At the age of 16 I was living in north-east Victoria, a stone’s throw from some of the state’s most beautiful parks. I did have a love of the outdoors and an interest in social and environmental issues, but I mostly just spent my time getting up to all sorts of mischief.
This is part of the reason I was so amazed and inspired when I heard about 16-year-old Ally Durr, who is setting off on December 8 to solo-hike the Australian Alpine Walking Track, raising awareness for Lyme Disease.
Ally will be the youngest person ever to solo-hike the 655km track, which begins in Victoria at Walhalla and ends at Tharwa (near Canberra) in the ACT. She will be assisted by a support team, but will be alone for the majority of the 6 weeks it takes to complete the trip.
I became aware of Ally when she followed me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I immediately wanted to know more, so I asked if she would take part in an e-mail interview.
So how did this all come about, Ally?
In late January, after doing 109km of the Australian Alpine Walking Track, I decided I wanted to do the whole trail. I wanted to do something that would really challenge me. I decided it would be even more challenging if I did it solo.
Were you inspired by any other well-known adventurers?
Jessica Watson was a big inspiration. She was a young adventurer also stepping out of her comfort zone and accomplished great things in tough situations. She made me want to live life to its fullest.
What else inspired you to take the trip?
I have two main inspirations. The first one is Outward Bound Australia. I went to a 12-day youth navigator course, which consisted of a wilderness experience including camping, rock climbing, abseiling, leadership and teamwork skills. The course inspired me to get out there and step out of my comfort zone.
The second one is Hannah Coleman, Hannah suffers from Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease that almost took her life. She is a family friend of ours; unfortunately she spends most of her time in a wheel chair due to Lyme disease. However, she has had the courage to fight this disease. She is an inspiration to me.
I want Lyme disease to be something people know about. Sufferers are not getting the help they need. It has been scientifically proven that ticks in Australian can carry an Australian version of Lyme disease. Unfortunately the Australian Government still has not recognized this fact and therefore the medication for treatment is very expensive.
Ticks can be very common with bushwalking especially around coastal areas. People need to be aware of the danger of ticks, and what to do if they are bitten.
How much hiking experience have you had previously?
The most challenging trek I have done so far is the Kokoda track. I convinced my dad and younger brother to do it, because I wanted something that would be a great test both mentally and physically. We went in July this year and it was the greatest experience of my life! I have also done roughly 150km of the Australian Alpine Walking Track so far, with my family. I have been going on lots of small solo hikes, around the ACT section. Mount Tenant is my favourite.
What have been your challenges in the planning stage?
The main challenge so far has been trying to source the right equipment as I am trying to keep the weight of my pack to a minimum, whilst not spending an extensive amount of money. So far it seems the lighter the equipment, the more expensive it is!
What are you predicting will be the most difficult thing about the hike?
I am mostly worried about navigation and river crossings. I am quite confident with my navigating skills but as you know things do go wrong, so the wilderness section in Victoria is my greatest worry so far.
The river crossings may also be a bit difficult as they are so unpredictable and can be dangerous. Apart from the psychical side of things, the most difficult mental aspect will be spending so long without seeing anyone.
Are there any parts you’re particularly looking forward to?
I am definitely looking forward to the beginning in the Walhalla area. There are rainforests and a lot of history in this part of trail. I also can’t wait until I get the top of Mt Bogong, I have wanted to this for a while.
How do you feel about the idea of 6 weeks of solace?
This does seem like a long time, but I am looking forward to it. I do enjoy being by myself but this will be the longest amount of time I’ve spent alone.
Will anyone be coming to celebrate Christmas and/or New Years with you?
This is something everybody says – “So you’re going to miss Christmas?!” – and yes, I will get presents when I get home. My family will generously be meeting me at Thredbo, this will be three days after Christmas but that doesn’t matter because it probably won’t even feel like Christmas to me.
How do you plan to stay motivated every day throughout the trip?
My plan is to stay positive and pumped up for every day. From previous experience the middle of the day is when I become the most tired, hot, and negative, so at this time I plan to think about why I am doing this and take in the scenery because it will be beautiful wherever I am. When I get into camp I do stretches and yoga to keep me focused and to look after my body.
Are you at all scared?
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t, so yes I am scared about some things, but not the things that most people would think I am scared of like snakes and crazy people. I am scared about injuring myself or something happening to my support crew because I would feel 100% to blame.
How do your parents feel about the trip?
Dad is very excited and both mum and dad support me fully in my decision to do this. Without their constant support throughout the planning and actual hike, I wouldn’t be able to complete it.
Thanks for the interview, Ally. It sounds like you’re as physically and mentally prepared as you could possibly be.
I wish you all the best with your hike and I hope you get plenty of attention, to help you raise awareness of the cause. It’s definitely something that Australians, and especially those in the hiking community, should be more aware of.
I’ll be keeping an eye on your progress and will try and check in with you once you’ve completed the trip.
Follow Ally on Twitter at @YoungSoloHiker (Ally’s Twitter account has now been closed) and keep an eye on her blog (Ally’s blog no longer exists) during the 6 weeks of her hike, for updates on her progress.
Have you ever considered hiking the Australian Alpine Walking Track? What about doing it solo? If you have anything to say, please leave a comment below.