Hiking Larapinta?

Now we’re Hiking!

Or are We?

Got to Alice Springs at night… It was cold… quite, very, really bloody cold.

Everyone else was sorted. All their food drops had been neatly packed into plastic tubs ready to be dropped at multiple points along the way. I was standing over my overburdened pack (The one I’d brought along with me instead of the one I needed… The one I decided on my last hike that I would never use again!), wearing my most beautifully designed Italian Leather, Scarpa hiking boots, the second toes already numb from the pressure of ‘Toe-Strike’ (A word I just invented… maybe already exists but I didn’t know… so it’s my word!). Nothing organised, gear still strewn throughout the Horror Truck… and I realised I am simply not prepared for a hike of this magnitude!

The others were all psyched and trying to pump me up so I’d be a positive contributor to the morale of the group, a reliable participant in the journey… ‘n’all that. Then I pealed my boots from my swollen feet and they saw the pink/blue pulp that emerged. The blackened toenails and blistered heels made it very obvious that my feet were not fit for this journey… My overloaded pack was not suitable for carrying even a moderate load… but now weighing close to 20kg it was positively a hinderance!

I looked around the disappointed group, I had successfully wet-blanketed the night. We said goodnight and hit the sack… I think I slept about two hours!

The hike began at the Telegraph Station on the North side of Alice Springs. Starting at Sunrise, before the gates were opened… At this stage nobody bemoaned an extra 700 meters. Spirits were high! Finally I felt like I was kind of free. The long days and weekends I’d been putting in at the office suddenly melted away… the drama with the white Truck of Doom was a distant memory. Fresh air and gravel underfoot were my new reality! Off we go!

First leg of the hike was wonderful, along a dry creek then up into escarpment, up and up until the first great view if the hike. Euro Ridge. As we arrived, already tired from humping our packs up hill, we spied a lone hiker in the distance… but he wasn’t hiking, he had no heavy pack or stiff boots. He was jogging!

“Hey fella, how’r you doing? Where you coming from?” We ask.

“Redbank Gorge.” He replied, In a quiet unassuming and completely believable tone. (Redbank Gorge was at the other end of the trail… Over 200 km away!)

He jogged it in three and a half days!

We celebrated our grand achievement of about 10km with a group photo atop Euro Ridge and trudged onward.

I wouldn’t say our first day on the trail was tortuous. The weather was cool and the trail was well marked and relatively clear of scree and boulders, there were hills but nothing in comparison to what was ahead of us.

When we reached the dry creek bed of Simson’s Gap I collapsed in a heap! We still had a way to go before we reached our camp but I was spent. My feet were causing me so much pain it exhausted me totally. I couldn’t talk or think, I just trudged off at a cracking pace until I reached the hikers camp. Dropped my pack and dropped my bundle! I took off my shoes, put down my ground sheet and curled up in the foetal position for the rest of the afternoon. I had the shakes, I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.

In the morning I felt much better after hydralight, vitamin B and Panadol! My feet refused to be squeezed back into the boots. They remained swollen, the tips of my second toes on both feet were black and throbbing… I had lost most sensation from the one on the left. That was it for me. I could not continue hiking with these boots or the pack with the dodgy waist strap!

fold out tent – for car camping – no energy to erect a real tent

I travelled with the support vehicle back to Alice Springs, where I found a cheap pair of trail shoes. The next day we met the gang at Standley Chasm. From here on I would travel with the vehicle, make camp and hike with only a light pack with snacks and hydration to meet the gang. Standly Chasm was a great camp site, we met a bunch of other hikers and formed a larger group. Some of the other hikers were struggling with their gear or the sheer difficulty of the hike so I volunteered as support person to escort them and carry gear over the first few hills before turning back to camp.

