About the Lavender Federation Trail
The Lavender Federation Trail is a continuous path that extends 325km from Murray Bridge to Clare. The trail is a combination of sealed roads, access road and single track over private and public land. It is named both as a celebration of 100 years of the founding of the federation of Australia in 1901 and in honour of Terry Lavender, the first chairman of South Australian Recreational Trail Incorporated and the creator of the Lavender Federation Trail.
The Lavender Federation Trail (LFT) had been on my radar since I had crossed paths with it when completing my Heysen solo Trek. Having limited options of continuous long distance trails in South Australia the LFT seemed like a perfect option to score my first FKT (fastest known time) and it could be done in one long weekend.
While the idea of an FKT was certainly enticing, I was more intent on appeasing my “Trailhead”. A condition I had failed to shake since I returned from completing the Heysen Trail. My intention was to complete the LFT in four days. Distance wise I knew I could comfortably do consistent 60 to 80 kilometre days with a combination of running and hiking and the general terrain should be at an easy grade.
Completing the trail self supported (carrying all my food, water in addition to sleeping gear and emergency supplies between towns) would be the most complicated aspect of the mission as there would be sections where sustenance and accommodation would not be available for a day or so. As far as accommodation was concerned, I knew there would be none for the first hundred miles (160ks). This would mean either powering through the day and night or getting a short nap on the trail. Although that sounds extreme I rationalised that this was no different than a typical “Miler” trail race. At the 160k mark the town of Truro would provide accommodation and food supplies. This was the only destination I was certain I would stay and would play it by ear from there, knowing that there would be at least one town each day that could potentially have food and a bed.
Day 1. 92.08 km
I was lucky enough to score a lift to Murray Bridge as I was initially intending to catch the bus to begin the LFT. I set off at 830am Friday the 12th of October and intended to make it 100ks before deciding either to rest or continue non-stop to Truro.
As I was carrying 2.5 litres of water and enough food for two days in addition to clothes and sleeping gear I knew there would be little chance of running on day 1. During the Heysen Trail I managed a combination of running and power hiking over most days, however on the Heysen it was rare to go 10 to 20k’s without a rainwater tank or town water supply. The LFT would have one reliable water tank the whole 325 kilometres and this is only because it intersects with the Heysen Trail near one of its campsites and shares its water supply.
My gear would remain almost exactly the same as the Heysen Trail with a few additional articles. I added a front pack to my “Raidlight” touring pack as I found wearing my “UD” marathon vest back to front during the Heysen essential for easy access items. I added a heavy-duty poncho/tarp and sleeping bag liner for extra rain protection and warmth as the wet and cold conditions were some of my biggest issues last through hike.
All this meant was that to be prepared to the unexpected I would be a packhorse and would need to keep a consistent steady marching hike rather than running.
I set off at a determined pace from the LFT sign, past moored boats along the Murray River. I got the obligatory comment about my appearance from one of the local rowers.
“what, did you lose your parachute?” .
That’s a new one. I get funny looks when I wear in my typical Trail running gear but this is a whole other level. With a pack meant for desert stage races, bottles with long straw nozzles, a front pack, hiking poles, legionnaires hat, banana yellow calf compressions and a plush orangutan strapped to my back. I look like I’m going to war at a rave party.
The riverside footpath followed into rocky single trail though a winding gorge before meeting dusty access road past Monarto Wildlife Park.
A long stretch of straight dirt country road followed. A sleepy lizard saunters across the road in the heat of the midday sun, pausing to eye me off as I pass.
Not long after this I encounter a beautiful red belly black snake, it’s head up and stationary. I gave it as much room as possible.
Stonewalls and the remains of abandoned mines continue. I can only imagine how hard working on the land would have been one or two hundred years ago.
My water supplies have been consumed by this point and without tank or town in sight I start to look for alternate sources. I pass a small watering hole with a few birds at its edge. I scoop up the water in my bottle and inspect it. It’s brownish but not murky. I know most natural sources of water in SA, besides rainwater are this colour due to the tannin that washes off from the foliage of surrounding plants. Still I’m not confident enough to take a drink it as it is. It’s a perfect excuse to use my lifestraw filter. I suck the water through the lifestraw, it’s salty and through the chemical taste I also get hints of muddy pond. Better than dehydration.
