2014 Perth Oxfam Trailwalker

Start - Darlington

Finish - Ray Owens Reserve, Lesmurdie

Length - 101.01km

Vertical Climb - 2,479m

Calories Burned - 7,996

Time Taken - 26hrs 09mins

Date - 10th-11th of October, 2014

I'm going to be honest here, I had never heard of the Oxfam Trailwalker until an ad popped up on my Facebook feed but I'm certainly happy it did. After a winter on the trails of Perth sharing my experiences for this website I felt that this was the perfect challenge to test myself both physically and mentally. The only problem was I needed to rope in three others that were crazy enough to hike 100kms without sleep. I first approached my good mate Philip and he liked the shape of the idea but wouldn't commit in full (this is a known trait of Philip's so I wasn't deterred).

 

From there it became harder as everyone I asked didn't quite get why you would do something like this or flat out didn't want to do it. Then I remembered a friend from the dog park with a can-do attitude that had been out hiking with me before (coincidently on a section of the Oxfam Course) so I asked her. I got a blind yes and too much time had passed when she realised what was involved so now we just needed a fourth member. Jess asked around and managed to rope in the lovely Kate.

With our awesome foursome complete we needed to train and this was our first hurdle. We started off with some walks along the coast after work from Port Beach to Cottesloe (minus Philip due to work commitments) but we needed something more hilly and rough. Getting together as a group on the weekend proved difficult so everyone went about their own training until we finally went for a hike out to Mt Cooke early one morning. Unfortunately the weather turned horrible and we only managed 20kms but we got in some much needed night/wet weather training.

Then a few weeks out from the start of the 100km hike I came down with a case of the Shingles and couldn't do any training. The rest of the team soldiered on and completed their own training but things weren't looking good as Jess also had a hamstring issue. The big day finally arrived and we all met at Philip's place for an early breakfast of bacon & egg pizzas, croissants and muffins.

 

Packing all of our gear/food into the chariot of our one and only support crew member - Robert “Man Candy” Arcus - we ventured out to the start line in Darlington. Having signed in and sorted our gear out for the brutal 8km first stage we headed down to the start line and eyed off all the other teams. After a few team photos we nervously took our place under the starting banner and counted down the seconds until the siren sounded for set-off.

Finding space early on was tough as 100 odd teams made their way down the trail and to the first checkpoint. We snaked our way past some slower teams and managed to set a blistering pace through the surrounding suburbs. In no time at all we were greeted by the Man Candy at Checkpoint 1 and dropped some gear off before tackling the fearsome Eagle View Walk Trail, the longest section of the course (18.2km). At this point I would love to tell you about how cool it was going through the historic railway tunnel but we missed the turn-off and went the long way around (thanks Philip). We only found out as a team came out of nowhere ahead and informed us they had just left the tunnel.

 

With that disappointment behind us we soon arrived at the start of the Eagle View Walk Trail in John Forrest National Park. This is one of the trails that I had done before and knew it would be a hilly challenge on rocky, single track paths. We soon dubbed this section the "Jurassic Park" trail as the trail wound its way through some very lush and colourful undergrowth. Unfortunately we got stuck behind three teams of questionable hiking experience and had to slow down to a crawl on the rocky sections. This caused problems for Philip as he fell into the undergrowth much to the amusement of the rest of us.

When we reached the first summit the other teams pulled off for a break and we seized our opportunity to pass. Taking in a brief glimpse of the city to remind ourselves that this was better than work, we soldiered on and continued our fantastic pace. Then the unfortunate happened, Kate tripped on a rock and had rolled her ankle. Being the tough cookie that she is, it only took a few minutes for her to be back on her feet and convincing us that everything was fine.

