Friday afternoon I pulled together the last of my items, packed my bag, put it on to admire all my new gear in the mirror, gave myself a quick thumbs up and then jumped in the car for the two hour drive to the Blue Mountains. Parking in the carpark at Explorers Tree in Katoomba I climbed into the back of the RAV, rolled out my mat, turned off my phone and appreciated the independence of my first solo hike, feeling snug with the sound of rain on the roof.
Starting at 7:30am the walk in was stunning, stairs took me down into the Valley, through a forest full of vibrant greens from all the rain the night before. Eventually I hit the fire trail and was blown away by all the butterflies. I opted to be in the moment, meaning I didn’t get any photos, but it was stunning.
Eventually I crossed the Bowtells suspension bridge…not because it was necessary, but because I was curious. Wow it’s the most swingy/tippy bridge I’ve ever been on, tipping to the left I walked most of the way leaning to the right to counter balance it, until it was too much and turned around going back. It’s not that I was unsafe, but too creeped out on my own and let my imagination get the better of me. Glad I did it though.
Reaching Cox’s River at midday I was so at peace, in bare feet after a splash and set up with my lunch laid out in front of me on my mat. Something moved behind me so I turn around to see a big water dragon on the rock behind me. That’s cool, nature is putting on a show. Then he gets closer. The curious lizard wasn’t interested in my offering of a cracker to keep him in place, so (correct or not) I decided he probably just wanted to climb me like a tree using his giant claws. I’m no longer relaxed. “Shooo, go away”, he comes closer again. I’m now standing, waving a hiking pole around to try and scare him. He’s not at all bothered. That’s it, moment ruined. I packed up my lunch and mat, put my shoes back on and moved to the picnic table up the road. Thank you mother nature for that rush of paranoia while I tried to take it all in.
My destination for the day was the Alum Creek campsite just under half way at the 21km mark, which I reached at 3pm. The racer in me had powered through the day leaving me to now sit with my own company and thoughts. BORING! (I’m working on this). I met with two guys and chatted for a while, giving them some water purification tablets as we’d all been through way more water than expected since it was so hot. They were staying at the next campground at Black Range at the 35km mark. My thoughts went from “You guys are mad” to 20mins later in isolation “I can do another 15km”. Never mind the 800m elevation I was saving for first thing in the morning.
You never remember pain or discomfort, which is why we keep going back for more. Soon enough the familiar neck pains of looking uphill had returned, the hot spot on the ball of my foot had turned into a blister, and I was getting squirmy in my pack. The heat of direct sunlight made me utterly gross, and here I was, happy as Larry climbing that hill on my own. Go you Heather.
Once over the crest I grew impatient, I had 1L of water left, and despite wanting to stop and camp at the beautiful spots that presented themselves, I wanted to make it to the campsite to re-fill water to cook dinner and breakfast, and properly rehydrate after a long day. Checking maps I had just 3kms to go….worth it, despite my screaming blister. I just kept telling myself “Hike to exhaustion – it makes the uncomfortable feel luxurious and the bland taste delicious”.
Come 7:30pm I roll into the campsite being all “oh hey guys, nice little stroll back there”. I refilled water, set up my tent, met new people, and stayed up late chatting to one of the guys while I cooked dinner. The friendliness and comradery of hikers is so awesome. I went to bed feeling pretty good about my first night camping solo, knowing there were other people around. Then I was woken by some unrecognisable animal screeching and groaning outside my tent. Holding my breath I listened hard, was it walking around outside the tent? I swear I heard footsteps, but soon realise it’s my eyelashes batting against my pillow while I furiously blink trying to listen with all my might while frozen on my side. You’re an idiot, go back to sleep. Still no idea what the screeching animal was though.
The next morning I woke up, packed up the tent working around a swooping magpie, made breakfast, drained the massive blister from the ball of my foot and eventually started the last 10km downhill. In hindsight, 35kms the day prior was a bit of a push….but the ultimate killer for my poor knees are downhill sections. At the 5km mark my left knee was sore on each step, and I was in denial about the hotspots on each heel. I arrived at the Jenolan Caves kiosk perfectly on time at midday, and took my shoes off to assess the damage. Raw heels prove the important lesson of stopping to tape hot spots as soon as they present, but apart from that I’m feeling good. An hour later my lift arrived and holy moly I was stiff, but so so pleased with myself. 45kms in a day and a half – that’s a good weekend.