Saturday, 31 January 2009

Bad start in Tassie

Cycling in Tasmania
I arrived in Hobart after a long and almost sleepless night flight. My future cycling partner Mark met me at the airport and helped me to put the bike together. Next day we left for Bruny Island - bad idea!
As we found out on arrival there is no water on Bruny Island, so many locals are on tank water. And that means they are extremely anal about their water. We arrived with one liter of water left and were refused any water by the first shop owner. Which did not make any sense to me because there was a public FLUSH toilet. I got really annoyed, just sneaked in the toilet and got some water anyway. Unfortunately, Mark was not very happy with that - apparently he rather dehydrated.

Next day the problem re-occured: We went to a shop, even bought some stuff but where again denied any water. I had one liter left for 40 km in the heat and was not happy. Mark turned out to be a real pain in the ass - he flatly refused to ask people for water, because he wanted to avoid confrontation. After a short argument he then just left me ("You are on your own now!" - he seemed to like theatrical appearances). I felt much better on my own...

While I was still sitting in the cloud of dust Mark had left me in while cycling away a car full of locals stopped to ask me if I was ok - and 10 minutes later I had all the water I needed. I love Australians! I left this un-hospitable island immediately. While waiting for the ferry I unfortunately run into the first shop owner again who accused me of stealing his water and calling me all sorts of names. And then Mark was on the same ferry but we happily ignored each other. I was glad to be off Bruny Island and without Mark in the end....

Leaving Perth

Wild flower
Leaving Perth I had another example of great trail magic.
My roadside friend Alan sent me an email telling me he would be in Perth the day I left. Nice surprise!
We met in Perth and had a wonderful day including a great seafood lunch. It does help to give yourself a treat in a while.
Alan did not only drive me and all my crap to the airport (my bike was strapped to the top of his vehicle next to a kayak and various surfboards nearly causing me a heart attack), but he also helped me to get a bike box, disassemble and pack the damn thing.
Best of all he helped me to do some adjustments with the bike to avoid further carpal tunnel problems. Hope it helps! I guess Alan has become my own little private guardian bike angel!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Tassie - here I come!

After spending 2 months in Western Australia it is time to leave now. I will fly to Tasmania on the 27th of January and start cycling around there. After 40 C heat Tasmania will be nice and cool (hopefully not wet and cold!). I even found a cycling partner for Tasmania! I had posted a "trip partner wanted" ad on an American website for my upcoming trip to Japan and Mark answered. To both our surprise it turned out that I am travelling around Australia and he is living here in Sidney. So we decided to have a try-out trip in Tasmania. I wanted to go there anyway and he was very easily convinced. I will meet him in Hobart on the 27th. This will be a very interesting "blind date". He has already offered me his long johns... (well, this is quite innocent: Tassie will be very cold and my warm gear is still in Melbourne). So now I am quite excited to have a cycling partner...

Trail magic in Australia

When I was preparing for the CDT back in 2007 there were 2 British guys also planning to do the CDT. We were emailing back and forth and even planning on starting out together. I saw both of them in Britain, but things did not work out: George had to cancel the CDT because of health reasons and John decided to hike the AT instead. But George (his trail name is Highlander) and me had always stayed in contact. He had even sent me all his AT maps and guidebooks for my AT thruhike - thank you again for that.

So you cannot believe my surprise when I had already arrived in Australia and received an email from George telling me that he had left his wife and lived with his girlfriend in Australia now. And of all places in Australia he lived in Collie where both the Bibbulmun Track and the Munda Biddi Track pass through!

George and Debbie
I missed George when I came through Collie on the Bibbulmun Track, but now I am staying with him and his girlfriend Debbie. And they are treating me so well. I am fed 3 meals per day, sleep in a real bed and can use the computer - this is the reason why I am posting so much! I decided to have a rest day in Collie (I deserve that after a week long trip to hell on dirt roads!) and visited all the sights. Collie is not actually a major tourist attraction (I am trying to be polite here), but I got a private tour through the mining museum (I asked so many questions that the tour took 2 hours), visited the local museums full of all sorts of knick-knack from sewing machines to mining drills and ended up in the local swimming pool. Life is very good in Collie. And hiker friends are worth gold!!!

