Welcome to, or back, to the latest addition of the SSSFFFTR. As advertised in Part 1, this part will cover a simple daily recap with lessons learned and the recovery process left for Part 3. Read it in one hit or navigate using the following links.
’12:45, if it’s not here by 12:45 then you can give them a call’. The bus, the first part of the plan, was late and I was giving the driver a bit of grace before Chad got them on the blower. Sure enough, Murphy’s law was in operation and as Chad makes the phone call our bus rolled around the corner. Axel, surely a German right?, gets out, goes to the trailer, opens it up and takes our bags with only a ‘Hello’ to make sure we’re the right people. Who else would be standing outside the Quorn Railway station offering their backpacks out like us. Chad gives him the cash, still no more small talk, and off we go. If this bloke isn’t into small talk why he is so late? Chad wasn’t to be deterred without getting his fix of small talk for on the bus there were actually quite a few people.
Still behind schedule Axel unloaded our bags at the Prairie Hotel and we waved goodbye, no we didn’t actually we couldn’t have cared less because we had some time to make up. Off we go, down the road from the Prairie Hotel a tick before 3pm. A lift to the start would’ve been nice but it was also $55. Or, if you’re in the right place at the right time, it can be free too I guess. After the maybe fifth or sixth car passed us we got kindly collected by an old bushwalker who had done the Heysen Trail and was only too happy to take us to the actual start. What did this mean for the plan? Well the 14km we had just zoomed along at the start could be replaced with an additional 16km past Aroona, our intended stop, to get us to Middlesight Hut for the night, giving us a rough 35km for the day.
The walking on this section starts out along a creek bed in some pretty barren country. Saltbushes dot the hillsides and big gums and occasional clumps of Callitris pines are on the plains/creek bed. The pace was on from the start, we were dropping 9:30/km (just above 6 km/hr) like it was nobody’s business even though we were on a slight elevation and the creek bed isn’t the greatest ‘trail’. At this pace Chad is walking fast and so am I. However, this is my scientific understanding of the matter, Chad’s legs are slightly longer than mine and despite having the same cadence, his increased stride length gives him a superior speed advantage at ‘fast walk pace’. To combat this speed differential I had to put in the occasional Cliff Young (an Australian gumboot wearing ultra running potato farmer) shuffle. Take a moment to look him up.
Now you know who Cliff Young is you can imagine the two of us happily walking and shuffling at times into the sunset towards Aroona. This section has a small downhill and we were now dropping sub 8 min km’s. At Aroona we had a drink of water and kept moving through. Only 16km’s more, or 2.5 hrs at our rough speed and we would be done for the day. The trail from Aroona to Middlesight Hut has a lot more diversity and is really nice. Singletrack through pine forests, firetracks to join single tracks, creek beds and even little grassy plains sections. Employing the No Stops till Middlesight strategy we pulled out the head torches we had conveniently stashed on the exterior of our packs, whilst moving, and kept going through the night. Little tricks like this helped keep us moving forward at times. Same deal with stashing our Clif bars and snacks in little pockets. At around 9pm we made it to Middlesight Hut, checked into the accommodation of flat wooden beds and were attempting to sleep by 9:30. In the 30 minute window between finishing and lying horizontally I ate: baked beans (a heavy Day 1 treat), canned tuna (also a heavy Day 1 treat), six cracker squares, 125g cheese and four scotch fingers. Add this tally to the 3 Clif bars and 1 gel I consumed whilst walking/shuffling and my total calorific intake from 3pm onwards was approximately 2300. This number compares well to the 2600 calories I supposedly burnt in this 35km section according to my watch (I have not considered the calories I consumed before the walk started because that was just a normal day’s meals and so theoretically I shouldn’t be in deficit or surplus from that).
