I am tired, I am hungry and I am craving tea. I crawl under my shelter and boil water to meet two of my needs. My noodles are a disappointment, but they fill my stomach. The tea is divine, from the first sip to the last. I savour the taste of the last mouthful and sigh. Condensed milk in tea will be a hiking staple from now on, I suspect. I feel sleep coming on. It is still light – I have no idea of the time – and I have no need to wait for dark. I prepare my bed, stack and stow my things and read a magazine until I slumber.
The wind approaches as it did all day, roaring through the leaves and nudging me around. My shelter flaps, and in the twilight and into the night I awake to re-tie, adjust and secure it. No downpours come, only patches of rain.
In the morning when I wake, beside me on my backpack I notice a tiny spider which appears to be watching me. How long had it been watching me? The spider is unmoved as I drag myself out of my sleeping bag and into my clothes. It watches me gather my utensils to make breakfast. It watches me cook, and watches me eat. I have to gently move it aside to pack my bag – I am afraid of squashing it accidentally. I set off back down the track, passing the signs that read “warning”, “hard”, “steep”, and “experienced hikers only” and stride across Govetts Creek – near the point where it joins the Grose River – and move on upwards, with Du Faur’s Buttress towering above me.
The track snakes upwards below the sheer stone wall buttress, and I slow to a plod, gasping for air, gulping down water in between breaths. After an ascent of 450 metres, I reach the top, and I am tired. I take in the view, my gaze wandering across to the opposite ridge before plunging down into the valley, searching for my campsite of the night before.
The track skirts around large weathered sandstone boulders and trees gnarled by the winds. My feet grow heavy with tiredness, but I want to move. I am not without appreciation of my surroundings, perched on top of the mountains with nothing but the bush around me. There is nobody else on this track, but its rugged challenge presents for me the bush I love – leaves crackling underfoot, rough weathered sandstone, and the smell of the bush; all eucalyptus, and bark, and damp leaves and soil, crisp in the cold mountain air.
As I walk, the vegetation thins to small shrubs, and then to low grass on an exposed saddle. Soon I am lying on the ground. The roaring wind came from the opposite ridge, along the treetops in the valley, and threw me down. I clutch at a rock, drag myself to my feet, and then again I am back on the ground. The roar swirls around me, it is cold – I can feel it on my face. I reach around to my pack to grab my pack cover just before it blows away. My cap is already in my other hand. I check behind to see how close I am to the edge of the ridge, and am relieved to see there is no danger of my being blown off. The wind has however, brought my focus to the present. For much of the weekend the wind has been a reminder that I am in the mountains, but always in the background. Now, it is something I must bow to, and work with to overcome this dilemma at hand.
I realise my backpack is posing a problem with wind resistance so I decide to face the wind, reducing the wind resistance, and allowing me to face the wind with my strongest side. Another blast of wind comes roaring across the valley, but this time I stand firm, and am able to walk sideways until I make it to a place where part of my legs are sheltered, which is enough to allow me to walk straight ahead. I move on, over small jagged rocks and through small scrubby trees. I become aware of my breathing. I cannot hear anything more as the wind fills my ears. My breathing has become deep and laboured as I grow tired. As I start up the set of steps, I have to mutter “come on” to myself. I stop, fatigued. Another “come on” and I am able to climb five steps before I stop again. This is repeated until I am past the stairs and onto the steep meandering path again.
The track winds into the trees and ends abruptly where a dirt road begins. Any hopes of brewing a cup of tea are dashed as I find the water tank at the start of the track is empty, and its tap fitting has been ripped off. I move on down the track and encounter an alien object – a car with its occupants sitting warm inside, speeding down the road. As I move closer and closer towards Leura I encounter more cars. Soon, there is the barking of dogs, and a solitary house appears my left. More sounds of people going about their Sunday morning routines emanate from further up the road, and more houses appear. I am disappointed when the dirt road ends and I step onto the sealed road. Soon I am crossing the highway, and stepping into the Sunday morning bustle of Leura. There are locals going about their business, and visitors kitted out in the latest urban adventure fashion seeking shelter from the cold winds, and showers of rain. Somehow I feel out of place – I am neither a local nor one of the many people here to enjoy the mountains for the day.
After only a weekend in the bush I feel almost an alien here among the other people cowering from the elements, while I walk the crowded streets unperturbed by the cold wind and rain. I am out of the bush, and I momentarily consider turning around and walking back into it. It was only a few hours walk but a world away.