The climb up Mt Beevor is rewarded with a stunning sunset over farmland. As the last light fades I put on my headlamp and navigate the meadows. Sometimes navigating trails at night and early morning can be easier than in the day, my headlamp illuminating the trail markers, creating a glowing highway in the dark. The brain takes a backseat and begins to automatically head towards the markers. Pac-man gobbling up glowing pellets.
I pass through farmer’s fields close to homesteads and I get a spotlight shined on me from hundreds of metres away. I wave to them but I get no response. It follows my path for the entirety of the field. Maybe they are illuminating the path for me? I thank them. No response.
Hours more of country road and farmers field continue before a farmer in a Ute confronts me.
“Can you tell me what you’re doing hiking at this time of night?”
I take out my headphones.
“Is there a problem?”
“You’ve caused all sorts of trouble, you have scared the hell out of some people camping.”
“What if there was a bull on one of the fields, what if we were spotlighting?”
I give him my name and a handshake then try to explain what I’m doing; it never even accrued to me that hiking at night would be seen as strange. I explained that there were no time restrictions in the guidebook for the trails and that I never meant to cause any trouble.
He begrudgingly accepts my explanation and my apology before talking to another farmer also out to question me.
While I understand why my actions seem odd (running a self supported FKT is not something easily explained to a farmer at 11pm on a Friday night.) If they don’t want the public on their property why agree to allow a trail through in the first place? Perhaps hikers should seek permission before using the trail?
I continue to Tunkulla. I can’t get there soon enough, my water supplies are gone and my mouth is so dry that the trail mix is just becoming a pulpy mass in my mouth that I am unable to swallow.
Tunkulla provides glorious tap water. There is toilet and shelter here and I almost consider setting up for the night but I am nowhere near where I intended to be by days end, so I press on.
About one kilometre down the road I see a spotlight in the field in the direction of the trail. Gunshots crack in the night. They are shooting roos or rabbits or godknowswhat. The trail splinters here. Both the alternate route and main trail heads towards the gunfire. However there is Lavender Federation signs that continue straight ahead, seemingly in a direction that links back to the main trail. This is not marked on my map or GPS but is clearly part of the trail and will connect me back to the route on the map without getting shot. I follow the signs a bit worried that they are not on my map but they are clearly headed back towards the trail. Until they aren’t headed back to the trail. The signs start heading in the opposite direction of the trail completely.
What the hell? A re route? A new Addition?
The main trail is less than half a km away so I push on in the direction I was going.
I find the trail markers. At least I’m not lost. But I’m not on the map yet, this must be a re-route. The trail enters a private property. There are sheds and dwellings with lights on. I put on my dim ‘red light’, to stealth past any more farmers. Why do I feel like I’m on a black ops mission? I’m just hiking!
There is no trail, just markers in the general direction I should be going, then no more markers. There is herd of cows trampling besides me, their eye shine glowing a demonic red. I slog through thick shrubs, not wanting to divert from the general direction of the trail.
A river of blood.
It’s not the headlamp illuminating a creek, its actual blood. An adult, full-grown cow lays dead. Blood streams from its head. I feel like I stumbled on a murder scene. I start to question what happened; clearly it was killed, but why? I keep moving, no time for questions, lets get out of this field.
Trail markers! They follow close to a barbed wire fence, I feel reassured. I feel safe.
A spotlight shoots over a hill to my right, stabbing into the dark like the eye of Sauron. Its headed in my direction but seems fairly distant. Gunshots again ring out. I move away from the fence line and over a rise in order to stay out of sight, out of the line of fire but still headed in the direction of the trail.
Another beam of light punctuates the night, this time from my left. The one to the right now seems to be over the hill. The beams pass near me lighting up the rocky field.
Suddenly I feel like I’m being hunted.
I switch off my headlamp completely and run. As much as I can run with 2.5 litres of water strapped to my chest and stomach. My front pack bounces up and down. I’m amazed that I can see so well in just starlight. How have I not fallen on my face yet?
