Bibbulmun Track: Our first backpacking adventure as a couple
It was my idea to tackle the Bibbulmun Track together. I’d been working from home for over six months due to the pandemic and I had a kind of cabin fever that I can’t even describe.
I yearned to get off-grid and shock my system in a way that would shake the ‘2020 sucks’ vibe that the world and social media seemed to be emanating.
The Bibbulmun Track is a world-renowned 1000km trail of true Australian Bushland, which snakes from Kalamunda to Albany through a few small country towns. Our intention was complete the track end-to-end in one go, but work/life commitments didn’t quite allow for that. Instead, we settled on doing a large chunk of it at the end of 2020—and the rest in 2021.
600km of hiking seemed big and, admittedly, my boyfriend Salty and I underestimated the breadth of challenges we would face embarking on such an intense physical and emotional journey together.
There was plenty of pre-hike planning that kept us busy. We even attended a workshop run by the Bibbulmun organisation to give us the best chance of getting it right. It gave us an invaluable insight into what to pack, what not to pack, and what to expect along the way. It’s also how we learned we needed to send parcels full of food and essentials ahead of ourselves.
Pack enough food
Food is the main dilemma when working through the logistics of any thru-hike. Calorie input will never cover output. Plus, you can only eat what you can carry—and too much weight can put an end to your hiking goals real quick. Salty has a faster metabolism and is bigger than me, so he carried extra high-calorie snacks to supplement his main meals. I carried beef jerky for extra protein and iron, and chickpeas as I find they help me at times during my cycle.
Our staple diet on the Bibbulmun Track was freeze-dried meals, which are a multi-day hike game changer. The variety meant we never had cravings—and they’re super light and pack virtually flat. Also, the ability to just-add-water directly into the packaging bags meant no dirty dishes when water was at a premium. When the meal was done, the resealable bags meant we could seal ‘em up to put in our rubbish bag with no yucky smells (which I was grateful for—as it was my job to carry it to the next town).
Practice makes perfect
Our backpacks were chosen to suit our own individual build—50L for my, let’s-say, slight stature and 85L for Salty’s taller frame. We did home workouts and trained with weighted backpacks in our footwear pre-hike, though our actual bags ended up heavier than planned at 17kg and 26kg. The unexpected weight was tough at times, especially when we were carrying full-capacity water (7-8kg between us).
To our credit, we used every single item in our packs. Our gear was all perfectly organised in dry bags and we had the lightest gear in comparison to every other person we met along the way. Salty’s heftier kit was due to camera gear of every type; drone, digital camera + lens, GoPro, tripod and all the batteries.
Capturing the moment and moving on
Filming and documenting beautiful imagery on this type of expedition was no easy feat. Our one and only ‘fight’ was partially related to this. I was struggling (and probably hangry) but Salty wanted to shoot the ethereal glow cause by a recent burn off.
We had a tough 30km to hike that day and I just wanted to get on with it. In a huff, I took off ahead, at a speed I probably couldn’t have achieved without my stubbornness fuelling me. Five kilometres later, I stopped and waited for him to catch up. He was far behind, primarily because I was going so fast but also (I’m sure) because he might’ve been going excruciatingly slow in retaliation. Either way, we got it out of our system and moved on. It’s important to not hold grudges on the trail.
Support each other
I have a known problematic iliotibial band condition (inflamed knees and hips) that flared up from day one of our hike. This was our first real test both as individuals and as a partnership. The pain was horrific and it was hard for Salty to witness, but he remained upbeat and I remained resilient.
Salty was so supportive and after four days I had built the strength, fitness, tissue/muscles required to get through it. This experience, so early on, showed us how important it was for each of us to be our best selves so the team could be successful.
We mostly played to our strengths on the Bibbulmun Track—Salty navigated and carried heavier when we were tired, I kept us organised throughout and made us comfortable. This generally involved setting up our his-and-hers sleep systems by inflating our sleeping mats and pillows, and allowing our sleeping bags to loft, as well as ensuring we kept as clean as possible. Wilderness Wipes, washing our clothes, using organic deodorant, and taking duck baths using our towels and Watercells made this doable. We often traded roles when the other needed extra encouragement and support (although Salty would say that the times I navigated were also the times we got lost! Ha!).
Little rituals on the Bibbulmun Track
There were also some things that we did together to brighten our mood. One of our favourite rituals was making coffee, which we did a few times a day. First cup was when we woke up with the sun, second at the 7-10km mark (or with breakfast) and third at lunch or after 20km. Salty would grind the beans and then as I took out the burner, gas, cups, and water, he would brew the coffee. We both knew our jobs to do, often without words, and we got better at this as time and kilometres went on.
In our preparations, we downloaded podcasts and Spotify playlists in anticipation of days in silence, but we ended up chatting the entire way. We talked dreams, hopes, family, self-development and sometimes straight-up nonsense.
Looking back four weeks on, the Bibbulmun Track taught us many things about ourselves as individuals and as a couple. At the end of the 2020 leg, as we walked into Pemberton, we looked at each other tearily and Salty said to me ‘congratulations, you’re my hero’ and I realised in the exact same instant that he was mine.