Just before leaving Birdsville for the start of The Long Walk Home, I received a call from the satellite phone that had been put into Steve and Casino’s vehicle to communicate with family, and god forbid emergency services while on the road. I hesitantly answered and was greeted by the news that Clare and Alex’s car had broke a shock but that they were still poking along slowly, and could I please pick up a new one or (preferably) two before heading off. Not exactly the best phone call one could ask for, but luckily for everyone concerned the Birdsville Roadhouse happened to have a pair in stock and the adventure could go ahead almost to schedule.
After saying goodbye to friends and family and loading the plane with an excessive amount of food, Dad and I headed off for Hamilton Station on the western edge of the Simpson Desert. Although I had contemplated wearing an eye mask for the duration of the trip to reduce the depth at which my heart would sink as I flew over the hundreds of dunes, I instead chose to grin and bear it and watched as dune after dune rolled by beneath me.
Shortly after landing at Hamilton we were greeted by Tim and Kristy, and after handing over the thank you gift of fresh zucchini and squash from our garden and having a cup of tea, I cautiously made the phone call to Casino to check up on the whereabouts of my support crew. Being told that two shocks were now broken wasn’t exactly comforting news, but hearing that Cas and Steve had left the other car behind and were proceeding to Hamilton to pick up the new shocks, before returning to Oodnadatta did give me a glimmer of hope that we could be sleeping at Dalhousie Springs tonight.
This was not to be.
While Cas and I were entertained by the Hamilton crew and enjoyed a delicious meal; Clare, Alex and Steve were sitting on the pad at Oodnadatta Roadhouse being fed sandwiches by Lyn, and fixing two broken shocks by torchlight. Not exactly how we had intended on spending the first night. Eventually they made it to Hamilton at close to 2am and given I was already tucked up asleep by this time, I can only assume they quickly followed suit.
After loading the cars to near capacity, filling up the water, taking some photos, saying thank you for the wonderful generosity of Tim and Kristy, I found my cubby in the back of the Hilux, settled in to the last car seat I would sit in for a while, and then we were finally off on the adventure.
Once we had twisted and bumped our way to Dalhousie Springs, a quick dip in the warm water followed as well as a nibble of the legs and feet by the little fishes (and it is about now that I fully expect my sister Karen to cringe and say “ugh that’s disgusting Jenna”), which was quickly followed by a mad dash to the towels in order to escape the freezing wind.
Not wanting to hold up proceedings any further, after a quick lunch, debrief on the trip plans and a pit stop, I had the sneakers laced up, SPOT tracker on and was ready to start striding out. At this point the story starts to part as I don’t wish to bore you with a day by day description of the walk, so instead we’ll talk about laughter, fun facts and agitation.
As we were going to be living in and out of each other’s pockets for the next two weeks it didn’t take long for us to start taking bets on when Casino would crack. I love Casino dearly but unfortunately for her (and me when the silent treatment starts) I struggle to take her “agitation” seriously. Most gave her 4-5 days, however much to our surprise she lasted until day 7 before the “agitation” set in.
You will note my use of the term “agitation” rather than angry, and this is taken from a direct quote by Casino. The day started off glorious as they all did, the morning was crisp (albiet icy and freezing), I got the fire going, had my brekkie and then set off for the morning. At some time after this the crew at the camp had decided to make pancakes, however they didn’t brown.
This was agitating.
Next I was chased by camels (the story will come later), and when the crew arrived Casino was disappointed because she was desperate to see them and hadn’t. Her exact words were “I would of paid to see you get chased by camels”.
This too was agitating.
Then there was the fact that we had been showering with baby wipes for a nearly a week, we were dusty, and we were smelly.
This was also agitating.
I have to however take my hat off to Casino, because by the end of the day the foot stomping had subsided, the silent treatment had worn off, the pancakes had been forgotten, she had seen her camels, we had all had a wash in a bucket of water, and there was no more agitation…for now.
Just on a side note, Casino wasn’t the only one who became agitated throughout the journey, but I find it so amusing that I couldn’t help but tell you about it. Clare also became agitated on more than one occasion when her darling husband Alex (i.e Cledus) would come near her with bugs, sand or other creatures or objects that were not appreciated.
Being an outsider was certainly an entertaining experience on the trip.
As for the name Cledus (correct spelling is optional), it came about as Alex could be seen catching flies in a bottle, while wearing his straw hat and playing the harmonica around the fire. All that was needed was the rocking chair and the shotgun to complete the picture.
