With oodles of experience trekking around Australia's most remote, pristine and secluded trails, Caro Ryan from Lotsafreshair will be leading the way on the 9 day South Coast Track trip, sharing her knowledge and experience with trekkers along the way, including navigation and map/compass training and a bunch of other handy info too! We sat down with Caro to find out why the South Coast Track is so high on her bucket list.
What inspired you to start trekking and when was your first multi day trek?
I didn’t grow up in a camping or outdoorsy family, but was always inspired by Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Faraway Tree books, where kids would have adventures and spend their time exploring and discovering. Following pirate maps and uncovering secret places, I wanted to do the same! It wasn’t until I was on a corporate outdoor leadership program, in the Budawangs National Park in 1994 that I ‘discovered’ the magical world of bushwalking, trekking with a full pack and feeling that sense of carrying all I needed on my back.
What has been your most memorable trek to date and why?
Oooo, so hard to pick just one! Every time I spend time in the bush (especially multiple days), I return with memories and stories I’ll treasure for life. Apart from that first trip in 1994 that changed my life and pointed me towards adventure, a 14 day trip to Kakadu, with nights spent sleeping on warmed rock platforms or white sandy beaches, and the hottest part of the day between 11-2pm is taken snoozing under shade trees or splashing in the waterholes, absent of crocodiles high above the escarpment. I remember walking back into the office after the 2 weeks so calm and unstressed, I was almost a zombie compared to my colleagues. Definitely the best ‘holiday’ I’d ever had.
You’ve travelled around the world to trek, including Canada, (Peru, Japan) and NZ, but always come back home. What is it about trekking in Australia that you love?
As an Aussie, I love to walk within a place where I can imagine our early Traditional Owners living, wandering, hunting and raising families. To feel the privilege of being able to do this and a connection to our history as I sleep on the same ground, drink from the same streams and fumble my way along, trying to learn to be as comfortable in the landscape as they were. To feel small and insignificant in an ancient landscape, yet a part of it, is a humbling and wonderful experience. There’s an unwordable connection to walking in Australia that I simply don’t get anywhere else. It helps remind me of who I am and where I come from.
You have spent 16 years trekking around Australia. What is your favourite region to explore by foot, and why?
I try not to pick favourites, but I have chosen to live in the Blue Mountains of NSW for a good reason… it’s amazing and it feels like home. This is the place I’ve done the most hiking and exploratory trekking, but I’ve got a special spot for Tassie, the Main Range north of Mt Kosciusko and the Victorian High Country in Summer
What keeps you going when you experience challenging times on the trail?
In the same way that we trekkers carry everything we need on our backs, there’s also a sense of having to be self contained in other ways. Finding that place inside yourself, where you can go when it gets hard. When your feet hurt, you’re cold and wet and you’ve still got hours to go until camp. But there’s also the ability to look outside ourselves and see the beauty all around us (even if it’s just white and misty!) and importantly, to acknowledge that these feelings are not permanent. Before we know it, we’ll be back home and wishing we were still out there!
Who inspires you most?
Anyone who doesn’t let fear control their choices and lives. People who live to serve others humbly, lift others up and live in a way that acknowledges the connectedness of all things.
How do you physically prepare for more challenging treks?
In a perfect world (which doesn’t always happen!) I try to start a minimum of 3 months before and start working on big hills (ascent and descent) and pack weight. It’s about building a combination of cardio and strength building for the challenges ahead. I’m in a bushwalking club which runs several trips every weekend, so throughout the year I’m trying to keep a reasonable level of fitness, so the step towards a bigger challenging trip doesn’t feel like starting from zero. With a big trip like Tassie’s South Coast Track, which has some real challenges in it, I’ll focus on gradually increasing the pack weight over 3 months to where I’m comfortable with 20kgs (ugh!) to be able to carry all that tasty TasEx food, whilst still enjoy the views and experiences along the way. Essentially, the fitter you are (especially pack-fit), the more able you will be able to enjoy the moment, rather than simply feeling like every step takes 100% focus and energy. It’s like putting deposits into your fitness bank account. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out… and the interest is incredible!
Mental preparation is also very important – how do you mentally prepare for a tough multi day hike?
Number 1, I try not to freak out and constantly compare myself to the others on the trek. “I’ll be the slowest”, “I’ll hold everyone up” or “I’m letting everyone else down”, are not helpful mindsets to have. So apart from the physical, the mental preparation is really important. One of the most important things I teach people in guiding walks/hikes is to find your ‘sustainable pace’. This is the pace you start at the bottom of a big climb, that you can maintain until you reach the top, without having to stop every few minutes to catch your breath. That’s the holy grail for me. It may feel ridiculously slow and snail like at the start, but by not getting out of breath in the first place, you’re in a much better position to enjoy the journey. It can become mindful, almost meditative at times, the in and out of breath… but yeah, there are times when the hill just feels bloody elastic!!! It’s just stretches on and on and on… That’s where you just need to be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up if you are last (honestly, no-one cares, they’re just trying to reach the top themselves) and give yourself permission to go at your own pace. You’ll get there. The tortoise truly was the wisest in the race.
What are three pieces of equipment every trekker should take with them?
- A great attitude: ability to control fears, good sense of humour, and team mentality.
- Shoes/boots that are like your best friends - worn in, supportive and that don’t create pain.
- Thermals… no matter the time of year!
What adventures do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
After hearing my bushwalking friends talk about Tassie’s South Coast Track for sooo long, I’m very excited to be able to head down there early 2018. It’s going to be a bit of a kick off to the year for me in a walking sense and I can hardly wait! In 2018, I’m hoping to get to walk in areas of Australia that I haven’t done much, like Western Australia and more of Queenslands Great Walks in their National Parks. It’s a great system that they have developed, but I think I’ll wait until Autumn and Winter for those!