Courage to Face Both Joy and Fear

This is a personal share of one of my hiking adventures. I usually come out of these adventures with a greater sense of knowing what’s truly worth in my life.

When I started hiking, I didn’t really undergo physical training. But I knew that my health was in pretty good shape. I had a regular yoga practice coupled with my daily meditations. At the same time, I loved walking and walking I can do.

It didn’t feel like such a big leap vis-a-vis the beautiful experience I knew that awaited me.

Day 1: One Foot in Front of Another

I entered the trail bashed and beaten by how my 2016 turned out. I exited the trail a warrior woman.

I present myself as authentically as I know to be, whether it be in writing, in voice, in person, in association. I may have more depth and courage in some areas, while shyness and reserve in others. I don’t pretend to be who I am not but I also don’t let myself be tied down by what I should be before I do something.

It’s simply with this outlook and knowing within myself that I was ready for more when I said “Yes” to my friend when she asked if I would like to do a 3-day/2-night hike at Wilsons Promontory National Park, after having only started hiking a few months before that. We completed this mentioned hike before New Year 2017.

We did the East Prom Circuit, whereby we went from Telegraph Saddle Car Park to Little Waterloo Bay (11.9km over Easy trail) on the first day, Little Waterloo Bay to Refuge Cove to Sealers Cove (13.4m over Hard then Moderate then Easy trail) on the second day, and Sealers Cove back to Telegraph Saddle Car Park (10.2km over Moderate trail) on the third day. Before then, both of us have only done overnight hikes and the bookends of this circuit but not the one on the second day. We were in for a big surprise we could not have anticipated.

We knew that packing enough food, water, clothing plus our individual shelter (read: tent, mattress and sleeping bag) was going to be a challenge, let alone food that will last for three days AND the weight these were all going to add up to to carry on our backs. If that weren’t enough, we learned a few days beforehand that we were up against rain, thunderstorm, and summer humidity during the three days. We were in for a BIGGER adventure it seems. I was simply glad I had such a positive hiking buddy who always stated that we could do it, as simple as that.

The trail from Telegraph Saddle Car Park to Little Waterloo Bay is called an Easy trail since it is mostly downhill and flat. It leads down from Telegraph Saddle to Telegraph Junction and then we veer off to the Waterlooo Bay trail. The part at the bottom of Telegraph Saddle and the way to Telegraph Junction is what I call the heart of the southern part of the prom. When we first hiked past this part ten months before, I totally felt like I was in the middle of nowhere and it was strikingly beautiful. There was a serenity to it that was contagious.

When we got on the trail on our first day, the weather was still dry but it was not long before we got a misty summer rain which started to get heavier. Rain coats and pack covers were a must and we eventually got used to the constant wet.

It was also during the first part of the trail when we got chatting with a day hiker and tourist from UK. He was doing the Telegraph Saddle Car Park to Telegraph Junction to Oberon Bay to Norman Beach circuit (17.1 km over Easy and Moderate trail). My friend and I have done that circuit last time on the way back from Little Waterloo Bay and it was not very easy between Oberon Bay and Norman Beach. But having no heavy packs would definitely help.

And it was possibly because of that and the fact that he has to finish the circuit before the sun sets that he politely said his goodbye and went off on his own.

We kept getting patches of rain on and off until we arrived at Waterloo Bay. For once, I was grateful for the rain because it helped solidify the sandy parts of the trail that otherwise would make it a lot harder on the legs. It was also looking forward to seeing Waterloo Bay and Little Waterloo Bay again that gave me more willpower to continue with my heavy pack.

Waterloo Bay and Little Waterloo Bay are two of the most pristine beaches I have ever set foot until then. I knew it was because there were no roads that could lead to there and they can only be reached by foot. With the distance, only those who are keen on camping overnight would go there. And if you’re a hiker, you abide by the rule to…

Take only photos. Leave no trail.

The best part about pristine beaches is swimming in them. It was the biggest reward for us hikers… and it was the only way we could freshen up (there are no showers at campsite!). After an 11.9km hike, our sore muscles needed the very cool (like low 20 degrees Celsius, I think, or lower) waters of Bass Strait.

We weren’t sure what time we arrived at Lt Waterloo Bay but I remembered the sun was still pretty much high up. We took our leisure time swimming. We took our leisure time having dinner. We took our leisure time walking around the bay and taking photos, and we still had summer day light left when we decided to call it a day.

It was good that we camped a little bit further in this time, meaning away from the beach more, for two reasons. One, there weren’t as many campers in our area so its a lot quieter (read: tents don’t have any soundproofing!). Two, the crashing waves at the bay weren’t as loud. Late at night though, I heard wildlife around (must have been a wombat) but luckily, we weren’t disturbed.

At the end of that first day, all my fatigue had been washed away… replaced by this calm feeling that I was home. I truly was.

Day 2: We don’t remember days. We remember moments.

I would describe the second day of our three-day hike as like a “Perfect Storm” in my young hiking experience. In the Perfect Storm movie released in 2000, a fishing vessel heads into a thunderstorm wherein all the natural forces at play were so conducive to producing massive turbulence that it was termed “perfect” because of how beautifully in sync nature was.

What we encountered, what I physically experienced and the natural forces at play during the second day of our three-day hike all contributed to what seemed like massive perfect storm for my soul. We knew it was going to be challenging. We just didn’t know it was going to be that challenging!

We knew that the second day was going to be the longest and hardest one of all three days so we set out pretty early after 8am. We were going from Little Waterloo Bay to Refuge Cove to Sealers Cove (13.4km over Hard then Moderate then Easy trail) which was estimated to be around 5-6 hours. It took us about eight hours under alternating rain and humid conditions.

