In the heart of the vast Australian wilderness, amidst rugged terrains and breathtaking landscapes, a remarkable woman named Hannah James has embarked on an awe-inspiring odyssey. Her mission? To traverse 5000 kilometres on foot (Cooktown North QLD to Melbourne) solo, raising both awareness and funds for mental health. As we catch up with Hannah, her determination and resilience are palpable, painting a portrait of courage against the backdrop of the great outdoors.

A Heartfelt Beginning

“When people ask why I decided to undertake this 5000km walk for the Black Dog Institute, I tell them, it’s a long story,” Hannah begins. “The short version? I wanted to do something meaningful for a cause close to my heart while indulging in my passion for hiking. Mental health challenges are something I’ve faced personally, and what better way to give back than through an adventure I love?”

“The long of it is that over 10 years ago I completed my first thru hike (The Overland Track, Tas) and absolutely thrived off the adventure and the sense of accomplishment. 

Fast forward to 2 years ago, having completed The Bibbulman Track, Heysen Trail, Great North Walk, a number of the Great Walks in SEQLD solo and unassisted, I decided it was about time to tackle the longest continuous trail in Australia, The National Trail from Cooktown to Healesville; a journey of over 5000km following old stock and postal routes.

As with all best laid plans, things have changed and what was originally a journey following a designated trail, has become a beautiful adventure meandering through some of Australia’s best National Parks and along some spectacular beaches. These changes have made all the difference to my mental health.

The body of research that supports the correlation between exercise and improved mental health is only growing and I personally feel my best while hiking; pushing myself both mentally and physically. What better way to give back than to raise money for the Black Dog Institute and hopefully inspire some people to get out there, explore what we have in our own backyard, and see what the experience does for their mental well-being.”

Every Step a Triumph

As we speak, Hannah is amidst her journey, both her body and mind enduring the arduous challenge. “Physically, it’s demanding – the blisters, the aches, the weight loss. Mentally, it’s a rollercoaster. But I’ve learned to take it one step at a time, often one breath at a time,” she says. Her partner, friends, and family form a robust support system, reminding her of the strength she possesses when doubts creep in.

Moments of Grace

In the midst of challenges, Hannah finds solace in unexpected moments of kindness. “The warmth of strangers has moved me to tears,” she shares. “People have opened their homes, shared their food, and offered companionship. It’s these acts of kindness that make every struggle worthwhile.”

Can you share a particularly memorable or heartwarming interaction or story from your journey so far?

“There are so many, it’s so hard to pick just one. 

I think the first that comes to mind is when I had just crossed the 1,000km mark and arrived at a tiny pub called the Bowen River Hotel where I unexpectedly ended up camping out for several nights while waiting for the post office to open. I had the amazing opportunity to go to a Campdraft and Rodeo and was adopted into a family of ragtag backpackers who worked at the pub and locals who worked at or owned the surrounding stations. 

What started as an extremely stressful situation ended up becoming an absolute highlight where I was able to take the time to really experience where I was.”

Adapting to Nature’s Whims

Flexibility becomes a guiding principle as Hannah navigates unforeseen challenges, especially wildfires altering her planned route. “Having plans A, B, and C is vital. Nature is unpredictable,” she remarks. Her ability to adapt becomes a testament to her resilience, showcasing the power of determination in the face of adversity.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself during this adventure, especially considering you’re still in the midst of it?

“When I first set out from Cooktown I knew that this journey would be incredibly hard but I’ve found that I’m tougher than I thought. It’s really easy to quit while it’s hard, but it doesn’t stay hard forever and I’m so glad to have the support of my partner, family and friends who have carried the weight of my world for me so all I had to carry was my pack.

 I have become so much more adaptable and have been able to make changes to my plans on the fly where previously I would have agonised over a smaller deviation from my original plan. I think this particularly is something that is an asset for the remainder of the journey ahead.”

Healing through Nature

Hannah’s journey isn’t just physical; it’s a profound exploration of her own mental well-being. “Nature is my sanctuary. Walking allows me moments of self-reflection, planning, and the luxury of podcasts and audiobooks,” she confides. Recognising the impact of her surroundings on her mental health, she chose a route through serene landscapes, enhancing her experience and emphasising the importance of mindful planning for mental well-being.

Have you noticed any changes or shifts in your own mental well-being as a result of the walk, and how do you think it has impacted your mission?

“100%!! Having lived with depression, I know that I am at my best when spending time in nature. For me, exercise is a form of self care and the time walking each day has allowed me the opportunity for self reflection, planning for the future, daydreaming and plenty of podcasts and audio books.”

“While I originally planned to walk the entirety of the National Trail trail from Cooktown to Healesville, I realised that the route was having a negative impact on my mental health. Specifically, the NT would often go from dirt roads through cattle stations to major highways where I would share the “trail” with road trains.”

“Realising that I was being negatively impacted, I made some changes to my route and left the NT for single track through NP, quiet roads in State Forest, and the beaches along the central coast. This has made all the difference.”

How do you manage your physical and mental health during this long and demanding walk? Do you have any specific routines or practices that help you stay focused and motivated?

“Routine is key! I normally start my day at 5am when I make breakfast in bed and look over my plan for the day. I’ll typically split the day into sections of either 8km parts or 2 hours of walking depending on the terrain. Time boxing the day allows me to make sure I’m on schedule for things like snack breaks, kms to the next water source, time till sunset ect.”

“Taking time for self care is so important as well. This could be listening to an audio book in the evening, doing some deep stretching, or even having a bath if there is a river near camp.”

Spreading Hope, One Conversation at a Time

Engaging with local communities, Hannah fosters conversations about mental health. “Breaking barriers and encouraging genuine dialogue is vital,” she emphasises. Through her interactions, she not only spreads awareness but also inspires others to embrace challenges and confront mental health stigma head-on.

A Glimpse into Tomorrow

As Hannah continues her expedition, her goals remain resolute. “Raising $50,000 for the Black Dog Institute is just the beginning. I want to inspire others to challenge themselves, explore our wilderness, and initiate those difficult conversations about mental health,” she states, with determination.

Join the Journey, Make a Difference

You can be a part of Hannah’s incredible odyssey by following her on Instagram (@the.long.way.south) and Facebook (The Long Way South). Through her posts and updates, witness the beauty of her surroundings and the challenges she faces. To support her cause, donations can be made directly through the links in her bio (follow the above Instagram Link) or on the Black Dog Institute website HERE 

As Hannah forges ahead, let her story remind us of our own potential for resilience, kindness, and change. With each step, she is not just walking; she’s marching towards a future where mental health is understood, accepted, and nurtured.

DID YOU KNOW? You can now stream the 2023 Gutsy Girls Film Tour right from Adventure Reels TV HERE

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