Blackwood 600 Ride Report

I’ve been frustrated lately. For about the last six months in fact. The manuscript for my first novel sits on the desk of a couple of editors. Each day I wait to hear if they’ve decided yes or no. The waiting goes on long enough that eventually I wish they will say no so the agony can stop. My impatience turns to anxiety to stress to indignation. My indignation jumps ship and turns viciously to other perceived injustices I can identify. Identify I do. Powerlessness can lead to irrationality.

I’m indignant at Australia’s government and lack of action on climate change. I’m indignant at my fellow citizens for their lack of action on climate change. Those who shake their heads from their 4 x 2 houses on 1000m2 blocks with two cars in the garage. I’m indignant at climate change deniers who’ve never read a scientific document.

I’m indignant at myself. Am I wasting my life? Is my indignation unfounded? I’m indignant that being indignant is undignified. You won’t find any moments of clarity, or optimistic crystallisations in this ride report. Australia’s lack of action in regards to climate change prevents any such niceties. Our history is destroying our environment is deplorable.

Motivation differs. Many people were driven by fitness. Many people begin to wonder very quickly why they do audax rides. The drop out rate is high. On this ride I was driven by anger. Anger at myself and the world around me. I wanted to ride alone, to explore the dark areas.

Would a 600km ride cure my anxieties? Would cycling for 33 hours or so put a muffle on my anger and frustrations? Would the body teach me something I haven’t been able to think through?

Not likely when the route goes through the biggest environmentally devastated area in Australia: the wheat belt. Anyone who thinks clearing 90% of the state’s forest for poor quality agriculture soil is deluded. And if you think Australian farmers are feeding the world, consider this: per hectare Germany produces more wheat each year than Australia. The soil we burn vast tracks of ancient vegetation to get to is so unsuited for agriculture, we need an area the size of European countries for it to be profitable. And they still want more land! The one’s who most vehemently deny the there’s a problem are usually the ones who have the most to lose.

The Blackwood 600 goes from Singleton to Dwellingup to Quindannng to Darken to Boyup Brook to Nannup to Balingup to Gnomesville to Harvey to Singleton. We get to see bits of forest that were left because it was too difficult to drive a tractor over.

We leave at 6 am and I take a wrong turn and end up at the back of the group and ride alone to Darkan, some 170km away.

From Darkan to Boyup Brook I ride with Ruth and Steve. Conditions are perfect. The flocks of birds that once turned day into night exist only in my imagination. My left leg is in so much pain I consider withdrawing. Perhaps the pain is in my imagination. Ruth says at the top of the hill we stop to put on warmer cloths and ‘light up’. The climb goes around a bend and continues on a for a kilometre or so longer. Shadows grow longer. ‘Bet you didn’t think the hill would go that long’ I say and ride off, alone again.

The Nannup-Ballingup road is unique in the south-west. It follows a small river that twists and turns sharply. It’s heavily forested but not without over clearing. On a clear day riding through here is tough as it’s not possible for the road to follow the contours of the gullies as they’re too steep. Instead the road goes up and over each crest with a series of about 20 short sharp climbs. It’s impossible to get a rhythm.

On a clear day you gain occasional glimpses to the rapids below. Cute cottages and wooden railed bridges break up the forest. You can charge down each hill looking up to the next climb.

At four in the morning in pitch black and freezing cold I was to experience a different road. Thick fog reduced visibility to about ten metres. Lights on high beam, kangaroo eye reflectors were the only indication I was on the road. There was a waxing moon setting out to the west that offered no illumination, the fog was too thick. The trees cast no shadows.

On the road surface, dark patches came toward me. If there were a rock I probably didn’t have the time to avoid it, so I had to slow down. It was like I was in a nightmare. Basically a white haze on a black surface with a red dot to my right and white dot to my left every two hundred metres. No white line in the middle to follow. It felt like I was riding through the darkness of my mind like an endoscopy.

Slow cold, so dewy, droplets fell from leaves. Fell from my helmet. Then froze. A white web of ice all over my body. If I stopped to wee I started shivering. The water in the bottles made me colder.

I’d ridden the same road twice before. I thought I recognised a fence. Maybe 10km to the highway. Ride on. Darkness. After another 15 mins I realise it’s not the bend before the end. Ride on. Wearing long leg bibs, two pairs of socks, shoe covers, base layer, jersey, arms warmers, gilet and soft shell jacket. A kangaroo hopped out in front of me, trying to commit suicide.

