~ Written by Sandra Bucovaz
The club’s recently elected president is Susie Hale, ‘fresh off’ a 153-day solo trip on the 4,280km Pacific Crest Trail which she completed in 153 days earlier this year. Other major accomplishments on her impressive walking CV include leading a VMTC group who completed the Australian Alpine Walking Track in 42 days.
Having grown up in a bushwalking family, the outdoors is where 29-year old Susie spends most of her time at work and play. With a Bachelor in Wildlife and Conservation Biology (Honours) and as part of her PhD thesis in ecology, Susie is currently researching small mammals in the Grampians and their responses to fire and climate.
Susie is the youngest president in the 70-year-history of the VMTC which recently celebrated its milestone anniversary. She was attracted to the club by its signatory spirit of adventure, camaraderie and outdoor pursuits ranging from bushwalking to cycling to canyoning, to cross country skiing, ski touring, snow shoeing and snow camping to interstate and overseas trips. She loves the knowledge base within the club and the conversation and company of members who come from all walks of life.
As the new president, she considers her greatest challenge is to promote the value of being a member of a club and increase membership, particularly bringing in younger people. She also hopes to maintain and hopefully increase the number of adventurous trips (off track, remote, extended) which has been part of the driving philosophy of the club since it was founded.
What attracted you to the VMTC?
I joined the VMTC about three years ago to find some partners in adventure. I was slightly nervous at first but quickly learned that it didn’t matter if you are slower or less experienced, other members respect you because you make an effort. I highly recommend joining a hiking club and wish I had done so sooner.
What do you enjoy most about the VMTC?
The VMTC has introduced me to a wide range of people who have since become solid friends who I respect incredibly. The eclectic group of people with a shared passion makes for a tremendous time and can allow you to undertake new escapades with like-minded and passionate people who are willing to share their skills. There is an enormous knowledge-base within the membership.
What do you hope to achieve as president?
I have become president to give a little back to the club I love so much. I have experienced so much freedom, a range of challenges and real wildness as part of this club and I want to ensure that that it can continue to do this for the next generation. My main aims as president are to ensure that the club maintains its reputation for challenging and adventurous trips that take you all over the state, country and world and that we increase our membership, especially that of the younger generation.
When did your love of the outdoors start?
My love for the outdoors has always been fostered lovingly by my parents and has been a constant in my life. I decided to get into environmental research as it allows me to get outdoors regularly as part of my data collection but also gives me an opportunity to help protect our wild places and wildlife which mean so much to me.
Did you bushwalk as a family?
My Dad was an avid bushwalker in his younger years and started to take me and my brother out on overnight hikes from about the age of eight. I remember our first hike vividly, it was at Lake Mountain. We wandered along wide, grassy paths to a small camp spot near a pond, proudly carrying our sleeping bags and clothes in our school bags as Dad hauled the rest of the gear. We spent the evening trying to catch frogs in the chilly water, their calls increasingly coming from the far side of the shallow water. We went on to do many challenging trips together where I learnt to read maps and navigate and of course how to deal with being ‘misplaced’. We were never ‘lost’, as my Dad would say.
What is it about long distance walking and what is next on your radar?
Long distance walks hold great appeal for me. Immersing myself in nature with a highly simplified life is a great feeling, living to walk and soak up the surroundings gives me a lot of inner peace and tranquillity that I can sometimes lack in my everyday life in the city. Challenging walks are not only physically rewarding but you also get to experience areas that are virtually untouched, which have a wild and rugged beauty.
My next longish adventure is to the Eastern and Western Arthurs in Tasmania in 2019 and longer term, I am eagerly researching the Kungsleden in Sweden and the Continental Divide Trail in the US.
What are your greatest achievements as a bushwalker?
My greatest achievement so far would probably be the Pacific Crest Trail. I spent five months wandering north on the foot-wide trail through desert, snow, mud, mountains, plains, forest and everything in-between. The simplicity of waking up every day and knowing that all I had to do was head north and the wide variety of people I met on the trail was incredible.
What was your greatest challenge on the Pacific Crest Trail?
Solo river crossings in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were the greatest challenge. I had had limited experience so I researched the techniques and practiced in smaller creeks and rivers when I first entered the high mountains. Each time the roar of a river became audible to me butterflies started to gently flutter in the pit of my stomach. My practice and research paid off and I made it through heart racing, leg grabbing and foot freezing rivers.
Do you have any heroes?
I don’t really have any heroes but I greatly admire people who chase their passions and are committed to enjoying their everyday.