Day 69 – 75
Nilpenna Station to William Creek
It’s a funny thing adventure; it seems to challenge us in stages. Giving you just more than you think you can take but not quite enough to fully break you. During this leg of our journey, it was the Outback’s turn to start testing us.
“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it’s going on when you don’t have the strength” – Theodore Roosevelt
Our expedition felt like a constant emotional ebb and flow of feeling like everything is all good, until its not. Then you figure that out and it’s all good again.
In the early part of the expedition, it felt like everyday we were pushing against our pre-existing mental and physical boundaries. Just existing in the Outback at the start of the expedition was a massive challenge. The goal during this phase was one step at a time.
Once our bodies started to adjust and the kilometers finally felt easier, we were thrown our next challenge, toddler teething which led to sleep deprivation (see blog here for a refresh!). The goal of this phase was mental and emotional survival and remembering “this too shall pass”.
Just when I felt like we were coming out the other side and Morgan started sleeping better, it was the Outback’s turn to throw us some extra weather challenges – as if walking 1,800km with a baby wasn’t already enough! The goal of this phase was all about heeding Justin’s well tested expedition advice, “Don’t be scared, be aware.”
Up until this point, the Outback had in many respects been pretty accommodating. Nights had been cold and cozy for sleeping, days weren’t yet sweltering hot and the winds were for the most part gentle.
But these last few weeks, well, we had faced it all. We had experienced massive heat waves, heavy head winds, thunder and lighting storms and the constant threat of heavy flash floods. No longer were our favourite riverbed camping spots safe.
I liked Justin’s advice, ‘Lauren, you don’t need to be scared, you just need to be aware’. It made sense and in moments of panic, calmed me down and focused me on the task at hand. Daily, I balanced the overwhelming and basic human needs to find shelter, safety and protection with the big goal of adventure, freedom and living life fully. Daily, I felt vulnerable and exposed. Daily, we faced extreme weather challenges which felt overwhelming, and I used Justin’s words as mymantra.
During this expedition, Justin and I fell into certain routines. One of those routines was that Morgan and I often took the lead. This wasn’t an ego thing but an efficiency thing. Justin and I often couldn’t decide who had the tougher role, him pulling upwards of 200kg of food, water and gear or me pulling 12kg of an often demanding passenger. Having a toddler dictated when I could walk and when I couldn’t so anytime Morgan was happy to play in her seat or have nap it was my turn to cover as much distance as I possibly could, no matter what time of day or what wether we were facing.
This routine and walking arrangement often left Justin a few kilometres behind as he invariably went slower and steadier as he carried the bulk of the weight but wasn’t tied to the changing needs of a one year old toddler. Ultimately this meant that every night, Morgan and I had the responsibility of finding our campsite. This may not seem like a big deal but let me tell you, it was!
The person with the job of selecting the campsite for the evening had to consider a multitude of factors. It had to be safe for Morgan to run around in, relatively clear of sharp thorns and bindi’s, ideally have shade, comfortable ground to sleep on, protection, wood for the fire, and if weather hits, will sustain you through the night and won’t leave you moving your tent in the middle of a torrential downpour. Ideally, I also wanted to find a spot that was beautiful, that felt like home and could protect and charge us for our next day of walking. It had to be our safe haven.
I personally blame it on the momma bear instincts that I took this responsibility so seriously. It was a very fine balance between having FOMO that the PERFECT campsite was just around the corner and pushing it too long and late in the day to where we were all overtired, over hungry and down right cranky and over it.
Now, with the changing weather, our campsite location seemed even more important as we heard through the bush telegraph as they call it (locals and passers bye spreading news, gossip and weather) that there was possibility of severe and heavy rain in the forecast.
This news of rain was always delivered with a level of anticipation and excitement. It was good for the land, the people and the animals. We however didn’t love it as much. Heavy rain for us meant at best, we were delayed by days, at worst, the roads were flooded out for weeks and it would most likely end our expedition.
We had heard that the spot we crossed through ten days ago, near Algebuckina Bridge, was now underwater and un-passable. To put it in perspective, if we had left 10 days later, our trip would have been over. We really felt at the whim and mercy of nature out here. I found myself being thankful for every day we could press forward and were just praying that the mighty Outback would let us cross. Only time would tell.
For days we had skirting rain and thunder storms but soon the dark clouds surrounded us and the rains pelted down, we quickly took shelter next to a low hill that blocked us from the wind. The campsite was just what we needed and a true gift from Mother Nature. Its funny the little things you appreciate when you strip everything else away. Justin and I moved quickly and efficiently to get the tent up and Morgan safely inside. I felt more grateful for our little tent then ever and its offering of security.
In the morning, the rain seemed to let up about 5am and we unzipped the tent to see what was outside. Amazingly the sand beneath us had absorbed all of the water and we had zero flooding affecting our gear. The road looked a bit muddy but still walk able and we thankfully had another day of walking in front of us.
