There are dreams and then there is reality. Life can be blurred like a drip into a still glassy pond, ripples extending through an imagined time forthwith like the fronds of a palm. Life is as confusing as mixing alcohol. You think you know why you do it yet regret the double cross as soon as you wake up, the morning swirling with malcontent, vomit, and piss. Life is crystal, sublime like an alpine ridge after a surging thunderstorm passes through. Life tingles. Life imagines possibilities and impossibilities. Life takes a shit on you. Swallows you up. Or life is something you binge. Life is real, life is fake; who am I to make the discernment. I might rather live with my head in the clouds as long as my feet are touching ground. Luckily, I’m tall enough to span the gap between dreams and reality. Nonetheless, the different versions are endless.
Isn’t that, though, the beauty of it all. Really, isn’t it the surprise of all when the surprise hits least expectedly? Isn’t that the beauty of it? Pilfering through life’s choices I can trace the twist and turns through the imprint of my memory that is timestamped on my dreams. I understand where I have been, yet I fumble with the understanding of why I have been where I have been when I have been where I was. I honestly feel a little duped by the disguises of the twist and turns even though those twist and turns I use to guide my way. What is blurry is the actions of people around me and not so much the occurrences of randomness. Even though people are more ambiguous and impermanent than randomness, I have faith in what is random, of what I cannot control. Simply because I can adapt to the nature of something with my own nature. We humans change and morph constantly. We are incredibly malleable beings filled with emotions and morals that ebb and flow like the tide. Yet, we are the same, sterile and predictable.
I write this in my own rubber room. As fragile, ambiguous, ever-changing and concretely the same as everyone else. Yet, why do I feel I live in a completely different world than everyone else? Maybe it is because I have been traveling solo for so long. I still have these curiosities of why we are the way we are, not just presently. I still have the pratfalls of delving into the past and looking at an event from afar. I dive into solutions that do not matter, that will not provide me with a different answer. I explore different corridors that have dead ends. I explore pain within. And, then I look up and I’m out in the world moving forward with whatever route choices are in front of me. I marvel at the fruition of a dream. I am so grateful for the pursuit and, now, I almost do not know where to go from here. Not in a lost kind of sense rather introspectively I merely see a blurry horizon. All I can think about is the arrangement of my life to continue to pursue my other dreams. Where does South America fit? How can I hike across Europe in the ‘off years?’ When will Africa be? Central Asia? Mongolia? The Himalaya? My mind drifts to these places and the arrangements of time because I am a dreamer. Yet like waking up from a dream I am putting together this journey across Australia into my own discernment slowly, very slowly.
I do not think I have ever been taught how to process a dream. I am treating it like an experience. I mean it is. But, it feels different. I am treating it like an experience that has actually occurred. Shit, who knows. Maybe I still hold a fear from going out in the world and living my dreams. I do know that that fear is never bigger than the fear of living a normal life. Maybe this shit is all in my head. Then again, maybe this is all to fuckin’ real. I need to start understanding the new way I have chosen to live. Maybe I need to present it to the universe. I cannot hide behind my dreams anymore when I am in the actual pursuit of them. Bah, hell…traveling cures all this wandering of the mind. I will go as far as I can go, all the way. As long as this body holds up, all the way. I am committed to that—to my dreams, my travels; to my body, my spirit, unapologetically, unabashedly, fully. All the way, the dreams I have, all the way. I see no other way.
I stood atop a spit of granite rocks that splayed out into a cove nestled between the hilly bluffed land and the deep blue ocean. The waves gently rolled in and flooded the granite potholes with every incoming flow. The ancient granite rock seemed out of place, as if connected to a foreign land. Out in the bay, roiling waves crashed amongst submerged and naked rocky outcrops. Free of sand, the surf cloaked the the granite rocky protrusions like a cape. The constant pounding of the rolling waves created a whitewater tumult of suds. The waves lumped atop the submerged outcrop and spliced into ribbons forming whirling eddies.
I wanted to jump in to cool off, clean my body. That felt like a natural impulse. I felt the need to rid myself of something with the saltiness of the ocean. The thought of brining myself seemed like a scraping of the dead skin I have been carrying. I could soak in a brine and seep out whatever negative energy I had. The thought felt almost appetizing. But, a warmth of fear enveloped me and I hesitated. I stared into the swirling waters that ebbed from dark blue to turquoise. I timed the waves, the current of pulsing water, counting the propulsions. After a few minutes I shook with fear as if I was trembling with cold. I suddenly thought: just fuckin do it. I took a step back with my right foot. I prepared a lunge for the dive. My arms swung back to propel me forward out and away from the shelf of granite rock and into a deep waterhole. My eyes bulged, my heart raced pumping like pistons. I transferred all my weight to my toes ready to jump and dive. I counted down…3, 2… Then, a shadow loomed in from the depths. The shadow swum in so fluidly I startled back with fear. I stood back, on guard. I could tell this wasn’t a wave. I felt a presence. I peered over the ledge as the shadow ebbed back out and disappeared, the turquoise waters returning. As the next round came in the shadow reappeared. What is it? I thought. My knees trembled. I shivered. I held my stare in the waters transfixed enough to not run away. I was scared and curious at the same time. I watched the yawning of the underwater shadow, like an inverse pendulum. I could feel the weight of the shadow. Whatever it was I understood it to be huge.
Suddenly, in the next roll, the shadow slowly came in and abruptly came to the surface with the tide. A giant whale, the deepest of blues I could imagine, plopped then slid onto the platform of granite. I backed up but sort of held my ground as I thought I had enough distance and height above the whale to be safe. The whale then slid back in the water. I craned my neck out over the ledge and the shadow jumped out with an enormous open maw that sucked the warmth out from me. I immediately felt cold and jumped back. The whale plopped onto the higher platform I was on. The whale squirmed towards me. I turned and ran, the whale wiggling and slithering in a hot terrestrial pursuit.
I ran onto a large lawn and began zigzagging to deter the whale from snapping me up. Frantically, I ran around the park going in circles and zigzagging. The whale smartened up and waited in the middle of the park undeterred by the inundation of terrestrial air, as patient as a mountain. I came to a stop and realized what the whale was doing. Instantly, I realized I was the threat I had been afraid of and that the whale posed no harm to me. I crept over cautiously, nervously. A giant pitch black eye followed my movement and led me in with a vivacity of something you thought didn’t exist but actually did exist. The whale’s existence alone pumped hot blood through my body. I needed to touch it.
