Thursday, August 08, 2019

Gunlom Hike .2

Three and a half days, three nights in stony country of kakadu escarpment above Gunlom!
Perfect weather, good company, challenging country...

 Some Photos

A track

Fresh Water

Those who have a weak stomach please skip this post!

Every journey caries with it a set of unique experiences and learning opportunities.
What did I learn?

This trip was an exercise in Hygiene management.

Some time on Wednesday last week I consumed something that completely destroyed my gut biology. I don't know if it was the home cooked Indonesian food that had gone cold or the fermented health drink from the supermarket but by Thursday night my stomach was screaming at me.
Discomfort in the stomach soon passed into the bowel and on Friday morning when I should have been ready to rock and roll, I was experiencing cramps and a nasty rumbling down below.

My ride arrived at 6:30 am, we met up with the other hikers and were soon on our way down the Stuart Highway, I hadn't been to the toilet yet but I was already becoming fearful that there was more pressure at the base of my posterior than would be attributed to just gas.

By the time we arrived at Gunlom I had to bolt to the camp ground toilets! BoooM! My but exploded! Liquid explosion! NOT a good way to begin a three day hike!
The track was closed for an hour after we arrived due to trail maintenance, helicopters were delivering materials for a new staircase to the top of the falls! In one hour I had to visit the toilet three times!

I think that is enough graphic detail for this journal entry.

Before I go on with my hygiene report I should first comment on the quality of the walk. Excellent! The leader was competent and patient, group size was perfect (only six hikers in total), country was spectacular and a little challenging.

I had no map or compass so was completely dependant on the other walkers, that's OK though, it took all my concentration to keep my but cheeks together and avoid a nasty accident!

My new Scarpa Boots were absolutely brilliant! They literally carried me over the roughest ground I've walked to date. The benefit of good quality ankle high boots with deep tread is that you don't have to use so much muscle power or skill to hold your position on rough ground. These boots did all the work, my feet were a bit uncomfortable at the beginning but by the third day felt I had completely broken them in.

Back to hygiene management. When hiking and toileting in the bush personal hygiene is always a high priority. The relationship between the organism (human hiker) and the environment should be one of respect. Water is not the conduit for disposal of waste! Fresh water is a precious resource that cannot be abused. First rule of hiking is don't contaminate your water source.

Organising toileting should be a well considered procedure. Waste disposal must always be managed with the environment in mind. It is a matter of personal security. So most of the time while clenching my but cheeks and battling the urge to release gas/water/slime composite into the environment I was constantly surveying the landscape for a suitable place to 'dump it'.

Releasing effluent is only one part of the process. There's more to it. See list below.

Got the Shits cycle

After last expulsion:

  • Use mind control over bowel to not allow unscheduled explosion.
  • Reduce food intake to prevent buildup of fuel to be expelled
  • Search constantly for appropriate place to squat (Nowhere near water source is acceptable!)
  • Be extremely conservative with use of Bog Roll (I usually only bring about 50 sheets worth, nowhere near enough for this kind of situation)
  • Avoid soiling pants at all costs!

The first two days were hell! I had lost my appetite, had constant cramping in the bowel and bloating! I had to carry the full weight of my pack on my shoulders and couldn't urinate without risking similar substance erupting from my arse!
By day three the cramps had left but motions were no firmer. On the last leg of the final day I seemed to have achieved a far higher degree of bowel control but the nature of my stools had not improved. During the walk I was very grateful that others donated toilet paper and hand sanitizer. If it wasn't for these welcome gifts I would have had far worse time.

In the hygiene stakes I think I succeeded (with help from my co-walkers).

I managed to:
  • Complete the whole hike without soiling my pants.
  • Achieve a sterile field between myself and fellow hikers (I don't think anyone else has been sick)
  • Prevent contamination of shared water sources
  • Bury waste sufficiently enough that it wont be disturbed by animals
  • Achieve hygenic standards with minimal use of paper and other sanitary products
More Photos

Tight squeeze

Beauty Leaf

Relaxed enough

Wide Views

Skeletal snake

Big thanks to my fellow hikers, thanks also to Bining/Arrakpi rangers who manage the park, Scarpa for great boots and God for the wonder of creation.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Hiking in Kakadu

So I joined the local bushwalking club just over a year ago and for several reasons I haven't actually done much hiking at all! 

One of the reasons for not hiking was that I had not been able to acquire a decent pair of hiking boots after my awesome Katmandu boots blew out on the first day of the Jatbula trail! 