A flock of red tailed cockatoos cried in a tree above me. Black cow sumped in the way, strafes across my path as I approach.

When the earth tilted enough to let light in to this side of the world fog pockets filled the valleys.

Don’t take this to mean a sense of positivity came over. The fact that a tv show you were thinkin about the other day miraculously comes on as you’re flicking through the channels is no prophetic omen you’re doing things right. The major signs are that the ice is melting and a billion people are set to be displaced by rising sea levels. Ride on.

As I got closer to Singleton a sense of achievement grew inside. At a set of traffic lights I looked at the time. 2:30pm. At 3pm it’ll be 33 hours since I departed. As fast as I could, I rode the final kilometres along the highway. People looking at me like I was shitting glass. Big jacket sticking out of back pocket. As I turned off the highway a Commodore drove up behind me and got irate because I was riding on the road and he didn’t have the chance to boss me off the rode. Didn’t he know I’d just ridden 600km?

The Red Hut

IMG_0482

grasses sweep grooves in sand, the way streams forge sweeps in earth;
their soft brown tips dangle, like me, the narcissist,
searching for recognition, the call and response
the topographic certainty, the black and white pinions.
cloud gaps are light patch are sunglasses on.

loose rock and lost watch – the alpine flowers dry,
the travelling snow is sliced by skis or sun or boot tread
with spring their tracks melt, before I can revisit.
i love the steep incline, the shared gradient and shrub steps
with black blocks cracked and blue blue sky.

ants block the waterfall path, they bite skin and scale
you wont see them then your feet are black, bitten.
you will run and they leave peaks peaks.
after four hours the marsh fly breaks the black spider web.
tangled in white glue there’s no direct flight, the earth folds.

the tangled fly is caught in another web, fangs suck blood slow.
the carcass pulled to darkness, the green head splinters.
all eight legs, she watches from a crevice. all blood used
to bring what once buzzed to her. the door is closed,
the wings are merely frames. all eight legs.

red paint on glass, a construction mishap. dried paint drips
and scratched name marks, he always slept on the verandah
all seasons, all eight legs. water crashes into water,
pools like candle-wax. lizards eat everything but the head.
the pane cleaned with a dirty cloth, streaks over the hare.

as if the last light means nothing, he munches the tops off,
doesn’t react to window knocks.

 

The Finest Booted Bogan in Australia

 photo 1-1

Ask any Australian to name a boot and they’ll say R.M. Williams. They probably don’t know it’s a Chelsea boot. They don’t care. It’s a boot. You put it on, go to the office, go to the farm, go to the pub. A bloody boot mate. Polish? Polish is for poofs. It’s a bloody boot mate.

I’ve been on a shoe research expedition lately, learning about welts, and leathers, and models and makers. There’s a whole world of shoe-dom out there and you can spend months getting a sense of what’s on offer. Initially I was drawn to the Chelsea boot through inertia I suppose, but the more I learned the more I moved away from the Chelsea.

Australia is also the home to the bogan. I know, I was one. A small part of me is still a bogan. Every so often my bogan tendencies emerge, usually accompanied by AC/DC or Sepultura. Often we buy things based on the projection of the way we want to be perceived. Since I’ve been moving away from boganville, I decided I didn’t want a Chelsea and I did want laces. Last thing I wanted was a pair of bloody R.M.s. Black was out and brown/tan was in.

I spotted the ‘Hugo’ by A Fine Pair of Shoes early on and after a early glance didn’t pay it much more attention. I since purchased a pair of Alfred Sargent Cambridge boots because I’d run out of shoes and winter was fast approaching. I had my heart set on a pair of Crockett and Jones Conistons but they were out of my budget. A Fine Pair of Shoes offered great service, competitive pricing and fast shipping. The Cambridge are excellently made. My anti-bogan itch had been half-scratched.

I still wasn’t ready for a black chelsea but then the ‘Hugo’ went on sale on the Fine Pair of Shoes website. Curious, I asked Julian on the Styleforum affiliates thread to expand upon the Hugo and provide some ‘in the wild’ photos. He obliged immediately. The photos were great. I was nearly convinced.

