Chapter 1 – We Won’t Even Have A Sink!
Galloping down the mountain to find a gun to shoot one of our horses, I realised that I had bitten off more than I could chew.
My borrowed horse sensed my fear as we plunged down the trail. My mind focused on the gun, a necessity to terminate excruciating pain. There was a broken horse on the ridge. He had released a knowing groan as his fetlock snapped.
Plunge, jump, ford – I squeezed my aching legs around my brave mount. We both expelled urgent breaths from our flared nostrils. I had to find a gun!
Sweat and tears mingled, running clean streaks along my grubby face, my eyes stinging. My heart banged in my chest, while the horse’s heart thrummed beneath my calf muscles. Time slowed as if we hurtled through syrup.
I cursed Noel – it was his idea. Not to shoot the horse, but living with horses twenty-four seven while trekking along the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT). We had rescued five lost beasts that could have been destined for dog meat. Over many months of struggle, we transformed the seven of us into a team.
There’s a thrill to exploring remote locations in Australia by horseback that you can’t reach by car. The added challenge of carrying all you need, plus the ingrained joy of riding, all culminated into a new adventure.
We had purchased a small cottage in Australia and planned to spend at least two years working after our previous escapades of sailing around the world one-and-a-half times.
While sailing, and particularly when bouncing around in lumpy seas, we’d often dreamed about a land-based journey encompassing the same freedom of sailing. Ideas of riding horses along trails that were void of people and cars floated into our thoughts and discussions, but we didn’t think it was possible. Once we learned about the trail, though, we saw the possibilities.
Seventeen years ago, after our wedding, we had owned a ten metre sailboat and not much else, actually everything we owned was on that boat. The sail from Australia to England was stress free. In England we purchased and renovated a small house to rent out, to help fund the trip back to Australia.
Sailing from England back to Australia the rented house caused a great deal of stress, especially when the delightful tenant didn’t think breaking every door and door frame was enough, and then set it alight!
You can see, we don’t sit still for long. Noel and I are kindred spirits. We crave freedom, movement, and the adrenaline rush of a challenge. Away from people, houses, offices, roads and cars I find an inner sense of peace and contentment, my headspace changes. I can breathe, not from lack of pollution but without the constraints and restrictions of life.
It started young for me. I’ve taken a long time to understand who I am, but even when I was a head strong teenager I had a deep, unanswered craving for complete liberty.
It was February 2013, and our inner travel-devil told us it was time to sell everything – again; and become vagrants – again. We’d learned that travel and land-based responsibilities don’t mix – the freedom is marred.
So, we had learned about the trail. We’d found the way to bring a dream to life. We made up our minds; we became blinkered.
The Bicentennial National Trail is Australia’s long distance, multi-use recreational trekking route, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown in tropical far north Queensland to Healesville in Victoria. The trail follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the Eastern Escarpment.
We sold everything, reverted back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of our first years of marriage, and lived with the bare minimum.
Our good friends, Clive and Andrea, own a spare cottage (as you do on six-hundred glorious acres in NSW). We planned to rent the home and keep our horses there too. We just needed the horses!
We’d been back on land for a year after sailing for a couple of years, softening physically and mentally. Spongy feet, protected by shoes day-in, day-out, would need toughening. The cushions that caressed our buttocks and the car that provided instant transport would be replaced by firm saddles.
When we revealed our plans to Noel’s daughter Mel and his brother Colin, they both looked at us a bit strangely, and Col asked, ‘Have you sat on a horse recently?’
Noel pondered for a while. ‘Erm, the last time was forty years ago, but I did lead one by the head collar the other day.’ We all went a bit quiet.
Colin weaved his fingers together and turned to me. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘at least you have lots of experience with horses.’ We all felt a bit better, until I calculated that my last foray with the horsey world was over twenty years ago!
With that revelation, we all broke into nervous laughter. We sipped our tea and avoided eye contact, all picturing real and imagined horrors.
‘There’ll be some giggles along the way,’ I said to Colin.
‘Keep the camera on Noel,’ he advised. Little did I know, it would be me the camera should be turned to.