We had intended to bring supplies and drop some hikers off at the Junction of 4/5 but flood waters had cut off the 4×4 track leaving that part of the trail inaccessible to service vehicles. Of course this was not communicated to us until we’d crossed several sand traps and had managed to travel down a narrow track to a road block in a spot that was impossible to turn around! Naturally, we got bogged in the sand!

This was very disappointing. We had to travel a couple of days ahead of the group to the next access point at Ellery Creek Big Hole (South). Naturally our gang hiked through to Ellery Creek Big Hole (North) on the other side of the water hole, a long walk around. We stayed one night then moved on to a great little camp at Serpentine Gorge.

I camped at Serpentine Gorge with one of our crew and another hiker we’d picked up along the way. It was nearly time for me to return to work so I set up camp for three days and spent the mornings carrying other hikers packs to the top of the hill… 5km along the trail, steep grade max elevation 1,000 meters (or so) Seriously! Across a five kilometre lateral distance we were climbing one km! This was hugely satisfying! I could do a 10km hike. Get maximum elevation and walk back without having to carry a pack! By now instead of trudging I was virtually skipping. My feet had recovered from the torture of my boots and I was getting plenty of exercise before lunch every day.

A native Cyprus tree – dead but standing high above the plain

On the third night the rest of our gang arrived. We had a grand feast and laughed a lot. I could see they had found their rhythm. Though I’d missed a lot of the trail, I was absolutely sure I’d made the right decision. There was no way I could have continued in those boots or with that pack.

In the morning Trail Support Guy and I said farewell to our gang and we drove back into Alice to get some tools for the truck and eventually drop me off at the Greyhound bus stop. We arrived in Alice early but the truck had to have the final word! It was here that I foolishly suggested to it’s owner that we should check the oil! So we let the engine sit a good hour while we went and voted (Federal election! Labour Won! Morrison is OUT!) We ambled back to the truck, I pulled the dipstick out of the engine, wiped it carefully, clean, sunk it back in it’s hole then retrieved it! There was a black glob of tar stuck to the bottom of the dipstick! “No Mate! This will not do! You’ve got to get oil into this car asap!”

The rest of the day was spent fussing after that damned Truck! It got to have the final word! 10 minutes before the Greyhound arrived I stripped down to my jocks in the carpark and gave myself a coke bottle shower! The dust and grime of a week of hiking and bush camping rand down my legs like dirty river water, red and brown! I poured some under my arms then threw on some clean dry clothes for the bus ride home! I couldn’t wait to sit comfortably in my own private cocoon on the bus. Nobody next to me, usb charger for my phone… A blissful slumbering road trip Finally finished reading Out of Census Vol. 2.

Peace out Babies. No Expectations… No defeat No one to beat, Nothing to prove!

Getting to Alice

A brief re-cap of preventable hardship…

A few months ago I received a message from a friend I’d met through in the local bushwalking club. It was something like: “Hiking Larrapinta… You interested?”

Four years ago we’d formed a neat little hiking crew. We organised some kid friendly hikes, the kids hit it off and we had some great times. Then… two of the families moved away, both to North Queensland and my involvement in the club dropped off considerably… (I literally didn’t do any hiking after they left!)

Very unfit, 20kg heavier… I began to prepare for the hike. Walking about 10km each morning, usually in flip-flops, along the local foreshore cycle path… very flat, very smooth. Though this was barely sufficient training for Larapinta it did improve my health and general wellbeing considerably! I was on my way. I walked quite a few miles coffee in hand, feet unaccustomed to shoes… smile on my face.

With two months to prepare, God knows why I waited till the last week to try walking in my hiking boots! They were extremely good quality, Leather Scarpa hiking boots but they were too tight and stiff! Somehow three years of walking around barefoot had splayed my feet to the point that they could no longer fit comfortably into my expensive hiking boots… Boots I could not afford and had no time to replace! I persevered and hoped the boots would stretch…

The plan was good… I was sure that I could manage the hike everything would level out on the day! Well… No it did not!

