Day 18: A different kind of challenge, a painful one
Northcliffe to Yirra Katta Hut
11:30 – 5:30 52km

Woke up this morning and as I moved, a sharp pain flooded my pelvis and shot down my legs. I crawled out of bed and the pain radiated through my back and stomach. It even hurt to breathe. I tried to pick things up and it hurt to bend, hurt to walk, hurt to do nothing. Shit.

Slowly I got moving, had breakfast, packed up my sleep gear and my bike. Took some Nurofen and had a warm shower. Nothing seemed to work. I rode the 2km from the caravan park into Northcliffe – it seemed to be easier to ride than to walk… or I told myself it did. I struggled to tighten my shoe lace let alone if I had to pick up my bike if I dropped it. I called my Mum to let her know the sitch. I will be riding the 50km to Yirra Katta Hut at some point today. I won’t have reception for 2 days or 3. If I wake up worse tomorrow morning, I’ll just have to have a rest day in the bush.

She said she will come pick me up. Nope. Not an option – I’ve come too far to let myself down now. Let me just get to Walpole and then re-assess. I spent the morning meeting and talking to like-minded people. Nothing works at boosting my energy levels than meeting adventurous interesting people! I met Emma and Will at the caravan park. They are expats living in Perth and from a small island north of London. We shared adventure stories. I got on with them so much that Emma and I even shared a good luck hug before I left. I hope that’s not the last time I see them. In Northcliffe, I met Carla – she had just come from walking the Bibbulmun from Albany and was finishing up the section to head back home to Tasmania. It was cool to compare tracks, gear and experiences. She had just spent a whole eight days alone walking! I left Northcliffe at midday.

It was a gruelling day. The pain shot from my back down through my hips any time I changed gears. The track all day was smooth soft gravel roads with pockets of sand. Somehow, mercifully, no corrugations. I had bought some Tiger Balm and Nurofen from the Northcliffe General Store. Close to the end of the 50km I got nauseous. Could have been either from the pills or the pain. My vision even got hazy and I think I made it to the hut out of sheer willpower.

Only 10km out of Northcliffe I saw big plumes of smoke. The road was closed but no one had closed the track. Checking the map I saw the trail followed the road for quite some distance. I made the decision to ride the roads around that particular section of reserve. I was quite nervous though, the bush around the area looked very dry and white ash was floating down where I rode. I was happy to be riding away from the billowing smoke after a while but it even made the sun appear a different colour.

I passed two skinny long black snakes within 5km of each other on this section, both lazing in the sun but as I got closer they stuck their tongues out for a smell and slithered off into the bush… obviously I must have smelt bad.

Pulled into the hut at 5:30pm and met John from New Zealand. He was riding the other way. We had dinner together, talked biking in NZ and also about his compact kit with some pretty cool tech-ey pieces. Lots of experience and willing to share.

I’m praying to the bikepacking gods tonight that I will feel right as rain in the morning!

Day 19: A different world
Yirra Katta Hut – Walpole
10 – 5:30 54km

Spent breakfast enjoying John’s company. This guy is the real deal. He made his own sleeping bag, he retrofitted his tent, he is even in the process of building his own pack raft!

I learned pretty quickly which movements aggravated my back. It was a day of standing on the bike, to avoid even the slightest of bumps. I found I couldn’t look behind me either, that twisting motion was a no go.

53km to Walpole and I felt every moment. I rode down into Fernhook Falls for lunch. It was dry but still pretty. I went to go scramble up some rocks to have lunch in the middle of them but realised pretty quickly that the safest and least painful option was to sit on a picnic bench on the wheelchair friendly walkway. Ugh. This is so frustrating!

The landscape of today’s section was like nothing I have seen before. Swampy sandy sections with beautiful bright flowers and low lying ferns that allowed me to see the entire plain. It was an overcast day and just increased the feeling of… I can’t describe it – maybe a feeling like I’m being watched? Kinda the same thing. There were snakes everywhere! I passed so many, even one that reared up on me on the track and refused to budge. There were rustles in the ferns on either side of the skinny track so I preferred to just keep riding and not put a foot down unless absolutely necessary. Even the bugs were different on this section. Smaller flies with large wings. I saw the strangest caterpillars. They were yellow with black heads, huddled together and on top of each other and moving in the same direction. I stopped to film them and every time I made a noise they would all flick their tails up and down as if telling the ones in front to get a move on.

I rode in a much easier gear than I normally would, hitting granny gear on every hill. As long as I kept moving forward, I didn’t care how long it took. (I kept thinking – I’ve just got to get to Walpole.) It was a beautiful weird section of track that I enjoyed despite the pain I was feeling in my back. I never let go of my bike. I was too afraid of dropping it and having to pick it up. The sandy sections were my favourite, it felt softer.

I rode into Walpole with a huge sense of relief. The track takes you go through a housing estate and then under this cool canopy of lush green trees. I could smell the coast… and something else that probably shouldn’t be described on an open blog. Hippy town. I rode down the main road and arrived at the YHA that many riders I had met since I was in Donnelly River, have been recommending.

Peggy who runs the place is a beautiful soul and showed me around. Then I met the famous Richard, who helped the Germans, Tim and Phil, (who I met near Pemberton) with their twisted derailleur. I just had to shake his hand.

A warm night, internet reception, a washing machine, a kebab, a beer and a real bed. Thank you Walpole.