Heysen Day 16: Murray Town to SW Water Shelter (46.4km today, 378.1km on trail)

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Making the move from the Murray Town rotunda to the shelter of the caravan park camp kitchen last night was the best decision ever. I was definitely prepared to camp under the rotunda but certainly not looking forward to it. Dry in the middle the rotunda would have kept the rain at bay. The same could not be said of the ferocious winds that continued through the night. Exposed on all sides there would have been no stopping the chill.

On the flip side, the camp kitchen although only three sided and opened on another, provided a much needed barrier to the prevailing winds and protection from the rain. The bonus was electric lighting, hot water, toilets, showers and an electric kettle which meant one less cook up on the stove and saving gas.

Bruce, Isabel and myself spent the remainder of the daylight settling in to our new home and sharing walking stories over dinner. It was great to have some company. There are not that many other people out hiking the Heysen and it can be lonely. I’m used to my own company and can happily not see anyone for days but it was good to share space and converse with other people for a change.

The weather continued to blow through the night. The strong winds dying out a little but persisting. Intermittent rain could be heard on the tin roof.

More rain was expected through the morning, hopefully clearing through the day. Either rain or wind I can deal with. It’s the combination of the two that make hiking uncomfortable. I was prepared for more of both this morning, gearing up with nothing but boxers under rain pants and a single layer under my jacket. Given everything was saturated yesterday I was trying to keep as much gear dry as possible.

I snuck away from the shelter under cover of dark trying my best not to disturb Bruce and Isabel’s sleep. I was aiming to push big kilometres today and needed the early start.

Back tracking the single kilometre of so from town back to the trail things were looking good. Southerly winds were still persistent. The rain held off for now.

Yesterday’s rains had made the red clay road and trail into a thick sticky mess. Clay clung under the soles of my shoes and grew with each step, doubling the weight of my runners. Every now and again I’d have to scrap off the gunk with my walking poles. Walking off to the side in the grass meant for wet feet but it also kept the mud at bay.

It wasn’t long into todays walk that the rain picked back up again. Slowly at first. Heavier bouts coming and going before it settled in for a good chunk of the morning.

It was horrible walking. At times the winds were so ferocious it felt like I was being pushed backwards. Saturated in no time. Tough work for sure. I did my best to keep pushing through on the back country roads, occasionally loosing my shit, screaming into the wind at the universe like Lt Brown from Forrest Gump. “Is that all you’ve got you mother fucker? You call that rain? Come on you fucker, bring it on”.

The hardest part was the exposure along the back country roads. Very few trees and nothing to shelter behind to take any breaks. And you need to take breaks occasionally. Even where there were trees, branches were bent sideways and if the fresh debris on the ground was anything to go by the trees did not mean safe haven.

The first 15km for the day were treacherous. By the time I’d hit the pines the rain had backed off, the wind still blowing through and enough to have dried my outer layers.

Another batch of sheep encountered through the pines with lots of new baby lambs, most sitting on the ground seeking shelter behind fallen logs or low points out of the wind, annoyed by me walking past as it meant leaving their cover. A few dead lambs were found along the way, the weather over the last couple of days obviously too much. And a lonesome, motherless lamb all on it own, bleating in the middle of the path to no response. It ran to my legs as I approached and continued walking with me for several hundred metres, looking for a new parent. I stopped for a quick break encouraging it to join a group of other sheep as short distance away.

The trail all day followed back country roads and fire trails, with the exception of a around one kilometre of purpose built single track. I was not loving life and for the first time not really enjoying myself. This feeling continued to build and build through the day.

I wasn’t really sure where I was headed to today. I told myself that if the next camp site, the Go-Cart Track Shelter, was sheltered from the wind, I’d stop there for the day, making for a 27km day. But on arrival at midday I found the site placed on a high knob, completely exposed to the winds, this time westerly straight off the coast – yuck. The next site was another 20km away and I wasn’t certain I had it in me to do a 46km day. At any rate I was not staying at the Go-Cart shelter. After a quick lunch away from the shelter, trying my best to seek cover from the wind behind a section of sidecut track, I pressed on, destination unknown.

The rest of the day was another roller coaster fire trail, set high along a ridge line, exposed to the wind all day. That feeling of not enjoying this trail any longer built to a sense of now hating it. I hate walking on roads and fire trails at the best of times. Sometimes it is necessary to link different sections of trail but the Heysen had followed roads for 18 km yesterday, would be another 46km today if I made to the SA Water Shelter and 30km on roads tomorrow.

The only pay off thus far today were some views out to the ocean at a place called the Bluff and similar views out across to the west along this ridge line I was following; all clouded in and washed out today. I imagine perfect views on a clear sunny day but not today.

Another 10km in for the day I found a semi-sheltered hidy hole out of the wind. Pulling out my maps I looked ahead past Crystal Brook and it dawned on me the next 200km towards Burra was all going to be on roads, fire trails and fence lines through paddocks. Beyond Burra another 200km or so of the same. Even where there were sections of bush they were few and far between and the Heysen seemed to skirt most of them, traversing along the fringes and maybe crossing from one side of a range to the other. That was it. This mean at least another two to three weeks of essentially road walking.

I made the decision right then and there that the Heysen Trail was not for me. I would push onto the SA Water Shelter tonight and hike another 30km in to Crystal Brook tomorrow and pull the pin on this trip. I have so much other productive things to be doing on my leave from work than walking backcountry roads. I could be in actual bush chasing Sambar deer at home. I could be catching up with friends in South Australia. I could be getting my kitchen and veggie patch of my new house in order for spring. Things I will thoroughly enjoy, not road walking for the sake of road walking to claim a hollow end-to-end thru-hike personal victory.

It is the right decision for me and wasn’t hard to make. I knew that the Heysen had a lot of road walking through it but the more I delved into the maps, the more I saw. I can finish the trail easily. I’m mean its just walking. I can physically and more so mentally endure the tough times and do the distance easily. My hiking resume speaks for itself. But most importantly and this is true of any long trail I need to be enjoying the experience and I wasn’t any longer.

Now I typically say to others ‘Never quit on the day you want to you quit. Sleep on it. If you feel the same the following day then it is time to quit.’ I still mean this and was determined to live by the mantra. I’d sleep on it. At any rate, even if I wanted to escape today, I still had to make it in to Crystal Brook, another 30km away.

Just on last light I made it to the SA Water Shelter quickly rearranging the two benches side by side to make a single sleep platform. No tent tonight. It’s a two sided shelter but sheltering the winds from the right sides. I was shattered after such a long day. Still mulling over the decision to quit I kind of accepted the decision had been made and went about devouring two main meals from my food bag to cut weight down for tomorrow.

Wearing multiple layers to bed including my now dried rain gear I hunkered down under my quilt and drifted off to warm and peaceful sleep.

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