More or less stumbling over, I reached the whale. I reached out with both of my arms and planted my hands on the flank of the whale nearest the enormous eye that had led me in. I deeply gazed into pitch black eye. I time-traveled and saw the flash of my life. I felt an overwhelming power emanating from the whale, a strength beyond strengths. I pushed back and almost fell down. I felt strong, content, soothed, clear-headed. I felt like I peered into the depths of my soul in a flash of an instant. Then, the whale turned into an amorphous figure and grew two legs. The giant eye still attached the smaller and indistinguishable head of the figure. The blob absorbed the light in a brilliant spectrum of color, like a walking blurred rainbow. The figure walked back towards the rocky beach. Compelled to follow, I reluctantly took off my shoes and cast them aside. I could only now feel the reluctance letting go, like an attachment, or a lack of confidence. Yet I did take the shoes off without a fathom of doubt. I followed the whale barefoot back to the rocky platform. The amorphous figure sat down and melted into the granite, the giant eye filling a pothole. I sat down next the pothole retaining the eye and cupped the water and slurped from my palm. In a compulsion, I stood up and jumped into the ocean. I started swimming underwater feeling like I was swimming towards myself towards those sturdy submerged outcrops.
Then, I woke up. I packed my backpack, showered, ate a healthy breakfast, drank too much coffee, arranged storage for my duffel bag, and briskly walked over to the train station. The train departed and once above ground my eyes perked up alertly and all the color of the city sparkled tantalizingly in front of me. Perth shimmered in a royal blue as if basked in a terrarium skylight. The city twinkled in a silvery grey as tinsel dangling on a Christmas tree. I leaned back and thought about the whale. That’s all I could think about. I saw blips blinking past me, the blurry imaging of a speeding train on a still landscape. I saw all these things, yet all I could really envision was the dream of the whale. Like a movie screen I watched the dream in front of the blurry images speeding by.
The train and bus ride took all day. Throughout the lengthy journey, I would trace a thought to a winding corridor and gloss the feeling coming from the exploration. I knew everything would be alright. I craved movement, activity. I felt strong emotionally. A full day of travel, one half on train, the other on a bus, I was a passenger. I enjoyed watching the scenery—the tall forests, the tiny towns, and the streets of those tiny towns. I napped occasionally content with whatever was going to happen. I was along for the ride.
The southern terminus of the Bibbulmun Track is the town center of Albany. I moseyed on over after a very big breakfast, tapped the terminus sign and strolled out of town. No fanfare, no fuss. The track was easy enough, quite pleasant actually. Rolling trail undulated over giant dunes clad with trees and shrubs. I got my first view of the rugged coastline from atop a sandy knoll. I knew then I would very much enjoy the coastal walk. A coastal walk could affect one’s demeanor depending on the mood of the individual. The roaring waves evoke emotion. The ocean is ominous and can churn fear within while the mist can be refreshing, the waves soothing. At least to me anyways. The ocean conjures up deep rooted emotion, just comes to me in a swoon, a torrent, a flood, a thunderous rolling tide. As soon as I see the ocean I feel inundated with an internally powerful something of whatever, a lucid recognition of depths I can’t see otherwise. It’s the acknowledgment of the unknown that the ocean burns into me. I guess when I stood atop that sandy knoll I felt the urge to reflect, at least the urge to begin the reflection process. I felt ready for it, strong enough to deal with whatever would come up.
The trail continued to undulate over low lying hills atop the bluffs of a long thin beach. I kept the pace low and slow, just trying to find a rhythm. I stretched often, too. The day kept cool and cloudy so whatever effort I put in wasn’t overwhelming. I felt fine keeping things low and slow. I arrived to the Torbay Hut as the last bit of light fell away to the west. I met Dave and Mary in the dark under the canopy of the hut. A pleasantly friendly couple, I found out how adventurous they are, in particular on the bike. The Bibb was their first long hike while they have been on a couple very long bikepacking tours across Australia. This September they will be on a rugged and remote bikepacking route starting in South Africa and finishing in Namibia. We delved into bikepacking and bikepacking routes and long distance self-supported races. I asked them about their first time experience on a long distance hike. They had been enjoying the shift of pace versus the bike, very much so enjoying the slower pace of a hike. They would be taking nearly two months to accomplish the Bibb, at a leisurely and comfortable pace. They were definitely ready for it to be over but they understood what immersive mindset they were in. It would be hard to get adjusted afterwards, they knew.
They were sensablists, that gear sweet spot between ultralight and midlight but more towards midlight. They took what they needed, carried lightweight and durable gear, sensible gear, all within the confines of their experience and comfort levels. They had a knack for travel and fun, you could tell just talking to them. I bet it must be all those bikepacking trips that helped them shave down unnecessary gear. Backpacking only refines that further.
We dove into 1000 km hikes. Really, I brought it up. This length of a long distance hike is a sweet spot. That length suffices the itch for the seasoned trekker or the dream of a curious newbie. You become immersed in the hike and the environment but not too long that you might go crazy. You become skinny but not emaciated. You are hungry but not famished. You look rugged and swarthy, healthy, but not quite tattered, scary looking and shunned socially. You can still walk into a town and not feel the urge to walk right out because you are just too damn dirty. You are strong, not the strongest you have ever been but marble strong. You finish strong and aren’t quite worn out. You even got a little pep in your step. You go back to work refreshed and replenished, ready to tackle the day and not in a too self-aggrandizing manner. You have earned it, worked for it and don’t take things for granted. Yea, 1000 km, 600 mile hikes really are the sweet spot.
We continued sitting on the bench under the hut in the dark until we realized we might as well hit the sack. Nothing else to do for nearly 12 hours of darkness, just read until you fall asleep, then sleep some more. The long night didn’t feel too long when one has accepted it. I loved the long rest my legs were getting, still a bit mushy from the bikepacking trip. My feet became tender throughout the day and I expected the first week would be that way. I was very pleased to rest during these long nights. My body would benefit, no doubt. That was crucial during this hike, resting the body while getting the legs and feet strong for the AT. I was going to be meticulous on this long hike, the 1000 km sweet spot.