Foolishly I agreed to drive a mate’s truck down so he could act as support crew to his daughter who was using the hike as a fundraiser. It seemed like a great idea to me. I love a road trip! Problem was I had no time to inspect the vehicle prior to leaving! The week before the hike was a shocker at work! I had back to back meetings spanning through the weekend and was responsible for managing important work meetings and logistics for attendees until Friday… I needed to leave Darwin on Thursday if I intended to prepare food drops and gear the day before our two week adventure.

Enter THE TRUCK! a 1998 Toyota 80 series Land Cruiser. Diesel.

I collected the truck on Tuesday, hoping to take some time to look her over and prepare her for the trip… Didn’t happen. Instead I was working 7am – 9pm with people who had come into town from bush communities. The truck screeched ominously when I turned the ignition and the fan belt continued to squeal as I drove down the street. I parked it at the office and got on with my work. Didn’t pack the damned thing until early Thursday morning. Even then I could feel the steering wheel shake on a smooth road!

Got an urgent message from a senior man, he needs help to get his grandson down to Alice (People where I work travel a lot). Well, says I, I happen to be driving to Alice Springs today… He can come with me. HA! How naive am I?

So… Off we go. Me and the kid (16 year old) bouncing down the Stuart Highway at 4:30pm, the open road ahead of us. Sunset an hour or so away.

As we rolled into Mataranka after dark, all the dash lights came on! I turned the engine off and tried to re-start it… Nothing. Battery flat! We spend the night under a street light outside the council office on the side of the Stuart Highway. (With my t-shirt as a blindfold I slept well, aside from being disturbed by locals in need of a cigarette lighter every couple of hours.)

I assured my young ward that we would be back on the road in no time. At dawn we got a jump start and drove to the mechanic. We were in luck, they had new batteries and the right belts to fit the vehicle… trouble was they wouldn’t be able to fix it until the following day! By lunch time, out of boredom and despair, I made an executive decision! We’d buy the gear, install the new battery and head to a mate’s place in Tennant Creek where we could replace the belts ourselves. Unfortunately a fan belt blew out just south of Daly Waters and we had to limp into Dunmurra Road house, with the radiator hissing steam!

Stuck in Dunmurra for a whole day… Big thanks to fellow travellers with tools!

We fiddled with the car all day with tools that didn’t quite fit! A young woman turned up to see what I was doing and asked if I needed help. “Err…. Yep.” I said only mildly embarrassed. “Sure… do you know anything about fixing cars”. She looked it over, tried all the same things I did, but with the right tools… still we were having difficulty reaching the pivot bolt tensioner from under the vehicle… It seemed impossible. Then she said quite matter of fact. “Well why don’t we just take the bash plate off?”

The bash plate was blocking our access… it was not a necessary part of the vehicle and it was held on by three easy to reach bolts. We had it off in two minutes! Loosened the pivot bolt and before the sun went down we had removed the remaining fan belt! Success!

It had taken so long to get that far but now it seemed there was an issue with the tensioner bolt! We couldn’t get the alternator belts tight again! By the evening I realized if we didn’t get out of here tonight the young fella would miss his game! (football). At 5pm I called a friend in Darwin who purchased a Greyhound ticket online The bus was due to arrive in Dunmurra at 7pm!

I gave the kid a meal of chicken potato chips and a can of drink and saw him off with a sense of relief then returned to the truck in the dark to continue fiddling with bolts and belts!

Through the night my mind was busy deconstructing the whole process, putting things back together in my mind. I found an image of the assembly online and studied it… There was one thing not quite right… I thought we were missing a nut… But no! We had removed a bolt that was anchored directly to the body of the alternator! We just needed to loosen the alternator right off so there would be room to fit the bolt back in!

