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Tips for new trekkers from former non-trekker

If you think you’d like to do a long trek but you’re not sure you could make it, you’re wrong! It’s all in the preparation. Here’s some tips from a former non-trekker.

It’s never too early to start preparing! Although you can definitely decide one day and start the next, you will have a more enjoyable and potentially successful trek if you take time to get your gear, mind and body ready. Here are the main areas to cover:

  • Food – it goes without saying that it’s a good idea to spend time figuring out what you like to eat, how you’ll cook while you’re trekking, how and whether to dehydrate your own food, how much food you will need, and what type of food you need to eat to support good health. Food becomes one of day’s highlights and out on the Track you’ll wish you brought more than 2-minute noodles and protein bars after few days!
  • Physical – expect to feel really stiff and sore for the first week or so of your trek and gradually stronger as the weeks go on. Unless you walk with a pack four to five hours a day in your normal life it’s worth taking the time to physically prepare to reduce the risk of injury and to make the transition to ‘trek fitness’ less painful. The Bibbulmun is undulating and at times loose underfoot so make sure you train for endurance in ascending and descending for hours at a time as well as for the required daily distances. This will also help identify any physical issues early that could be solved with professional help from a physiotherapist or podiatrist.
  • Gear – make sure you try out all your gear (equipment, backpacks, clothing, bedding and shoes) in the sorts of conditions you will have on the Track before you start. This is necessary to check that they fit, work as supposed and that you like them as you can’t easily exchange things while trekking. Remember backpacks fit differently when full and weighted, you may lose weight after a while and your feet will swell after walking all day so check your clothes, shoes and backpack will still work under those conditions.
  • Mental – it’s a huge mental challenge to keep going when you are tired, cold, hungry, dirty and sore. It’s worth practicing mindfulness or other mental strategies for dealing with emotional and physical pain since, unless you are in a position where you need emergency help, you’ll have to walk out to the nearest road even if you decide to stop trekking before the next town. See next tip.

Vow not to give up until you’ve walked at least the first 8-10 days. The first 8-10 days on the track will be the hardest, hands down. You are new to the trail, your body is not ‘trek fit’, you have a heavy pack full of food and the whole trek to go. Here are some reasons not to stop before 10 days are up:

  • Muscles take around 8 days to acclimatise to the work and get stronger; once this happens the soreness will reduce significantly and the trekking will be more enjoyable.
  • Over the first week you will develop small routines that will streamline your packing, bed set up, cooking etc. This will make living on the Track a lot easier and less stressful. After a while you may even start to enjoy the simplicity of living on the Track.
  • Within a week or so (if not the first few days) you’ll likely meet other trekkers who are in the same position as you and that will feel strangely comforting. You’ll share fantasies about the first things you will do, eat and drink when you get to a town, laugh together about silly things that happen and problem solve issues together – this will help to keep you motivated and keen to keep going.

Try to set aside enough time to do the whole track even if you don’t think you’ll do it.

  • Once people get past the challenge of the first week they’re often hooked and want to keep going. They get hooked by their increasing ability to meet challenges and different experiences on Track, the simple living, landscape, and definitely by the enthusiasm of other trekkers they meet and walk with. It can be a wrench to wave your group good-bye as they head off down the Track and you’re back to ‘real life’.
  • Even if you decide to tackle the Bibbulmun in sections you’ll soon realise that you’ll have to go through the challenge of getting trek fit each and every time you start out – if you can it would be much better to start only once so you only have to live through that pain once.

Ask everyone you meet for tips, highlights and things to avoid.

  • There is an enormous amount of experience and expertise on the Track and you’ll find people are happy to share. Even if you don’t have a problem it’s worth asking for tips as you may be given something that becomes useful later or that you would never have thought of doing.
  • It’s particularly a good idea to ask trekkers going in the opposite direction what the condition of the track is like and for any advice. This could help you plan your day’s activities and/or avoid small issues becoming big challenges.

Live for the day, accept the challenges and condition of your body and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It sounds like a new-age poster but really is the best way to ensure you enjoy your time on the Track.

  • You can prepare all you like but you can’t control how well your body will respond to the challenges, whether you get injured or what you see while you are walking. Ruminating over whether you will be able to complete your trek, how slow / weak / unskilled you are compared to others, or what you will do if you get injured doesn’t help you trek well.
  • Worries can distract you from what you’re doing, increasing the risk that you’ll forget something, miss the track markers or have an injury. Any of these things have the potential to end your trek.
  • Worries can also distract you from enjoying your trek. If you’re constantly thinking about how slow you are or how disappointed you will be if you can’t finish, then you’re not seeing the wildflowers at your feet, the enormous grass trees or the beautiful vistas you’re passing by. Seeing and experiencing these things are why you are trekking and so, particularly if this ends up being your last day on the track, you want to make sure you experience as much of it as you can.
  • Practicing trekking each day as if it’s your last is not only good for the track, it just might help you in life off the track too.

I started my Bibbulmun trek in September 2020 and finished in November 2020, end-to-end. I hadn’t planned on trekking the Bibbulmun but COVID restrictions meant a planned overseas hike was not possible. It was a hard, exciting, exhausting and ultimately enjoyable experience. I am so glad that I did it and would encourage anyone with a glimmer of an idea to trek to give it a go – you won’t regret it!

Author: Tanya Gawthorne
BTF Member and End-to-Ender