On the trail, there's nothing more frightening than your body failing.

Suffering aches and pains are part and parcel of life as a long-distance hiker. Whether it’s your legs, feet, arms, back or bum, you will inevitably pick up niggles somewhere in your body. Ailments are only a matter of time. Generally, a gentle stroll and some concentrated stretches ease the discomfort. However, when you can’t release an excruciating pain and you’re left stranded in the middle of nowhere, you start to worry. After an untroubled start to Day 26, the final stretch into Spalding turned very hairy.

Daily Diary & Questionnaire – Day 26

I had high hopes of waking up early and eclipsing the record 3 pm ‘camp arrival time’ I’d set on Day 25. I needed all the rest I could muster at the Barbed Wire Pub before setting off on a mammoth 6-day trek to Burra on Day 27. Nevertheless, my 4:30 am alarm brought a large groan and a disobedient slap of the snooze button. This act of sleepy defiance was repeated several times before I gathered enough energy to peak outside the tent’s chilly vestibule. Everything was frozen, including the insides of my water bladder that I had foolishly left out the night before.

As much as I wanted to be a ‘morning person’ and spend time replenishing my stocks in Spalding, this level of cold was too much. I zipped my sleeping bag back up to my neck and closed my eyes.

Frozen Hiking Poles at Bundaleer Weir on the Heysen Trail

An icy start to Day 26.

I woke up several hours later as the sun crept over the nearby hill and caught the outside of my tent. By the time I wrangled myself from bed, the Bundaleer landscape was shimmering gold as the sunshine sparkled off the icy dew. The low-lying campground had started melting and I could finally extract enough water from my part-thawed bladder to prepare breakfast.

Morning view at Bundaleer Weir Campsite on the Heysen Trail

The sun illuminated the Bundaleer Weir Campsite.

Grassy paddocks accompanied freshwater channels throughout the morning. The sheep, that had covered large sections of the terrain on Day 25, were traded for grazing cows. However, it was one very grouchy magpie that left the biggest impression. For several hundred metres on the trail, I guarded my life against the swooping scoundrel.

The trail soon reconnected with the Morgan – Whyalla pipeline, as I climbed up and over the hill adjacent to the Bundaleer Reservoir. Seeing this impressive piece of infrastructure again, since our first run-in on Day 23, left me with a sense of South Australian nostalgia.

Pipeline into Spalding on the Heysen Trail

The trail trekked between the Morgan – Whyalla pipelines.

The smaller pipe was painted camouflage green to protect it during WWII as Whyalla’s war important steel production relied on its survival. The larger pipe, built some 30 years later to augment supply, doesn’t go all the way to Port Augusta on its way to Whyalla, it instead crosses the sea floor, which is unique for a water pipeline.
SA Water employee John Bormann via Instagram

The final few kilometres into Spalding seemed straightforward – follow the vast Bundaleer Channel around past the Goyder Highway, along the sunken freshwater creek, through the quaint housing estate and into the pub for a schnitzel. Easy, right? Nope. 400 metres into the journey I felt a slight twinge in my butt. I stopped, leant forward and gently extended the stressed nerve. 25 metres later I experienced the same niggle, only worse. This time I unhitched my rucksack, leant over and went through my full stretching routine.

I had just passed the 450-metre mark when my butt rippled in extreme agony. I threw my bag to the ground and leapt uncontrollably in the air. What the flip? I had never felt such intense pain in a nerve before. How could I go on if I can’t walk with the weight of my bag? I dove into my rucksack in search of my Deep Heat Rub to help ease the strain. In the rush to solve my posterior problems, my bottom inadvertently mooned the highway. Not my most graceful moment. At least, if the honking horn was anything to go by, the passing commuters enjoyed the show.

After another anxious hour of false starts and stretches, the pain finally subsided enough for me to finish the journey into Spalding. I was equal parts relieved and concerned when I arrived at the Pub. My body had failed for the first time along the trail; I needed to be more cautious moving forward. I spent the next 12 hours massaging every weary muscle, tendon and nerve before my lofty trek to Whistling Trig Tank on Day 27.

All the details.

Trail distance covered

18.83km

Accommodation

Spalding Hotel (formerly the Barbed Wire Pub)

Price

$60

Climate

The region has hot dry summers with cool to cold nights and cool, wet winters. Autumn and spring can be warm and mild with occasional periods of rain or showers.

Terrain

Mainly flat paddock-lined tracks with one steep incline near Bundaleer Reservoir.