We all woke up early, predawn, and just started chatting right away. I enjoyed talking to Dave and Mary. The morning conversation swayed and ended up on whales and sharks. They told me about their observations of pods of whales, orcas, and dolphins from the bluffs the previous days. Dave and Mary effused utter joy and amazement as they spoke about the whales and orcas. They spent considerable time idling away just watching the whales play around in the surf. Then, Dave told me a quick story as I slurped up the last of my oatmeal mixed with coffee. He said a beacon had been found on a lonesome beach by a person recently. The beachcomber returned the beacon to the scientists on the label. The beacon evidently had been tagged on a great white shark. Somehow it loosened off and ran ashore with the tide. The beacon traced the path of the great white shark in the depths of the great southern ocean. The scientists marveled at the shark’s lengthy journey. But, one trajectory left the scientists baffled.
The shark dove straight down for a couple thousand meters into an utter abyss. At first, this movement was unexplainable to the scientists. They hypothesized and surmised why the great white could possibly behaving in such a way. The pathway disappeared at some very deep depth, but appeared many kilometers away after an extended period of time. What was the shark doing? Was this a maneuver or a movement? What was this behavior? What was the shark doing down in those depths? Then, some observers on a fishing boat witnessed orcas hunting and killing a great white shark. This observation got passed back to the scientists, which in turn began to study the interactions between orcas and great white sharks.
Now, I could be telling Dave’s story out of order here. And, I’m no shark scientist. It doesn’t really matter. The gist is still there. Maybe scientists had been studying the interactions of orcas and great white sharks before the beacon had been found. Either way, the interpretation of the shark’s behavior on the beacon is the crucial part of this story. Scientists determined that the tagged great white shark dove straight down into an abyss to avoid being killed by the orcas. This maneuver eluded the orcas who being mammals could not attain such depths without sufficient air. Diving straight down into utter darkness and into a seemingly great unknown was the shark’s great escape.
I was stunned. I think I stood there with my mouth open hypnotized by the story, possibly oatmeal gruel drooling from my pasty lips. In my head all I could envision was the shark diving straight down into blackness. I could not get the thought out of my head of a great white diving straight down to avoid being prey to orcas. ‘What was the shark doing while it was down there?’ the question burned. ‘How did the shark know where to go?’ ‘Was it scared?’ burned even further. I don’t think Dave was a great storyteller as much as I was just into the story itself.
See, when I was about 20 years old I had a dream of a great white shark. It all felt like a documentary film at first. Observing, watching, gazing, scouting—Then, I became a part of the film. I was transposed from hovering heights in the sky downward and into the body of the great white shark I had been observing. I was invisible in the scene, my eyes like the camera. I nosed-dived straight into the great white shark and enveloped the soul of it. Suddenly, I felt a part of the essence of the shark and not the corporeal part. I couldn’t feel the body of the shark at all. I just felt the spirit of it from the inside, through the eyes, of the soul.
Then, I began floating and falling into space. I felt the soul leave the shark’s body and fall and sink. I had now taken over the soul and departed the body. I vividly recall looking back up to the surface. The waters shimmered crystal clear in the light, spectacularly clear panels with the interstitial space between the brilliant sunlight and the extreme blackness of the depths below glowing, refulgent in the peripheral penumbra. The body of the great white shark just hung on the surface. In my vision, the shark’s vision, this squared clear frame, I saw wildlife swimming toward the hovering body. A humpback whale, a couple of orcas, dolphins, and so many different types of fish all swimming towards the dead body, the lone figure the nurse log of the sea. Looking back up and feeling the light diminish I understood my body had died and my soul was carrying on. I sunk and sunk weightless and utterly free. I sunk and sunk, and I went into a dark realm where I felt my mind and my spirit gravitating in a black space. Yet, as I floated there, I still felt gravity pulling me down softly, slowly. I succumbed to the blackness with the entire invisible orb of my soul. I felt soothed like in a warm mass, succumbed to the void, rapt in the blackness, as if I knew where I was going.
The dream continued on in brightly colored detail but I will save those intimate parts for myself to ruminate on. Some things I do choose to keep to myself. Nevertheless, all these years later and I still remember the dream as vividly as what I did the day before. The dream is real to me. I have explored it so much over the years and the part that intrigues me the most is the soul floating in the blackness, as if passing through time and space, heading somewhere unknown on a guided and instinctive path. Maybe I just see the depths of the ocean that way, a place where time and space is null and void. I know it’s a conundrum I stumble on from time to time. Questions always arise: What is our purpose? Does it matter what we actually do on this planet we call earth? What’s the point of it all? Are we real? Or an illusion? Or is it all mind and soul? What am I made of? How far am I willing to go to see what I am made of?
I shoved off from the hut saying soft goodbyes to Dave and Mary. I was in complete deep thought as I headed down the rolling path. The sun illuminated through a mass of cotton ball clouds over the roiling platinum ocean. Transfixed on the imagination of the deep dive of a great white shark, I knew instinctively the trail was in front of me, a sliver of a tunnel of dirt guiding me. Yet, I couldn’t shake the vision. I had become obsessed. I was mesmerized by the massive great white shark appearing so infinitesimally small backdropped by the biggest blackness you can imagine. The great white seemed so insignificant yet so powerful, vulnerable and brave simultaneously. It was both a brutal and beautiful thought at the same time. The vision conjured up feelings of fear and dread, and courage. As much as I understood the great white to be diving in a physical sense, I also understood the great white to be floating in space metaphysically. The dichotomy of this mental manifestation enchanted me as I hiked atop rolling bluffs latticeworked with thick low lying brush.
Suddenly at a wind blown sandy summit…I came to. I snapped out of my dream-thought hypnosis. The great southern ocean roared like a grumbling beast far down below. The ocean roared so loud I felt the roar in my stomach. The booming waves rolled in massively with a deep low moaning. My bones shook, the hair on my arms stood up in the stiff wind, my skin tingled. I observed the ultimate force of the unobstructed waves crash against the rugged coast. At this latitude, these waters churn and circle the globe unstopped by any continents. Here, the ocean feels unstoppably great like a god. The massive rolling waves set the balance of pace between an innate power and an immovable object. A deep churning ocean crashes into a continent, what gives? The answer must be time. I turned inward. The reflection within will not always mirror the outward fragility. My balance teeters with waves of emotion. That’s where my depth lies. Maybe that’s why I seek such unknown spaces.
