KIM DELAVERE - TROT TO THE TOP
5330KM Horseback Trek
KIM DELAVERE, 27, was in many ways a typical young adult just a few years ago. Trying to find her place in the world, she was lost somewhere between her dreams and her reality. This all changed when she decided to ride a horse 5,330km along Australia's Great Dividing Range. Taking almost 600 days to complete the entire length of the Bicentennial National Trail, Kim's story is as inspiring as it is impressive. Perhaps the only thing that can top her feat is the way she fearlessly provides insight into what led her down the trail.
TOM DUNN: Who is Kimberley Delavere?
KIM DELAVERE: Currently, Kimberley Delavere is a girl trying to figure out her next move. I thought 2018 would've started out with a bit more certainty, but I'm trying to embrace the limbo at the moment. I've just turned 27, the year I thought I'd have my life together, the age I thought I'd be beautiful, confident, mildly successful and someone I wouldn't have recognised three years ago when I was beginning to stir from amid the folds of an immobilising depression. Luckily I've become all of those things, though in ways I wouldn't have anticipated (For example, probably not gonna rock a bustier at my book launch like I was hoping, but I finally feel like I've just achieved the closest thing to a bikini body that I've ever had, mainly because I've finally started wearing bikinis). I can't believe I've been missing this kind of self-assurance for so long; the kind that seems to only invite the good in.
Three years ago, of course, it was quite a different picture.
TD: Where did the appeal to undertake a journey more than 6 times the length of Melbourne to Sydney come from?
KD: I was always the kind of person that just assumed I would one day head out on fantastic adventures, and I never really questioned whether it would happen or not. I just figured that at some stage it would. As I came closer to my mid-twenties, I began to realise all the things I wanted to do weren't happening, and the reason was because I hadn't actually done any organisation or put any energy into making them happen.
Specifically, I chose the trail for a few reasons. It was accessible, had maps and camps laid out, had been done before, and had a good support network of volunteers and coordinators. I had intended to ride camels across the desert, but a camel-handler I met recommended I start with horses and work my way up to camels.
Ultimately, my personal reasons for quitting my apprenticeship and starting the trail went like this: I was heavily depressed, though I didn't realise it at time, and I was looking at the rest of my life in absolute fear that I would feel as mundane, apathetic and utterly despairing as I had for the last 8 months. At the time my options lay somewhere between leaving the country without a trace and never contacting anyone again (and worse), or hoping like hell a horsetrip could offer some kind of salvation. Probably not the best state of mind to commit to something like the BNT in, but just my luck, it worked.
TD: The Bicentennial National Trail can be hiked, cycled or ridden on horseback. You didn't end up using camels but what cemented your decision to do the trip on four legs instead of two legs, or two wheels?
KD: I honestly can't recall the first time I heard about the trail, or how I'd known in my heart that one day I would attempt it on horseback, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't inspired by Robyn Davidsons 1977 journey with camels across the Australian outback, as well as Belinda Richies traverse of the BNT in 2012 with her three steeds, Trump, Rube and Clincher. I had these romantic notions of developing an unbreakable bond with my animals, finding healing through solitude, becoming a rugged, weather-beaten woman of the trail. I guess all those things happened, just not the way I had imagined them. I love my horse dearly, but he'd leave my sorry arse in the bush given an iota of a chance (which he took, a few times). I found healing, but mainly through regaining confidence in myself through new relationships, learning to be self-sufficient again, having no other choice than to carry on. I became a total woman of the trail, but my butt weighed just as much as it did the day I rode into Cooktown as the day I headed out of Donnellys Weir (and FYI I walked about half of the trail).
I guess I needed time more than anything. Time was the biggest healer. I put a lot of miles and minutes between me and a tough few years, and travelling the trail on horseback is for sure the least time-efficient way of going.
TD: Speaking on time, your journey had some setbacks and delays that forced you to take time off the trail for periods of the 600 days. Where did you find the motivation to restart the trip after each time off the trail.
KD: I never doubted that I would return to the trail; it was a given. When I had my first break, after my first horse Clem was involved in a road-accident, I knew I had to reevaluate and get better at what I was attempting to do. I loved the trail, and it was where I wanted to be, and I knew I would gain so much more from completing it than I would if I sat the rest out. As if I needed any motivation, I did spend most of my time off staying with my parents at their home in Kiama. Since I left home when I was 18, I've never stayed with them longer than a couple of weeks. After three months, I was more than ready to return to the trail.
