The Map Is Not the Territory

Picture of beach.

A good place for a swim?

Missed the earlier sections? Here they are:
[Day 1] [Day 2]

Jan 3, 2015
Day 170
Great Ocean Walk, Day 3

For breakfast, I reheated yesterday's pasta dinner on my camp stove. I had been burning a lot of calories on this walk, but the extreme heat had taken away my appetite. I had hoped to finish my dinner this morning, but after forcing down a few bites, I felt ready to vomit. Half of the meal remained uneaten.

The good news was that I wouldn't have to walk nearly as far as the previous two days – I had already done five of the Great Ocean Walk's eight sections. For my final three days, I only had to walk one section per day. The bad news was that the heatwave showed no sign of abating. I briefly considered staying put for the day, but quickly abandoned the idea. According to the map posted at the campground's shelter, the next section was one of the easiest. I figured I could make it to the next campground by noon, and avoid walking during the hottest part of the day.

I took down my tent and quickly packed my stuff (one advantage of carrying last night's dinner: no dish-washing). Just like the previous morning, I gulped as much water as I could handle, then I loaded my Nalgene and Camelback. Carrying four liters of water would weigh me down, but I figured it would become vital later in the day. The Melbourne hikers were just starting to eat breakfast as I hoisted my backpack onto my back. I said goodbye to them and started walking at about 7:00 a.m. It was already over 30 degrees (86 F); I was sweating before I even left the campground.

Right away, I got a good view of what was in store for me. The trail wrapped around the east side of a hill with few trees, leaving it totally exposed to the early morning sun. The grass was a sickly yellow; the dirt trail felt like concrete under my hiking boots. A couple of wallabies bounded nearby as I walked; their light tan fur blended almost seamlessly with the arid vegetation.

About an hour into my walk, I plopped onto the trail, protected by a rare tree's shadow. I had been walking uphill the whole time, and there was no end in sight. I gulped my water and realized that I might need five or six liters to avoid another episode of severe dehydration. The Melbourne hikers caught up with me while I rested. They said “hi” and continued up the hill, on a mission. When they were out of my view, my mental challenge increased tenfold. As far as I knew, there were no other hikers on this section. If the heat knocked me out, it could be a day before anyone would find me. Given my limited supply of water, would I even last that long?

Finally, about two hours into my walk, I reached the top of the hill. The trail ahead mercifully led into a forest with western exposure. An hour later I was all the way back at the beach, and yet another “Decision Point.” My choice was difficult: the beach route was a bit shorter than the inland trail, and it would probably be breezy. But there would be little shade on the beach, and my boots would sink into the sand with each step. I still chose to walk along the shore, hopeful that I could find a calm pool to swim in.

Just like the previous two days, the tide was abnormally low. Waves crashed violently into the rocky shore and sprayed mist through the air. This did nothing to keep me cool, and I continued to gulp my precious water. Eventually I crossed a trail with access to a gravel road. A handful of people were surfing, and probably loving the high swell. I continued walking. This may have been a surfer's paradise, but I was certain that if I went swimming here, I would quickly be swept out to sea, or dragged under by the ferocious current.

Finally, I found a pool, protected from the open ocean. As a bonus, the seaside cliffs provided me with a bit of precious shade. I went for a swim and immediately felt the cold water's relief. Afterward, I took a long rest. But I knew I couldn't stay here all day – I was down to my last liter of water, and I was constantly craving more. Reluctantly, I continued.

I stumbled into Ryan's Den campground at 1:30 p.m. To my surprise, the Melbourne hikers were still there. They informed me that they had arrived at noon, and they were waiting until the worst heat of the day had passed. However, because they still had an entire section left to walk, they couldn't afford to relax much longer. And the temperature was still north of 40 degrees (104 F).

I was happy to be done for the day. Contrary the map's description, this was the hardest section of the trek, by far. I was desiccated, and worried about heat stroke. As soon as I arrived, I set my backpack down and gulped as much water as my body could handle. Then I lay on a picnic bench in the shelter's shade and fell asleep.

I felt a bit better when I woke, but my appetite was still gone. Instead of attempting to eat my standard lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I cooked a soup on my camp stove, hopeful that the high sodium content would aid my hydration.

At about 3:00, the Melbourne hikers took off again, looking refreshed and ready to hike another 15 K's. Then, without warning, dark clouds rolled in. Within minutes, it was pouring, and the temperature had dropped ten degrees. On top of that, my sodium injection kicked in, and I felt some of my energy return. I sat under the shelter, listening to the rumble of water all around me, thinking about the Melbourne hikers who were caught in this storm. Would they be happy to walk in the rain?

Just as the rain was dying down, two soaking wet hikers came into the shelter. They introduced themselves as Leon and Renee. Like almost everyone else I had met on the Great Ocean Walk, they were from Melbourne. This was their sixth day on the trail, and they planned to hike for two more. I started to think I was going about this trek all wrong, rushing through it in five days. Especially given today's and yesterday's torrid heat. But there wasn't anything I could do about it now. My final two days promised to be much cooler, and easier.

Now that the rain had stopped, I walked around the campground. It was in an amazing location, overlooking the beach from far above. It wasn't near any roads, so it was almost empty. Unfortunately, I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to appreciate it. I ate a bit more of my previous dinner and threw out the rest. I was in bed at 8.

Continue to Day 4

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