Reflections III - Seven Years of Adventures

Hello again. For those new to the website, my name is Mark and what you see on these pages is my trail life, The Life of Py. I'm a 35yo WA local that enjoys taking long walks anywhere I can, taking way too many photos and exploring new places and trails (among other life pursuits). This is third time I've sat down to write one of these after this one and this one and given how much I've managed to pack into the last two years, this might become an annual event going forward. It's been seven years now since I first decided to start my own website and what it has morphed in to is beyond my wildest imagination. If you'd given 2014 Mark a glimpse of what the website looks like now, I'm not sure he would have believed that life would have taken him to all those amazing places or that he would have the stamina and determination to complete it all. But that's life and we are meant to evolve, change and challenge ourselves to find out who we are as people, how we fit into this crazy world and what makes our life worth living.

 

I'm nowhere near answering those questions but the website has provided a great excuse to explore my interests, spend time alone and with others and reflect on what makes me happy human. It would be an understatement to say that I enjoy getting out in nature, photographing what catches my eye and then sharing my experiences with the world. There is an enormous amount of work that goes into it all from planning to doing to editing, writing and formatting but I take a lot of pleasure in crafting my posts so others might be inspired to go out and explore their own backyard too. It was a bit overwhelming putting together the collage you see at the top of the page (best viewed on a PC or Tablet) and seeing the past two years laid out in picture form. Each photo represents a post that has gone on the website in sequential order ranging from a small walk or snorkel to one day of a week long adventure (119 in total plus a couple from rides with my podcast partner).

I'll break it up into the two separate years so now would be a good time to go brew yourself a beverage if you're planning on reading the whole thing. Here goes...

2019 - Finishing the Bibbulmun Track

New Trails - 64

Total Distance - 696.7km

Website Visits - 288,628 (up 32.7% on 2018)

After an action packed 2018 where I ticked off a few sections of the Bibbulmun Track and was fortunate enough to go on a couple of Google Trekker trips to Fitzgerald River and the Pilbara, my main goal for 2019 was to complete my sectional E2E of the Bibbulmun Track. I still had Northcliffe to Albany to finish, along with plugging in gaps in the Darling Range section so I spaced out trips throughout the year culminating with a ceremonial finish in Albany in late September. The year started out pretty quiet as usual with the summer heat, flies and bushfire threat limiting activities to snorkelling and completing Tasmania posts from the previous year's adventures. A trip to Rottnest for the annual Festival of Aron in February provided a good opportunity to write-up a couple of snorkel trails on the island at Parker Point and Little Salmon Bay. I then joined my podcast co-host for a trip over to Penguin Island where we explored the island and did some more snorkelling. While I was finishing Tasmania posts from the previous year, another trip to the Apple Isle snuck up, this time to the North East of the island.

Joining Caris' aunt and uncle for another trip over Easter, the main focus was the Bay of Fires Lodge Walk with a side trip to Freycinet National Park and Launceston thrown in for good measure. The trip was a high point of the year thanks to the lovely scenery, great weather and excellent company. Even now I feel a great calmness looking back at those photos and remembering the experience. After another dry autumn in WA where I mapped out the Golden Helena Valley Loop, it was time for the first big section of the Bibbulmun Track. I chose to do Northcliffe to Walpole in early winter because the Pingerup Plains wouldn't yet be flooded and I thought that was a good compromise between getting wet feet and not seeing wildflowers. I was looking forward to this section as it would be a good opportunity to experience a relatively wild part of WA that provides a variety of scenery that the Bibb sometimes lacks. I was blessed with perfect weather all the way through until Mt Clare but the final 9km into Walpole was still fun in the pouring rain. Highlights of that trip included the beauty of Lake Maringup, walking between the islands of forest on the open plains, Mt Chance (even though DBCA had burnt it to a crisp), the Pingerup Plains, Little Cove, the walk from the coast through the Tingle forest into Walpole and of course meeting Malcolm for the first time (Hi Malcolm).

