5 December 2020 - 5 January 2021: 600 km
"Olly, olly, ooooooolly!!" Frantically we are searching the property where we are staying, the shearers shed, the dog kennels, around the house, the truck, we've looked everywhere. No Olly. Diesel, the owner, took me in his ute to the neighbours place to see if he was there. They were just getting some sheep in, but no Olly. We travelled up and down the road, called his wife and some friends to see if they had seen Olly along the way. No luck. This is one of our worst case scenario's; something happening to us, the horses, or Olly. After 2 hours of searching, tears very near, anxiety way up, Erwin stepped into the truck and found Olly panting in his bed under the table. To this day we haven't got a clue as to where he might have been, but we sure are happy that he is back in one piece!!
After our break in Albany, we are reenergized and rearing to get back on the road again. Navigating a city on horseback is a little harder then travelling past country towns. With the help of Anita we planned the safest route out, around the top of Albany, to Margaret's property that is situated right on the turn off to the National Route 1 that we wanted to follow.
Planning the route between Albany and Esperance was a little easier then the first stage, simply because there are not so many road options! We could go inland via the Porongurup and Stirling Range National Park to Jerramungup and then follow the South Coast highway or pick up the highway straight away from Albany. We decided on the latter. There were more little towns and services available on this route.
Travelling along a major highway was a whole new experience. Before we left we already knew that we were going to be on the road when it was harvest season, which meant, lots of grain trucks on the road. Lucky we have well trained horses, who weren't bothered by the traffic.
After the last blog you might be interested to hear about me and the truck. Well, we are getting to know and understand each other a little better. I'm not as nervous driving it anymore. It helps that the roads are straight and the traffic is not too bad. The camps are mostly easily accessible and I'm even getting the hang of backing up, tighter corners and low hanging branches. Gates are still a little scary and I avoid them as much as I can. I'm proud to say, no more extra dents, only a little scrape from a fence (but don't tell Erwin!).
When we arrived in Ravensthorpe we'd had enough of the highway for a while and decided to take a detour to Hopetoun. I followed the main road to the coast that was easy for the truck and Erwin got to follow the old railway line. It was very overgrown and not much of a path. On the second day he rode all along the top of the ridgeline past abandoned mines and was a little worried he would never get through. But they made it.
Hopetown was a great little place along the ocean and the beaches were devine. Especially after so many km along the asphalt. Erwin had the chance to ride along the beach between Hopetoun and Munglinup. I took Springdale road which was gravel and had a lot of corrugation. I felt like I would loose my mirrors! But it was well worth it. We found a lovely camp at Eleven mile beach were we celebrated Christmas and New Year. As an extra treat we rode together along the beach. It turned out to be a very memorable ride as a seal watched us from the ocean and swam with us the whole way!
In the new year we stayed at Munglinup Caravan park. Although it was packed we were lucky enough to get a special spot in the back paddock. After I set up camp, I decided to surprise Erwin and I walked from Munglinup caravan park to the beach, which is about 3-4 km. I sat on the beach and saw him and the horses coming. And I waited, and waited, and waited ,he never arrived.... What happened was that Erwin decided to ride up the estuary, instead of further along the beach. Lucky for him it was one of his most beautiful rides. Lucky for me, I got a lift back and beat him to the caravan park. Lesson learned: no surprises!
If I had to name this stage, I would call it "The power of the people". We found out that it is very handy to have local knowledge and make use of people's networks. From Anita, we went to Margaret who especially went out her way to look for suitable camps. She arranged our stay at Manypeaks Ponyclub, she rang Green Range Country Club to tell them that we were coming and directed us to her son Robert who owns the Wellstead Bush camp. Also good old Facebook came up with some great stays at Diesels (where we lost Olly!), Tina (used her sheep yards) and Liz, who recons she runs the funny farm!
I even got a phone call from the pilot of a cropping plane. "Hi, this is Scotty. I've been flying over this guy who is travelling with 2 horses and I just wanted the check out what it is all about." My first thought was: "How the heck did he get my phone number? I'm pretty sure it is not written on top of the truck!". Turns out Scotty has a horsey girl friend, Chris, who happened to have participated in one of Erwin's clinics in Esperance. She knew who we were and what we were doing as she had her horse at the back of Sonya's where we would be staying in Esperance! Small world. We ended up meeting Scott, who even asked Erwin to give a talk at the local Rotary club about our trip.
