This was back in the days when I feared traveling alone, so I held my week long Tasmanian experience as a simple place holder, a guarantee that I wouldn't freak out and give up on my travels until May. It was a harmless enough thought. I know myself; unless I have some skeleton, even a cheap flight, I would have potentially cowered away back to Broken Hill, declaring traveling was too expensive, too tiring, too unstructured, too lonely. I've mastered the art of using rationalization to back away from challenges. This Tasmania trip was to be the courage I needed to stick it out.
It wasn't until I was in the natural splendor of North Queensland that the Tasmania trip became something completely different, something real. My original plan was to simply meet a couple of like-minded travelers in Launceston, rent a car, and tour the island for a week. This was until I picked up my Lonely Planet after a North Queensland waterfall hike. Surrounded by rainforests that dwarf a man, forces one to see how small we are, I was in just the frame of mind for what jumped out on page 694: the Overland Track, five days, 80km, some of the most amazing scenery in the world.
I've always been an outdoorsy person at heart, definitely the product of my heredity. The idea of roughing it, being out there alone with nature has always held a very specific place in my soul. In practice however, his has been a different story. I may be an Eagle Scout, I may love to camp, hike, fish; I may have joined the BSA for this very reason, but really, I'm not a fanatic; my adult life has bred me into a city boy who merely takes a couple overnight excursions on weekends a few times a year. I really do love nature, I just prefer a hot shower more. The waterfalls of North Queensland helped me rediscover this nature loving part of me again.
It all made sense: Hiking. I was to become a true hiker, not some daytripper. It would be me alone with only my backpack full of food. The stories of my father, Uncle John and Steve, and Carlos came to mind. Why live such experiences vicariously? Page 694 lit my path. I was to do my first multi-day hike for the duration of my Tasmania trip.
There existed one major obstacle to this seemingly easy task: I was completely unprepared. Believe it or not, and I must say I was on the latter end of this, but Australia does experience winter, especially in the South. Now, by "winter", I mean that Australia has the laughably cold daytime temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit and at night, drops to the Jack Londonesque 35 degrees. "That's cold enough to see your breathe, mate!" This shouldn't be too daunting for a hearty native Minnesotan such as myself, but eight months in Australia's perfect weather has me grabbing my jacket when it drops below seventy. Although the temperatures are mild, I'd still need to "rug up" as the Aussies say. I had to start from scratch since I was only equipped with beach clothing. I also needed essential camping gear.
I started by making a simple mental list: tent, stove, cotton long johns, winter jacket, hat, gloves, and a cheap oversized raincoat. Word on the street, or the nearest travel agent, was that Kent St. was riddled with camping and hiking stores. This proved to be more than a rumor. There were more camping stores on Kent St. than whores and junkies at King's Cross.
I walked into the first one, wearing my patented, "I'm not ignorant" face.
"Can I help you?" the friendly Indian clerk asked.
"Well, yes sir, yes you can. I'm doing the Overland Track this week and I need to get rugged up and outfitted."
"Ok mate. So what do you need specifically, shoes, tent, jacket?"
"Ok, um...let's start with tents." He led me to the fabled land of fancy tents. "This here is a great one-man tent, completely waterproof, wind proof, good to temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celcius, aluminum poles (he said alumin-um, just like an American). Feel this" He handed me the tent. It weighed as little as a small package of pork chops; it almost fit in my pocket. "One kilo. Lifetime warranty."
"Wow indeed. And this is a steal! Oh, and it is my last one as well. $400" He noticed my not-ignorant face failing.
"You won't find a tent like this with a lifetime warranty, for that price anywhere else." (And this proved to be true. Most similar tents were up to $1000) "Shop around mate. I'll set this aside for you when you come back." $400! My budget only allowed me $50-100.
Without hesitation, he led me to a corner that was a forest of hangers with only rainjackets. "It rains a lot in Tasmania, so you'll need a good shell layer. This jacket here is 100% rain and wind proof. Feel it. Real gortex."
Mmmm gortex. I felt the smooth, yet rubbery sleeve and subtley turned the affixed price tag to my direction. $800.
"So will this keep me warm as well?" I asked.
"Oh no, sir!" The definity of his answer jabbed a hole right through what was left of my not-ignorant face. "This is just a shell layer. You'll need a good fleece jacket, coat, and of course (chuckle) thermals. I mean you at least have thermals right?"
"Of course!" I began nodding my head incessantly as I backed out of the store, directly into the next one only one meter away.
The woman at the next store looked much less threatening, though it may have been her pretty brown eyes. She did not seemed shock to see me walking backwards into her store.
"I'm doing the Overland Track this week; are these shoes going to cut it?" I pointed to my sneakers.
She turned her brown eyes to me with a sympathetic smile. "No, it is muddy, rainy, cold. The last thing you want is to spend a week walking with wet feet." Simple enough logic. She directed me to the giant wall of $300 shoes.
Out of the side of my eyes, in a far off corner, obscured by freeze dried lasagna and cooking stoves smaller than my fist, I saw my favorite word: Clearance.
"What about these over her; are these any good?"
"Well...they're ok. They're not gortex though.
"Will they keep my feet dry?"
"You might want to waterproof them first."
"I'm a size 9.
"I'll see what I have." She came back, handed me the shoes and gave me a bit of look over. She could see that I was quite green. "So you're going to Tasmania? You do have a good pair of thermals right?"
I couldn't fool the granola goddess. "No. Do you have any in gortex?"
"They don't make thermals out of gortex. We have two main kinds, thermalux and polypro."
I stared back at her blankly.
"Thermalux is warmer, won't stink as bad when you're done." They were also $70 a pair. Given the constant mentioning of thermals by these hiking store proprietors, I knew they'd be necessary. I bought a polypro top and bottom for $40 in a buy one get one sale.
I knew that to miraculously become Super Backpacker Man, it was going to blow my budget. Already I had spent nearly $200 and all I had to show for it were non-gortex boots and the sub-par, polypro long johns. To do this on a budget, I'd need to improvise. First off, I didn't need a fancy tent; hell, I probably didn't need a tent at all, considering the heated huts scattered every seven miles or so. A simple thirty dollar tent would suffice. Gaiters? What's wrong with some garbage bags and rubber bands?
I found a cheap rain jacket for sale at a random Sydney shop for $40. In Launceston, I bought my stove, fleece coat, fleece gloves, tent and some wool socks at the local K-mart. I wasn't a Super Backpacker Man, but I think I was alright. My trip hadn't even started and I already wanted my hot shower.