I rolled up and down over shrub clad dunes like roller coaster humps. Slowly up ploddingly, then crashing down plunge-stepping. The dunes piled high, wind thrashed over eons and compacted by the incessant inclement weather. One may not see heaps of dunes from far away or even from the air. But, the dunes are evident when one is slogging away through the maze of piles sand. The weather remained fickle from drizzles, to quick squalls, to dazzling rays of sunshine. At the head of a drainage squished between two tall bluffs, a ravine, I heard a whale spout from the sea a couple hundred feet away. I stopped immediately. I knew the noise. The pod of whales breached and tumbled and spouted all the while swirling in the whitewater churning surf. I speculated the pod was playing in the surf, socializing, maybe even feeding. My view was far enough away I lost the intimate details of the pod from the roiling waters. Once again I fell back into my dreamscape.
I got to the Nullaki Hut an hour before sunset. Rough weather was coming in overnight, so I laid up with concerns of a soaking. As dusk illuminated the sky, far clouds quickly enveloped and diminished the last light of a short day. The rain fell hard, a tinging cacophony of raindrops atop a fiberglass roof. I nestled into a corner away from any ricochet of spitting wind. Under the protective hut, I dwelled into a long night of sleep.
Before I know it, a new day rose. Nothing shiny or bright, just a gloomy rise under grey skies, the sunlight behind the curtain of puffy damp clouds. Determined to get to town that day to wait out some weather, I shoved off early with a headlamp. Water drops hung on the intricacies of dilapidated and vacant spider webs. Raindrops twinkled in front of my face as if they were flashes of meteors shooting across the dimly lit sky. I knew I needed time to rest anyways, the rain just an added reason to get to town. My legs had been a bit jelly-like since finishing the ride, even my forearms and fingers ached. My feet felt the drubbings of the constant walking, too. I was doing ok. I am ok. I needed to exercise some patience and some tender meticulous strategy to enjoy this time I have left in Australia while getting ready for the AT and completing the Bibb. Start at a comfortable pace and ease into things; then, rise as I strengthen and become inured to the pace of waking. I crossed the wide sandbar of the inlet under moody skies, an open desert of beach presented an exhilarating moment of fresh salty air blowing in directly into my face. I headed to Denmark to rest and wait out the rain.
I left Denmark on a blustery day, nothing too miserable however. I ascended a forested fitted with huge white eucalyptus. Eventually, after some meandering, I got back to the beach where the weather turned a bit soggy again. The wind picked up and roving storms moved in. On Mazzoletti Beach, a long strip of wild beach, the surf rumbled ferociously. I put on the raincoat and squinched my hoodie to try and block out the wind and driving mist. With the surf and the wind I could hardly hear myself think. Yet, with the firm sand I walked on I had a chance to glance up at my surroundings every once in a while. Virga smeared from the cumulous clouds out over the sea. Suddenly, with the white sands, turquoise blue surf, the deep blue ocean, the puffy grey and white clouds, a brilliantly bright rainbow appeared out over the ocean horizon.
The entire way along the strip of beach the rugged waters turbulently tumbled with fury. Squalls rumbled in with thick mist and sideways rain. The whole way across, spectacularly a beaming rainbow far off in the spindrift horizon sprouted straight up to unknown heights. The rain lie disappeared into the clouds and in blissful fantastical thought I assumed the rainbow kept on going up towards the infinite. Incredibly, the rainbow was so present I began to think it was a fixture of the environment, a poster on a bedroom wall, as permanent as a mountain, as sure as sand is in the desert. For a couple hours this went on, my marveling cloaked in a resplendent spectrum of color and light.
I strolled into Parry Beach camp, early enough to sit on the spit of rocks overlooking the turbulent sea, the swirling blue waters of a great southern ocean. I just felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. How lucky am I to experience this journey. To thrive, to mettle, to sidle, to dwell, to linger, to ache and pain, for all of it how lucky just am I. I gazed out over the granite rocky shore. I transported to my dream in Perth. I had been standing here in this very spot. Worn potholes filled with foamy seawater and tiny coastal sea life. I craved my head over the edge of the granite platform staring into the sudden drop off, the deep blue spectacle of an unending imagination of fear and the unknown. Out in the bay, violent waters crashed and spilled over submerged piles of enormous boulders of rocks, islands of unattainable desolation. Damn me, all I could fathom was the whale. Then, the great white crept in. Both dreams had colors and an amorphous figure beaming with a swirling of all colors. I thought I was going to fry standing right there. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the moment. But, I tucked it away and kept my chin up defiantly happy. The sun set and the bay turned platinum, a silvery aura of an easing contentment, nature at a standstill. I scrambled back over the granite rocks and headed to a dark campground, the other fellow travelers nestled in for the chilly and damp night.
The weather forecasted the next couple days to be terrible. I pushed some bigger miles to try and time some of the weather with a town stop in Walpole. I left Parry Beach early then. All the campers still huddled in their caravans as I walked out of the campground under predawn darkness. I could make out the early light perforating the karri trees, the trail wide and clear. I climbed up giant dunes cloaked in shrubbery. The sun poked through a misty curtain of clouds and radiated a purple lilac glow on the smeared virga draping down. Really, the day was quiet. Not a soul to run into on the wandering trail amid huge sandy bluffs. The wind whipped through the ravines rushing up from the ocean. Spindrift turbulently gusted from the crests of huge waves that blurred the vista down the coastline. The track even went inland towards an inlet bay where a boat shed held canoes for the hiker to paddle across the narrow portion of an inlet. I pushed pass Peaceful Bay to try and get to the Rame Head hut. I knew from the slanted hills I would have a view of the sunrise over the roaring ocean.
I woke up to predawn rain pelting my tarp. But, I still got ready. With these long nights I fall asleep earlier than usual and so I wake up much earlier than I usually do. Sometimes I lay around waiting for some semblance of light. Other times I wait for the rain to stop. Then, even more so, I start my hooves tromping in dim twilight. The rain stopped and turned into mist, and I ate my breakfast of cereal and slurped my coffee under the hut. Nonetheless, the weather on the slanted hills seemed unsteady yet typically coastal enough to just push out of camp. I had to get a bead on the impending inclement weather.
