Telford Tops to Woodlaw Eucalyptus
At one point last night the sky opened up and poured big fat drops, a strangely comfortable sound in our perfectly still tent, in my almost-too-warm quilt bundle. I awoke and listened for awhile, imagining the soup the cow patties were turning into, before drifting back to sleep.
When I step out of the tent this morning, I am relieved to see the ground is actually not a sloppy, stinky mess. It is so dark in our forest fortress, it feels earlier than it is. Time to get a move on, I realize as I notice the true time. Or should I say human time? Watch time? What is time anyway? We pack up and step out of our hiding place into the wind that is still howling and hammering. What a shelter find! There must have been a protection spell around it, that’s the only explanation that makes sense.
We zip down down down the last length of the ridge to the designated Telford camp in only 30 minutes, the wind cracking its icy whip at our backs the entire time. Turns out we probably could have made it last night, but considering the barren exposure of the designated tenting area, there is no way it would have been sheltered. We see Cat and her red backpack striking out from the camp as we approach, heading up into the Mt Linton station, a property infamous for its hostility to hikers. Why allow us through, then? I wonder, if it’s a private property and such a problem. Maybe this will be another example of rumors blown out of proportion. I hope.
We each take turns using the outhouse, that under-appreciated refuge that is a glorious treat from the right perspectives. We shoulder our packs and commence the station crossing, 25 k’s until we are allowed to break, with multiple posted admonitions to Not Stray From The Marked Trail, No Matter What, in our notes, on our maps, and physically on the fences and trail.
The start of the trail along the Telford Burn is pretty and wild, with lots of rocky drama bordering the river. Not too far long we are compelled to cross the wide and shallow Telford, which must be less than one degree above freezing, it instantly induces the screaming barfies from the knees down. Sitting on the other side, massaging my feet, hoping for circulation to return and replace the crushing pain, the sand flies descend in hordes to feast. I sigh. I wouldn’t be surprised if the station owners have creeks fenced off, or deport us for stopping to collect water along the roads, based on stories passed along the trail grapevine. We stick out our private little hell long enough to filter water for the entire day, just in case. Oh well, at least the spectacular view up along the river back to the Tops is a reward to balance out the sandfly mauling.
The trail markers seem to indicate a four wheel drive road that rockets directly up the opposite steep ridge. And so we march upwards.
There is a large web of roads, and while they all may lead to the same place eventually, they are sure poorly marked for all the fuss involved about staying on the one and only legal trail. At each fork I make my choice, and every once in a while I catch a glimpse of Prana a few turns ahead. The day stays very cold, and the wind unrelenting. I have my headphones plugged in, and I am fully immersed in a fabulous Ted Radio Hour on emotions, the first segment which is about John Koening, a scholar and etymologist who is inventing words to describe complex emotions for which there is no verbal label. I am fascinated. I am enthralled. I listen to his segment four times in a row.
The next time I swing off my pack to change layers yet again, I indulge a few minutes to look up his website. Here are three of my favorites from the author’s online collection, soon to be released as a true physical Dictionary:
avenoir – n. the desire that memory could flow backward
We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…
onism – n. the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience
Imagine standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die—and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.
ambedo – n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details
—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake.
I cannot wait for his book to come out. As each emotion is named and the new word explained, collages fill my imagination. I feel inspired, the idea of writing short stories that somehow illustrate each of these achingly lovely concepts, not so much with a textbook diagram, but with a sidling approximation, like a reflection in rippling water. But that has probably been done, and there is probably no point to repeat it, since it was likely done better. For that matter, so many blogs about this trail have been done, too. All the creativity whooshes out, as it sometimes does, like a drain plug has been pulled; it suddenly feels inarguably pointless. And then I learn the word for that too.
—–vemödalen – n. the fear that everything has already been done.
Onward! Other than the Ted talk, I realize I’m not really loving today. Then again, it’s not as bad as I thought it might be. But it is consistently uncomfortable. The track itself is ugly, but requires constant watching. It is a tough day for temperature – a large amount of time is spent layering, then sweating, then delayering, then freezing, then repeating. The wind is cold, the air is warm, and the sun is piping hot when out of the clouds, which is only intermittently.
We cross the river again. It is warmer up here, and thankfully, as we splash across multiple braided tributaries and all the wet marshiness in between. Is this whole river privately owned? Can one truly own a river?
After marching through a wide open fields for hours, there is a bizarre garage-sized boulder dumped alone in a pasture, as if it landed from space. We find the perfect nook out of the wind for lunch. I sink down in relief, glad to be out of the energy vortex for a few still minutes. As we are getting ready to dig in, I notice what looks like a rotten piece of carpet a few feet away. “What is that?” I ask. The three of us look closer, and the answer hits us at the same time – a rotting sheep carcass. So much for our respite. Luckily, a second aspect around a corner is equally sheltered. We respired our picnic and start fueling, the sun turning our little alcove into a nap-inducing solar sauna. The chop-chop-chop of a helicopter materializes in the distance. “Do you think they are coming to arrest us since we are sitting off the trail?” I ask lazily, only half in jest. “Well, I did lose the track earlier,” Mouse confesses. “I lost it so much that I had to jump over an electric gate to get back on the trail!” “Did you get zapped?” “Yeah, pretty good.” “They must be coming for you!” I tease. “We’ll hide under this rock until they’re gone.”