Why mountain biking is not for me....

Reference tree
My original plan was to cycle the Munda Biddi trail - the tourist brochure called it a "world class, off-road long-distance bike track". Sounded good to me. What the brochure did not tell is the following:
All roads here consist of pea gravel. That is loose gravel the size of a pea. This pea gravel can be ankle deep. And it is slippery as hell. The Munda Biddi trails has descents that are so steep that I could hardly walk my bike down there. Combine that with loose pea gravel and ruts as deep as the Grand Canyon and you are up for a trip to hell. I realized after 2 minutes that the only way to enjoy that bloody track is to be an 18 year old hard core mountain bike freak wanting to prove his manhood on a mountain bike with 5 kg suspensions and no panniers at all. If you are a more mature female with a sort of disturbed sense of equilibrium, no imminent death wish and panniers on your back wheel this is not the trail for you.
I decided to do "Munda Biddi light" and go around it on dirt roads just using the Munda Biddi shelters. I bought what thought would be a good map and set off. I soon had to realize that pea gravel is not a Munda Biddi phenomenom - it is everywhere. Cycling on bitumen I usually do between 15 to 20 km/hour. On pea gravel you are lucky to do 6 - 8 km/hour. 40 C heat is not very helpful there either.
I did not bring a GPS assuming that there would be road signs. No such luck. There seems to be an Australian law that forbids road sign on dirt roads. And because this is Western Australia (it has the size of Europe with a population of 2.2 million) there is no traffic either, e.g. no one you could ask for directions. And if you assume your map is right you are wrong again. My map (2008 edition) showed all sorts of roads - some of which did not exist at all.
As you can see, I was having a great time and a wonderful adventure. But there is a happy ending: I survived without any serious injuries, dehydration or snake bites.

Why I love Australia - part 3

Alan in front of his camper
The next day I had recovered from my misery and continued cycling on in just 40 C heat. Cycling along a major road I was surprised to see that a campervan had stopped right in front of me and the driver came out to start talking to me. Turned out that he was an outdoor person as well - he even had a kayak on top of his camper. We ended up talking for more than an hour at the side of the road about cycling, hiking and paddling and the rest of the world. He asked me if I needed some help and I mentioned my missing spare tube. He turned on the most impressive laptop computer I have ever seen (water, dust and shock proof - maybe that is something for my next trip) and tried to locate the next bike shop. But in vain - the closest one had recently gone out of business. He even offered to bring me a spare tube to my next campsite. But the situation was not life threatening, so I declined that and after exchanging email addresses we parted company.

You cannot believe my surprise 2 days later at 7 am when I was just about to leave a trail campsite and my roadside friend Alan showed up - with a spare tube!!! He had gone to Perth, done his business there, bought a spare tube and come to look for me on his way back. He had even walked into the bush for a km to find me - just to bring me the spare tube! Whow! Maybe you understand now why I love Australia!

I changed my plans for the day and we ended up chatting the whole morning. There were so many interesting stories (camel hunting in the bush, Aboriginal culture and paddling around Australia among others) that it was hard for me to leave 5 hours later. But I am pretty sure I will meet Alan again - cycling, paddling or hiking in whatever part of the world....

Cycling the hard way - part 2

Dirt road in WA
When I had finished my last post I thought things could not get worse: I had fallen off my bike, cycled in 45 C and ended in a forest fire. But after I had left the library, things did get worse: I had a flat tyre! Exactly what I needed at that moment.
But then Aussie mentality came in. I was still contemplating my misery staring at my bike when the first Aussie guy offered to help me. I was still pretending to be brave and told him I could manage on my own. I dragged my bike into a corner where hopefully nobody would see me fiddling around with it like a rookie when the second Aussie guy turned up. He did not even ask whether I needed help - he just started repairing it. And I have to admit that I needed help - after a long day I was a little bit shaken. We were already applying a patch on the hole when a third guy turned up - not an Aussie, but Swiss, even German-speaking Swiss. He was a mechanic and father of 4 children, so he had the technical know-how and the patience for an absolute beginner like me. But it was so hot (or whatever was the reason), that the patch would not stay on. The minute we had re-assembled the bike it went flat again. This is when I decided that I would not go on cycling that day.... We put in the spare tube (me actually doing it and my Swiss friend giving me instructions) and then I followed him to the local campground. And that campground had a swimming pool! And that was the happy ending of that day. Life was good again lying in a cool pool when it has 45 C outside...