After the highs of a week on the Bibb, I had some time at home to chill and spend time with Caris and the dogs (along with editing and writing posts). In between doing that I added a new Perth hike to the website (it was a rare thing in 2018) with the Carmel Walk being an unexpectedly popular trail with the masses (a woman who lives in the area complained to me about all the people flooding her street). On a wet winter weekend I joined my podcast partner to check out the newest trail in WA at the time, the Wiilman Bilya near Collie and we were both disappointed to find the local DBCA office treating the area with very little care and having no thought for the trail experience. I hope the same doesn't happen with they complete the full four day loop as it has a lot of potential with some stunning forest in the area. I rounded off June with an overnighter on the Bibb between Mt Dale and Sullivan Rock to tick off that section. Aron joined me for the first time since completing Dwellingup to Collie in 2018 and it was nice to spend some extended time with him again, even if the weather was a bit moist (we even bumped into Malcolm at Canning Campsite as he was hiking S-N on his E2E). July brought with it a trip to the Top End thanks to a family celebration for Caris' Grandmother's 90th birthday. Basing ourselves in Darwin, I explored the city as best I could (there is a serious lack of trails) and then we spent a day out at Litchfield National Park.

 

There are plenty of short trails exploring the various waterfalls in the park and it was a fun day fitting as much as we could in. Darwin was a really cool place with a lot going for it and I'd love to return some day. Returning to the cool of a Perth winter, I ticked off another Darling Range section of the Bibb, tackling Sullivan Rock to North Bannister on a perfectly still weekend. I love a good walk through the forest and that section was much better than I expected. Getting in a couple of more Perth trails during August saw me complete the misty and enjoyable Schipp Road Walk plus a visit to Marrinup Falls near Dwellingup on a maintenance trip to the Sanctuary of Py. Both were enjoyable and it marked the start of what was another excellent year for wildflowers in WA. Up next was a trip that I was most looking forward to in 2019 thanks to the hype it received from Donovan and many others. The Walpole to Denmark section of the Bibbulmun Track did not disappoint with a great deal of variety, some absolutely stunning locations and some of the best walking on the entire track. While I didn't enjoy the dune bashing between the Quarrams and Parry Beach, that was a minor blip on what was a very memorable time in not only 2019 but my entire hiking life. I unfortunately had to cut that trip short at Parry Beach because Parry Inlet was not crossable but I rejigged my plans and added it to my final Bibbulmun trip into Albany. 

In the spring I had one goal on my mind, finishing the Bibbulmun Track. I had two sections to go and then three years of planning, hiking and documenting would be completed. Wanting to finish in Albany, the only section I had left was between North Bannister and Dwellingup. A section that had been delayed or cancelled many times over the past two years, I finally got out there in September and it did not disappoint. The Jarrah forest was stunning and the granite hills were a joy to hike up. I joined Stephen, an end to ender and it was really good fun slowing down and experiencing the WA forests through his eyes (Stephen was Victorian). With that finished I just had Parry Beach to Denmark and then Denmark to Albany to go. After organising some complicated logistics, I was at Parry Beach ready to embark on my final section. I could not have picked a better time to do it with lovely weather, a spectacular wildflower display and just an all-round excellent experience to end on. I didn't get as emotional walking into Albany as I thought I would as it took a while to fully process the entire journey. After lots of reflection, it's hard not to say it wasn't life changing and hiking the Bibbulmun was one of the best things that has happened to me in life. I have written a bit more about the track in my final post and you can read it here.