I got out of bed at 5am and belted the alternator back with a block of wood and a hammer. It moved just far enough to get the bolt in finger tight. I fitted the belts and belted the whole thing back as tight as I could get it, fitted the tensioner bolt to the block and waited for someone with the right size socket to tighten the whole mess to a suitable tension… A bloke in the van across from me had what I needed. I tightened the whole thing up and turned the key! VRRRROOOM! Yes! We were in business.

By 7:15 I’d packed everything up and was back on the road thanking everyone emphatically for their help!

I arrived in Alice Springs at 7:30pm that night! Much to everyone’s amazement! They had all packed their food drops and prepared their hiking gear, ready to start walking at 6am the next morning. They really didn’t expect to see me at all.

At dawn when it was time to walk, I was the least prepared by a considerable margin!

Post Journey vehicle assessment:

  • Tyres: Unroadworthy, uneven tread wear across all four tyres. Pressure well below recommended. (I didn’t have time to check the tyre pressure before leaving… thought the owner had done that.)
  • Tools: NONE of any consequence until we bought them in Alice Springs!
  • Fan Belts: Worn out and shredded before we left Darwin. (Not a good sign if they are squealing while you drive)
  • Engine: No idea when it was serviced last!
  • The oil was like a thick tar at the bottom of the dipstick!
  • Cost: Too many! Exess fuel due to flat tyres, New Battery, New fan belts, AANT Membership, etc… etc…
  • Bus ticket
When I checked the oil I saw RED!  
“Hey kid, you think that’s oil?
Man, that ain’t oil, that’s blood”
(Lost in the Flood – Bruce Springsteen)

Overall Experience

It was awesome! I actually had a great time! It was extremely satisfying to finally fix the fan belt, I enjoyed camping in the street in Mataranka the people I met there through the night were friendly. It was such a buzz when we finally resolved the issues with the alternator. Too Bad my new mate had to catch the bus, we’d already bonded in quite a short time thanks to that crazy messed up truck.

Brief flash back…

I meant to write, I truly did.

Time passed so quickly, working 16 days straight… Jumping from metaphoric muddy banks to mossy rocks while crocodiles lerking in cloudy swamp water wait patiently for my foothold to falter…

I just could not find the time. So many things to share, so little opportunity to commit thought to word or text in any meaningful way.

As I try to recall the moments colours fade and skeleton frames of memory back dim to shadow stencils of lives past. I hit the replay button and find scratchy fragments of time intercepted by experience, obscured by glare of present must do’s.

Peace and blessings 🙏

Rolling

Moving right along… A week has passed. Decision must be made… Go or stay?

The plan was to drive… A slow trip up the east coast in a vehicle that is as yet, without registration… Through two states seriously affected by flooding of biblical proportions, at a time when fuel prices are off the scale! ($2:20 per liter!)

My wheels. Somewhere in central Vic.

Not going to happen. On top of all that, I’ve gotta find a new place to live, pronto!

In the past week we’ve done some miles & seen some things.

Geelong by Sea Cat

City view from docklands wharf
Aesthetically
Fisher bloke
Jetty @ Geelong

Saw Hamilton… (Stage show)

Hanging Rock & Organ Pipes. (Barely a word about the original people of the land or the significance either site)

The pipes (For want of a better name)
Looking through the feather of a Gang-Gang cockatoo – They are still among us

Bendigo – Great Stupa of Universal Compassion

Stupendous
Watching
Bodhisattva of Compassion

On Saturday we went out to St Andrews market. Market day is just an excuse. It’s nice to be there when the place is alive, even if the atmosphere is only a shadow of what it was.

It seems all the hippies are gone, squeezed out by real-estate speculators and a new generation of well healed wannabees! I don’t really care. I’m not about to start blazing up on the grassy hillside now. But as I walk barefoot across the sharp edged clay visions return to me of wilder days. I walk oblivious past market stalls and find a spot to sit by the creek and listen to the birds and frogs… Feel the cool water bighting the arches of my feet and embrace my past so tightly it overpowers the now.

