Australia, Beach & Coastal Walking
Comments 16

A Sunset Swim in Pelican Country

I just had a helluva week of walking and photography, one of my best ever.

Just about every morning and evening last week I managed a beautiful, productive and fulfilling excursion to one of three or four favourite local rambling spots.

First there were two…

Each day I did 6-10 miles, sometimes more. Some was familiar territory: the Boondall Wetlands, Cabbage Tree Creek, the Pine Rivers mouth. Some was new, like my first real chance to take pictures in thick pre-dawn fog over the waterfront, and my first proper (though short) missions down the mangrovey south bank of the Pine.

But even the old places shone. I managed several really nice images, tried lots of variations, saw them in new conditions, or enjoyed those happy collisions with chance that make photography so unpredictable and fun.

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..then there were three.

Unfortunately I got home each night pretty beat (often my day had started at 3:30 or so, and I’m trying to resist the urge to nap), and other than uploading the pictures, got little else done — certainly no danged blog posts.

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So tonight I’m employing a strategy I haven’t used in a while: edit a day’s pictures and put ’em up straight away. And I now present that rarity on TGTW, a post about something that only happened yesterday, rather than weeks or more back, my usual modus operandi.

I walked about 15 miles yesterday, counting my morning walk up for a coffee and a few pages of my book, and I did it all in $15 K-Mart imitation Chuck Taylors.

Let’s call it an experiment. My favourite shoes in a long while, some low-end New Balances, are about to fall apart after 500 miles or more of concrete. They’d sold out of them in U.S. 13 at the Melbourne online place I buy from, so I took a gamble on the same size in Adidas, a brand I’ve never tried.

They were about two inches too long and looked like an NBA champ could wear them on court.

I returned them, a $17 mistake (postage), and while I wait for my faves in my size, I decided to test the idea that expensive shoes are a waste of money.

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The Houghton Highway (the Smout’s on the other side) in all its concrete glory.

Before I quit Facebook a year ago, there was this annoying idiot on there, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking motorcyclist and failed rock’n’roller and one of those guys who knows everything about everything. You know the type.

He messaged me once (as they say) recommending this cheap leather work boot usually bought in army disposal stores for my hiking activities. I told him I didn’t walk in boots except in the northern Winter, and he then proclaimed that Converse All-Stars, that classic fashion necessity of urban rockers and their fans, would make fine hiking footwear.

Hey, I’m a Ramones fan from way back, but I replied that the issues of durability, lack of tread, and a complete absence of ergonomic support would negate their undeniable cool and edgy appearance.

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A sodden fluffy cow, one of my best beachcombing finds in a while.

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Least I could do was offer a dry perch.

He announced tersely that they’d worked fine for him on his Vietnam holiday and that just because I didn’t like them didn’t mean they wouldn’t work for someone else.

It was a pleasure to un-friend him. Really, I only stayed on Facebook as long as I did for the secret pleasure of un-friending annoying people.

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A river mangrove sapling. The larger ones are greys.

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I thought about him once or twice, which was unpleasant, as I set off, pack stuffed with laptop and camera gear, down the waterfront in my new blue Chinese-made accessories, slightly enhanced with cheap inserts. I’d gone to the library “to finish a blog post” but had ended up tooling around with pictures as it’s easier.

My objective was making the far side of the Redcliffe Bridge by sunset, a goal I’d failed to pull off all week.

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You might remember that bridge, the Ted Smout, from this post about mud and pelicans. It’s five miles or so from home just to this side of the bridge, and the bridge itself is one and a quarter miles long.

By the time I got there, fortified with an apple slice and a passionfruit tart (trying to eat more fruit), my soles already throbbed from all that pavement-kissing.

The slog across the bridge was monotonous as always, and I was forced to stare at the ground and count 100 cracks before looking ahead, an old trick for passing the time on urban treks.

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On the far side, I cut through Clontarf to a little boat ramp I know — and immediately had to switch into photographer mode as two pelicans cruised over, departed, and returned with a friend.

I love pelicans — who doesn’t — but they’re smart and wary. I always try to trick them by tossing a shell or rock in the water, but they’re never fooled for long, and I’ve now earned a reputation among the Northside pelican community for being something of an asshole.

Anyway, they cruised to and fro and finally after one last fro and with a half-hour till sundown I tied my sub-Chucks to my pack, put on my new K-Mart “aqua socks” (reef shoes) — another experiment, as I spend a lot of quality time communing with mud, rocks and sharp shells — and waded into the mangroves.

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It was all great. I was in my element, the element being that intriguing amalgam of water and earth: mud. Or wet sand. Or something in between that was suspiciously mud-like.

My shoes worked pretty well, though particularly tenacious mud will suck them right off your feet.

But it was wonderful as I ran out of light to cut straight through knee-deep water back to the ramp without fear of razor shell, stonefish or stingray. That’s when I really noticed the pipe.

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Before the pipe, a nice view of the bridge.

A relic from the era of brutalist public works, it poked obnoxiously out over the water. I’d had trouble with the tripod feet sinking into the mud, murder for a long exposure, and this thing at least looked solid.