The only time that I truly thought I was done with the trail was when I thought my horse had been eaten by a crocodile. Archie disappeared one night and hobbled back across the Fitzroy River in Queensland, and it was quite within the realms of possibility that he had been eaten by a croc. I figured if I was going to be 'that trekker' whose horse had ended up as croc-lunch, that was probably a sign to retire from trail life.
TD: It wasn't the initial plan but you ended up using four different horses over the course of the journey. So what's more important, a good horse, or a good rider?
KD: A good horse. In terms of the rider, bravado will get you anywhere.
TD: What did a typical day on the trail look like?
KD: Before my alarm goes off, I'm already awake in my sleeping bag, waiting for the day to begin. I don't think I ever got over the slight feeling (which began as a tremendous, almost paralysing feeling) of trepidation, mingled with enthusiasm, because waking up meant I got to eat breakfast! This I usually dragged out for longer the necessary, putting off the inevitable morning pack and saddle-up, by scanning the days map over and over and savouring my water-soaked oats and sloppy apricot stew. The morning routine I could usually nail within an hour; starting with the tent roll up, making sure my pony had deigned to stick around for the night in the electric fence, tying him up and rolling up the electric fence (which began as my most loathed chore but later became quite a zen-like morning job), saddling up my pony boy, and lastly, brushing my teeth. I always left that until last, so I could take a moment to go through all the things I might have forgotten. Dental responsibilities taken care of, we were off.
Our days ranged within 15kms to 35kms usually. I alternated between riding and walking the trail, which means I probably did at least half the trail on foot. This gave Archie a good rest, since he had such a big job as a solo horse, and I like to think it improved my fitness (Probs not though :/). A regular day usually involved one or two people stopping us for a chat, maybe a free apple here or there, a photo, a fork in the road that might bamboozle us, a decent amount of time thinking about all the jobs that lay ahead in the next town, such as calling land-owners, contacting friends and family, and what food I would eat when I got there. Towards the end of the day I'd start searching for a good campsite, which was usually marked on the trail maps, and was pretty much the only place that had water and hopefully a decent amount of feed for a horse. Bonus features usually included a nice swimming spot, fresh water (like a tap opposed to a dam), a fenced paddock or at least a partial-fence, and maybe even a small shelter to set up under. Camps on peoples properties might mean friendly visits; huts were sometimes fantastic but occasionally gross, uncomfortable, and littered with graffiti and beer cans. A few times all we were greeted with was a puddle; twice we found no water and had to continue on until we did.
Once we located camp, Archie was hobbled and set up in the electric fence, while I settled in for the afternoon. The pinnacle of each day was when I could safely cross off that day in my diary, and start consulting the maps for the next. Then, after all my chores were complete, I would settle in to read one of the many books I devoured over the trail, cook my lentils over a campfire, activate my Spot beacon to let my friends and family know where I was, and nap the hell out of the afternoon. It was bliss.
TD: You compiled quite a list of books that you read on the trail. Was this the best, or the only, way to escape from the monotony of the journey?
KD: Nah, I just really like reading. You definitely have a lot of time to pass on the trail, and I just found it a really good excuse to get through the books I've always been meaning to read. I guess there is some security in it; since there's so much uncertainty on the trail, and I didn't realise it until I finished with the trail completely, but you're never, ever truly relaxed or at rest. With a horse, anything can happen, at any time, and sub-consciously and consciously you're always anticipating this. A different noise in the night wakes you. Hell, no noise in the night wakes you. Things change in a second. You're constantly scanning the distance; the road ahead, the weeks ahead, the camps ahead. You're never not 'on'. It wasn't fear, it was just awareness and anticipation, and it is constant and exhausting, although I never realised how much so at the time. I think I found that end of the day, my tent was my little safe haven, and if I crawled into that at night and read my book, it was like my own fortress, a way of ignoring all the imminent disasters that were possibly about to happen.
I never found the trail monotonous. Some days were long, some days I was impatient to get to camp or get to town, some weeks dragged on in the heat of a Queensland summer when I had a particular destination in mind, but it was never monotonous.
