Starting from Billiluna in the north near Halls Creek on 31 May 2013, Gaynor Schoeman walked1657km solo for 66 days, carrying a backpack of 30kg, finishing on the 05 August 2013 in the tiny outback goldfields town of Wiluna.
Gaynor was raising money for quadriplegic wheelchair rugby players under the banner Walk 4 Wheels and Walk 4 Wings in memory of hangglider pilot and friend, Bruce McClunan, who broke his neck on 1st April 2011.
Many class this walk as unsupported, done in the same way as the first successful walkers lead by Murray Rankin in 1976.
Timeline for Canning Stock Route Cyclists, Walkers and other Notables.
Whilst I did not walk with vehicle support, or with another person, without the help of Andy Sutcliffe in establishing my supply route before the walk, and my food sponsors, this walk would not have been possible. For this reason I class my 2013 desert walk only as SOLO .... by my own standards. For Media interviews on TV, Radio, in Newspapers and Magazines ~ click on this link
Pilgrimage or Endurance event?
In the highlands of the Great Karoo, in the small sheep farming town of Calvinia, a long walk was dreamed into creation. A ten day, 256km supported walk starting in Calvinia in the Northern Cape and following the R355 gravel road, dropping quickly on Day Two into the dry and desolate Tankwa Karoo, crossing the Tankwa River which seldom flows, and finishing in the small fruit farming town of Ceres in the Western Cape. Piggy backing onto the hugely popular Camino de Santiago, this walk was christened The Tankwa Camino.
Unlike the Camino de Santiago, The Tankwa Camino has no churches or saintly burial grounds to visit along the way, no Pensions/Backpackers, B&B’s or Hotels, and you can’t stop and sleep for the night anytime you get tired. Each day there is a set distance you must walk, most days between 25 and 31km. If you are hurting or tired, you either push through the pain and exhaustion … or you give up and climb into a support vehicle for a ride to the next camp.
Statistically, two people give up and go home on Day Two. On this particular walk, five people gave up and went home; the first two on Day 4, the third on Day 5 and two more on Day 6. The sixth person was going strong until Day 9 when she had to stop walking due to serious internal knee injury. About a dozen of the sixty walkers rode in the support vehicles at some point during the ten days.
Inexplicably, the vast majority of people do not do any real training for this ten day event, even though nine days are half marathons. Many have never camped or hiked in their lives before, or walked more than 10kms in one day. Women form the overwhelming majority and most, like myself, are over 50 years’ of age. Without any previous experience in long distance walking, many have no idea what they were getting into and are blissfully unaware of the pain and discomfort to come. Looking through the photographs on the Tankwa Camino website, it is obvious that many of the participants in no way resemble athletes. The people who take part in the Tankwa Camino are typical of those you would find in sedentary white suburbia, with blistered feet the standard for this endurance event.
So what is it about this walk that appeals to this unlikely group of endurance walkers? With bookings full up months in advance and even the following years dates already packed with eager wannabe walkers, The Tankwa Camino walk is undeniably popular. Why?
The Welcome Evening
At the Welcome Evening the night before the walk begins, it becomes obvious that the vast majority of people who take part are Afrikaans speaking and Christian religious. An English speaking non religious South African, I discovered that evening that I was a foreigner in my own country, with a four year old's understanding of Afrikaans (Old Dutch). Stunned, I listened without understanding as the entire Welcome Evening talk was delivered in Afrikaans. I barely understood a word. Feeling horribly excluded and somewhat alien in this environment, I put my hand up and raised my objections publically. The organisers Rhina and Danie Pieters pacified me saying that English would be spoken during the following days and not to worry. I felt a bit better about the situation.
We were given a T-Shirt, a small bottle of De Krantz ruby port, a stick with a red flag to carry and fed delicious chicken pie and salad. Most of us went off early to bed, prepared to report for luggage loading at the same venue at 07h00 the following day.
As I lay in my little VW Caddy camper in the local caravan park, I reflected on the challenge ahead. A solo adventurer by nature, walking with 59 other people was going to be a new experience for me. I have never taken part in a supported walk, usually walking entirely independent of anyone, carrying all my own gear and food in a 30kg backpack. My recent claim to fame was a solo 1657km hike across three Australian deserts in 2013, resupplying my food and water from supply drops dug into the sand before the walk and marked with GPS waypoints. It took me 66 days to walk into the desert and out the other side, entirely on foot, alone and without a support vehicle.
On the Tankwa Camino, support vehicles carry the majority of our equipment and food, leaving the walkers free to carry lightweight daypacks and enjoy the experience of covering a distance of 25 to 31km per day on foot. So why was I here in unfamiliar territory taking part in this soft gig? It must be said that the Tankwa Camino is not a walk I would have chosen for myself. It was a gift from fellow walker Laura Nelson. We both manage depression through walking and it was her hope that I might take this opportunity to make the transition from solo walker to Guide and forge a new way of life for myself. Walking is good for me, physically and mentally, but I was dubious of my abilities to change from lone wolf adventurer to Guide due to the discomfort I experience being in prolonged close contact with people. But I was willing to give it a go.Read more...