Friday, 16 January 2009

Cycling the hard way - part 1

Lunch break in the heat
Yesterday was my first day of cycling - and I had a very tough start. First of all Western Australia is suffering from a heat wave. It was over 40 Celsius yesterday and even at night the temperature never fell below 27 Celsius. Unfortunately I had brought chocolate as trail food - the chocolate ended up as Nutella. It even did not get solid at night - still too hot.
The biggest problem though was the track. I was cycling on the so called Kep Track on dirt tracks to avoid traffic. Very bad idea. All the tracks consist of loose gravel and in this heat the gravel becomes very loose. After one hour on my bike I fell the first time and hurt my knee badly. But I am a brave girl: I put on iodine and cycled on. But cycling on gravel tracks is very time and energy consuming, so I did not cover much distance and collapsed at night.
Today I changed strategy and tried to avoid dirt roads whenever possible. The temperature outside is 45 Celsius right now - I am not kidding. I have sought shelter in an airconditioned library where I am writing this. I am constantly drinking, but the water gets very hot after 1 hour in a plastic bottle on my bike.
And to make things worse, there is a forest fire in this area. Apparantly it is just a small one, but all the smoke in the sky makes me really nervous.
Seems like I am in for a real adventure here...

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Cape to Cape Track

Cape to Cape Track
 After having completed the Bibb Track I continued on the Cape to Cape Track - I just can't get enough of hiking. The Cape to Cape Track is rather short for my standards, only 135 km and runs along the Western Australian Coast between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. There is a decent guidebook and already being in the area and decided to "tick off" that trail as well.

Campsite on the Cape to Cape
But it would be difficult for any trail to stand up against the fantastic Bibbulmun Track so it will not come as a surprise that Cape to Cape was a bit of an anti-climax. The biggest problem of the Cape to Cape is also its biggest asset: It follows the coast line very closely. This promises great views of fantastic cliffs and beaches but it also goes through the most popular holiday resorts of Western Australia and this time of the year being the busiest summer holiday season I encountered many more people than I had wished for. It feels totally weird to walk along a crowded beach in dirty hiker clothes and trekking poles with a hundred people in bikinis and swim wear staring at you like you are an alien!

There are some basic shelters and campsites along the track but they are nothing like the Hiltons on the Bibbulmun Track! Still, it was a nice trail with some spectacular coastal scenery. If you are in the area I can definitely recommend hiking it, but  I also would  not go too far out of my way for it.

Beach on the Cape to Cape
Now I am back in Perth and have retrieved my bicycle. Luckily I had professional help with assembling the bike again. It took forever - but now it looks like a bike again. I already cycled for a couple of hours trying to deal with left-side-driving. I will try bicycle touring again for the first time after my karpal tunnel problem on my trip across Europe. Probably for about 10 days here in Western Australia before I return to the East and cycle Tasmania. I do hope I have better luck here then on my European trip. Unfortunately temperatures in the next days will be above 40 Celsius.... I have heard that Germany has a very cold winter now! Enjoy it!

The typical Australian - as I see him....

Norwegians are born with cross country skies on their feet - Australians are born with a surfboard. Considering Australian beaches you can understand that. Seems like the typical Australian has even several surfboards - who can blame them: I have 7 sleeping bags. In order to transport the surfboards the typical car is a 4WD and the second most popular sports is driving along sand tracks I would not even consider a good hiking track. More than once I was having a nice little break on the track and had to jump up and run for my life because a 4WD was coming along. Beside surfboards the 4WD's contain lots of coolers. The coolers contain lots of beer (I think Australians beat Germans in drinking beer) and steaks. There are barbecues everywhere. Every picnic site has a gas barbecue. For me a "barbie" is a doll - here it is a barbecue. And Australians are very fond of them. Probably because here they can combine all their hobbies: Hop into your 4WD, drive along some beaches, go surfing and then have a barbie and drink beer. Live is easy here...

