I’ve embarrassed myself on downhill and cross country skis. I’ve pedalled kilometres of rail trails and mountain biked down Mt Buller (which resulted in several physiotherapy sessions).
I’ve ridden horses in Victoria’s high country (sore knees), a donkey in Egypt (shaken and stirred), camels in the Sahara Desert, around the pyramids of Giza and in the James Range, south of Alice Springs, and motorbike taxied through Bangkok’s gridlock.
I’ve abseiled, skydived and scaled indoor rock climbing walls.
And all these adventures confirmed that I’m happiest under my own power with only shoe leather – or, more often these days, some man-made polymer – between me and terra firma.
So why do I love bushwalking? Other than not having to don Lycra and work out in an air-conditioned gym?
What’s not to love about breathing air perfumed with ozone, wildflowers and rainforest humus? Tasting salt spray and hugging shaggy giant red tingle trees and smooth, pink-barked angophoras? Feeling the sun’s kiss and the sting of icy blasts? Hearing the music of wind, water and bird song?
One of the many highlights of my walking life was sitting trackside on the Cathedral Range, near Marysville, central east Victoria, watching a male lyrebird in full display performing a remarkable repertoire of bird calls to an apparently unimpressed entourage of hens.
What’s not to love about standing atop a mountain taking in views of multiple ridges in darkening shades of blue; and crouching in leaf litter studying a rain-beaded orchid?
Or gazing across country so flat you can see the curvature of our planet; and exploring crevices in Earth’s crust, with millions of years of geological craftsmanship at your fingertips?
Or walking where the first Australians left their marks in ochre over thousands of years; and where chained convicts inspired by the lash fashioned Colonial era engineering feats?
Or pitching a tent among snow gums or in the shadow of a soaring cliff and dozing off under a canopy of stars or a moon so bright it casts shadows?
And then there’s the chocolate and jelly snakes, the trail mix (scroggin to some) that gets you through a walk; and the guilt-free pleasure of tucking into high-calorific food, such as Aunty Betty’s indulgent individual Belgian chocolate steamed puddings, after working your body hard up hills and down.
A friend of mine, Coral Eden to give her deserved acknowledgement, has gone down in hiking history for her selfless act of carrying the makings of golden syrup dumplings up Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest peak (1986m), and cooking dessert for eight in Cleve Cole Hut.
But perhaps bushwalking’s main attraction for me is that, unlike nonsensical sports – apologies to joggers; I’ll never fathom your motivation! – I can, and intend to, climb mountains, explore deserts, follow ancient river beds, and go on fungi hunts on foot well into wrinklehood – albeit with the increasing assistance of trusty walking poles, to ease the stress on my knees.
An online search unearthed a quote that sums up my rest-of-life philosophy:
“We don’t stop hiking because we grow old –
We grow old because we stop hiking.”