Donkey Trekking Tips ‘The Only Way Home’ Liz Byron

In her memoir ‘The Only Way Home’ and YouTube video (see below) Liz Byron explains what it meant leaving her roller-coaster marriage, career, family dinners, large library and a comfortable, charming home to trek 2,500 kilometres through rural Queensland on the rugged Bicentennial National Trail.

Liz, mother and semi-retired sociolegal researcher, writes from her New South Wales Northern Rivers home.  Her writing is confronting and visceral in its honesty.

Each step on this radical journey of self-discovery helped Liz make sense of grief and trauma, including the tragic loss of one of her four children.  Liz’s fierce independence was confronted daily as she tackled details of equipment, food supply, lack of drinking water, thorny grass seeds and the hilarious will of her two devoted donkeys Grace and Charley.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF AUTHOR

EXCERPTS FROM LIZ BYRON INTERVIEW

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do a long distance trek?

LIZ : From the various facets involved in a long-distance trek, consider where you might lack experience and spend time acquiring the experience you need. From thirty years of overnight bushwalking, I was experienced at living outdoors, packing light, negotiating difficult terrain and camping, cooking in all weathers. However, I had no experience with large animals and allowed myself four years to get to know my donkeys, learn how to handle them on the road and have them face as many scary situations as I could predict might arise.

What was your most essential piece of equipment?

LIZ : My hoof pick. Everything about trekking depends upon the donkeys’ feet.

You talk about having to learn about adjusting your standards of what to expect, how did the BNT trek compare to what you expected?

LIZ : Adjusting my standards was more about adjusting my expectations of other people and myself. A strong theme in the book is that – because of all my outdoor experience – physical challenges were easily overcome. It was almost as if surviving physically demanding situations was no longer part of the lessons I needed to learn. The challenges were much more about relating to people from whom I needed help – because of the extremely dry conditions and NEVER part of my trek plan – so accepting my limitations, and theirs, changed my standards of what to expect in all sorts of social situations.

What was the most important thing that working with donkeys taught you about yourself?

LIZ : Accepting the way things are, like donkeys do, is far healthier, for both mind and body, than getting lost in thoughts about how things should be.

Several years have passed since you walked the Bicentennial National Trail, have the lessons you learned endured?

LIZ : Yes. Because lessons learned from experience, in other words, from our mistakes, naturally endure.

Thank you, Liz, I enjoyed reading ‘The Only Way Home’. Your unique memoir shows strength of purpose and insights into your remarkable journey.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2021

WOLLONGONG CITY LIBRARIES – YOUTUBE

MY BOOK REVIEW HERE

THE ONLY WAY HOME



PURCHASE BOOK HERE

Liz Byron ‘The Only Way Home’ Book Review

A memoir of singularity of purpose and a deep determination to overcome all obstacles.  Liz Byron challenges herself in every way, mentally, physically and spiritually to start afresh by walking the rugged Bicentennial National Trail towards a new, independent life.  The BNT on the Great Dividing Range on the east coast of Australia has some of the most unforgiving landscapes in the world.  Her companions on this journey are two donkeys with the wisdom of ages and Liz’s symbol, the wild watchful wedge-tail eagles.

‘The Only Way Home’ is an intimate memoir with a heartbreaking look into family life, the pain Liz suffers and the repercussions for those involved.  It also captures the freedom of walking through wide-ranging bushland, fording rivers, and making camp with two charming character-filled donkeys Grace and Charley.

Liz had previously done a lot of bushwalking but without encountering such a harsh and challenging environment. Taking the extremes of drought country in their stride, her donkeys are clever and observant, and prove they can be stubborn for good reason.  Humans just have to work out what those reasons are! Liz shows love and respect for her companions, their hardiness and their intuition. Grace and Charley each carried a load, packed and balanced, and it was amusing how they behaved when released to graze.

Interspersed with walking the Queensland section of the BNT, a trail originally intended for horses, Liz writes candidly about her fractured marriage, the love of her children and losing a child, the trauma of her own childhood and soothing meditation. A mixture of grief, courage and sheer willpower drives her forward as she launches herself into a second life in one of the most demanding ways imaginable. 

Admittedly I am not an adept hiker but some of the trials and tribulations Liz encountered would have had me stumbling to the nearest township, flagging down a four-wheel drive and heading back to Brisbane.  At one stage the soles of Liz’s hiking boots came adrift, not to mention needle-thin grass seeds digging into her skin.  Sometimes the track was marked and sometimes it was not; they traversed barren sections, steep topography, waist high grass, slippery rocks and rested at the occasional restorative oasis.

