1 How many pairs of shoes have you used?
16! Walking on hot sharp blue metal bitumen and rough gravel edges pushing a barrow sometimes weighing over 110kg wears a sole down much faster than recreational park and bush walking. I also change over to a new pair more frequently than most people because the damage to joints and tendons walking 40kms/day on uneven wearing soles (I have a wonky gait from a wonky spine) causes a lot of unnecessary pain and down time. Some shoes have been better than others. I won’t mention the brand name of the best shoe because they refused to sponsor me. You can ask me that privately.
I have been very fortunate having the support of Bruce and Ros Easton of Wilderness Sports Jindabyne, my old bosses and friends. Since the preparation stage of the walk they have offered their wisdom and gear knowledge as well as a generous discount on all goods I buy through them including 10 pairs of the really good trail runners. Ask Bruce about footwear, it is one of his areas of expertise.
At the moment I am slowly transitioning from my last pair of trail runners to Slappa’s Thongs. Slappa’s are my official shoe sponsor! These are no ordinary thongs (AKA flip flops, smaguls, flicks, flips, slaps, slippers, jandals, hawai chappals). Slappa’s have orthotic soles and mould to support your arch and heel. I am now comfortably walking 10km a day in thongs and hope to completely discard shoes when I reach the east coast.
Switching to thongs is inspired by a Swedish walker, minimalist vagabond Mats Andren, who walked 20,000kms from Stockholm, Sweden to Sydney, Australia wearing thongs as part of his ongoing human powered adventure around Earth.
Budget is also a motivator to switch to thongs.
2 How much water do you drink?
This depends on the temperature, weight of barrow, surface of roadside, terrain, strength of headwind and humidity. The harder and hotter it is the more I drink, eg, walking into a headwind all day is like walking up hill all day and is hot sweaty work. On an average 40km day (average being a reasonably flat quiet road, mostly walking on the bitumen into a 20km/hr headwind pushing 75kgs) if it is between 30 and 35C I drink at least 6ltrs, more than 35C up to 10ltrs, less than 30C about 5ltrs. I add Shotz electrolyte tabs to every fourth litre of water.
There are roadhouses or towns every 100-300kms so I make sure I have enough water plus a bit extra to get to the next roadhouse or town. Without a support vehicle I carry everything I need in the barrow which can sometimes be up to 45ltrs of water.
Twice in 2 years I accepted water from travellers which was bad and made me sick. I had to ration after jettisoning a 10ltr bottle of bad water the first time. The second time I was near a river and purified a new supply of water straight from the river.
Bore water is unpleasant, especially when it is warm and my water is usually hot from radiant heat off the road and sitting inside an alloy box in the sun all day (insulation works for only half a day, I’ve tried it). For most of the last 11,000kms I have had to buy bottled water or ask for access to rainwater supplies. Usually roadhouses won’t let me use their rainwater so I must buy it. It is very expensive, 5 times more expensive than fuel in many roadhouses. I could force myself to drink bore water, it won’t kill me, but when I stop to hydrate I prefer it to be palatable rather than forcing it past my gag reflex.
When I crossed the Nullarbor I used 180ltrs of water. The average cost of a 1.5ltr bottle was $6. I bought 5ltr or 10ltr bottles at $12 or $20 if they were available. I spent almost $800 on water in only 6 weeks walking the short distance of 1,200kms between Norseman and Ceduna. It cost more than $2,500 for water from Perth to Darwin but I was given some sweet filtered bore and river water in the Kimberley which saved a lot of money.
I don’t carry washing water. Not a drop is wasted, every little mil is swallowed, including tooth brushing and bowl rinsing.
And I never turn down offers of cold water!
3 What do you eat?
Mostly my food is rationed and non-perishable. It isn’t exciting but it is nutritious.
Breakfast – Loving Earth Buckini organic raw buckwheat granola style muesli with lots of extra dried fruit, nuts and seeds. I use water instead of soy milk or juice, it is more convenient.
