onze kilometres à pied

Today my legs are almost as stiff and sore as when I climbed Mount Hallasan in Jeju Island, so I can’t imagine how much pain is currently afflicting all the teams who walked the full 100km of the Oxfam Trailwalker. We did 11.something km from checkpoint 4 (Olinda) to checkpoint 5 (Ferntree Gully). These turned out to mostly be trails familiar to me from training in the Dandenongs late in 2013, but it was still nice to revisit them under such altruistic conditions.

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James and I arrived early as my sweet Natalie dropped us off (and then later picked us up) saving us the hassle of organising transport between the two checkpoints. James was keen to walk down to Olinda once we had checked in, but I was not making the mistake of adding ANY extra kilometres (“It’s only 1km there!” he tried to fool me, I am not falling for that trick). So I lay in the sunshine and James kindly kept the sun out of my eyes.

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We watched other volunteers on the clinic side pack up and head home. It’s quite tough that the slowest teams who have the hardest time of it (and arguably require the most TLC) miss out on all the fun at the checkpoints but also on all the support. Then the rest of our sweep team arrived, and we waited for the very last hiking team to check in so we could begin sweeping up behind them. The last team of hikers was obviously in quite bad shape when they hit the checkpoint with only minutes to spare before disqualification, but they kept up a good pace for most of the time we were on the trail.

There were 5 sweeps, and only one grabby stick (labelled a “nipper”, but I like grabby stick better), however I found nobody else challenged my ongoing possession of it and therefore I got to carry it for all 11.42km.

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James (well-camouflaged) was the official carrier of the markers.

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I don’t know how much he enjoyed being lumbered with markers, however I *loved* my grabby stick. I grabby-sticked every wrapper, every morsel of paper and every wad of chewing-gum I could spy — even when it would have been quicker to bend down and pick it up by hand like the others. This is obviously my dream hobby. I fell behind several times due to my passionate, borderline obsessive grabby-sticking. I’m sure everyone else appreciated it.

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On our walk we saw not one, but two kookaburras, which felt quite special. One of the kookaburras was watching us as we sat down for lunch, not remotely perturbed by our presence, and then eventually swooped and grabbed a mouse-lunch for himself, which he also consumed in front of us.

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I also saw some form of parrot — whenever I see a brightly coloured bird here in Australia, and dare to suggest it is a lorikeet, parakeet, rosella or whatever, an Australian will immediately contradict me and say it is something else. It was bright red (well its belly was bright red, as they were directly above me):

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Towards the end we caught up with the long-suffering last team. At first we lurked politely just out of sight, as it’s important they don’t feel we are pushing them. At one point we stopped just downwind from a patch of controlled burn, and the late afternoon sunlight falling through the trees was terribly poetic.

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Eventually we closed in on the hikers and sat down with them for a chat and to try and cheer them up. I felt so sorry for one of them in particular as she was obviously in agony long before checkpoint 4, and by this stage was hobbling on what must have felt like raw stumps! I remembered very clearly the pain I had gone through when I was walking home from Spain, and when she asked us if we had taken precautions for our feet, I remembered how all you can think about is your feet, it’s as if nothing else exists. La tête dans les pieds. Anyway the three of them eventually dragged themselves off and we pushed on again, only a few kilometres from the end.

I found the sight of the checkpoint quite pleasant as I knew Nat and Tim had roast beef and potatoes waiting for me, but I felt so heartbroken hearing the team (who I had begun to think of as my team) was disqualified from going any further. The poor girls were all crying and I got a bit tearful too… to have got so far (70km, in around 30 hours with one hour of sleep) only to be disqualified seemed so unfair.

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I didn’t let that put me off my dinner though. Nom.

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