It started as a joke. One of our walking group members, Tash, sharing a social media post back in March about a trek crossing the mountain range between our town of Nundle, and Timor in the Upper Hunter Valley with the comment, "This looks interesting."
Tash wasn't expecting actual positive responses ranging from, "I have to check dates" to "I am KEEN!!!!" and "Let's register a team."
We began exercising as a group in February, answering a call out from Oakenville Farm Store owner Rachel Webster looking for participants in a FebFast Healthy Habits Reset after the indulgent festive season.
Our small town may have a small population of 600, but we are fortunate to have two fitness professionals, both called Rachel, motivating women from their thirties to their sixties to keep moving, and stay strong. Between Rachel Webster and Rachel Schofield we usually have access to four group fitness classes a week, including weights, circuit, bodyweight, and pilates workouts.
Our FebFast Healthy Habits Reset was only meant to last a month, starting with power walking to push ourselves a little more physically and make some nutritional improvements. Rachel Webster is studying herbal medicine and gave us a startup gift of mostly homegrown, dehydrated super greens powder to add to smoothies and help with our detox.
Throughout the month Rachel encouraged us to try wellbeing therapies including an Ionic Foot Detox, Infrared Sauna, Cold Showers, Daily Gratitude Diary, Meditation, and after dinner walk or 'constitutional' (a walk for one's health). We were also encouraged to try Time Restricted Eating and cut out or back on alcohol, sugar and carbohydrates.
It wasn't long before our power walks turned into short runs, and our motivation and discipline thrived with the support, encouragement, and friendship of the group. We were so keen we even started walking when our coach Rachel wasn't available, and were sharing healthy recipes in our group chat.
By mid month we were walking 6km within an hour easily. In week three we talked about extending our Healthy Habits into March. That's how we found ourselves mid month nervously contemplating signing up to a 42km Timor to Nundle Trek 2023 at the end of May.
In eight weeks we aimed to get some serious hill kilometres in our legs and discovered many beautiful walking routes surrounding Nundle, including Nundle Cemetery, Nundle Pony Club, Nundle Golf Course, River Road, Happy Valley Road, and Oakenville Creek Road. We shared our walking routes and statistics, screenshoting various fitness apps, and uploading to our group chat. If we couldn't walk around Nundle we'd post walks from wherever we were...Tamworth, Mid North Coast, Gold Coast, Philippines.
Rachel set the bar high with a 10km return walk up the steep Barry Road climbing to a notorious s-bend known as Devil's Elbow below Hanging Rock. Within two weeks our group had completed this challenging walk several times. By May we tackled a 20km return walk from Teamsters' Rest up and over the top of Crawney Pass, less than half the route of our 42km trek.
With each new milestone distance we felt an incredible sense of achievement and growth. On the eve of our 42km walk we gathered for a stretch to prepare our muscles and mindset, then returned home to pack our backpacks with lollies, energy balls, sandwiches, water, energy drinks, bandaids, spare socks and leggings(!).
Our fellow walker Kristie collected us in the dark at 5.45am and dropped us off at the starting point, Timor Station. We shed excess jumpers, coats and torches into Kristie's car and started nervously jumping around in our beanies and gloves to keep warm in the frost.
Kristie's photograph of us in the pink sunrise with mist pooling in the valley captures our excited anticipation. Having driven the route we had mentally broken it up into achievable sections; 10km of sealed road, 7km of gravel road to a causeway water crossing, then a 5km steep climb, 6km mostly downhill through Crawney National Park, and 14km of unsealed and sealed road winding through the Upper Peel Valley to the Nundle pub.
We were so eager that we set off at a cracking pace, but still had time to take in the beauty of the morning and the landscape; striking grass trees, weatherboard farmhouses and corrugated iron shearers' quarters, Isis River noisily weaving across its rock bed, morning light streaming through silky oaks, and curious cattle grazing on the roadside. Two dead black snakes were a startling surprise in the cold.
The last 10km of the walk were the hardest. The landscape was familiar and our bodies were starting to complain. We didn't dare inspect burning blistered feet and ignored painful joints from the waist down. An unexpected cheer squad kept us going. Family members met us along the last three kilometres, in their driveways and cars, hooting, clapping, and making us laugh. At every rural property number (measured from the Nundle Post Office) we counted down the kilometres. With one kilometre to go Liz, a walking friend from Timor, let me in on a mantra she had used in previous long distance events, "I am tough, I am strong." As I chanted the mantra in my head, we placed one foot in front of the other, stepping closer to the finish line, The Peel Inn.
Shopkeeper friends stood in front of their Jenkins Street businesses and clapped. Event organisers and already finished walkers, including our own Rachel Schofield, congratulated us with more cheering, laughing and clapping. Our smiles at the end of the event show how happy we were to attempt and conquer a physical and mental challenge, that normally would have been out of our reach. The champagne we had been looking forward to went down very easily. We hobbled on our seized up legs and feet to fill our plates with cheese and biscuits.
Nearly two weeks since the walk we received an email from walk organisers Dayna and Jenn, announcing that at that point the event raised $5,250 towards providing a 30 per cent subsidy for family passes to Murrurundi Pool. Donations can be made to Lions Club of Murrurundi Inc Activities, BSB 932-000, Account 300 005 114. We even had a special mention in the email, 'We were super impressed with the Nundle ladies who spent the whole time chirpy (so it seemed). Not sure how you ladies managed to stay so chipper but well done!!'
Our group is still walking and working out together. Now a 6km walk seems so short. New fitness app screenshots appear in our group chat, running and walking intervals training for our next challenge, to run the Tamworth TEN 10km fun run. Or could we make the half marathon?
Photography by Kristie Whitten, Megan Trousdale, Tash Moore, Laura Pratt, Liz Watts.