Before I go on, like all my stories, the title was the most frightening part. I tend to exaggerate and probably have let a lot people down with the fact that I didn’t actually almost die. But never mind that, keep reading, who knows what could happen. I’ll die someday.
This is another Australia story. As many have probably heard Australia has some of the most dangerous animals in the world. And like the paranoia of being caught wearing mismatching socks by Tim Gunn, I was a tad worried of these famous buggers.
Now I hadn’t completely willingly signed up for this bush walk. There was an information session. And let me tell you- they are fronts, not for human trafficking, but clever plots to force people to experience nature whatever the cost. I went by myself, it was in the upstairs of some rickety building. There was loads of people there actually (a good ruse to throw me off the kidnapping track) and three small tables with 55 plus year old men sitting at each one. They tell you about the various places they’re going, about the guides and the difficulty, blah blah blah. Here’s where it gets crafty, he says to me ‘it’s an 18 K (about 11 miles) walk with hills and maybe would I like to go on the beginner one instead?’ Pft! I say I’m a third of your age and have been hiking since I’ve 6, I think I can handle it. Okay, I’m much more polite in person, but he still had me right where he wanted me- the ego trip. The next thing I know I’m thirty dollars poorer and awake at a god forsaken hour where I am loading on the bus with the other sad saps.
The group contained a variety of people. Some other visitors in this dangerous land, a few veterans of bushwalking and the locals who decided they wanted to get out of the city and meet people, generally in the 40-60 year age range. A very friendly woman sat next to me on the bus, we talked about lots of things. I’ve never had a problem with talking with people older than me, I always find they have so many more stories to tell. And older generations don’t normally tell their stories like they’re trying to show you up and try to prove their life is so much more exciting than mine. I also get to avoid the annoying drunk stories where the young story teller always has this strange juxtaposition of ‘I did something pretty bad and I’m ashamed, but it’s so funny and cool, obviously.’ Then they look at me ‘like why aren’t you laughing?’ Oh yeah I forgot, I just thought you were being an idiot. ‘Ha ha’.
So after a couple hours on the bus we arrive and start the hike. The environment is so unique. I love it. Do you know what is also unique? Leeches. It was a heavily treed area and a fairly moist day. You walk, minding your own business and leeches fall from the leaves and land on your hand, arm, neck, leg – any exposed skin and suck your blood. I kid you not. They’re the size of your pinky and are dark black. The key is to let them finish their business because if you knock them off before they’re done you just bleed and bleed. When they finish they will clot the bite so they can save you for an after dinner snack. As you may have guessed, you shrewd reader you, the reason I know this is because not 10 minutes into the walk I was visited by the leech from hell. I was agile; the first thing I did was scream. The second thing was wave my hand back and forth wishing it away. The third was flicking it off with my other hand. Luckily I actually saved myself, it hadn’t bitten me yet. I laugh, recovering quickly, hiding my inner torment at the incident. Everyone had a nice laugh at me and we walked on.
Farther down the way we’re getting spread few and far between. There is a bit of a commotion up a head and the few people I’m with as well as myself have no idea what they’re saying. One person stays behind and as we approach they put their hands out like they’re about to stop a train and say quietly there’s a snake on the trail. We all freeze. Looking around, I don’t see anything, which is not exactly a good sign. I say ‘where is it?’ she put down her crossing guard hands and looks around. The lady literally shrugs, says ‘walk carefully’ and walks off. I mean I don’t think she realized that she just created an invisible wall that none of us really wanted to cross after that. I mean what if the snake leaped (yes leaped with legs) out of the long side grass as we passed? An older man who hadn’t heard about the snake passes us and walks on by. We hold our breath and say goodbye- he was a brave man who gave his life so we could pass and continue on our walk. But he lives (major plot twist, I know)! So a couple people tread carefully, then this Irish lady I had been talking with goes and then I follow. I didn’t want to be the last one, that’s always a bad sign in horror movies – I’ve done my homework. I thought I heard a rustle as I walk by and I peer closely, well as closely as one can when one is dashing by like a maniac. I’m convinced the snake was still there and I’m also convinced it was Australia’s deadliest snake.
The next scariest thing was a hiker’s worst nightmare. Blisters. I was borrowing hiking boots, not a very good idea at all. Stupid, stupid, stupid, in fact. If you learn anything from my story today- never borrow shoes for an 18K hike it’s just… anyone, anyone? Yep, stupid. Remember that first 10 minutes? Well my heels were already rubbing. By the second hour I was in agony, limping. I brought up the end and I’m surprised I made the whole walk without taking off my shoes. I didn’t look, I did not want to see the horrible wounds I had inflicted upon myself. Some people cut their wrists, I do blisters apparently. As much as I love complaining to my friends, I try not to inflict it on the general population. So no one really knows that my feet are killing me so much. Towards the end one of the guides comes to me and says ‘can you go a little faster, please?’ I was in the back straggling with the dreamy eyed metaphysical-ist and the out of shape Hawaiian shirt grandpa. So when he said this to me I must admit I felt a bit targeted – what about these guys?! ‘No! I’m not going to go any faster, you don’t know the pain I’m in and you hat is bothering me’. Obviously, I am much more polite in person because I cannot really ever come up with witty poignant comebacks. When we were back on the bus, I take off my shoes and peel off my socks which are sticking to the back of my feet. The blisters cover my entire heels and they’re ripped open and honestly just sad looking.
So I made it out alive, by a fairly wide hair, but a hair none the less. When I got home, I was changing out of my muddy clothes and on the back of my right calf I found a lovely reminder of the day: a large dried blob of blood and then tracks of blood down my leg. The second leech from hell had been more successful than the first. Brilliant.