I mentioned in a previous post that, while trekking the Overland Track is Tasmania, we had an absurd series of encounters with a group of fellow hikers that led them to believe that we were complete idiots and/or actively trying to sabotage their trip. Here’s the story.
Before starting the trek we had to catch a shuttle bus from the town of Hobart which would drive us the 2 hours to the Overland trailhead. While waiting at the visitor’s center in Hobart we started chatting with a guy named Rob.
Around 10:00 am the bus driver arrived and called for anyone heading out to start the Overland. There were just the three of us in the visitor’s center, which was surprising as generally at least 20 people start the trek each day and the shuttle was supposed to be the most common way to get there.
The first seeds of trouble were sown when Rob asked the bus driver “Are we the only ones?” to which he repleid “Looks like.” We went out to the bus, threw our gear in an empty compartment underneath and climbed on board. The bus was empty and we grabbed a couple of seats, sat down, and continued talking while the bus driver waited outside. Where Anjel and I sat down in, there happened to be a half empty bottle of orange juice in the seat pocket. Assuming it was old garbage I walked to the back of the bus, poured it out and was going to throw it away, but I couldn’t find a garbage can so I carried it back to the seat and put it back in the pocket.
About 5 minutes later the bus driver got back on… followed by a group of about 15 people who had boarded the shuttle at an earlier stop and had gotten off for a few minutes to stretch their legs. It immediately became obvious that when the bus driver said that we were the “only ones” he meant that we were the only ones getting on at this stop.
As soon as I saw one of the guys looking curiously in our direction I had one of those moments of sinking realization as everything becomes clear. We were sitting in someone else’s seat and more importantly, we had thrown away their beverage.
Throwing away someone’s drink is not worst thing in the world. For many people a simple apology, explanation that you’d made a mistake, and offer to buy another would bring an end to the matter. And then there are those for whom the principle seems to matter more, and want to know, “yes, but why did you do it?” These travelers were in the latter category. It also didn’t help that they were foreign and spoke English well, but not perfectly. Also they didn’t seem super cheerful to begin with.
I won’t walk you through the exact conversation as I tried to explain why we had sat in their seats, where the orange juice was and why I had thought it was a good idea to throw it out – it was just as awkward as you can imagine. I can tell you that it wasn’t any less uncomfortable the second time we went through the explanation when his girlfriend got on the bus and also wanted to know why we were in their seats and where the orange juice was.
Also, because of some language barriers, it wasn’t immediately understood that we had poured the drink out. This became clear when the girl asked incredulously “so when you find something on a bus… you just drink it?” I assured her that I had not drank, I had poured it out. It didn’t help though as she went on to tell us (perhaps in an attempt to scare us) that the juice had had “medicine” in it, so we really shouldn’t have drank it. I apologized again for pouring out their now “medicated” juice, but again assured them that we hadn’t drank it. In anycase, we got dirty looks from them for the rest of the day and certainly that night at the Hut.
It was on the third day that we had our second run in. The Overland Track has a number of side trips; 1 or 2 hour excursions off the main trail. Because the weather was good, most pe0ple would leave their large pack at the junction and just carry water and maybe some snacks. Anjel and I returned the junction of one of these side trips to find 8 or 10 packs sitting by the side of the trail… and strangely two loaves of white bread that had been found by some animal. It wasn’t clear where it came from, but the plastic bags that the loaves were in had been torn up and the bread was scattered, half eaten, around the trail. Feeding the animals and leaving trash are huge no-nos out on the trail – and having an animal accidentally get into your pack and scatter things isn’t an excuse – it means you screwed up and didn’t stash your food correctly like every single sign you read tells you to.
The remaining bread was getting blown down the trail and not wanting things to get worse, Anjel and I grabbed one of our empty gallon sized zip-lock bags and crammed the white bread back into it – having to crush it to get it all to fit. We then looked for the bag that it came from so we could put it back. As soon as we did, I regretted having done anything, and wished I had just left it there and moved it. The bag on its side with the open zipper indeed belonged to one of the people from the Orange Juice party.
At the time, no one else was around, which meant there were no other witnesses to what had happened or to what Anjel and I had done about it. As I stood there holding a zip-lock bag of crushed whitebread, dirt, ants and torn plastic I thought… this looks bad. It was perfectly explainable, but became less explainable when 2 days earlier you had thrown someone’s orange juice away. Now we were standing there having cleaned up (or possibly destroyed) two loaves of bread – which probably represented an important portion of their food stores.
