The Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia is about 1,000km long. I’ve run it 3 times now, once over a 100-mile northern section in the Perth Hills through the Darling Range, and twice over a 200-mile southern section from Northcliffe to Albany. Once you’ve been on a trail a few times, you get the hang of its character. A trail is like a person, quite unique in its own way.
In South Australia exists the Heysen Trail – the longest dedicated walking trail in Australia, which I have never set foot on. 1,200km long, it runs from Parachilna Gorge in the north to Cape Jervis in the south. I will be experiencing nearly a third of Heysen over Easter. I was doing race planning on the Caltopo map. The red dirt and stone colour on the map reminds me of Big Red, and it is strangely nostalgic to miss a place that you have been to only once in your life. I am talking about the Simpson desert of course.
Back to Delirious…
In 2020, I had run out of water in the overexposed stretch over the hills from Peaceful Bay to Boat Harbour. That same section this year was cut a few kilometres shorter, very much in my favour. I was careful to pack more water than I would need this time. Heading out of Peaceful Bay on the sandy beach, I needed to travel a few kilometres to get to a jet ski, which would get us to another shore nearby to begin the next leg. Shaun Kaesler ran up to me and handed me Jeff Hansen’s shoes.
Jeff had been one of the race directors of Delirious and a popular figure in the trail running community in WA. He had passed away recently. Shaun and the organisers wanted to commemorate Jeff through a couple of gestures. All of us runners had the same bib name “Jeff Hansen”. Our real name would be inserted as a middle name. So for me, my bib said Jeff “Do” Hansen. Jeff’s old trail shoes, which he was going to wear running Delirious for the first time this year, would change hands from runner to runner every 5km or so. That way, Jeff’s shoes would get to complete the entire Delirious course. At the finish line, each runner would leave a pair of old shoes on a tree. At the foot of the tree would be a commemorative plaque. That tree is now called the Shoe Tree. You can find it in Albany today.
I ran with Jeff for a few kilometres then took him over the jet ski ride. I had bumped into Darlene and her pacer. She was clearly in pain as her gait was out of whack. But Darlene would push on. She always does, that toughie. On reflection, I think Darlene and her salt-of-the-earth husband Shannon were present at all of the ultra races I have run in WA. I left Jeff on one of the Bibbulmun marker poles on top of a sand dune, ready for the next runner to pick up the shoes and run with him.
Going into Boat Harbour, I saw the same lovely couple who had fielded Pingerup, one of the aid stations of the first night. They were the only vollies with a real coffee machine, so a double espresso was very much in order and appreciated. This was where I first heard about the cocaine…
The next segment to Parry Beach was a blur. In 2020, this was where I had run out of steam and travelled at turtle speed. I was moving a lot better this year. The vollies at Parry Beach were a delightful bunch. But you could say that about every vollie at every aid station at Delirious. I was spoilt by everyone. People attended to my feet, and insisted on refilling water and electrolytes for me. I was about to leave for Monkey Rocks, but Ian wanted to come along so I waited for him. Ian had done so well managing his ITB injury. Without this injury, he would have been half a day ahead of me.
After leaving Parry Beach, Ian and I travelled together for a bit on the beach section. But soon we realised that Ian was not travelling at the pace that I could go at. So we said farewell and I charged ahead. After the beach, the landscape changed drastically. We no longer had to deal with thorn bushes, snakes and the heat. There was still sand but much less. In front of me was the night with its rising moon and wide open trails with some steep hills thrown in. I caught up to Sukant. This young man had made it to Peaceful Bay in 2020. This year he was determined to finish. Then I caught up to Felix. Felix is such a gifted runner. I had seen him on and off at aid stations a few times, only because an injury had been bothering him. Sticking with him for about an hour on the way to Monkey Rocks, I had to run to keep up with his walking. When he started running, he very much left me flat-footed. A runner like him, in a good week, could run Delirious in under 50 hours.
Sue was waiting for Ian at Monkey Rocks. I did my thing and quickly settled into a nap. Sukant came in, looking distressed and disoriented. It was very cold at Monkey Rocks. Sue was attentive and pulled a warm blanket over me, but it was not enough to keep the chills away. Not wanting to lose too much time over a low-quality nap, I decided to move on.
Going through Monkey Rocks at night was interesting, as this was the most technical segment of the race. The narrow trail twisted and turned with much rock scrambling. I had to focus to make sure I stuck to the trail markers. Andy had got lost here in 2020, so I was extra careful this time. I still got lost a little bit and fell on my arse climbing down a boulder. But there was no drama, and I finally found myself exiting the trail to enter Denmark, the last sleep station with a shower in the event. The GPX file had the caravan park as the aid station, but I could not find it there. After some confusion, I called one of the race directors and soon found myself at the right location in Denmark.