I was cursed with skinny chicken-bone legs, which presented no problems in my pre-hiking life as a sport-loathing, book-reading, tight-black-jeans-wearing, rock’n’rolling kinda fellow. Since my discovery of the pleasures to be found in mountains, forests and on long, rambling perambulations, however, I have often wished I had sturdier, more reliable limbs which would follow orders without complaint.
Alas, I have endured, in addition to the usual hiker ailments — blisters, sore shoulders, lost toenails et al — three major breakdowns which have meant the end, or temporary postponement, of treks. Compartment Syndrome, Iliotibial Band Syndrome and twin stress fractures are as nasty as they sound. And as an exercise-hater (repetitive sessions of anything kill me), I thought I’d try something different as I prepared for the PCT…
Every weekend morning lately it’s the same thing. I pull into the local cafe, dump my fully loaded pack and order a big breakfast. I tell myself I have earned it after another week of employment (which cuts against my grain), and in view of the coming hour or two of exertion, but in truth I just enjoy the ritual of coffee and newspaper and getting waited on.
It’s a Coffee Club, which means that quite often the coffee is late or the breakfast order is wrong, or the pancakes half-thawed travesties, and I swear this is my last visit — until next weekend anyway. I’ve been coming here for months and nobody’s ever asked me what I’m doing walking around the place with a fully loaded pack. Just assume I’m one of the local eccentrics, I suppose.
It’s not just any pack, either. I made the thing over a nerve-wracking and occasionally rewarding couple of weeks, and these weekend walks are testing my workmanship as well as toughening up my legs:
The caffeine kicks in. When it barks an order, I follow. It tells me to march. Yes, sir.
Down to the soft sand. The tide is out, but creeping shoreward; a few hundred metres of nice wet sand stretch to the glistening edge of Moreton Bay. Moreton Island, which buffers the bay from the mighty Pacific, leaving us with tidal flats instead of pounding surf, rims most of the horizon. I climb down the stone steps onto the sand and aim at Moreton.
For a month or more I’ve been reading about snow in the Sierra. Deep snow, a long season. Daily scans of Postholer add to the nagging worry: debates about the severity, advice about preparation and safety. Not much I can do in sweltering Brisbane to acclimatise or train. And this area is pretty damned flat. So I’ve taken to doing as much walking across the wet sand flats as I can, reasoning that it might loosely approximate the sensation of ploughing through snow. Maybe toughen the relevant muscles. Out I go.
Reaching the water, I keep going, till the water’s over my knees. Then I swing left and head north, aiming at the Redcliffe bridge, dragging a leg through the water with each step. Music in my headphones, head swimming with fantasies of the fast-approaching adventures in store. Sometimes I’m alone out here, ‘cept for an occasional walker. A few times I’ve been harassed by the same dog; a raised trekking pole has a wondrous effect on his attack instinct.
I’ve done this routine dozens of times, even in rain or at night, or both:
On weekends in good weather, it’s a zoo out here. Sharing the incoming tide with 20 or more soaring, whooshing kite-surfers, it’s every man for himself. So far, so good, however.
I’ve also had a few close encounters with stingrays. I always wear running shoes, but still… This stretch of water is Stingray Central. Low tide reveals their holes by the thousands. Sometimes I’m rewarded with a sighting as a cloud of sand appears just in front, and a brown disc glides away like a submarine frisbee.
Once, I stopped mid-step, just short of stepping onto an upraised barb. And I’ve also chased off a small shark gorging on a half-eaten ray, their favoured prey. Even knowing it was small, wading through a half-metre of water while watching a fin not far ahead is a tad unnerving.
45 minutes of so — the deeper, the longer — and I head for dry land just this side of the Redcliffe bridge. Bliss for me is a quiet weekend morning here under my favourite tree, with a good book and something from the local bakery. Yeah, I know: I just had breakfast…
The pack is performing and my legs ain’t complaining. Some reading, a quick nap in the shade, and it’s time for the return leg…
Fast-forward a couple of months and I’ll stick with the pack till Lone Pine, where I’ll replace it with something bigger that’ll hold an ice-axe — something with a sternum strap to hold it on when I fall on my arse every 10 minutes. As for “striding through snow”: most of it is hard, or crusty, and post-holing through it or sliding down it are more common concerns.
But my legs? Not a complaint. No need to replace those babies. Maybe my aqua-hiking was more than just a nice way to spend my weekends…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote