Wilderness First Aid

I had to laugh when I got home last night and Donna told me she considered buying me a stun gun for the Mexican border. Not only was she concerned for my safety, but also her own. Luckily when she spoke with a member of the PCTA they were able to assure her that there have been no incidents with hikers and illegal immigrants at the border. Phew! The most interesting stat he passed on was that 1000 people will be hiking the trail this year! Huge! Wikipedia may have to boost their 300 a year average.

Today was the first of a two-day Wilderness First Aid Course taught by the NOLS institute at the REI store in Encinitas. We were told at the beginning that we were going to get ‘up close and personal’ with our class mates and were quickly shown the difference between ‘appropriate’ touching and ‘creepy’ touching. I was put in a group with Dave and Phil, two awesome dudes who were up for a good laugh every time we had to practise a new scenario on one another.

There was a lot to digest but I have to say I learned a great deal and feel a lot more confident heading out into the wilderness on my own. We learned a lot about spinal and head injuries, shock, bleeding and the basic data that needs to be collected by a first responder such as recording vital signs and assessing the Mechanism of Incident (MOI). They also threw in some fake blood and stage makeup to spice up the different scenarios we were thrown into.

When I mentioned I was hiking the PCT there was a murmur of acknowledgement from the entire group, and a lot of people came up to me afterwards to ask questions. The more I hear about it from people who have experienced the trail first hand, the more real it becomes. Dave and Phil have promised to follow me on the journey via my blog. I also bumped into Sherria, the girl who served me at AT&T yesterday, first at Starbucks this morning and then at Walmart after the course. She was still laughing and shaking her head at the whole endeavour and said she can’t wait to hear how it goes.

I had originally planned to spend Saturday evening experiencing the nightlife of downtown San Diego, instead I went on a mission to find HEET for my camping stove. Unfortunately the first Walmart I visited was out of the yellow antifreeze bottle. After making it halfway into San Diego I decided I couldn’t rest until I’d secured this flammable liquid and was lucky enough to find it 11 miles away down the M805. I was also lucky that Walmart stays open until 11pm on Saturdays!

I wanted to treat myself to some kind of celebratory meal following the successful Walmart expedition. I had grand plans of burger restaurants or steak houses but ended up at a quiet little roadside Subway. Still, this rates as luxury compared to what’s stashed away in my food sack for Monday!


Outback cooking

I finally cooked a real outdoor hiking meal today in the backyard using my stove. The wind was pretty fierce, blowing my measuring cup and plastic bag across the garden. Good training. I used a recipe I thought of walking to the train station yesterday, nothing fancy, just oats, coconut, cinnamon and LSA. I would also add powdered soy milk and some kind of sweetener (coconut sugar?) for the real gig.


Highly technical ingredients.

I mixed up one cup of oats, 1/4 cup coconut, a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon and some LSA. Then I took all the elements into the garden for the test run.


I’ve nailed lighting the stove at least.


Waiting for the 1 1/2 cups water to boil.








I’m still trying to get through it all. One cup is WAAAAY too much and considering I’ll have to carry out any uneaten leftovers I’ll be going with 1/2 cup moving forward. The other very helpful lesson I learned was when I sealed my container to shake up the water and contents, boiling water and oat juice came seeping out the sides spraying all over me. Won’t be repeating that.


My leaky container after a good shake.


The final product.












Conclusions? Very easy to prepare and package but I feel pretty disgusting after eating it. Sugar or sweetener needed and keep up the variety, I can see this getting old very quickly.

Great North Walk – Thornleigh to Cowan (Day 2)

With my feet up on the coffee table it’s hard to believe the anguish I was going through earlier today climbing up and down the gorges inside Berowra Valley Regional Park. 14km felt more like 40km with the amount of climbing involved in this section of the hike.


The Great North Walk goes all the way from Sydney to Newcastle (approx 300km).

I woke at 6am to kookaburras and buzzing mosquitos and after completing my back stretching ritual, started packing my backpack before taking down the tent. The Crosslands campsite was actually only 10 minutes down the path but there was another school group camping there so I was thankful I had my own quiet spot.