Lunch – Power Super Foods dried organic fruit and raw almonds.
Dinner – a cup of raw almonds.
Snacks – Blue Dinosaur raw organic energy bars.
Kind Road Angels (see previous blog post) sometimes stop and offer fresh fruit. This is awesome!
Near border quarantine check points I rummage through bins for fresh fruit and salad other travellers have thrown away. I can usually get a good salad out of a voluntary quarantine bin. WA customs officers are not allowed to give charity walkers confiscated food. I found that out the hard way when I met a rude loud mouthed WA quarantine officer as I walked into Northern Territory through the Kimberley.
While in towns, a rare day or two of civilisation, I binge on fresh fruit and salad. When I reach the east coast I will need to take care of how much I eat, there will be no more need to binge with fresh food available almost every day and more regularly the further south I walk.
I carb-load on hot potato chips at roadhouses where there is nothing else for a vegan to eat. Sometimes I buy cans of beans, corn and peas from outback general stores. Everything costs much more in WA, NT and outback QLD, double it and add some. $4 for an old can of baked beans that has been sitting on the shelf since before the invention of pull rings!
4 Where do you sleep?
About 85% of the walk, so far, has been through remote Australia with only the bush beside the road to camp in. Most evenings, around sunset, I start looking for a nice bunch of trees, scrub, tall grass or rocks to camp behind. Usually I find a good spot about 15 – 20 metres off the road where the scrub will shield from headlights during the night and give some privacy in the morning when I go to the toilet. If I can’t find anywhere suitable I walk until dark and get up before light for both privacy and safety reasons.
My normal camping kit is the Mont Moondance 1 one person light weight tent, a thin mat and sleeping bag. My clothes sack doubles as a pillow.
I’m not exactly a minimalist right now because I have an ultralight Goshawk hammock from Tier Gear. This might come in handy if I can’t find a suitable place to pitch the tent but might find 2 strong trees to hold the hammock.
There is a list of things I look for before setting up camp, points of safety. I have been camping since a little kid and it is more intuition these days but the subconscious list I run through quickly includes:
Drainage – if it rains I don’t want to be sleeping in a puddle,
Animal tracks – I would have a much more comfortable night sleep without being jumped on or run over by animals like kangaroos or buffalo,
Trees – Some species of eucalyptus trees have a reputation for being “widow makers”. Any tree might drop a limb on your tent during the night so try avoiding overhanging limbs big enough to kill you if they fall,
Ants – don’t camp on top of an ants nest. They eat through tent floors,
Rocks – clear sharp objects like rocks and sticks from the group before pitching. It will make your bed more comfortable and cause less wear on the floor of your tent,
Sensitive ecosystems – Avoid camping on ground with small fragile plants and signs of small animal activity. Pitching a tent, walking around the site, digging a toilet hole, all these activities can damage fragile ecosystem and vulnerable species and,
Water catchments – You can camp close to creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, beaches but never wash dishes in them, never wash yourself with soap in them and always dig your toilet hole at least 200m away or more. Parasites are in almost every water catchment in Australia, including Kosciuszko National Park’s snow fed lakes and rivers, because campers and bushwalkers have not respected this rule.
When I get to roadhouses and in towns I try to find a donated or discounted motel room or hospitality offered by a supporter. It feels wonderful to have a bed and bathroom, preferably somewhere I don’t need to walk far during the night to go to the toilet. It is good for my morale to stay in a room every now and then. I can relax and rest in comfort.
5 Where is your support vehicle?
I am walking alone, There is no support vehicle, no car, no caravan, no motorhome, no cook, no masseuse.
6 How far do you walk in a day?
I average a 40km walking day, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on how I feel and distractions. 67kms is the longest walking day so far but 40kms is comfortable. It starts to hurt around 50kms and around 60kms the cramps kick in. When my nutrition levels are good I recover overnight and can push my average closer to 50kms but I need long summer days because my walking speed is only 4kms/hr.
