2020 Gym Trip: Hike Cataract National Park Day 7 & 8 Celebration Day

Day 7 was our last day of hiking, and I was quite sad when i realised! We were in a little bubble in the Clarence Valley, and even though the hiking was hard, we didn’t have the stress of making our own food, getting to appointments on time, looking after anyone else, or thinking about COVID19. In many respects, it was fabulous for our mental health; we were going to sleep with the birds, sleeping like the dead (except when interrupted by the wildlife), then waking naturally at dawn with the birds. We had time for coffee and meditation before meeting at 730am to hike and move, and oxygenated our bodies everyday – it is what they’re made for!

We danced to warm up today! Each of us contributed a different move until we were all warmed up!

Day 7 was also the hottest day so far in the forecast. In these bush-fire ravaged mountains, this was a big deal. Even though there was regeneration, it was sparse, and we were under the baking sun and walking on baking ground with little to no cover. So, on our final day of hiking, we started at 6am! We were joined by Vicky, one of the owners of the CRWL, and Murray, a local kid who is an avid bird-watcher. Both of them had wonderful snippets of information about the wildlife, especially the birds (the one’s we could hear as well as see!).

Finally caught a sunrise over the mountains!

This was a live cicada!

Murray had a wonderful time slicing through the tall grass when it was his turn on the machete! He captured a cicada for us to get a close look at, and told us about the cicada bird, a bird that cries like a cicada! I got very confused after learning that… were the sounds i could hear cicadas or birds??

After about 4hrs of hiking, Laura gathered us together and had us look around. As we did a slow turn, she pointed out each peak that we had climbed during our week at CRWL… It was incredible to see exactly how far we had come visually represented in mountains, and turned out to be a special moment for many of our group.

Panorama of the mountains we had climbed in our trip

We had one final, slippery descent to our favourite water hole, where we were surprised by Steve in a “Canouber” – a Canoe to Uber us across the water hole to our lunch spot. Sue, Sandra, Dave, Gemma, Laura and I threw our bags in and swam… it was HOT and the water was MAGIC.

Gemma had collected Mukta from camp and brought her down to lunch with us. She was ensconced in a camp chair looking like Lady-Muck herself, and I remember thinking that it was characteristic of our guides to think of everything and everyone. They’re just gold human beings.

We had a Mexican inspired lunch, and just relaxed riverside with coffee and lemon infused water, I was enjoying watching Vicky and Murray’s fascination with the birdlife. No sooner had they sat down and joined a conversation, they would jump up with their binoculars and peer in to the trees again. They’d stand there and discuss what they saw and heard, then meander back to the chairs, sit down, then repeat the process again. While we were eating i got in to a conversation with Paul, Vicky’s husband and part owner of CRWL. He was an scientist who was absolutely fascinating to listen to.

It wasn’t long until i was dry again, and in the heat of the day, this was something i insisted on rectifying by jumping back in the waterhole. I approached Sue, Sandra, and Dave, knowing them to suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), and started nagging them to come swimming with me. It took more effort than i anticipated, but i soon succeeded in getting their ankles in the water. I was swimming around on my own, and they were just standing there, so i thought i would speed up the process. Slowly, so as not to spook anyone, i made my way back to shore and then leapt on to Dave’s back, intending on knocking him in to the water. It didn’t work as planned, and i had to wriggle around before he finally slipped and lost his balance, reaching out and taking Sue’s legs out from under her as he went down. I guess if he was going in, so was she! Sandra avoided a similar fate by jumping in by herself.

Attracted by our shrieks of laughter, Gemma, Laura, and Ingrid soon came down for a swim, and we had an opportunity to repay Laura for almost throwing us out of our canoe in the adventure race (we pleaded “PHONES” when she tried to do it to us)… except this time we actually threw her out as she paddled the canoe back to shore from where the canoe had drifted. On Laura, she made it to the bottom of the waterhole in this swim, which is THIRTEEN METRES! She’s one amazing human!

We finished our swim in time to see the rest of the team climb in to the troupies and get a ride back to camp. The rest of us hiked the aptly named Humbug trail, before meeting Gemma at the top and heading for another swim before going home. This last little push was next-level HOT. Claustrophobic, thick, dry, air kind of hot. Were were grateful to see Gemma!

Pre-dinner gin in the shade of the mountain!