I roved over undulating dunes with steep descents and ascents. From each crest I could only see the next one, each long and narrow dune forming a graben with the prevailing winds. The weather staved off as I left the coastal plains and ventured into the giant tingle eucalyptus forests. In such a short distance the scenery changed dramatically. Suddenly, I was in the amazing forests of the giant tingles. Yellow, red, and rates, the tingles are some of the largest trees on the planet. I relished the hill climbing getting into the dark hovels of the forests.
My legs pumped and guided me on cruise control as I continuously gazed upward onto the massive canopy. In awe I hiked on swiftly, inspired. Massive trunks bulged as wide as buildings. The trail yawned widely around the tingles. This place is a very rare and special place, for the tingles grow here only and nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, because of their isolation the square hectares the tingles grow in is relatively small. And, with my pace I entered and left the tingle forest in a few hours. Next thing I knew, I arrived in Walpole. I strolled in under a slight darkness, a new infant night. The rain had began to fall. The rain is coming. The rain is here…
The Survival of Enjoyment:
I realized conditions were changing while I laid in the toasty hotel room. I knew winter had set in in southern Western Australia. Things would be wet from here on out. I strategized on how to keep my momentum going without losing too much time with the weather. I was on a tight schedule and I needed to adapt to conditions, that I knew. I knew with the even worse forecast coming in I had to be a little patient and flexible. At this point, I’d rather waste a couple days up front resting and waiting out the rain than burn days later. All that meant was with the crappy weather I had to adjust my pace to the higher rate later on down the line. So, the rest I would get during the storm would essentially be all that I would get. Now with that being said, once the weather settled, I had to be very consistent with the remaining mileage. I had to tag 25 plus miles every day in limited daylight to achieve the goal of end to ending the Bibb Track before my flight took off at the end of June. I knew I had time, but I also knew I was cutting it close.
Nearing Northcliffe I had a reprieve from the torrential rain. When I had first set foot on the Pingerup Plains, the ground was compacted and damp, not flooded. By the time the rain had fell, a foot and an half of puddles water now spread across the plains and the track, an utter swamp laid ahead of me. As I left the plains, some of the flooded water had receded. With still some deep puddles about, nothing was as near as when it was downpouring. And, now the sun poked out. I walked into Northcliffe completely dry although most of my gear was still damp. A few long and deep puddles remained to drain in the saturated sand, the tall karri dripped and shook loose the remaining droplets in the breeze, the air still hung with moisture, and a heavy dew looked like a fog retreating with the fading cold weather. Nevertheless, the shift in attitude and in mindset when the sun comes back out and shines and the threat of cold rain subsides is amazingly positive and cheery. Even the cows looked pleased with their shaggy winter coats.
I rolled up to Shafer Hut that night feeling groovy about things. I was dry, the skies were clear, and I was moving pretty well. I shared the hut with a couple from Perth on their first thru-hike. A couple of funny and convivial Aussies, they introduced me to marron fishing. Out over a large pond, a piece of salami was baited into a long sock. Jay dangled the bait from the small pier. I shined my headlamp into the murky water on the biggest of the crawdads, a behemoth mother with huge pincers. We giggled about, oohing and aahing, enjoy the silly spectacle we were endeavoring. The marron put up a serious fight and Jay kept at it, myself standing to the side with a rake extended into the shallow waters trying to wedge the marron so Jay could reach in and grab the marron once it was close enough. In a burst of loosened sand, the marron exploded to the surface of water, its pincers splayed outward and the tail tucked underneath the lobster-like body. Jay almost fell into the waters in a frantic attempt to grab the marron. To no avail, we still giggled, still oohed and aahed. The couple went back to the hut and I had the pier to myself. No more headlamps, no moonlight, just the pure darkness of wilderness.
Out over the still glassy pond, the stars above twinkled in their heavenly reflection, a thousand winks providing me with startling clarity, for I hadn’t seen the stars in quite some time. Either the clouds suffocated the blackness of space and the eminence of stars or the incredible filling moon drowned out the stars with its brilliant illumination; I just hadn’t glimpsed the stars in some while. I felt there in that moment like Huck Finn. After the marron escapades I felt ridiculously boyish. The stars settled back my seriousness to adulthood. What is it in the millions of stars that drowns out life? That makes you realize where you are at and what you hope for? Imagine if the stars were actually attainable? Would I be steadier in life, less mercurial? The hell if I know. I’ll continue drowning myself in stargazing, the binge of the curious.
The kookaburra returned. The funny birds raucously, cheerily, and rambunctiously squawked aloud cacophonously in the morning. A good birthday day; it was my birthday. Things looked on the up and up: good weather, feeling good physically, pushing hard, incredibly tall and thick eucalyptus forests. I even got to the town of Pemberton in time enough to pick up my shoes at the visitor center. I felt it, I was back on track in my timeframe. I had a quiet birthday dinner sitting in the corner nursing a beer and eating a huge steak in a crowded pub. I felt fulfilled in so many ways. Then, the next morning my back goes out.
The unbearable weight of suppressed emotion, maybe, maybe it’s that. Maybe it has been laying down for so long during the winter nights only to be very active for 10 hours nonstop—that precarious mix of stagnation and activity that borders on mania. Maybe it’s just as simple as wear and tear on the body after a strenuous 8 months. Are things catching up to me? Or, was it just a fluke back tweak? Not that I wasn’t trying to delve into what-for’s of the thrown back. I truly wasn’t. I just knew it was real and I had to endure it somehow over the next week or so at least. Heroically, I had bent down to pick up my small sized backpack, nothing more than that, nothing exceedingly heavy. In fact, it seems downright silly that I threw my back out this way. But, this is not the first time I’ve thrown my back out picking up my backpack in taxing hiking adventures. One thing I know for certain, I’m getting older. That’s just a matter of fact: the night before I turned 46, a few years closer to 50. Well, whatever, I knew what I had to do. I had to not let the back think it knew it had me. I couldn’t let the back think it needed rest. I had to will the body into moving forward and upright. So, in Pemberton I strapped on the pack and wincingly marched out of town.
All day frustration settled in for the hiking. Yet, I’ve been in this state before. I could manage pain, sometimes I even prefer it. Really, pain can help me focus, empowering me through a weakness. I controlled my breath and took it careful. I was in the paincave, my happy place. Anyways, the rain consistently fell throughout the day. In some ways I preferred the cold rain as it took my mind off the back. I moved fairly well but I still had to walk into the evening as I had a late go of it in Pemberton because of the back. As the day grew to a close, I had a chance to dry out as the rain had stopped for a couple hours. I figured I had a clear go at the next hut for two hours of night hiking. My spirits regained some positivity, the back lessening in pain throughout the day. Then, darkness came and the heavens opened up.
