Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Great South West Walk - back to winter!

My host Gray and I
When I arrived in Adelaide from Darwin it felt like stepping into another world. Darwin was a tropical 30 C and now I was in rainy winter Adelaide with 12 C.... Luckily I stayed with a super nice warm showers host in Adelaide. I felt right at home when I saw a huge bike on his verandah and a kayak in his living room. We talked almost non-stop for the whole day! But I had to leave the next morning for Portland and the Great South West Walk (GSWW)...

The GSWW started with a disappointment. There was no connecting bus service from Adelaide to Portland despite other information on the GSWW website. I had to stay the night in Mount Gambier, which felt pretty strange. I had been in Mount Gambier the year before with John when we were cycling across Australia. Luckily I had done all the sightseeing then and could now just relax in the hostel - which is an old jail! But when I left in the morning for my onward bus, the car windows were all frozen over. It is definitely winter again!

Shelter on the GSWW
When I arrived in Portland the first thing I did was to find an outdoor shop and buy a fleece pullover. Forget about the extra weight - I did not want to freeze my butt off! And that turned out to be a very wise decision as I was wearing my new 19,95 AUD fleece pullover every night.
 The first day out of Portland was actually quite disappointing, but what a nice surprise at the first camp site: A real nice shelter with a wooden picnic table - my bed for the night! Next day the weather was like it would be every day: rainy! It rains for about 5 - 10 minutes until you are thoroughly drenched, stops, then the sun comes out and when you are dry after about 1 hour the whole process starts all over again. I had rain on 7 out of 8 days....

Cobboboonee Forest
Next night I was in for a terribly shock. I had hiked 36 km, was camped on another one of these wonderful picnic tables under a shelter and was ready to go to bed after dinner. I was just getting out of my shoes when I saw it in total disbelief: My lower leg was all covered in blood. Everything was bloody. My shoes, my socks and my rainpants were soaked with blood and my gaiter was cover with a thick gooey layer of coagulated blood. Everything was so messy that I could not even see a wound. I could not believe my eyes. I had not hurt myself in the least. How could I have wounded myself so much without noticing? I tried to clean my leg to locate a wound. Mind you - it is almost freezing temperature and my only water source is a rainwater tank outside the shelter in the rain.... After cleaning the biggest mess I located a tiny little cut on my shin that is bleeding - and would not stop bleeding!!! I must say that I nearly had a panic attack. Here I was in the middle of nowhere freezing my butt off with a mysterious wound that would not stop bleeding. I could already see the headline: "German hiker bled to death in Cobboboonee Forest". To make things worse I was getting really cold and the only way to get warm was getting into my sleeping bag. But I did not want to get a bloody sleeping bag either!

In the end I put a huge Band-Aid on the cut, wrapped several layers of toilet paper over it and tried to rest my feet high up. It did not really help that the picnic table was shorter than my 1,82 m - I had to lie on the table and rest my feet on the shelter wall. But it somehow worked - I checked about every half hour and the bleeding had stopped. After the heavy blood loss it also seemed justified to eat another chocolate bar at night.... Eventually I fell asleep dreaming of spontaneous hemophiliac attacks and mysterious wounds. But all was good the next day: The wound had closed and I cleaned my blood-soaked socks and gaiters. It dawned on me only a couple of days later what had actually caused the mysterious bleeding: Probably a leech (Blutegel). I had read in my guidebook that leeches abound in this area - and a leech bite seems to be the only logical explanation for my mysterious blood loss.

But my life was endangered in another way, too... Several days later I was walking along the beach. Needless to say that it was extremely windy and raining like hell. According to the trail markers I was to walk along the beach for 2.8 km. I was sceptical to start with.... the beach was very wide, but there was also a very high tide! Surely they would not make me walk the beach if the tide is a problem? I studied my environment: On my right side was the ocean with high waves coming closer and closer. On my left side were the sand cliffs - about 20 m high and very steep. After 1 km I got a bit scared. Some big waves came crashing in and had made me trying to climb up the cliffs - there was no beach left for me to walk on. Turning back was not an option as the tide seemed to be coming in more and more. Mind you, I was not afraid of drowning or being washed away, but I did not want to get wet feet! But eventually I saw a ladder going up the cliff and my trail going up there! I virtually ran there to save myself.... I am a wuss!

But in the end nothing could deter me! I finished my 250 km thruhike of the GSWW despite leeches and rain - although I got really annoyed with the rain on my last day. About every piece of clothes I had was wet now and I was just feeling very, very cold...I took a short cut into Portland because I just wanted to get out of the rain. But what luxury in Portland: After camping for 7  nights I stayed in a very nice and cheap hotel which was even next to a supermarket! I bought a barbecued chicken and the spent the whole evening in front of the fan heater... And I even got a certificate about my hike! Back in Portland I had called a local trail volunteer to ask for a ride to the airport next morning and to give some feedback on my walk. He not only gave me a lift to the tiny Portland airport - he even gave me a certificate with my name on it!!!! What a nice surprise!

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