November 19, 2011

Hiking at the Beach

Adventure, that’s what I was looking for – adventure – some way to break out of the humdrum of life. I wanted an experience that was difficult, a challenge, something I had to push myself through to achieve success. I wanted to be able to say, “I did it!” and yet, hopefully, have a bit of fun along the way.

And that is pretty much what Yuraygir coastal walk had to offer.

I met my three hiking buddies, Sarah, Susy and Lynn at the Blue Dolphin resort in Yamba late on Friday night the 25th November. My university unit finished, everything handed in … done! It was time for some fun.

I enjoyed the pokey bunk bed in our overnight cabin, as I knew it would be heaven compared to sleeping on Michelle’s Thermarest mat for the next three nights.

Having done the Overland in 2009, I felt fairly laid back about embarking on this adventure – just over 50ks in four days. Looking back, perhaps I was a little overconfident and could have prepared more. But the excitement was infectious as we strapped on our packs ready to enter the walk at the Angourie Surf Reserve on Saturday morning.

It was a perfect day for hiking, overcast and not too hot. Rain was threatening but we set off confidently, prepared to deal with whatever came our way. Though remote in sections, the walk touched small coastal communities along the way so we knew we had plenty of options to pull out if things went awry.

Day 1

We trekked between the beach and the national park walking track as we made our way to Lake Arragon. Spiders loved this track. It was a perfect width for webs to catch unsuspecting prey … and unsuspecting hikers. A face plant into a multitude of thick webs pulled up the lead hiker abruptly time and again; terrified a large hungry spider might jump surreptitiously into her hair or worse, onto her face. Spider-terror slowed the going.

The slow pace reminded me I was hiking with city girls … sigh.

But no-one likes a face full of spider’s web, so the lead hiker held her weapon of choice – a stick of just the right length – to down as many webs as could be seen as we progressed. We all took a turn and though it may be disputed, I believe I approached the task with the most enthusiasm and tenacity. After all, I am a bush-girl these days!

After hours of trekking it was a relief to step out on the open beach again. But to our dismay we confronted a fast flowing river! A double check of track notes and GPS only added to our confusion. This was not a planned river crossing. Regardless, we had to get across.

We gingerly picked our way through the fast flowing water. The base was strewn with rocks which made our footing unsteady. We each experienced a moment when we feared we might fall. A saturated pack on our first day would have been a hard start to our adventure. Once safely across we learned from another camper that Lake Arragon had broken through the sand wall the day before and was emptying into the sea. No wonder it wasn’t expected.

A welcome lunch break helped us recover from the 13k morning hike. As it was only midday we decided to press on another 5ks to Brooms Head. A great start with a first day hiking appetite of 18ks! We were ready to quit at Brooms Head though. Limping to our camp site we gladly set up our tents and kicked back for the rest of the afternoon. We deserved those beers from the bottlo! Though we were fully self-sufficient, how can you resist taking advantage of civilisation when you feel you really deserve it?

Day 2

After a good night’s sleep (as good as it can be in a one man tent with a thin mattress), we packed up the camp and hauled our packs onto our backs again. At first the pack felt fine and well fitting. I was ready to go.

The tide was against us so we opted to hike on the dirt road for a bit to avoid the soft sand. Sarah, had pulled a muscle on day one and, though dosed with pain killers, preferred to avoid the soft sand. We set off down the road to Sandon, expecting to cut to the beach via a four-wheel drive track on the way.

Well, this undoubtedly proved the most difficult sector for me. The pack sat heavy on my shoulders. It was a hot day, no cloud cover and no sea breeze to ease the temperature. We slogged down that dirt road until someone had to pee (thank goodness) and we took a break under a tree. My stomach was nauseous and churning. I couldn’t face the thought of food until I’d rested a while. I just sipped on my water bladder.

We missed the four wheel drive turn off and were nearly at Sandon when we finally emerged on the beach. We ripped off our packs and some of our clothing and took a well-deserved dip in the water. That cool sea water was healing to everything and restored some sense of joy in being in such a beautiful environment.

We took a break at the Sandon camping ground. Sarah’s pulled muscle was causing her some difficulty so, over lunch, we decided to camp there and take a break for the afternoon. This gave us some time to enjoy the river and the beach. We managed to push the anxiety of the Sandon River crossing out of our minds.

