2020 The Great North Walk

Day 2 – That’s a wrap
Crying emoji
Crying emoji

For those of you who have been following my online map on the Great North Walk you would have noticed that on Sunday, day 2, the interactive map came to a grinding halt. This wasn’t because of a fault in the system but rather a decision on my part to call it quits. I pulled the pin on the hike at around 11:00am having covered around 9.5km for the day (1/3 of my planned distance).

This decision is something that was extremely difficult for me and involved a number of factors. Ultimately it came down to two reasons; the heat and my mindset. While other hikers revel in the heat, I tend to be cold powered, preferring a daytime temperature of around 15 degrees which is why I typically do my long walks towards the end of winter. I just find that I tend to overheat so easily in the hotter weather. On Sunday, day two of my hike, I started at 7:26am and was averaging a speed of around 3km per hour which was less than the 3.75km per hour I usually average on a long distance hike. Initially I was travelling much faster in the cooler temps but as the day grew on and the temperature climbed, I was getting slower and slower. When I decided to pull the pin the temperature had reached 28 degrees and it wasn’t even midday. I was taking so many breaks I wasn’t likely to reach my campsite until 7 or 7:30pm.

My apologies to those who were following along with me – I was so buoyed by your support. I will release a podcast of this very short trip tomorrow during which I will discuss my full reasons for pulling the pin.

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And I’m off on my adventure on the Great North Walk. Today in many respects was what I expected but with some differences.

What I expected:

  • As planned I walked 23.5 km
  • The heat in the mid 20’s combined with carrying 7 kg of unwanted body weight was draining
  • Even with the urban walking, I expected to enjoy toady which I did, and it will only get better
  • I expected water availability to be a bit erratic and it was.

What I didn’t expect:

  • No trailhead kiosk; what is it with NSW walks?
  • Work being done on the train station near Queens Wharf, Newcastle over a large area limited access to the trailhead so I needed to get creative
  • So many people out and about but sadly limited social distancing
  • I have never seen so much ‘active wear’ and most of it new; looks like people have been doing lots of online shopping during COVID
  • Lots of birds and lizards but no other wildlife or snakes. I expect to see snakes from now on as I get out of civilisation
  • I expected the flies to be bad but it was the mosquitos that were the problem; they bit through my thin clothing and if I stopped for too long I was covered in them.

Overall a great day and one I really enjoyed. I am looking forward to getting into the national parks as I start heading south.

One issue I was unsure of was the bursitis that impacted my knee on the Hume and Hovell Track. It’s only been one day but my knee is holding up well. I am however going to tape the balls of my feet tomorrow.

Accomodation-wise I has planning to stay at a caravan park at the end of Lake Macquarie but given Gill was visiting family and (of course) had 4-star accommodation booked so I made a last minute decision to stay the night with her. She will drop me back at the caravan park in the morning so I can start day two and take some photos for the write up.

I’m going to have a very, very good sleep tonight.

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Over the years I have done a fair amount of overseas travel and one habit I have is that of judicious packing. I will always do an initial pack, pull it all apart and repack on the day before I leave to see what else can go or what I have forgotten. This pack prompted me on a couple of things I need which is part of the reason for a pre-pack. While I only carry things I know I will use and need, as someone who blogs and podcasts, I carry a penalty in my technology which weighs in around 2 kg.

This image is my first packing run and while I was reasonably confident my equipment and 10 days of food would all fit, there was a small amount of doubt. However it does fit and it fits well in my Osprey Atmos 50 pack. Once I add water I expect my starting pack weight to be around 21.4 kg which will be the heaviest pack I’ve carried for a number of years. The starting weight on my 2018 Bibbulmun Track hike was 19.6 kg so with an extra two days of food and a pack that weighs 800 grams more, I’m reasonably happy. Thankfully by the end of the walk all the food will be gone!

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Last week I sorted my food for my upcoming journey on the Great North Walk and yesterday I spent 3 hours assembling all my gear. This trip has been a bit of an odd one for me as my preferred hiking season tends to be late July through to late September – in most cases I don’t mind the colder weather and try to avoid the heat where I can.

This year I cancelled my proposed hike on the Australian Alps Walking Track and it’s left me hiking later in the season. As such I’ve left out items of clothing like my lightweight thermal gloves and heavier thermal top replacing them with a T-shirt. My final pack will occur a few days out from the trip.