I can see the spotlighting vehicle. Shit. What do I do? Get down? Hide? I switch back on my full headlamp not wanting to be mistaken for a roo. The Ute is only a few hundred metres away. The spotlight passes over me. I instinctively raise my hands in surrender. The vehicle continues. Did they not see me? I run. Eventually I again meet the fence line and I can no longer see the searchlights. I hit a main road and I am relieved.
The trail again heads into farmers field. Fuck. I enter to see what awaits me. Sheep, lots of sheep. I can hear dogs barking and I’m sure I can see the lights of a farmhouse. I’m thoroughly spooked to I decide to head back to the road and get of private property.
By the time I get back to the road it’s around 330am. If I rest here for a few hours I can restart in first light. Then it will be safe, then it will be sane. Hiking at 530am is normal isn’t it? The farmers will be happy with that right?.
I find a grassy area in the shelter of a few rocks and pull out my sleeping bag. I don’t sleep. I lie there and listen to the dogs barking. Imagining they are closing in. I feel like a fox being chased by hounds.
Okay. No more hiking in the middle of the night on private property.
Day 2. 63.72 km
My alarm rings. I drink some water, squeeze some peanut butter out of a ziplock bag into my mouth and pop a caffeine pill. I retrace my steps from last night, or really this morning, actually it was only two hours ago!
After a descent on grazing land, the trail soon finds a road and continues this way for sometime. I hope for some miraculous source of water but there is even less than yesterday. I must take a detour into Springton to refill my water bottles; this adds another 3ks or so onto the trail. I fill up from a tap on the main street. Looks clean, smells okay, no need to filter.
The day consists of long country roads and farmland. The trail follows an old stonewall as it crumbles in slow motion, the rocks slowly returning to the earth.
Spherical silver feeding pods sit anachronistically in the barren landscape, like alien spacecraft on Martian soil. Towering power lines march to distant lands, tethered steel giants on the journey to more fertile land.
It’s so dry out here. After Springton there is not a drop of water for 60ks. By the time I get to Truro I have not had anything to drink for a few hours. A bearded dragon greets me as I enter the out skits of town. Coming into civilisation is always a shock after hours in your own head, I hope I remember how to talk.
Some local youths greet me as I roll up to the Truro Weighbridge Hotel. They eat chips on an outside table next to their dirt bikes.
“How far have you walked?”
“Actually from Murray Bridge on Friday”
“You must really love walking”
I guess so! I just wish I could lighten my pack to do more running.
I check into accommodation and peel off my filthy clothes. I buy the usual supplies from the service station, trail mix and peanut butter mainly. Then I order a vegetable curry, naan and samosa after the usual inquisition about the inclusion of animal products. I crash hard and get some actual sleep.
Day 3. 65.77 kms
I pack my food and water. Today I make sure I have even more to drink, three of my own bottles filled with water and an additional 1litre bottle of sports drink.
I end up ditching my sleeping bag to make room for more supplies and to make my pack less cumbersome. I put a note on it saying “Quality sleeping bag, please take me” and put it in the information area sign next to the car park, hoping that a campervan or backpacker might take it. I have a sleeping bag liner, tarp and bivi and the weather is warm enough so that I should not need it.
The day began with the road back to the trail before entering private property. I climb towards the side of Truro Gorge as the sun rises and a rainbow forms behind me, the dry ground is bathed in morning light and scattered showers. Glorious.
I descend down into the rocky ravine and I’m amazed to see there is actual water in the creek. Almost as a reflex I think of refilling my bottles but I’m well and truly fully loaded.
I cross over Sturt Highway and a car sounds their horn and gives a wave. I do wonder what the passengers of those hermetically sealed boxes think of the white pack mule bursting out of the bush.
The trail then enters farmland again follows the stonewall some more. The day consists of weaving in and out of grazing paddocks and onto dirt and sealed road. Rain clouds circle around and try their best to deliver their tears to the earth. I wish for it to fall but it only sprinkles, evaporating before it hits the ground.
The climb up Mt Rufus is windy but affords vast views of the flat farmland. Oil painted rain clouds are smeared on the horizon. Thunder rumbles upon my descent. Then lightning hits close enough to scatter sheep and kangaroos. I make an effort to trot down the hill away to lower places.
By the time I make it into Eudunda, the heavens are about to burst. I didn’t think it would happen but it looks like the parched earth is finally going to get some rain.