I clambered up, straddled the pipe, got the tripod secured, and fired off a few long exposures of the increasingly beautiful (as darkness clothed it) bridge. Then, climbing down, I took a big, dumb, blind step down into the dark water.

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Mangrove seedlings. The pipe is visible on the left just below the bridge.

My foot met a rock — and slipped back into a hole. I tottered backwards with a tremendous splash full-length into knee-deep water, my backpack beneath me and my second camera with the expensive lens dangling at my front.

In tumbles like that the drill is always: 1) Save your camera if possible; 2) Save yourself if possible; and 3) Check if anybody noticed. Dragging myself out, slicing my finger open on a rock, I frantically wiped water from the camera. It seemed okay but I was bleeding heroically and had stupidly left the first-aid kit at home to make space.

At least I had my laptop in a dry-sack, so I did something right. Also, miraculously, the locals in the nearby houses seemed to have missed some truly inspirational comedy.

But need I add that most of the fun had gone? That I was soaked, bleeding, possibly nursing an expensive piece of scrap plastic, glass and metal, and feeling like a complete idiot? On the plus side, I now had to walk about six miles in the dark.

In K-Mart sneakers.

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My last shot before touchdown. You judge if it was worth the trauma.

It was a glum and sole-numbing trudge home, my finger tightly wrapped in a camera cloth. Sometimes I’d reflect, Damn, Goat, this is the first time in ages you’ve felt this down. And then I’d remember why, and figure I owed myself some forgiveness.

And some decent footwear.

And some peanut-butter ice-cream (trying to eat more protein).

*          *          *          *          *

The camera survived fine, my finger is still attached and I was happy with the results. Also, I learned that street cred and big miles on pavement are unhappy bedfellows.

And never underestimate the healing power of peanut-butter ice-cream.

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A last view downriver.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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16 Comments

  1. Gorgeous pictures as always. Personally I’m going for the eco-friendly lucky dip that is whatever walking shoes I can find in the local op shop. Usually only last a season or two, but I have found some crackers, including a pair of RM Williams boots worth a few hundred bucks, for less than $10! Not to be worn in the mangroves, though.

    • Yeah, for many years of my life op shops were my principle source of fashion necessities! These days it’s usually outdoor stores, but I often can’t resist a browse when passing a Lifeline or Vinnies.

      Just yesterday I scored another pair of reef shoes for $5 at an op shop not far from here!

  2. Excellent pics again. Love the fluffy cow! I’m pleased to hear that you’ve had one of your best ever weeks of walking and photographing and you’re being kind to yourself.
    I like your methods for adding extra protein and fruit in your diet. 😉
    I’ve got terrible feet and need orthotics and good quality shoes. Bad genes. I know a lot of people who have no problems with cheap shoes though. Lucky people!
    Thoroughly enjoyed the post. Keep them coming!

    • Ta, Jane. Photography is one passion that’s never faded. In fact I’m currently in the grip of a very tenacious bout.

      The cheap shoes were a mistake. There has to be a middle ground — I go through two or three pairs a year from all the walking on hard surfaces. Going into town today to see what I can find…

  3. Ken says

    Recently managed to roll over a rock while crossing a creek, and managed to remain upright. Good since I had $2000 worth of camera gear in bag at hip level. So in future it goes in the dry bag and into the pack.

    I don’t understand people that just can’t accept that I reserve the right to spend my money on what I want. Bushwalkers can be the worst. A guy with a $50,000 car will tell you how you’ve wasted money on a $150 pair of shoes.

    • Agreed, extra money spent on quality equipment or clothing is seldom wasted. I remind myself of that as I shudder thinking of my latest camera purchase!

      Def be buying another dry sack when I check out the outdoor shops today!

  4. johnberk says

    Beautiful pictures, they remind me my own favorite places for hiking. I love the solitude coming from them. You are totally right about the gear, I doubt someone with his senses would hike in casual shoes. It is not only unhealthy, but sometimes even dangerous. What surprised me recently – people who hiked without any shoes at all. But it makes sense, when you realize that this was the principal way our species did this in the last couple of million years.

    • Thanks for the great comment, John. That looks like a beautiful spot. When I hiked the A.T. I heard about this legendary (well, almost) pair of hikers called the Barefoot Sisters who were doing it sans footwear. I like to walk for 20 mins or so each week barefoot on the road or footpath just to keep my feet tough, but one sharp pebble and it all goes to hell…

  5. “And never underestimate the healing power of peanut-butter ice-cream.”

    And those pelican and mangrovey photos in your transcendent mode.

    • I’m increasingly drawn to birds as I age, Am! As in talking to them, feeding them and just enjoying watching them interact. Yesterday I had 12 magpies surrounding me and several, even the young, would take food straight out of my hand. I can see myself in 20 years sitting on a bench with a bag of bird seed, or a loaf of bread for the ducks. Actually, make that two years.

  6. Glad you and camera are ok. Cool to see these shots of your area as they have reminded me of my trip to Queensland back in ’89. I was intrigued by the mangroves, although didn’t make any pictures of them as it didn’t stop raining (my mistake for going in December).

    • I’m thinking of heading to the wetlands this afternoon as a reward for getting a post done. It’s a bit overcast and rainy, though as I’ll be knee-deep in mud anyway, that shouldn’t really deter me!

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