The Way South.
Running the Heysen trail end to end solo and self supported.
This text is not intended as a guide. Nor is it an exhaustive record of my travels. It is simply a recollection of my time on the Heysen Trail. A meandering testament of my experiences. For those wishing to gain greater insight into the logistics of solo running this great Southern trail, or would like further knowledge of the locations the trail passes through, such material exists and is readily available. Let me not ruin your own journey of discovery in planning your own adventure.
I recommend the official guidebooks and website as a great place to begin. Feel free to contact me if you would like to know anything specific about running and fast hiking the Heysen.
Why run the Heysen trail? Why do it alone and self-supported? 1200ks in three weeks. I wasn’t going for the fastest known time, more determined people before me had already made that a challenge I was not ready for, David Turnbull (DT) who had been invaluable in organizing this adventure held the record at 13 days 16 hours and 16 minutes. I wasn’t doing it to escape the evils of society or demons within myself, as is perhaps the cliché of those who go bush.
Nor was I doing it for the challenge. Maybe I was deceiving myself but I did not even see the physical aspect of what I had planned as challenging at all, I had done the training the rest would be easy, right?
Sure I was running the Heysen Trail in part to raise funds for charity, but I would be lying if I said that was the sole motivation.
To run through the boundless beauty of nature.
The simplicity and truth of doing nothing more than follow a trail.
To move. To act. To be.
Not as separate from nature, but part of it.
In the embrace of the divine feminine.
The closest thing there is to the source of all things.
The physical embodiment of the Way.
That is why I ran the Heysen Trail. That is why I will run forever.
Thank you, I love you all.
Day 1 and 2 – Do Nothing Foolish.
Wilpena Pound to Parachilna Gorge.
“If you want to be given everything. Give everything up.”
-The Tao Te Ching
This had been a long time coming. The frustrations of sitting behind a desk, head buried in code had began to suffocate me. Morning runs and weekend excursions into our dwindling green spaces was not enough any more. I had secured my removal from my old life I escaped with very little to my name. No house, no car, no partner, dog or television.
The genesis of this adventure began with a commitment to run five thousand kilometres in a year to raise money and awareness for the Orangutan Foundation International Australia. After having a less than perfect race at the Alpine 100 due to stomach issues (a reoccurring theme as you will see) I decided to take some time off from competition and use my endurance for something meaningful. I began running with my mascot, a plush orangutan I named Durian and posted pictures online of our shenanigans. Having accumulated a couple of thousand kilometres in a few months I decided to make my target a little more interesting. I would cap off my 5000km goal by running the length of the Heysen Trail with Durian strapped to my pack.
My plan was to run the Heysen Trail in three weeks. North to South, starting at Parachilna Gorge and Ending at Cape Jarvis. I would run with my camping gear to campsites and huts along the trail but also use accommodation when required. Around 1200ks in total, averaging 60ks a day.
I would run as much as possible then power hike the rest. In training I had been running around 20ks every day and walking up to another 20ks most days, in addition I was also doing long runs up to around 70ks on the weekends.
Physically I was confident in my abilities, so much so I intended to kick start my through-hike with a 100mile ultra marathon. The Hubert 100 would include the fist portion of the Heysen Trail (but in reverse from the rest of the journey), I would then continue self supported the rest of the way.
Being so focused on the Heysen end to end adventure I was going into the race about as calm as I had been for any race before. Having placed fourth overall last year, I intended to make a solid effort on familiar ground. Most of all I simply wanted to enjoy my time out on the course, and jump start my journey.
The Ikari-Flinders Ranges has always seemed to be such a spiritually significant place to me. Even as a ‘white fella’ there is something beyond profound that overcomes you when looking over the vastness of the landscape out there.
The Human Race
Waking up relaxed and lining up with the other miler racers, I was already looking forward to trails beyond competition. My hiker-head had already been switched on.
Starting out at the front of the pack I feet good if not a little ‘loose’. However, I was soon giving myself mental ‘pep talks’ around the 40k mark.
I had already told myself beforehand that this would be my final race for the year or perhaps even longer, having increasingly grown less and less interested in trail running as competition. I tried to use this “One last time” mentality as fuel to motivate more effort out of my body, as I did not feel as fresh from the taper as I felt I should have.
“Make it to nightfall then power-hike through if you need…”
“This is your final race, push it harder than ever…”
Concluding I was low on calories, I filled myself with gels and sugary drink. This is not something I usually train with and it broke the golden rule of not doing anything new in a race, or to put it another way “Do Nothing Foolish”.
This may have been my big mistake as the stomach cramps soon began. Stomach issues are a common occurrence for me in races and I had always thought it was psychological, but my nerves and attitude were calm and collected. Sometimes its not in your head, its in your stomach.
As the k’s slowly ticked away and the pack thinned out I spent some solitary hours trying to trouble shoot my body. I was drinking, but I was still thirsty. It’s warm but not that hot. Did I go out too fast? Was it that the few near falls had jolting my stomach?
The stomach cramps made running near impossible so I decided just to power hike consistently until my body decided to play nice. After another hour or so of very little food and water I was offered a ‘coke’. Having not had a sip of the black stuff since I was a kid I at first declined, then feeling like I had nothing left to lose I thought ‘Fuck it’ lets see what happens.
What happens was nothing good. I was so preoccupied with forcing my stomach to behave I missed a checkpoint. By the time I had realised, it was too late to turn around. Having just added extra distance to the miler, it was at this point I thought the race was over. As night was falling, I realised I was out of water and had about 8ks until the next aid station. Luckily I was rescued by other runners who filled my bottle after inquiring with the shambling heap that I was.
The next hour or so slugging it to the checkpoint was the hardest time I have had in any race. My stomach was so painful that I had to lean against trees and sit on rocks just to let it settle. Eventually I found myself laying flat on my back.
The strangest thing of all. I was not worried about the race. I had not the slightest ounce of disappointment in my mind, no regret in my heart. All I could think about as I lay there was how beautiful the stars were.
Not long after that, the contents of my gut were sprayed all over the trail, a horror show illuminated by my headlamp. I felt great for all of the next five minutes.
Dragging myself into the aid station. I made directly for the camping chair in front of the fire. Big mistake. I never stop at aid stations let alone sit down; I never like to lose momentum.
I ran through my options, but it was pretty clear by this point I was not going to finish the race. If I make it to next aid station I would have completed the first portion of the Heysen Trail, that all I really cared about at this point. This way I would not unnecessarily destroy myself right before running the rest of the trail.
I peeled myself away from the warmth of the fire sheepishly farewelled the friendly volunteers and sunk into the darkness of the trail. What a difference from last year. I remember flying through the night as if possessed, in a dream like flow. This is why we find this sport so intoxicating. Much like nature herself (and sometimes because of Her directly) ultra running is often unpredictable and unforgiving. As someone who trains more than the average person on the trail, I know it ensures nothing on the day. However all that said, as I was now completely resigned from competition for a while I was looking forward to having a break from the worry and complications of racing.
