Double Island hike day 2: Freshwater to Rainbow Beach via Double Island Point (Queensland, Australia)

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I wake up early in the toilet block ready to explore some more of this beautiful part of the world. The rain has stopped and the sky has turned blue. I give myself the luxury of a shower and set off down to Teewah Beach. The morning sun and blue sky is such a contrast to last night’s storm.

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I turn northwards and start walking. I’ll have breakfast at Double Island Point, some 10km up the beach from here. A few 4WDs pass me but the incoming tide and it being a weekday seems to have limited the vehicles to a trickle. Most have surf boards so much be heading up to ride the waves for a day. I stop to admire the sea slugs, shells and jelly fish. The incoming waves make patterns in the sand. The sound of the waves is the musical score to my hike.

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The tide has almost blocked car access to the southern beach of Double Island Point. Experienced surfers tackle the big rough waves that crash over the rocky point. I take off my shoes and sit in the crystal clear water for a short while.

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I leave my shoes off and climb the track up to Double Island Point lighthouse. I was here a couple of years ago when I ran a 45km trail run along the same trails. But now I am enjoying the trail with a tent and plenty of food instead. It’s exactly what I want to be doing.

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The northern side of Double Island Point is a stark contrast to the southern side. It’s almost always protected from the prevailing south easterly winds. The water is so clear I cannot resist a swim. Less experienced surfers ride easy long waves over a sandy bottom. I swim a while then eat breakfast (well, at 10am I guess it’s more like brunch) in the shade. A Canadian backpacker who I spoke with last night at camp happens to be there too so we have a yarn. Before I know it, midday has come and gone and I still have 15km to hike on an increasingly hot day.

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The walk along Double Island Point is hot but gorgeous. Tidal lagoons with glassy surfaces stretch in a long chain. Small fish swim in the shallows as wading birds time their attack for optimum success. The sun is beating down but the scenery is perfect. I can see the Carlo Sandblow and Rainbow Beach in the distance. It doesn’t look so far away but looks can be deceiving.

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I reach the decision point: to walk in the sun along the flat beach or turn inland to walk the undulating trail under the trees in the humidity. The trail seems more sensible given the speed with which the sun is drying me out. I’ll never know which option was better. I do know now that the trail was hot, sweaty and challenging.

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Despite the trail being pretty I struggle in the heat. My pace slows to about 3kph, which is incredibly slow. My pack is not even that heavy. It’s just the humidity and the cumulative effects of my walking challenge. It’s now day 17 and I have walked at least 12km every day, with today being a 25km epic. I am so grateful to reach the sign that shows I only have to walk 3.6km to Carlo Sandblow because that puts me within 5km of the finish line.
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Carlo Sandblow is a sight for sore eyes. I know I can make it back to the car from here. It’s now late in the afternoon and the sun has started to lose it’s edge. It’s started to drizzle and I can hear thunder in the distance. Looking to the south east I can see Double Island Point stretching into the sea (photo above). I can’t believe I walked from there plus that distance again from camp.

Would I do this hike again? Absolutely! But probably not in March, which is our hottest and wettest month of the year.

Distance: 25km
Cumulative distance for my challenge to walk 12km a day for 31 days: 237.9km.
To support me in my challenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross, please donate at:  http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills 

Double Island hike day 1: Rainbow Beach to Freshwater via Poona Lake (Queensland, Australia)

So here I am, sleeping on a bench in a bathroom grateful for the one pair of undies that stayed dry tonight. I wonder what the other blokes in camp will think when they find me here tomorrow morning. Two bad choices led me here: taking a bivy instead of a tent during the wet season and trying to be a hero when the storm came over. But I am not down on myself.  I know from experience that I always remember the nights I’ve slept in toilet blocks clearly for many years. 

But I should really start this story from the beginning.  For it’s not a sad tale at all. 

For days 16 and 17 if my challenge to walk 12km each day during March to raise money for the Australian Red Cross, I decided to go on an overnight hike. With the Cooloola Great Walk closed between Freshwater Lake and Harry’s Hut, and a nomadic friend being in Gympie I decided to walk the Double Island Point loop from Rainbow Beach. By camping at Freshwater Lake the distances would be a challenging 18km and 24km. Freshwater camp has drinking water so that made it a logical camp.  

