Xavier Jared

TwoShay

Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

Hiking The Overland Track

Xavier,

“We’re going on a hike!”

I’m not quite sure why Mum was so excited. Her running had kept her in good shape, but freezing nights in a tent and hauling 20kg on a six day trek aren’t activities that struck me as “in character”. For Easter 2008 our extended family had, for some reason, organised a twenty person strong reunion on the Overland Track in Tasmania. 65km over six days in the rain and cold didn’t seem to us like the most beginner friendly of hikes.

Naturally, we immediately started scheming how to up the stakes. Most of our plans were Lord of The Rings themed. Importing the authentic materials for an elven cape proved prohibitively expensive. Not disheartened by budgetary constraints, Jared constructed a home-made dehydrator by sticking a lamp into a foil lined cardboard box which he used to bake our own brand of lembas bread. Concerns that inter-state quarantine would take exception to our Middle Earth snackums took them off the menu. (Also, we ate them.) For similar reasons our replica High Elven Warrior Swords never progressed further than blueprints. They didn’t take issue however, with our decision to do the hike vegan.

At the time this was a big dietary shift for us. Prior to the hike we were both vegetarians, one of whom had already tried and failed to cut out all animal products (me). We loaded up our packs with excessive quantities of dehydrated vegetables, chick peas, cous cous, noodles, rice, oats, assorted spices and dried fruit. A shotgun approach—we were bound to have something we wanted to eat. At any rate, it had to be better than the pre-made packaged shit traditionally taken on hikes.

We were venturing into territory that, while familiar to us today (we’ve both been vegan since shortly after the hike), was quite unknown at the time. It’s motivating to look back and see how what was a big leap at the time has become routine today.

Six days food for two people

The Trail

Tasmania knows only one way to greet its guests.

“Can you feel your feet?”

Not the first thing you want to hear when you wake up, especially when your answer is negative. On the first night the thermometer dropped below freezing, and the summer sleeping bags we had proved inadequate. We tried to go for a run to warm up, but the only trail around was frosted board-walk. Even with a chicken wire covering, it was so slippery that just walking was treacherous. That morning saw the invention of Danger Star Jumps.

The previous day we had started the hike through snow, passing by the infamous Cradle Mountain. I wasn’t classically prepared, wearing running shoes (great, until it gets cold or wet), and explorer socks as makeshift gloves. Still, you can’t walk by Cradle Mountain without trying to climb it. Us young ones left our packs with the parents to mind at the emergency hut near the base, and set off up over the snow. It was a treacherous climb, with low visibility, threat of snow, and a trail that was more like a climb. I got close to the summit, but turned back, not trusting my slippery shoes bouldering up wet rock. Jared was able to make it all the way, to a stunning view of heavy fog.

Cradle Mountain, quite clearly on a much nicer day
Photo clearly not ours—you can see the sky. Kudos to Fish Photographics.

The overland track passes right by Mt Ossa, the tallest peak in Tasmania. Half-way between camp sites there is a side trail you can take to the summit: a steep, exposed scramble. Most people leave their packs on the main trail, ascend, then pick up where they left off. “Looks like rain” reckoned Dad as we reached the turn off, to scoffs from the extended family. Apart from a few lonely clouds, the sky was mostly clear; unseasonably so. Rain or no rain, I was pretty keen to get to the top. Rain didn’t look that likely, and even so, Dad was tougher than that, surely? “Let’s just make camp and run back to the top later” he followed with. We hiked through while the rest of the crew began the summit.

It wasn’t long before the sky started getting darker. We kept a solid march to reach the hut by lunch time, and not thirty seconds after arriving the heavens opened. It was the largest downpour we experienced on the trail. Two hours later, after we’d put away a delicious lunch and kept dry under the awning, the party of summiters arrived looking somewhat miserable and like they’d just gone for a swim. By now the rain had cleared and the skies were just parting to a beautiful sun once more. Dad was already in his shorts.

I’d like to say I blitzed my old man up the mountain, but a stretched truth still needs to be able to see where it came from. I tailed the whole way up. Dad took breaks frequently because he “just needed a quick rest”, which was—from the fact that he was able to deliver such a line coherently over my violent panting—quite obviously bullshit.

I’m not a particularly experienced trail runner, and the descent was throwing me in the deep end. A steep decline, mud, rocks, and puddles, with dad setting a cracking pace. The way he ran just said one thing: he was freaking loving this. “How good is this!” he yelled over his shoulder as he side stepped a puddle and pushed off a small rock back on to the trail, surging forward. I wasn’t totally consumed by fear at plummeting break neck down the side of a mountain 3 days hike from any medical assistance—I can only assume the rest of the feeling was excitement.

Dinner Time

We discovered fairly quickly that we could throw our vegetables in a water bottle and rehydrate them over the course of the day, giving us extra plump eats and a neat stock to go with it. (The first night’s dinner was basically leather.)

We approached meal time with the same mentality we approached the hike. One of our main dishes was vegetables, tomato paste, and rice. On the third day of the hike, we thought it was about time we pushed our culinary skills. Challenge: make something not on our menu. After taking stock of our food, we traded some barley sugars for some peanut butter; some sweets for a bag of nuts; and came out with a satay invention that was eyed enviously by our unfortunate compatriots reheating packaged “stew”.

Race to the finish

On the second last day we were surveying a map and noticed something curious. The plan for the last day was to hike through the morning to the next hut at lake St. Clair, then catch a ferry across to the visitor’s centre—the end of the line. We noted however, a trail running for 20km around the lake’s edge as an alternative to the ferry. On day five we left the group, and walked through to the lake by evening.

The next day was cold, wet, and miserable. Another group of hikers were awake to catch the morning ferry, and were incredulous as we stripped down to shorts and dumped our packs (we negotiated for our family to bring them across on the ferry for us). Five days of walking had made us a little antsy, and we wanted to pick up the pace.

After a quick breakfast we ran off into the rain with only a small day pack between us. We had 20km of wet Tasmanian trail running in front of us and tired legs to do it on. It was slow going on the muddy trails, we had no way to measure distance, and it was freaking cold. Tasmania doesn’t really know what sun looks like. When we stopped at the half way point our teeth were chattering, our hands were blue, and we were saturated. Lembas bread would have gone down a treat. The smart move was to cut our break short and keep moving.

Flying down the home stretch we started passing bemused hikers setting out in the opposite direction. They probably weren’t expecting to see two bedraggled youths, soaked to the bone, racing out of the wilderness to the visitors centre. We stripped off unceremoniously outside the bathroom, cracked out some Danger Star Jumps to dry off, then donned the last of our clothes that had stayed mostly dry inside our pack. Striding into the visitors centre, we sat ourselves in front of the fire with pints in hand, and a full 6 hours to wait for the rest of our party.

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