Racing can bring out the best in you but can also bring out the worst.
The shared experience. The melding of spirit. The expression of something primal. The reincarnation of the tribe mind.
These are all things I love about running with others, but for now I ached for solitude and solidarity in the sanctuary of the Mother.
Eventually I made it to the Parachilna Gorge checkpoint and quickly informed the volunteers of my DNF status. I was however stuck here until morning, so the next seven hours or so were spent fueling a campfire and talking, while ushering in a couple of runners behind me.
In the morning I got a lift back to the Wilpena Pound Resort and what was left of the day was spent catching up on sleep and organising my gear, occasionally walking past the finish line. The worst part of DNFing is explaining yourself to other inquiring runners. I respectfully kept my distance from those who went the distance and who were celebrating their victories and soothing their bodies.
No, It was not the best start to the Heysen Trail but it was a start. There was no stopping me now.
Day 3 – How far are you going?
Wilpena Pound to Hawker
“The largest tree grows from a tiny seedling”
-The Tao Te Ching
I made an early start after double checking my pack and supplies. I made a last minute decision to leave my water bladder to use my small marathon hydration vest as ‘front pack’ for easy access to extra food and devices, something that turned out to be invaluable on the trail. I was at first surprised at how heavy my legs felt, after all I had only ran half the hundred mile distance the day before and assumed I should feel fresh as a daisy. I took it easy initially as the loaded pack made running more of a speed shuffle.
In the darkness and silence of pre-dawn, I thought about the journey ahead. This would be my job, my duty, my being for the next three weeks. To wake and to follow the trail. Pure simplicity. Pure joy.
The sun began to rise as I made my ascent out of the Pound. I was greeted with views of the Flinders Rangers lit by the waking sun, the beautiful sight evaporating any thought of my less than perfect start on the trail. Now THIS felt like the proper start to my Heysen adventure.
After scaling down the other side of the Pound I come across a group of hikers and a guide. It’s amazing how seeing other people on the trail fills you with energy you previously did not have. I made sure to run strong and to display a smile on my face as I pass them, saying aloud “Good Morning!’”
“How far are you going?” One of them asks.
“The whole way!” I say, not slowing my pace.
“Good work!” They respond
“Do you need sponsorship?”
Maybe I should have stopped for that one.
Sparse native woodland eventually gave way to dry creek bed, the waterway some hundreds of meters across at points. Emus scatter in the distance as I traverse the sandy floor, occasionally checking my GPS map to reconfirm I am heading in the right direction.
Eventually I make it to my first main shelter, Mayo Hut. I don’t stay long but I use the toilet and make sure to sign the logbook.
The trail then continues to follow the creek. There is the occasional oasis along the way, small bodies of water patronised by ‘roos, goats and sheep. Having had a recent downpour the denizens of the desert were making the most of the moisture before the thirsty earth absorbed every last drop.
I scatter herds of sheep as I skirt the creek, walking instead on the dry red earth on its sides.
Soon enough I make it to the main road heading into Hawker and my energy returns as the days end is in sight. It’s amazing how dependent on the mind your physical ability can be, I can’t recall a time when I had not been able to race into a finish line, even in a 100k or 100mile race.
I unintentionally chase emus into town. Australian animals have seemingly not yet worked out how barbwire fences work. The prehistoric birds periodically ram their bodies against the fence line, a tangled mass of legs and feathers bouncing back.
I make it to the first accommodation I encounter and check for availability. I have not booked most of my accommodation stops on account of not knowing exactly where I will be day to day, leaving the possibility open for camping or ‘hutting’.
The Hawker motor inn seems nice enough and the price is right. I drop my gear and grab some dinner and supplies at the service station. A can of beans and instant rice washed down with a Coopers Sparkling, the food of Kings.
Looking at my shoes, I knew they would not last the rest of the trail. I had decided to start the journey with a well broken-in pair of Topo Athletic MT’s which had served me great but had well over a 1000ks on them in addition to taking a hit in the race. I intended to swap shoes once further down south but at this rate I wasn’t sure if they would last to the end of the week. I made a call to my mate Scott and get him to send them to the next town with a post office that is affordable enough to send to, which turns out is Wilmington, a few days away. Hopefully they last that long. Humans are pathetic aren’t we? We can run for hundreds of ks but only provided we have rubber strapped to our soles.
Day 4 – Travelling Light.
Hawker to Mt Arden South Camp Site
“So, we are told, the New Hollander goes naked with impunity, while the European shivers in his clothes”
-Walden, Henry David Thoreau
I laced up early for a 65k day. Knowing that I would be camping tonight I wanted to get to my destination early enough to set up for the night. The day began with a slow ascent on country road to the top of the range before following single track through scrub and farmland.
The temperature began to rise with the sun and the flat dry earth radiated the heat up at me. Having ditched my water bladder I only had three bottles on me for hydration equating to around three liters of water. This is fine for the Heysen at my pace, just as long as I fill up at every water tank, and there were no guarantees that the water would be potable or even there.
I covered my face and arms with my buffs/bandannas as I was rapidly running out of sunscreen. Today would be a lesson in ‘always take more than you need’ as I was soon running out of water as well. I knew the next water tank was close, but after a few rocky ridge traversals with no water stop I was thinking I had missed it. The ‘life straw’ used on a puddle of rain water was looking like a possibility. I made it to the tank eventually, only a little parched, enjoying pouring the water over my head, before slicing open my tube of sunscreen with my pocketknife making sure to get every last drop.
A long dirt access track led to Buckaringa Gorge, with distinctive rock faces and Yellow Footed Rock Wallabies bounding up shear cliffs. A long winding upward climb up a dry creek bed, continuing on to rolling hills that find Mt Arden’s summit.
On the way I find a half dressed couple who had set up camp three quarters of the way up Mt Arden who greeted me for a chat. They had met a hiker I shared the bus up to Wilpena Pound with. He was completing the Heysen in sections and had told them of my solo end-to-end run. Words travel far, even on the road less traveled. I continued to Mt Arden weather station and down the other side of the mountain as the sun was falling, making it to the campsite just before the days end.
Quickly putting on my thermals and hastily starting a fire with what kindling I could find around the shelter with a few unneeded pages from my notebook. The temperature dropped quickly as I sat eating my dinner, a single cliff bar. I had failed to sufficiently restock the day before. All I had remaining was two servings of Tailwind (a carbohydrate powder 200 calories per packet and I would be burning around 4000 to 6000 calories a day) to get me through the entire day tomorrow. I was far too tired to be hungry however and I quickly set up my bedding on the sloping camp ground.
Packing as light as possible afforded me a half-length inflatable bedroll, a sleeping bag and a bivi sack (a type of emergency super-light swag). I had been sleeping on an off on the bedroll before this adventure but I had not slept ‘cowboy’ (without a tent) leading up to now. This was my big mistake. I knew I was a ‘bit soft’ for roughing it but I maybe I had believed everyone when they said “you will be so tired you could sleep on anything!”.