After a 2.5 hour drive I park midway between the Rainbow Beach surf club and Carlo Sandblow. This allows me to get the steep urban walk out if the way today. Something I’ll surely be grateful for tomorrow.  
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Carlo Sandblow is an iconic Rainbow Beach destination in its own right.  I remember playing here on family holidays during my childhood. Back then it was still possible to climb down the cliff face to the beach. But it was always scary and dangerous. Today it is forbidden and with good reason because the cliff has changed and we probably caused some terrible erosion back then.
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Crossing Carlo takes me into a fairly lush rainforest for such a sandy place. I will spend my day meandering past brightly coloured mushrooms and twisted vines. The buttress rooted trees and strangler figs so familiar from my years of bushwalking in South East Queensland are plentiful here too.  
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8km after entering the bush I come to Poona Lake. I was here last year when I ran a trail half marathon but this time I can stop to enjoy white sands of the ti tree stained water. The sand granules are sticky and cling to my sweaty body and clothes. I sit a while in the water. It’s refreshing on this disgustingly hot and humid day. 
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I hear the three young backpackers for twenty minutes before they arrive. Carrying only swimmers and towels they’re on a different mission to me so I leave them to their fun and continue my walk.
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I am hot and bothered by the time Freshwater Lake comes into view. The humidity is stifling and reminds me why I hate March – that sneaky hot rainy month right when you think the long hot summer might be over. The lake is pretty but I don’t stay long. I want to go to camp and have also forgotten to pack bug spray to protect me from the mozzies. 

Freshwater camp is quiet and pretty.  There are only two other tents here.  Both have 4WDs parked out the front so I must be the only walker.  We used to come here by 4WD when I was young too.  Cooloola is amazing and one of the best and most accessible 4WD areas around. 
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I lay on my bivy bag  squashing horse flies. A butcher bird flies over to catch and eat the flies that I throw away.  It also spies a native cockroach and makes short work of that. I eat my own dinner and drink strong sweet tea Javanese style with lots of condensed milk. And that’s where the sensible part of my day ends.
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For some reason I get it in my head to walk to the beach. I discover that it’s much cooler there due to a breeze. I also spot a storm coming quickly north. What I do next is so dumb. I am surprised at myself. Instead of hanging at camp amd waiting for the storm to pass, I decide to shift to the beach because it’s cooler and I might not sweat as much in my bivy. The real mistake was relying on a bivy during the storm season and not carrying a tent.  That aside, I should not have moved camp because the beach is the worst place to be in a storm.  There’s limited protection from lightning and the rain has nothing to temper its ferocity.  
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Half an hour later everything is wet and I’m running back to camp in my now saturated sleeping clothes. And that’s how this episode of “Andrew sleeps in a toilet block” comes about. 

Lessons learned: pack mozzie spray, bivy bags are a three season shelter so use a tent in summer and stay in camp when it storms. 

Distance: 18.3km plus 3km to and from beach a couple of times

Cumulative distance for challenge:216.9km

If you would like to support me in my challenge to walk 12km each day during March to raise awareness for people walking to flee war and to raise miney for the Australian Red Cross, please donate through my profile on the Red Cross challenge page: http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills 

Walking for Refugees days 10-15

Determination and unwavering belief in the dignity of refugees walking to flee war gets me through six tough days of walking. Days not made difficult by the nature of the walking but by double and triple shifts at work. Fill in shifts for colleagues who are unwell or otherwise absent. Shifts that will make it possible for me to take holidays later in the year but that wear me down now during this month of walking.
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Day 10 starts at 8pm. Paul walks the first 6km with me and then I am alone with my thoughts.  I get through it and am happy to be in double digits.
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Day 11 brings a stunning sunrise over local swamps. It’s a blessing for which I am grateful.  Something I wouldn’t see if not for this challenge.

Day 12 is lit by the full moon. Small waves break on the beach as I walk my laps of the Deception Bay waterfront. Paul and our workmates are playing tennis. I stop by and discocer one lap of the courts is 100m and one lap of the nearby football fields is 400m. Two of our workmates walk two 400m laps with me before I head back out to the waterfront.
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On day 13 I have a few hours between shifts so squeeze in a seaside march in blustery conditions. I’d love to have been able to savour the experience but all I have tine for is a quick shower and on to the day’s third shift.
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Hitting the two week mark on day 14 also sees me hit the wall.  I’ve worked over 50 hours this week and my body protests. A sore throat and onset of a head cold causes me to leave work early. I sleep the afternoon away and contemplate defeat. But I’d regret that later so force myself on. A night walk through the suburbs provides a change from my usual waterfront loops.
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On day 15 I stay in my pyjamas until midday. I’ve reported unfit for work because I don’t want to give my clients my cold. My boss is all good and knows I will still make my walk.  Besides, I’m a casual so simply don’t get sick pay. I walk the familiar paths of Scarborough where we used to live.  It’s pretty and thr lack of time pressure makes it all the more wonderful.