With my Bibb journey over I decided to stay on in Albany and not just head back to Perth. It's a very cool town and one I'd move to in a heartbeat if I could convince Caris but until then, I savour every trip down here. With my X-Trail on its very last legs, I spent a bit of time walking around town and was fortunate enough to get out to Peak Head for sunset without any car issues. That was an amazing hike/run that really capped off what was an enjoyable last hurrah for my spring adventures. On the way home I visited Castle Rock for a much needed re-shoot before settling in to finish all of my Bibbulmun posts for the website. It took quite a while to process everything so that kept me busy through to new year where I ended 2019 with a trip to Daylesford for Caris' family Christmas. I hadn't planned on doing any trails there but I couldn't resist and we ended up doing quite a few around town. All in all it was a pretty epic year and the conclusion to something I started way back in 2008 when I first stepped onto the Bibbulmun in Kalamunda. Little did I know then what impact it would have on my life and I'm very grateful that I can now say I'm an end to ender. 

2020 - New Opportunities

New Trails - 56

Total Distance - 459.6km

Website Visits - 535,076 (up 85.39% on 2019)

Let's start 2020 at the beginning, before all the madness set in and the world went into a big COVID induced spiral. The summer of 2020 will be remembered for the horrific bushfires that swept the eastern states but WA didn't escape unharmed. The Stirling Range got burnt once again, a very large part of the woodlands in the south east of the state was ravaged and there were large fires near Yanchep and Collie (including parts of the Kingdom of Py). While this was going on, I was having some down time from trails, really only getting out to visit the new MAAC Dive and Snorkel Trail in the northern suburbs, along with re-shooting a couple of local Fremantle walks. With the longer days and warmer temperatures, I spend my time keeping active close to home by walking a lot near Freo. I love it here and there are some great spots to explore along the river and beach. The start of 2020 also marked a big effort to re-edit photos from pretty much every post using everything I've learned over the years. While far from being a professional photographer, it was nice to relive those memories and improve the quality of the site to at least be more consistent in appearance. Then March happened and our lives were turned upside down.

I'll preface this by saying that I realise living in WA, we were probably in the best place in the world for dealing with this but it was a bit touch and go at the start. We were lucky that the borders were closed quickly and that we somehow survived with no community transmission. People were generally good about the hand sanitizing and social distancing but the hoarding and eventual relaxing of standards wasn't nice to see. From a trails point of view it highlighted the distinct lack of quality day hikes in the Perth region. When the intrastate borders were closed, being cut-off from the eastern side of the Darling Range limited options quite a bit. I had a few moments where I felt a bit down and my motivation levels dropped significantly just like everyone else. Add in that I had sprained my ankle quite badly right before the shutdowns and I wasn't up for much hiking anyway. I did find solace on the Bibb Track and even visited the old Paten's Brook Campsite near Mundaring, a place that felt weirdly right for the time. While we only had Perth to explore, I thought I'd tick a few of the remaining Shire of Kalamunda hikes off my list and while it was nice to be out, they were just a reminder of the lack of good trails near Perth. What was heartening to see and something that I think was a big positive out of all of this was the spike in visitors to the website. With hiking one of the few activities that was deemed safe to do, it was great to see people getting out and discovering their own backyard. I hope it continues and we have more casual to frequent hikers exploring the trails and demanding more of them. 

The intrastate borders opened once again and it became apparent that WA had dodged a bullet with zero community transmission. Being able to get out to my maintenance section around the Murray Campsite on the Bibb without feeling like I was breaking any rules, I turned my attention to battling the regrowth that had once again gotten out of hand. With the help of a small crew of volunteers, some petrol powered brush cutters and a full weekend of activity, we were able to clear a decent section along the river. I returned on my own with a brush cutter a few weeks later and took care of the 4x4 track leading up the hill from the river. With everything looking much better for the muted hiking season ahead, I switched focus to my own adventures as the extremely dry autumn came to an end. On one of the first truly rainy days of the year I headed out to Gidgegannup with friends to explore a couple of trails including the surprisingly good FR Berry Reserve. The June long weekend came around and in previous years this meant the start of a weeklong trip on the Bibb but with COVID affecting plans and me wanting to save my leave, it was a bit of a muted affair. One of the things I wanted to do in Autumn before all the borders closed was to check out some of the WalkGPS routes east of Perth. The Wandoo forests are better for walking than some of the Perth hikes as they don't require water for it to be enjoyable and the dry feel is more natural. Dave has done a great job developing them all and I checked out some of the easier ones at Clackline and Bobakine.