More reasons why I love Australia

 My friend Maik has pointed out that of the 10 reasons I gave 6 where dealing with food and 2 with money. He remarked that this tells you a lot about my character. I think I have to work on my reputation here and want to give you some more reasons why I love Australia - and these have nothing to do with neither food nor money....

Kangaroos: I have spent most of my life believing that Skippy is just a big Hollywood scheme. Here I had to discover that there really are kangaroos (and lots of them), that they really do have pouches and that the kangaroo babies (called joeys) are really carried around in these pouches. It is all true! No Hollywood lie! On the Bibb Track you come thru some places with tame kangaroos so I had plenty of time to study them. The most interesting thing is a joey jumping into its mother's pouch. It jumps in head first and then rearranges itself with something that looks like a sort of yoga excercise until it happily looks out of the pouch. Kangaroos in the wild are usually pretty shy and immediately run away. Most Australians consider them as a pest and they love eating kangaroo steaks - something I have not tried out yet. Long live Skippy!

Birds: If this goes on like that I will turn into a birdnut! First of all there are emus. Again I had believed for most of my life that emus do only exist in crosswords - but they are really here. They are birds but they cannot fly - and they are huge, too. And dumb. And pretty emancipated: The male emu tends to the babies so that the female can go on and have more babies instead of rearing them. Pretty clever..
Then there are cuckatoos. They make a hell lot of noise and look pretty exotic. When they appear in a huge flock then you immediately think of Hitchcock's 'The Birds'...
But best are the parrots. Real parrots just out here. Not escaped from a zoo - they really do live here. They are bright green - just like in bird food ads...
Talking about ads: Along the coast there are hundreds of pelicans which I thought only exist in ink advertising (this is something only the Germans will understand). But here they are live...

Beaches: After I hiking the PCT I was spoilt rotten regarding mountain scenery - and after hiking the Bibb Track I am spoilt rotten when it comes to beaches. The beaches here are just incredibly. I have not seen anything like that before. Picture white soft sand beach for kilometers, crystal blue sea and an even bluer sky with sunshine forever. Just like Bacardi rum ads withouth palmtrees. There are no beaches like that in Europe - and if there were, there would be thousands of people. Here there is nobody. Absolutely nobody. Perfect beach and nobody there. I was almost scared at first. There are some people close to resorts and caravan parks but mostly there is nobody. Unbelievable.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Bibbulmun Track: The huts

The huts are one of the best assets of the Bibbulmun Track. After just having completed the Appalachian Trail in the US I was expecting a similar hut system but the Bibbulmun track huts surpass the AT hut by far!!!! They are much more spacious, cleaner and provide more services then the AT huts. And best of all: There is no mice problem! (Although I have read in some trail registers that other rodents might threaten hiker supplies - but this does not seem to as much of a problem as on the AT. I never had my food scavenged.)

First of all each hut has two rain water tanks. As there is not much reliable surface water in this area of the world this feature is crucial. Despite hiking in their summer all the tanks were full. Don't be surprised if you find a stocking over the tank tap: This is to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in there. I treated all my water to be on the safe side, but most hikers drank just straight from the tank.

Each hut has an outhouse and it is still a mystery to me how they manage that they do not smell badly. I have had some very gross outhouse experiences on the AT, but here - nothing! Most outhouses even provide toilet paper! Just beware of spiders that can hide under the toilet seat. Always check before sitting down or you might be in for an unpleasant surprise. Some huts even provide fire places with fire grates and seats but of course always obey fire restrictions.

As the Bibbulmun Trail has a cooperation with the Western Australian Correctional Facilities these fantastic huts have been constructed by prisoners. They are prefabricated in the prisons and then assembled on the trail. All the campsites on the Bibb Track are accessible by some sort of dirt track and this is how building material and water tanks can be brought in. Usually those tracks are not open to the public and only suitable to 4WD so you do not have to worry about traffic.

There are two hut models: One with bunk typ sleeping and one with one big sleeping platform only. Either type can accommodate 12 - 16 people. But crowding is usually not a problem in this trail. In more than half of the cases I had the shelters to myself and if I had company it was usually only one or a couple of other hikers. Even if the shelter was full you can always stay at the adjecent camp site. Next to each hut several campsites have been cleared but usually do not get much use.