My first thought was: “son of a…”. My second thought was: “who the hell packs white bread for a trek?” Honestly, white bread?
Ultimately, we opted to wedge the bag of bread underneath the bag that it came from. We thought about putting it back inside and zipping the pocket (the safest option) but that meant that they probably wouldn’t discover anything until the end of the day when they got to camp: opening their bag and finding the sack of destroyed bread. Amusing, but probably not the best option.
While we continued our walk, I spent the rest of the day mentally running through the altercation that was sure to follow. Would they confront us? Would we have to explain the juice incident to the other hikers? Would they understand that if they had correctly stowed their gear we would have never had to clean it up?
Surprisingly the bread was never spoken about, although I think they were pretty sure it was us and the dirty looks continued (though it was hard to say whether those were still the initial dirty looks). It’s possible that they assumed that the bread was scattered and we cleaned it up, but it was also just as likely that they thought we opened their bag just to mess with it. After all, they thought we drank their bus juice. On this point however, we knew we were in the right, and the tables were turning.
The following day was the nail in their coffin of self-righteousness. Anjel and I had gotten a leisurely start in the morning, so by the time we reached the end of the side-trek for the day, a short walk to a beautiful waterfall, there was already a group of hikers there, including the juice gang. There were four people in their group, and though I haven’t made a point of it by now, they were actually terribly unprepared for the hike. One of them hiked the whole thing in tennis shoes, another in brand new boots. Their gear was minimal and they got very lucky in that there was great weather for all 6 days they were on the trek. Had it rained for even a day it was pretty clear that both they and their white bread would have been screwed.
In fact before we all left the main lodge, we were given a safety briefing by one of the rangers. He seemed like a great guy and included the phrase “…you can die” several times in his speech. He used it light-heartedly, but was in fact serious. Every year people die on the Overland and we were warned that it can snow unexpectedly there, even in Summer. As the ranger was going over what gear everyone had, and suggesting strongly that everyone wear gaiters (which were available for purchase at the main lodge along with other last minute items), Mr. Juice actually leaned over to one of his companions and whispered “they’re just trying to get you to buy more.” Park rangers are generally low key people who do what they do because they just love the outdoors. Suggesting that a park ranger was warning you about safety in the hopes of landing a sale would be like suggesting a librarian was promoting literacy was just trying to get you to buy more books.
So back at the waterfall, Anjel and I watched one of the girls take “fashion” photos by the waterfall (while also annoying some other hikers who just wanted a clear shot of the falls) before they packed up their things and headed off. Anjel and I hung around the waterfall until the other groups left, enjoying the quiet and going for a quick dip in the frigid pool at the bottom. As we got ready to leave we spotted a pair of sunglasses left behind on a rock that we recognized as belonging to Mrs. “That juice was mediated” herself.
Now here was a dilemna. No one was around and it was actually fairly windy in that cove. The glasses were perched precariously on the edge of a rock and who’s to say that if we hadn’t seen them that they wouldn’t have fallen into the water, only to be carried by the fast current over the second set of falls below.
Accidents happen all the time.
I will freely admit that both Anjel and I considered helping the glasses along on their trip over the falls, or at least just leaving them there. We spotted them by chance and had we left them there, having “never seen them,” certainly no one would hold it against us. Plus it would have meant that the Juice Patrol would have had to make the 40 minute walk down and back to the falls one more time to retrieve them.
We savored this scenario in our minds for a while before we decided to be the bigger people. We clipped the glasses to our pack and began the walk up to the main trail. Right at the top we ran into two of the girls, to whom we presented the glasses saying: “We found these down on the rocks.” “Thanks.” she replied. “Did you see the case?”
Did you see the case?
How nice did that sound? We had, in fact, not seen the case, which meant that we had done everything we could to help the angry juicers, and were still going to get the satisfaction of knowing they had an extra 40 minutes of hiking in front of them. Petty, yes. But satisfying.
To top it all off, the girl who hadn’t lost her glasses decided she didn’t want to walk all the way back down, so she’d just sit up here for an hour until her friend got back. Now that’s friendship.