Overall stats for the day:
– Distance: 35.33 km
– Duration: 5 hrs 21 mins 31 secs
– Ascent: 819m (counts every little undulation, not point to point elevation gain)
– 6.6 km/hr average speed. 12.0 km/hr max speed
– 8 min/km Net Graded Pace (an estimation on what my pace would’ve been if it was ‘a steady run on flat terrain’)
– Calories IN/OUT/Deficit: 2310/2604/~-300 (a large muesli bar’s worth, pretty negligible)
– Average Heart rate 110 bpm.
– Weather: Warm, gusty winds at night, minimum observed at Hawker for the night was 10 degrees and it felt like this in my sweaty sleeping bag…
Rise and shine fellas. A 4:30 am wake-up call was adhered to and we were out of Middlesight by 4:47. Sleep wise, it wasn’t a great night. Windy and warm conditions kept me awake and meant I didn’t feel as energised as I hoped but that’s life. The aim for Day 2 was to get to Mayo Hut now seeing as we had bought ourselves an extra 16km from the previous day. The first hour or so was fuelled by the excitement to be walking before dawn but after that wore off I smashed a couple of Clif bars and an Espresso Gel (which wasn’t too bad). The terrain was just as good as yesterday’s second half of the walk and is probably an area I’d like to revisit for the pleasure of trail running it. The coolest part of this section is approaching the edge of Wilpena Pound from a bit away to then suddenly being at the entrance to it at the metropolis that is the Wilpena Caravan Park/Resort HQ. With the nice trails and still being early in the day we were averaging easily 9 min/km (just above 6.5km/hr) with one km even being at 6:44 min/km. So, 4.5 hrs/32km into the day we were at our first re-stock point of Wilpena for the trip. Having a pre-arranged list in my head of all things I needed to do made a sub 30 minute break here possible. I was able to: buy and eat a whole pack of Doritos’s, a Gatorade, and a can of tuna, make and eat 2 wraps with peanut butter in them, buy 5 muesli bars, apply sunscreen, remove my rain jacket and head torch and pack it away, empty my rubbish, check phone reception (Federer retired? Hird wants to coach the Bombers again!) and use the toilet.
After that and as Willie Nelson says, on the road again we were. The section on from Wilpena through to Bridle Gap is very friendly walking and even with a brief water fill-up stop at the Homestead we were back on track managing just over 6km/hr. So far, after 9 hours of walking, our pace had always been above the 5 km/hr minimum we expected and the 6km/hr we had hoped for. Using your sense of foreshadowing though I’m sure you’re thinking ‘oh I bet you they don’t keep that up all day’. Well maybe we do, maybe we don’t. From Bridle Gap onto Black Gap the trail becomes a bit more technical and yes, the pace does drop slightly, but we both pick it up afterwards. Chad makes some repairs to his feet and I try to build a lead so I don’t have to Cliff Young shuffle so often. This part of the trail was all new to me and it felt like it lacked an overall sense of rhythm or maybe I just couldn’t feel it. We’d be going up little rollers, down into creek beds, up small ridge lines, ducking between trees and the only sense we had of going in the right direction was that the Elder Range, on our right, looked different every time I looked at it. Here is where the pace and my mood dropped. Here is also where it started to rain. Now nothing too dramatic was happening, we were still walking above 5 km/hr but just not pushing the 6km/hr envelope. Chad probably could’ve but without any opportunity to get a good running section in, my walking speed was slowing us down (Chad politely waited at times for me). A reset was needed.
The reset came in the form of arriving at Red Range Camp. A ‘Point of Interest’ always gives a nice reason to celebrate but it’s really just a random point in space and it would be much better to be able to mentally ‘reset’ anywhere anytime. But I’m not a Jedi master of that yet so a Red Range Reset it was. I took off my pack, smashed some wraps and peanut butter and some scotch fingers and just as I was relaxing, the rain starts to pick up again. Bloody hell, give a man a break. I had a quick look at my feet and boy and oh boy should I have done something when Chad attended to his feet. A few blisters had developed and one in particular (good photo at the end of the whole report) was almost two thumb nails in size. The last 17 or so km we had planned for the day were going to take some effort. What a great reset… not… but that’s life.
