Woodlaw Eucalyptus to Longview Forest
Good morning, world! I open my eyes to a barely-tinged sky and the sharp invigorating smell of eucalyptus. I am so dang motivated this morning, and I have no idea why. Maybe because I slept so well? I spring out of the tent, pack up, and start stepping lively in crisp air.
The weather is wonderful, and god what a difference it makes! The sun is just rising, not a cloud in the sky, not a breath of wind. I start hiking in everything, which I have to adjust as soon as we are out of the brisk eucalyptus shade. Prana and I lose the marked trail at the first fence line, and strike onto the Vos track instead. This decision somehow lands us on the wrong side of a little creek; we can see our target 4wd road blazed on the other side. 4 hops and wriggles through the barbed and electric double fences flanking each side of the creek land us back on track. For all our detouring, we make it to the bottom of the big hill climb about the same time as Mouse, who is much better at following map notes, and who stayed on the correct fence line.
Prana and I take turns ducking behind a rise to dig holes, and de-layer further in the pleasantly warming day. Thus prepped to resume, I come face to face with a familiar choice…a marker-blazed line straight up a cow pocked field, with an unblazed switchbacking road practically in reach to the left. Hmm. What did I learn yesterday? I start up the blazed line, wanting to make the right choice, to not be beaten down. I can immediately feel my enthusiasm start to drain away, as I stare at my feet to keep from rolling an ankle. Not today! At the first approaching switchback, I cut over on a terrace take up the road. YES! A perfect gradual climb, unmonitored footsteps, fantastic views, compelling mountains ringing the panorama.Prana, commendable purist that he is, took the marked shitty fence line and reaches the top right behind me. Haha! Good for him, and good for me- we are each happy. We finish the Twinlaw summit together, climb over a stile below a radio tower, and plunge into a deep, bitterly chilled pine forest. Even walking fast to keep the heat up, I have to stop to re-don my jacket and gloves. Prana and I trot side by side and share a wonderful, soulful talk.
The thickly frosted upper forest leads gently downhill to a lower, sunnier pine woodland. The warm air wafts the good clean scent of pine needle carpet up on mini-thermals. It smells so good, and reminds me of home. Home. I miss it. We reach the end of the sun-dappled forest, overlooking a bright farm field and stop at the edge for a very early lunch. Mouse strolls up just as we swinging on our packs. We all move out into the sun, then pass through the gate into the sheep paddock.
The sheep recede before us in waves until they reach the far end of the pasture, where they panic and make a break for it, stampeding back around us in a divided riptide.
We let ourselves out the far end and we are back on gravel roads, the sun warm. I like walking on gravel roads today; this trail has given me a new appreciation for their mindless ease. I listen to some podcasts, particularly a fascinating episode from Outside Online about the crap problem plaguing many of our outdoor recreation spaces, and the illusion of connection with nature we seek by desiring to leave it in nature, rather than accepting it for what it is, which is alien waste to most environments. Also, someone in France invented a brilliant low-maintenance composting toilet! It has a tiny conveyor belt that separates the liquids from the solids. Who knew that was the single puzzle preventing composting our poop? Well, I guess plenty of people did, but I did not. Apparently you still can’t just shovel it straight out from the composting bin in the back of the outhouse.
It is almost hot now. Prana and I reach the Island Bush Track, a dirt road which reenters shady pines speckled with ammonita muscarias, the track grade a shallow incline, the air delightful. I inhale deeply; the trees have all been so redolent this last 24 hours. The road muddies and pinches down to single track, turns and drills into thicker woods, ends in a pasture. A new road appears at the far end, which we follow down to a highway.
The asphalt is busy, noisy, hot, smelly. We march along the shoulder. I fill the focus of my vision with the thick carpet of dandelions painting stripes of parallel yellow. I fill my ears with an Outside podcast of a man attempting to run down an antelope on foot, old-school-hunter-style. His voice is gentle and introspective, his tone melancholy and wistful, his cadence soothing and hypnotic.
The sky darkens and takes on a threatening cast, and the wind picks up. We veer off the highway, and here is the adorable Merriview Hut. Absolutely Adorable! 5 small bunks, and a fabulous porch with a skylight. There is a small larder cabinet stocked with snacks and an honesty box. The yard of the hut is filled with sheep, chickens, and a horse all sharing one grassy pasture. Mouse is behind us, having stopped for lunch, and Prana and I sit on the porch in comfortable folding chairs and split one can of creaming soda and a bag of toffee pops while we watch the kaleidoscope of the sky.
One of the girls that passed us yesterday shows up, brusque and down to business, and immediately claims a bunk without much of a greeting. Mouse shows up soon after, then eventually another 2 girls from the group trailing us arrive. These two indulge a bit more in social graces, but as one of them makes body #6 in the 5 bunk hut, they immediately press about beds. I now kind of don’t want to stay, it was just so peaceful before and that is gone now, gone with the hard bargaining and deadline decision-making. I don’t want to stay, and I also don’t want to give the satisfaction of conceding. Which desire will win? Sometimes I can’t stand the inside of my brain.
Not long into the porch session, Cat arrives. She appreciates the hut fully, and goes on her way just as she planned. She is such a graceful and gracious human being, and I wish those traits were as instantly contagious as the scarcity, anxiety, and self-centric ones that are easier to pick up than the common cold. I guess in a way they are – one must just keep catching the good ones. Like taking social probiotics every day. We eventually leave the Merriview Hut, confident the three of us will find a camp spot that is special and adventuresome and perfect.
We walk up the road, and pass some deer that seem to accept and reciprocate Prana’s strange communication pantomimes. We search for a place to access the nearby creek as indicated in our notes, but can’t seem to find it. Ah well, we have plenty of good Merriview water between all of us to make it through to the morning’s water source. We come upon Cat setting up tent, and invite ourselves to join her for dinner, an invitation she heartily echoes. Prana and I cook a leek and potato soup mix with lemon pepper and poach fresh eggs from Merriview. Their yolks are orange like late evening sunlight, and it’s a spectacular meal. Cat is a question asker, which I love. There is laughter and earnest talk while we eat. One question: “Who would you want to have dinner with? Anyone in the world.” We three girls each think of figures from the past, famous and familial, and Prana’s answer is, “You, Cat.” I know he is completely sincere, and this is one of the many reasons I love him.
It’s starting to get dark, so we pack up and carry on up the hill. With a full belly and contented outlook, I am looking/thinking/wishing for camp to appear- we check a few spots that look vaguely passable, but each is too gravelly for stakes or too boggy to for the tent floor.
Suddenly we find a spot in the trees that has been cleared out, almost like a cavern in the thickly interlaced branches, and it just fit both tents. It is perfect! As we start pitching, a More-pork owl careens into the cavern and perches, stares at us, and blinks its huge, luminous eyes. It flits back and forth, almost brushing our heads, supervising as we pound stakes and tighten guy lines, and when we are fully settled in, it blinks its approval and silently wings away.
The doorways for our two tents are overlapping, and so we are able to visit and giggle while wrapped in our sleeping bags. I am so grateful for my wonderful friends, and the magic of this trail.