The second time Farmdoc and I walked Tasmania's World Heritage Overland Track, we decided to start at Lake St Clair, so that watching Cradle Mountain loom larger would be the culmination of our journey. Most through-walkers begin at Cradle Mountain, and in fact in-season these days it’s mandatory, but we’d walked it in that direction the first time, and we thought it’d be fun to do it in reverse.
We planned to take five days and to camp if the huts were full, so our packs were heavy. I carried the scroggin, a generous bag of dried fruit and nuts, in a separate compartment my rucksack has at the very top. I wanted to be able to reach it whenever I felt peckish.
On the first day, within the first hour in fact, I tripped on an exposed tree root that had snaked across the path. I was unbalanced, carrying that big pack, and I fell. I put out my hands and caught myself, but just when I was sure I was done falling, the pouch at the top of my pack punched me in the back of the head, forcing my face down onto the track and smacking my nose into the ground. It seemed to happen in slow motion, as though to underline how out of my control it was.
I wasn’t hurt, except for my pride and a cut on my nose. I laughed at myself, Farmdoc helped me up, and we kept walking.
We were walking against the flow of hikers so we were meeting new people all the time, and whenever we stopped someone would ask me how I'd acquired that fresh wound on my face. If they didn’t speak English they’d just point. Sometimes they’d say, ‘Leech?’ and point. I’d shake my head and tell them the story – or mime it.
The last day of our walk was cold and rainy, Cradle Mountain shrouded in mist. Instead of seeing the mountain as we approached, we passed without even knowing it was there. Besides, it was so cold we feared hypothermia if we stopped too long to look.
We walked out of the park, my nose just about healed of its mark of shame, and took a bus back to civilization.
I’m not sure why I feel the need to tell this story now. But I can’t get the memory out of my mind. That day at the beginning of the Overland Track we were alongside Lake St Clair, the water glinting at us through the trees. The air was cold and crisp and sweet with unseen plants and with the promise of the five-day walk ahead through button grass plains and myrtle forests. And then I was pushed into the mud, face down, felled by my own backpack.
I don’t know when I’ve felt more fully human.