Little did I know I would be “so cold I could not sleep at all”. When buying my gear, I was most concerned with weight; I wanted everything to be as light as possible in order to get as many running ks in as I could each day. When it came to the sleeping bag, I should have traded half a kg for some more insulation.
As the night continued I found that even thermals, sleeping bag, bivi sack and fire were not enough to keep me warm.
I was restless all night, creeping closer and closer towards the fire, my feet felt like blocks of ice. I think I passed out momentarily but the whole night consisted of refueling the fire and watching its glow dwindle through the synthetic fabric of the bivi sack.
I was considering running through the night as sleep seemed futile, but the thought of packing up all my gear in the freezing inky darkness did not appeal to me at all. When my alarm eventually sounded it was a relief, I had no sleep but at least soon I would be warm.
Day 5 – Walkers Follow Fence line.
Mt Arden South Campsite to Quorn
“Activity counters cold. Tranquility count-ers heat.”
-The Tao Te Ching
I was on a mission. To get to a bed and to get to some food. I was tired and hungry but I knew by the end of the day I would reach Quorn, which meant accommodation and a supermarket. So I powered on.
Running in thermals seems like a good idea until the sun comes up. Then you have to perform a costume change on the trail, taking off your shoes and two packs full of gear. I would find that when hiking and running it is best to persevere through temporary cold rather than stop along the trail.
I ate nothing for the first few hours, not only because my supplies were dwindling, but because this was always my intention. I usually trained on an empty stomach. 20ks of running, then 10ks of walking before having breakfast. When I broke the fast on this day it was one packet of Trailwind. Usually meant to be mixed with water I though it might seem more like food if I just poured the powder into my mouth, it was like being a kid again, eating sherbet from the packet. In addition to my food I also had caffeine pills to get me through the day, I am a coffee addict and I knew fastpacking with any kind of coffee making mechanism would be too cumbersome and I was not going to have caffeine withdrawals on the trail. Today I ran and hiked around 60ks on 400 calories and 600mg of caffeine and my shear need to get some sleep.
More dry creek way flowed onto goat-trodden access road then very rocky flat grazing land.
Giant wedge tailed eagles fly overhead, circling like proverbial vultures waiting for a lame animal to collapse.
My mind wanders on these long stretches. Flights of fancy but also mundane calculations. What will my training look like when I return? Existential ponderings also float to the surface. What do I want to do with my life after this? Does there have to be an AFTER THIS? Can’t I just do this forever? As I stride along the red earth with my tracking poles, I imagine a creature evolved to hike. Mantis like limbs a carapace storage pouch on its back.
The day goes by in a blur. Its hot, I’m hungry and beyond tired. I make it to the turnoff to the alternate route to accommodation. I shuffle along the bitumen road. I can feel my calf muscles being cooked by the sun. I’m baking and it’s getting late.
I resolve to hitchhike, but as of yet there have not been any cars on this country road. Eventually one passes, I hail it and it stops. Wow, first time I’ve done that!
While I feel slightly reluctant to have hitched the remaining 1 or 2 ks I’m glad I did. Turns out my saviours are ex tour guides for Heysen hikers, They talk to the staff at my intended accommodation and somehow I magically get an upgrade.
Double bed. Facing showers. Bar-fridge and kitchenette. What a difference from last night. Hikers and trail-runners have an amazing ability to make a mess of even the nicest room however and it quickly looks like a footy locker room. I quickly stock up on supplies and grab some dinner. Only to make another trip back to the shop, just to be sure I have enough food for tomorrows journey.
Day 6 – The wind.
Quorn to Wilmington
“The tree that survives the storm is the one that bends in the wind”
– The Tao Te Ching
I awoke and collected my still damp hand washed clothes and inspected my rapidly collapsing Topos, before hastily wrapping them in red duct tape.
The roads were wet and a light drizzle illuminated by my headlamp. After finding the trail the next few ks before the sun awoke were dream like. Even though I was caught up from the sleepless night at Mt Arden, there is something surreal about the early miles in darkness. As if you are still there in bed, not truly aware of the body’s struggle as the mind is still awakening.
The trail began with muddy paddocks along the Pitchi Ritchi Railway. Although the weather was not perfect the straightforward path afforded me some quick distance despite my pack being stocked with food. I climb over multiple gates and fences. A sign exclaims “Bull Camel on Property”, I hope that is a joke.
The trail then ascents above the rail-line towards Mt Brown. The track dissolves and the trail markers suggest “Walkers Follow Ridgeline” which is slow going in the densely packed native grasses and rocky footing. The tape had begun to peel off my shoes so I remove it all, so much for that. The shoes only have to last another day but now they have rubber flapping around like dead skin.
The rain intensifies and I slip on my emergency poncho that almost immediately tears in various places, the cost of running light or at least being too cheap to buy a proper rain jacket.
The views from Mt Brown are non-existent in the weather, but the trail is glorious. Single track set among native scrub, then transitioning to rolling farmland. The farmland rolls and rolls and rolls. I stop momentarily to tear off my poncho that has been shredded into a cellophane cape by the increasing wind.
As I get higher, the views become spectacular, breathtaking. My taken breath soon replaced by a fierce wind like that I have never experienced. My curses and manic, incredulous cackling being drowned out by the violent squall.
The farmland continues to trundle and I try my best not to be blown into the barbed wire fence, which I was commanded to follow.
The wind was relentless. The hills were endless. With every climb came more to surmount. There was no shelter no relief, so charging through was all there was to do.
Eventually the trail ventures down into the shelter of a valley. The path following the road line. Man, am I happy to see the road. I am even happier to be out of the wind. Wow, that was tough.
I run into town to try to find accommodation and my new shoes.
My first stop is the post office. My new shoes were supposedly waiting for me in a crate outside for after hours delivery. They are not there and I begin to panic. I check the time. 5pm. The post office is still open and my shoes are waiting inside. Saved.
I inquire about accommodation. The pub has closed down so my only option the caravan park a few Ks down the road. I run there, new shoes under my arm.
The caravan park manager calls me all the variations of crazy when he discovers what I’m doing before giving me my cabin key. I shower and eat a can of beans and what ever else that is non animal based to be found in the service station down the road. The clerks argue with each other about a miscalculation or something, I wait patiently with a smile.
Day 7 – Leaving doubt on the trail.
Wilmington to Melrose
“Shape clay into a vessel, it is the space inside that makes it useful”
-The Tao Te Ching
Today is to be an easy day. Only 30 odd ks to Melrose. Basically a rest day!
I exchange my old lightweight Topo MTs for a fresh pair of sturdy and waterproof Topo Hydroventures. I give the old shoes a ceremonial burial in the rubbish bin of the caravan park toilet. I feel they deserve more after what they are been through. Rest in piece my friends.
Until now I have been gritting my teeth through the first few ks of every morning ,as my little toe and the next one over had been rubbing together, continuing to remove the skin between. I had begun individually taping my toes which had helped somewhat. However now, with a fresh pair of shoes, especially waterproof shoes that where less flexible, the pain became something else.