The white photoshopped background on the Fine Pair of Shoes website tends to make all their black shoes look deep blue. These were definitely black. My inner bogan had blood pumping into it. Like the evil nuclear physicist played by Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove, I had to restrict my right arm from lifting towards the heavens in a slayer salute with index and little finger aloft.

I swapped a few emails with Julian at a Fine Pair of Shoe about sizing and decided to sleep on my decision.

Next morning I checked their website again and saw there were only two pairs left in my size. I sent a few other messages to Styleforum aficionados who agreed that a Chelsea boot to this fine a specification with lasted shoe trees for less that $400 AUD was a bargain. Don’t forget these are made by Alfred Sargent. Heart pounding, I pressed ‘purchase’. I ordered on Friday and they arrived on Monday afternoon via Fedex.

Truly, I can’t see how A Fine Pair of Shoes are making any profit on these. Either that or they’re annoying the hell out of their suppliers. The finishing is superb. The sole edging is beveled. The leather soft, stretchy and exacting. They are not over-polished so you’re not getting a moon shine finish, although they do reflect light well. The last is classically shaped, the toe nicely rounded. The stitching all around is nearly flawless. Once on, the boot feels more like a sock than a brick.

But best of all, paired with a pair of black jeans and Sepultura t-shirt, I’m ready to rock. So, up yours Aussie bogans, and up yours RM Williams.

photo 2

Oppy 2015 – WA – Ride

One of the psychological tricks to ‘a ride’ is how you gain perspective on what that amounts to. A ‘good’ ride or a ‘bad’ ride can be determined by the literal/material elements that constitute the sequence of route planning, getting ready, leaving home and returning, and everything in between. That sequential array can go splendidly and the stars can align – no flat tires, don’t get lost, strong tailwind – and you get home concluding yes, ‘that was a good ride’. We/I belted along, felt strong, had a few laughs, some coffee and returned home safely, without injury. A ‘bad’ ride involves something like a torn tires, five flats, a terrible headwind that switched direction when you headed home, a crash, bearing busting precipitation, cold, inconsiderate drivers and so on. The trick I’m talking about is convincing the mind that those ‘bad’ rides are in fact the ‘good’ rides. Uneventful rides are generally forgettable. Uneventful rides rarely test our resolve. My contention is what we mostly consider ‘good’ rides, uneventful rides, are the ones we learn little about ourselves.

On a metaphysical level, the delineation between riding and not riding, or the ride/not ride state is insignificant. The most obvious marker for being on a ride is being on a saddle and turning pedals. But on a metaphysical level this has no bearing. We don’t usually consider the time off the bike eating and resting as somehow not part of the ‘ride’. How we carry ourselves mentally throughout the ride is important. If you allow the circumstances to gain the better of you, you may not finish the ride. This is bleeding obvious, but if you stop riding, you can not expect to complete the ride. This admonition can take on great significance half way through a 400km day into a headwind.

On long Audax rides we often praise or criticise ourselves and other riders on a attribute basis, not a moral one. We save the moral inquisitions for friends and family. Riders are either strong, or determined, or fast, or slow, or steady. These attributes can be generally said to cross over into our lives off the bike. If this proposition is accepted then this is the testing ground in which we are constantly assessing ourselves while ‘out riding’.

One of the benefits of cycling is that we can still think while doing it. We run scenarios through our minds like repeats of television shows identifying where we went wrong or how to address an issue with someone. In concert with these thoughts is the generated association with our bodies. Through our bodies we ‘exercise’ those thoughts. Often by the end of a ride we feel better about a certain issue and maybe ourselves and others. In fast group rides or longer rides we can enter a state of mind where we are kind of ‘not thinking’. This meditative state is usually achieved, in my experience, through paying close attention to detail. Mindfulness to the minutiae leads to a dreamy-world of time distortion where an hour feels like five minutes. Ironically this state can be achieved during intense physical exertion or unavoidable exposure to inclement conditions. A level of tiredness usually helps. Perhaps it is because Audaxer’s spend so much time on the bike that the recognition that “this is a moment” takes place. Occasionally we feel attuned and at piece with our surroundings.

