Albany: Prelude to the Bibbulmun

I was despondent.

I had just been told by the café I had been trialling at for the past two weeks at Esperance that they would not be keeping me on for longer. Initially planning to work there for up to the next six months, I was suddenly left without a plan, uncertain about what to do next. Should I find another job? What kind of job? Here in Esperance, or should I head back to Perth? Or elsewhere?

I had originally planned to thru hike the 1000-km Bibbulmun Track end to end after the stint at the café had ended, around the time spring arrives. I had hoped to train by hiking shorter routes at national parks nearby on the weekends. But with my plans now in disarray, a little idea began to dance in my mind: forget about work, what if I started hiking the Bibbulmun Track now? I was just a few hours by bus from the southern terminus at Albany. The trail was subdivided into manageable sections, so if I found myself unable to continue, I could simply halt my hike at the next town. I already had almost all my hiking equipment, so I didn’t have to buy any gear, except maybe trekking poles.

I did a bit more research, and found out that right then in mid-April was actually a great time to hike the Bibbulmun; not too hot in the day, not too cold in the night, and very little rain.

I began making plans. I booked a bus to Albany. Contacted a trail angel via Facebook for help with taking care of my other belongings and getting them to Perth at the end of my hike. Went grocery shopping for food supplies. Downloaded Guthook. Asked for a pack shakedown on r/ultralight.

On Thursday, I boarded the TransWA bus from Esperance to Albany. It had been a lovely two weeks in Esperance, and I was a little bit sad to go. But my next adventure beckoned.

One last cycle around Esperance before I left the next day.

The trail angel in Albany, Colin, had offered to meet me at the TransWA bus terminal in Albany to help me out with prepping for the hike. When my bus arrived, a silver-haired man with a warm smile got up from the bench to greet me. I got into his ute and began sharing my plans with him.

Colin was hospitable, giving, and ready with good suggestions for starting the hike. He advised that I wait a day to start, because a historically severe storm was forecast to hit on Friday, making it a really bad time to be on the trail. I had seen the same forecast, but was going to risk it, since hostels were booked out on Friday night this Easter Holiday weekend. When Colin heard this, he offered to let me sleep in his spare room for a night. He also lent me some of his old trekking poles. I felt blessed to receive such kindness from a stranger I had just met.

Afternoon of the day of my arrival to Albany.

I checked into 1849 Backpackers, recommended to me by the manager of the Esperance YHA — which is peculiar, since Albany has a YHA-affiliated hostel. I soon found out why: in addition to being a generally well-upkept hostel, they provided complimentary, all-you-can-eat pancakes for breakfast! But pancake providence isn’t special on its own; hostels do that sometimes. What set 1849 apart was the standard of their pancakes. Made on cast iron pans, they were thin, crisp, and almost crepe-like, served with a side of lemon butter. I can’t remember exactly how many I ended up eating. I think at least five, or up to seven. The pancake chef was also a manager of the hostel, who despite meeting so many travellers every day, still showed genuine interest in our conversation as we talked over his delicious pancakes.

Another of Colin’s suggestions was that I unofficially start my end to end with a daypack (‘slackpacking’, in local hiking parlance) the first few kilometres out of town on Friday, until the edge where road access ended at Frenchman Bay Road. When I reached that point, Colin would drive out to pick me up. I agreed to do so, as it was also a good chance to test my wet weather gear. Starting at 9am, the sky was overcast, but otherwise the weather seemed innocently pleasant. A bit of a drizzle, but nothing my wind jacket couldn’t handle.

After two hours of walking, I got to the Frenchman Bay road junction. The moment after I called Colin to pick me up, hail started falling from the sky, pelting me painfully. I struggled to remain visible on the road for Colin, while also staying underneath some trees. Eventually, Colin found me, ready with a dry towel. The evening was spent at his place, where I ate fish and chips with his family before going to sleep in his spare room. I was grateful to be indoors for the night.

The next morning on Holy Saturday, Colin prepared a nourishing breakfast of bacon and eggs on toast. After we finished eating, he fetched me to the Albany visitor centre to sign into the logbook, then to the Bibbulmun Track southern terminus for a symbolic commencement photo. Then he drove me to the Frenchman Bay junction I had left from the day before to resume my walk on the Bibbulmun, and properly start my thru hike.

I said my goodbyes to Colin, and began walking. My Bibbulmun journey had begun.

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