Seeing as how I never created a digital account of the trials and tribulations of my time on the Bibbulmun Track, I thought “better late than never”! In this case it really was quite a while ago, as I completed my trek after 40 days and 700km in April, 2011. Let me roll it back for you.
I really took an interest in hiking in 2010. After only one season of day hiking at every possible opportunity I was irreversibly hooked. So when my friend and I started planning a trip to Australia in 2011 I had to google “best hikes”. A little bit of research led me to the Bibbulmun Track, a walking trail stretching nearly 1000km across South-West Australia. I had originally planned to hike all 1000km, however, in the end I started a little later and walked a little slower than hoped, so with a flight to Thailand to catch I removed myself from the trail early. Though I kept a detailed daily diary, the below account will simply serve as a summary, with exact quotations serving as emphasis. My friend Sarah joined me for the first five days of the adventure. She’d initially intended to hike the entirety of the track with me, but after a couple of days decided the trail life was not for her.
We did not train before we left. We did not buy ultra-light gear, or proper hiking boots. We used cheap sleeping bags we literally found. We didn’t pre-plan meals, and mostly survived on candy and side-kicks pasta. We used garbage bags as rain gear. You may have gathered by now that we did very little research at all before we left.
Day 1 – March 19, 2011 – 19.5km
The trail began in Albany, WA, winding along dramatic coastline including high cliffs, white sand beaches, shrubbery and flowers. Given we’d only ever carried our packs from bus-to-hostel up to this point, the most shocking realization on day 1 was that 50 extra pounds on your back is a lot of weight. It took us two hours to travel the first 5km, with frequent stops to readjust our backpacks. Needless to say, the pain and fidgeting made it difficult to enjoy the scenery. After setting up camp we went to sleep immediately at 7pm.
Day 2 – March 20, 2011 – 17.1km
Sarah couldn’t handle the ants and nearly had a melt-down. She had already decided she was leaving the trail when we hit the next town on day 5. (By the way, Australia has huge, scary, fast ants.) The coastal views were rewarding, and some beach walking allowed our feet freedom from our shoes, which were already giving us blisters.
Days 3-5 – March 21-23, 2011 – Cumulative distance after day 5 was 83.7km
We struggled to get up in the mornings, as our bodies ached from the weight of the packs, and our blisters throbbed. It is fair to say that the first five days were the hardest on my body, as I got used to the burdens of poor decision making. It was around 30 degrees Celsius during the day, and low shrubbery did not provide shade. Given the southern stretch of the trek is coastal, the trail is mostly soft sand, which was a challenge to walk up or down. Sarah went back to Perth after day 5. Day 6 I opted to take a rest day in a town.
Days 7 – 10 – March 25-28, 2011 – Cumulative distance after day 10 was 161.6km
I continued along breathtaking coast line, the trail occasionally weaving more inland and passing through forests of eucalyptus, jarrah and sheoak. On the summit of Mount Hallowell I was afforded an excellent view of the coast; “it was rewarding to see how far I’ve already come. There is something magical about standing on a mountain and being able to look back at the accomplished horizon. The views of the ocean below took my breath and I shed a tear of happiness.” At nearly every beach crossing I chatted with friendly families, fishermen and surfers who all thought I was crazy to walk that far with a pack as big as my body. The heat of the sun forced me to take many breaks to keep from overheating. Staying hydrated was an issue and I experienced severe cramping all over my body, including my fingers, as a result.
“Today I felt very free. It’s releasing to know that I have everything I need on my back. I could actually disappear forever right now if I wanted to, and never go back to society. Except when it gets too hot. Then all I want is a pitcher of margarita by the pool. Being out here makes one appreciate all the small things. Maybe that is the point of this whole thing.”
Day 10-14, March 28-April 1 – cumulative distance after day 13 was 210.6km
Spectacular vegetation and awe-inspiring views kept me moving. By this time I’d adjusted to the weight of the pack and had become a master at blister repairs. I was able to move more quickly, now rarely stopping for breaks. Plus, I left the heat of the coast line and entered ancient forests with giant red tingle trees, which provided shade. Small rivers allowed me to bathe the sweat off my skin.
A ‘between jobs’ surfer boy I met briefly on one of the beaches conveniently kept showing up at my campsites with fresh fruit as gifts. While the fruit was a welcome surprise, I got the stalker vibe and lied to him about my upcoming trail plans. Another woman gave me toffee to “keep up the glucose levels”.
Day 14 was a rest day in a town. I purchased burgers and cheesecake and red wine, and used the internet. I organized with Johannes – a German boy I’d met back in Perth who was interested in joining me on the trek for a while.