Staying with locals is a great way to get to know an area better. You hear first hand the stories of the community. On the way to Esperance the trend is that farms are getting bigger. Neighbors buy each other out, so where there used to be 5 farming families, there is now only one that runs 5 farms. Less families, means less people living in the region, less children. This then translates into schools and facilities closing or getting into disrepair. We stayed at some former sportsgrounds and community halls that were really sad looking. What has been proudly build by former generations is now crumbling down. If you are interested in the stories of these little towns, I found a great book: Stories from the Silo towns by cultural agency FORM. It tells the story of the people in Northam, Merredin, Katanning, Pingerup Newdegate, Ravensthorpe and Albany.
Another great thing we found out was caravan parks! Caravan Parks in small country towns are more then happy to accommodate horses! Who would have known. In our first stage we had already stayed at the Quinninup Eco Park, but this park was part of the Warren Blackwood Stockroute, so we didn't really click that there would be other caravan parks that would take horses. On a limb I rang Jerramungup Caravan Park as at that stage we were in dire need of a good shower and our clothes could also do with some washing. To my surprise we were more then welcome to stay. So from then on we tried to get into caravan parks if we could. Ravensthorpe and Munglinup Beach allowed us to stay as well.
And we thought Hopetoun too, until I got there! Granted it was around Christmas time and they were full up. The misunderstanding was that the owner thought the horses would stay on the truck. He didn't think we would set up yards. So I was turned away. Panic! Erwin was on his way and I didn't have a camp spot. The 24 hour free camp in Hopetown stated that you had to have grey water tanks and I didn't want to risk that. We had a private place we could go to, but that was 5km out of our way. Which does not sound like a lot but it is an hour ride to the place and the next day an extra hour to get back on our route. So I went to the other Caravan Park, Wavecrest. This was fully booked. But I was lucky enough to speak to the owner, who very, very kindly offered to put us up at his home block. He even gave us a IBC bulk storage container for water. It holds 1000L and will get us through the Nullabor!. There are some good people out there!
Before we left we would talk a lot about how we thought it was going to be. One of the things we dreaded was campsites right along the road on a parking lot. Well if we would have known, we wouldn't have stressed so much. In all we had one parking lot camp between Albany and Esperance. It wasn't even that bad. There was a row of trees between us and the highway and a wider verge where we could put the horses. By that time we had our yards well and truly sorted and knew the horses would be fine. A refrigerated truck stopped for his mandatory rest, but left again after 4 hours. 1 camp in 26 not too bad at all.
After some teething problems in the first stage, between Albany and Esperance we got into a really good rhythm. We didn't follow a regular schedule, like 4 days ride, one day off, but depending on how everybody was feeling we would keep travelling or stay an extra day. The trip is about enjoying the country as much as trying to get all the way around Australia. When we really love a place we stay a little longer, if we don't feel like travelling so many km's we do a little less. In the end we averaged about 23 km per day, travelled 25 days and had 6 rest days. Travelling days seem to get a routine by themselves. It still surprises me how little time there is in a day. This traveling business is busy!
One of the main things that was still worrying was Giles's feet. We bought a pair of Renegade boots while we were in Albany, but they basically did the same as the Scoot Boots, they kept shafing his pastern. When possible we left him barefoot, rode him less then we wanted, took some extra days rest but most of the time we bandaged his legs before putting the boots on. This seemed to help, but was by no means an ideal situation. For one we obviously wanted to find boots that would fit him properly and didn't give him grief, and second bandaging took lots of time and product (wool, vet wrap) that was costly and we didn't have a lot. We felt he was still suffering and loosing weight. This situation basically continued till we reached Esperance. In Esperance we investigated the problem some more, got a farrier out, thought about shoeing, looked into and bought different types of 'glue on shoes' and even a casting. None of these options seemed ideal to us and we were seriously considering to leave him behind. Until I saw Scoot Boots did an endurance gaiter. Basically a Velco wrap around the pastern, a little like the Easyboots. This turned out to be a Godsend for Giles. It worked perfectly, no more shafing, great fit and happy horse!
If you are interested in hoof boots, read our review of the Scoot Boots HERE.
Giles's trouble is not really of his own doing, Tonto is usually the one who gets himself in trouble. Which he did. While we were staying at Diesels place (yes the place where we lost Olly) the boys were lucky enough to have a huge paddock to their disposal, with a dam and some smaller sheep yards. In the morning we got the boys and Erwin was goofing around a little, trotting them up. Tonto was lame! On closer inspection he had a fat knee and scratches on his chest and hind leg. Turns out he went over a fence. Giles must have been in the big paddock and Tonto in the sheep yards. Instead of walking around to the open gate, he must have decided to take the short cut over the fence. Silly man! Good thing he is pretty tough and just walked it all off.
This second stage we had lots of experiences in a short time. It feels like we have been travelling for half a year not just a month. We feel more confident, know that we like doing this and are looking forward to the next stages. But before we can tackle the Nullabor, we will wait out the hot weather in Esperance and do some work on the truck.
See you soon!