Second chances can be rare. My last post, The Tarcoola Track, showcased a very short city walk. The 21km Ship’s Stern Circuit at Lamington National Park is at the other end of the extreme and for me was a celebration of being given a second chance.In my mid 30s, a doctor bluntly told me it was impossible to reverse the severe deterioration in my joints and bones. He gave me no clear reason for the degeneration and deformity other than possible overuse and malnutrition in my youth. He told me to accept the fact that I had the body of someone 30 years older and would just have to live with the constant pain. I left the surgery numb and defeated.
In 2010, I made a birthday trip with my teenagers to the O’Reilly’s section of Lamington National Park. It was a place I dearly wanted to see before I got much worse. I spent most of that day with a crimson face, sweat pouring off me and holding back tears from searing neck, back, hip, knee, and feet pain. The frustration was a turning point though. For my children’s sake I sought a second medical opinion. After receiving a diagnosis of coeliac disease and lactose intolerance I changed my diet. This helped me absorb more essential nutrients from my food. For the first time, I invested money in very expensive footwear and with the encouragement of my daughter, embarked on a gentle exercise program to regain my fitness. I also received a positive result for Ross River Virus which doctors suspected had triggered an auto-immune condition. There were answers after all.
Two years later I was cycling over 200km/week and here I am now in 2016 back at Lamington National Park able to do 20km walks with a backpack. I’m still red faced and sweating, but constant pain has gone. I’m incredibly thankful to be given a second chance. Many people don’t receive one. It’s partly why I include short gentle walks in my posts. I want my blog to share experiences that are inclusive of people who are physically impaired.
I was told recently that the adventure world can be quite ableist in the way it often rewards those with superior physical and mental abilities and may focus on achievement being solely due to a person’s toughness. There can be a tendency to glorify those who conquer superior challenges and to regard others as weak or lacking in motivation, but we are not all born physically and mentally equal.
Sometimes I read discussions about definitions of a true hike and comparisons are common. What’s a true hiker? What’s a real adventure? It’s all relative. My relative’s child was born with only a few stubs instead of fingers and toes. Another was born with a rare metabolic condition which left her confined to a wheelchair after a few years. My brother had serious congenital heart problems which limited his physical activities, and my son had an intra-spinal tumour at the age of six which left him unable to compete in contact sports. We can waste a lot of time being critical or we can promote adventure as something that comes in many forms and make it more accessible to everyone.
A few years ago I watched this short video about David Stratton, an Australian man confined to a wheelchair from MS who through the use of a Trail Rider and helpers was able to experience mountain views again. He has worked hard to promote the use of this mobility device and training courses for helpers in Australia, to give wheelchair bound kids and adults access to wild places. You can also read about his trip to the Grampians, in Victoria in this article.
I completed the Ship’s Stern walk close to the 20th anniversary of my younger brother’s death. It was another reason to be thankful. Matt’s reply to my last question, “Is there anything I can do for you?” was “Janey, I just want you to be happy.” It was with a reflective mind that I ventured up to the mountain by myself that day.
The class 4, Ship’s Stern Circuit is around 21km, depending on whether you take short side tracks to view lower Ballanjui Falls and extra lookouts. While it’s a long walk, for most of the way the gradient is gentle to moderate. However, some paths were in poor condition when I did it. National Park rangers and volunteers are kept extremely busy clearing paths due to regular tree falls and the activities of storms and heavy rain (as well as picking up rubbish from irresponsible visitors.) They do a wonderful job with limited resources. As you can imagine, keeping a 20km less popular track clear is a huge job. I enjoyed all the obstacles though as it made the walk feel a little more wild. Obstacles on cliff paths may have been more problematic for my tall friends though. On this occasion my midget build was an advantage.
Paths overgrown with ferns, shrubs and grass made me nervous about paralysis ticks and glad I’d brought my snake bite kit.
Without phone reception for parts of it I took fewer risks than usual, keenly aware that falling off a cliff edge or being bitten by a snake would create a whole lot of inconvenience for many people and could even be slightly painful for me.
The best part of this walk for me was the variation in terrain. It included rainforest, piccabeen palm groves, open eucalypt, native wildflowers, waterfalls, creeks and lookouts. And the change could be dramatic. One minute you’re enclosed in cool, dark green rainforest, the next you’re on an exposed rocky ledge surrounded by amazing views.
Unfortunately, because I was keeping a fast pace (well, fast for me) so I could finish before nightfall, I kept forgetting to adjust my camera settings. I ended up taking landscape pictures on macro settings and macro shots on landscapes settings. Light conditions changed constantly and I just couldn’t keep up with the ISO settings. The AUTO option couldn’t cope either with the dark and dappled light conditions of the rainforest or the glaring sunshine of a cloudless Queensland sky. I hope the album still gives you an idea of what it has to offer though.
Fungi was in abundance as usual. What a shame I took such poor shots of them.
Flowering banksias were attracting the birds and the bees.
Giant scribbly gums, she-oaks and grass trees grew on the more exposed eastern side.
Lower Ballanjui Falls was worth the extra 1.2km side trip on what turned into a hot day.
Unusually for me, there were no mishaps, well apart from thinking I was half-way when I wasn’t. I had reception at what I thought was a lookout, gleefully took a picture with my phone and sent it off to a friend who lives south. He was experiencing a 12C day while it was a typically warm 30C winter day in QLD.
Feeling relieved that I was ahead of schedule, I relaxed at the ledge and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. Several kilometres later I came across the real mid-point and had to pick up the pace.
I finished the walk in about 7 hours which is less than the 8 hours recommended by Queensland National Parks. I think this is a first for me but I was rushing most of the way to avoid driving home in the dark. If you want to really appreciate the views, take high quality photographs and spot wildlife, plan to take more time. You’ll notice a lack of wildlife pictures which is in contrast to my last post, the Tarcoola Track in suburban Brisbane. It’s a reminder that you don’t have to travel all the way to Lamington National Park to encounter wildlife. In fact, if you’re an inexperienced photographer like me it can be a frustrating endeavour to film wildlife in rainforest. You hear creatures, but they’re often invisible in the canopy or hiding behind vines and branches which makes focusing difficult. I spent a long time unsuccessfully “hunting” catbirds on this walk. When I finally returned to the carpark, there was one right out in the open. I sometimes wonder if they enjoy playing jokes on me. Update: Thanks to my blogger friend, Ashley, for correcting me. Once again I got confused with my bird identification. This is actually a Bassian Thrush rainforest bird. Thanks, Ashley! 🙂
For more detailed information about the Binna Burra section of Lamington National Park, read my posts, Caves Circuit and Ballanjui Falls, Lycra Man’s Attachment Issues and Coomera Circuit or check the excellent national parks site. Comments from others who’ve completed this walk may also be found at the Aussie Bushwalking site.
Amanda from Walks and Wines also did the Ships Stern Circuit this year if you want to read about her impressions. Amanda had a health scare some years ago and is making the best of her “second chance.”
Thank you for reading. May second chances come your way also. If you’re mentally or physically ill, or exhausted from being a carer of others and it’s an achievement just to get through each day, you’re my hero.