It’s this notion of tiredness that brings me to the Audax Oppy ride held on the 28th of March 2015. I’ll keep it brief because there’s a few points I’d like to make about ride reports in general. Ride reports are not stories. Stories rely on conflict and adversity in order to be interesting. A good or pleasant Audax ride is uneventful. Everything goes to plan. No one crashes or dies or cries. Interesting stories are the opposite to the way we’d like Audax rides to unfold. To make a ride report interesting you need to invent certain elements. This can get you in trouble with offended parties or ensure your report is rejected from being included in the clubs quarterly. A great loss to all. Anal sex. As Barry Humphries has said, “if it amuses me, it’ll amuse others”.

Four of us set out to ride a touch over 500km in the twenty four hour period. We didn’t plan on any sleep but instead to take longer breaks to stay in line with riding the mandatory 25km in the final two hours. Our route – entitled the ‘Tony Gillespie Celebratory Route’, after Western Australia’s outgoing club president – would head south east from Perth. We rode down the freeway into a slight headwind, chucked a left at Lakes Road and then up the rolling Del Park Road to Dwellingup. From Dwellingup we headed due east to Quindanning Pub where I raided the cookie jar. Further east we found the turn off to Darken where I started to tire. I hadn’t ridden much in the previous 4 months and the more my back muscles and legs protested the more I drifted mentally into the territory of “treat this as training”. Having found a rhythm we soon discovered the Darken servo shut, putting an end to our hopes of pasta. 60km to Collie where the road was filled with fellatio and cunninglingus; a kind of ritual in these parts. Must have something to do with mining and smelters.

At Collie we waited an hour in the warm confines of the McDonalds. Perry, Steve and I all agreed it was the best McDonalds we ever had. Maybe this was the most transformative aspect of this years Oppy? Greg, with his metaphorical blinkers on, couldn’t quite grasp the notion of finishing together, at a certain time, and decided to “soft pedal” off into the darkness. We never saw him again.

Good old Mornington Rd has taken on a semi-mythical status among WA Audaxers as one of the most enjoyable  around. The surface is smooth, there’s hardly any cars and there’s good forest wither side to protect you from wind, even though there wasn’t any at that time. Perry touts the road as his favourite despite the fact the first time a ride was to include it, he rode around in circles for an hour on a freezing cold Collie night trying to locate its coordinates. He gave up that time and now is quietly pleased with himself every time he discovers the road is still there. He had employed his headlight on this stretch often illuminating roadside shrubs whenever a rustle was audible. He’s a touch paranoid about bounding two legged mammals after having a run in with them last year. This meant when the descent started, a gap, like reality and a politicians promise, opened up between Steve and Perry and I.

Water bottles filled at Harvey there were no more hills to worry about, just growing tiredness and we all appeared to go through episodes of apathy. 100km to go at the Forrest Hwy toilet block where some German tourists asked what we were doing and then dutifully appeared unimpressed by our efforts. Two areas of lights along the hwy. The second, at an overpass, marked the beginning of the freeway bike path. I was a long way from experiencing a kind of misery, but I wasn’t having a ball either, to be honest. Each distance marker was acknowledged and measurements of effort distributed accordingly. Recently I’ve ditched the cycle computer to focus on where I am at, so the off-ramp signs were analysed over and over. At one point my internal monologue went something like: “Perth: 71km, Safety Bay Rd: 15km. I could make it to Perth easily, but I just can’t be bothered riding to Safety Bay Rd.”

Perry and Steve were snacking on pancakes from Hungry Jacks when I arrived. Yes, we ate a lot of shit on this ride, but these were our only options. Shit. The store is open 24hrs but only the drive-thru overnight. I was forced to stand around for ten minutes while the tills restarted, but who am I to complain? People are dying in hospitals.  40km to go. Only 40km of 500km. The longest both Steve and I had ridden in 24hrs. All we had to do now was get on and pedal. Sunrise as smoke from some bushfire filled a trough where the morning before a horrific accident had occurred. We were early so I putted along like some geriatric in a flat-batteried golf-cart.

In Freo some triathlon event was being held, complete with roadblocks. We took some circuitous route to the cafe and sat beneath the pine trees and shook hands and congratulated ourselves and I know I didn’t wonder what all the unvocalised winging was about: I was rooted. Soon after the sissy’s from the other team arrived, looking fresh from showers and sleep. They rubbed it in by having enough energy to smile. Across the park a myriad of triathletes of all shapes and sizes pounded and/or square pedalled up and down the Esplanade. “That looks like Hell” I thought to myself.

