Below is my recount of Day Two on my first 3-day solo hike in Wisons Promontory National Park. You can catch up on Day One here.
A warning that this post breaks my rule of less than 1000 words!
DAY TWO: A Hard Lesson Learned
I awoke to the unfamiliar song of a forest bird; light, flutey notes that hung thread-like in the air, coming from somewhere in the tree canopy above my tent. I had that strange sensation that comes when you’re not sure exactly where you are. Seconds went by before I placed myself, aided by the now familiar sound of waves breaking and rolling rhythmically into shore.
I had slept well enough, but woke frequently to the sound of the waves coursing in to the cove; the mountains surrounding the cove bouncing the noise back across the still night, like a giant amplifier. I pictured the waves, forming, holding, breaking, then skimming gracefully across the top of the water, to reach the shore. As I lay awake, listening, I tried to imagine if the tide had come in again, the waves so loud they sounded as though they were right outside my tent door. My breathing rose and fell, keeping time with the rise and fall of the water.
When I arose, the sun was well over the horizon, its’ early morning rays touching the exposed granitic layer of bedrock on the opposite side of the cove. The water, now a glassy, cobalt-blue, had a depth to it that I had not seen the previous afternoon. I watched, transfixed, as I followed the course of the waves, forming at the mouth of the cove as a continuous line of swell, before being pulled across the surface of the water and breaking into a tracery of white foam along the shore.
I broke camp after breakfast, reluctantly pulling myself away from the Cove’s lure, and began walking on the track to Refuge Cove. I stopped frequently, admiring the view; Bass Strait stretching out before me as a corrugated sheet of Spectrum Blue, and behind me, Sealers Cove, a gentle arc nestled at the base of the mountains, fringed with band of pure, white sand.
At Horn Point, my feet took me to the very edge of a granite platform, below which I could see the water lapping the rocks, way beneath me. I tracked inland for a while, over terraces of granitic rock, through forests thick with Mesmate and Musk Daisy-Bush, and under giant Tree-Ferns that spewed out of wet gullies where they transacted the track.
I reached Refuge Cove in need of a rest, and something to eat. Worried about my shortage of food, I ate only an Arnott’s Raspberry Shortcake biscuit, one of three that I had thrown in with the rest of my food at the last minute, for an extra treat. I had decided to save my two muesli bars for the next two lunches. Little did I know that within a few hours, they would be gone as well!
Refuge Cove was as beautiful as the last time I saw it, and deserted, allowing me to enjoy it in solitude. But, despite wanting to linger, I pushed on, as the day was already warm. The weight of my pack was bothering me, and I seemed to fiddle with the straps on it every 5 minutes, trying to get it to sit more comfortably. In truth, I knew it was more a case of it being Day 2; probably the most uncomfortable day on an extended hike. I fancied myself getting to Little Waterloo Bay, setting up camp and relaxing on the beach.
After some time, I came to a half-way point; a side-trip to Kersop Peak, a 15 minute walk up a fairly steep gradient. I dumped my pack on the track verge, face down, at the base of the peak, glad to have a breather, and began the short ascent along the track, strewn with huge granite boulders. When I reached the summit, I was surprised to find a couple already there, packs on, sitting on a rock platform. I wondered why they didn’t leave their packs behind, as I had done, but didn’t ask. I was to make my own guess, soon enough.
In the distance, at the end of the second, long, sweeping curve of the coastline, I could see the tip of the Lighthouse, at South East Point. From all four directions, I could see the waters of Bass Strait, transparent in the shallows, graduating to a deep Kingfisher Blue, sparkling like a jewel in the midday sun. I sat there awhile, on a granite boulder, warmed by the sun, drinking in the view. Captivated.
When I returned to my pack, at the base of the track, the contents of my rubbish bag lay strewn across the ground. Raven? Again! Nearby, my soap, and further away still, my rations of Lindt chocolate in a snap-lock bag that I could see had been torn. The zipper on the top compartment of my pack, where I had stashed my food, was open, about 2 inches. Lucky, I thought, I must have just got back in time, as no other food or wrappers were visible on the ground. I gathered up the bits and pieces lying around, cursed the Raven, heaved my pack onto my back, and headed down the track.
I had been walking about 20 minutes, when I realised I could smell wine. I had taken enough for a reward ‘glass’, each night, in a bladder sealed within a plastic bag, also located in the top of my pack, stuffed right at the back. A sense of dread came over me, not just because my wine was leaking out of the bladder, and into my pack, but that perhaps I was mistaken about not having lost any more of my food.
I unbuckled my pack and manoeuvred it off me, and on to the ground, opened up the zipper of the top compartment, and did a thorough check. My wine bladder was indeed punctured, but redeemable. More serious though, was the fact that my food HAD gone; my noodles for tea, my muesli bars for lunches, my barley sugar for energy, and my emergency couscous. All gone!
It was only midday, on the second day of my 3 day hike, and all I had left to eat was 2 squares of semi-melted Lindt chocolate, 1 Raspberry Shortcake and 1 sachet of porridge. I could wash it down with a cup of tea, and a cappuccino, but in a nutshell, that was it. Oh, and I also had what was left of my wine. I stood there, a rising sense of panic washing over me.