I discovered last year that the full leather boots I had re-soled last year no longer fit me! I discovered this the hard way when my toes became badly bruised and the nails of my two big toes fell off after attempting the Great Ocean Walk in May 2018.

My I purchased an overpriced second hand pair of boots resulted in two of the biggest blisters I've ever had on my heels after attempting to walk to work in them last month. After a second attempt to wear them in I ended up ditching them at the airport and walking home in thongs!

No Luck with boots
Today I have my fingers crossed for a hike around Gunlom in Kakadu this weekend. 

Here's what I know about the route we'll be following:

" 1.Depart 7am, meet 6:45 at 3/45 Fill-out emergency contact info.
2.Friday lunch at Gunlom at the top of the waterfall (where we can have a swim).
3.First day. walk 8km walk -  close to creek. long day.
4.Second day. Over ridge to Allosyncarpia pool on Barramundi Creek. 4 km. Hard. No reliable water.
5.Third Day. 7 km through saddle to creek camp site. No water for 5 km.
6. Fourth day. 3 km. Walk out and drive back. Lunch at Gunlom.

Water -  minimum of 2L 3 L is better, assumes fully hydrated before starting the day's walk.

Fire at night, for ambience and cooking. Use burner for dinner and morning beverage.

Bring own first aid kit."

Full list of my preparation : 
  • Purchased new pair of Boots from the local camping shop
  • Purchased some dried food from supermarket
  • Purchased gas bottle for stove
  • Transferred money for fuel
  • Paid membership of bushwalking club 
  • Grabbed pack out of shed
  • Told boss I won't be at work tomorrow
 As you can see most of my preparation has involved spending money! Now I'm broke I have no actual idea about where or how we will be getting along through the landscape featured in the image above and I do not have a great deal of faith that my boots will carry me.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Sprawling madness

Yesterday I went with my very fit Swabian uncle to walk up a hillside which used to be part of the rural fields and woodlands that circled Melbourne. I was shown the spot earlier this year but didn't get to fully explore.

The views are amazing! But what I saw really brought home to me just how messed up our country truly is.

Urban sprawl in Melbourne is taking over vast tracts of arable land and habitat and the size of the houses being constructed astounds me. Who is living in all these enormous houses that are taking over our landscape? What is their connection to the land? How are they using the space they now inhabit and the resources they have commanded? After talking to builder friends here it seems that most of these enormous houses are completely excessive. I have heard too many stories of middle aged people buying big houses simply because they have the money to afford a bigger house in a new estate. 
Sprawling mansions a celebration of wealth and excess but sadly empty by other accounts

In Australia there are about 116,000 homeless people. Housing is unaffordable for so many people yet there are so many large houses with more rooms than people could possibly need. People are living out in these suburbs barricaded in their mansions, I imagine owning such imposing real estate has not reduced the lonely and disconnection that modern life seems to impose on the population. Most likely they are just as lost searching for meaning as the homeless and stateless people they could be helping. They could probably use some company but why dont they share?

 See link HERE 


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Stooping, sharing and citrus

As far back as I can remember there has always been a lemon tree

Lemonade apparently

When I was a kid I learned from our Italian neighbors that lemons like urine, so it was regular practice for the boys both sides of the fence to wee on the tree. It was a matter of pride that our trees were well watered. The lemon tree was a valued contributor to suburban community life. (Yes there actually was such a thing as a 'suburban community' back then, street cricket, cubbies in the trees, billy carts down the hill etc... etc...)

Where I come from the unspoken rule has always been, nobody pays for lemons. In fact it would be a poor person indeed who would have to resort to actually purchasing lemons from the shop. After all who wouldn't know at least one person who has a tree with a few fruits to share?

In some places they use the phrase "Big name no blanket" to indicate that someone has put too much significance on their own self importance but neglected the social and personal responsibility of caring for theirs and others basic needs. Well here you could easily apply same logic, "Big name no lemons".

I recall as a child accidentally bumping into our tree and apologizing as if it were a person. It seemed a perfectly normal thing to do. Many years later a Malaysian colleague told me about the communal mango trees in her village. She was taught by her father never to disturb the tree at night, don't pick fruit or cut the wood, don't even shake the foliage at night, respect the tree. 

Many changes have occurred in our family home after I left about 24 years ago. The old lemon tree had to be removed but Mum and Dad planted more in another spot along the side fence.

Every time I visit my family in Melbourne I am amazed at the productivity of Mum and Dad's lemon trees. They have a few varieties, I don't know what they are, they're lemons, there's lots of them... one is called Lemonade. 