Australian Alps Walking Trail Part 1

J. P. Quinton – 2015

The Flight:

Terminal three Perth airport. Gate 20. Flight delayed by twenty minutes due to ‘crew issues’. Checked internet for cheaper flights in moment on tight-arsedness. Could have flown six hours later for $100 less. A woman lets her baby scream on the floor. A dude in a baseball cap squeezes a plastic water bottle while biting his nails and playing on his phone. A tattooed older dude with no bags taps his old-school boarding pass booklet. A father and son exchange funny youtube videos. The coffee shop music drones.

I’m full of dessert and my ankles are strapped. A preventative measure, the straps. Some kind of security as I become less cocky with age. Sprained my ankle a few weeks ago going too fast on the Bibbulmun track. The trial run for the AAWT. There’s still slight pain. Or I think there is. Enough to be apprehensive about walking 650km over mountains. Thought I’d better bloody take it easy for a while.

Should arrive in Tullamarine about 1am, catch the shuttle to Spencer St, or whatever bogan name they’re calling it these days. From there I’ll either walk or catch a taxi to Jim’s in Tony Abbotsford. Jim Jim Jim. Got him a copy of Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ for Xmas. That’ll cheer him up.

A plane lands. Our plane. ‘Crew issues’. Passengers head to their cars. Famous cricketers walk by unharrassed. Made-up stewards and stewardesses prepare our plane. A thin strip of vapour, the width of a window pane shimmers outside, blurring the Darling Scarp. I resist the urge to facebook, email, text. A baby sings her version of the ‘get on the plane song’. Small things take on significance when they don’t go right.

The plane the yellow glow grows, clusters, fractures. Linearity disturbs the black. In glass the small child rocks. A small turbulent patch. I drop my pen. The kid who’s been kicking my chair all night picks it up. All action is determined by the level of work required.

Packing:

I am packed. Small bags inside other small bags inside a liner inside a backpack. In three hours drive, a couple of sessions of the Boxing Day test, I’ll be at the start of the walk. The track is a meaningless path cut through scrub. All things considered the track takes on meaning through negation. Going without showers, without sinks, televisions, news, books, restaurants, friends. We lose and gain perspective. We lose it by setting the course. By forbidding and ruling out options, by deliberately putting blinkers on. By walking into bad weather or refusing a lift. By not stopping to converse.

An arbitrary mission. A track or trail or highway without a name, not recognisable by name or association, has no psychological connection to hang our determination on. My determination is exhausted by research and preparation. I sit still. Eager to begin. The goodbyes mostly complete. Driving out of Melbourne the old houses make way for high-rise. Cars give way to bicycles.

Day 01: Walhalla to Oshea’s Mill

Said goodbye to Jim at approximately 11am after a cooked breakfast, and a discussion about Keating and filling out the intentions form at the General Store. We had to drive back up to the campsite above Chinese Gardens to retrieve Jim’s drying tent, his 3x3x3m palace. After boyishly jamming the tent in the bag we putted to the information bay, made final preparations, a photograph, and salutations. It was good to leave Jim on a positive note as he became quite irate about Keating the night before; bellowing profanities from his palace. I was very nervous not to forget anything so I checked and rechecked my gear and turned the car upside-down.

For the first 5km or so I was worried my left ankle would start hurting so I walked slowly as if it were already sore. You could hear cars going to and from Walhalla below the track which was on an old tram line. About 100m below where the track crosses a 4WD track, three walkers were climbing the hill. They caught up to me a few km’s later where I had stopped to remove the ankle bandage that was rubbing. They seemed like a Mum and her two kids out for a day walk. They passed me and not long after I passed them. The mother asked if I were attempting the entire 400km and I said yes the entire 650km, thinking they would walk with me to chat. But they remained stationary and the mother said good luck. Views up the river to the Poverty Point bridge. A dip in the water would be nice as the sun was hot, but the river was about 30m below and inaccessible.

Noon time, cross a stream then up a blue stone hill. I join the track and scare a black cat. No amount of meows will make us friends, although we are domesticated rogues, off to find what some solitude will bring us. The sound of the cars disappears.

