Interview with Angela Smallacombe – ABC Radio
Radio interview on North and West SA ABC Radio, August 2018.
Angela: Good Morning, Josh.
Josh: Hello Angela. Thanks for having me on.
A: Thanks for having a chat. Now, who are you? What are you doing?
J: So, you’ve caught me on Day 17 of 60. I’m walking the Heysen Trail all the way from the mid-North at Parachilna Gorge down to the south in Cape Jervis. So, yeah. That’s what I’m up to at this present point.
A: 60 days! Are you on track?
J: So, there’s been a couple of little hiccups. One of which involved me getting a little lost on the trail, and that’s set me back. Thanks to that, I’ve had to catch up about half a day along a pretty flat stretch of road, of which there are not a great deal through the Flinders Ranges. But, pretty much on track to get there in the 60 days. I’m just having a rest day at the moment in Melrose, which is very much needed. Everything has been going pretty much to plan.
A: Where did you get lost?
J: It was up Jervis Hill, just next to Hawker. There’s a beautiful, beautiful view up there and I must have been a little distracted and instead of going along the trail on one of the ridges, I went down the wrong ridge and had to backtrack a fair way to find it. By the time I’d done that, I’d lost a few hours, so, I had to make camp a little early.
A: What’s going through your head when you realise that you’re essentially lost for a little bit?
J: A slight moment of panic. I don’t know? I guess instincts kick in a little bit? So, I had to make sure I knew where I was, where I had to be, and then, kind of, played it back from there. So, instead of going through to the next campsite, I had to pull one a bit earlier in the night, which was fine, but it meant the next day was about 35 kilometres instead of 17 or 18 like it was supposed to be. The entire trail is about 1200 kilometres, so, I’m averaging about 20 kilometres a day. So, yeah. A 35-kilometre day can get a little bit hectic.
A: What do you have to do to plan for a trek like this?
J: It’s been a few months in the making, obviously with training and preparation. But setting out an itinerary gives me, more or less, an idea of how long it will take me to get from A to B to C… then all the way through to Z. That involves doing box drops as well. So, just before I started the trail I was filling up boxes with oatmeal, and good old Barossa mettwurst, and little tuna packets – basically, things that keep me going from town to town to town. So, I’m in Melrose at the moment and I’ve picked up my box from the Mt Remarkable Hotel – they’ve been lovely and set me up for a couple of nights. So, yeah, the preparation has been long, but, very happy now I’m on the trail and not having to prepare for it.
A: Yeah, I was going to ask what it takes to be able to eat on the run as well. So, you’re dropping boxes wherever you’re going. What’s in the box?
J: Basically, it’s just food. Every breakfast I have while I’m on the trail, and not in the cities or towns, is oatmeal. Then I’ve got little packets of scroggin, or trail mix, that are filled with all the deliciousness that gets me through the day. Then dehydrated meals, which are as unappealing as they sound. But they’re packed with all the carbohydrates, proteins and all the things I need to get me through the day.
A: Are there any boxes that you’ve gone ‘I’m just going to drop an extra chocolate bar, or something, in there?’ Something to look forward to?
J: Yeah, there’s ANZAC biscuits. They’re, I guess, my little treat… as plain as that sounds. They have a really long life and don’t produce much rubbish after eating it. Obviously, everything I take in, I need to take out. So, unfortunately, I have to wait until I get to the towns to get my chocolate bar fix because I prefer not to carry around mounds of rubbish with me from point to point to point.
A: So, Melrose has just had a big decrease in the amount of chocolate bars available then?
J: I’ve cleaned them out. You’ll have to go up the road to Wilmington or Spalding if you want to get chocolate bars.
A: So, my guest on ABC Radio is Josh West, he’s Trekking West if you want to follow him on Facebook or Instagram, which is where I found you. The thing that caught my eye was all the beautiful photos that you were taking of our region and it just got me thinking ‘I’m very jealous’ first of all. But you’re doing a great job of promoting the region to your wider audience around Australia and internationally. Why document it all like that?
J: A part of the reason I’m doing this is I’m raising money and awareness for the Black Dog Institute. So, aiming to raise a lot of money for them and raise awareness for mental health issues. So, a great way of doing that is to show the events that I’m going through. So, as well as those photos (and thank you for the compliment) on Instagram, I’m also doing daily diaries on Facebook that show, on top of the beautiful scenery, my mental state from day to day to day. I guess it’s a little glimpse of what I go through. But, it’s obviously nothing compared to the battles that people with mental health issues go through every day. So there’s a lot of promotion and awareness that go along with those images, that have a lot deeper meaning.
A: So, why the Black Dog Institute?