Running did not feel good. Hiking was not much better. So the first hour began as a wince inducing shuffle. Either the shoes eventually loosened up, or my body gave in, after 5 to 10ks the pain subsided enough to run and hike without busting out in profanities.
Bitumen became access road, then beautiful single track, then green farmland dotted with native trees and populated by mobs of kangaroos. The sun rose and adorned the verdant green with a necklace of gold.
This was some of the most beautiful trail and scenery thus far, it was a glorious day and with only 30ks of hiking it should have been a cruise. The exterior world belied my mood. If it was the extra pain I was experiencing or simply the struggle of the past few days I did not know, but I was in a dark place. Everything seemed to annoy me, my hair being caught on my water bottles, the straps of my second pack digging into my back, my poles collapsing by accident. I began cursing everything.
At times I personified the Heysen Trail as a being, maybe not a person but a deity. When they demanded me to follow the fence line, into a gully when clearly there was a more direct route I demanded to know “Why Heysen why?”
Jordan, you’re talking to trail markers, good thing no one is around.
As the trail begins to climb up Mt Remarkable I have to give myself a motivational speech to prepare for the worst as my legs struggled up the slope.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself, you’re hiking, you’re not fighting a war. Sure you ARE struggling ,but think of the struggle your parents went through in their lives just to raise three kids. Think of your sister working as a nurse in a cardiac ward, doing something that really matters. Think of the bed bound souls trapped in their bodies, staring up at the ceiling of a hospital. Meanwhile you re out here. In the glory of the wilderness. All you have to do is follow a path? Suck it up”
I promise my self that the darkest part of me, that part that doubts all that I can be, the compulsive, irrational part of me, the doubtful part. I promise to leave him on that mountain.
Then I am greeted with the view from Mt Remarkable. This is what matters. This is why you do what you do. Hard dance music is switched on to remove the neurotic party guests in my head. Empty the vessel.
I pass hikers climbing the other side of the mountain and I am filled with a burst of energy and motivation as if a weight has been lifted from me. I run down Mt remarkable skipping over rocks and leaning into the turns of the single track. I remember what it is to love the trail once more. To love giving in and moving as freely as falling water.
I check into accommodation and grab supplies. I call my family and end the day feeling renewed.
Day 8 – Potatoes and Dried Apricots.
Melrose to Taralee Orchards
He is not a monk just because he lives on others’ alms. Not by adopting outward form does one become a true monk.
– The Dhammapada
The day began with long flat country roads that should have been easy running, however I did not feel I could muster much more than a power hike. That was until a fellow Strava runner met me about 20ks in. We ran and chatted for 5ks or so before he departed for his Son’s footy game. I was left with motivation and momentum that carried me through the day. The dirt road ventured into pine plantation and rocky access track skirted by scrub. As the trail raised, the views of Pt Pire, Pt Augusta and the St Vincent Gulf presented revealed themselves. Spectacular.
Tonight I would venture onto an alternate route to get to accommodation for the night, initially I had intended to sleep under one of the shelters but after Mt Arden I did not want to risk another sleepless night. So from now on it would be huts and accommodation unless I had to make an emergency camp for the night.
I would be staying at a working fruit farm, Taralee Orchards. I arrived and cleaned up as best I could, I scoffed what remained of my trail mix and realised I had once again ran out of food. I was eating far more than I intended on the trail. With supply stops few and far between coupled with reluctance to over pack to stay light on my feet, keeping enough food on me was tough.
I had to politely beg for food from my host ensuring them I would gladly pay for it. She had already began offering me meat that was marinating in the fridge before I added that that I was vegan, complicating things slightly.
My host produced a big tub of produce from her garden, greens and veggies with slices of grainy bread with non-dairy spread in addition to a handful of potatoes. Supplemental to dinner I received a half-kilo ‘reject’ dried apricots from her orchard. What continued was a glorious feast that did not seem to hit the sides. I had been saved.
Day 9 – On Boredom.
Taralie Orchard to Crystal Brook
“I alone drift about, like someone without a home. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty”
-The Tao Te Ching
The day began with a slow climb up concrete access road back to the main Heysen trail route. The spectacular views greeted me again before the path descended onto long stretches of country road surrounded by grazing land.
When you are struggling on tough climbs or rocky roads you want nothing more than flat, straight roads. But when presented with that exact thing you lust for something interesting. Such is the dilemma of human existence, to want for that which we do not possess. Perhaps lack of contentment is a good thing, it pushes you to strive for more.
This was the first section of the trail when I felt bored. The agriculture ravaged landscape viewed from bitumen and hard packed dirt road. It seems more like a connection between trails than a proper hike itself.
At times like this when I feel the grind of mundane repetition creep in, I remind myself that boredom is an intrusive force. It is not the lack of stimulus, it is an unwanted nagging invasive state of mind. And just with any other anxiety or worry it can be eliminated. How can I be bored when I have no mind? I spend the following hours in and out of meditation. Becoming thoughtless, dissolving feelings that may drag me down. Light mind, light body.
I arrive in Crystal Brook and book into the hotel, downing a beer fast enough to make the locals comment on my tremendous thirst. The couple that run the pub continue to quarrel and I try to make lighthearted chit chat to brighten the mood.
I raid the local supermarket for supplies, assuring myself once again I will not run out this time. Trail mix and a box of muesli bars should get to Spalding at least.
Day 11 – The Bad Vegan.
Crystal Brook to Spalding
“The world is a sacred vessel. You can’t improve it. Act on it to improve it and you ruin it. Try to control it and you come to ruin.”
-The Tao Te Ching
Up until now I had been running and hiking through the first 10 to 20ks before eating in the morning, this was intended to save time and to replicate my training as I always usually run on an empty stomach on anything less than 30 ks or so. However my stomach told me that his would not cut it, hiker hunger had certainly set in. This, in addition to the fact that breakfast was included in my stay at the pub. This would begin my ritual of morning gorging on the Heysen Trail.
I awoke at 300am able to sleep and decided to get an early start as it was to be a long 75k run/hike into Spalding. I made a mess of a bowl of cereal and at least one peanut butter and jam sandwich and two or more coffees before setting of before 4am.
After the skinless toe shuffle was over I made decent speed over farmer’s land and country road, deciding to cut through one paddock to avoid a meandering fence line. The threat of an angry farmer looming as I pushed myself to power on up and the over hills.
The trail then began to follow an old concrete water channel before meeting the road. I made the best effort to run into town before the shop closed. As I arrived in town, a farmer greeted me with a young lamb in his arms. He let it down and it pranced happily about and nibbled on my shoelaces as we talked.
He mentioned that there was a local boy who was also solo hiking the entirety of the Heysen trail from the opposite end and that I might pass him on my way. The farmer also informed me that the shop was closed for the day.
I made it to the pub and secured a room for the night. I had no food for dinner and very little for the day ahead, how am I eating so much?!
I asked about a counter meal and Geoff , the owner began to offer me a meat filled pasta dish before I apologetically announced my veganism. He then proposed a noodles meant for his own dinner, that I was assured was vegetarian as the meat was cooked separately. He would even bulk up the meal with added potatoes. Saved again.