With the rain trickling down we kept going, because that’s what we’re here to do, just keep going. Up little hills, down little hills, along fence lines, over fence lines. On our approach to Mayo Hut the trail hits what becomes Hookina Creek and this is by far the biggest creek bed we would travel through. This thing made me feel very small. Being such a large creek bed there was plenty of options to walk through it or find a good edge to walk on. Hence, there was a lot of zig zagging around looking for the fastest potential section of it. The pace took a beating here and we were back at 5km/hr for a bit. Tired, hungry and wet, Mayo Hut finally appeared and it looked really homely which was nice. We entered to find 5 other bushwalkers and a fire going. There’s a little bit of pro’s and con’s in this situation. Tired, sleepy people just want to sit and not be peppered with questions but wet people also very much appreciated the fire. Chad was happy to keep the questioners at bay while I did my best at refuelling and relaxing myself for the next day’s efforts while contemplating how my feet and blisters were going to go. Tonight’s dinner was: 125g of cheese with some crackers, oats soaked in water and protein powder, a wrap with cheese and crackers in it, 2 scotch fingers and a Tim Tam from the bushwalking group. I kind of felt sick after this but I was trying to live in the ultra runners mindset of trying to eat as much as food as possible at all times (whilst also leaving some food for the next day).
Day 2 Stats:
– Distance: 77.64 km
– Duration: 13 hrs 15 mins 03 secs
– Ascent: 1684m
– 5.9 km/hr average speed. 15.5 km/hr max speed
– 9:10/km Net Graded Pace
– Calories IN/OUT/Deficit: 5498/6128/~-600
– Average Heart rate 106 bpm.
– Weather: Warm and windy in the morning then a total of 5mm of steady rain/drizzle in the afternoon.
A 5:30am wake-up gave us an extra hour’s sleep and ensured we would both start walking in the daylight hours (no headtorch necessary) and we wouldn’t be stirring too early in the hut (pissing off our room mates). My feet were still pretty sore but a bit of extra taping got them to a level where they were comfortable agin. Chad’s body was holding up pretty well too at this stage so despite both being kind of tired we were still feeling as good as you’d hope. The day started with more creek wandering which was a bit shit but that was hopefully the last creek section for a while. Our plan was to duck into Hawker to get more food and to do this involved running on the main highway. In these first couple of hours of the day I averaged anywhere from 8:45-9:15 min/km (around 6.5 km/hr) wandering along the creek bed or bank to several sub 6 min/km as I ran along the road (10km/hr). The less effort I needed to spend thinking about where the trail went, the more I could get in a good running rhythm and actually focus on my movement along the trail/road. This being the third day, I begun noticing that if I was able to run or shuffle along I was a lot happier than if I was walking. I think for me it’s because I just like the way running feels, simple as that. My ability to run opened a massive lead on fast walker extraordinaire Chad and although I knew I was being less polite than he showed yesterday by not stopping to wait for him I knew he’d catch me eventually so maximising my good energy now was more beneficial than any goodwill. I hope/hoped Chad thought this way too.
The strategy at Hawker was the same as at Wilpena, buy food, pack some away in my bag and smash as much as I can. The servo provided me with some Gatorade, more bandaids, cheese and muesli bars whilst Flinders Food Co served me a long black, a cheese and bacon sausage roll AND a lemon curd muffin. For those who don’t know me personally I rarely buy food at a cafe so splurging here was a sign I needed the sustenance. I felt a little tired and delirious and out of it as I stumbled around Hawker but the intake of fuel picked me back up to normal human level by the time Chad rambled in. He ordered his own stash, which beat mine for size, and then I hit the trail again to try and hold onto my good progress. More drizzle and wind from yesterday was still hanging around too so I didn’t want to fall for the trap of getting too cosy in the warm cafe. Back along the road and back enjoying myself I thought I was doing well, my feet weren’t too bad, my food seemed to be going well and I had been pacing my podcast and music listening well so I wasn’t too bored but also wasn’t too disengaged with everything around me.