J: Before I started this trail, I was an office worker in Adelaide and led a very comfortable 9 to 5 existence, and felt like I was plodding along, a little. I got to that point that a lot of people come to, I didn’t necessarily get to the point that I had a breakdown, but I just knew that I needed a change. A lot of people go through that, but don’t necessarily have the opportunity to make that change. So, the mental health issues that I was able to come out the other side of have been life-changing. Retrospectively, the journey that I’m on at the moment, from north to south, is just a little snapshot of what I’ve been through in the last little while and I’m more than happy to talk about it and raise awareness for mental health issues.
A: So, do you feel like you’re growing as a person as you do this type of trek?
J: Yes, the epiphanies are endless at the moment. The physical struggles are also endless, but this rest day has helped a lot. There’s been a whole heap of little doors opening in my head about what I can do, what I should do next… there’s obviously no concrete answers just at the moment. But, there are still 43 days worth of pondering until I get to that point.
A: And nobody to bounce off of.
J: Yeah, that’s right. The trees don’t offer that much of a response.
A: The kookaburras might?
J: Nah, the kookaburras are just laughing at me walking around with a 20-kilogram pack of tricks on my back. So, yeah. Their laughter isn’t appreciated, I’ll give you the drum.
A: Josh, when you’re out doing your trek, what are you thinking about? What goes through your mind?
J: Surprisingly, it fluctuates. I’ve had a few songs that have been stuck in my head and have been painful to get out – I dare not mention because they’ll probably pop up back in there again. But there are a few extra things, like, there’s an event I’m planning from Greenock to Tanunda. So, a little community walk and all money raised on that day will go to the Black Dog Institute. So, there’s a bit of event planning going on in there. Yeah, there’s a lot of brain fog to be perfectly honest because you’re just so exhausted a lot of the time trying to get from day to day. But then there are little things like getting lost along the trail that makes things interesting.
A: So, you can’t let your mind wander too far because you do need to concentrate on where you’re going.
J: Exactly. That does kind of help. But there is quite a bit of day-to-day thinking. I guess, there’s a little bit of ‘survival mode’ because if you do get terribly lost or you do muck up your rations and you eat all your ANZAC biscuits too early then you’re going to be in a little bit of trouble down the track. So, there’s constant planning, there’s constant thinking about day-to-day struggles that you need to go through. But other than that there’s thinking about life. There’s thinking about the impact I’m trying to leave on others. There’s the event obviously. There’s a whole heap of everything and nothing that goes on in my head throughout the course of the day.
A: Josh West is my guest on ABC radio across South Australia. He’s trekking from north to south on the Heysen Trail, and he joins me now from Melrose where he’s having a well-deserved rest day. Josh, when you’re out and about trekking do you ever feel like you’re vulnerable out there, alone?
J: It’s interesting. I haven’t got to that point yet. Obviously, there’s been days where I haven’t seen people and I haven’t had phone reception, so, I guess that the definition of solitude because there is no contact with the outside world. But, all in all, the support that I’ve had – through conversations with people that I have hadn’t talked to in a long time or people that I’ve never even met – have been massive. The support and the words of kindness that have come from every different angle have been huge. So, I guess that’s a pretty good analogy for life. If you do need support, go and find it, go and ask for it, because it is definitely there. The support that I’ve had, even in my solitude has been enormous. So, it’ll be interesting over the next 42 days whether or not that mindset changes. But, at the moment there’s a lot of warm fuzzies being sent my way.
A: That’s a nice way to look at it. At the moment you’re 17 days into your trek and heading all the way down to Jervis Bay, down the very southern tip of the peninsula. So, take us back out to the trail now. Take us on one on one of the walks. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? Who are you encountering?
J: It’s been really interesting because according to the Friends of the Heysen Trail, who maintain and take care of the trail, at any given point they estimate about 200-300 people on the trail. So, obviously, the trail is 1,200 kilometres, so they’re spread out quite a way. But, in the first 17 days, I’ve only met 3 girls doing a weekender over Jervis Hill. So, otherwise, I’ve camped by myself, walked by myself most of the time. So, I’m still waiting for someone to bump into and walk with me. But the days are relatively long as well because I am stopping quite often because in that 20-kilogram bag of all sorts I have a drone which I’m taking with me, I’ve got a DSLR camera which I’m taking with me, I’ve got a GoPro. So, there’s a lot of stopping and shooting. And thanks to National Parks South Australia I have licensing and permission to shoot photos and drone footage of the beautiful National Parks along the trail. So, I’m getting some unbelievable shots and I’m very lucky to have that little bit of extra time every day to take those snaps.
A: It sounds like you’re doing a great job of getting through this amazing trek and once in a lifetime experience. Josh, thank you so much for joining us today and taking us through what it takes to trek the Heysen Trail from north to south. Hopefully, we’ll catch up with you a little later on in your trek
J: No worries Angela. Thanks for having me on.