The Canning Stock Route, by foot. Words and Pics by Gaynor Schoeman
Life has been a never-ending adventure since the day I was born. Open water sailor, Rwandan refugee aid worker, kickboxer, paraglider pilot, deep sea diver and film industry consultant are just some of my adventures.
When I broke my back in a paragliding accident near Barraba in NSW in 2012, I came close to realising one of my worst nightmares - a life severely limited in movement, forever.
Spared by the grace of all that connects us, I began to walk. Walking makes me feel good about myself strengthening my body, most importantly my spine, giving my mind focus and discipline. Fourteen months after the accident I walked the 1657km Canning Stock Route, from Billiluna to Wiluna solo and without a support vehicle; 66 days of desert solitude carrying a 30kg backpack.
It reminds me how good it is to be alive.
I have always been prone to depression but immersed in nature - whether it be flying, sailing or walking in the desert - I leave behind the pressures of society and get in touch with my core self finding that place within where I am calm and steady and completely self-reliant on the outcome of my day, and my attitude, and that gives me strength.
Desert austerity teaches me that resources are precious, that opportunities are not to be missed and that each gift is to be used carefully and with consideration.
In the desert I experience a deep sense of gratitude every single day. Alone, with no human being to turn to in order to discuss options and seek comfort, it is a matter of survival that I seek out an ally. For some that ally is God. For me it is the desert.
So why did I choose a walk as extreme as the Canning Stock Route? Why did I not travel in a 4WD like everybody else? Because I had already hitched the Canning twice; in 2010, the full length from Billiluna to Wiluna; and again in 2011 from Kunawarritji to Halls Creek. Without money at that time to buy a 4WD or join a tour, I did it with the only resources I had at my disposal - legs, a backpack and a bit of pluck.
The idea of walking the Canning Stock Route only captured my imagination when I was preparing for my first hitch from Billiluna in 2010. There, I discovered that three people had walked it in 1976, and one of them was a woman! It was hook, line and sinker on the spot.
In the summer heat, the Canning Stock Route might not see a traveller for four months, but in the winter there are vehicle convoys thundering down the track usually every couple of days. Despite this activity, a person can still die within a very short space of time if they do something stupid or by accident and are unlucky all at the same time.
Knowing the fragility of the human condition in such a harsh environment, I walked into the desert with a real appreciation for each day, giving thanks to the sand and the trees that protected my supplies, to the thoughtfulness of the man who helped establish them before the walk, for the place that gave me sanctuary during the night, and to the occasional traveller with gifts of fruit, a cold drink or a block of chocolate. When a person is so exposed, isolated, vulnerable and has so little, a carefully wrapped, blemish-free fruit or a hug might result in tears of gratitude. Once, at a time when I was feeling particularly stretched, a woman got out of her 4WD and gave me a 20 second hug that had me blubbing on her shoulder.
My walk was not without mental turmoil or fearless emotions, but my goal was always clear. Get up and walk. If I wanted food and water, if I wanted this two month hike over, there was only one solution to a successful conclusion. On the Canning my days had purpose. Survive. And finish what I started.
I was inspired by the words of Edward Abbey. "The strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity... Love flowers best in openness and freedom."Read more...
I have a story to tell. In fact I have several.
Book One: Every Step of the Way
This is my first attempt at publishing a book. There is only one way I can write and that is from the heart. It is not in my nature to provide a glossed over recreation of how I would like things to have been. Nor am I pretending to be anything that I am not. There is no learning, no discovery in that. And my life is all about discovery and personal transformation. Is my story inspiring? Not in the commercial sense, I don't think. But I am not going for commercial. My story is real. Real life. And it swims in darkness from time to time.
Desert Diary is a journal record of my 66 day walk on a daily basis. This is to establish credibility. It is a story I want to tell now rather than later: What was it like for a city woman to walk across a desert alone, the realities and the 'why' of it, something so many people ask?
Once I have written up these days,Read more...
Below is a Timeline focusing primarily on foot powered achievements on the Canning Stock Route:
Some made it. Some didn’t. Some came back for more.
Typical traverse times:
A 4WD will typically take 3 weeks to traverse the Canning Stock Route, a motorbike around 10 days, bicycle 33 days and walking 1-3 months, depending on support or not.
New entry: Update on the fastest cyclist of the Canning Stock Route - Supported, 16 days
Five cyclists made attempts with varying degrees of support.
Only two completed the crossing.
Six walkers had a go, five using support vehicles and one completely unsupported.
All walkers aborted.
One solo motorcyclist set the record for the fasted crossing.