TD: Being alone on a long trip can mentally put you in a world of your own, and during the year and a bit you were travelling, quite a lot changed in the outside world. Were you able to leave that solitary world behind and did you have any trouble adjusting to outside changes post-trip?
KD: I never felt particularly disconnected from the world during my trip, since I was constantly meeting new people, in touch with so many people through my blog and through the BNT, staying with new friends and sharing bizarre experiences with them. Socially, I changed so much, and I think I've become far more extroverted than I ever was before. I got to know people I never would have met had I not been on the trail (Once again, however, technology moved on without me, and I still need friends to explain what exactly 'Netflix' is, the difference between reception and WiFi, and I remember the first time I accidentally used PayPass and was incredibly impressed and confused).
I also remember arriving at a camp along the Gwydir Highway near Glen Innes and learning that Donald Trump was elected as President of the US. I missed the Womens March in January, early 2017, and the Marriage Equality rally in August. When I was preparing for the trip on a farm in country Victoria, I found out a few days after the fact that Malcolm Turnbull had ended up, somehow, as Prime Minister. I used to be so socially aware, so well-informed when I was younger, but it was during my year as a baker that I became isolated from what was happening in the world outside my own miserable head. The road to Cooktown, though it started with different intentions, wasn't about being cut-off from society at all. As it happened, it was my way of reconnecting.
I knew I had to have plans in place for when I finished the trail, so I wouldn't suddenly get to the end of a huge project and freak out. I was already thinking of my next adventure, and also had smaller goals to look forward to. I knew I'd take time to do things I couldn't do while I had been prepping for the trip, like buying new tops just because, going out for dinner without feeling guilty, exploring a new hobby like trapeze, or checking out the local art gallery to seek a bit of inspiration. Embracing completely pointless activities. What a luxury. So I think, despite a week spent sporadically crying after I arrived home at my parents house, I was ready for post-trail life.
TD: Travelling through the bush along the Great Dividing Range of Australia would have exposed you to some incredible and unique experiences. What were your best and worst moments on the trail?
KD: Ahh. That's a big question. Now the trail is all said and done, almost all of my worst moments have become my favourite stories; travelling 40kms through the bush to get to a town when I had a very uncomfortable Urinary Tract Infection, Archie getting 'eaten' by a crocodile, abusing a truck driver outside of Crookwell who turned out to be my sister-in-laws Father. Along with these moments, there are actually parts of the trail that I enjoyed at the time, not just in hindsight. The moment, the exact point in the Kunderang that everything turned around and I suddenly realised that I was acing this trail, I was killing it. That quiet, excited feeling in my belly when I rode Archie out of town for the very first time and it occurred to me that 'F***, I reckon this is a good horse'. Skinny-dipping on a sunny afternoon in the Guy Fawkes, assured that I had the entire valley to myself. A blissful week spent in Killarney. A crazy week spent at Bowen River Rodeo. What I consider my two biggest achievements on the trail: Firstly, crossing the border into Queensland, and secondly, descending the range at Mossman and seeing the Pacific Ocean. Realising that strangers were following my trip on Facebook, and enjoying it too.
Clems car accident was incredibly traumatic, as he had run off in the middle of Canberra and was struck by a car. He made a full recovery, and is now a paddock basher with a wonderful new owner who loves him dearly, and shortly after I sold him I found the most amazing steed in Archie.
The worst moment on the trail was undoubtedly when a man pulled over on the side of the road and exposed himself to me. I'd travelled so far by myself and hadn't experienced anything like that; had never expected to either. I was devastated when it happened, but only came to realise the magnitude of it later. It was blatant sexual harassment, and it was one of the moments that I realised that the accomplishment of completing the trail wasn't going to protect me from any bad thing that could happen. My life wasn't going to be one big walk in the park now that I'd done the hard yards with a horse in the bush for 12 months.
It was just going to be everything I'd learnt about myself in the last three years that would dictate how I handled these things in the future, because there was no hiding from bad people, or jerks, or creeps, or racists or misogynists or mistakes or accidents or bad relationships or burnt cakes or bullies or a world that doesn't take this behaviour seriously.
I wish it hadn't have happened, but it did, and fortunately for me, by the time it happened I had the right tools to deal with him.
TD: What's one luxury item you wished you could have snuck into your saddlebag?
KD: Fresh fruit and vegetables. Six months on, I still don't want to see or smell a dried apricot ever again.
