When we last left our intrepid adventurers they had just reached the quaint little town of Dwellingup, and what a nice stay it was. After typing up our last little entry we continued our journey, again encountering periods of solitude mixed with welcomed interactions with other hikers. The tenor of "The Bib" (everything is shortened in Australia!) is different from our experience with the AT in age range, whereas on the AT we would typically be with a mix of folks out of college or retirees, on the Bib we are finding the age range is typically senior with the occasional hiker around our own age or younger. This could totally be due to the time of year we are doing it - perhaps during school breaks university students would come out, as it would comfortably fit into a school break. And while there aren't all too many people out here at all, there is a high frequency of returners and a lot of folks seem to be on their second or third end to end or are out returning for a section having already completed the trek. This is great because it means folks out here are generally very enthusiastic about the trail and willing to share tips about upcoming sights (and sites!) and such.
The trail over the last four hundred kilometers has shifted. It was gradual at first, but a few days ago the forest took a sudden change. The arid red soils have been replaced by paths inundated with eucalyptus bark, leaves, and sticks as we have entered proper forest landscape. And what a forest! The new biomass we are walking on (and sometimes seemingly fighting with, as we keep tripping on sticks and cutting up our calves) is coming from the glorious karri trees, easily one of my new favorite trees. These can get MASSIVE, both in girth and height. And they are an extremely stark tree in a forest setting - the bark peels off naturally in huge strips, littering the ground and even the branches above us, giving the trunks a mostly white sort of camouflage look (think of a sycamore tree on the white end of the spectrum in coloring). The effect of their height is augmented by the fact that these trees drop their limbs as they age and climb skyward - hence all the sticks in our path - giving the forest a cathedral-like feel (this limb dropping effect is actually quite dangerous, people are killed by random falling eucalyptus limbs from time to time). We've been rewarded for laziness a couple times when we took a gravel road instead of the actual path (come on, we've paid our dues on the AT!), eliminating even more ground cover and lower story, which just further illuminated these trees.
But I get ahead of myself a bit. We've actually encountered 3.5 more towns since my last check in so I'll give a little shout out for these fun little forays back into civilization.
Collie - this actually is the largest town within the termini of the track and we had been told by pretty much every northbound hiker to stay at the Colliefields hotel and we were not disappointed. We cruised in to town quite early to take full advantage of our town day, checking in, showering, doing our laundry, and enjoying a first lunch at McDonalds all before 2PM. We then met up with my cousin Jenn and her husband Darren. As it turned out, Darren had been out hiking towards us all weekend! He had only just missed us by one shelter the night before and he had come into town just in time for our meet up! Unfortunately all three of us had discovered that there are some pretty nasty hills in that section, what we would call PUD's on the AT - pointless ups and downs - called the 4 sisters. We all joke that is should be at least 6 sisters, maybe 10 as the hills didn't really stop at 4. The hills eventually lead us under a 50km long bauxite (aluminum ore) conveyor belt which could be heard at the shelters on either side of it (10+ miles away). So Darren was hurting a bit but he made it and quite fast, so, having had our first lunch, we decided to have a second lunch at Subway! After catching up a bit it was time to split as we had to take care of all of our shopping (including mailing ourselves a food shipment to an upcoming town). We knew we had been out for a while because we were suddenly craving TV and we basked in its unearthly glow for several hours.
Ballingup - we got into Ballingup on Thursday immediately before Good Friday and found the backpackers full - luckily the transit park is very hiker friendly and gave us an 11 dollar campsite with EXCELLENT showers. Not a bad deal! The town is very artsy and friendly and we enjoyed relaxing in it a bit. On our way out of town the next day we enjoyed a really nice leisurely stroll through the arboretum. On our way out, we encountered a couple of hikers that gave us a really good tip - to follow the original route and ignore the upcoming trail diversion. The previous year a huge fire ripped through a pine plantation (and then some), burning down the outhouse at a shelter at the top - luckily they managed to save the actual shelter and the rain water tank. We were slightly nervous about getting lost (some trail markers were surely lost in the blaze) but with their persistence we continued on the original path. It was amazing. Huge fields of downed pine left the hills completely bare and when we finally reached the shelter (Blackwood hut, ironic from all of the charred remains of pine around, I know) we had a complete unobstructed view into the valley below.
Donnelly River Village - now we enter the aforementioned Karri forests! We began following the Donnelly river, eventually entering into the "town?" of Donnelly River Village, which used to be a mill settlement but is now a vacation retreat. The old schoolhouse is available for a small fee for hikers, but having already visited the town previously with Jenn and Darren we had decided to just pick up our package we mailed to ourselves and head off. This is the place where tame kangaroos and emus will come right up to you looking for food - it is a lot of fun but trying to eat an actual meal of your own is difficult! Luckily it was Easter and there were zillions of kids to distract the animals long enough for us to enjoy our lunch! We also made a friend with a fellow hiker named John. He had found a lost infant sheep days before and had intended on keeping him a trail companion/pet but another hiker called a ranger and they took it - he was very upset and kept showing us pictures of it and calling it his "little mate". It was really sad. It dawned on me later that the story was not so far off from the song "Waltzing Matilda", without the jumping into the billabong part. We also made friends with a group of teachers at a shelter one evening - one of them had printed out lyric sheets and a portable speaker for everyone to sing along; right up our alley, very fun!
Pemberton - finally we reached the town of Pemberton, with a tough little 25 miler somewhere in the mix which beat up our feet a bit, but with our first zero day planned we weren't too perturbed. We got into town pretty tired though and we encountered a little confusion regarding the backpackers - we'd been told that the backpackers was across from the supermarket, but upon finding it discovered it open but abandoned with no reception to speak of. Shannon eventually went to the other backpackers in town and discovered they are one and the same, albeit in different ends of town, and she got a lift back up to the house. It was a proper house, which was interesting, and we grabbed bunks and went to the visitor center to take care of some business, check our e.mails and play with the baby kangaroos and wallabees that they had sleeping in baskets there. AHHH SO CUTE. As it turned out Shannon was asked for a job interview! Then it hit us - how were we to do a job interview during business hours in a small town in Australia, as we are 14 hours off from the US! With that in mind, and being due for a rest anyways, we gladly made the decision to take a break back at Jenn and Darren's house to take care of some business and some R&R to boot. We hopped on a bus (to Jamie's chagrin, he got extremely car sick) and were back by early afternoon!
We are currently sorting out our plans for getting back on the trail - we may or may not be able to cover the entire track now, but we're not upset by the prospect. Everyday out there so far has been thrilling and a great time and we'll be happy with whatever miles we can add on to our journey! It is getting a lot colder, so we're also taking the opportunity to bring some more cold weather stuff - we've had to set up our tent for extra degrees the past few nights out which has been effective, but early morning hiking has proved very cold. We are really looking forward to seeing more of the forests of the south, which will very soon give way to coastline, which we have been assured are the best part of the whole thing so we are quite excited for what is to come.
|Breakfast at Colliefields|
|Balingup Liquor and General Store|
|Karri Trees with the bark all around it.|
|A little kangaroo wanting a hug. And an emu.|
|The song book|
|Dorm room at the Pemberton YHA|