 

With the first checkpoint fast approaching we were greeted by the Man Candy just before the bridge and shown into the very busy John Forrest National Park car park. We setup a few towels on some spare ground and set about tending to our various blisters. Unfortunately I had worn my trusty hiking shoes that were a bit long in the tooth and had formed two massive blisters on both heels. Everyone else had their own strapping to do but we were buoyed on by the arrival of the Chandlers. Philip's wife, dad, sister and soon to be brother-in-law popped round the corner in their Tyson Chandler New York Knicks get-up and provided a further morale boost. After what only seemed like 30 mins of eating, drinking and strapping (it was closer to an hour) we headed off again for the next 13km section.

The map showed a decent sized incline for the whole section but luckily it turned out to be pretty flat. This didn't stop my two blisters from becoming extremely painful before eventually popping but once the initial pain was over I was able to cope. Together with Philip I struggled on as we watched the girls sprint off into the distance as if it was a casual stroll to the shops. By this stage the trail was becoming more and more sparse, which is exactly what we wanted. The only teams we sighted were the one we overtook and then watched walk past as we stopped to stretch/eat jelly beans. The heat of the day was bearing down as we reached the Mt Helena Primary School and the sweet smell of barbequed sausages. 

 

With the Man Candy already parked and our little camp of chairs, eskies, food and supplies setup we sat down to refresh our bodies. Team Chandler was also present as we discussed the last section and what was to come. I made the decision to switch shoes to my newer (and more padded) running shoes and immediately felt better (that also could have been the pain killers). After some homemade cookies and a top up of drinks it was time to set off again towards the stunning Lake Leschenaultia. 

With renewed vigour and a bit more comfort the next leg was one of the best of the hike. Philip had visited the lake before and regaled us with stories of how lovely it was. Kate also filled us in on her fear of birds and as we reached the shores it made for a welcome sight compared to the gravel tracks and occasional group of houses of the previous section. As we rounded the lake the mood was good, the sun was setting and we felt like the 100km finish line was possible. The calm surrounds of the lake soon gave way to open fields of green. With the sun breaking through the forest as it finally set over the horizon we had trekked earlier in the day I tried to get some photos with my GoPro but they don't do any justice to what it was like. With the light fading quickly we arrived at the halfway checkpoint where Philip and I ran to embrace the Man Candy.

 

While a lot of teams were preparing to camp overnight and start again the next day we were going all through the night. After a quick feed and a laugh (you can’t toast smurfs on the campfire Jess), Kate visited the podiatry tent to get her blisters popped (the rest of us should have done this too) and then we were off into the darkness. With our head torches on we soldiered on down the path trying not to spook Kate who wasn't too keen on the night hiking. Philip and I had to rethink our Blair Witch re-enactment project with the GoPros and instead concentrated on getting through the kilometres. This section was not particularly memorable as it was dark, flat and dark. When we finally reached the next checkpoint (the last 2kms are the longest) the Man Candy was again waiting with our camp setup on someone's front lawn.

Being the charming deviant that he is, he managed to coax the Oxfam people into letting him use the microwave at the hall to heat up our pre-prepared fried rice dinner. This was a welcome relief after 14.5 hours on the trail and I think everyone enjoyed the comfort. Our departure was marked with not one but two ambulances with blaring sirens and we all hoped that that wouldn't be our fate. The next section was just a long downhill back to the starting line (now serving as Checkpoint 6) and somewhere along the trail there was a big railway locomotive (now out of action) that we stopped at.

 

As we got to CP6 around midnight we got a bit loopy. The horses head came out, we were laughing at nothing and we were dead tired. The Man Candy had coffee but it wasn't much use to hold off the yawning. As access to the next checkpoint was limited to Oxfam volunteers only we said our goodbyes to the Man Candy, hugged and set off into the darkness once again. Only two 7.5km sections stood between us and the final checkpoint but they turned out to be the toughest. The paved roads soon gave out to steep, single track trails full of loose rocks and overhanging scrubs. The going was slow and tough as our feet had to withstand the pain of the downhill sections on our blisters along with the already logged 16 hours/74km of hiking. It was a quiet couple of hours as we plodded to Stathams Quarry. When we reached CP7 it appeared to be the set of a Flintstones movie as the quarry face jolted out of the landscape illuminated by the humming of generator operated floodlights.

