Loop: an incomplete circuit

Today’s WordPress writing prompt: loop

THE TRACK WENT ON and on and up. It was rough as well as steep. It was a service track that sometime or other someone drove a 4WD vehicle up. It was rocky, too, one of those tracks where you step on a rock and your foot skids out from under you.

We had parked the minivan in the reserve when the afternoon was more than half way done, got out to look down on the city-on-the-estuary below then decided to follow the track into the hills. We didn’t have a map though I had earlier read something recommending the track as a good walk and had briefly looked at the accompanying map. Seemed a short walk from what I recalled. So we set off.

As well as trending upwards the track took us into the eucalypt-forested hills that start where the suburbs end and the mountain’s foothills begin. I’ve followed many tracks in my life, climbed plenty of hills, but this one seemed rather tiresome. Would this up and up ever go down?

Well, it did, sort of. It plateaued out and the up and up became more of an undulation with a little down followed by more up. The thought passed through my mind that maybe this track was a geographical metaphor for life.

The worse of the up done, I started to take more of an interest in the country we were in. Open forest, I thought. Stringybark eucalypt spaced far enough apart that they didn’t form a closed canopy overhead. I looked up and recalled a definition of open forest as that with less than 70 percent canopy coverage and more than… what was it?… the 30 percent that denoted woodland?

Grey, lichen-spotted rocks protruded from the thin soil of the ridge we now followed and as we walked on we realised that the map I had earlier looked at was perhaps more an illusion. This track, this track we thought of as a short walk of maybe an hour or so was spinning out.

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Grey, lichen-spotted rocks protruded from the thin soil of the ridge

Had we taken a wrong turn? No, my partner said. There have been no tracks branching off this one. Had we taken the right track to start with? Yes, she said. It was the only track to take. She has a very observant and logical mind. We pressed on.

This must be the top of the hill though ‘small mountain’ might be a better name, because the land fell away on all sides. The forest was thinner, the trees smaller, much as you would expect on a hill top. And the track — it now swung in a more or less easterly direction.

Then, the realisation. The day is getting on, I said to my partner. We’re in a reserve. There was a fence and a gate where we drove in. They usually close gates late in the day.

The prospect of a night in the reserve didn’t phase us because we had been travelling around the place and had all we needed in the minivan — food, our little bushwalkers’ Jetboil cooker to heat it on, coffee, water, sleeping bags, sleeping space. We would be quite comfortable overnighting here until the council ranger reopened the gate next morning.

Now, what had been a rough stony track had become a smother track that started to trend downhill. More or less, I figured, in the direction from which we had come as if trying to complete a loop. Not long till we’re back, I suggested. I thought that again some time later. Again, that question about taking the wrong track. But we had seen no other track and this one was obviously well maintained, suggesting it was probably the main track taken by most people… but to where? I had walked on the mountain that these hills adjoin and knew that there were numerous tracks and that they led to widely-separated parts of the city. Take the wrong one and you ended up far from where you thought you should be. Was this our fate if we continued to follow this one?

The decision came after a brief confab. We turned back to follow the track the way we had come. This, we hoped, would get us back before the gate was closed for the night. Nice as overnighting in the reserve would be, we were expected elsewhere.

As we followed that rough, stony track as it trended downward my partner came up with a brilliant idea — why not take this shortcut? Sure, why not? It seemed a direct route back to the carpark and we had noticed it there when we set off. It would surely be less time consuming than the track we had followed up.

Off we went only to soon realise that if we had thought the track up was steep, then how would we adequately describe this one? It is no exaggeration to say that we frequently skidded down, the track surface nothing more than loose, chunky gravel and rocks that were all-too-happy to move underfoot when stood upon. My partner, who had been suffering from a sore hip the result of a downslope slide on a bushwalk from Cataract Gorge to Trevellyn dam in the north of the state, had to be helped down some of the slidier stretches lest she slip and injure her hip further.

What had seemingly started as a direct short cut was taking time thanks to the precipitous slope and its loose rocky surface, all so we could avoid overnighting in the reserve. Soon, though, the end of the track came in sight. As we stepped onto firmer ground the yellow sign suddenly made sense. ‘Track closed’, it warned.

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Tossing our packs into the minivan my partner started the motor, reversed out then  drove towards the gate. We had made it, no overnighting in the reserve, I said as I glanced at the sign at the entrance gate informing visitors that the council was trialling something new in the reserve — the gate and the reserve would remain open all night, every night.

 

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