The helicopter sound fades, and we pack up. Gaining the top of the hill we faced for lunch, we reach the spot where the trail marker poles blaze the fence line, despite the road being temptingly in sight, a spot bemoaned in many of the track and map notes. I sigh. The three of us decided as a team to embrace the roll of ambassador, a roll automatically conferred upon all hikers whether they wish it or not, and stick to the track. The fence line is overgrown with some kind of turnips and 8 foot high thistles while climbing ludicrously steeply up over severe muddy ruts, while the graded and well-surfaced road gently switchbacks to where the two paths meet at the top. This is purely for psychological warfare, I think darkly. I have come to picture the owners of the station as some masochistic overlords, maybe even looking like the villains from Galaxy Quest. I sigh again. Nothing to do but put the head down, play the game, and get it over with.
The first 100 feet aren’t too bad; the muddy ruts are solid enough to use the tops like stepping stones. Once on the vertical hillside though, they liquify to sticky mush. The thistles and turnips crowd even closer to the fence, until pushing beneath them is like bushwhacking through a humid, festering jungle. I get pushed too close to the fence and unwittingly graze it with my elbow. zzZZAAAP! Holy shit! The electricity is cranked high enough I feel nauseous from the jolt. And now I am really really pissed. Especially as I look up and see another TA hiker sailing up the road, and pass us with ease, completely unaware that her choice nullifies any value of our suffering.
The time-consuming struggle eventually deposits us back on the dirt two-track on the highest point of the farm, with wide open views ahead and back. The trail markers have disappeared again, I am glad to see; I choose to interpret this as permission to walk on the road. Thank every deity that ever existed. The road meanders through the turnip terraces high above the farm, which I find subtly enjoyable for no apparent reason, and the wind seems to be a bit milder on this side. We follow the trail up and down gentle grades, and the sun comes out and stays out, warming the air to a single pleasant temperature. My attitude begins to improve. We take a snack break, which improves it even more, and as we are sitting two more girls pass us. They probably came up the road also, I realize, and it is hard not to be resentful that we will now be in a race for hut space for the rest of the day. I close my eyes and lean my head back, focusing on the embracing warm colors the sun makes on the back of my eyelids, trying to supplant the feelings of scarcity that I detest with appreciation for moving through this world at an unaffected pace I choose. Will I ever just be able to embrace the twists and turns of life, put trust in the process outside myself, not judge my luck before the story has played through? Or will I always be playing anxiety whack-a-mole, trying to control everything by second guessing every decision, constantly deriding myself for should-have-planned-better, should-have-known-better, should-have-been-better?
I breathe deep and feel better, washed over with a relaxed resignation I recognize – it comes when I get exhausted from trying, it is always a pleasant, and it never lasts. Or, more accurately, I never allow it to last, although I savor it while it does. We head along the easy road again, to where the trail dives down into the hedges and along the fence line. After a few more fields, it joins a new dirt field road bordering a pond and wetlands. The air is cooling, the light is goldening, and puffs of cold air are lifting from the water and drifting across the trail. It is very peaceful. We reach a small clump of pines just before reaching the highway, and debate setting up our tents. We poke around, but there is no perfect hidden spot; we don’t really want to go to the cabin, which is off trail and private and for which we don’t know the number of bunks, and yet there is nowhere legal to camp behind or ahead. Sigh. What to do?
Considering how counter-productive following the rules have been so far today, we decide to push on and find a place to camp. We cross the bridge over our last creek for 15k, and while Mouse and Prana are filling and filtering water, I walk up to the only house in sight to ask if we may camp under the tree by the bridge. There are several cars parked around the yard, and dogs tethered and kenneled everywhere, howling and snarling like crazy. Knocking on the door only incited a similar riot inside, but no humans ever show. Oh well.
Tanked up on water, we cover the 6k on the road as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact with the drivers of the pick ups that go by; we don’t want to draw any attention when it is obvious we won’t be through the next section in the daylight hours. We reach the spot where the Woodlaw Track leaves the main road, and after checking that no one is in sight in the twilight, we climb through the fence under the sign that decrees the track is only open during daylight hours.
We stay exposed on the border of neatly parallel rows of eucalyptus trees, held out by a fence. We pass heavy harvesting machinery that is abandoned for the day, and finally gain the concealment of a hillock. The fence ends at the bottom of the little drainage.
Yes! A perfect place to tuck in and cook dinner. we follow the drainage into the regimented forest, and clear patches of bare dirt to set up our stoves. It smells so good in here, and it is getting dark, and there is no wind…maybe we can stay? Prana goes to investigate while I ready pot of pasta and tomato sauce and olives. The report? Yes! There is a treeless, rootless, grassy clearing farther in, just big enough for both of our tents. Our breath vaporizes as we pitch, the moist air balmy with the cold incense of the eucalyptus. Viola! We tuck in, snuggle down, and I listen to dogs bark from far away, wrapped in peacefulness. I am so glad we stayed on the trail, especially with so few nights left.