After a beer or two he presented the promised dish. Vermicelli noodles with potatoes…topped with Parmesan cheese. I paused, but only momentarily. Was I really going to reject the food because it had dairy on it? The damage had already been done I might as well eat it in honour of the cows that had to suffer, right?
The cheesy potatoes were scoffed with only a little regret. Time to hand in my vegan card. Is this tofu in the noodles? No, it was chicken. This was a step further than I was willing to take. However my hunger forced me to eat around the white flesh. Seeing the remains of the dead bird on my plate, he apologised to me but I would not hear any of it. I was a bad vegan.
That was diner sorted, however I had barely enough for the day ahead and the shop would not open until 7am. I knew that the next stop was a hut and may not even have a supply stop in between. There was a shop at Hallet but even the locals did not know if it would be open or not. After a packet of salty nuts I went to bed, still not sure to what I would do in the morning.
Day 12 – The Late Start.
Spalding to Hallet Railway Station
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.”
-The Tao Te Ching
I decided to play it smart and wait for the shop to open at 7am to resupply for the next two days. This was at least an hour or two later than my usual starts but may save me a few hungry days. I made sure to stock up as much as I could, a jar of peanut butter, dry biscuits, trail mix and instant rice along with mini gobstoppers to keep me going between real food. Maybe I over did it as my pack was bursting with bananas sticking out the back pockets. I even had an espresso coffee to start my day. Running was near impossible anyway with the extra food so I walked and enjoyed my hot brewed treat.
I hit my stride on green hills peppered with rocky outcrops that overlooked the distant wind farms. An ATV followed me the rider eventually asking me “are you right?”. Wondering why someone would be hiking so furiously out here, I educated him on the famous trail that reside along his property.
I made it to Hallet as the sun was setting, a rider of the Mawson trail informed me that the shop was closed. I should be fine I have plenty of food. Initially I had intended to make it to Old Mt Bryan East School Hut but having had a late start I instead decided to stay at the Hallet Railway Station Hut.
The rain began as I reached the hut and I was happy with my decision to stay in Hallet for the night, I was slightly less happy when I got the combination lock open (the number I was on the Heysen website and I had made sure to copy it on my Heysen trail notes) as the combustion heater had been removed for repairs.
I quickly set up my bedding on the wooden platform before night fell, thankfully there was a dusty blanket and foam mattress to add to my lightweight gear.
I sat and ate rice and peanut butter for dinner and placed trail mix and biscuits covered in peanut butter into individual zip lock bags for the day ahead.
I feared another sleepless, cold night but I found that the train station was warm enough that I need to remove my thermals during the night.
I ran over the day ahead as I lay there, cocooned in my sleeping bag. I had been warned about how tough the next section was by DT, couple with that the fact that I was 15ks behind where I had intended to be.
I fell asleep with the thought “Tomorrow will be the hardest day of your life” echoing in my head.
Day 13 – Today will be the hardest day of your life.
Hallet Railway Station to Burra.
“If I had just the smallest speck of wisdom, I could walk on the Great Way, and the only fear I would have would be of going astray.”
– The Tao Te Ching
I got up at 3am. I knew I had a long way to go, the longest day yet. I knew it would be tough, though besides the distance I wasn’t sure exactly why. DT was a serious athlete, he had completed the entirety of the Heysen in under 14 days and his notes on this section read “The hardest day yet…”
I prepared myself for the worst.
After a peanut butter breakfast I set off.
Immediately something felt off. Besides the now mundane acute pain from my raw little toes my right ankle felt very ‘floaty’. Not exactly painful, just not as strong as it should. The climb up Mt Bryan soon distracted me from my ankle, as a dense fog restricted visibility only a few metres ahead. I was just barley able to make out the reflective markers in the gloom, illuminated in my headlamp along with the eye shine of the sheep.
I lost the trail on the top of Mt Bryan. I could barley see the massive radio tower in front of my face, let alone the Heysen Trail markers. Eventually I found the path down and the fog began to lift.
I was back onto country road before entering the scrubby valley and dry creek bed of Caroona Creek. The sun began to heat the red earth. My footfalls echoed along the harsh yet beautiful stonewalls of the creek. Dusty single track continued as I unintentionally herded feral goats along the trail. Newborn kids getting separated from their mothers, momentarily following me instead.
The trail then opened to flat, dry scrubland that seemed to stretch to the horizon. Not since the Ikari Flinder-rangers had I felt so isolated, so alone. Soon after this is when I both lost the trail and phone and Internet reception. My GPS map was not updating and I was too far along to backtrack to the last Heysen marker.
I was slightly worried at this point. Climbing the tallest rocky crag, I was determined to find some semblance of the trail. I could not see anything besides distant dirt roads. I headed in the general direction of the trail the last time I was on it and hoped for the best. I constantly checked my phone, hoping for my position to miraculously refresh.
All the worst-case scenarios ran through my head as I wandered towards a dirt road, the only real landmark I could see. A flash of the Heysen marker filled me with joy as I found the trail as it sidled a dirt road. Keep to the trail Jordan. How much time had I lost?
My phone has almost out of battery and it was cutting in and out of service. The day was already long, so I decided to attempt to send a message to my sister asking her to book accommodation for me in Burra. I was concerned this would worry her unnecessarily but at this stage I had no idea how late I as going come into town.
As the sun began to lower the trail began to rise. Flat scrub became rolling farmland. More rolling hills! The ankle that was swimming in the morning was now drowning.
“I told you this would be the hardest day of your life” I said to my self.
I grasped for inspiration.
I talked to myself. I gave myself motivational speech about being and purpose.
I thought of the struggles of all the people who had accomplished great things and how this little hike in the wilderness compared.
Most of all though, I was motivated by survival, by necessity I had to continue. What other option did I have? To Simply lay down and quit? There was no one to come save me , I could not just pull out of a race and wait at an aid station. If I wanted shelter and food I had to continue.
I set my headlamp to red light mode as I thought the battery was running flat, I stumbled and fell cutting my knees but filled with anger and intent and manic energy I continued.
Then out of this rage there came a stillness. The essential, simplicity of being.
There, striding up and over the hill overlooking the silhouetted figures of wind turbines set against the setting sun. The wind gently causing the taught fence line to reverberate like a wire harp played with ghostly fingers. My footsteps and breath set to the some silent beat. This was not hard. This was the most natural thing I could imagine. I was falling water. I was the landscape itself. I would never struggle again.
Eventually I scaled the final rise and saw the lights of Burra. How glorious.
I ran into town around 8pm, 16 hours or so on the trail. I called my sister and found the accommodation that she had booked.
Potato wedges and cooked vegetables with a beer. While I chatted about life to local about sheering sheep. I never felt so alive. Life was good.
I lay there the day spinning through my head. An epic journey in one day.
I looked at my ankle. Swollen. Like it had been inflated.
I decide to have a recovery day tomorrow.
Day 14 – Scones with rice cream.