At the 30ish km mark for the day I left the nice road to Jarvis Hill and followed the trail across several paddocks. The trail becomes a lot less defined here with several rocky sections that make for difficult running (hard to get a nice easy, consistent foot strike). I dropped my pace back to 5.5 km/hr walking speed and Chad popped up on me. So much for my big lead! We exchanged a bit of chat around the terrain we were in and how we were going but we were both locked into our seperate rhythm’s so I watched Chad saunter off. I smashed some wraps and muesli bars to try and get some energy going but felt pretty tired. The uneven, pebbly nature of the trail was making my feet sore and with all the fence line crossing and little creeks to negotiate I couldn’t get any flow with my speed. If there was a replay of this next thirty minutes a commentator would’ve suggested this was the beginning of the end…
The pain in my feet had increased but a new pain across the top of my right foot had also developed. Whenever I brought my toes up towards my shin I would experience a fair amount of pain, similar to the pain you feel the moment after you knock your foot or your ankle on something. But this was every step. I felt like it was probably inflammation of the extensor tendons from overuse and I thought I could relieve the tension by ‘stretching’ it out by placing the top of my toes on the ground and kind of holding my foot in a dragging position. This was not pleasant but seemed to relieve it slightly for a minute or so. I could still maintain 5.5-6km/hr pace with a good walking momentum but running was a lot more painful which made me sad. I liked running not only because it was faster but also because I just like it. I caught up to Chad at the last drink stop for the day and again we exchanged some chat about our thoughts on the trail and how we were feeling. Chad had been here a while I assumed so he had gathered I was struggling with something. Being honest, I said, my feet hurt and there’s a pain in my right foot that limits my running ability, I’ll be slow from here, you go on ahead. More food was smashed (three muesli bars, last of my scotch fingers and some gatorade powder) but then it was straight back into it. Earlier in the day a 5:00pm arrival at Buckaringa North looked possible but now I was hoping to make it by 6:00pm.
As you’ve probably worked out, I have an analytical mind which I use for doing little calculations on the go to work out possible plans. Earlier in the trip I was thinking, ‘If we’re doing well maybe we could push on to Mt.Arden today’. When my feet got sore and my right foot became angry it turned to ‘If we get to Buckaringa before dark, maybe we’ll just go along the road to Quorn tomorrow as an easy half day’. A little after leaving the last drink stop, and after attempting some more running, I was losing more hope and stopped thinking about the plan and focused on survival instead. My left foot was now starting to flare up like my right foot and I was giving myself little breaks to ‘stretch’ it out, rest my feet and try and change my mindset. I was trying all the little tricks in the book trying to remedy the situation (little nap in the dirt, listen to music, even walking backwards) but nothing seemed to be cooperating. I was going through every other part of my body and everything else felt fine except the two fucking lumps of useless shit at the end of my legs. I was frustrated. I could push through the discomfort of sore feet and blisters, and had been doing so, but this pain felt like I was doing more damage by walking on it and was ringing alarm bells in my head. Now my speed was at 4km/hr and I was in a bad way.
At this point, I would’ve been happy to set up camp and try and get to our stash of food at Buckaringa in the morning. That would’ve left Chad not knowing where I was so wasn’t actually an option but I did think about it. Having Chad out in front was good to keep dragging me along the trail in search of him and allowed me to wallow in my own demise privately. Chad must’ve sensed I was struggling still because he had stopped to wait for me again with about 6 or 7 km’s to go. He kindly gave me two anti-inflammatories which I never take, again showing I was ready to try anything. If there was a witch doctor around I would’ve been handing over my Medicare card right then and there. Chad offered his support but we both knew there wasn’t much to be said between us. He was sore and tired too but he still had a smile. Into the golden hour we trudged, going past the original 5pm arrival time we hoped for. My plan in my head was to just finish the day off and then evaluate my life afterwards. I learnt from my sea kayaking days that no matter how hard a trip seems, always get to the end of the day, set up camp, have some food, rest and then evaluate whether you want to and can keep going. Decisions made in the emotion of the moment are never as good as those made after the dust has settled.