I wanted to stop and sit in the shade and admire the bridge but there was no where to sit and the sun was too bitey to stay in the middle. I walked on occasionally catching glimpses of the shallow rapids, tall trees and steep valley. Cicadas phase in the forest. A ball of tall tress hang like a tablecloth. Bracken and ferns, nettles, prostrate wattles fill the floor. In the clearing dead mouse guts are exposed. I’m caught. I am the border of doubt. I stop and fill my bottle up with stream water, despite the admonition to filter everything. I fix my shoe, using the gaiter as a sitting pad. I prop the heavy backpack on a leg before strapping up. When I leave I triple check to see I’ve dropped anything. A small moment has passed. A smidgen fractured half way up a gully. The stream water is tasty.

At certain angles, burnt limbs, trunks, a grey horse avalanche line cutting green. Up close mossy black bark dangles like a child’s tooth. Repeated branch patterns hard against blue space. Up steep grade single track. Heart loud. Dirt chips, wood chips, bark, blue squares high up. As if in cartoon a mid-air spider makes for the edge of the track as it sees me approach the track-wide-web. I stand and wait for it before breaking its work. Spiderwebs, evidence that no-one has walked here today.

A long climb up a spur leads to a heavily manicured roadside and then another 30 minutes walk for the first nights’ campsite. A botanist Lucy and later two Germans arrived whiling the afternoon away. I washed in the stream but got all dirty again attempting to jump to the muddy bank out of the clean water. I quickly took temporary ownership of the trusty picnic table and assumed my usual position of feet on the seat, back to the middle. Between them, ten or so metres of mown grass. A copy of ‘No Logo’ discussed. Then the rules of the game are explained; exploration, conquer, domination. The picnic rug is full. Ten minutes later the game begins and their backs begin to hurt. He blows his nose and repeats the rule. Wracks his brain for the word in English.

1/1/14: Oshea’s MIll to Talbut Hut.

Woke about 6:30am with only a small amount of dew on the sleeping bag. Slept with just the bug net hanging from the walking poles. Missed bringing in the New Year but woke throughout the night looking up at the stars. Lucy was packing her stuff up slowly. She was half packed by the time I left anticipating the longest climb of the AAWT up out of the lowlands onto the high plains. Took it very slowly and sweated a lot. Joined a gravel road after a few km’s of soft underfoot track. A machine of some description – a small bulldozer or bobcat had been through recently making progress easy. My sweat and body fat countered any recognition that the temperature dropped as I climbed. Forest, cob-web like mouldy bread bread. The parasite drapes. A black monitor scampers 4ft up a tree, watches me. Black and alive, this unframed painting. Only yellow eyes and yellow stripes, circles, the measure of self. Mountain ash, they stand tall and house lyre birds. They burn and burn and burn.

As I started to have lunch at Erica carpark however, it got cold. Eight new 4WD type vehicles lined the car park. A half dozen day walkers were reading the sign as I entered. A lady said she knew John Chapman, his wife and John Siesman, the authors of the AAWT guidebook and other bushwalking publications. I examine the book and think of heading to Mt St. Gwinear.  Step after step I let my body adapt, and climb into position. does the space move through me as I through the space? Strangers stop to chat. Bushfires and emergency beacons, helicopters in all seasons. Large pebbles cantilever, their ‘Hanging Rock’ moment, the sequence that isn’t sure how to end. A patch of gums, clustered at the base, as if hundreds of larvae thought the earth was the air and they’re vying for gaps inside the crust.

Despite the wooden sign: MT ERICA 1509M. Despite the track carved through various landscapes, despite the prams and picnic baskets, the narcissus in me says ‘you’re the first to be here’. Not ‘this is the first time you’ve been here’. To climb into this remote place, far from the maddening crowd.

Carrawongs cry from a distance. Blow flies move in. I set my tarp up amongst the gum tree wrigglers, back to the wind. Only the concrete hearth, caste from gumtrees, is contrast to the thick wall of bending trunks. I burn the first days map, smell the chemical ink. The trees grow strong enough to split the basalt. They regrow when humans move on. They are a testament to time. Horizontal light angles in beneath the canopy, their torsos sweat, knuckled and oblique, the branches twist skyward like a willy willy.

After the storm no one rebuilt the hut. After the storm the saucepans and kettles were found 100 metres away, twenty years later, after fire. After the storm the moss sucked colour from the rock, the way a mosquito sucks blood, then the draught. Lichen is shrivelled and cracked, fast air blows the flakes. Strands, like arm hairs, in the moss. Dead twigs and leaves chew at the top soil.

