Friday 1 September 2023
“Remove the lifejacket by pulling the tab.” She intrudes the instruction into my consciousness just as the 717-200 bumps into reverse and an unseen tug pushes us away from the terminal. We are eventually enjoined to respect each other, a message which is a sign of our times and sadly needed. Is that because the flight is full of grumpy looking Sydneysiders heading off for a bit of ‘air down there’? Of course not. We are a mixed lot this morning but we do look like a mostly cheery bunch of folk looking forward to at least a weekend in Tasmania. By the way, whoever came up with the advertising line for Tasmania – Come down for air – needs at least a pat on the back. It’s inspired.
We weighed in pretty much as planned. 21.2 kg and to be at that for ten days s pretty good. To have it all in one pack is even better. Ironically enough the pack is as tight as a drum for the purposes of getting to the track. One we are at the track head a few things will come out of it and the compression will be eased.
We have fortunately addressed the logistics a few weeks out rather than a couple of days out, which can be my inclination with outdoor planning these days. Ten days on our own on the track means we need to have the gear squared away as best we can. Once that aircraft departs the Melaleuca Airstrip we are a six to ten day walk to the nearest road and however many hours after that to a shop.
Apart from the usual written checklist, having the gear out on the dining table for a few days helps in the checking. I break gear into broad groups and mentally cover off what needs to be in each. Sleep. Clothing (split into wet weather gear and other) Food. Boots and socks are a group all of their own which merits special attention. I can put up with shortcomings in most other areas, especially if I am well shod. In fact the boots were the first gear check and upgrade about four months ago. Water system. Finally tossed my 13year old water bladder and invested in a new one. Medical. Other.
The slow time of reviewing gear is a timetable dictated by the meal planning. That requires more care than one might expect. Ten days of meals can’t be thrown together at the last minute. If they are, the weight easily overwhelms you. 100 grams of electrolyte, for example, over ten days, becomes a kilogram. 100 grams of scroggin becomes another kilogram. You get the idea. We purchase food for its calorific value as well as its weight. A 230g food item will be put aside in favour of a 90g item even if it is tastier. We have designed our meals to be self supporting (no shared menus) should there be a separation (very unlikely, but plan for the worst). I carried the group’s (12 or so) flour supply on Stewart Island when I was 15, the weight of which still impacts my shoulder 45+years later. On that occasion I was relieved to hear that damper was on the menu on the second evening. But had I been separated for any reason kilograms of flour would have made for very basic survival food.
Each day is sealed in its own bag. Breakfast was planned out first and cereal carefully weighed, with milkpowder added. Just add water on the day and stir or shake well. Then the evening meal. Followed by lunch which will be a very basic crisp bread sandwich. Add a soup sachet, scroggin, and coffee. Multiply by ten plus an extra ’emergency day’ and food is now the largest item by volume and weight. Include some treats to expand the load a little more.
I have to be careful with treats as these tend to be unplanned and thrown in at the last minute, confounding the packing of the pack. In 1977 I undertook a ten day walk across the Australian Alps, the route starting in Omeo and finishing in Cooma. A friend paid the fee which covered the train fare to Omeo, and air fare from Cooma back to Melbourne (a TAA F-27). I had only sufficient funds to purchase ten sachets of Deb (a potato powder) and ten sachets of dried peas. Both cost me ten cents a sachet. Each only weighed a few grams so weight and volume were not an issue. But after a week of nothing but reconstituted potatoes and peas it took nothing at all to induce me to try and catch a trout lingering in the shade of an overhanging bush in one of those clear, still alpine streams. It fell to a wriggling grasshopper impaled on a bit of rusty fence wire I had found and in turn attached to a boot lace. I had numerous small tubes of condensed milk, butter and jam, remnants of Army ration packs, and that trout (plus many others) was bliss when fried in some concentrated butter.
However the standout treat that afternoon came from a fair haired boy I was trekking with who boiled up some dehydrated apples. He must have read my desperate thoughts as he lifted the billy lid and a frothy sweetness boiled over into the fire, handing me a slice on the end of a stick. I savoured that treat for as long as I could and didn’t ask for another. Boiled up apple slices remain a stand out favourite and one packet of them was thrown in without regard to volume or weight. (A reasonable budget recipe for a sweet while on the track at the time was to take some of those tubes from the ration packs. Take a used tin can (we all still had a few of those before freeze dried food), empty sachets of sugar into it and place over the fire. As the sugar melts empty an equal amount of condensed milk into it.Stir with a stick until stiff and the mixture is nicely adhering to the stick. Remove from heat before it burns, which it will do with no warning. DO NOT put it near your mouth for five minutes or risk serious burns. The caramel treat wrapped on your eucalypt wand is to die for).
So we pass over Jervis Bay and tight as a drum packs are (hopefully) in the hold and contain all we need to enjoy our time in the wilderness. The check list in this notebook is tweaked and tested. The mental checklist is active too. Matches! Don’t forget matches. We can’t have these in the plane so need to purchase them when we get there. We have a day in Hobart to make sure everything is in order so I am confident our launch will happen with us properly and completely fitted out.
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