For two hours the rain unleashed chilled me to the bone and flooded the track. I pushed on to keep warm and I moved in a strengthening hurry. I was ready to hunker up and sleep, to forget about the day. Under the pounding rain under a headlamp I marched within an animated tunnel, the torch turning the streaming rain into anime. Suddenly , I felt cartoonishly determined, like some fable of sorts where the hero marches on against all odds. I played this image up in my head which kept me very motivated. Rainwater dropped and streamed everywhere on my body. I could feel the cold water running down my ass crack. Just everywhere on my body was untouched and unzipped by cold water. With my adrenaline pumping the roof of the hut shimmered in the bleary light. I arrived completely drenched. A couple of hikers laid in the hut on the wooden platforms tucked away from the world and hidden inside their sleeping bags. I disrobed and put on whatever dry clothes I had even though my pack was thoroughly drenched through. I hurriedly got my bedroll ready, forsook dinner, and crawled into my swampy quilt, my back wringing and pulsing with pain.
In the morning as dawn neared, the other sleepers crawled about. A headlamp or two settled in on me. The hut rang so loudly with the raindrops that pelted the roof all night that neither of the hikers realized I was there. I gingerly sat up, my back as stiff as a board, as dead as a sun bleached plank. I got ready and left before everyone else. Despite my sogginess I knew I had to get going to get my back loosened up. I would rather walk with back pain rather than lay around with back pain. Of course, the day was long and agonizing, my back tremendously painful. I lived with a wince on my face while trying to not show any teeth. I couldn’t waste the fight on the visual. I had to save my strength for the inner realm. It continued raining, unfortunately, not making anything better. I arrived to Tom Road hut after a 26 mile day. At the hut I settled in. The hut was lonesome and in a very dark forest, empty. I watched the tiny fairy wren the size of chickadee hop around my feet and peck the ground for crumbs and insects. I admired how spry the little birds were. As I laid down, the rain continued falling and a tumult nearby shot above the tinging of the rain pattering the roof. A large tree toppled over and crashed to the ground. The noise crashes so close I thought for a second that it could hit the hut. I couldn’t move anyways, for my back had me immobile and helpless. I didn’t admire the tree like I did the emu wrens. I envisioned the giant gum as a morbid reflection of getting older, creakier. I’m tall like a tree and one day I may fall like one. It’s just a fact of life. While I wouldn’t have it any other way, it still sucked to have the back spasming the way it was. At that point, the hike, in some way, felt uncertain. I was at a low spot in my intentions, and I was trying to come to grips with it in the dark corner of the isolated hut hidden in the dark and lonely forest.
Shadows, the idea of the awareness of shadows fascinates me. How we see ourselves in the world may not be who we really are. The fronts we put up to behave in this world has nothing to do with who we actually are. Fronts are just fronts; the truths are somewhere behind. We can spend our whole life trying to learn about ourselves. We can grow or diminish from our experiential intel. How often does one get to delve into one’s own shadows? Perhaps never. I truly don’t know if it really matters that I have tried to dive into those depths through endurance. I mean, I don’t know shit. I’ve nothing figured out. Yet, I can find some semblance of realness down in those depths. I value those times even though during those times I was pretty much scared out of my mind. It’s like that great white shark that dove straight down into an incredibly dark abyss to avoid the killer orcas—dead reckoning is somehow crucial to navigating the survival of life.
At some times during my life I’ve seen myself as a shadow, flirting about the real world with these vagabond dreams. Oh, at times I’ve yearned to live in obscurity, dwell in the shadows permanently. Just alone in the wilderness leading a life along a wandering path. However, there’s more to it all.
In my hiding places I find my fragile self. Hurting inside, hiding my face from the world. Sometimes visiting the shadows is where one finds what is dwelling in the shadows. I don’t know, I wasn’t lonely. I wasn’t feeling isolated. I was just feeling separate from everyone, far away and nearly stranded. Disconnected, that’s the word. Afraid, that’s an even more ideal word. Well, I figured, there’s always more to the process of healing. That’s what I believed in, and really hoped for. I’m not mad or angry anymore. I’m not sad. I was searching for answers while lying in the succumbing darkness strangling my head, my back throbbing with electric spasms. The night felt so long just lying there stagnant and immobile. But, I got up the next morning and pushed on. There was nothing left to do.
This is what swirled in my head. I became the shadow lurking in the deep and tall eucalyptus forests. I heaved as the forest heaved. I bent like a shadow as the light spliced through the dense canopy. I was the underside of life. I was the ribbon of trail in a dank forest coursing a way through like vein through a body. I was the dark blood in those veins. I pumped and dealt, pumped and dwelled. Here they come, those thoughts—-I understand that I will always live with the heartbreak. I understand she is a variation of my past, a wavelength intersected at a particular point in time, a dream memory that will revisit me in the future in the form of a good dream. I could have lived moments and lines in so many different ways in the past. The trail diverges, always has. Nothing seems continuous anymore. This is the last time I’ll mention that heartbreak dreamline again. Some things I must keep to myself.
The days went on, the rain pestered incessantly, my back just fucked up. I lurked in the shadows just wading through blind like that great white shark. I saw myself standing on the precipice of a rugged granite coast ready to jump in to be enveloped by the whale. And, then I found something, something cantankerous and bitter, something timid and afraid. From the inside observing what the inside sees on the outside I saw that I had fell into a sort of trap, a self-preserving one. I had begun to treat every relationship and encounter in a defensive manner, as a confrontation. I pondered recent interactions. I revisited the past two years in my consciousness. I could have done things differently, but I didn’t. All I could see was my true intentions of loving something that was there and loving something that was gone. Deep in the shadows I could finally see how afraid I have been. I had been jarred so much by the heartbreak that every encounter with anyone I didn’t have the ability to trust. I felt abandoned, ghosted, an empty shell of myself. Why should I invest myself into anyone anymore, the morbid thought floated in my head. I felt saddened there sitting in my own shadows, such a far reach from the person I knew to exude positivity and playfulness. I had to molt whatever dead skin I had. I had completely scoured out my insides to reveal only an exoskeleton, a facade unto the real world. Maybe this is the depths the great white shark was diving to, these abysmally trapped emotions that have scarred my life. I keep going back to that image. I see that I am the great white shark diving to the unfathomable dark depths to sit with the darkness, explore the absence of light, poke around and prod the void. One day, when the sun comes back, I hope to venture back up in an explosive resurfacing with some knowledge and understanding. Until then, I merely needed my back to loosen up so I could stomp everything out.