Distances: 12.0km each day

Cumulative distance: 194.6km

To support me in this challenge, I invite you to make a donation to the Australian Red Cross at http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills 

Kilcoy and Yarraman (South Burnett, Queensland)

I love that Paul loves exploring new places as much as I do. And that he’s willing to compromise by sleeping in a tent sometimes because he knows I love it. We have a small window of opportunity from 9am Wednesday until 3pm Thursday so we pack the car and hit the road. Our destination is the Bunya Mountains, about three hours drive from our house.
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Our first stop is Kilcoy. We visit Kilcoy Quality Meats, which is an amazing butcher shop where steaks are cut fresh instead of precut and stored. The bacon is thick and water-free so it actually browns when we fry it for breakfast. And the sausages are made of meat not filler. We end up stopping in again on our way home to pick up a bit more meat.
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We eat a picnic lunch in yowie park. Ducks waddle around on the grass and swim on the pond. We have ham, salad and cheese in the esky so make sandwiches. In the words of a character from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, “food always tastes better in the outdoors”. There’s nothing quite like a picnic lunch. I rate it far higher than just about any other meal.
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Next door there’s a craft shop. Paul and I have developed a bit of a thing for craft shops with their quirky local works of art. This shop is quirky and cute. We buy a cute little yowie doll. A yowie is a mythical creature that lives in the Australian bush. The doll is cute and will make a nice addition to our collection of crafts.
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We spend the night at Dandabah campground at the Bunya Mountains. We arrive after dark because of our hike on the western trails. Fortunately our tent is easy to pitch and it’s not long before we are eating our barbecue dinner while watching wallabies and other night marsupials doing their thing.

In the morning I walk the eastern tracks before returning to camp for breakfast. We break camp thinking we have hours before we need to be home. This will change with a phone call in which Paul is called in for a 3pm start. But for now we are blissfully unaware so take our time.
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We almost drive through Yarraman without a second thought. But a sign points to a museum. And we do love a country museum. “We’ll just stop in for 15 minutes”. Two hours later and we are finally getting back on the road having learned about the district’s history from a well versed guide.
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Our walk through the European history of Yarraman includes stories of the boys’ school intended to ensure young men would be educated, not just farm hands for their fathers.  Nuns lived here too – first in a convent and later on retreats.  Timber cutting was a catlyst for development and the now defunct railway line was a lifeline to the outside world. There’s even an old sewing machine that might have been the first portable electric sewing machine in Australia.
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There’s an old ambulance display, a range of buildings and, naturally, the military exhibit. I know it sounds terribly unpatriotic but I often find military displays distasteful because they appear to glorify war and call modern day men and women to arms at a time when the world needs peace. A war memorial  should not show soldiers smiling.  It should show the dead bodies of the innocent who are caught in the cross fire of those shooting the guns. That said, the flight uniform of the Roullettes aerobatics pilot is awesome.

The call to return home comes while we’re at the museum so we race off down the highway.  But we’ll be back because we want to see the stone huts at Moore, the new museum at Blackbutt and eat a meal at Linville’s pub. Stay tuned for our next adventure in the region.

Walking for Refugees Day 9 – Bunya Mountains east walk (Queensland, Australia)