And probably Urinary Tract Infection medication. That would have come in handy.
TD: You mentioned planning other adventures. Would you ever attempt this trip again or a similar one in the future? And if so, what's the first thing you would change?
KD: Of course I would! I'm currently planning to kayak solo down the Murray River from Khancoban to the river mouth in Goolwa throughout 2018, hopefully with my adventure dog, Rastis the river pup. In the long term, the possibilities are infinite, information is abundant, and through facebook and Instagram it has become so easy to connect and seek inspiration from an entire world of adventure seekers, travellers, artists and people from all walks of life. The only difficulty lies in making that first decision.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. I would have backed myself 100% had I known that I would have succeeded and gained so much from the experience of travelling the trail. But three years ago I had no idea of how competent I could become; I knew I would learn and learn fast, but back then few people showed any confidence in the project, or took my planning seriously. This was probably a mirror, since I knew how pathetic and hare-brained it must have looked from the outside; a clueless girl chasing after horses in a paddock, falling off and losing her horses in the bush, buying and trading saddles, completely unable to trot on command, packsaddles slipping everywhere, being unable to speak with any practical knowledge about what lay ahead.. What I did know at the time, however, and what I now have solid evidence of, is that of course I could do it. It was perfectly possible. I'd known for years that I could do anything that I wanted to do. Admittedly, that kind of knowledge is scary, and if ignored can lead to life framed by perceived security. Once you take responsibility for your own happiness, you have no excuses. I was fed up with a bleak, average life, and I knew whatever I had then was worth gambling on a journey like this. If I'm being honest, succeeding was easy. Had I 'failed', or been prevented from achieving my goal of arriving in Cooktown, it could have been a different story altogether.
So now, when I've decided I'm going to undertake another adventure in a field that I have limited experience and knowledge in, such as long-distance kayaking,what have I changed? I absolutely have no fucks to give to anybody who doesn't take me seriously. I can't express how much I don't care. I have nothing to prove; I don't need to whip out the fact I just rode a horse from one side of the country to the other so they might stop patronising me. I don't need to ever have to justify myself to anyone. I feel so secure in my own ability to travel and learn that, unlike before, people who doubt me do not make any impression on me whatsoever. I am so wholly and quietly assured in myself, it's like an untouchable super-power.
Let's hope it lasts.
TD: What did you learn about yourself from the journey?
KD: Six months on, the trail is still revealing it's lessons to me. But for sure I learnt this; I am beautiful and strong and powerful and awesome and organised and fucking brilliant. I am a woman and a feminist and a nice, excellent, empathetic and considerate person. I am so tough. I'm an intense lover. I'm daggy and weird and a good writer. I've always had a greta sense of humour, which is the number 1 essential for riding the Trail.
I don't need to always have a plan. People do want to hang out with me; I ain't no burden.
I am mentally stronger than I've ever been. I am super chill (comparatively), and I don't hide from the harder parts of living now. I have a digestive system that can deal with an absolute crap diet. I have a horse that is the bravest, strongest animal I know. I learnt that once I was happy with myself, I was way less inclined to try and fix other people.
I've embraced all the bizarre things that make me, me. I've had a blotchy past peppered with seemingly bad things – body dysmorphia, bullying in the workplace, a bleak period of depression - that I always felt I needed to cover up or justify, but now I just embrace the journey I've had that's gotten me to this amazing place. I love myself, so much, and sometimes I feel like I'm another person that I look up to when I'm feeling down.
I hardly say a bad word about myself now (the battle is not entirely won), but I'm full of optimism. If this is how I feel about myself at 27, how will I feel by the end of the next 27?
Most importantly, I know that these good feelings could be completely fleeting. I consciously work hard to stay humble and grateful and aware that the situation can change in a second, and that's when the real challenge could start. There was no way that getting to Cooktown would mean that all my problems would be solved, but some were, and some were just made easier to handle.
TD: Are you excited for what the future holds?
KD: For sure. Kayaking the Murray, cycling around the world, camels in the desert (someday)...The possibilities are endless. I live in hope that I can inspire at least one person to get out there and attempt something they've always wanted to try. The idea that these journeys are for the brave or the expert or the exclusive is all wrong. It takes hard work and preparation, but faith and trust in yourself is worth it's weight too. Anyone is able to get organised, be prepared and take a great leap into the unknown.
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