I’ve grown to accept a hard lesson when it comes to adventure traveling: for all the glorious vistas you’ll see and experiences you’ll have, you’re also going to find yourself deeply uncomfortable more often than you’d expect. Plain and simple, it can be seriously stressful. But somehow, a lot of the most memorable and impactful moments we’ve had out exploring have come from all the things that seem to go wrong along the way. The things we never would have planned for. And learning to embrace that upheaval is actually the most critical (and life-changing) part of traveling the world.
When we decided to hike the legendary Cape to Cape, I had no idea it was going to nearly kill us. On the bright side, near-death experiences in the wild such as these gets you thinking about the bigger picture. And on this occasion, it made me realize that the only person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was the guy by my side.
Adam and I agreed we wanted to start hiking more. Given we were in the thick of a global pandemic, we were limited to hiking destinations. So, we landed on the Cape to Cape trail—130 km of pristine wilderness that follows Southwestern Australia’s rugged coastline from remote towns of Augusta to Dunsboroug. We read so much literature about this hike and by-and-large it was said to be easy. Perfect, as Adam and I are both more water-aficionados as opposed to those die-hard rock people.
We made a few crucial mistakes right off the bat. We got a little overzealous with the hiking gear, overstuffing our already oversized bags. We didn’t spend a single day training, as we figured our water fitness would translate fine on land. Not to mention, wrapping up the last of my work calls as we were setting foot on the trail probably wasn’t the best idea either. It caused me to forget a critical piece of equipment: our offline map. However, none of this really came to light until a few hours into the hike.
Starting from the southernmost point, Augusta, the terrain began to gradually change from trodden dirt paths to a more raw, rock-climbing experience. To top things off, as we scaled rocks with packs almost as big as us on our backs, we had massive WA waves crashing a little too close for comfort. I figure it’s only a matter of time before the trail transitions back to its former state of “trodden”. But two hours pass before I really begin to embrace our situation for what it really is.
We had missed a critical turn that would have kept us on a more manageable path, and not this extreme terrain nestled between cliffs and sea. We also realize that the Cape to Cape is not trail-marked the deeper you go, so we’re on our own in the wild with this one. After some arduous backtracking to the VERY BEGINNING, we make our way onto the real trail. Oh but rest assured, our problems are only just beginning.
Adam notices his shoe sole is peeling off. After asking 100x if he wants to turn back, we decide to push forward. We’ve got a poorly taped up right shoe, four hours of hiking rock shards under our belt, a useless digital map, and a wide-eyed sense of “adventure” keeping us going. As we continue, we see two hikers—the first human life we’ve seen since being out there. They look beaten, soulless, gutted. And in an ominous tone of foreshadowing, like some kind of bridge troll, one of them tells us:
“You truly have no idea. What’s next is brutal…”
As we progress, the path starts to move. Perhaps more aggressively in my mind due to the delirium setting in as we were now rationing water. Within a single stretch, we encountered a gigantic 2m long lizard, swarming groups of horse flies, and of course, the Southwest’s infamous brown snake—the Gwardar. The name means "go the long way around" in an Aboriginal language, as this snake is the most venomous.
The scenery went from being legendary to a little too repetitive and a little too vast. As we left a shaded, wooded area, we ended up on sinking, soft sand—each step pulling our feet a little deeper into the muck. The sun was blazing and there was not a trail-sign in sight. We start to realize if we do not get to our designated camp area by night, we will run out of fresh drinking water [our purifiers won’t work with ocean water] and we won’t be eating any food, as everything requires that drinking water to prepare.
But as things started to get a bit more dire, it revealed what I can only describe as our respective “survival modes.” This is the persona one takes on when thrown into a real crisis. It also reveals a person’s “true character” when faced with potentially life-threatening danger. But if that’s the case, then I’d have to say my true character in these types of situations is far from helpful.
I started to laugh. Laughing and fully owning the chaos. Running with it as if it really was the end. I guess I take solace in a sense of humor during an absurd [albeit life-threatening] situation? However, to counter my insanity during the peril, Adam went into full hero mode. He managed to think quickly, pragmatically and ultimately got us out of the trouble I surely got us into [like suggesting we do this in the first place with little to no planning or foresight.] While Adam really was keeping his shit together and coming up with some serious survival solutions—we weren’t out of the quicksand quite yet.
As the sun set, we managed to find a semi-sheltered section on the open stretch of raw beach and pitched our tent. As seasoned campers, we knew this was one of the worst places for us, as camping out in the open like this, exposed to the Indian ocean, meant we were in for some pretty fierce overnight winds. With such limited water left, we’re forced to suck on the last remaining apple core to keep us hydrated. Nom!
Despite the truly psychotic and demonic night winds, I managed to sleep. Fun fact: I can sleep through anything, at any time, in any situation. Adam, not so much, as he was quite literally holding down the fort with every gust. When the winds finally subsided, we found something else had managed to fill its void. As one sound died down, a new one emerged … buzzing. Looking at the tent roof and sides, we realized that our entire site was covered, top to bottom, with bugs. The worst kind. Giant Aussie mosquitos.
I chose to take one for the team here [given Adam pretty much stayed up all night keeping the tent intact.] I said I’d sacrifice my body, mind and soul to exit the tent first and let those suckers at me. In a matter of minutes, my entire body was covered with bugs gnawing at me. Letting them have their way with me, we ultimately managed to pack up the site and start making a move on … though much slower than the day before due to our weakened states and spirits.
An hour into our second day’s hike, we finally spotted something promising. Something glistening in the distance, sun beaming off of it as if to say “LOOK HERE!”
It was a sign. And I don’t mean a metaphorical or spiritual sign. A LITERAL sign. And the first sign we had seen in 24 hours. It was the campsite we were meant to have stopped at overnight. An hour longer and we would have made it. Cool cool cool.
Getting to the campsite meant drinking water. It took 30 minutes to purify, in that time Adam’s shoes ripped into two pieces—the shoe on his foot and the sole in his hand. My legs were giving out underneath me and my body was covered in stinging red bumps. It was time to make some smart decisions.
Now, I’m not a big fan of cutting an adventure short, or abandoning any mission I’ve set out to complete. But in this case, it was time to swallow our pride and call a spade a spade. We were ill prepared, out of shape, overpacked, and not survival ready for the unforgiving Australian coastline. We walked another two hours to the closest main road, and waited what felt like an eternity for a passing car to pick us up based on our pro-hitch hiking efforts. Sitting in silence, covered in huge bug bites topped off with sandy dirt, we made our way back down to Augusta to pick up our car and drive home.
With a little bit of cell reception now, we came to find we had trekked a total of 14.5km in less than 48 hours. Our ten day trip turned into one. Fail. Epic fail.
While the Cape to Cape was probably the most unsuccessful and perilous hike of my life, I can’t say it was a total loss. If anything, I left that adventure with a fortified sense of appreciation and love for my now husband. I can honestly say that without him, I’d probably be a rotting corpse on a beach somewhere on the coast of Western Australia. I took away one critical lesson that we now bring on every expedition: mother nature is a force, and if you want to be out there with her, come as prepared as possible. You will never know what curve balls she’ll throw your way, but you best be as ready as you can be.