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Wallabies hop outside our tent. It makes it easy to get up for my walk. I feel so blessed to be waking up like this. It makes it easy to put on my shoes, grab my hiking poles and set off into the bush. It’s about 200m to the start of the Eastern Tracks where I will walk today.
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Setting off into the rainforest I am struck by the number of bunya nut seeds that litter the trail. Bunya nuts are massive seeds that fall from the bunya trees. The nuts can be up to 10kg in weight – large enough to cause some serious damage if a person is hit by them. The bunya trees produce nuts every year but every three years there’s a bumper crop. For thousands of years before European colonisation, the Traditional Owners would come to the Bunya Mountains every three years to celebrate this bumper crop. Aboriginal men and women from all over northern New South Wales and South East Queensland would walk to the mountains for the festival. It often involved months of community activities. Unfortunately, the last of these gatherings was held in about 1880 after which time the European invaders started to force Aboriginal people to live on missions.
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I spend my morning walking through nature. There’s mushrooms, butterflies, scrub turkeys and bower birds. It’s glorious.
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There’s tall old trees with buttressed roots and gnarled strangler fig vines. It feels wonderful to be out here.
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While the western trails have expansive views over the flat farming lands to the west, the eastern trails have a few lookouts. The views are of the less steep eastern sides of the Bunya Mountains, the rolling hills to the east and the Tarong power station’s towers. Today wispy clouds roll up the hills as I stand taking in one of the view points.
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The other contrast between the western and eastern sides of the Bunya Mountains is that yesterday’s walk was through largely dry country while today’s walk includes some lovely cool creeks and waterfalls. Even on a dry day like today, there is water in the little falls and in other small falls I pass. Sure, it’s not a roaring thunder like it could be after heavy rains. But it’s still quite a contrast from the western side of the mountains.

Twelve kilometres later I am back at camp. Paul gets up and we cook a BBQ breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches on the camp BBQs. Unlike most public BBQs in Australia, these cost 20c each and are unclean. It’s my only criticism of the Bunya Mountains. While local councils all over Australia are providing free clean electric BBQs, the state government has failed to do it here. Breakfast is still tasty and we try to leave the BBQ in a better state than we found it.

Distance: 12.2km
Cumulative distance: 122.6km

If you would like to support me in this challenge, please donate to the Australian Red Cross through this link: https://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills

Walking for Refuges day 8 – Bunya Mountains west walk (Queensland, Australia)

The Bunya Mountains rise high from the flat South Burnett cattle country. It’s a place steeped in history, both happy and sad. A history intricately linked with the natural beauty of the bushland that covers this range. A history I will try to share in this and my next post.

We’ve come to the Bunyas for an overnight camping trip. And so that I can complete walks eight and nine of my challenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross. Of the three campgrounds we choose Dandabah camping area because it has hot showers and electric BBQs. This is my compromise to Paul who doesn’t like camping and does it because I do. The electric BBQs are a treat because it saves us lighting a wood fired BBQ when we arrive at camp in the dark after my walk.

We left home late so don’t arrive at Cherry Plain to start my walk until 4pm. I’ve chosen this start point so Paul can walk the first 6.2km with me as a loop to Westcott picnic area. I can then walk from Cherry Plain to Burtons Well while he drives there to pick me up.

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We set off onto the trail. It’s cool here at 1,100m above sea level. Much cooler than at our home by the sea. It’s perfect for walking. The path is wide and well marked with green timber national park signs. It’s not like walking in Europe where you follow a colour coded system of markings on trees and posts. It’s far more primitive in a way because if there’s a fire or storm the rangers need to come up here to replace the signs. But the nice thing is that the signs usually show place names and distance.

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The forest here is fairly young. There are some massive old buttressed trees along the path. But these are the exception, not the norm. This is where some of the sad history of the Bunyas comes into play. Not sad for all but I consider it sad. The timber getters worked hard here in the mountains, chopping down trees to build houses, railways and fences so that we Europeans could colonise the lands. While not all timber harvesting is bad, it was done in a greedy unsustainable way by people who probably didn’t yet know the environmental impact of their activities. Today, old trees with impressively huge buttresses are less common than they would have been.

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We wander along the trail, enjoying the flowers and landscape that nature offers. Some flowers and native while others are weeds. We don’t discriminate in our photography because sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. We get some good glimpses of views to the west as we walk. It makes us talk about the trip we took out here last Easter when we drove through the mountains and flat lands for three days. It’s funny how it’s taken until my late thirties to start to appreciate and explore these places close to home.

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We reach Westcott picnic area. It’s a small grassy area for picnics and tent camping. There are some composting toilets, picnic tables and wood fired BBQs. But the real treat are the wallabies that call this area home. With good grasses it’s no surprise they come here to dine.

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After our 1.8km walk back down the road to Cherry Plain I say good bye to Paul and set off back onto the trail alone. It’s now 5:20pm so I’m glad I’ve packed a headlamp. The first 1.1km of the trail is old ground. I walked here at the beginning of today’s hike so cover the ground quickly now.