Each shelter comes equipped with a covered bench an table and an outside bench and table. There is a broom for cleaning the hut and a trail register and log book. Former hikers have often left reading material which often seduced me to cut the day short and just stay and relax. Mostly you will find Australian Reader's Digest but I have also come across book in German and Dutch - all depending on who has recently hiked the trail.

In the beginning outside Perth the huts are very close together with a distance of only 7 to 10 km between them. This allows the hiker to easily get used to hiking. Later on the distance between the huts grow up to 15 km to 20 km, but they are never further apart than a bit over 20 km. This means that any type of hiker can enjoy the Bibb Track. I usually "double-hutted" by hiking about 40 km every day using the first hut for an extended lunch break in the shade and the second hut for staying overnight. But if you want a more leisurely approach you can just hike from hut to hut doing only about 20 km every day. You are also by no means restricted to staying in or at the huts: You can camp almost anywhere. Staying close to the shelters is just very convenient for getting water.

The huts are generelly located in a very scenic location often close to the water. You very often either have a nice view or access to a river or lake for swimming. This picture shows the view from my favourite hut that is located right next to a little lake perfect for a nice cooling swim after a day of hot hiking.

Bibbulmun Track: Wildlife

What is the most interesting animal for anyone visiting Australia? Of course it is kangaroos - and on the Bibb Track you will not be disappointed. Although you will not often see them often on the trail they hang out in places like Donnelly River Village where you can even purchase feed for them. But be careful: They might not leave you alone and pester you for more food all night long.

Equally impressive is the bird life: I have never been into bird watching but that definitely changed in Australia. What you can only see in zoos in your home country is flying around everywhere in the wild here. Cockatoos, parrots, lorrikeets - and they are all very colourful and very noisy. You will even see the flightless emus that have always scared me about because they are so big and have sharp beaks. I would not want to mess with them but like kangaroos they are no threat to humans.

Australia is home to most of the world's most poisonous snakes but luckily I did not have any problems with snakes. There are a lot of water snakes in the flooded Pingerup Plains but they were afraid of me and moved away quickly. But I have encountered several other interesting reptiles that are harmless for humans like this lizard.

Ants can be rather annoying when camping so always check for ant hills before you pitch your tent. Ants here come in all sizes and there is a tiny variety that is so small it seemed to be able to get through my tent net. Biggest insect problem though are flies - not mosquitoes. Flies are everywhere and will just swarm you as soon as you stop walking. Luckily they were a problem only for a couple of days on the Bibb Track.

I sighted this "little" spider when I woke up from a nice lunch nap it is was sitting in the hut directly above me. Nice surprise...that reminded me to always check for spiders whenever sitting down, especially on toilet seats or rocks.

Bibbulmun Track: The flowers

Bottle brush
I was amazed by the variety and colourfulness of flowers along the trail, especially since I was not even hiking in spring when wildflowers are in bloom and  In most cases I do not even know the names, but this flower is called bottle brush for obvious reasons - it just looks like one. Same thing applies to kangaroo paws - although you need a bit more fantasy to see where they got their name from.

Kangaroo Paw
I was also fascinated by trees - all eucalyptus trees and nothing like what I was used to from my native German coniferous and deciduous forest. Karri trees can grow up to 90 meters making them one of the tallest species in the world. A fine example is the 72 meter tall Gloucester Tree near Pemberton which is the world's highest fire look out tree. The trail goes right by it and you can climb it for free using 153 spikes that spiral the tree but there usually is a line of people waiting to climb it.

I was most intrigued by the ubiquitous banksia tree that produces flower spikes that turn into hard cones. In this picture you can see both states next to each other on a live tree. Unfortunately Banksia trees - like other Eucalyptus trees - are very vulnerable to Dieback disease.

Dieback shoe cleaning station
Dieback disease is an invasive soil borne water mould that slowly makes the trees roots rot. Dieback can be introduced by soil sticking to boots or car tires and therefore there are various dieback stations along the trail. Hikers are asked to clean their boots before entering the area and brushes are provided for that .