The details of the different parts of the trail that we hiked during that day are pretty hazy to me. I only remember key moments which I share here…

On that day, I was stretched to the edge of my joy.

What I would call the first part of that day would be when I was stretched to the edge of my joy. From Little Waterloo Bay, the hike inclines up to the mountain side and continues along the coast as much as possible with one pass through a secluded beach. I think that’s what the hikers call “North Waterloo.”

This first part is the best part of this trail for me. When we got high enough, we were able to see as far back as Waterloo Bay and, with coastline views, we usually had the endless view of the ocean. (If you didn’t already know, Wilsons Promontory Park is the southernmost tip of mainland Australia.) The secluded beaches were all so amazing, both the one we passed by as part of the trail and the others that we could only see from the trail.

There was only slight rain during this first part so we still relatively enjoyed a bit of sunshine. That was a relief because we were tested right at the start of the track with the track going up and down in all sorts of ways. We started to pass by rocky parts of the trail, too, where we had to actually walk on big boulders… those ones that if you slip, you’ll just cascade right down to Bass Strait!

After a long while, we eventually made it to Kersop’s Peak turnoff (where the photo on the top of this Note was taken). The view from this part of the trail was amazing! We could see all the way from Waterloo Bay at the far left and all the way to Refuge Cove at the far right (where we were headed!). It felt rewarding and unbelievable to see how far we’ve come. It was hard to reconcile the distance my eyes saw with what I knew we walked.

On that day, I was stretched to the edge of my patience.
On that day, I was stretched to the edge of my fears.

The next part of that day would be when the weather was turning on us. There were parts of the track when it kept continually pouring. Just like you have to drive carefully on wet roads, we had to be very careful on a wet trail. The big boulders on the track did not help keep my fear at bay.

It was such a conundrum to experience both fear and appreciation for beauty at the same time. I’ve since realised that the most beautiful sights are usually present through the most difficult trails. So I really could not bring myself to complain. All that was being asked of me was to be gratefully careful in my every step.

There were also parts of the track when it stopped raining and the air has turned so humid we could hardly breathe. I think my hiking buddy and I alternated in different areas when we each felt like we would faint because there was “hardly any air,” which we greatly needed especially that the track kept inclining. There was that moment when I didn’t feel like I could continue. Glad that all I needed was a bit of a break, some water and food, plus big gulps of air.

At some point, I also felt like my hiking buddy and I were so in sync that we could read each other so well. We knew when either of us needed to stop, or when we both needed to stop.

Eventually, we got rewarded again with the most wonderful sight of Refuge Cove. We tagged each other on Instagram when we first saw a photo of it posted because it was such an amazing sight that we’ve been wanting to go ever since. It was heart-poppingly good to finally see it firsthand as we approached. Its like that feeling of receiving that Christmas gift I wished for which I never thought I’d receive but I did!

There were so many memorable moments during this hike, too many too count and too many to write about. But the one I would most cherish is that point when me and Elle (my hiking buddy) were at the highest part of the track before the trail would go down to Refuge Cove and we were both so tired and struggling with the humidity that we just plopped down and lied down on a massive rock. It was just the two of us, no other hikers were coming and going. The breeze was coming in. The rain has stopped. I was just looking up and listening to the sound of the trees. And it all just started to feel OK, and more than that, really grateful for sharing an amazing experience with my friend.

Day 3: The Home Stretch

Before I start with Day 3, I should probably tell you that we breathed a huge sigh of relief when we finally arrived at Sealer’s Cove Campground. It had felt like an unending walk with the same scenery. It felt like the campground magically appeared before us. It was about time it did too as it was starting to get dark.

Unfortunately, it was also raining when we got to the campground. So Elle and I took turns setting up each other’s tents and helping each other so that it got setup very quickly and we minimise our stuff getting wet.

I myself was looking forward to a very dry night after the day that we’ve had! Because the 2nd day was a gruelling day, I didn’t have problems falling asleep this time and I probably did even before 6pm came.

Sealer’s Cove is a campground both myself and Elle are familiar with. We’ve each done a solo overnight to this beautiful place. Its also easily accessible by day-hikers. Unfortunately, that makes it less pristine than Lt Waterloo Bay. But it doesn’t take away from its beauty.

By the 3rd day, I was already itching for a good warm bath and a hot meal. The hiking food I packed was becoming less and less interesting to me by the minute. But we still did have about a 4-hour hike back to Telegraph Saddle to do.

Here’s the tricky thing with hiking… even if you’ve been to a certain place, you’ll never memorise every bit of it. There’s always something different each time you go back there.

Mother Nature is always changing. That’s why hiking never gets boring.

Every time I thought we were getting closer, every time I thought the last part of the trail was just around the bend, we’re faced with yet another long stretch.

And there we were thinking this was going to be a short day.

We were sorely mistaken.

The last one hundred to two hundred meters to Telegraph Saddle was an uphill battle, with a dry trail and pretty much on the edge of the mountain.

But its during those times when I’m just putting one foot in front of another and just wanting the experience to be over that I find myself switching my focus to looking at my surroundings as if its the first time I’ve seen them.

There’s the poet in me who’s experiencing my own verses in every flavour of the hike I find myself in. Like I’m in my own movie.

And during those moments, I experience gratitude.

Gratitude for my body.

Gratitude for my beautiful friend.

Gratitude for this jaw-dropping amazing Earth that we live in.

Gratitude for this experience.

And this is why I keep on hiking. Despite the lengths I’ve stretched my body and my mind, there still existed at the end of it a warm feeling in my heart that can never be replaced by any other experience. Its proof to my human soul that I can do it and that this feeling right here is the core truth of who I am.