At dinner that night we missed our python catching the mice! The mice were a bit of a problem, as the fires had obliterated many of their predators, but the house and kitchen where they live were saved. The first night we were here, we looked up from a game of cards and the ground was literally crawling. We put our feet up and attempted to continue playing, but after a number of near misses, we gave up and went to bed. One night, Sue was washing up and one almost ran up her leg. Sandra watched it, and wondered whether she should tell Sue or not, but Sue saw it before she decided and moved herself pretty quickly! Debbie, Robbie, and Louise had a tiny-tiny night time visitor that broke their sleep most nights, but it took them until now to put all their food in the fridge! Sue had a native rat run across her bed one night, and something made it in to the tray of the Ute one night, where Sandy and I kept our snacks! I was convinced that Sandra had dreamed of a visiting mouse, as we didn’t have any food in our hut, but sure enough we found a chew-hole in our rubbish bag one morning! That particular mouse must have been disappointed, because there weren’t any food scraps in that bag, just plastic wrappers that we intended on taking home and disposing of ourselves.

These mouse adventure were fun, more than anything. Steve had it pretty under control, using baits and and allowing night time visits from the pythons to turn the tide. It would help things even more if idiots like us secured our food in hard plastic tubs, or the fridge!

Before they left, Ingrid and Gemma asked us what we learned about ourselves, or what we were going to take-away from our experience. Sue, Terry, Mukta and Sandra really surprised me when they described different versions of of the same thing – that they lacked confidence in themselves, and by going through what we went through this week, they feel stronger and more confident. Personally, I was astonished by this, and didn’t answer the question well when it came to my turn (but I’ll answer it below, read on). I have always seen Sue as a kind of Amazonian Goddess – tall, strong, assertive, amazingly fit – it was crazy to consider that she didn’t see herself that way too! Terry came to Nepal with me, where the dangers were death by a multitude of risks, including being knocked of a mountain by a yak, altitude sickness, gastro, flying in to the most dangerous airport in the world… I thought Terry knew she was brave already, and that this was child’s play in comparison! Mukta has moved to the other side of the world to her family, which shows amazing courage, and Sandra has done so many adventures on her own and with us, I had just assumed she knew she was strong and capable! Hopefully they know now how amazing they are!

For Louise, the trip was about kindness. She was exposed to an experience that she had never been exposed to before, and our guides in particular showed her sensitivity, consideration, and kindness that she really appreciated. Debbie was all about testing herself, as if completing this trip is “proof” that she can keep up with her grandchildren. For me, once I sat down and thought about it, it was “proof” that I was healthy again. Like I’ve said in previous posts, my last Gym Trip was 3yrs ago, and I didn’t make it. I have had severe mental and physical health challenges since then, and this trip was an opportunity for me to both see what my body could do, and revel in it when I found out. Completing the walks, and feeling strong, is a measure of health, and being healthy is very important to me. I went home feeling better, like a sort of closure that I can put tumors and anxiety behind me and start trusting my body and mind again. For Dave, it was a similar answer. He has lost almost 50kg in the past couple of years, and it is exhilarating for him to be able to do what he can do now!!

Day 8 Celebration Day

Our last day in paradise, I was determined to do as little as possible. Laura did a huge cook-up for us for breakfast and then we joined Steve at his house to plant a tree each. We were planting Lilli Pilli’s, an Australian Native that is apparently fireproof!

The indefatigable Dave, Mukta, and Terry did another road trip to Tenterfield, this time with Louise. They went shopping and bought bags, visited the Saddler, and caught up with their people at home. Debbie, Robbie, Sandra, Sue and I were lucky to achieve 3000 steps that day, and those were only because you have to walk 100m to the toilet or river or bed! We read, swam, read, swam, napped, read, and swam all day. It was glorious.

Sue thought to bring a celebration drink, which was enjoyed by everyone on celebration day!

We cracked open the Cards Against Humanity at dinner, and played one very inappropriate game before we retired to bed… still very early! Because of that I was awake early again, and on our veranda making coffee. In the stillness of the morning, I had to sneeze. By now, my sneezes had become a team joke, due to the violence of them and the fact that they’re so loud and forceful they can sometimes knock me off my feet. This one was standard, but in the quiet of the morning, you could hear it echoing across the valley… oops.

No-one was asleep after that.

On the plus side, we were packed and driving away at 9!

Last photo at Sunset Lookout under the Faraway Tree!

We stopped over in Coffs again, but this time we had time to visit the Jetty and beach! The next day, we were at the cafe for breakfast when it opened then off on the long-haul leg home!

Got our salt-water fix! The humidity was fantastic after the dry air of the Clarence Valley!

I have to congratulate every participant for an amazing trip, yet again! These trips are a right-of-passage, a journey of self discovery and all the other cliché’s. It is an accomplishment just to get to the end, and I am very proud of all of our participants! We highly recommend the Clarence River Wilderness Lodge, and while we are exploring NSW there is no better time to hit the state’s edges! We were very happy with the JOIN team who guided us, fed us, and looked after us for the week, and would recommend them for any outdoor adventuring in North and North East NSW!

Now we have all our digits crossed that we get to complete the Cape to Cape next year! You can see what the crew that we were supposed to join got up to here. If you’re interested in joining us next year, please contact Clare to express interest here.

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