 

They were everything I had hoped for and more but left me wishing the nature reserves were a little bigger than a postage stamp (in relative terms). June was pretty quiet for me but one thing I had wanted to do was take my oldest niece for a belated birthday adventure out to the Rocks Walk at Shannon National Park. We took it extra slow and it was great fun showing my niece that part of the world and searching for as many different fungi as we could find. I hope this is the first of many adventures and I think in the coming years I'll try and get her out on longer sections of the Bibb to see if she likes it. July marked the start of getting out a lot more thanks to more certainty with the border situation and my ankle was now in a position where I could push it a bit more. It started with joining my podcast partner Donovan as he continued his Munda Biddi adventure and I joined him for a really fun day on the bike between Pemberton and Northcliffe. I visited a few old favourites like Victoria Reservoir and Mt Cooke to refresh the pages that were looking very outdated. This was a theme for the latter part of 2020 as over the summer I'd noticed plenty of pages that weren't quite up to scratch and needed overhauls. Speaking of photos, July saw the arrival of my new Nikon D7500. A much needed upgrade, my old D5300 had not autofocussed for over a year due to a broken sensor and was not in a good condition. It served me well (and still does but more on that later) but the upgrade was long overdue. It's first adventure was a trip out to York to take in the stunning Mokine WalkGPS route and then an investigation of the Mount Brown Walk Trail starting in the middle of York that while pleasant enough, wasn't as good as it could be.

August saw me doing a redoing old favourites with new write-ups like the King Jarrah Walk Trail, Kitty's Gorge and Baldwin's Bluff, along with joining Donovan again as we rode between Donnybrook and Nannup (my first overnighter on the Munda Biddi) and then a long weekend down south with Caris to enjoy some of the food, wine and activities in the Margaret River area. Another quick trip Caris and I took with the dogs was to explore a nearby park by the name of Wireless Hill that in spring is a great location for orchids and wildflowers. I'm not sure why it took so long to visit as I grew up near the area but it was well worth the short trip and it might become a regular during the wildflower season. I had a couple of weeks break to start September then it was on to the big ticket trip for 2020, a three and a half week road trip taking in the South West and Great Southern. First on the list was a much awaited return to the Cape to Cape Track, something I had attempted to do way back in 2014 but due to completing the Bibbulmun Track, had not pencilled in a return visit. It was an amazing experience and much tougher than I thought it would be, even factoring in the terrible weather I got in the second half. It was a nice feeling to tick that off the list and now I have many thousands of photos to look back at and remind me of that adventure. I've talked about this road trip at great length on this podcast episode so won't waffle on too much but the following weeks were a really enjoyable time filled with plenty of trails, lots of photos and unfortunately a busted camera.

 

My new camera didn't like a couple of showers on the Tagon Coastal Trail so on the edge of the world I had to say goodbye to my new toy and cut that part of the trip short. For now it's back to using the old D5300 until maybe April and then I'll look at dropping a large chuck of change on some new gear, I'm still processing photos and writing posts for this trip as I'm writing this but I've got some stunning trails to share and some new posts/photos for old favourites like Bald Head and Bluff Knoll. After heading home a day short of my plan and missing out on the Le Grand Coastal Trail and Peak Charles (I'll be back one day), I had a few days at home before heading back down south for the Pemby Trail Fest. Participating in my first official trail run (I did two over the weekend), it's a fun community to be apart of and the Perth Trail Series crew does an awesome job at putting these events together. With enough material to keep me busy until March 2021 (I had enough for 30+ new posts), I settled into home life again and was looking forward to the summer. I wasn't quite done for the year with a couple of maintenance trips including my first to the Kingdom of Py after the previous summer's bushfires (it was heart-breaking to see the forest so badly burnt again unnecessarily). Donovan and I also rode the Kep Track on a rainy November day and it was nice to experience a trail that had been on my list for a very long time. I ended the year with some family time down in Funbury and a short trip out to The Aquarium near Yallingup for a snorkel that turned out to be a really fun time.  

