Walking around Tasmania (part 1) : Prologue

In my hand I was holding one of my Sea to Summit stuff sacks, the small green one, filled with zip lock bags containing coffee and chocolate milk powder, tea bags and bits of food. It was pitch dark and it was up there, raised into the sky, clutched tight by my fingers that I didn’t dare move. I waited. Paranoid by the scenarios running violently through my mind. I had been woken by a sudden thrust into my tent and in an instant picked up the stuff sack and had hit whatever it was that was trying to force its way through the thin fabric. I imagined a bunch of drunk guys stumbling into my tent, intent on hurting me, or worse, the thing I was afraid of more than anything else. It could be an animal. But I was unable to move and didn’t even think to scream. It was my second night sleeping alone in a tent and I wasn’t sure I was capable of doing this. I was utterly vulnerable and quite simply, petrified.

I was camping on the edge of a national park with the nearest small town nine kilometers away. It was pretty impossible for drunk guys to show up at this campsite. But I was alone and something had just attacked me. It was all I could think. It had gone quiet. After moments of being frozen in time, I forced the thought of opening the tent’s fly to look outside. I had to know what was out there. I moved. I opened the inner tent and then reached for the outer fly. My hands, shaking visibly. The zip opened and my right palm rested on the cold, hard ground while I leaned forward. Right in front of me stood an animal, glaring at me. Only a few meters away. An animal. The size of a small wallaby, maybe, but nothing like it in terms of looks. My fears dissipated. It wasn’t a person who had fallen into my tent. It was just an animal. A possum, I guessed, maybe a Tasmanian devil, but I couldn’t see beyond the ruthless glare. A weight lifted off me. An animal, an animal. That was it. It wasn’t until the next day that I realised I had kept bread inside the tent where the animal had attacked, and there were three little holes in the fabric where it had struck, and where I had given it a good bash in return.

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The following morning: the scene of the attack.

Walking Around Tasmania

I had just started my journey to walk around Tasmania. A project I had never considered doing before, a long distance hike I didn’t even know was anything people did. I had been backpacking around East Asia, and I mostly didn’t like it. Spending day after day travelling, figuring out how to reach a destination and standing alongside a bunch of fellow tourists looking at some attraction was, quite distintly, not my type of thing. In fact, I felt so anxiety-ridden that I ended up in a hospital in Taiwan getting tested for a serious disease, when in fact, all my symptons were stress-induced. While most people would argue I was living the dream, to me, I didn’t think I was very good at it. All I knew was that I didn’t feel as though I was getting anything out of it. And that’s the reason I had left all my old comforts behind. To seek out something new, to learn something, to put myself into a situation that would confront me, teach me something, anything. But to me, backpacking just seemed like a long, stressful, holiday, and it didn’t inspire me. I remember going to the Taroko Gorge in Taiwan, a feat of nature, truly awesome in the real sense of the word, and I didn’t enjoy it one bit. Tourist buses made their way up the mountain range and everyone got off in certain spots along the way, walking beside the road to gaze at nature from behind a fence, to hop back into the bus to visit the next section. I hated it.

Not the only person interested in viewing the Taroko Gorge.

I knew I wanted to become a part of the experience, a part of my surroundings, not stand next to them and view them from a distance. Luckily, I discovered what I did love. Hiking. I had begun to go into the mountains for a few days at a time and spent the night in mountain huts. I loved it. When I met a long-distance hiker in Japan, I was quickly intrigued, and I wanted to challenge myself to the same thing. I decided to walk around Tasmania, following the coastline and circumnavigating the whole island. At the time, I had no experience and no gear. Nothing I had brought with me was relevant for this type of backpacking, so after being on the road for almost nine months, I was forced to replace nearly everything. It was a huge, costly, gamble, but I knew I had to try.

Hiking in Yakushima, Japan: thoroughly excited, and with all the wrong gear. Using a rain poncho to create a bed in a mountain hut.

And here I was. Following the route I had carefully set out, walking about 30 km every day to reach the 1,600 total it was going to take to circle the island. I had three months to complete the journey. And I had no idea what I was doing.

The morning after the animal attack, I woke with the sun. I felt a weight lifted when I realised I had accomplished something, faced a fear and made it through the night, alone in a tent. Maybe I could do it. Maybe it was okay.

That night I was planning on staying at a caravan park in a small town, which certainly would be safe, and easy. I packed up my tent, which had been sloppily erected the night before with the back pegs staked into the ant-infested grass beyond the campsite’s perimeter, and the front of the tent not staked at all. To my horror, the ground had been too hard to get any pegs in. I was saved by my semi-free standing tent, which I could set up without staking it out. I had no idea it would be such an advantage. I packed up efficiently and went on my way.

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I walked 31 km that day. Happy, alone, at ease. I reached the park and paid for my camping spot. While I was setting up my tent, a man approached me. I recognised his attire. He was one of the motorcyclists from the group that had passed me earlier that day. He was trying to chat with me, joke a little and offer me beer, but all he did was freak me out. When I finally sat in my tent, I burst into tears. I had thought the wild camping and the unsupervised sites at national parks would be frightening as a solo female hiker, but was I going to feel unsafe no matter where I was? Was I going to be afraid of everyone, including the people at paid campsites? I had to wonder, how was I ever going to finish my journey and walk around the whole of Tasmania?

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Hiking, solo.