Speaking of fires, Steve and Alex brought out a little Bear Grylls each night as they stubbornly would repeatedly refuse to light it with matches but would instead pull out the flint and knife, and take 10 times as long to light it. If you wanted a fire lit quickly at camp I would suggest asking one of the girls, who would happily utilise the packet of matches that had been brought along. Entertaining words would be sent back and forth between Steve and Casino regarding this matter.
Not wanting to be biased in my sledging of team members, I too was regularly pulled into line for not following what I affectionately referred to as “camp etiquette”. One such item that was constantly up for discussion was my choice of bush to relieve my bladder.
80% of the camp usually deemed my choice to close.
I did get better over time though and eventually I would walk a good minute or so away from the camp, however when the nights were cold no one ventured much past the camp boundary i.e behind vehicles or tents.
I will also admit that I was extremely useless in camp at night, and not once did I do anything of group benefit apart from collect wood to start the fire in the morning. The morning fire was my baby, I would wake, dress, exit the tent and effectively feel my fingers snap when they hit the cold, then stoke the fire, put the chairs out and put the billy on. That was my input. Minimal I know.
The group also learnt that I was incapable of sharing one particular food item: Top Deck chocolate. You can do whatever you want, but DO NOT touch my Top Deck without prior permission. It was a simple rule.
All other chocolate was fair game.
Camp life was relatively peaceful, the crew became experts at cooking exactly the right amount rice, we became experts at finding satellites in the night sky, watched shooting stars burn up into our atmosphere, listened to the howl of the dingoes, and caught little rats out as they attempted to steal and eat parts of the camp; namely a tent and swag. It was a relaxing time when we huddled around the fire and slowly turned in a rotisserie style to warm each side of the body, while watching the lads expertly cook marshmallows and learn about fun facts.
Fun facts were an early creation of the walk and unfortunately I am unable to recount all my fun facts which I delivered to the crew, but I think the final count was around 14 or 15. One could regularly be heard saying “wait, wait is this a fun fact? What number are we up to?”. They ranged from fun facts about animals, to ones about plants and science. Given I effectively have the memory of a sieve I am hoping the crew will be able to remember some of the fun facts and post them in the comments section. Towards the end of the walk after listening to fun fact after fun fact they got their own back and created “Fun Facts for Jenna”, which of course I don’t remember.
After all the satellites were spotted, the marshmallow packets grudgingly put back in the car by sweet-toothed Steve, fun facts delivered and rats chased away, we all retired to the warmth of our tents or swags and settled into a peaceful sleep under the stars, only to be woken by dingo/fox/rat/full bladder.
On the subject of sweet-toothed Steve he was also the camp oven king creating a delicious damper one night, and creating what can only be described at sugared apples on another night. The level of sugar contained in the apple crumble had to be tasted to be believed and left both Casino and I in fits of laughter at nothing in particular, as well as leaving me with the worst sleep of the trip…I am sure I only slept 8 hours that night.
Even though the crew were all family I quickly slid right in and perhaps sometimes shared more than they wanted to know, but after all sharing is caring right? Perhaps it wasn’t camp etiquette to issue a spoken statement each time “the” shovel was taken for a pit stop, and perhaps there are certain bodily functions that one doesn’t need to share with the family, and maybe the camp fire isn’t an appropriate spot to shave your legs, but neither is standing on the swag while answering nature’s call when you are sleeping next to my tent, so I think I can be forgiven.
The support crew were amazing at doing what they did best, which was supporting. I never once had to set up my tent, no matter how hard I sometimes tried and nor did I ever have to cook dinner, or make my Sustagen drink at the end of the day. The crew were there when I needed them, walked beside me when each step made me want to cry (also another story), made me laugh when I was a little tired, and helped me when dingoes and camels found me far too interesting for my liking. I am confident the walk would have been almost impossible without them, so for choosing to give up their holidays and spend 2 weeks in a dusty desert with 1 smelly walker I say the biggest thank you possible.
NB: I should also point out that my support crew were all from New South Wales, and as such listening to the State of Origin on the radio was a wonderful experience for me, given that Queensland defeated them for the seventh time in seven years. It felt good to be me that night.
Over the next few posts I will write more about the walk itself and how the body held up, the above mentioned animals, as well as the people we met and the things we saw. There is certainly more to the desert then meets the eye.