I decided to retrace my steps, back to where the Raven had managed to open my pack zipper, in the hope that I might have overlooked a packet of noodles, or a muesli bar lying on the track, or in the bushes nearby. I put my remaining edibles into the centre compartment of my pack, and left it there, propped up against the base of a tree, on the track verge.
40 minutes later, I was no better off. There was no trace of any food at the scene of the crime; no wrappers, no scraps, nothing. A little despondent, I hoisted my pack on, clicking the buckles in place, and adjusting the straps. As I walked, I thought about how I would manage, lugging 18 kilos on my back, in very warm weather, with very little in the way of food to sustain me. My biggest concern was my blood-sugar level dropping; being mildly hypoglycaemic, I can tend to get a little shaky if my diet isn’t right.
I walked, for what seemed like a very long time, but was in fact probably only about one and a half hours, and all the while I was thinking about when I should eat my Raspberry Shortcake. I tried not to let the food issue get to me, but nothing escalates a sense of hunger like the knowledge that you hardly have anything to eat. I forced myself to concentrate on the amazing scenery instead.
When I finally emerged from the forest and stepped on to the sand, sunlight struck the white surface with such intensity that I had to partially shut my eyes until they adjusted to the glare. Aquamarine water, transparent, glassy and as near perfect as you could imagine, tickled the shore in wavy, scalloped lines like the ruffle of a petticoat.
I had arrived at Little Waterloo Bay. I unbuckled my pack and let it slide to the ground in one swift, fluid movement. Within 30 seconds, I found, and ate my Raspberry Shortcake, immediately wanting more. Then I set up camp on a flat, open, semi-circle of ground where Tree Ferns and Lily Pilys encircled me, creating a giant fairy-ring.
When I mustered some energy, I went down to the beach and sat on the pristine, white sand, feeling the sun on my back, dissolving my aches and pains as though I was wearing a heat-pack. I nestled my feet snugly in the sand, feeling the grains, soft and powdery, as they found their way between my toes. I watched a lone gull, drifting effortlessly in a thermal air current, its’ white body mass in stark contrast to the green of the mountains behind it.
I stayed on the beach for an hour or more, until the sun began to slink behind the tree-line, its warmth dissolving, leaving me with goose-bumps on my arms and legs. When I returned to camp, I saw that my home had been invaded by a large group of school kids, their tents popping up like mushrooms, way too close to mine. I got out my piece of chocolate and nibbled on it slowly, all the while inhaling the smell of dinner cooking, nearby, as it wafted on the breeze. Oh well, I thought, at least if I began to deteriorate from the early signs of starvation, there were plenty of people nearby to get some emergency rations from.
I washed my feet in a saucepan of water from the creek, quickly filling it with dirt and grime from my bare-foot wanderings around the camp. I dried my feet, then put on a fresh pair of socks, my feet melting into the softness after a hard day of walking and being scoured by the sand.
As the light began to leach from the sky, I poured my ‘glass’ of wine, sipping it slowly, while I sat on a log, watching darkness arrive in the forest, slinking in to the space between the tree trunks. Chatter filled the air from the camp next door, the voices sounding loud, and distracting, in the same way as people talking too loudly in a library.
A cool change was moving in, so I dressed more warmly then made my way down to the beach once more, where thick, horizontal bands of grey cloud were rolling in fast, behind me from the west. They raced by over my head, as though being pulled along on a drawstring, then suddenly out toward the horizon they came almost to a standstill, before bunching up, concertina-like, as though in some kind of traffic-jam.
I walked southward along the firmly-packed sand, heading for a cluster of granite boulders that marked the end of beach, and the start of the untamed section of the bay. The sand glowed ash-white in the fading light, and rain drops began to fall in a determined steadiness. I sought shelter beneath a huge granite slab, resting on a 45 degree angle, between two vertical boulders rising out of the sand, to form a 3-sided cave, of sorts.
I squatted in my cave and watched, through a triangular, window-like gap on the eastern side, as the rain fell onto the water, blurring the horizontal line that delineated sky from sea, until the two merged together into a misty haze. Tones of grey merged together also, the sea, a moving mass of dull gunmetal-grey, mirrored the billowing cushions of dark-grey cloud above.
I was dry inside my cave, but raindrops pinged onto the granite boulders beside me, coating them with a moving, glossy sheen, and sending up small drifts of spray that merged with the salty air. I could smell the freshness of summer rain as the fine mist clung to my hair, and taste the salt, straight off the ocean, as I ran my tongue over my lips.
From time to time, I stuck my head out of the cave and looked back along the beach, where sheets of rain were blowing across the open water and onto the shore, like thick, gauzy curtains. There was wildness here, in my primal, cave-like abode, and out on the water, where the waves were chopping and foaming, and beyond all that, where the air currents rode rough-shod over the deep, darkened waters of Bass Strait.
I felt excited to be here, and almost rebellious. This place had turned wild; no longer resembling the postcard-perfect image I had seen for the last two days. This was now a place, and a time, that answered my call to experience the wild. This was the reason I came here. Alone. Not just to see a perfect landscape and feel comfortable in it, but to feel, smell, taste, and touch, the individual components and processes that make up the wild. This was what it was all about; how it felt, to be alone, in the wild.