The back still hurt regardless of what I wanted. I had to endure the back pain and the shadows. I was, however, more than willing to endure the struggle mentally. That I yearned for. In those depths, I wanted to release the sadness I had had and fill it with something positive. I meditated on the raindrops cascading from the giant karri trees, some of the largest on earth. I contemplated a lasting memory of her: the last good moment together. I found it there in the darkness a glimmer of happiness. And, I stored it deep inside rooted within my core that I hoped one day would seed into something not so dark. Maybe it would bring a smile to me one day. I believed walking on in the shadows brought a new set of eyes to the travels I had been on. I became embedded within the place I roved deep in the heart of the karri forest.
Not all places are spectacularly scenic. With some places it’s the angle of light refracting through the trees, the dank odor of rotting leaves, the damp rank of a soggy forest, and the crackling of the cold settling in through the canopy of eucalyptus that makes a place memorable. When my consciousness and my sense meld together that’s when I connect with a place deeply. I began to pull myself up out of shadows despite the metaphysical weight of the back injury. I have tired of looking at myself from the outside where everyone sees what they see. I am so tired of compromise. As much as I am more me on the inside and more me to myself, I am embracing the shadows I exhibit on the outside. To know me you must be embedded. I see my travels differently now. I see my travels with a stern sense of self where I am living naturally with a boyish wonder. I will do what I want to do. Certainly that wonder thrives but the majority of the time I am sitting with myself. I carry it, the self, as deep a memory as a vivid recollection of a place. I used to see my own self as a horizon where the light is casted through the shading clouds and onto the aspirations and hopes of something grown and enlightened. What signified a distant end is truly an endless endeavor. These new eyes and shadows only show me I still have a long way to walk to get there. These new shadowy eyes show me I am still on the journey. I cannot dwell in the shadows; I must move forward with the shadows. The light is always changing. I can have faith in that.
The next couple days I pushed on with the miasma of gloominess and the pangs of a sore back. Thankfully, the Bibb is not a difficult track that would otherwise make matters worse for my back if it were a difficult and rough and tumble track. I had a smooth corridor to walk under enchanting giant forests and a hut at the end of nearly every day. Life could’ve been worse, certainly. My mood shifted with a clean light pushing through the ebbing rain. I’ll get it back, I thought, that positivity and cheeriness, my playfulness; I’ll get it back, what I once had. I still have that in me. I believe in that. I understood that now as I walked out of the shadows. This is temporary, seasonal. Everything is changing and all at once at all times. I had started to sign trail registers at the huts I stayed at. I began to make my presence known. Seems trivial, but to me this proved I existed. I wanted to show my face again. I saw it as a step forward, a step towards a light of the proof of life.
Light from the Shadows:
Over the week. the back slowly got better, the rain eased up, and I began to enjoy the hiking through the forests again; the sun had poked through. In Balingup, I shared a couch at a trail angels’ house with the bloke and watched the evening news. The toasty living room basked in an orange ember glow from the pot belly stove. The mood was warm. I shared an evening news session on the television as we sipped on a light beer. We watched a segment on a humpback whale that had been inadvertently caught in some stray rigging and ropes. Rigging specialists came in to untangle the whale. After two days of trailing the whale, the crew finally got the whale free of the intertwining predicament. I gazed into the tube on the segment, my eyes not blinking for the few minutes as the segment rolled. I felt something stir inside, almost welling up. I felt that way; trapped and swimming almost futilely, bogged down, the inability to dive deep. It was almost like looking at myself from a 10,000 foot view. Whatever came up, I decided to soak up the moment in the warmth of the living room and kind hospitality. My clothes had been washed and I was clean. I was fed, dry, and warm. I was content and I could see now just how close I was to Perth. Despite the delays in the rain and with the back injury, I could see myself finishing right on time with the remaining mileage left. The only thing I had been considering, and with no blue demeanor, I realized I probably wouldn’t be attempting the AT if any soreness in the back persisted as got back to Perth some 10 days away. The turnaround time for recovery was too close. The back had me aware and cautious, careful. I knew with the timeframe and pace I would need to do the AT in that the sore back would prohibit such an endurance attempt. And, that’s ok. I had my original plan anyways.
As emblematic as the depths are of an ocean, it doubles as the depths of a person, in a way I am viewing it personally. The infinite encapsulation of emotions, the entirety of thought, within those depths lies the soul. And, I think that soul lies in darkness; it’s just not easily found. The sun rose above the foggy valley, the morning light perforating the silvery wall of mist. Slowly the sun rose over the next couple days. The heart of winter drew close in the far under-reaches of the southern hemisphere. The sun hung low in the sky and I recognized the process of life, of healing. The warmth of the rays caressed the land. The warmth of light piercing through the shield of darkness drying the land and the canopy of tall forests. Things take time, even one single day.
As the sun gradually dominated the sky, the clouds scant, my pace quickened. Soon enough I found myself in Collie almost ahead of what I had anticipated. I took a zero day to finally rest the back fully. And, it paid off. Wow, what a day off can do to rest the mind. I hadn’t realized the stronghold of the concentration on the back until I had completely stopped. It helped too that I had some wiggle room now. It paid off—the enduring the pain of the back with hard work, staying the course. From Collie, with a good forecast over the next week, I could now open up my stride.
