After a pretty decent sleep in a real bed, I didn’t feel much like getting up and hiking 30km into the forest. Luckily, a girl I had met the day before told me that it was possible to camp before the hut, after about a 6 hour hike, and this is what I intended to do.
There was an hour-long stint along the road before I reached the track into Longwood Forest. Lots of signs near the entrance told me that some Chinese people lived here in the 1870s, finding gold in the mountains. The track followed an old water race that was used to filter the gold from the clay.
About an hour into the track I met a guy in his 70s who said he loved to come out and do the 2 hour loop every day. He said he saw a lot of hikers come through and felt bad he never picked one up on the side of the road to drop them at the track beginning. He seemed worried that I was alone and told me I was taking a risk. He’d come across a few tossers around, he said.
This irked me, and I’m not completely sure why. He’s definitely not the first man to tell me I’m taking a risk by doing something alone. Although his warning to be careful came from a caring place, part of me wondered if he’d ever told any of those tossers he met to be careful.
So, after being reminded I am a woman, of course my mind began to do the usual thing, reviewing what had happened so far that day, reviewing my instincts upon running into everyone I had run into so far, mentally locating my two trailmates and calculating how long I’d need to wait for them to catch up to me, and how likely it was that they were even still behind me, and hadn’t hitched past me on the road section. I thought about the black ute I’d seen pull over just past me on the road, stop a while, and then turn down the road leading to the trail head. I remember seeing the same ute parked next to Well Meaning Man’s silver one (I asked him which one was his) at the trail head carpark. I wondered how locally well known the The Araroa trail was in Colac Bay, and how often locals see hikers wandering up the road to head into Longwood Forest.
I spent the rest of the morning walking in a mild rage, pissed off that I was now scared doing one of the things I love. I took out my headphones and walked tentatively so I would be able to hear Black Ute Person before they heard me. I was poised and ready, should they jump out of their hiding spot to attack me, to fight back with all kinds of feminist fury.
As I got further and further into the forest, the fear subsided as I convinced myself no one, not even the malicious Black Ute Person, would park up and head 10km into the bush on the off chance I would also be heading 10km down that same path, so they could attack me. I figured, even if they did, surely if they got close enough to smell me, they’d change their mind immediately.
The afternoon was spent sliding around in mud, navigating gullies, squeezing through fallen trees, going for accidental swims, and swearing a fair bit. Around 5pm I came across the Friendly Black Ute Day Hikers, who had parked up, gone the whole way up the track, and were now headed back to their ute, to go home. They were from Invercargill, and they were lovely.
An hour later I found the campsite I heard about, pitched my tent, made dinner, and promptly fell asleep, after a physically and emotionally demanding day.