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.
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.