While most of my gear is very familiar, I have a few new pieces of equipment in my pack. The main new item is a Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 person platinum tent (at under 1 kg) and the Goal Zero Sherpa 100PD Power Bank. I’ll be familiarising myself with the tent over the next week and will do full reviews of these items at the end of the trip.

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A week to go until I start my trip on the Great North Walk. Yesterday was food preparation day so I spent around four hours assembling my daily meals and snacks, ensuring I had everything needed to satiate the hunger.

Over the past four years I have been keeping detailed records of my food preferences and calorie usage. This means I have a reasonably good idea of what I like to eat and what to take. I always keep an eye out for sales to stock up on freeze dried meals for those ‘just in case’ walks. I typically have around two weeks worth of freeze dried meals along with long lasting snacks in a dedicated cupboard – this allows me to do a longer hike without having to do a major shop.

The Great North Walk is a 260 km, 11 day trip. My longest day is around 28 km which for me isn’t overly long, even so I expect to lose around 6 kg in body weight. I’m one of these strange people who loses appetite when I hike so I need to ensure the food I take is the food I really enjoy – otherwise I just end up carrying it home with me.

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One of the biggest decisions for me when planning a long distance hike is the choice of footwear. Out of all equipment choices, footwear has the greatest impact on your success. Get it wrong and you will be cursing the whole trip. Get it right and you won’t give your feet another thought.

My choice of footwear was originally based around hiking the Australian Alps Walking Track where my criteria was for a trail running shoe that would cope with full length gaiters, which meant the sole needed to accommodate the gaiters position-wise and comfort-wise; easier said than done. I had identified two options based on gaiter use (I expected to see snakes, and potentially lots of them, on almost a daily basis). My choice was made but size 15 US was not available for sale, anywhere. I have long since learnt the footwear manufacturing cycle means that trying to source my size around the last quarter of each year is a nightmare.

Now that I’m doing the Great North Walk I still expect to see snakes but not to the same extent so I won’t be wearing gaiters. This has allowed me to use a shoe I love, the Altra Olympus 3.5 which isn’t a great option for wearing with gaiters but for me is s purely comfortable shoe. Because I love this shoe I had a brand new pair sitting in my cupboard ready to use ‘just in case’. The Altra Olympus 4.0 has been released and Gill has done a review of the women’s version but again I can’t source my size, as hard as I have tried.

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It’s now less than two weeks until the start of my trip on the Great North Track and as such my posts will become more frequent in the lead up to the trip. For the first time in over a year I managed to spend almost all of yesterday attached to my computer doing last minute logistical planning. Any long distance hiking trip takes a fair deal of effort to plan but doing a trip in 2020 adds an extra special set of requirements. For both my and Gill’s benefit, I will leave her with a detailed itinerary of the trip so she knows where I am with a high degree of confidence at any given time. Cross referencing with my Garmin InReach Explorer+ Plus helps greatly.

As part of the COVID-safe planning, the NSW Government requires submitting a trip intention form outlining your plans. This means in the event of an outbreak, they can track you down. Submitting this form took me about four hours as it requires firm accomodation details. While competing the form, I discovered my night-two accomodation choice, the one and only hotel stay of the trip, was a no-go as it wasn’t taking bookings. This has added around 13 km to the second day of the trip. It’s just lucky day two was originally planned as a short day of 15 km which has now become just on 28 km. I know from personal experience that day two of any trip is where I struggle, hence the planned short day. Day three is now my shortest day but I need to get through day two first!

In addition to completing the trip intention form, I also submitted a ‘Crown Land form’. Again it’s partly for COVID reasons, as well as third form for staying in State forests. While I was at it I also booked accommodation for the two nights I will be staying in commercial campgrounds and tracked down the information I need for the trip across the Hawkesbury River. Mmmmm $160 for a water taxi or $8.50 for a ferry – which will I choose? Both are still an option but I know my likely response to this question.

As someone who swings between ‘OCD’ and ‘messy’ (Gill is rolling on the floor laughing right now), the image in this post is about as messy as my desk gets. I must own up here, I’m not so organised in the rest of the house. As I shut up shop for the evening, my desk is now back to its usual clean self.

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When I hiked the Hume and Hovell Track in 2019 I made the assumption I didn’t need to do much physical training. This contrasted with the preparation I did for the Bibbulmun Track in 2018 which I was supremely prepared for in a fitness sense. Boy did I pay the price for assuming Hume and Hovell didn’t require preparation – it ended with me getting off trail early because of a knee issue. I discovered post hike that my knee issue was Bursitis. In contrast, Gill trained for Hume and Hovell because she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to keep up with me! We still have 116 km to finish off on that walk and once the fire affected areas re-open, we will.

