Autumn has always been my favourite time to hike. This morning, the leaves are forming soft cushioning under my feet, though after a few more days of no rain I know they will crackle like the discarded twisties packets we sometimes find.
Growing up in Victoria, we learn early to value a beautiful day. For people from other states, the cliché quote ‘four seasons in a day’ may have some degree of merit, but it’s a bit old and besides, I think as I look around me, who could discount the beauty of this morning with mist hovering in the crevices of the mountain range, and a still rising sun with all the promise that brings?
I quicken my pace to catch my grandmother, who in her typical fashion, strides forth at a pace belying her advancing years. I try to keep up, really I do, but there is always so much to look at. An elaborate web covered with dew glistening in the early sunlight, housing an enormous golden orb. The shape of the lone and sparse tree on the hill above us (called with enormous creativity and imagination ‘One Tree Hill’) that I always find so gentle and welcoming with the graceful curve of its branches.
We’ve covered a fair bit of ground by now, up towards the top of the range, to the north of One Tree Hill where I know there is some shade and respite from the increasing temperature that is only partly responsible for my soaking shirt. My grandmother smiles are me and I know what she is thinking; getting soft girl, you need to be hiking with me more often and I know it’s true for so many reasons.
This is our time, just us and the beauty of the outdoors. Grass re-emerging after a blistering summer, beautiful and brightly coloured butterflies, and the less attractive March Flies that seem to cluster around us like locusts. Holes and dung, both evidence of an out of control rabbit population we try to avoid. And always the elms, the beautiful elms that mean this is home.
Ahead of me, my grandmother has slowed and I know she is heading towards the giant tree sitting at the edge of their dam. It has a low lying branch that is almost horizontal, on which when we were little we played endlessly. I smile at what lies ahead; this is a woman with her priorities straight and I watch as she pulls out a beaten up old thermos, two plastic mugs that were probably taken directly from the Ark, and a foil package that I know contains homemade lamingtons. Morning tea!
Back to reality, and I reach into my pack for my snacks which are – sadly – store bought, healthy and nutritious and somewhat unappealing. True to today’s foodie fashion, the ingredient list replaces white flour, white sugar, in fact anything white, with items identified by numbers only. I smile again as I almost hear another grandmotherly snort. Twenty two years she’s been gone but still there, still prodding me forward.
Peeling off my sock to address the blister starting to form, I sigh as I realise I’m still only half way through today’s training. The blister I can fix. But my quads are screaming at me, my pack is heavy and the sun is high in the sky, meaning the open climb in the next section will hurt more than usual.
Blister addressed, I stand up and pull my pack on. Sighing, I survey my map and try to calculate the altitude and distance yet to be completed. Maybe best not to know.
I can still smell those lamingtons, and I pray that’ll get me through the rest of today. But dammit, memories can only get you so far!