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I had hoped for some spectacular sunset photos off the lookouts here to the west. However, it is overcast so the light isn’t as bright as I had hoped. The Cherry Plains Lookout gives a good impression of the landscape. It’s almost like taking a drone shot of the topography.

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I walk through open eucalyptus forest where snow gums reign. I love these white barked gums. They occur at high places where the weather gets cold. I think back to a trip I took seven years ago riding my motorcycle through the Australian Alps and Snowy Mountains where these trees are even more prolific. It gives me a sense of peace and calm. They are probably my favourite Australian flora. My second favourite probably has to be the grass tree. I walk through some areas where grass trees grow crazy.

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As I continue northwards the escarpment opens up and glimpses turn into views. The sun starts to set and some colours finally appear on the horizon. I stop to enjoy the views. Probably for a little bit too long – because stopping now will mean I complete my walk in the dark. Sunsets here in the sub tropics signal the coming of darkness, not the start of twilight as is the case in some other geographic zones.

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Of course there are benefits to walking at the end of the day when the world of men grows quiet and nature takes over. Benefits like seeing an echidna in the wild. I think I’ve only seen three in the wild in my life. These shy animals generally prefer to avoid contact with humans but today I am in luck. Unlike the porcupine there’s no danger of an echidna throwing its quills so I can safely take a photo then move on to allow it to continue it’s search for a meal in peace.

A headlamp lights my path for the final 2km of my hike. Paul is waiting patiently at Burtons Well and we drive together back to Dandabah to set camp. Our tent is pitched and bed is made within ten minutes. All that’s left to do is BBQ the amazing sausages we bought at the butcher in Kilcoy and relish the fact that they are made with real meat, not a load of horrible fillers. The night grows cool and we retire to bed to fall asleep listening to the nocturnal wildlife going about their business outside.

Distance walked: 12.2km
Cumulative distance: 110.4km

If you would like to support me in my challenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross check out my profile at http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills

Walking for Refugees – Days 4 to 7 – Walks near home

I wake on 4 March knowing I have to start work at 9am and won’t finish until 4pm on 5 March. This will be followed with long days at work on 6 and 7 March so it will take dedication to get through these four 12km outings. It’s a luxury problem though – both because I have a regular income and because I am living in a peaceful country. By contrast, those for whom I am walking are fleeing the horrors of war and often are carrying everything they own with no hope of employment or income for many years into the future. So I get up and walk. Every day.

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On 4 March I start my walk before the dawn. The suburbs are sleeping but there’s plenty of walkers, joggers and fishermen at the waterfront. It’s Saturday morning, so that probably explains it. These are the people who are up while I’m usually still sleeping. The people who run quickly and who have dogs to walk. Sunrise is pretty across the tidal flats and I enjoy the walk.

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I come off my triple shift at 4pm on Sunday 5 March. It’s still hot and sunny when I start waking. But by the time I reach the 3km mark the sun is starting to set. The tide is out and families are exploring the tidal flats. These flats are a combination of mud and sand. They stretch a long way out into the bay. Mangroves cover large sections of the shore line while narrow white sand separates the tidal flats from the path in others. I am happy to be out here enjoying the evening.

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6 March sees me at work from 6am to 3:30pm. I’m not one to get up at ridiculous o’clock unless there’s no choice so a 3:30pm start it is. I work in beautiful Redcliffe about 500m from the waterfront so it’s no hardship to set off on this walk. A strong breeze is blowing ripping up waves on the usually calm Moreton Bay. But it doesn’t stop people from swimming to cool off from the afternoon heat.

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My legs are starting to feel the effort by the time I step out of bed on Tuesday 7 March. I have muscle soreness in my feet and fatigue in my calves. But I get up, eat breakfast and walk the 12km to work. I walk along busy roads clogged with commuter traffic. The sun doesn’t start to rise until I reach the 5km mark. I can’t help but wonder whether I look odd walking through this suburban landscape with hiking poles. I’m not about to give the poles up though because the reduced pressure on my legs and feet is worth it. I get my first blister today – on my right heel. It’s a sure sign that I’m dehydrated so I spend the day pumping water into my body to start to improve things.

Tomorrow I’ll be back out in the bush for my walk. I can’t wait.

Distances: 12km, 12.1km, 12.1km and 12.1km
Cumulative distance: 98km

If you would like to support me in my chllenge to raise money for the Australian Red Cross check out my profile at http://challenge.redcross.org.au/andrewgills