Along the way, Liz kept a journal rather than taking photographs and if she stopped for the night in solid accommodation in lieu of pitching a tent, all she needed was a table and chair to update her journal.  Liz often met farmers, cattlemen, country people, who were informative and willing to help with advice on the terrain ahead, plus an overnight paddock for her two stalwart pals.

Memorable lines from Liz ‘Folks in rural, remote, drought-stricken Queensland understood only too well the interdependent nature of being human.  I, on the other hand, was trying to resolve an inherent dichotomy: seeking my independence as a woman at the same time as being a homeless wanderer heavily reliant on cattle station people’ – Liz is a vegetarian and food was a source of uneasiness, both getting and eating, and fresh produce was always a joy – ‘My commitment to receive help graciously was Step One.’   

Charlie, the archetypal Australian bushman said ‘Don’t be tempted to leave the roadway. The country is the same in every direction. Getting lost around here is a lot easier than getting found.’

‘The Only Way Home’

I liked the way the chapters and timeline were introduced.  Backstory arrives at pertinent intervals with sections of Liz’s life before, during and after she walks the Bicentennial National Trail.  Through Liz’s retelling more shocking revelations emerge, putting her quest in sharper focus.

Just reading, without travelling alone for 2,500 kilometres with two Equus asinus companions, this memoir invoked many emotions in me. From an embattled marriage to conquering those kilometres, Liz shares the insights gained on her path to independence and healing.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


ISBN: 9781925868203
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 257
Published: 24 Feb 2020
Publisher: Woodslane Pty Limited NSW

In her introduction, Liz Byron says ‘It was 2006, when I had been writing academic material for 20 years, before I decided to try writing my story. I had five lecture pads full of journal notes about the 2,500 kilometre trek I’d recently completed with my two donkeys. This seemed like a good place to start.  And so I did. I wrote on and off for nearly fifteen years before feeling as if I understood myself and my life well enough to explain why I had done the trek.’ My thanks to Liz Byron for a review copy, the book is available on her website here.

LIZ BYRON Q&A INTERVIEW HERE

The Bicentennial National Trail - Australia
The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) originally known as the National Horse Trail, is one of the longest multi-use, non-motorised, self-reliant trails in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to Healesville, 60 km north-east of Melbourne, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside wilderness areas. The BNT follows old coach roads, stock routes, brumby tracks, rivers, fire trails and was originally intended for horses.  The Trail would take most of one year to walk.

What if..? Jade Hameister’s Challenge

Jade Hameister Polar Skier and Sandwich
Jade Hameister Polar Skier (Image Credit: @jadehameister)

“What if young women around the world were encouraged to be more, rather than less? What if the focus shifted from how we appear, to the possibilities of what we can do?”

Quote from Jade Hameister – world record-breaking polar skier.

When told to “make me a sandwich” by a number of male internet trolls in response to her TED talk, Hameister made one, posted a picture of herself with the sandwich at the South Pole and captioned the photo:


“I made you a sandwich (ham & cheese), now ski 37 days and 600 kilometres to the South Pole and you can eat it.”


Star Fish 02Jade Hameister OAM (born 5 June 2001) is an Australian woman who, age 16, became the youngest person in history to pull off the “polar hat-trick”, ski to the North and South Poles, and cross the second largest polar icecap on the planet: Greenland.  Wikipedia.

Quote source:
https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2018/03/in-her-words-inspiring-quotes-from-australias-ground-breaking-women/

TED talk:
https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=Jade+Hameister+TED+Talk

Facebook post:
https://www.facebook.com/jadehameister/photos/a.224825967879767.1073741829.207513589611005/524715937890767/?type=3&theater

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Your inner light still shines

This poem touched a chord within me . . .

Multi-talented storyteller, author and freelancer Chris Hall of luna’s on line says “Basically, I love writing in all its forms.  I tell stories – short fiction pieces, even poetry – maybe from a writing prompt or a piece of artwork I’ve seen, or maybe something topical which I’ve read.  For the past few months I’ve been writing serials on my blog e.g. Sinead’s Final Quest and Alys and Sparky.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Read on . . .

luna's on line

The image shows face of a woman. It is painted with luminous glitter paint and the features are highlighted with bright yellow lines, ending in a question mark on the forehead.Imprisoned inside a fragile façade

yet your inner light still glimmers

hope leaks out from every pore

and your smile still shines from deep within.

Confined within the corporeal

plagued by withering pain

yet the force that the fans your flame

is fuelled by a sharper source.

Your spark will not be extinguished

your spirit will not be crushed

not yet, while there’s hope

for another, better day.


Written in response to Sadjes What Do You See #42 photo prompt.
Image credit: Lucas Pezetaon Pexels

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