Australia is suffering a lot from invasive plants. Blackberries is a good example for that: They were intentionally introduced into Australia in the mid 1800s and soon turned into a pest. You will see blackberries a lot along the trail but be careful with eating them: Very often they are sprayed with pesticides - although warning signs will tell you. 

Bibbulmun Track: The Trail

The Bibbulmun Track is generally very well marked. You do not need a GPS or a very detailed map set to hike it. There is a great guidebook in two volumes for the whole containing trail descriptions and maps which is more than sufficient. If you do not see a trail marker for more than 10 minutes that usually meants that you are lost. The only sections that are difficult to navigate is walking along the beaches where there are of course no trail marker, but you have to find the right "exit" through the dunes.

The trail very often follows old logging roads or tramways - but do not picture German or American forest highways now. These old roads have not been used for decades and look more like trail than roads. But some of the bridges still remind you of the logging history and are actually quite impressive.

Bridges are often very creative - several blown down trees have been converted into bridges by adding railings and smoothing the surface. That gives you an idea of how big and tall the eucalyptus trees can grow! Other interesting trail sections include the crossing of an inlet with a boat and sandbars that might have to be crossed in waist deep water - all depending on the season and tide. Always inquire before the start of a trip whether the ocean inlets are passable or not - there are alternate routes available.

Mining conveyor belt
Beside impressive forest and spectacular coastline you will also encounter man-made "attractions" like water reservoirs and mines. You will even pass under a huge mining conveyor belt whose low rumbling you will hear for hours! You will pass through enough trail towns to make re-supply easy - there is no need to mail resupply boxes ahead. As almost all the trail towns are former logging towns they are very welcoming to hikers now that logging has been substituted with tourism. Even gas cannisters are easy to find! Also public transport is available from almost every trail town making section hikes very easy.

Bibbulmun Track: The beaches and the end

The first 2 thirds of the Bibb Track go through forest: Karri, Jarrah and Marri forest (that is basically Eucalyptus trees). But some of the huts are located along rivers or lakes so that you can go swimming. And at 36 Celsius you really enjoy swimming. The last third of the Bibb Track follows the coast line. The good thing about that is endless beach access. The bad thing about that is walking thru soft sand (which is like postholing in deep snow) and endless ups and downs on sand dunes. But if you see the beaches there you are very much compensated for the down sides. Some huts even had their private own little beach.

I will never forget when I got to the first one of those long beaches. As far as I could see nothing but perfect white sand beach - but no one around but me. As there was a strong wind blowing (and I had just been through half a hurricane 10 days before) I was getting really worried that there had been a storm warning. I could not come up with any other explanation as to why this perfect beach was absolutely deserted. But after hiking along the coast for a couple of hundred kilometers I realised that there is just a lot of coast line in Western Australia and not many people....

Along the coast line you have to cross several inlets. In winter these are impassable, but in summer there is usually a way thru. I paddled across one inlet in a canoe - and despite my paddling experiences in the Boundary Waters with Raru I was having a hard time. Strong winds made the crossing difficult and a couple of fishermen in their motor boats watching me did not help much either... But in the end I made it and stayed even dry.

The last inlet was the worst one. Usually there is a big sandbar closing it in summer, but due to all that rain the sandbar had not formed yet - so I had to wade. And what looked pretty shallow from the beach turned out to be chest deep when I was in the middle of it. Of course I could have swum over but what to do with my backpack? I ended up carrying it over my head hopefully looking very elegant - and feeling very queasy. The backpack stayed dry - and I was soaking wet (which does not matter because it is so hot that you dry immediately).

The weather had been fantastic - only on the last day of the year a storm came up. It was a hard test for my new Tarptent and I lay awake all night long hoping not to be blown away. But the wind did not prevent Aussies from celebrating the New Year with parties and barbecues on the beach. Next morning I encountered several tired party people who were quite surprised to see a lonely hiker shortly after dawn - but I refused all invitations for drinks at 7 am in the morning.

Beside that I did not have any further adventures - no snake bites (just mosquitoes), no bears (just cangaroos) and no more storms (just sunshine, sunshine and more sunshine). I ended up hiking the whole 960 km in 35 days. And I had a wonderful time.So now my message to all my hiker friends is: Get your ass over here and hike the Bibbulmun Track - it is a wonderful experience!