Slim garden bed produces tons of fruit
There are four trees growing in a patch of dirt about 80cm wide between a brick path and the neighbors fence. Each year they are brutally hacked back to a few rough stems and every year they bounce back producing biggest mobs of golden fruit.

Mum with another bag of fruit to give away

My parents have been living in the same house in Melbourn's northern suburbs for 51 years. When they moved in the street was mostly dirt and surrounded with paddocks (where we used to collect black berries and mushrooms... another story). As the neighborhood became more populated people would share back yard vegetables, it was normal to have someone knock on the door with a bag full of silver beet, rhubarb, tomatoes or plums. Nobody ever paid for lemons.

Time has rolled on and the neighborhood has changed, new families have moved in others have shifted or passed away. Most keep to themselves but everyone knows my Mum. So it was no surprise to me when we had an appointment at the bank, that she would bring a bag of lemons for her account manager. 

Field mushrooms straight out of the front yard
To what end does she keep holding to these antiquated ways? Talking to strangers, pottering in the garden, giving stuff away... Well about 6 and a half years ago mum was diagnosed with a  very aggressive bowel cancer. It was life threatening and required immediate surgery. After the surgery she was not given a very good prognosis. The surgery took away a large section of her bowel and she suffered a lot. During the weeks and months of her early treatment (Chemo) she received messages and prayers from all over the place. People would bring soups and hot meals for her and my dad (mum lost her apatite for a very long time). There seemed to be no end to the generosity of friends and neighbors. Mum hated being laid up and she endured a couple of years of being physically knocked out by chemo and the impact of the cancer on her body. But now 6 years later I come to visit and find her pottering in the garden, stooping to pick up fallen lemons and picking mushrooms from the front yard! She has exceeded all expectations.

I don't know what gives people the spirit to keep on going but with mum it must be connected to this drive she has to stoop to pick up the fruit from the ground and the impulse that demands that she should share the abundance she has been blessed with. Because nobody should ever pay for lemons!
Mushrooms and radish

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Great Stupa an unexpected gem

While in Bendigo last week mum suggested we go and visit The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion.

As a reformed drinker my mind sprung to an assumption about the word Stupa and associated it immediately with the word 'stupor' a state I have known all too well, which had little to do with compassion and I had no interest in re-visiting. She said it's a Buddhist thing so I looked it up. 

Apparently according to Wiki a 'Stupa' is: "...a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation. A related architectural term is a chaitya, which is a prayer hall or temple containing a stupa."

Sure I said that sounds interesting.

So after my ride from Heathcote we visited the Cathedral then had lunch (Chicken meat I'm afraid we're not very good Buddhists), before heading out of town to a Buddhist colony just down the road a bit. 

Dad making his way along the holy path
When we arrived at the property I wasn't sure what to expect... I mean they call it 'Great' so I figured it was something big but I couldn't really imagine how big.

I won't bang on with all the stuff I don't really know or understand about Buddhism or the particular school that is responsible for creation of the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion... but I will say they are committed! The building has been in construction for years. The grounds contain the beginnings of an amazing garden that combined with the Stupa appear as a giant Mandala from above. 

There are statues, sculptures and stones piled in cairns. There are prayer wheels and a wishing well, elephants with their trunks raised and even a statue of St Francis.

The Stupa has not been completed but they are hoping to raise the final tower of the roof by the end of the year. You can get a free tour of the inside which contains some relics and The Jade Buddha of Universal Peace. I have not included a photo of 'The Jade Buddha' it would not do justice.

A slightly smaller Jade Buddha
If you wander down the path to the left of the Stupa you will find the Atisha Buddhist Centre, which was a small, more lived in space that had a caffe and a fantastic little meditation room.

The Stupa was Great, the amount of work going into this place is phenomenal. Maybe seeing photos could lessen the impact of a first hand experience, but I don't think so. The magic of this place is not in the decorative ornaments or the relics, it is the spirit that seems to emit from the place thanks to the efforts of devotees.

When it's done the Stupa will look something like this

The Great Stupa and Atisha Buddhist centre can be found at 25 Sandhurst Town Road, Myers Flat


O'Keefe Rail Trail on a winter day

I recently had the opportunity to ride the O'Keefe Rail Trail a 49km trail that follows the old rail line between Heathcote and Bendigo via Axedale.

See link for full details

I had once owned some land at Heathcote but haven't been back there for about 20 years. Coincidentally I've been wanting to visit Bendigo for several years but have not had opportunity or a good enough reason to travel out there until now.