Creek with frogs and life
I liked his T-shirt – Seemed a nice bloke… old school

Later we went up the hill at Kangaroo Ground to view the sunset

Memorial tower sanctuary for blazers
From this grassy hill… we can see the far, all it needs are the native grasses returned

Sunday at Camberwell market. Camberwell area continues to have a huge supply of wealthy person stuff from the 19th and early 20th century… Great quality stuff and beautiful. Bless their silk stockings. Lots of Chinese jade (real and pretend) and silver cutlery, high class clothes and a private collection of sacred objects. (I have no idea how the collector obtained some of the objects which had originated from first nations people, they were authentic and I know are forbidden to be held by the likes of us!) I took no photos. Questions remain.

Today was dedicated to art. Vincent Van Gogh exhibition at the Lume.

Lots of blue… lots of yellow

Finally after the Lume we caught up with a mate from Darwin who had spent four months cycling from Darwin to Melbourne last year. It was great to catch up. He’d found a great little apartment and spends his days off wandering the city with his cameras. An artist at heart, maybe misplaced in Darwin. We spent the afternoon wandering the city, exploring lanes and old buildings. The life dreampt of as a young man… (Though my romanticism always included booze!) ‘Jay’s approach was far more sustainable than anything I could achieve… He also managed to teach himself how to process film and operate his cameras manually.

The afternoon spent with Jay, was a highlight of my trip. This guy is able to see the city with the eye of an artist. He notices all the curious delights of city living and is able to share them as I might see.

The cinematographer preparing his Super8 for something magical to emerge
The real deal

A long week, it’s been. As I lay here on my bed, a voice calls from the past and present…

Why do you leave?

Unfolding

I am laying on my stretcher bed a visitor in my home town, enjoying the temperate late summer days in Victoria, a refugee from the tropical north.

Bliss to my heart, peace in my mind.

One week earlier I was barricaded in a house that had been broken into multiple times over the past month, in a place that had once been quite pleasant. In social freefall now. I lament my sisters and brothers who have passed and mentors no longer present.

Gotta file a report… But what would it say?

Maybe one day I’ll write my experiences and thoughts on the subject, but for now I know it will do no good. I must sit with the loss and the anguish of life in the momentary peace, the eye of a perfect storm!

The first thing I notice as I step off the plane is the lack of moisture in the air, the coolness on my skin and the faint smell of dry grass and eucalyptus!

Eltham copper butterfly 🦋

My body somehow shifts itself into a different way of being. Alert but familiar. If I travelled in thongs I kick them off and stand with naked feet on the rough bark of a garden bed outside the terminal… If I have my boots on usually I wait.

Arriving at my parents place I quickly see which plants are in flower and what insects are attracted to their blooms. Hover flies, bees? If I’m lucky, the elusive blue banded bees that sometimes show up.

I check the vegie garden. This year they have corn!

I feel the bark of the trees and smell the rosemary, the lavender and rose petals… I find the gum tree and crack leaves in my hands releasing the potent oil within. My hear sighs. It is home. These I feel beyond sight or scent alone. Beyond the sound of magpies and minahs or crickets and cicadas. Something more. I walk mostly barefoot around the yard. Longing for the dry clay earth and blue green leaves of dry sclerophyll woodlands a few miles from town. Harsh but not. Home to tiger snakes and blue tongued lizards.

It’s been one week now. I have crammed as much in ad I could take and still it’s not enough.

I’ve breathed it walked it, felt it on my skin. I’ve picked and eaten forrage from the trees and parks. Delighted in gentle golden weeds.

I feel a deep compulsion to leave the world in the north. To walk away from the responsibilities of my adopted home and family. From constant dying. To retreat and save myself before I see the husk of my being unfolded like wet paper crane under a steel capped boot, incapable of returning to whole.

Three Little Birds, on the balcony

For the past year or so I’ve been living with a friend in one of the loveliest places in Darwin.

