Sunday, March 11, 2018

3 Horses, a Dog & 5,000KM

The woman who rode Australia's longest trekking route – a photo essay 


Alienor Le Gouvello travelled more than 5,000km with three wild horses and a dog. For her forthcoming book Wild at Heart, photographer Cat Vinton joined her for part of the journey to capture the beauty and isolation of a year-long trek through the Australian bush
The Guardian Mar. 11, 2018

From a young age, Alienor Le Gouvello developed a passion for travelling and adventure. Her previous expeditions include a horseback trek in Mongolia at age 22 and a sidecar motorbike expedition from Siberia to Paris. Le Gouvello, originally from France, was working with an Indigenous community in Docker River near Uluru in the Australian central desert when she first discovered the existence of wild brumbies. In 2015, she embarked on her longest solo journey: 5,330km along the Bicentennial National trail, Australia’s longest trekking route, beginning in Healesville in Victoria and ending in Cooktown, Queensland, with just three wild horses and her dog for company. Since it opened in 1988, only 35 people have completed the trail. Le Gouvello is the second woman to complete the trip and the only person to have the same horses from beginning to end. 

The Bicentennial trail follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the eastern escarpment. Other than her horses, Le Gouvello’s only other company was her dog, Fox, who joined her for part of the trip, save for when she was taking the trial through national parks or private property. “I hated the times I didn’t have Fox, because as much as I love my horses they don’t fit in my tent. I have had Fox for 12 years and he is my best mate.” Some days, towards the end of the day, Fox’s arthritis would flair up on the last few kilometres and Le Gouvello would carry him over her shoulders. 

At the beginning of the high Victorian country, the track was tough and very steep and the horses were not interested in going up and down such terrain: “Being green [just broken in] horses, they lacked the work ethic and if it wasn’t for my mare, who had the most amazing stamina, setting the pace I don’t know how we would have gotten through.”

Going through a lot of farmers’ stations, fences were a real challenge. Grids on the properties she was travelling through did not always have a gate next to them. Le Gouvello had to undo fences with a pair of pliers to get through and always put them back up so that the farmers wouldn’t get upset. Another difficult aspect of the trip was food and water. Le Gouvello could not carry water for three horses so she had to find it every day. Some days they had to push on for extra kilometres to find a river or dam to rehydrate.

One night while Le Gouvello was continuing the nightly tradition of grooming and cuddling Fox after dinner, he began to look concerned and anxious, and when Alienor looked closer she saw a snake between her legs – it was enjoying the warmth of the fire too. Without thinking she grabbed a stick from the fire and threw the snake in.

Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and birds were a constant reminder that she was deep in the Australian outback. Other wild brumbies were a sight throughout the national parks but also a real threat to her horses. She spent many nights in parks staying up to look out for them. 

Towards the end of her journey, Le Gouvello contracted Ross River fever and also a staph infection. “Doing a trek so demanding physically, being sick really messes you, but I was determined to not abandon the trip. I did two visits to hospital and both times got back on the horse and carried on with excruciating pain and exhaustion.” When she reached Cooktown she was just relieved she had made it and it was over.

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