The Hottest Day of the Year

Picture of Craig on beach.
Missed the earlier section? Here it is:
[Day 1]

Jan 2, 2015
Day 169
Great Ocean Walk, Day 2

Craig and I got up at dawn, aware that today was going to be a stinker (stinking hot). We headed down to the beach and walked along the sandy shore while the sun came up. The trail then took us inland, past the famous Cape Otway Lighthouse. We stopped at a nearby campground for breakfast. This was to be the last place we could stock up on water all day, so we guzzled as much as our stomachs could handle. I filled my three-liter Camelback and my one-liter Nalgene bottle, but I still was worried that I wouldn't have enough for the day. It was 9:00 a.m. and the temperature was already over 30 (86 Fahrenheit).

Soon after our break, we walked along a world-class beach with turquoise water, crashing waves, golden sand, blue skies and not person in sight, one of the Great Ocean Walk's hidden gems. Seagulls circled overhead, and a baby seal sunbathed next to a rock. Luckily, the tide was low once again, so at the next Decision Point, we could forgo a steep scramble to the inland path. But beach-walking also proved difficult – our boots sank into the sand with each step, and we couldn't avoid the blazing sun.

Next we approached the Aire River. My map showed it as a wide waterway, impossible to cross near the coast without swimming. But today the “river” was more like an inland lake, with a wide stretch of sand between it and the ocean. Instead of a Decision Point, a sign simply warned us not to attempt the ocean-side route. The rising water would surely trap us, and eventually drag us under. However, given the low tide, we ignored the sign and continued along the shore. Craig even commented that he had never seen the tide so low. Maybe this had something to do with the full moon?

Picture of 24067.

One of the fabulous beaches we encountered that day.

We quickly ran out of sandy beach and were forced to scramble over sharp rocks. Craig ran ahead and soon was out of sight – this was his backyard. I was more tentative in making my way around and over the boulders. The waves were crashing next to me, and occasionally I had to wait for the swell to recede before scampering over long sections. Several times, I barely made it to the top of a waist-high rock when the water came rushing in, putting me on a temporary island. As soon as the water went back down, I ran for the next ghoul before the land flooded again. This was exhausting, and I was constantly drenched with sweat and gulping from my limited supply of drinking water. Given the extremely low tide, the difficulty of the terrain and the sign warning us not to attempt exactly what we were doing, we may have been the first people to take this section of “beach” in years.

Eventually we reconnected with the actual trail and walked the final few kilometers to Castle Cove Lookout. It was noon and the temperature had reached 41 degrees (106 F). I collapsed under a tree and finished my last few sips of water. I knew I was dehydrated and now I shook my head – my four liters of water had barely lasted half the day. Craig was faring much better than me – the extreme heat seemed to have no effect on him whatsoever. Still, even he didn't have much water left in his bottle. And the next water station was eight kilometers away, an infinite distance when you're parched. What was I going to do?

Luckily, this was the point where the Great Ocean Road was tangent to the Great Ocean Walk. Every few minutes, a car would pull up and their occupants would get out to take in the view and complain about the heat. It was also the point where Craig's walk ended (he had to work the next day). While I sat under a shady tree, recovering, Craig sweet-talked his way into a ride back to his van, and he scored me a bottle of water in the process. It was our own fault that we didn't have enough to drink – it was noon on Day Two, and we had already hiked half of the eight-day trail. The upside of this quick pace was that I could take it easy for the next few days.

I said goodbye to Craig; we planned to meet up after the trek for more shenanigans. As soon as he was gone, I fell asleep under the tree. The guy who had given me the water returned a few hours later with two more bottles. I was reinvigorated and grateful for his help. At about 4:00, the temperature finally began to drop and I decided to continue.

The precipitous cliffs made it impossible to walk along the shore, even in this freakishly low tide. I tramped, alone, through the forest for the next few hours, trying to keep my mind occupied. As is common after taking a long break, time droned on. I didn't even see any wildlife; the animals were probably doing the smart thing, waiting out the heat wave.

Finally, I stumbled into the Johanna Beach Campground about an hour before dark. At last, I had access to all of the water I could possibly drink, and I spent the rest of the day re-hydrating. Unfortunately, the next day was forecast to be even hotter than this one.

Four hikers from Melbourne were in the campsite's shelter, cooking dinner. For two of them, this was their first ever multi-day walk. Later, a father/daughter pair from Oklahoma joined us. The father was a charter airplane pilot who had flown scientists to all sorts of exotic destinations, including the South Pole. Unfortunately, my brain was so fried, it couldn't soak in his stories. At one point, one of the girls from Melbourne commented about how beautiful the snowy mountains in the background of my “Hoofer Outing Club” shirt looked. “Nope,” I said. “That's just salt from my dried sweat.”

Continue to Day 3

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