20130311-205338.jpgAt Crosslands I met a Chinese man and his elderly father who were also planning to hike to Cowan. They were enquiring as to where the trail started so we walked to the beginning of the track together and I left ahead of them, hoping they wouldn’t catch up too quickly given the father had to be in his 70’s.

The climbing was TOUGH! There were many parts where I had to fold away my hiking poles to hold onto the rocks and haul myself and the extra 1/4 of my weight up. There was one particular climb which just never seemed to end. I was muttering obscenities under my breath and would have yelled so the whole valley could have heard me if my two friends weren’t close behind me.


Ground level looking over Berowra Waters.


The view over Berowra Waters after another hideous climb up!








I took a quick snack and toilet break at the base of Berowra Waters and was surprised when my two Chinese friends were sitting there happily eating their lunch. The younger man only spoke basic English but after expressing to them what a tough climb it had been he just laughed and nodded. His father hadn’t even worked up a sweat! They insisted I take the rest of their food because I obviously looked like I needed it. On one hand the juicy apples looked delicious, on the other hand the thought of carrying any extra weight was too much! I compromised and took only one giant apple, and some kind of preserved beef snack.


Some of the tricky rock climbs.

Despite my whining this was a truly stunning walk. What it did teach me was that every ounce of weight DOES make a difference, and that I’ll need to be meticulous when packing, especially if I’m expecting to carry seven days of food as opposed to just two!


Two days worth of food.


What was left over.

Great North Walk – Thornleigh to Cowan (Day 1)

I crawled into camp tonight like a wobbly four legged spider, walking poles flailing in front and my legs dragging behind. Today was the most challenging 20km walk I’ve ever done, add a 14kg pack and 9 hours of walking and you can understand why I fell short of my actual target.

I’ve stopped about 30 mins from the Crosslands Reserve campsite, in a little clearing with no facilities just beyond a group of young women on a canoe expedition. There are a few freaky noises outside the tent including growling, scratching, the odd branch snap and a whole host of activity going on in the reservoir I’m next to.

Today was full of adventure, lunch with a group of lizards after a quick dip in the lagoon, an encounter with a tree snake, walked through a rifle range amid the sounds of gun shots, getting lost a couple of times and setting up the tent while fending off swarms of mosquitos! I snacked all day and now don’t feel like eating dinner plus I haven’t peed since lunch which means the 3L of water I drank wasn’t enough. Luckily when I finally reach the Crosslands campsite tomorrow I can fill up my water bladder.

The ground is pretty soft so I haven’t bothered blowing up my sleeping mat. I’m just lying on it with my sleeping bag on top. It’s so hot I doubt I’ll need my -10 degree bag!

I may venture out to pee before bed and will hopefully avoid the anaconda in the river and the growling gremlin outside!









The countdown is on!

Aside from downloading topographic maps on my iPhone, mending holes in my tent mesh, purchasing random bits of gear on mum and dad’s credit card, creating complex resupply spreadsheets, practising my daily back and glute exercises from the Osteo and planning my first ever solo overnight hike, my time in Sydney has been quite relaxed.


My new French Foreign Legion style hat for the desert.

I am suppressing some pretty major one month to go anxieties which vary between ‘I’m almost there’ to ‘holly crap there’s still so much to read, plan and do’. In the last week I’ve settled on a start date for the trail (Thursday April 18), secured a lift to the Mexico/US border (thanks to Don and Donna in San Diego), finally purchased travel insurance from World Nomads (who did confirm they would insure me for the trail), booked a car in San Diego, secured pick up from Vancouver airport (thanks BJ), educated myself about bear safety, and hiked with my ULA pack for the first time.

On Friday mum and I walked from their apartment in Manly to the Spit Bridge (approx 7.5km) along the Manly Scenic Walkway. I carried my pack with about 4L of water, tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and clothing, weighing close to 8kg.

IMG_2245My lower back was still giving me grief so the walk there was quite painful, requiring two Nurofens to keep me going. The scenery was beautiful though and we past at least a dozen lizards along the way. It took us 2.5 hours to get to a little cafe near the Spit Bridge where dad brought us a homemade wrap for lunch (won’t be getting this kind of service on the trail) and we enjoyed a COFFEE (still not sure how I’m going to live without it).