Day 15-20, April 2-7, 2011 – Cumulative distance after day 20 was 316.9km
During this period of time I encountered lots of wildlife, including kangaroos and possums. I nearly stepped on at least 11,000 poisonous Black Tigers Snakes, which love to bask in the sun on the trail. I also turned around on a trail at one point to find an Emu running at me. Nothing like a couple hundred pounds of muscular bird hurling straight toward you to get the heart beating. The swarms of flies and ants weren’t terribly pleasant, either.
To pass the time while on trail I took to singing, citing mantras, and counting to 2000. In some sections I even felt strong enough to start fast walking, and with the body feeling sprightly, my mood soared to the point of elation. Occasionally I passed other walkers, or shared a campsite with them. Everyone was always very friendly, and amazed that a young person showed such interest in long walks.
On Day 20 it started to rain, and rain, and rain, and rain. But this did not negatively impact my mood; “The trees and bushes were so lush! Rain makes the greens greener, the red redder, the white sand whiter, and browns into black, creating beautiful contrast. The birds were wild. The forest was alive.”
Day 21-26, April 8-14, 2011 – Cumulative distance after day 25 was 403.4km
“Today I remembered how far I really am from home. This forest is so exotic to me. Soaked through to the bone I realize I am really dependent on myself right now. The only way through is forward and the only one who can make me do it is me. I am light spirited but my cold soaked feet and shoes have me shivering for hours on end and I feel sobered and humbled. I am not invincible, even though I feel like a millionaire superstar for getting this far.”
I continued to rain on and off. I entered forests of karri trees, the second biggest trees in the world, next to redwoods. I never felt smaller in my life, with the canopy so high above. The nights got colder. I made friends with a Dingo. It was a good place and time to do some soul-seeking.
At this point I was not seeing people very often. I know I started talking and singing to myself out loud, and busting a move for entertainment. Fortunately on Day 25 I got into a town, took a rest day, and met up with Johannes. He greeted me with a cold beer. It was the best beer of my life.
Day 27-34, April -21, Cumulative distance at the end of day 34 was 561.2km
This section started off very flat and straight. The trees were lovely but being stuck in dense forest all the time can be somewhat boring to look at. Mostly the trees in this section were Marris and very old grass trees, but closer to the end of it the forest changed dramatically into pines. We passed through a long section that had experienced a rather large forest fire within recent years, so older trees were jet black, and shoots in the ground were a vibrant green.
One day we passed through a mostly abandoned old mill town. There was just a road, a general store, and an old school that had been converted into a bunk room for travelers such as ourselves. We opted to stay here for a night, even though there were possums in the rafters and kangaroos trying to steal garbage.
I was happy to have Johannes as a walking companion for a while. But after 8 full days together, we were pretty sick of one another and decided to part ways. He went back to Perth, but allowed me to borrow his sleeping bag for the rest of the trek, which was much warmer than mine. It was needed on the increasingly colder nights.
Day 35-40, April 21-27, 2011 – Cumulative distance after day 40 was 695km
With Johannes gone I was alone again and free to go my own speed. I found myself speedwalking, and even breaking into a run at some points, despite the 50-pounds of weight on my back. I had grown strong, nicknaming myself “Iron-Legs Landry”. The last 5 days on the trek were some of my happiest, with my body feeling good and my head in a great space.
I passed through some swampy boardwalk sections, as well as some grassland, and areas of low soapbrush and ferns. In one of these grassy sections I was attacked by thousands of red ants! Fortunately I only received a couple of bites since I was wearing long pants that day.
On day 36 I made a detour to visit a random pub on the highway I’d read about in my guide book. I decided I’d indulge in a burger and beer, but when I arrived I got so much more. Literally a hick pit-stop in the middle of nowhere, the “Mumby Pub” ended up offering an evening of entertainment. This includes, but is not limited to, the Crocodile Dundee-like bartender and leather clad biker chicks cracking whips in the bar, an impromptu musical jam from the local farmers, eating stew made of a sheep slaughtered that morning, shots of Bacardi 151, and sleeping in a bed made up for me in the shed through a violent thunderstorm that night.
On day 38 I was so excited to trek that I just kept going and stayed on my feet for 40.9km, my longest singular day. Then on the final two days I more or less jogged into Collie. My final day on the trail was emotional. I was sad to be done, but glad to head back to Perth to see my friends.
Animals I encountered along the Bibbulmun Track:
– Quenda (bandicoot)
– The scariest ants, ever
– Processions of hairy caterpillars (lined up head-to-butt, to mimic snakes, these lines appeared to get up to 20M
– Black Tiger Snakes
– Bobtail Skinks
– Bush Rats
– Dugite Snakes
– Spiders as big as your hand
– Colourful Cockatoos
– Wild Pigs