human behavior

Hiking Cradle Mountain

Posted in Australian Culture & Politics, Foreign Impressions, Travel by humanb on July 7, 2012

I’m a walker, not a hiker. Hiking, I just don’t get. When you walk, you can exercise leisurely at a pace that enables you to absorb the beauty and activity in your surroundings. The destination doesn’t matter. It’s always relaxing, but exhilarating. Always fun.

Hiking?

I don’t get it. It’s all about the exertion and the sweat. The pain and the promise. There’s a destination and everything is subservient to reaching it. And when it’s reached?

The hiker somehow feels like they’ve achieved something great. Then they spend a fraction of the time they took hiking to appreciate the view before they tackle the hike down.

No thanks.

Hiking has got to be on the top ten list of Stuff White People Like (God bless them), and yet I couldn’t find it anywhere on that now infamous list. I did find camping (#128), which is sort of what we did on our four-day hike of the Overland Track at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Who is ‘we’? Me, and my wonderful (and incidentally white) husband.

This was my first and last hike. My husband loves a good hike, and I wanted to be a good wife. You have to make concessions in marriages (and on holidays), no?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as enamoured of natural beauty as he. So the opportunity to see a new slice of earth in all its majesty was attractive.

To some extent, the Overland Track did not disappoint…

We paid for the organised hike through a company called Cradle Huts, who have charming but rustic, eco-friendly huts at various stages along the track.

Cradle Huts provides two guides to accompany small groups of hikers. Our group had a young family of five – all but one of them exercise-outdoor nuts, a middle-aged mother and her adult son, and my husband and me. The tween daughter in the family of five and I were competing for the Least Enthusiastic Hiker Award.

The guides, to be honest, were absolutely lovely. Sweet, open, patient and clearly in love with their jobs.

Thirty percent or so of Tasmania is national parkland and Tasmanians are serious about their conservation, so a good part of the Overland Track is on wooden planks to minimise our impact on the natural environment.

At first, this seems like a buzz kill, because you don’t feel like you’re truly immersing yourself in the environment. But you soon come to appreciate the importance of not spoiling it, and you even come to admire the beauty of the track as it snakes across the landscape.

Thankfully, however, there were plenty of opportunities to get your boots dirty. The mud was up to six inches deep in some of the more mountainous areas.

Note the backpacks in the background that we had to wear on the hike, making every step we took 10-20 pounds harder. Note also the impressive hiking gear I’m wearing above.

From Stuff White People Like: #128 Camping:

The first stage of camping always involves a trip to an outdoor equipment store…. These stores are well-known for their abundance of white customers and their extensive inventory of things for white people to buy and only use once.

Seeing as I was a hiking virgin, my husband must have taken me to six different sporting goods stores before our trip to get me properly equipped. The hiking boots, gators, hiking pants (and multiple thermal hiking tops + rain gear) were all bought for this trip. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of that stuff.

Aside from the flat track and the mud track, there were a few short, adventurous stretches by way of narrow bridges.

And even more stretches of treachery: short, steep inclines over loose boulders, interspersed with relentlessly long uphill stretches over uneven ground. I spent about 50% of my time actually stumbling, rather than hiking. Too concerned about my footing throughout the mountainous areas, I had my eyes on the ground more often than in the trees.

While I can’t deny the beauty of the landscapes through which we were walking, in truth, the scenery didn’t move me as much as it did the other hikers. That is, until we entered the Enchanted Forest…

… and other woods…

Equally glorious were the fresh water streams which boasted some of the cleanest water in Australia. We regularly filled our bottles from the tannin-stained streams.

Despite its rusty colour, the water was the best I’ve ever tasted.

But these pleasures were few and far between for me. The worst part of the hike was easily the last hour on the fourth and final day, a hike characterised by an unforgiving (and steep) descent down boulders and loose rock.

Early in Day 2, I’d begun to develop twinges of pain in both knees, and sharp pains up my right Achilles tendon. Midway through the final descent, every step down was like a hammer driving a nail into my medial menisci. I was forced to stop every few steps to breathe through the pain.

As serene as was the last fresh water stream before we exited the park, it didn’t compare to the sight of the parking lot and Cradle Hut bus arriving to take me away.

My knees were on fire.

After the hike, I spent the rest of our tour of Tasmania limping painfully on both legs and dragging my right foot, despite a $70 trip to a physiotherapist for some expert taping, which ended up giving me blisters. I spent another four weeks back home flinching from the pain of walking, despite wearing orthopaedic shoes on flat ground.

I’d hate to think that I’m some kind of city slicker who is incapable of appreciating life outdoors. That would be an unfair characterization based on the flimsy evidence that was my first hiking trip. But I sometimes felt like the group were thinking this very thing, especially when I opted to return to the cabin one day with the tween, instead of an optional hike to the top of a mountain.

This reminds me of something else that white people like: Making you feel bad about not going outside.

As mentioned earlier, white people love to be outside.  But not everyone knows that another thing they like to do is make people feel bad for wanting to watch sports on TV or play video games.  While it would be easy to get angry at white people for this, remember it is hard-wired in their head that the greatest thing a person can do in their free time is to hike/walk/bike outdoors.

Usually, they will see that you are preparing to enjoy your life and they will say “hey, let’s go for a hike in the park,” and most people will say “hey, thanks but I’ve been working all week and I’m really excited about watching this game,” and then they will respond “don’t be a lump on the couch, you’re wasting your life away, etc…”  If you ignore them, they will eventually go away.

And much like most things with white people – they win both ways.  If you decide to go with them, they feel good about getting someone off the couch and “into the fresh air,” and if you don’t decide to go, they can spend their entire time outdoors saying “boy, this is great, X doesn’t know what he/she is missing!” and running on a mix of self-satisfaction, Odwalla juice and muesli.

I heard a great deal about what I’d missed from the gung-hoers who hiked to the top of that mountain. To his credit, my husband spent the least amount of time waxing lyrical about his experience that day.

But I’ve still come away from that trip feeling somehow inferior to the lot of them, not only for not being as eager and awed by the whole experience as I ‘should’ve’ been, but for being the only one who came away limping. I was the second youngest adult on that trip. Which means, of course…

That I’ll have to hike again.

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3 Responses

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  1. Terri said, on July 8, 2012 at 8:22 am

    These were lovely and I had to show them to Mike. The trees and shrubs remind me of Dr. Suess’ truffula trees and shrubs. Good thing that Tazzies appeared to have listened to the conservation message of ‘The Lorax’. (Glad someone did!)

    • humanb said, on July 8, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Yeah, the landscapes at this park really could be otherworldly. I did appreciate that on the hike, but I guess other landscapes in Australia have moved me more.

  2. lolly0 said, on September 23, 2012 at 10:38 am

    lol I love the Stuff White People Like! The photos and trails are gorgeous, I’m afraid I would be with you and the Tween on this one. I like to walk in nature, but have never hiked. I do like the manmade trails though, I have friends that like to “make their own”. Uh, no thanks LOL


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