The going went smoothly enough through tall forests along the Murray River. The temps dropped to nearly freezing temps for the long nights and early morning. I enjoyed the cold temps which provided me with pleasant walking. At least it wasn’t raining. Other hikers were back out on trail, too. I had begun to wonder if the soggy weather had held hikers at bay. For a solid week or more, the presence of an empty trail dominated my perspective. The track felt lonesome. I hardly saw anybody, at least not until near Dwellingup. Then, I found myself standing in the old lookout tower watching the clouds move on by, watching the trees sway in the wind, atop Mt. Wells. The high dome teemed with bird life, views ranged over a wide area. I finally had a view, a perch. Birds fluttered in and around the banksia and the taller gums playing their evening songs—the startling green parrots, the lamentations of the raven, the peeps of tiny robins, the tiny blue capped fairy wren with the long thin fan tail, the bronze wing pigeon, the thrushes—listening to the birds, the hustle and bustle, the squeaks and peeps, the chortles and chuckles—feeling the warmth of the sun on a chilly day, I started reflecting on a lot of the hiking I have done over the past decade. In my memory I traveled around so many trails. The wind caressed the lookout between the trestles causing a whirring sound. I observed a squall moving towards me. I felt the dashes of sprinkles sporadically falling in. I tend to not dwell on those types of memories even though those memories are the best kind. I tend to be so present on the trail that I am on I almost discard the old ones. I pondered how much more I need to think about this kind of stuff. These memories of my hiking life bring me so much joy, peace, and tranquility.
I entered the spot on the maps where the topography lines looked interesting. Finally some relief in the form of domes. Some actual ascending and descending occurred. This was fun hiking. Forests of sheoaks, the banksias, the grasstrees standing like giant people among the jarrah and marri gums, the forests were enchanting. Then, I would climb up granite slabs following cairns to the granite domed knob. Moss carpeted the slabs. The potholes were full from the evening rain. Views abounded in a full panorama. Out in the distance, a hazy fog layer hung above the dark green forests. I dripped with sweat, a cool breeze cooling me off.
At Canning Hut, I had the lot to myself. I got there in time as the rain drizzled on the roof softly. The gum trees swayed in a chilly breeze rolling back and forth with a rhythmic swishing noise that drowned out the dearth of silence. This place felt remote, far away. Black cockatoos squawked as the day neared an end, the crackles and squeals piercing my droning thoughtlessness. I observed the birds from a bench under the hut. The cockatoos sternly communicated with each other, I think in tabulating a flock count. Some swirled in the canopy riding the current of the stiff breeze. The black cockatoos huddled near each other for the duration of the night, safety in numbers and lookouts. Then, as the black cockatoos settled in, I zoned out on the solitude granted to me. I simply sat and melted into the changing soft light of dusk. I melted into the swaying and rolling breeze. Right before I laid down I walked down to the track. A light mist toppled down from the gum canopy. I looked up and gazed at the twinkling Milky Way, a river of stars streaming across the black sky.
I woke up in the middle of the pitch black night. The crescent moon had already set. A drizzle softly pelted the roof of the hut. I don’t know, I felt this immense sorrow carving my face. I thought of death, the memory of others long gone, a permanent scar on some unknown and distant land. Damn, my heart hung heavy. I am not sure why. I ran through memories of old friends who passed away. I rifled through their smiles and the blurs of times passed spent with each of them. I delved into the days leading up to my grandma’s death, her passing to me acknowledged by the lone raven above in an alcove in the swollen Paria River canyon narrows. I yearned to communicate with all of them through this metaphysical trail, the wavelengths of souls. I yearned to sit next to them, embrace them. I fell into the lost love that brought me here. I wept, alone in the hut under a stupendously starry black sky. Something I had been dreaming of must have spurned these churning thoughts up. Or, my dream whale was back from the depths messaging me from deep within. I decided to pray. As silly as that sounds to me, I prayed and then tossed and turned for an hour in the weeping wee hours of the night. I felt a longing to be with my grandma, to sit among her and spend time with her. I moved to my memory of the lost love. I ran through the first time I said ‘I love you’ and finally meant it. I sobbed a little. Nothing to fill up a puddle, merely a little. The stars lit up the hut and shimmered the periphery around me, guiding me. I waded through the darkness following the glimmer of the stars. I swam and swam, swam so everlasting hard into the darkness and towards the shimmering light of the stars.
I woke up tossed and turnt, my quilt off of me. A dream within a dream, I came to with a slight shiver. The predawn cold sunk. I wrapped myself back up in the quilt. Not to be too morbid or anything, but these moments are fulfilling. I can deeply contemplate on life, reflect on all the good fortune of all the friends I have had. A moment of thankfulness, gratitude, by myself in isolation. It seems to all go back to the rainbow along the southern beach, the dark rainy forests with the gigantic gum trees, the lookout, and now this hut. I am grateful for my dreams for taking me this far, for guiding me, for spurring on my imagination. Without them I would be misplaced. This is why I love nature. This is why I need nature. I need to get to the depths of myself. This is the only place I can truly find solace. It’s not in a bar, or at work, or just in the confines of society. This soul searching is truly conducive with immersion deep in the woods, faraway in the outreaches of a desert, in the mountains, on the sea, just anywhere where there is nobody else.
I walked hard the next day knowing the next day I would be finished and needed to get to Perth so I had at least a night to get ready for my flight out of Australia. Indeed, I spent the day thinking about my time in Australia. So, I walked on in a pretty high buzz. I arrived at the Helena Hut that overlooked the valley on a granite promontory. I shared a hut with 3 other hikers who were about to finish the Bibb, as well. They just were finishing in two days time, as I was one. We chatted about the Bibb, even surprised at how young all of us were as compared to all of the other hikers we have seen out on the Bibb. We cracked jokes and reminisced about our experience. It was actually a really fun time. Then, the evening came and all of us stood out over the bluff and gazed into the heavens. We observed the changing color of dusk into evening and into night, a slew of purples galore. We counted shooting stars streaming across the sky. And, we just stood there. That's it. For an hour or so. It seemed we were all sharing a moment.
After a sound sleep I leapt up early. I only had 18 miles to the northern terminus in Kalamunda, but I wanted to rise with the sun. I knew I would get a spectacular show from the perch the hut sat at. The low marine layer slowly crept in over the steely fog. The fog hung thickly over the deep canyons below. Up the side drainages the fog tiptoed like wispy smoke with a still breeze. Everything was deathly silent. The first tangerine glows permeated the fog silhouetting the nearest gum lined ridge. Purple came next that highlighted burnt branches from old spindly snags. Then, a few birds groggily chirped, which turned brightly, almost cheerily as the day slowly churned over; my Australian journey would be over soon. Everything appeared in front of me as a dream: a spectacle of memory, reality, and the realm in between. How could I ever forget this moment.