A tale of early struggles and the kindness of people
The first few weeks walking around Tasmania were a shock to the system. Physically, mentally and environmentally, everything was new. Carrying a heavy backpack (11 kg without food or water) and walking hours and hours on end, was very different from my previous hiking. I knew how to go up a mountain range for a couple of days, carrying a daypack with some water and peanut butter sandwiches, and eagerly hurrying along forest trails. I did not know the feeling of a heavy pack forcing my weak feet through the tarmac, all day long.
My first week was quickly marred by the excruciating pain I felt with every step I took. The otherwise popular Salomon trail runners that are a favourite amongst thru-hikers almost crippled me. The wide footbed and stiff soles were pretty much the exact opposite of what my feet needed. I was in such pain that during the day I needed to rest every few kilometers and towards the end of the day, I simply couldn’t continue on. I struggled to reach the campsites. Even just standing up in the shoes was nothing short of torture.
But then there were the good things. My early experience was marred with physical pain and exhaustion, but there was something about the hike, the simplicity of it all and the freedom, that I loved. The one thing that struck me during these first few weeks, was the help I received from perfect strangers. Not just the people in cars stopping next to me, offering me rides (which I politely refused, of course) but I was taken into peoples’ homes, given a bed, fed a warm dinner and breakfast and sent on my way again by people who had watched me walk alongside the road and simply wanted to help. First it was a priest in Sorrell, then an older couple at the start of a long, quiet forest road, then a couple whose address I’d been given along the way.
I was even able to catch a ride from a new friend back to Hobart so I could buy a new pair of shoes when I knew I simply couldn’t walk in them any longer. (It was an absolute revelation.) I got to glimpse into these peoples’ lives, so different from my own. Being a bit of a loner by nature, it was an eye-opener and a perfect start to my trip. An introduction to Tasmania and the kindness of some of its inhabitants. It made the whole thing a lot less scary. Slowly, I felt like I was starting to get to know this small Australian island.
When I reached the East Coast, I was stunned by the beautiful beaches and a few dramatic cliff edges. The weather was bright and sunny, and the colours of the beaches and surrounding landscapes were aplenty: blight and clear blues, warm greens and stunning yellows. And beaches with gorgeous white sand. I wish I had been able to camp on the beach, but I did manage to walk past some gorgeous sites.
I was slowly getting used to camping on the free, unsupervised national park campsites, although I would always carefully stake out the surroundings first.
I had a set of priorities: 1, what kind of people are camping beside me; 2, is the spot grassy enough for my tent; 3, who will hear me when I scream at night?
With this in the back of my mind I passed many campsites that were either too busy with a questionable crowd, not busy enough, or somehow freaked me out for one reason or another. Some days I walked a lot of extra kilometers beyond the initial plan. Sometimes I would be so tired after a day of walking to the point of collapse and would be desperate to set up camp. But when the only other person at a campsite was be some strange old guy, I would find a new leash on life and happily walk along for another hour.
My final day on the East Coast I walked close to 40 km. After waking up on a free site next to the beach called Cosy Corner, I reached Fire Road, a path leading through an empty forest. I immediately felt uncomfortable but realised just a little too late that the road would span around 13 kilometers. It was so empty that I almost ran. When I finally got out of the forest, I rested for the first time. The road after wasn’t much better, but did have the occasional car, about one every half an hour. A lot less scary, trust me.
That night I had no choice but to camp at a site (ironically) named Before Policemans Point, which was located three kilometers off the main road. It was very inconvenient after a long day, knowing I had to double back the following morning, but I had no choice. There were no other campsites.
When I finally reached the site, I was exhausted. It was small, just off the small gravel road and covered by trees. It was next to the water, a lake of some sort. It was also eerie. A van had been permanently stationed next to the water and it gave me a bad feeling. I hid in the bush and set up camp just in time for a man and barking dog to appear from the direction of the lake. I didn’t dare show myself.
The man made a fire and talked out loud, and I wasn’t sure whether someone else was with him. The dog snuffed around my tent and barked all night. I was so afraid he would tear it down, pee on it, or attack me, that I didn’t dare leave my tent all night. When I rustled my bags too loud while eating dinner, the dog noticed and came for me. I abruptly stopped eating and didn’t dare make a single noise after that.
In the morning, I left the campsite so quickly I was still holding zip lock bags with trash and my tent in my arms until I reached the main road, where I finally set down to finish my breakfast.