And so it was, that a tick after 6pm the day finally ended at Buckaringa North and I was able to relax, eat plenty of food (2 wraps with cheese and tuna plus 3/4 of a fruit cake) and listen to the finish of the Collingwood v Sydney prelim. Much to my disappointment but to no surprise to a medical practitioner, my pain had not gone away. I had thought about and invested a lot of mental energy in hoping to complete what I set out to do (walk from Parachilna to Crystal Brook). Instead of embracing the challenge, pushing through the pain barrier and never giving up I was telling Chad I was going to do the opposite. I said it probably wasn’t wise I continue along the Heysen trail proper on Day 4 (where it leaves the road/safety for the majority of the day). Everyone hates failing I know that but failing because of an unexpected issue that I don’t know if it could be properly prepared for (maybe spending more time bushwalking in the week prior, not just relying on the prior month of sporadic bushwalking work and running? Or maybe it is just a sign of overuse and not enough rest from my whole year?) sucks more. I was in that position where I wanted to give it my all/give it my best effort and I probably could have but to what extent would that risk any long term damage? The best way I could reason with myself that I was making the right decision was that sure, a lot of people push through the pain to win big championships, races etc. and that’s great and all so inspiring but there are also times when those same people pull out because of injury. Take Rafael Nadal, he won the French Open this year with a very sore foot that he numbed before each match (to the point where it was nicknamed Zombie Foot). Why can’t I be like Nadal and keep going to Crystal Brook, finish what you started, take no prisoners rah rah I thought. Because, I was instead thinking of when a month later, Nadal finished a match at Wimbledon where his team stopped watching and supporting him. They were advising him to retire immediately from the tournament because he was injured again and they were worried about the long term risks. Nadal played on, won the match before withdrawing from the tournament afterwards. In my situation I could replicate this by finishing at my house in Quorn, getting some sort of achievement out of all the planning and effort I’d put in before retiring from the trip. So that’s what I planned for Day 4.
Day 3 Stats:
– Distance: 66.90 km
– Duration: 11 hrs 59 mins 05 secs
– Ascent: 1024m
– 5.6 km/hr average speed. 18.3 km/hr max speed
– 9:46 min/km Net Graded Pace
– Calories IN/OUT/Deficit: 5776/6230/~-500
– Average Heart rate 110 bpm.
– Weather: A little bit of drizzle in the morning, gusty at times before clearing to a fine and sunny late afternoon and pleasant evening. Temperatures were mild throughout.
Ah Sundays. Why are they always the nicest day of the week? Or is that just me? Yep, overnight I had come to terms with my new game plan of getting to Quorn and had woken up with a more positive, Sunday morning outlook on life. Chad set off at 4:30 to finish along the Heysen Trail while I slept in until 6. I didn’t have a major rush because I was planning on only about 35km’s along the road back to Quorn and if things got really bad I could try and hitch a ride. Breakfast was oats soaked in water and protein powder, some peanut butter wraps and some cold instant coffee (which was as shit as it sounds). I took off at a good pace and tried running but my foot was still the same as it was yesterday. Fortunately I couldn’t feel my left foot so it was only a matter of 1 out of 2 feet being bad. I enjoyed this section along the road because it’s actually quite scenic (it’s called Buckaringa Scenic Drive) and follows a major creek so it was nice to be able to travel a bit slower through it, listen to the birds and admire the Sunday morning peacefulness of it all. Between spurts of trying to run I was cruising along at around 5.5km/hr and trying my best to enjoy myself on this final day. If I had planned to walk from Parachilna to Quorn on this exact route I would be pretty stoked to be within touching distance of the finish. Instead, because this is not what I had planned, I was feeling like the kid who gets a fourth place ribbon at a sporting event, it’s not really what you want but it’s still a prize I guess.