General Thoughts - Writing this post has been a nice time for reflection and it's highlighted to me just how fortunate I am to be in a position like this. Sure it's taken a lot of work to get to this point and there is no financial incentive to do any of this but it's very rewarding building something from scratch and seeing people find value in it. To everyone that visits the website to plan their hikes or just look at the photos, I thank you for your support and all the positive feedback that has been provided over the years. All of this wouldn't be possible of course without the support I get at home. Heading away for weeks at a time isn't always easy, especially when it's for selfish pursuits like this, so it's nice to know that Caris is looking after the home and doggos. If you're reading this then thank you for allowing me to follow my passions, even when they take me far away.

 

Now onto some more general waffling about trails, WA and life in general. If COVID has shown anything, it's that there is an appetite for good trail experiences and unfortunately there has been little to no investment in this space in WA over the past 20 years or so. Grants are thrown about left and right for sports clubs to build new clubrooms or facilities but trails are left behind because there is no voice for them. I'm hoping all this will change with the release of the Hiking and Trail Running Strategy document in 2020 that I was part of the working group to develop but I'm a little cynical about if any funding for new trails will eventuate. WA has a lot of potential with large areas of unique forests, plenty of world class coastline and numerous biodiversity hotspots that contain a plethora of interesting flora and fauna.

 

While the website contains a lot of trails (over 250 including each day of the Bibb and Cape to Cape), there is a lot of "filler" trails that I wouldn't recommend if you're after a really nice trail experience. The likes of the Shire of Kalamunda offerings, while a good addition with very little investment, they are essentially walking along vehicle tracks. WA is seriously lacking in good half-day loops or multi-day trail networks and it could be the driver of a new trails economy that will replace damaging activities like native logging or supplement the quieter times (like how the South Coast is empty in winter but it's one of the best times to visit the forests). I live in hope but I'll quote Bilbo Baggins here "And so life in the Shire goes on, very much as it has this past age. Full of its own comings and goings with change coming slowly, if it comes at all." That sums up WA trails over the past couple of decades although it is comforting to see the investment in mountain bike trails around Collie and Dwellingup. That needs to be replicated all over the state for us to compete with the likes of NSW, Victoria and Tassie for the tourist dollar, along with giving WA locals a good reason to visit our own backyard instead of Bali. 

As you can probably tell, I'm passionate about WA and both preserving what we have, restoring what we've lost and promoting all the great trails we have. I'm nowhere near done exploring this great state and beyond so the posts will continue to come, even if some are way too long and indulgent. I have some big plans for the future and here's to the world getting their act together so we live in a world that isn't so cut off and paranoid for its safety. If you're new to hiking or aren't sure about getting out then I encourage you to keep getting out there and gaining more confidence and experience. The Facebook groups are always great to ask questions (even if they are usually full of the type of things people can just Google) and you'll find a lot of friendly people willing to assist or give you a metaphorical leg up.

 

If you're still reading then I'd love to hear from you in the comments section. It could be something random, a fun hiking story or just to say hello. As much as I am a socially awkward introvert, I do enjoy interacting with like minded people so would love to hear from you (especially if you are also a socially awkward introvert). If you've found the website useful over the years and would like to show your support for the website then click the below button and buy me a virtual coffee so I can continue adding trails and supporting the trails community.

Happy Trails in 2021 and keep getting out there and experiencing as many adventures as possible. 

© The Life of Py       E: thelifeofpy@gmail.com

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