Thursday, 12 April 2012

Back on track

The birds were just starting their morning chorus when I rolled out of my sleeping bag and walked up the hill to the long drop toilet. The campsite was sheltered in the dark shadow of the coastal scrub but the toilet had a view across the water to the dawn sky in all its pink and orange glory. The Chilean grandfather's torchlight shone like a beacon through the yellow nylon of his tent as he packed for an early departure. In the open wooden shelter the white hair of an elderly hiker stood straight up like a halo as he sat cocooned in his sleeping bag. He had trudged over the hill after sundown the night before, one of his walking companions weak with dehydration and heatstroke. None joined me to watch the dawn, although this was one of the few places in Western Australia where the rising sun could be glimpsed over the water.

The section of track I had chosen for my night of solitude traversed some of the least accessible beaches along the south coast. Beaches I had gazed at longingly on maps for some years now. Kilometres of squeaky white sand and crystal blue waves seldom visited except by diehard fisher folk and surfers. For today at least they belonged just to one lonely hiker, hefting the heavy weight of her pack barefoot across the sand. I paddled across the inlet in a canoe to the eastern side of the trail, trekking through peppermint and casuarina woodlands and grassy undulating dunes, breaking spiderwebs glistening with morning dew, before the beach opened out before me. There was one fisherman on an otherwise empty cove, and a family in a 4WD on another stretch of sand. I waved but did not stop to talk. Silence was what I was seeking. Ever since becoming a mother I had fantasised about being back out in the bush alone. It had taken me nearly seven years, but finally there I was. And it was glorious.

I walked 26km in unseasonally hot sunshine, stopping to swim whenever I felt the urge. By the time I staggered into camp early in the afternoon my ankles were raw and my back blistered from sand that had worked its way into my pack's harness. I floated in the shallow harbour and lay semi-comatose on the sand, unsure whether I would ever have the energy to pull myself back up again. But the salt water revived me and a cup of tea and a simple meal had the late-comers remarking on how fresh and relaxed I looked when they staggered into camp some hours later. The track had broken two of them - the Chilean grandfather had spent the day recovering in the shelter after his toe split in two and it looked like these hikers would be spending the next day doing the same. I wrote half a short story under the stars and climbed into my tent at the same time my sons would be settling in their bunk at home.

My dreams of a whole night's sleep were interrupted by small papery rustlings from the bush outside my tent. Over and over again I shone my torch into the scrub but could find nothing there. I opened my pack in the morning to find the corners of my paper bag of trail mix had been nibbled away by little teeth. Twelve kilometres of steep scrub and dunes remained between me and the beach campground where I had left our second car. I pulled on my shoes and pack and headed across the sand, groaning with every step, for there was no one there to hear and it did seem to help. Lowering my pack against the car and easing off my shoes were the most wonderful feelings in the world. As was seeing the smiling faces of all my boys as I pulled into our driveway half an hour later. I sat on the balcony with my feet soaking in a bucket and my arms around my children. The pain made my homecoming all the sweeter.


  1. Your post is a gift. Thank you. Where will be able to read your short stories? Regards Holly Ps I don't have a google account , so please forgive the abrupt Anon

    1. Thank you Holly. You will be able to read my short stories when I am a braver and better writer than I am now - but I hope that day is fast approaching.

  2. Another here keen to read your short stories. Your writing is entrancing! Even reading this post made me think that would be an awesome thing to do, when, in reality, for's really not! LOL Glad you found time and space to indulge in the wonder.

  3. I am so jealous. You are amazing. I don't think I would ever have even considered doing such a thing with one young bub let alone three little ones. But it clearly can - and SHOULD - be done!

  4. Wow, that must have been extraordinary after nearly seven years. Actually I think that'd be extraordinary weather you'd had barely any alone time for the last seven years or not. I don't think I'm ready for it yet, but I can't even imagine what it would be like to have that sort of solitude again, maybe my head would explode with all that space to think! It does sound wonderful and magical though.

  5. that is so good and so important to take time out and spend time by yourself. Reading your writing I can just imagine how it was, and after I've read it I feel more peaceful - thank you for that! x


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