In the next day or two we were hopping to get to William Creek. A little township catering mostly to Outback drivers. It had a pub and a little hotel and that was about it but man was I looking forward to a home cooked meal, a beer and if we were lucky, a place to wash some of our now very damp and dirty clothes.
We had only made it about 20kms further when the storm clouds came back, catching us by lunchtime. The effect of the seasons first and possibly only rain on a dirt Outback road is hard to explain. It’s kind of like a mix between an ice skating rink and quick sand. On one hand you have no traction and you find yourself sliding everywhere like an uncoordinated newly born calf. On the other hand, the mud is so dense that you feel like your feet are pulling through heavy cement. Needless to say it made walking and pulling our carts quite the challenge.
On top of the weather, Justin’s ankle was starting to give him constant pain and the added complexity of mud walking significantly flared up the injury. He wasn’t sure what triggered it but an old dance floor injury (yep I just said that) from back in the day had sprung up and was starting to cause him more and more pain and was slowing him down quite substantially.
We had two choices, put up our tent and wait the rain out which could be days or push on and try to reach Anna Creek station. Since we didn’t know how long the rain would last or how bad it would be and against his protests, Justin’s ankle was in need of a rest, we made the safe choice and headed an extra few kilometres out of our way to Anna Creek.
Anna Creek is the world’s largest cattle station. It has an area of 23,677 square kilometers which is slightly larger than Israel. Anna Creek is over seven times the size of the United States biggest ranch located in Texas (I guess not everything is bigger in Texas!). I was intrigued and secretly excited at the prospect that we now got to make an unscheduled stop and might get rained in for a few days – shhhh don’t tell Justin.
Anna Creek is a private station and we hadn’t planned or alerted anyone of our arrival which we had done with others along the way, which made me a bit nervous. What would they think about us? About what we were doing? Would they think we were totally nuts?
When we arrived I was shocked to see that it was run by a young family and their small team. They were younger than we were, had two kids under three years old and literally had a team of six people running a business the size of Israel or Belgium, it’s mind blowing! These country folk know a thing or two about hard work.When we arrived we met Chantelle who along with her husband Matt are apart of the Williams Cattle Company and ran the place, and who yes, later confirmed that they thought we were crazy – in a good way – I think?!
They very graciously offered us some respite from the rain and a place to stay in their guesthouse, invited us to dinner and again, I was so amazing and grateful to be welcomed into total strangers home with open arms.
For me this was one of the best things about this trip. Meeting people you would otherwise never meet, seeing places you would otherwise never get to experience and being reminded that there is still kindness, humanity and community in this day and age, which is a welcome reminder and one I only hope to pass along.
The rain didn’t let up for two days so again we were delayed. Justin did better this time and tried to minimise his frustration with this change of events and the additional delays. Morgan got to play with their daughter Gracie and spent her days once again in heaven, playing with all the farm animals, making play dough and eating everything in sight – she may be small but she is resourceful and knew how to take advantage of a good thing when she had the chance.
Finally the rain stopped and we were able to keep walking toward our next destination, William Creek which was just about 20 km down the road. We arrived just before dark and were welcomed in by the Publican Mim Ward who again, had heard we were coming via bush telegraph and had been worried about us when the rains came. It’s so funny out here in the bush. There is no phone or Internet but everyone still seems to know everything.
Even though we were delayed like usual, we decided to not cut our time short and we still spent two nights at William Creek. We learned that when we had a chance to stay in a comfortable bed and have a shower for an extra day we took it. It was awesome to stay at William Creek and especially to meet Mim. Mim is a ‘kick in the pants’ like my grandma would say. She is one of only a handful of female Publicans in the Outback, was as quick and strong as a whip and had her fair share of adventures over the years. I absolutely loved shared more than a few laughs, stories and bottles of wines with here during our stay.
During our stay, the William Creek crew also surprised me and treated me to a plane ride over beautiful Lake Eyre. The Arabana people, traditional owners of the Lake Eyre region, call the lake “Kati Thanda”. Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre experiences a small (1.5 m) flood every 3 years, a large (4 m) flood every 10 years and fills an average of only four times each century. It is a place of cultural significance to the Arabana people and has many natural areas of high conservation importance. After rain, extraordinarily large flocks of water birds gather in the Basin to breed, attracted by the masses of aquatic invertebrates in the flooded waterways. Abundant and varied fish populations seem to come from nowhere and the calls of the most diverse frog community in Central Australia are well evident.
They say its not until you get lost that the real adventure begins. Even though we weren’t lost, a couple unexpected and unplanned twists and turns had led to some really great memories, experiences and the opportunity to meet some really lovely people. Again for me this was a huge part of the experience and even though we again, had fallen behind, I felt like this is what our adventure was truly about.Saying goodbye to our friends at Anna Creek and William Creek was difficult. It was always hard to say goodbye to a bit of comfort and kindness and head back out to the wild Outback but at the end of the day we had each other and we had a big dream to keep chasing.
I myself was getting more comfortable living in ‘the bush’. I was more aware and was becoming less scared. And somehow, over the past 75 days, I’d become a camper, a decent outdoors woman and the unlikeliest of adventurers.