When I stepped onto the bitumen road at the entrance to Warren Gorge I gave myself a nice fifteen minute break where I ate some more food (muesli bars, leftover fruit cake) and switched from running podcasts to The Howie Games Podcast. Another hour or so later and the sun started to pop out a bit, raising the temperature of the day but I was too lazy/couldn’t be bothered taking off my rain jacket and thermal top from the morning. I also had skins on to reduce some slight chafing I had going on so I probably looked a bit strange/hot and bothered to any cars that drove past but I was long past giving a shit about what I looked like. When I got sick of the podcasts I flicked over to some Red Hot Chilli Peppers and this brought my mood up. I was on track for a finish at a reasonable time in the mid-afternoon at this rate. On approaching the turnoff to The Dutchmans Stern I tried running again (I had popped a total of 4 anti-inflammatories for the day so was experiencing less discomfort) and found it was actually possible to get a good rhythm again! Things were looking up in the world for the first time in almost 24 hours.
One of the goals of the trip was to get some training in that would be relevant for the Heysen 115km in October. I hadn’t been doing as much running as I hoped and this rhythm that I had developed on the last section was the best I’d had in a while so I was finally (in my mind at least) ticking that training box. I’ve ran back from Dutchman’s a few times and always find it easier to run on routes I’ve done before (I’ve mentioned this once or twice in prior Race Reports) so thought for my final challenge of the trip I’d try to run properly in to home. On went ACDC’s Who Made Who album and I Made Me run some 5:30/kms into home and it was bloody good. A bit sweaty and a bit loud with my backpack on but it was bloody good to feel like a runner again and remind myself of that. And then that was that really. I finished at home, around 1pm, had a shower, had some food, put some washing on and then went and grabbed the box of food from Buckaringa. When you’ve had enough time to process what the trip means and the lessons to be gained from it, along the way, there isn’t much of a sense of relief and celebration aspect at the end, it’s more just get on with the next thing. And that’s just getting on with life really. Well, it all is just life, whether you’re running, shuffling or doing the washing I guess, but more reflection on that in Part 3.
Chad finished his walk a few hours later and was pretty cooked. The Heysen Trail section he had ticked was quite impressive in the time he did it in but given my situation he too also felt like it was good to end the trip at Quorn. So, we both hobbled around Huia Park (my house), watched the SANFL grand final and went to bed with varying levels of pain and success and pride in us but like I said, that’s life.
Day 4 Stats:
– Distance: 37.52 km
– Duration: 6 hrs 02 mins 16 secs
– Ascent: 246m
– 6.2 km/hr average speed. 12.2 km/hr max speed
– 9:08/km Net Graded Pace
– Calorie IN/OUT/Deficit: 2445/1696/~+700 (just for the active component of the day)
– Average Heart rate 96 bpm.
– Weather: Mild temperature, light to no winds with full cloud cover in the morning clearing to a fine and sunny afternoon.
– Distance: 217.39 km
– Moving Time: 36 hrs 37 mins 55 secs
– Total Trip Duration: Approximately 2 days and 22 hours
– Ascent: 3773m
– 5.96 km/hr average speed. Pretty close to what we thought was achievable
– 9 min/km Net Graded Pace (6.66 km/hr)
– Total Calorie Deficit: -700 (a small meal, not too bad)
– Average Heart rate 106 bpm.
– Weather summed up: It was pretty good for walking, never got hot, the wind and rain was annoying but thats life.
Thanks for reading through to the end and for those who showed an interest in the trip! I used that interest as motivation at times and hope that the information I’ve provided in this report, and also to come in Part 3, has answered the simple questions of ‘How was the trip, what did you eat, how far did you go each day. etc…’. Finally, while the results from this fastpacking experiment were not the results that I hoped for they are still results worth analysing that will provide a lesson to myself and maybe others who are thinking of doing a similar trip. Good luck if that’s you.