The air is thick and muggy. The sun rolls across the sky, twisting and turning. I have been walking all day and my back aches with the weight of this pack. The water in my bottle is hot, sweating, and sticking to the plastic sides. Everything burns, and I am ready to throw myself down and sleep for an eternity.
I am in the Grampians National Park, an impressive set of plains up in western Victoria. It is the middle of summer and the heat is blazing. There have been whispers of fire dangers and I need to stay on the alert. I keep my phone in my pocket, switched onto vibrate, aware that fires start easily and can catch you off guard.
I know that hiking through these hills is dangerous this time of the year, but I am willing to risk it. The glossy pamphlets say between August and October are the best times to hike here. The wildflowers come to bloom, and the heathlands liven with arresting colours. In the springtime, your nose twitches and the air is cooler, allowing you to move along at your own pace. Today it is dry and red, and the dirt crumbles under my feet. My boots feel heavy, like they are filled with slugs, and my feet ache as I take slow steps forward.
I think back to Halls Gap, the town I have been stopping in. It is a great base to explore the park. The Cultural Centre, Brambuk, lives there, packed full of Aboriginal art and information about camping, canoeing, hiking, and kayaking. I think of the ice cream sold there, and sweat drips down my face. I wonder why I didn’t remain tucked away in a little cottage, sunbathing on a balcony, balancing a glass of wine in one hand. But the sandstone ridges here are spectacular, running north to south. There are five of them and they are a result of the earth moving. Today they create an impressive landscape of peaks and valleys. If I stop walking, I feel completely sucked in by the beauty, and my heart swells with the sight of the steep and craggy slopes. The bush bustles, full of noise and life, and probably death too.
I breathe in the hot air, and my mouth feels as dry as dust. I drop my pack to the ground and open it. My dry hands, cracked and muddy, search the bag for something to nibble on. Just as I’m shovelling melted chocolate in my mouth, someone passes. I watch him with fascination. The bush here does something to you. It makes you feel like you are the only one left.
‘G’day,’ the man says, taking off his cap and revealing his own sweaty head. I grin at him. For a moment we are one, both revelling in this wonderland of steep cliffs, exhausting tracks and strange wildlife.
‘Hi,’ I stutter. ‘It’s hot, isn’t it?’
He nods and moves on. I listen to the sound his footsteps make as he fades away. I notice a black snake coiled up under a rock, sleeping casually. My heart beats faster as I pass it, my palms sweating. I climb further up the track, the wind whipping me in the face. I had wished for a gust of wind but this wind is not cool, and it smacks me hard, hot and heavy. Yet it reminds me why I’m here, and it tingles my senses. It is important to break away from city life, to find yourself in a place that rips you open. I am rebuilding myself as I walk, as I tread towards blue hills; hills that burn red and orange in the sunset; hills that beckon me forward with long arms, and hills that wink as I yawn with exhaustion.
I am beginning to realise these hills are a part of me, and as much as I hate them, as much as sweat dribbles down my forehead and my throat feels empty, parched and broken, I love them. I finally reach the Pinnacle and drag my pack off. I set it beside a shrubby mess of plants and stare at my surroundings. I am not home, and I am blistering with heat, my skin prickling, like a lobster in hot water, but at this very moment, as trees wave in the wind and I catch a scent of something sweet, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. I relax my hunched shoulders and watch as the pastel light – baby blue and tender, rubs, digging into my skin. A kangaroo skids in front of me, and a scatter of ants crawl up over my hand.
Finally the air is cooling. I stretch my hands out and sit on them. It will be a long walk back to Halls Gap but as the sun dips behind a cloud with frayed sapphire edges, it doesn’t matter.
Katelin Farnsworth is a writer from Melbourne. She won the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction in 2015, and has had work published in Award Winning Australian Writing, Tincture Journal, Offset, Flashing The Square, Voiceworks, Lip Magazine, The Victorian Writer, and others. She studies Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin University. Find her on twitter: @ktnworth