Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but 'fleeting presence' can yank the organ from your thoracic cage.
Over the past fortnight, I’d grown used to living life outside of my head. Day 42’s community event, Day 45’s camping comrades, Day 50’s social butterflying and, most recently, Day 52’s chatty stroll to Nangkita are a few examples of how sociable my solo hike had become. Unfortunately, the remainder of the path to Cape Jervis would again revert to isolation; I would miss the constant companionship. However, I had one final Heysen Trail hiking buddy to get me through Day 53.
Heysen Trail Diary – Day 53
Not for the first time on the trail, I discovered I’d fluffed my daily walking distance. Instead of the 25-odd kilometre stretch I’d scribbled in my notes, I had a disheartening 33-kilometre haul to navigate. Honestly, how have I made it this far? I left the warming company of my generous Nangkita hosts and set off into the chilly overcast conditions. With only a singular, largely uninteresting track leading me past Mt Compass and into the outlying grazing district, it was glaringly obvious that I was once again alone.
The morning’s typically level surface jolted jarringly upward as I passed a handful of farming estates. I paused introspectively at the foot of the first hill—a dull route of arduous dusty road was all I needed. Deep breaths, Josh. Deep breaths.
Through the coarse wind, I heard advancing pitapat footsteps behind me. I spun around to see a carefree (and leash-free) kelpie pup happily trotting up the road. He then brushed in front of me, stopped someway down the track and looked back as if to ask ‘you coming?’ From there, the path didn’t seem as daunting or lonesome.
We battled the incline side-by-side, constantly checking to see how the other fared in the inhospitable breeze. At the top of the hill, where the trail jumped a fence and proceeded into a field, we rested and enjoyed our tuna lunch. As eager as he was to continue the journey, I knew I couldn’t take him. I finished my fish, leapt the fence and scurried into the distant hills before he could find a hole under the wire.
The scenery included an abundance of instantly recognisable greenery, livestock and paddocks. These familiar farms and fences had featured heavily over the past four and a half weeks and my mind quickly slipped into daydream mode. So, when the contrasting spectacle of a native-dense Yulte Conservation Park appeared on the horizon, my brain stirred to the much-needed visual shake-up.
The Yulte Conservation Park vegetation contains mostly low woodland comprised of Pink Gum, Cup Gum, Messmate Stringybark and Brown Stringybark over Common Fringe-myrtle, Common Oak-bush and Beaked Hakea.
The challenging terrain exchanged green rolling hills and grassy tracks for flourishing gullies and steepling climbs. Colourful wildflowers scattered themselves along the path and the endemic gums blossomed on the hillsides. Suddenly, there was any colour but green to illuminate my day—until the emerald hues came storming back into vogue at the park’s panoptic lookout.
The sun had begun to set once I arrived back on level farmland. Much like the rest of the day, the cool dusk air flared the arm hair beneath my fleece. Despite my early start, I would only reach Heysen’s Rest well after dark.
It was pitch black by the time I arrived at my charming bed and breakfast for the night. The owner Jane had discovered my ungainly silhouette a few hundred metres from the accommodation and offered to drive me the rest of the way. Such a lovely heartfelt gesture, but I had walked every inch of the trail without exclusion, I wasn’t going to skip steps now.
I bundled my bag into the squeaky clean room, shovelled down my dinner and quickly slid between the soft sheets. I was more than ready for bed after another ticking another 33 kilometres off the list. Thankfully, I had a significantly shorter 13.6 kilometres to complete on Day 54.
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Trail distance covered
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Cool damp winters with light to heavy showers and some days of rain. The coastal section is prone to fog and misty rain but is warmer than the inland ranges during winter. The ranges are wetter and cooler during winter but are warmer during autumn and spring. Summers are warm to hot and relatively dry.
A few steepling hills amongst flat tracks and straight roads.