A swim, a sleep, a walk and a few games of President’s and Arseholes made for a perfect evening.

Day 3

A cool sea breeze had sprung up overnight which evaporated the dew – a great opportunity to pack away a dry tent. This coupled with a foreboding sky, galvanised me into action. I was up and packing up my tent in the blink of an eye. The girls soon followed my lead. We were packed and ready to move before we had enjoyed our breakfast. We wanted to get started early too, because we hoped to hitch a ride across the river with an early morning fisherman. The weather wasn’t looking conducive to fishing but fortunately, we had a backup plan – a canoe – but that would take a few trips with all of us and our gear.

At the mouth of the river, we surveyed the scene, the tide and our canoe option. A friendly fellow camper and fisherman came to the shore to inspect the tide. Our saviour, a knight in a faded blue singlet to the rescue! Robert kindly agreed to ferry us across for no charge. It really made a good start to our third day of hiking.

We made our way through the little Sandon fishing village expecting two options for our next 10ks. Sarah and I hoped to take the track and wrestle with spider webs as an easier option for her pulled muscle. Susy and Lynn would take the beach trek to Illaroo. But poor track notes and no track markers lead us all to the beach unexpectedly. No one wanted to back track.

The tide was on the way in so we set off down the beach, able to stick to reasonably hard sand for the first 5ks.

I quite enjoyed this segment of the walk, my body adjusting to the hike and the pack. The conversations with my fellow hikers were stimulating and varied. We got talking about poignant times in our life – embarrassing moments, funny stories. It all helped to take our minds off our sore muscles and aching shoulders.

Sarah’s distress became more obvious as we progressed and the soft sand began to slow us down somewhat as the tide crept in. Sarah’s limping was now unmasked. We took what weight we could from her pack and trudged our way to Illaroo.

Illarroo proved our favourite camping spot. It was beautiful and tranquil – well protected and well facilitated. Sarah, glad to take a load off her aching leg, declared she would pull out here. No more hiking for her.

Day 4

After much deliberation, Suz, Lynn and myself decided to leave our packs with Sarah and hike the remaining 16ks all the way to Red Rock. Sarah waited for her husband, Dean to retrieve her. Susy was tenuous with nasty blisters on her feet but felt brave enough to give it a go.

We set off with day packs, plenty of water and a supply of gel bandaids. Our pace was slower than anticipated, even without the packs. Poor track markings and track notes again created extra distance as we had to double back in a few places. But the tide was with us and we all enjoyed clambering over the rocky platforms around the headlands. It was tough to pass a couple of idyllic lagoons without a swim, but we felt the pressure of time.

The conversations deepened and time was forgotten for a while as we explored philosophical perspectives. At Wilsons Headland we checked our time and came, reluctantly, to terms with our over-ambitious goal for the day. The pain in Susy’s feet was becoming difficult to ignore, the tide was creeping in and we would not get to Wooli before midday. The tide would be against us from there.

Though disappointing, it was also a relief and gave us an opportunity to enjoy the sea once again, instead of rushing. Back on the beach, the cold salty swell was healing and soothing. There was no one else around – a suitable farewell to the Yuraygir Coastal walk.

The tide was creeping in and though it was motivating to see the Wooli township ahead around the bay, 7k’s was still a taxing walk in the heat of the day. It was tempting to jump into Dean’s Pajero when he and Sarah pulled up next to us on the beach. But no! We had to keep going and trudged all the way to Wooli.

The sun was hot and our bodies weary when we reached the campsite at Wooli. The hike was over.

No more protein bars! No more fitful sleep! No more trudging through the soft sand. Civilisation again; time for a cappuccino!

Leaving the beach and clambering into the car was disorienting. Perhaps I carried a twinge of disappointment (and maybe even guilt?) that we had pulled out a little early and perhaps even cheated on our last day by leaving our packs behind.

Whatever … that ice-cream tasted awesome and I really wanted to have a shower and wash my hair.

I had had an experience that was difficult. It had been a challenge and something I definitely had to push myself through at times. I could now say, “I did it!” … well almost. But by far the highlight was the unexpected bonding in getting to know some really cool women. Something about sharing such an adventure draws you together; a sense of trust that cannot be forged in any other way.

I look forward to our next shared adventure.

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