Photo looking across Kullaluk bay (Not sure it has an actual name) Photo by. Mita Das

From our balcony we get amazing views of the sea and mangrove… closer to home though, there are crimson finches! They are quite a pretty bird and they appear to believe that everything above 6ft off the ground is theirs!

These incredibly bold little birds like to build nests on the balconies in our neighbourhood.

A couple of months ago I thought I’d install a finch nest, hoping to lure them into breeding. Virtually as soon as the nest was hanging from the wall a pair had claimed it!

After a couple of failed broods, this week three well developed and boisterous young finches left the nest.

As a kid I used to build bird aviaries and kept native finches. I’ve been enthralled by birds all my life. It never really sat right with me that I kept them in cages and in the end the aviaries were taken down.

When I finally moved to Darwin to live, I found myself in a bird paradise! So many finches and parrots! They all seemed quite exotic to me. I am still amazed that I could be living in a place that has Jabiru, Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Bush Thick Knees and so many finches, right on my doorstep!

Feeling quite blessed. Big thanks to my flat mate for sitting diligently on the balcony to grab shots of the chicks in action!

(All photos by Mita Das)

Casuarina trees on a beach

It won’t be too long now when we will be explaining to newcomers in our town. How Casuarina beach got its name.

Dead trees litter the shore

Well ok I don’t actually know who named it, and my capacity for research today is limited, so I’ll get to the point.

In the past 20 odd years I’ve been in Darwin. (Yes.. odd in many ways). I’ve observed what I would say is the rapid decline of its coastal environment and the massive erosion alonhthe intertidal zone.

Roots exposed, waiting for next high tide

There is a wonderfull buffer between land and sea on the Darwin coast line. It consists of incredibly resilient populations of mangroves and other coastal species.

Casuarina forests have existed in the sandy dunes between the high water mark and the claystone cliffs. They have survived in a gentle balance between sea and land. Sadly over the past five years I’d say nearly half of the trees that were once there are now gone!

Fires destroyed a whole Forrest between Casuarina beach and Lee point a couple of years ago. It was tragic and preventable.

The big issue though is coastal erosion! Trees are toppling into the sea as the sea slowly creeps inland. Swallowing soil and vegetation as it goes. There is no stopping it!

Sea undermining Casuarina roots

Lee point has always hosted Aboriginal families, I am sure Larrakia would have camped here from time to time, these days it’s family groups from other regions. Long grassers, enjoying the freedom of life on the beach. Camping illegally in the reserve.

Cooking mollusks at the beach

It’s true they do make a bit of mess, with discarded tins and plastic blowing around, but I’ve never seen a single living tree killed in the long grass camp at led point. They come, they stay a while, they leave, the habitat returns. No big deal…

An elevated bed
Away from crocks and mozzies

The rule is no camping under the trees on the foreshore, I guess they won’t need that rule much longer…

I see this stuff and am reminded of the title of the book, Poor fellow my country’s by Xavier Herbert’s .

Poor Fella indeed

Alive

This place, harsh as it can be is fully awake and fully alive in the hot humid months of November and December.

Birds are busy nesting and raising chicks, reptiles are breeding, fighting and showing off their colours, the plants are fruiting.

The mango season has passed, geese graze on fallen fruit, great leathery winged bats cruise past our balcony at eye level and the crimson finches Twitter and peep as they nest above our heads. No room to be shy. All the world is alive and boldened by the season.

A bold boy
Shy one, sneaky
Great pillars electric
To old and tired to care
Fig bird thought I was it’s momma
Noisy neighbours

Pin cushion for thoughts

Reflecting on who used to be me… people I’ve been… For 25 years I could not be separated from my bikes… I rode a bicycle everywhere.

Over the past year I have barely ridden at all. As I was searching for some of my stuff online I found the rudiments of a blog I’d started writing in. Once again I am posting this thing here for personal reference.

https://pedalpoweredrambler.wordpress.com/

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