Recovery day in Burra
“There is a time to be in motion and a time to be stationary”
-The Tao Te Ching
I wake up late and assess my ankle again. Its still swollen, so I strap it tight and find walking is not too painful. My toes are far worse, Just tip toeing to down the hotel hallway to the toilet was like treading on glass. Maybe they expand or hardened during the night. Every day is a lesson in pain management.
I looked over at my pack, Durian the Orangutan didn’t look right. She was crooked and limp. Loosening the orange bandana I was using to fix her to my pack revealed that the ape had become parted with a leg. I put the leg in one of the deep pockets of my pack for safe keeping and re-tied her to the back of my pack. Looks like I was not the only one worse for wear after yesterday.
Making it into the breakfast room, I destroy more cereal than I care to admit.
I shuffle around Burra and wash my clothes at the caravan park Laundromat then sit in the sun.
While my clothes dry I find some Lunch. My eye drawn to a sign promising ‘Vegan Sheppard’s pie’. The café staff almost seems surprised when I order. My Sheppard’s pie is delivered and accompanied by vegan scones and three bottled non-dairy milk drinks. Turns out the owner wanted to start a cruelty free café but there was not enough demand for it in a small town. She is so happy to see another vegan that I am showered me with gifts.
The remaining day is spent securing supplies, eating and reassessing my distances and accommodation. If I can avoid it I don’t want another day like yesterday. I don’t think my ankle can take too much more of that as it is.
I get an early night, fed and prepared for the remainder of the journey.
Day 15 – The end of the world.
Burra to Huppatz Hut
“Having savored the taste of solitude and peace, pain-free and stainless he becomes, drinking deep the taste of the bliss of the Truth.”
– The Dhammapada
The day starts with a painful shuffle on bitumen followed by undulating farmland, flattening out to a long dry stretch of dusty red road. The World’s End.
Various animal parts litter the road site and I make a game of identifying what I can. Dirt bikes pass me on the other side of the fence, giving me a wave.
I meet another hiker on the trail and we exchange destinations and distances. He takes a photo of me and we continue on our way. There is something natural and fulfilling about this kind of human interaction. Long stretches of loneliness punctuated by the surprise and joy at seeing another Homosapien. I think back to the weeks leading up to the trail. Living in Prospect and making my daily runs around Adelaide City. Sure you would get the occasional “good morning” from other runners and walkers around the river but mainly strange looks or total avoidance. As frustrating as this was for me, its hard to blame anyone for this.
We are simply products of our environment and conditioning. Is there anything more unnatural than a city? Thousands of people thrust together, ignoring each other in a place where no one feels at home. We do not live in a city, we visit it, we work in it. As much as we try to make it hospitable, it remains a shell, a container for activity not a place to be.
Out here, we are family. We share the trail, we love the trail. This is our village.
A long hallway through the house of nature.
The bloody tails of young lambs lay scattered in a pile on the dry, umber earth. A modern day sacrifice to the wild. A shallow payment to the rightful owners of this land. To which it will all one day return.
After Burra gorge and meandering scrub-lined single track I eventually make it to my destination, Huppatz Hut. I arrive at the iron sheet clad shed in early afternoon. Looking down upon it from the hill above. I suddenly have the thought “What if someone else is already in the hut?” “What if it’s full of people?” I’m out here alone and all I fear is loosing the path and being forced to interact with people.
I scramble down the hillside as the rain clouds come to meet me.
I unpack and start a fire in the large brick fireplace. The hut is clean and neat and kindling is pre prepared in a drum for me.
Having more time than usual at the end of the day I sit and look at the logbook. I find the entry from DT. Then I continue to draw and write. It feels good to be drawing again and I want to fill the pages but stop myself overtaking a communal record of the trail.
More peanut butter, more rice, more trail-mix. I lie down and listen to podcasts before and early nights sleep.
But there is no sleep. Even sheltered. Even with fire blazing. I am freezing.
The tin shed provides no insulation and the radiant heat from the fire is lost into the night. I endlessly toss and turn and try to find the best possible position to retain enough warmth. It’s no use. I have another near sleepless night. It is a relief when the alarm goes off.
Day 16 – A Family Reunion.
Huppatz Hut to Marschall’s Hut
“He who seeks another’s faults, who is ever censorious – his cankers grow. He is far from destruction of the cankers.”
– The Dhammapada
Bleary eyed I set off. I am tired but determined, as I am to meet my Brother and his Wife on the trail today.
Rocky trail soon becomes dirt road through farmland then bitumen. I think ahead to when I will see familiar faces, will I get emotional? Somehow it seems so distant, my life before the Heysen Trail. Barely two weeks have past since my civilised existence yet it seems like I was a different person, in a different world.
I pass through many paddocks made for grazing. It is lambing season and there is much new life being born into servitude. There is also much death. Young lambs are picked at by avian scavengers and bloated mothers lay expanding in the sun. Acceptable if not required casualties of agriculture. Nature is harsh but man is cruel.
I meet Ryan and Nic around the 40k mark and we greet each other as if I had seen each other yesterday. We talk as we follow mainly flat country road the 20ks or so back to their car. I apologise for the relatively uneventful portion of the trail as if I had invited them to my home and have nothing to offer them to eat or drink.
I waffle on about my experience so far. Failing to fully express my emotional and physical journey I have been on.
We make it to their car and drive into Riverton where they have booked a cabin for the night, stopping at the supermarket and bottle shop.
I receive a phone call from a family member as I down a long neck of beer. They seems to be in a dark mood and I am not sure why. Was it something I did? How could I do anything, I’m distant, so far away. Maybe that is the point.
We sit in the cabin and complain about family dramas. Alone on the trail I made promises to myself to be a better human. To not be so self absorbed, to find time for family. Now that I have my chance ,all the old issues seem to present themselves again. Is this was human interaction is? Constant drama?
I occasionally think about what type of partner could fit into my strange existence. She would have to be another feral creature like me. Indifferent to my needs, ready to run off into the forest at the slightest hind of trouble. A force of nature. Maybe we are a different species. Us introverts, Those who never feel loneliness or any desire to socialise. We are the shamans, the artists, the philosophers and madmen, who don’t divorce themselves from humanity but choose to affect it from afar.
After stuffing myself with food and sharing another drink, I go to bed. The narrow bunk-bed is heavenly after last night in the hut. I have to get up to piss three times during the night and must open the sliding door every time, disturbing Ryan and Nic. Even with my best ninja skills.
The trail does strange things to your digestive system.
Day 17 – A short walk in the country.
Marschell’s Hut to Kapunda
“To know others is knowledge. To know Self is wisdom. To control others shows power. To control Self is to be truly powerful.”
– The Tao Te Ching
I apologise for the nocturnal disturbances and I hear about my ‘vegan bladder’ in return.
They drop me off at Marchell’s Hut we say our goodbyes as I re connect with the trail. What follows is a short fairly unremarkable day. The trail is becoming more recognisable to me. Not that I have hiked this part of the Heysen before but the environment and farmland is very reminiscent of the Southern Vales and wine country where I grew up, where I live. Where do I live? Where will I live when I return? I have not stayed in one place for more than a few months for years now, house sitting and traveling from suburb to suburb, state to state.
