Tamsin Read, Rolf, Katherine and Zephyr Heidecker , Fremantle, WA
7 April 2017
Before the kids came along we spent some time living in Chile, then returned to our Fremantle home, and spent time sailing on our yacht Equilibrium. When the kids were small we took them on a sailing trip from Sydney to Perth via Timor and Flores in Indonesia. Then life returned to the quiet of suburbia—but after three years we were looking for change of pace, a sabbatical, a break…
…so why would a family with a nine-year old and a six-year old start walking on the Bibbulmun Track? Simply because we could and, to be honest, I liked the idea of camping out rather than being on the ocean, on watch or on anchor—I sleep better!
But I can still hear my daughter in the background—"What are you thinking, Mum? He's only six!"
My husband and I had walked a fair bit of the Track in sections over the years and it had always been a bit of a long-term dream to do an end-to-end walk. We had managed a few overnight walks with the kids and were confident they could do at least 10km sections…whether we could do the whole lot was a completely different question.
We didn't rate our chances of completing it as very high, but we figured we would enjoy any part that we did complete. Importantly, if we didn't start with the idea of finishing we certainly didn't have any chance of completing the whole thing.
So we packed up the house, prepared vast quantities of food, organised food drops along the way and got everyone as well equipped as we thought necessary. If I had realised more than a couple of days before we started just how heavy my pack was going to be I might been very scared, or done some training! We knew we would get fitter on the track and it probably wasn’t going to kill us. It was also important not to whinge in front of the kids— if mum and dad were finding it hard then it might give them an opening to start as well. As it was, they whinged very little on the Track—more about reciting their times tables and being grilled on fractions than about walking. Not to say there weren’t some monumental explosions! Around the fire, a few hours after Catherine had endured a learning experience —up a hill, in the cold, in the rain—she said philosophically, "I wasn’t whinging, I was just whining". Not sure what the difference is but neither of the kids ever thought about pulling out.
We started at the Northern Terminus in September, the first few weeks were a slow, cold and a sometimes wet experience where we worked on our technique for walking together, keeping an eye out for Waugals, played lots of eye-spy and started eating our way through the heavy packs full of food.
By the time we arrived in Dwellingup, with considerably lighter packs, some fairly impressive blisters on the nine-year-old, stronger legs and having lost a fair bit of weight, I didn't think we had any chance of making it to Albany. To me, attempting to walk 1000km was just too much to do.
The kids seemed pretty unfazed though and after two nights rest and eating huge amounts of food we headed out again to see how we went on the next section. It was somewhere along this section that I came to the realisation that it didn't matter if we made it to Albany or not; the fact that we had started and managed what we had already achieved was satisfying in itself.
Our track name was Team Mush. Not, as some people thought, because we had to "Mush!" the kids along like sled dogs, but because our food was all different types of mush. Four types of dinner—spag bog mush, lentil mush, mung bean mush and lentil soup—which was equally mushy. If or when we do our next long distance walk I might try different mushes. I dreamed of dehydrating beautiful, tasty meals but when the harsh reality of cooking and dehydrating close to 200 meals in the months before we left hit, as well as living a normal life of looking after kids and working, I gave up and went to the old standby of one pot mushes.
After making it in to Donnelly River Village in time for dinner and then finding ourselves with extra mush we gave it to another walker. He left us a message in the log book to say it wasn’t as bad as Catherine had made out in her many entries into the registers and compared to eating commercially prepared dehydrated meals week after week it was quite good.
We spent a wonderful week walking south of Northcliffe with two other end-to-enders, Harriet of Perth and Dongyean of South Korea, and it was when we first met them we realised that Rolf and I hadn’t been paying much attention to what Catherine had been writing in the registers. They knew far more about our walk than we thought possible.
For example, Rolf had been referring to his backpack as Bigpig (it was about 30kg when we left a town). Harriet walked into the campsite and asked Rolf if he really was known as Bigpig. Catherine had been writing it all down. It turned out that Donyean was a fan of her word searches and Harry Potter quizzes.
And Zephyr? Once he discovered we had to paddle across the Irwin Inlet he couldn't get there quickly enough!
There were a few too many snakes. The first one we saw on the first warm day was particularly upset and I now understand the "madder than a cut snake" saying. It was centimetres from Catherine’s leg and flailing around wildly. On reflection I think it was between us and a sizeable log and as it couldn’t get away it went into flight mode. It also proved that we could run with our packs on! It took us a few days to recover from that interaction.
After Dwellingup it became easier—all we really had to do was to walk to a new shelter each night and if anyone wanted to pull out at the next town, we would all do so, no questions asked. We kept walking—looking at flowers, kangaroos, birds and echidnas, streams and trees, moss and spiders—all of the things that you don't normally have time to see.
We met lots of people, mostly going south, some going north, some attempting an end-to-end for the first time, some for the fifth time, some just out for a day or two. Some we spent a couple of minutes with, others we shared campsites with for a week or so. I left Kalamunda thinking it would be great to spend time as a family and arrived in Albany loving the time we had spent walking alone as a family and also remembering fondly the time we had spent together with other walkers.
The longer we were out on the track, the easier we found each day and instead of being worn out we were refreshed, happy and content.
Almost nine weeks after we left Kalamunda we arrived in Albany. Yes, we were glad to get there because the hot days were starting and they reduced the fun. But, we were all sad to finish the walk and leave our Track lives and go back to normal life.
Unexpectedly, Rolf was offered a job in Lima, Peru. We had always wanted to go back to South America, so about five weeks after we finished walking, Rolf flew out, followed a month later by me and the kids. We have plans to do some more walking while we are here. Zeph did announce today that he thought the Appalachian Trail would be a good idea. I was thinking more of the Inca Trail and maybe back to Patagonia. Ah, the possibilities are endless.
I was walking along the cliff top in Lima a few days ago with my son before I dropped him at school when suddenly, out of the blue, he said, “I miss the Track, Mum".
We all do.
Tamsin Read – Rolf, Katherine and Zephyr Heidecker