be refilled for a second burn if needed.  (Two burns are needed for dry baking.)

Simmering is accomplished by a piece of aluminium foil bent over the top. Adjust as needed for the flame size.  This can also be used to snuff the flame out.

A coat hanger bent into shape is my pot stand. Easy to make, robust and non slip.

By the time I arrived at this point in my stove testing, I was over stove testing.  So even though it didn't cook lunch nor clean up, I stopped experiments.

For the record, I did try using tea candles to dry bake with, but didn't succeed. I suspect it was because I was using (claimed) 9 hour tea candles. The heat was never enough for the number of candles I could get under the pot.  All that happened was the pot was blackened with a waxy residue  and after about an hour I would end the test with raw dough.  Two burns of the red bull stove with the simmer cover is enough to bake one bread bun.

Other items that went in the gear clean up was my kitchen knife; 160 grams was too much knife. 500 grams of Useful string. You never know when you need to tie something up, or lots of somethings. But I decided I didn't need to carry quite that much weight in string.  Tent pegs were culled from 30 down to a more sensible number, though probably still to many. Battery packs from three to one. Stuff sacks had previously been breeding like rabbits - down to just a couple. Clothing - less of it, no more spares of spares.  Dropped the two snake bandages that I've carried since I started travelling.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A brief catch up in time (part 1)

More time has passed than I had thought. After the last post, 2016 can be summed up as 'lots of injuries and illnesses.'

I flew back to Sydney, with bits of my cart and stayed at a friends. Spent a lot of time waiting in doctors surgeries, taking tables, applying creams and ointments and hoping for a cure. I had a couple of skin infections from the tropics, but had three cases of bites (tick, leech, spider?)  that became swollen and infected also.  Besides losing some finger and toe nails, all turned out okay in the end.

I wasn't happy with the three wheeled pram, so had a period of building carts:

Two wheeler loaded for a trip to the op-shop.

One wheeler with practice weight

Another one wheeler.

There were many more. Some didn't get finished before it became clear the design would not work.  Most where one and two wheels.  A solitary four wheel idea never made it off paper.

Also was footwear experiments. Two of the wearable attempts:



The footwear kept me busy the longest.  Walking started out simple, but then became more complicated. What could be so hard - put shoes on and walk. Most of us have this sorted by year one.  For me, years of bicycle riding (without stretching), with a lot of pushing a heavy bicycle on cambered road edges, in sandals that were too narrow for my feet had left me with more than a few problems. 

Besides pain from my toes pressing together, my feet faced different directions - great for pushing loaded bike uphill, not so great for long distance walking. 

I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.  Loved them at first. Then they fell out of favour because they don't dry out as well as sandals. Gradually, they returned, though I change to sandals in the rain or on wet paths.  Back to being very fond of them.  Love the way your toes can spread out. I credit them for solving the toe press problems.  Standing barefeet, all my toes have a gap between them. Some smaller than others, but coming from needing to put foam spacers between some toes to sleep at night, this is a huge improvement. 

I walk barefoot more and more. I'd like to be barefoot full time, but roadside edges are not friendly places for bare feet: glass, thorns and metal fragments. I'm not willing to risk lack of mobility from injury.  Stepping on a rusty tin can, hidden in the grass is not a bare foot feeling I want to experience.

The home made footwear making started as a search for an alternative to the Vibrams, that allowed my toes to spread out more. I found it hard to find sandals that don't cramp the toes.  Making your own footwear is interesting. There is more involved in it than it appears. The experimenting  continues - my current sandal is a combination of a commercial sandal that I cut apart with a different sole I glued on.