This year having learnt my lesson I’m placing emphasis on my physical preparation going back to the regime I put in place in 2018. Over the past six months my focus has been on maintaining a reasonable level of fitness which during this time of COVID, is not as easy as it sounds. I’m also targeting my problem areas as best I can. In the final month leading up to the start of my walk, I’ve upped the intensity again and I’m using a heavier pack for pack training. I’ll reach my full pack weight for the trip over the next week. I’m also focusing on my leg and hip strength which was my weakness in 2019. This has all come together in the past week and the work I have been putting in is delivering big improvements – the ongoing residual weaknesses in my legs have all but disappeared. My training intensity will peak over the next week before backing off just prior to the start of the trip to ensure I’m physically rested at the walk start.

There have been pros and cons for me cancelling my Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). All my preparation has been based around a trip of 680km in length in Australia’s alpine region with all the steep ascents and descents that go with that, instead I am now walking 260km Great North Walk. On the plus side while it will be physically demanding, it won’t be in the same league as the AAWT so my preparation should be more than adequate.

On the down side there are two issues. Firstly no matter how well you train nothing can replicate ‘trail fitness’. I find that on a long distance walk I reach my peak fitness at around week three. This walk is only 11 days long so I will certainly gain fitness but won’t get the full benefit of my hard work while I’m on trail. The other negative is that due to the 11 day length of the trip, I will will be carrying 10 days worth of food (caching and pickups were going to be too fiddly). Even with being ruthless with my pack contents, my total pack will be be around 21 kg at the walk start which is heavier than I have carried for a number of years. Not long to go now!

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By now most of you will be aware my new long distance trail for 2020 is the Great North Walk from Newcastle to Sydney at a distance of around 260 km. Personally I find hikes of this length strange. They are longer than ‘normal’ requiring longish days, day after day, but they don’t have the logistical impacts of hikes over 500 km. This change in hikes has meant all my logistical requirements ranging from travel to and from the walk, start and finish points, food carries, and daily distances travelled all have to be recalculated.

Given campers in NSW are still required to fill out a trip intention form due to COVID, it means that unlike my long distance trips I am less likely to ‘wing it’ and will stick to my planned distances making for a very cruisey trip at least from my perspective. Two differences that have come up on this hike is that given I will be averaging 23km per day, I won’t take any rest days on my planned 11 day hike. On my long distance hikes where I average 32km per day, I will take a rest day every 6-8 days. The second issue is that as I need 10 days of food, I will carry everything rather than doing a food drop along the way. Usually I carry a maximum of 8 days of food between resupply. This may sound a lot but that will work out between 6-6.5-7 kg (dried) food for the whole trip with some meals purchased along the way to make up the rest.

One other bonus on this trip from a logistical perspective is that I don’t need to worry about travelling interstate, from a biosecurity perspective, which means I can dry some of my own snacks which its now one of my jobs over the next few weeks leading up to the start of the trip.

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Over the past couple of years I have been planning on walking the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) in November of 2020. In the weekend just gone I finally pulled the pin on this trip due to both COVID and fire damage. I’ve rescheduled this trip for late 2021 so we will see what happens next year. Given I have holidays booked in November I’ve been chasing around over the past few months, just in case, for alternative long distant hikes. The replacement needed to take into account the ability to travel interstate, the impact of the upcoming bushfire season, the length and duration of the hike, and the fact that I’m going to be travelling in late spring/early summer.

Through my research over the past few weeks I narrowed down my selection to two tracks; the Great North Track (260 km) in NSW, and the Tasmanian Trail (480 km). I was definitely keen to walk the Tasmanian Trail but while access from Canberra to Hobart by air recommences in early November, the rules behind air travel are yet to be finalised. It may be OK – I just need certainty so have opted to do the Great North Walk starting in Newcastle and finishing in Sydney.

My timing is working well with sections of the Great North Walk being in burn off mode at the moment that are due to be accessible in the next couple of weeks. I was also planning on doing the Katoomba to Mittagong walk as a follow-on but the impact of last summer’s fires mean that the track is still a ‘no go’.

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Over the past couple of years I have been planning on walking the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) in November of 2020. In the weekend just gone I finally pulled the pin on this trip due to both COVID and fire damage. I’ve rescheduled this trip for late 2021 so we will see what happens […]