I feel like a fox, digging a den in an abandoned lot on the outskirts of society. Scavenging what I could and wandering in to the city and taking what I needed but longing to become wild once more. What wild was there for me to return to? I am an invasive species. An introduced pest. I refused to become a domesticated dog but I am not native to this country, I an unable to claim ownership over it. Is My destiny to live in between worlds. To wander pathways and trails, alleyways and streets. A liminal being. Maybe that was my home. Maybe the journey was perpetual. And there was no destination.
Now I carry my home with me. How can I return to a stationary life after being on the trail?
Soon I am on the outskirts of Kapunda. It is a short day but my legs feel heavy. I have not been able to run any major distance for days now and my ankle and toes are still giving me issues. I am more power hiker than trail runner. As long as I make the distance that is all that matters.
I find my accommodation at the Kapunda Caravan Park and spread myself out over the cabin fit for a family. After raiding the supermarket I pour over my notes and think about how close I am to trodden ground. I enjoy a restful day and a decent nights sleep.
Day 18 – Coffee.
Kapunda to Tanunda
“If for company you find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, you should, overcoming all impediments, keep his company joyously and mindfully.”
Another short day on country roads and farmland I make it to Tanunda just after midday and check into my accommodation. Today I meet up with a friend who I have not seen in some time. We have coffee and food a while talking about mundane and existential things, as is our way. I rarely have to verbalise my more philosophical thoughts and having been in relative isolation over the past few weeks, I must have seen like a raving lunatic. The long hair, beard and unwashed appearance adding to the hobo aesthetic. I joke that people might exclaim that its “so nice for that lady to buy the homeless man a meal”.
We say our goodbyes. I have spoken more in a the last few hours than I have in a few weeks prior. I relax for the rest of the day, Drawing in the guest book of my apartment.
I awaken in the middle of the night sweating profusely. Where was this internal combustion when I was freezing in my bivi sack? Humans are strange animals, me more so than most.
Day 19 – In the land of the possums.
Tanunda to Cudlee Creek
“If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!”
-Walking, Henry David Thoreau
The day starts with an early climb up to Kaiserstuhl. I leave at 330am as I believe it is to be a long day and very little running has been happening of late, extending the time on the trail.
I spot dozens of possums in the native conservation park and the sun begins to rise as I enter Mt Crawford forest reserve. What follows is a day of pine forests, dense native scrub and autumn leaf-lined roads. Everything is lush and green. I contrast these sleepy damp hills with the flat red farmlands of the Ikari-Flinders rangers and think of how far I have come.
As I follow the road towards my accommodation two guys with akubras race each other on ride on lawn mowers, they give me a big wave in response to my chuckling.
I check in to the Cudlee Creek Caravan park. They fix me a giant salad and a bowl of potato wedges for dinner. Amazing.
I marvel at how a little bit of restriction has made even the most basic elements of a modern life seem indulgent. Fresh food, warm showers and clean toilets. We all live like royalty and don’t realise it.
My vegan bladder plays up again. The toilet block is a wet walk hundreds of meters away. Or there is an empty beer bottle within reach. What have I become?
Day 20 – The Very Bad Vegan.
“He is not noble who injures living beings. He is called noble because he is harmless towards all living beings.”
– The Dhammapada
Cudlee Creek to Norton Summit
Today my raw toes are as painful as they have ever been. Over the past few weeks I have tried every permutation of Band-Aid, foam cushioning and tape possible to no avail. As I walk the first kilometre back to the Heysen Trail I have to talk to myself out loud to get through the pain. “The pain is temporary, the pain will go away, just keep walking,the pain is temporary, there is no pain”. I try my best not to over compensate for the stinging sensation. This would potentially cause more serious injury to my ankle by rolling it way from my little toes. I knew it was only superficial pain and was not going to do anything permanent; I just had to grin and bear it.
Eventually the pain subsides enough to resume power hiking and even some running. That was until the steepest sections of the trail so far. The climb up from Sixth Creek was pretty tough, or maybe all this hiking was finally getting to me. I would later read a comment on a website describing this hill “This section of the track is quite unpleasant: two very steep sections with a steep section in between!” Not wrong. There was a nice view from the top, however.
As I enter Morialta conservation park and spot Adelaide from a distance I get emotional. A combination of joy and disbelief at my efforts. I make the most of well-known trails and run as much as I can, greeting the day hikers through the Morialta trail. Such a beautiful part of South Australia and so close to the city.
Soon I am at Norton Summit and check into Morialta Barns. The accommodation is far too nice for a dirt-bag like me. I drop my gear and check the breakfast provisions as I am almost out of supplies and they will be handy for the following day. Yogurt, out. milk, out. A few different single serve packaged cereals, they will come in handy. Then I remove a napkin to reveal two fresh croissants. I immediately pick one up and it is half way to my mouth before I start the ethical conversation in my mind. I KNOW this is filled with butter, however if I don’t eat it will be thrown out. Therefore an animal would have suffered giving its milk for nothing. This is good enough for my stomach as soon jam is lathered on the pastry and devoured with delight. I have a bowl of cereal with orange juice instead of milk and quickly consume two or more coffees from the coffee pod machine. The incredible eating machine.
I have a late lunch of fries and vegetable soup at the Scenic hotel and sit and sketch the Morris & Company Wallpaper in my notebook.
Later I finish of the remaining croissant then write a note to the owner, thanking them for the food that I will use for the day ahead. Mainly and excuse to explain why a single person inhaled supplies clearly meant for two.
Day 21 – You Shall Not Pass.
Norton Summit to Kuitpo Forest
“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.”
– The Dhammapada
An early start on familiar ground. I have run and hiked this section of the Heysen trail countless times before and it makes for a quick day for a fairly long distance.
The morning lights of Adelaide ignite motivation within me.
As I exited Cleland wildlife Park to begin the ascent to Mt Lofty Summit, I notice that the trail was closed, blocked with a temporary wire fence. I skirt around the fence without much thought, as there did not seem to be an alternate route. Regardless I have been forced over so many styles and barbed wire barriers so far that fence-hopping has become second nature. Nothing could stop me moving forward at this point.
I join the main path up to Mount Loft and think how quiet it is. Even on a weekday Mt Lofty is a destination frequented by local and visiting hikers. Looking at the fresh laid path I realise the entire trail is closed. Its too late now, I’m already headed up. As I near the summit I see activity ahead, workmen concreting the new path.
I try to greet them with a smile and they greet me with shouting, cursing and pointing back the way I came. What followed was a stern talking to, a lecture about liability and a command to go back down the path. I knew there is no use acting dumb, so I apologise and calmly explain my situation and predicament to which “I don’t care!” is the response. Clearly I am just the most recent in countless trespassers that had to deal with. They were so steadfast about blocking my progress that I began wonder just what I was going to do. Find an alternate path on the road? Then one of the workers lets out “Just let him through…” with a sigh.
