As he stands being you and lifts the pack onto your shoulders, your knees buckle, and you feel the urge to tip over, fall flat on your back. You quail, unnerved by the unexpected weight. Are you completely insane to do this? Or can the pioneering spirit hidden deep inside your faltering heart speak up and inspire you to hike through virgin wilderness for five days?
Remember, if you please, that you love walking; can happily walk for weeks, along beaches, through city streets, across rolling, gentle English countryside. You don’t mind the odd blister – par for the course, just don’t forget to pack the band aids – and you rarely complain about rain, as long as you don a good raincoat and invoke the promise of a hot shower at the end of the day. Mountains don’t provide much motivation – you would rather go around than over, if you’re honest – but you won’t quarrel with the odd hill. And don’t forget your love of maps, a detailed plan, a good sense of direction, and that gratifying sense of achievement when you reach your destination. OK, you may prefer a circular route, but Dad assures you that it’s usually quite a different view when you turn around and walk back along the same path.
You have done plenty of walking with the One & Only, and you have always been perfectly happy in each other’s company. Together, you put the world to rights and plan the future over and over again, changing the story a little every time, or rediscovering old favourites. Occasionally, you may even walk quietly, in single file up a narrow track, enjoying the world around you: the birds, the plants, the trees, the view.
The One & Only has been enormously encouraging about this next Big Adventure. He has done several treks through the Tasmanian hinterland and is full of the joys of long-distance hiking. Apparently, he explains eagerly – like chapter headings – it is good for improving your upper Body Strength, and it’s good for The Soul. It Lightens your Heart to get out into the world, get into your stride and Soak up Nature. It improves your Sense of Self-Worth, your Self-Reliance, and your General Health. And you have bought into The Dream, the magic of the Great Outdoors quite willingly, your youthful brain obfuscated, beclouded and bewildered by every highfalutin’ word of it.
In reality, you realize with a jerk – like Snow White emerging from a dream of talking animals and singing garden gnomes – this little holiday threatens to be an endurance test; a test that may shatter your glorious, romantic daydream into a million pieces. Perhaps you ARE an audacious, impetuous trailblazer… or perhaps you’re only a misguided, soon-to-be limping fool.
Lurching sideways, weighed down by your Great Burden, you now see clearly the Dangerous Journey ahead in worrying shades of charcoal grey: no longer Snow White tripping gaily through the woods, but Bunyan’s Pilgrim facing a Terrible Trek. More than fifty kilometres of gruelling slog, amid the promise of constant rain. Hours of armed combat with the undergrowth. Days of wallowing and floundering about in thigh-deep mud across the Sodden Lodden Plains; of trudging through dark and gnarly, root-infested forest, that whispers the threat of those fairy tale Rodents of Unusual Size hiding behind every broad trunk. Teetering on slippery rocks through fast-flowing icy rivers that grasp eagerly at loosened laces. Fighting off those aggravating, persistent, ubiquitous blowflies that invade every orifice, and refuse to be distracted or deterred by fluttering hands and foul language. Eventually arriving at your designated campsite to the promise of a damp sleeping bag and a thoroughly un-nourishing dinner of freeze-dried meat that needs two days soaking in hot water to give it the delectable consistency – and taste – of soggy cardboard, accompanied by a generous serve of instant mashed potato (disarmingly known as Deb), and topped off with a mug of molasses-black, midge-filled tea. All this gourmet cuisine plus twenty kilos of camping gear strapped to these skinny shoulders for FIVE WHOLE DAYS!
Finally, the last lap, clambering and stumbling up rugged cliffs, in order to reach the promised Nirvana, the crème de la crème of all views: a cap-shaped peak in the middle of nowhere. A peak, I might add, that will inevitably be shrouded in low lying cloud the moment you arrive. And then to turn around and do it all the way back again? What on earth were you thinking?
Thus, your light-hearted, excited plans – the scrutiny of deliciously detailed maps, the forays to the camping shop for new boots and a Trangia, the acquisition of top-notch sleeping bags to keep you warm in a blizzard, the investigation of suitably light and transportable meals, the trial-run to pack everything efficiently in our shiny new backpacks – have ended in something akin to a small elephant being tossed onto your crumpling, complaining back. How will you ever survive this nightmare? Your backpack weighs a ton and you are struggling to stand upright. And you haven’t even made it out the front door.
But where is your courage, woman? Your sense of adventure? Your usual do-it-or-die attitude to life? Stop being such a wimp. Buck up and take the plunge. Those meek little Australian marsupials are only pygmy-sized. Mud is dirty, not deadly. And flies, well… flies are flies, not Vampire bats or Killer bees. Inevitable but not lethal. And a heavy backpack won’t kill you either! Just remember, it nearly always turns out better than you anticipated…
*Thanks to Google images for the lovely photo of Frenchman’s Cap, Tasmania