Some time last year I read about the opening of the O'Keefe Rail Trail on a Cycling blog. The pictures looked interesting and the distance seemed quite manageable. About 50km.

On Wednesday morning I put my bike in the back of my parents car and we all went for a drive to Heathcote, via Seymour. The country was absolutely beautiful, the sky was blue and the fields were a brilliant green. They'd had enough rain to really freshen up the place. Rain and heavy winds were forecast for later in the day but the the morning was magnificent.
We arrived in Heathcote fairly late in the morning and I headed off on the trail at 11am. My traveling companions drove on to Bendigo to do a bit of sight seeing, ride the tram and see some local attractions.

Here the track begins... Right in the centre of town. 

I hadn't really thought through the ride, the only reason for starting in Heathcote was so the rest of the family could drive through to Bendigo where there is more to occupy them while they wait for me to ride the trail. 

I didn't count on the fact that in winter the sun doesn't rise high above the horizon, which means that if you're heading in a northerly direction, the sun will always be in your eyes! 
I also hadn't considered the wind direction. It just happened that on the day I was riding most of the state of Victoria was expecting winds of up to 100kph!
At 11am the wind hadn't yet reached it's peak but the temperature was only around 9.C. The combination of cold wind and Sun in my eyes meant that I missed a lot of the view. My nose was dripping.

A very large roo, he aint moving for nobody.
All these negatives aside, the track was smooth and easy to follow, the sky was clear and, beside the odd kangaroo, I had the path all to my self for most of the journey.

There are a few sections, where the path combines with local roads, I needed to refer to google maps to be sure I was still on the right path, but most of the trail was very easy to follow.

Cattle Grid

Between Heathcote and Axedale there are a lot of cattle grids. I rode a flat barred road bike basically because it was the easiest thing to fit into the back of a car. The grids weren't a hindrance but I was worried the continual impact would damage my rims or flatten my tyres. 
Aside from cattle grids the track is smooth and can easily be ridden on most bikes, but if I were to do it again I'd choose a more robust bike with wider tyres.

Replica mile stones mark the length of the trail, distance from Melbourne in miles (not KM)
There was plenty of bird life along the way, of note were three separate White-winged Chough clans and a flock of about 30 Red-rumped Parrots.

Acacia baileyana - Cootamundra wattle. (Swaying in the breeze)

A wooded section

Although a lot of the land along the highway is cleared the rail trail passes through areas of state forest which contain reasonable stands of eucalypt and wattles.

Ubiquitous dead trees at lake view rest place
The map shows an interesting section where the trail passes over Lake Eppalock. Unfortunately this section of the lake was quite dry, only a depression in the ground and some distant puddles suggested the existence of a lake.

After crossing 'Lake' Eppalock the path makes its way to Knowsley State Forest, a reasonable stand of eaucalypts and yellow flowering acacia bushes I am not familiar with. It's good to see stands of woodland remaining in these areas, they don't seem to have a lot of species diversity but they must provide a haven for wildlife. Wood harvesting seems to be another function of the area. 

Before arriving in Axedale the path winds past the remains of an old building, I am not entirely sure of the story but the map indicates this as the site of the Quarry Hotel. There's an old stone wall and remains of orchard close to the river.
Looking down from the bridge over the Campaspe River I was surprised to see the water was so clear.

Campaspe River looking toward McIvor Highway bridge

Continuing from Axedale there was much greater presence of residential semi rural development. Much of the land was still wooded with native vegetation and a reasonable reserve had been left along the rail line which doubled as bicycle path and wildlife corridor. Nesting boxes had been installed on many of the larger trees. It was pleasant cycling through this section but I wondered how much land is sacrificed for so many people to live on their one or two achre blocks.

Bicycle repair station

Tyre pressure gauge for high pressure foot pump
Along this more heavily populated section of the trail there were more amenities. Although I didn't see a public toilet at any stage along the path they did have a water dispenser and an awesome do it yourself bicycle repair depot.

By the time I arrived on the outskirts of Bendigo the wind had picked up and the trail became less defined. A small hill greets the rider just before finally arriving in the town centre.

Bendigo Hothouse
All up I found this a very pleasant ride, two and a half hours of easy peddling stopping occasionally to take photos and smell the flowers. A fantastic way to arrive in the town of Bendigo.

What next?

As one who prefers to travel independently I am planning to catch the train to Castlemaine, cycling to Bendigo via Knowsley and Axedale then return to Melbourne on train from Bendigo.
Possible rout next time