They continued ranting and cursing as I hiked towards the summit. The guilt weighed on me slightly as I WAS guilty, of that there was no denying. I had no time for that however it was a long day ahead. No regrets.
I made it to Stirling on a packet of Ricebubbles and stocked up on cliff bars and almond milk at the supermarket.
Soon enough I was in Kuitpo Forest, taking deep breaths of the pine scented air.
I met my sister at the Rangers Hut and she greeted me with Vegan pastries from the local bakery at McLaren Flat. She took me off trail to stay with her for the night. She takes me to the shop and we talk about the family.
I tried my best with this endeavour to include my family. To let them assist me as much as they wanted. Yet still there were arguments about who was helping and who was being left out. This is why I tend to do my own thing. The last thing I want to be is a burden, to be something people have to worry about.
Any kind of conflict makes me want to run, to be alone. But it’s impossible. Like it or not for some reason people care about me. As individual and isolated as I make myself I am entwined with other people. Entangled particles influencing them from afar. I want them to know how much I appreciate them, not for what they do for me but for who they are. I am amazed that anyone would waste a single second thinking about me. I am so grateful to have such caring people in my life. I wish I could be the person they need me to be but ironically I am a better person with I’m not there. I am only myself when I’m distant, when I dissolve into the landscape.
I raid my sister’s cupboard and eat more than usual while she is out with her kids. I fall asleep on an inflatable mattress in my niece’s bedroom wondering what my place in the world is.
Day 22 – Waiting for a bus that may never come.
Kuitpo Forest to Myponga
“He who sits alone, sleeps alone, and walks alone, who is strenuous and subdues himself alone, will find delight in the solitude of the forest.”
– The Dhammapada
Hayley drops me off at the Kuitpo Forest ranger’s station she watches me shuffle away in my ritualistic walk of pain. I forgot to charge my headlamp so I hike in near darkness for the first few ks before the sun rises; luckily I know these trails very well.
I feel fresh and well rested today and I am able to make decent distance at a good speed. The weather is clear and sunny, life is good.
I am only days away from the end of the trail. What then?
I meet my Dad and Step Mom outside of Myponga. I wait for them on the side of a narrow country road on an anachronistic bench. Like I’m waiting for a bus that may never come. Tonight I will stay with them at their house at Normanville.
Day 23 – Father Pacer.
Myponga to Balquhidder Campsite
“When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend upon authority.”
-The Tao Te Ching
Dad drops me off on the trail and I begin with the hardest part of the day, navigating the dense single track in Myponga Conservation Park. The bush is thick and there is only a narrow passage along the fence line, which is hard to keep on in the darkness. I make the mistake of following goat tracks instead and have to swim through scrub to find the trail again.
While on open grazing land a flock of hawks or some other bird of prey circle above me, almost close enough for me to touch. Are they looking for food fleeing from my presence or are they just curious about me? The profound beauty of nature is at times too much for me and I begin to tear up and chuckle to myself at the absurd glory of it all.
A fox ponders me before becoming one with the pine trees.
I meet Dad at Inman Valley and he follows me on his bike. I run with him for an hour or so. This is the first time in at least a week that I have been able to run a decent amount and it feels great. We part ways but I now have motivation and momentum for the remainder of the day.
Farmland becomes coastline and one of the most picturesque sections of the trail presents itself. The shear cliff faces and rugged single track of the Newland Head Conservation Park is truly spectacular and I pass more day hikers than I have seen on the trail in until this point. With every person I pass each one gives me quizzical looks, such an odd creature I must look. But I stride with confidence, I’m a native on this trail, they are just tourists.
There are many surfers at Waitpinga and Parsons beach. They too wonder about the strange bunyip skiing on the sand, my hiking poles moving as if an extension of my arms with smooth repetition and rhythm.
It is a relief to get off the soft sand and follow a creek inland up a steep farmland slope towards the shelter. I stop at Balqhidder Campground and wait once again to get picked up to spend another night at Normanville.
Day 24 – Trail Brother.
Balqhidder Campsite to Cape Jervis Trail Head
“Those who know may not speak. Those who speak may not know”
– The Tao Te Ching
My Brother and I get dropped off at The Balquhidder Campsite as he is to run with me today, he might come in handy dragging me up those hills.
I am filled with motivation and energy by having a running partner and the thought of today being the last day of the trail adds wind to my sail. At the same time I am reluctant to finish. People have asked me along the way “What is next after the Heysen?” and I was reluctant to answer. What if I didn’t finish the Heysen? What if I hate trail running after this? But now that the end was so close, maybe I did need to think about what was next. Not only for the trail but also for my life in general. Maybe the trail was my life from now on.
We run for the first 10ks or so, the pain in my toes and ankle dissolves quickly today. We descend fast down steep coastal cliffs, from farmland to the beach.
We spot dolphins swimming as they under a gloomy sky contrast by a rainbow struggling to materialise. The light drizzle increases as we climb the cliffs towards deep creek. The trail adorned with grass trees and natives as it winds and climbs in and out of coves.
The naked coastal cliff line then makes for fast traveling but my fatigued quadriceps take some convincing up some rises. I feel like I am using my arms more than my legs at this point pushing hard against the ground with my poles. “Just a little further and you can have a day off” I promise my legs.
Conversation drifts from the trail, nature, life, video games, shoes and everything in between. I find myself spewing forth what has been locked reverberating in my head for the past three weeks, not to impart my beliefs or convert but simply because it must come out.
“What do I believe in? Beyond this? That there is something intangible, indestructible behind it all. Something that has stood forever and will remain forevermore. It imbues us all with being, yet strip us down to our very cells and you will not find it. What commands the movement of a sub atomic particle? What controls the flow of water? Why does life strive for survival? What is that influence behind all the endeavours of every person, animal and force of nature?
I am a product of the countless generations of people who lived. Think of the energy behind the simple will to survive. Generation after generation just to get to me. What a privilege to be the victor in the struggle and triumph of being. The temporary recipient of the crown in this existential lineage. And what will I do with this gift of life. How will I use this infinite potential energy?
To reproduce. To create. To sing and dance and run. That motivation, that spark of energy to be resides with in us all. And resonates loudly throughout nature. That is what I believe in. That is the path I follow.”
I put on music and let it play through my phone speakers. Soon enough the sight of the Kangaroo Island Ferry Terminal is in sight. Less than a few Ks to go. I begin to think how far I have come, the journey projecting on my mind. Ryan pats my back, dislodging the lump in my throat. I run as fast as my legs can muster.
Mum, Dad and Joyce wait for me at the trailhead. Hugs all round. I drop my pack.
We all have a few drinks at the Cape Jervis tavern then go our separate ways.
On the ride home I again find myself tearing up as I think about the journey as if it is too much to recall at once I find myself shaking my head in disbelief.
In the middle of the night I find myself unable to sleep. I search other long distance trails around Australia and abroad.
I get out of bed early and lace up my shoes. I start walking. No where in particular as the destination.