“The farmers will still be unhappy” Says the hotel owner
“Its come too late”
I drop my pack in my room at the Pub then run to the shop for supplies. Actual running. It feels great!
I am stoked to get a vegan burger and chips at the Pub and the Beer goes down very, very quickly.
It begins to rain heavily. I may be hiking in it come tomorrow, but now I must sleep.
Day 4. 76.44 kms
They day began with me arguing to my self if I should start with my poncho on or not. The rain had been reduced to a drizzle so I resolved to keep it handy in my side pocket should I need it.
The plan was to make it the 50-60ks to Manoora and stay at the hotel, unless I felt like going further and I would then make it another 19ks or so to Mintaro.
The trail began with a long stretch that follows the disused Robertstown rail line. It’s early but the morning is made darker by the pervasive storm clouds. Distant lightning paints the inky skies with its neon veins. I hear no thunder, so it must be distant.
I enjoy the show as I hike along the fence line. The lightning illuminates the sky to my left. I switch off my headlamp to get the full experience. The thunder is now audible.
I begin counting between lightning and the rumbling to try to work out the direction of the storm. The wind is blowing quite briskly towards me and storm is to my left. “The wind should blow the storm away!” I think confidently.
Soon enough first light appears as I start my ascent up Flat Hill (not that flat!). As I climb up the hill. The storm begins to get closer.
Flash! 1…2…3…4…5…6… Rumble
Suddenly I need to take a shit. I can’t hold it. I Squat on the slope of the ascent.
Lightning flashes just over the rise ahead.
Flash! 1…2…3 Boom!
I run, uphill with all my gear. What am I doing? Do I think I am going to outrun a lightning storm? I need to get off this hill. I am currently the tallest thing on the highest point for miles and I am not about to run back DOWN the mountain, so the only way is up.
FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!
I begin sprinting, as much as I CAN sprint with water, food and camping gear strapped to my body. Are these carbon fibre poles conductive?
Its daylight for an instant.
I have never feared nature as much as I do now.
“Please let me through this! And I shall be your humble servant and warrior for ever” I appeal to the great mother, the spirits of the land, the universe, the Tao, Thor, anyone who will listen. I think about google-ing the likelihood of being struck by lightning. Just a comparison would be enough to appease me.
“Being stuck by lightning is likely as being hit by a coconut on a Tuesday” or something like that.
I’m at the top of the range, approaching the road. The storm appears to be dissolving. Wow. I now get a full view of the clouds as the sun rises through it. Grey becomes white, beams of light stream through. Is this my reward for braving the storm?
It’s a long straight hike on Scenic Road, but the view is pretty spectacular, the patchwork farmland below a tumultuous sky. The white sky again grows dark and flash, dry lightning hits in a nearby pasture and I am certain I can hear the barbed wire fence crackle. Is it following me? But soon the sky clears again, just keeping me in my place are we?
I make some phone calls to calm my nerves from the lightning run. It becomes another hot and dry day but now the wind picks up and it becomes fierce. The Lavender follows the Kidman Horse Trail and I look for DT’s record-breaking shoe prints in the moon dust. I run out of water just as the track briefly joins the Heysen trail (memories!) and mercifully provides me with the only rainwater tank on the LFT.
I push against the wind with every step. In the distance the turbines of the wind farm spin furiously. Over the flat pastures a huge dust cloud forms and heads towards me. I cover my face with my bandana and keep my sunglasses on. The dirt swirls around me as I head up to the wind turbines.
The trail skirts the turbines and I listen to them chop through the air and wait for one of them to take off.
I head out of the farmland and onto the road on the outskirts of Manoora. It’s so dry that the each car that passes me causes a huge plume of dust to trail behind it. I cover up again and stay off the road as best I can, as visibility is poor.
I make the detour into Manoora and pass the pub. I’m knackered today and I just want to rest so I think I will stay here tonight. Or not. The sign on the pup door reads.
“Sorry Hotel Closed. Your Nearest Hotel 10kms” in nice bright lettering. Such is the way with small country towns.
10kms. In the wrong direction, I don’t think so. I fill up my water bottles at the oval toilet block tap. I consider camping here tonight before heading back to the trail. I don’t really have a choice; I have to press on another 19ks to Mintaro.
