Meet The Merinoers - Helen 'The Walking Traveller'

Welcome to a new series of blogs where we have a chat to some of our customers and friends. We're calling them 'merinoers' as they all love and wear merino wool as much as they love to get out there and adventure. If the term catches on you know where it all started! 

Recently, we chatted with Helen aka The Walking Traveller. Helen wears a couple of Otties, but she really popped up on our radar on Instagram when she started documenting her 465K challenge at the start of April. Helen loves walking and hiking long distance and is just as content urban hiking around Melbourne as she is on the Camino de Santiago which she hiked in 2014 and hoped to go again in 2020. But, of course, COVID hit. 

Right, over to the chat. 

OM: So, you have a thing for long distance walking? Tell us about the moment you realised you really loved to stretch your legs over longer distances. 

H: It was after walking solo across Spain when I realised I loved long distance walking. The simplicity of life carrying only what you really need on your back was such a freeing experience. I remember having such doubts as I looked straight up to the Pyrenees in front of me at the beginning and when the tears flowed down my cheeks as my feet walked across the cobblestone at the end, walking into Santiago de Compostela at what I had achieved, I knew then and there I loved long distance walking.

Camino de Santiago, Spain. Image credit: The Walking Traveller 

Walking 800+ kilometres across Spain was my first long distance walk. Lots have been written about this walk and each story is its own. It was an experience I will never forget. 

OM: I bet! What an achievement. And what a beautiful country to hike across. This was your first long distance hike but what is your favourite? 

H: It’s so hard to choose my favourite long distance hike. They are all so special in different ways.

Walking the 225 kilometres of the GR 70 (also known as the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail) in France was wonderful. Walking through the French mountainous countryside, through three national parks, and tiny little villages was breathtaking. I walked with a friend and we even ended up being interviewed on French television
—they were documenting life on the trail.

Walking in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson in the place he wrote his first book “Travels with a Donkey” in 1878, and to see actual descendants of Modestine, his donkey, in fields and on the trail was amazing.

It is an exceptionally beautiful walk and quite difficult in sections. I remember one special day while I was sitting high up on a mountain having lunch and heard bells ringing in the distance. Before I knew it hundreds of sheep had surrounded me. The smell of the wild herbs they were munching filled the air as they roamed freely. They paid no attention to me, but for me, sitting high in the mountains in France with the sun shining, breeze blowing, wild flowers surrounding me, and the smell of wild herbs filling my senses, I could not have had a better day.

See, hard to choose a favourite. But, these are some of the other walks I have done, just so you can get to know my love for long hikes a little better. 

—Camino Frances, Camino Ingles, Camino de Santiago
—Camino Portuguese
England—Coast to Coast Hike
Scotland—West Highland Way
Italy—Via Francigena, Siena to Florence, Hilltop towns of Tuscany , across Piedmont
FranceGR 70 "The Robert Louis Stevenson Trail"
—The Kumano Kodo
AustraliaThree Capes, Overland Track, a small section of the Bibbulmun Track, Mt Kosciusko, Great South West Walk, 100K Mornington Peninsula Trail, and the Two Bay Trail

It’s hard to choose. They are all my favourite 🤣😂

OM: It's those random moments that remain etched in your memory, right? And hiking is often filled with these moments. I bet you can still smell those wild herbs when you think back to that day. 

You had a memorable month this year in April? You decided to walk 465 kilometres over 30 days. Tell us how that came about?

H: Each year for quite some time I have gone overseas to hike a long distance track. With the world's COVID restrictions this has put a stop to all of my plans. Missing my long distance hikes, the planning stage, challenges, and self achievement has made me get a little creative and so this is why I created the April 465 Challenge.

Lysterfield Lake Park, Victoria. Image credit: The Walking Traveller

OM: That's an average of 15.5km a day! Which was your favourite day on the challenge? 

H: My favourite day was the 20th day. I walked along the cliffs of the George Bass Coast in Victoria. The wind was wild and the ocean was crashing to shore spraying its waves up the walls of the cliffs. The grasses on the rounded hills looked like velvet as they swayed with the wind.

George Bass Coastal Walk, Victoria. Image credit: The Walking Traveller

I walked with two hiker friends and it was wonderful to relive and tell stories of our individual hikes. Sharing stories amongst hikers is something I love.

OM: The George Bass Coastal Walk is magnificent. I did it a couple of years ago. 

With April now being over, what's planned next? Borders are still closed, of course, so some more local hikes? 

H: Even though the 465K Challenge is over I still have another ongoing challenge. That is, hiking 70 hikes in a year to celebrate my year of turning 70. I'm so excited to show that at any age you can challenge yourself and live the hiking life you choose.

Lysterfield Lake Park, Victoria. Image credit: The Walking Traveller

I also have my eye on the Cape to Cape in Western Australia towards the end of the year. As well as finish The Goldfields Track in Victoria, steeped in our pioneers history, and finish my hiking around Port Phillip Bay in Victoria.

OM: Congrats on your 70th year, Helen! And best of luck on the 70 hikes. 

Your an experienced long distance hiker. Every year, more and more people set off on long distance hikes—the Heysen Trail and Larapinta in Australia and the Te Araroa over in NZ—what advice do you have for a budding long distancer?

H: Long distance hiking isn’t for everyone. But I urge everyone to give it a go. You may feel alone but I never felt lonely. You will have days of feeling 'What the heck am I doing?' but that will pass. Your body will hate you some days, so be kind to it. The weather will test you but just embrace it. It will change when it wants to change.

But the most valuable tip I can give anyone about to embark on a long distance walk is to 'hike your own hike'. Take time to love every day. To remember how lucky you are to be experiencing what you are experiencing. It is very special.

And I take it your an advocate for merino wool on long (and short) hikes? 

I am. My choice of clothing, especially on long distance trails, has always been merino wool. It’s so light, odour free, and wears and washes remarkable. I recently wore one Ottie Merino t-shirt on the Overland Track for 8 days. No opportunity to wash it as the weather was horrid and it stood up to the conditions fantastic.

OM: Thanks for pushing your Ottie to its limits! 8 days of continuous wear is a fair workout. 

Final question, Helen. And thanks so much for sharing your experience on long distance hiking. If you could walk any track in the world which would it be?

H: Which path would I like to be on right now? Oh that's a hard one, my bucket list just keeps getting bigger.

But I would probably have to choose the Via Francigena. This is a walk from Canterbury, England, to Rome, Italy. It crosses four countries and covers 1,700 kilometres.

Leaving my footprints on the history of this trail would be amazing. 

OM: Well, I hope you can live that dream in the not-too-distant future. You've certainly given me a few extra trails to add to my bucket list. 

Want to read more about Helen's long distance adventures? Check out her website, The Walking Traveller, and her Instagram