NEWSPAPER - Solo Hiker treks the Canning Stock Route by James Purtill, Kalgoorlie Miner, 13 August 2013

Kalgoorlie Miner - Solo hiker treks the Canning Stock Route


Solo Hiker treks the Canning Stock Route

A bull camel on heat is a sight to behold.

Gaynor Schoeman, 46, expected plenty of trouble when she set out to walk the 1657km Canning Stock Route solo but she did not anticipate 700kg of randy camel galloping towards her across a salt pan, where there was no-where to hide.

That was in her second week crossing Tobin Lake. She was hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town. It is possible the camel had never seen a human on foot before; it is almost certain it had never seen a solo hiker.

Less than a dozen have walked the track, which runs from Billiluna in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the Northern Goldfields. The South African was the very first to walk it on her own. She did it in 66 days, averaging about 25km each day.

'I tried to make myself bigger that the animal,' she said, speaking to the Kalgoorlie Miner from the relative safety of a Hannan Street Cafe.

'I was power-walking away, but I had nowhere to run.'

When it was 100m out she started talking. She said: 'Hello beautiful animal, hello pretty'. The effect was sudden. The animal reined itself in and began plodding alongside her on a parallel path. They continued walking like this for kilometres until finally the animal veered towards the horizon.

'I always talked to the camels after that,' Gaynor said.

Sometimes she would not see a car for four days. Other days, several would stop and the passengers would talk and share fresh fruit and vegetables.

Up and down the track four-wheel-drivers had passed on word of her ambulatory adventure.

'They told me 'We've been following your tracks for weeks. You've no idea how you've been part of our trip,' she said.

Travelling slowly on foot she saw great beds of wild flowers and camping on her own by isolated wells, she met up with dingoes and emus. She would hear the animals in the night: a camel grunting; emus pattering on the hard clay; dingoes howling as they left in the morning.

'It's the most ghostly unbelievable sound. Animals react very differently when you're on your own,' Gaynor said.

Only the previous year she had broken her back in two places and was almost paraplegic. She decided walking the Canning Stock Route -  a trip she had already done by car, would be restorative.

But the inveterate sailor, paraglider and deep sea diver really needed no excuse to embark on another adventure.

'I love the horizon and the red dirt. I love the big open spaces,' Gaynor said.

'I come from a very violent society so Australia gives me a sense of freedom. I can do things on my own in the middle of nowhere. I'm cautious, but I do not have to be over-concerned about safety.'

That said, the next walk will not be solo.

'On your own you feel really exposed. I  want to be able to share the experience,' Gaynor said.

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