I do my best to search online for accommodation at Mintaro before mobile phone number one (the one with the mobile data) runs out of juice. I call my sister with mobile phone number two (the one I make calls with) to see if she can find any possible places for me to stay.
More dry flat farmland. Something warm trickles down my nose. Blood drips all over my chest and map protector. I soak up the blood with my bandanna and press it against my nose. Dust, dry heat and too many snot rockets it’s the perfect recipe for epistaxis. The blood nose persists and soon all I can taste is iron.
By the time I get into Mintaro it’s late. The hunt for accommodation is futile as there seems only to be high market B&Bs outside of the town. I have a quick look around town and I can’t see anything open or appropriate. This is why I come prepared right?
I find a public toilet and tennis court near the bowling club. The toilet block has power points! There is a sheltered area with a bench! Luxury!
I start charging all my devices, have a peanut butter dinner and then set up my sleeping gear. It’s still warm out (or maybe its just me) so I manage with just my tarp as a ground sheet, my bivi and my sleeping bag liner. I also inflate my mat and pillow.
However I struggle again to get any sleep, but rather spend six hours or so trying to work out ways to be more comfortable. Do I put my pack under my head or under my feet? Do I zip up my Bivi for warmth or leave it open to avoid condensation?
I don’t sleep. I just lay there wishing I were asleep. I’m yet to find a system that works for me. If I can just work out sleep, I would be unstoppable.
The blood nose starts again. I lay there gripping my nose in the dark.
Day 5. 43.06 km
I make it a 430am start, not because I have far to go but because I might as well be hiking then just laying down thinking about it.
Its been raining for hours and I decide to wear my poncho. The trail follows roads before entering a field of waist high grass. There is hardly any trail between the wet vegetation and the fence line. The poncho keeps my upper half dry but does nothing for my calf sleeves and socks. The water streams into my waterproof shoes. I wade like this for some time.
My sleep deprived mind misses a marker and I start descending when I should be going up. I feel like I’m going the wrong way but I press on, not wanting to check my map while it’s so wet. I could not find a GPS file for this new section of the trail so I am reliant on my paper map, witch is already soggy and starting to fall apart. I make it a km or more before realising my navigation miscalculation and start cursing into the wind and rain, scaring the hell out of a couple of sheep minding their own business. As I retrace my steps and head up Mt Horrocks the wind intensifies. My poncho is blown sideways and rendered useless. I carry on with numb, or just dumb determination.
As I get off the mountain and onto the road the rain stops. I fold up my heavy poncho and put it away, only for the rain to begin once more. So this is how its going to be.
The trail follows the Riesling Trail for a few hours before heading into Spring Gully Conservation Park. It is certainly beautiful but I wish I were in a fresher state of mind to appreciate it, one to come back to for a nice trail run.
I head up densely vegetated single track to be greeted by a huge wedge tailed eagle lifting off from its perch on a low gum tree. I’m not the only one who is water logged. This seems to be the way of the trail. Challenge is always rewarded with something beautiful. “Thank you”.
I miss a trail maker and go the wrong way. The eucalyptus tree have never heard such profanity. What is another 3ks right?
Only yesterday I was complaining about the lack of water. What a difference from the past couple of days! I have to laugh to myself about the absurdity of it all.
More road follows before I finally enter the outskirts of Clare via a private bush track.
The trail markers are no more and there is a sign instructing me to the official end of the Lavender Federation Trail. I wander through the town before finding the sign signifying my completion.
No fan fare, no great sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation or my frozen feet. I manage a smile and take a quick selfie.
I change into dry clothes under a nearby shelter. This is the life.
Coffee, a warm shower and a lift are provided by a dear friend. How do I rope people into my shenanigans? Should they be encouraging this addiction? Aren’t they enablers? Regardless I’m forever grateful. One day I’m going to get someone to come along with me!
I catch the Gawler train back to Adelaide. I look at Durian, the plush Orangutan still hanging to my pack. “We have been through some shit huh?”
Tomorrow we fly to Tasmania to do it all again. Another trail, another adventure. I would not have it any other way.
Spectacular morning entering Truro Gorge
Enjoying the show before the storm gets too close for comfort
Climbing Mt Horrocks after a wrong turn