I don’t walk every day. I take 2 rest days a week and if I am near something interesting or beautiful I might hang around. This year I am not worrying about racing to Townsville because I know I will easily get there during dry season and reach Canberra before the end of the year. More detours, more tourist days, more time with hosts, more enjoyable!
7 What do you do in bad weather?
I usually keep walking. Last year I stopped and retreated from one of the cyclones but found myself in another a month later. Earlier this year I stopped for 10 days until the temperature dropped below 40C. I am prepared for most weather and experienced in extremes but if the weather has the potential of killing me then I avoid walking in it. I like weather, except headwinds, humidity and heat. I have been walking into headwinds most of the way around Australia. If you’re planning your walk around I suggest doing it anti-clockwise so you have tailwinds most of the way. One of my most memorable days was walking through a blizzard while walking acround Tasmania. It was beautiful! I have walked through some floods and many electrical storms and after all the bad weather there are rainbows and sunshine.
8 Do you feel lonely?
This is one of my most dreaded questions. Sometimes, when exhausted, I really do feel lonely and this question makes it worse. I try not to think about it because most of the time I love solitude. Just today I was thinking of how lucky I am to be single and alone. There are fleeting moments I wish for companionship, especially when witnessing some of the most fascinating and beautiful things on Earth, moments which would be richer for sharing. That feeling doesn’t last long because I love being alone. I do like someone, I think of them often, but they will never know because I will never tell them. I feel honoured to call them “friend” and wouldn’t dream of jeopardising that. Having spent most of my adult life alone it is no big deal to dream of growing old touring Australia in a campervan with an old rescue dog.
When you think about it, as animals, another species roaming Earth, we are never truly alone. I love the company and conversation of birds, listening to dingos at night as I fall asleep, frogs and crickets competing for airtime after sunset, saying hello to lazy grazing cows beside the road and watching timid roos, wallabies and reptiles scamper into the cover of scrub. Trees are good company too.
9 How many punctures have you had?
None! I had one pinched valve because I didn’t keep the air pressure high enough. I am on to the second set of wheels. Rims, tyres, tubes and goo were donated by Scott Cycles in Karratha WA about 4,000kms ago. The previous set lasted until the axels snapped, bearings spilled out and skewers bent. The current set are top quality and will hopefully last another 2,000kms. The tyres and tubes are heavy thick rubber. I have watched the dense rubber tyre push out massive cat head thorns. Impressive! If I have any trouble with thorns on the east coast I will buy solid airless tyres. Punctures are the bane of many buggy pushing, cart pulling walker and runner. I have been fortunate to have avoided this problem so far.
10 Do you pull or push your barrow?
I push. Years ago, on previous charity walks I had a little cart which I pulled. It was small and light and no real problem. I tried different harness set ups but opted to just hold it and let my elbows act as suspension. The shoulder, hip, waist and chest harnesses sent the road vibration and shock through my whole body which was less comfortable than using extra strength and energy without the harnesses.
Anyway, a long story short, I happened to swing the cart around to push it through a narrow section of path and discovered how much easier it is to push than pull.
I reckon our largest muscle groups, quads and glutes, can handle pushing easier and for longer distances than pulling. Pulling results in the fatigued muscles shifting to small muscle groups sooner than while pushing. Small muscle groups don’t have great stamina.
Dory, my big blue and yellow barrow, was designed by me from my experience with other buggies and carts and built pretty close to my specifications. She is so easy to push along flat sealed surfaces, if her load is balance slightly forward of centre, I can push her with 1 finger. There is a little message on the lip of the barrow lid facing me as I walk, just 3 little words to keep me going, “can and will”.
I have purposefully left out 3 really big questions. These will each be answered as blog posts of their own in the future.
What are some of your questions about walking solo unaccompanied around Australia? Post them in the comment below.