Dad drove mum home and I tackled the return journey solo. I used hiking poles going back which made an incredible difference to my speed and the pressure on my back, getting me home in 1.5 hours. Tomorrow I’m going to set off on a two-day, 34km hike starting from Thornleigh to Cowan.


Stunning views looking back towards Manly.


The ULA pack and solar panel in action.


Mum and I ready for some serious hiking alongside shirtless joggers and mums with strollers.

Fairfield to Bentleigh (along the Outer Circle Trail)

My weekly hike today was more like a walk, however it was the toughest one so far on my body. Not only because it was the longest, but because I was terribly equipped was an ordinary overweight backpack.


Start of the trail in Fairfield.


Relieved to find this was in fact a marked trail.










Trail over the Yarra River.

The Outer Circle/Anniversary Trail is an 18km stretch of paved bike/walking trail from Fairfield to Hughesdale Station. This walk appealed to me because Hughesdale is close enough to home to walk once completed (5km). However, what should have been a 23km walk, turned into 27kms after some iPhone navigation issues which resulted in me taking the wrong turn at a crucial junction and having to backtrack.

The trail has a few road sections but I was surprised at how complete and continuous it actually was. An hour in, I emptied my entire 3L bladder and saved only one water bottle simply because my pack was so incredibly awkward and heavy to carry. This helped a little but the pains in my lower back had already taken hold, forcing me to walk VERY slowly.

There was a severe lack of public toilets along the trail, especially after my standard pre-hike coffee. I was in the process of sizing up some bushes when finally I found some kind of scout hall/cricket club/abandoned council building that had their public toilet open. Glorious!


Survival kit

It wasn’t long after the quick bathroom break when heat, pain and mental exhaustion started to take hold. I pulled out all the stops, Nurofen and my iPod being the main remedies, to get me through the more monotonous part of the walk.


The trail in all its glory.


And again.












The trail is probably better for cycling than walking, although for distance training it wasn’t bad. I think my back pain and feeble meandering made it less enjoyable, however I still got a kick out of self portrait photography, and my favourite section, the ‘Urban Forest’.


ME, taking a break.


ME, inside the Urban Forest.








Strangely towards the end of my walk my body seemed to loosen up a little. Could have been the Nurofen, the lighter backpack or the walking stick I acquired, but by the end of the trail I managed the final 5km walk home without too many complaints. After an icepack, a warm bath and an appointment with the Osteopath tomorrow my back and body should be good as new!


Saved by the walking stick.


The end of the trail, no bells or whistles in sight.

Backyard camping

It’s one of the cooler nights in Melbourne this month (currently 18 degrees), and with a sprinkling of rain coming down I thought it a perfect night to test out the tent.

Backyard camping


I set it up as soon as my nephew went to bed otherwise he’d insist on sleeping in here too. I also hit my research maximum limit today and without brain capacity to ingest more advice the only practical thing to do was put it all into practise.

Backyard camping 2


My initial concern is a pinky size hole at the top of the mesh zip which I only discovered because a moth was trying to enter the tent through it. I’ll need to fix it before the mosquito swarms hit me in the Sierras.

I’m curious to see if my pack stays dry under the outside cover. There seems to be plenty of room to bring it inside if necessary. I’m also hoping I wake up sweating in my down sleeping bag otherwise I’m going to be freezing when I hit the snow or require at least 20 more layers!


– Sweating is an understatement. Sleeping bag proved itself.

– Woke up to a few droplets of water on my face, assuming these were condensation.

– Stuff sack pillow not ideal, worked ok with fleece pants on top.

– Pack stayed dry under outside cover despite rain all night.

– Woke up with a swollen, itchy eye. Hoping it’s a bite and that I’m not allergic to down or any random tent fabrics.

– Foam sleeping pad I used was useless. Woke up lying next to it, didn’t even notice.

– Very noisy when windy – BUY EARPLUGS!

– Crocs are good. Must find a way to attach them to my pack.

– No idea how everything will fit in my pack. It was practically full for just one night in the backyard without food or 50% of my gear. Eeeeeek!