Didn’t make it to Mt ST. Gwinear. Was either 19km today or a flatter 21km tomorrow. Since today involved a lot of climbing I stopped at the the old Mt Talbot hut site at about 2:30pm. Quickly set the tarp up as it was quite cloudy and appeared to be about to drizzle. A few drops fell at about 5pm.

Mushroom Rocks is an interesting place to explore. According to the signs whitey’s have been visiting there and Mt Erica for over 100 years. As you climb out of Mushroom Rocks the snow gums get thicker and thicker until you’re in amongst a gnarly wall of trunk on all sides. This taking the walking easy business is good, but it does leave a lot of time for sitting around being eaten by whatever bug is flying by. Trying to read or write you get bitten and have to move around a lot. Right now I’m inside the bug net escaping about 50 mozzies. They try to eat you through your clothes through the bug net.

Sunset is a good time of night/day to be walking and in some ways perhaps better to arrive in camp at this time too. You simply set up, eat, and go to sleep. But if you set up early you’re kind of committed to stay through your own unwillingness to pack up and move again. Perhaps if I get in camp early I should wait until the latest possible time to set up. Having said all this, I’m pretty happy with the modular set up I have: tarp, groundsheet, bug net and bivy. I can set any one of those up by themselves depending on the conditions.

The concrete hearth is a fascinating relic. Re-enforced concrete with local rocks as aggregate. Looks like they used planks as form work and built it up making each set higher a little smaller for the chimney. There are cracks, moss and graffito growing all over it. Once upon a time the hut would have been a place or parties and an emergency shelter. Now all that stands is the equivalent to a cricket oval and pitch, with the stumps, but no players. Apparently the huts from here along the Baw Baw Plateau to Warburton, were constructed by the government back in the 1920’s. Our relationship and fascination to ‘the bush’ is not new, it seems.

Day Three: Talbot Hut site to Stonarchs camp

Woke before the sun rose due to a mozzie inside the net. Was already kind of awake but the bug was the catalyst for initiating the move. Was meant to be a hot day so I wanted to get going early. Lifted two sides of the tarp before sleep which changed the nature of the site. Have realised I can peg the net out so will experiment with that this evening. Haven’t seen anyone today yet. Quite a bit of scrub-bashing to Mt St. Gwinear. Was in a bit of a mood when I arrived at ‘Rock Shelter’. Took the side trip up Mt St. Gwinear which had snow markers along it. I was imagining a world of snow along the grass button plains. At Maddison plane you can see the phone tower above Baw Baw ski resort and I nearly switched the phone on but decided against it. Getting both the gear and body dialled in is the order of the day. Some nice walking but limited views.

No significant thoughts, no planet saving ideas, just walking. Bashing through waist high scrub, a myrtle grove. No aches, no pains, no cramps, one foot goes in front of the other, dodges wombat poo instinctively. A white log at the entrance of an opening means wrong way turn back. Pink petalled flowers spring up on storks, like fireworks. Two days I walk in Snowgum, dichondria underfoot. An afternoon of mountain ash, dichondria underfoot. Always the hum of march flies. Trees sing creak creak when they rub. Out here if you lose a lid, you might not carry water. Out here the tanks are full, but not for walkers. Out here vices seem more enticing. Bracken grows around the rusty surveyors trigonometry frame. Out here, relief, almost, at seeing trees cut off at their base.

Lying out in the open – got the whole bug net thing happening – at Stronarch’s camp. Have the tarp ready with stakes laid out incase of rain. Some clouds are forming over in the west. Hopefully they’ll just keep the night warm. A long day today. Probably 11hrs including 3hrs break in the middle to let the heat pass. There’s no rest with the mozzies and march flies around. The mozzies are going mental now and the march flies have only just gone to bed at 9pm AEST. No normal flies, however, which is a kind of bonus. The walking is great. Varied vegetation with heaps of shade. Drank about 800ml of water for 5km during the hottest part of the day, with gatorade powder. Had a moment where I wished I had a tent as setting the tarp up took more mental energy than I could be bothered. But after looking out across the wetland with the setting sun half illuminating the line of trees about 150 metres away, no regrets. Before I took it down again, I had the tarp tied to a tree about 4 metres away and was impressed with its versatility.