The checkpoint volunteers were wonderfully cheerful but it was cold and the heater did nothing to comfort our weary bodies. Kate and Philip shut their eyes for 15 minutes on the plastic chairs as Jess and I just sat there trying to will ourselves on. This was probably my darkest moment on the trail but there was no way I was quitting so close to the end. After about 45 minutes we hobbled off and set about getting our bodies to the final checkpoint. Kate cranked some tunes from her phone in an attempt to lift the mood and it worked for a while but then it went back silent as the climbing and descending started up again. While it was only 7.5kms this section felt torturously long and when we saw the 1km to go sign we couldn't believe we had only done 6.5km.

 

With the sun rising we were greeted by a friendly volunteer that directed us to the final checkpoint where Philip's brother and sister-in-law were also there to meet us. At this point we all looked like Walking Dead extras as we trudged along the wet grass. Philip passed out on a yoga mat while the girls slept in the back seat of the Man Candy's car with the heater on. I slumped on a plastic chair trying not to think about the cold or the pain in my feet.

 

The troops eventually emerged and we checked out for the final time and towards the finish line 12kms away. With the sun out our moods brightened slightly knowing that this was the last slog before the glorious sight of the finish line. The first downhill section wasn't easy on the feet but the views of the Perth Coastal Plain were enough to keep our minds elsewhere. The kilometres slowly ticked over and at the halfway point we came across a group of older hikers taking a stroll through the bush. We explained what we were doing and were given some congratulations before setting off again. 

 

Then we came across a familiar scene, the towering spectacle of Lesmurdie Falls and I dreaded what was to come. Having done this trail before I knew it was a sharp decline down to the valley floor. Having memorised the relief map before we set off I knew the last 3kms was all uphill and I was hoping that we didn't have to go all the way down to the bottom before beginning that ascent. Fortunately the trail veered off before we hit the valley floor and the 3km to go marker came into view meaning it was all uphill from here. There was something comforting knowing that this was the final challenge before a well deserved rest plus Kate had turned into Gandalf with her brand new walking staff but it was a cruel way to finish. To reach the top of the rocky trail only to be told by the wonderful volunteers that we still had to go over a steep concrete pathway was not cool. We did it though and staggered our way through the suburb of Lesmurdie on the last 500m to the finishing point. 

 

After rounding the BMX track at Ray Owens Reserve we could hear the music blaring and pushed on for the final 100m. Soon I saw the familiar moustache of my father, camera in hand and as the course straightened I could see my family and trusty dog waiting for us. Arm in arm we ran the last little section through the finishing banner and took a deep sigh of relief knowing that we had made it as a team and close to our estimated finishing time. Hugs all round from family and puppies ensued as we basked in the glory of finishing the Perth 100km Oxfam Trailwalker.

Final Thoughts - When you are in the prime of your life then why not challenge yourself with events like this? I am grateful that I managed to find three others that were crazy enough to join me and let me indulge my hiking dreams. It was certainly tougher that I imagined it would be mainly due to the impact on your feet but I'm immensely proud to be part of the high calibre team and make it to the finish in the time we did.

 

Thorough recognition has to be given to the man who kept us fed, watered, charged and in good spirits all throughout the hike - Robert "Man Candy" Arcus. He was our lone support and was at every possible checkpoint at all hours with chairs, food, water, equipment, encouragement and a big smile. I am not joking when I say that I'm not we would have made it without his support. I can't count the amount of times someone randomly said "I love the Candy Man" or "I miss the Candy", which is saying something considering Kate and Jess had only met him once. To my childhood buddy and closest friend, I cannot thank you enough for doing this and you deserve more thanks than we can possibly give. All hail the Man Candy!!

 

It’s not too late for donations so if you want to spare some funds for a great cause then please visit our team page before October 31. Even if it's $5 to say thanks to the Man Candy, we appreciate everything.

 

Stay tuned to The Life of Py for the next adventure coming to you from the South West...

 

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