When I took the first steps of The Long Walk Home it was the culmination of months of training and organising, living a life that consisted of practically 2 full time jobs and part-time study. The lead up to the walk was the most difficult situation I have willingly put myself in, both time wise and on a personal level given I find asking people for help or money extremely uncomfortable. It was the end of the most intense period of my life where something had to be done every single day and where never a moment, whether it be while awake or asleep, went by that the walk wasn’t at the forefront of thoughts occupying my head space. If there weren’t sponsorship letters to write, fundraising activities to organise, work to go to or assignments to be submitted, there was training to do, housework to finish, thank you letters to write and a dog to walk.
The start of the walk was the beginning of my holiday.
I never once thought I would describe walking across the Simpson Desert as a pleasure, but that is exactly what it was. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by one of the most unique parts of our country, and to hear the birds chirp, the dingoes howl and the rats squeak. It was a pleasure to watch the satellites overhead, the full moon rise above the dunes and the sun set beyond the horizon. It was not however a pleasure to wake up to ice in the morning, get chased by camels, followed by dingoes, or walk on an inflamed Achilles, but I suppose in the grand scheme of things these are just minor details. The desert willingly gave me more than I could of imagined, and I think more than I will ever realise.
I am fairly confident that my experience of walking the desert is slightly different to most. It wasn’t a race to win, or to be able to rattle off numbers and times at the end, nor was it an attempt to be the first to do it in some different way to others, and nor was I doing it for someone else. I was doing it first and foremost for myself, at a speed that I was comfortable with, and quite frankly I don’t think there are many firsts left given the area was occupied by Indigenous people for thousands of years (however I have since found out that next week a lady is going to attempt a non-stop run across…yes I said non-stop – no sleeping). Although I wanted to raise as much awareness of the RFDS as possible, for me personally I didn’t need nor particularly care if anybody was interested in the story because it was purely about satisfying a goal of mine for me and me alone.
Before I started the walk many would ask why I was doing it and my response was usually “because it will be a challenge”. However since finishing the walk I now know that the desert wasn’t necessarily ‘the’ challenge for me, the challenge was in the preparation and the training, the walk was simply the end result of it and finishing it any faster then was absolutely necessary would mean I would possibly miss out on things.
As I read this over I think I have managed to make the desert seem like this easy stroll, or a walk in the park so to speak, but it’s not. There are still over 900 sand dunes to climb, over 400km to walk, and lots of things that could go wrong. For me though, the 900+ never seemed too many, at the end of the 400k I had a wonderful community waiting to welcome me home, and thankfully nothing too bad did go wrong. I had a lot of luck on my side with weather and animal encounters, but in all honesty I think it was the preparation and support that I had right from the very start that made it what it was.
Firstly, there was the support of family and friends when the idea first popped into my head, which made me believe I could do it. Then there was the selfless act by my support crew to choose to spend their holidays driving at a snail’s pace across 900+ dunes waiting for me to catch up. Then there was Michael, who it isn’t possible to thank enough for the work that he put in to ensure that my body was capable of what I was about to put it through. And lastly there was Olivia Warnes, the sports dietician who helped me prepare and plan my meals, snacks and fluid replacement throughout the day, to ensure that my energy levels stayed constant and where they needed to be.
These people along with everyone who has supported, sponsored and donated, had me ready to go when June 25th came around, and gave me the ability to enjoy the walk rather than fall into an exhausted heap each night wishing the desert would open up and swallow me. Like I said earlier, the walk was the start of my holiday.
My body held up throughout the walk and I can actually honestly say that the only time a muscle hurt was on day 13 when Clare had to get the deep heat out, and rub my calf muscle to the point I nearly cried. On good advice I chose to take magnesium each night, as well as get regular massages from Casino, and managed to wake up every morning feeling as fit as a fiddle and ready to push on. It is a credit to the work of Michael, Olivia, the crew and good shoes, that apart from a brush with nasty heat rash during the first couple of days, I was able to recover fully each night and only managed to acquire one little blister on the top of a toe for the entire walk.
In saying that I did manage to pick up an Achilles issue half way through the walk, and with some help from painkillers I somehow carried it through to the end. At times it literally made me want to shed a tear, or maybe even vomit a little as it felt like I was walking on a massive raw blister on the back of my heel (however there wasn’t one), that was getting a knife stuck into it with every single stride. I am told it is called Achilles bursitis. I am also told the last 200km I walked with it probably didn’t help the situation. I suggest never trying it. After taking half a rest day to see if it would settle down, my only choice left was to start popping painkillers which I did until they made me feel spaced out, nauseous and walking in a slightly crooked direction. On day 14 I received a new type of painkiller that took the edge off just in time for the last day of walking!
Although wounds and scars are sometimes part of taking on adventures like this, I didn’t want to arrive back home with shredded feet, wasted muscles and a body that took months to recover. As much as it would have made this story far more interesting, it would of made the walk a nightmare. I wanted to be prepared for what I was literally walking into, I wanted to know how my body would react, and most importantly I wanted to be able to enjoy the desert. Obviously I didn’t train by walking 400km across the desert, but I knew what my body was capable of on the dunes before I started which helped. I think that in most cases careful preparation and acknowledgement of what you are entering goes a long way in preventing unpleasant incidents and injuries.
I don’t ever remember feeling like I had walked 100, 200 or even 300 kilometres, all I ever really felt like was that I had walked for a long time that day and some days I would be tired when I got into camp, and some days I would stay up later then Clare! The only thing that I can put this down to is preparation and training. Having the desert on my doorstep allowed me train over the exact terrain and enabled me to get my head around what it looks like, how the sand feels and how fast I could actually walk. Throughout the walk I found myself walking on average 1km/hr faster than I had planned, and where I could have then chosen to walk an extra 8km per day, I instead chose to finish 2 hours earlier to spend time with the crew, and relax and recover. To me there was no benefit in finishing any earlier then I had intended, even though I did end up coming in a day earlier then expected.
Each day I was extremely methodical in my hydration and food intake and would religiously stop every single hour for 10 minutes to eat my snack and drink my fluids. At times I would even instruct the support crew to stop in “about um….550m”, which seems a little pedantic I know, but as I walked further I could accurately judge how far I would walk in any given timeframe. In setting the days up like this there was always a break coming up, the energy levels stayed constant, and we could count in how many breaks until lunch or camp (i.e. 1, 2 or 3) rather then in hours. It may seem minor but planning is so crucial to success and not just for the physical side of the walk, but also and almost to a greater extent for the mental side.
Even though some people may read this and think it sounds easy, there is nothing easy about walking over dune after dune, but I think that unlike some people who cross the desert on foot, I enjoyed the whole experience in each moment rather than just the finishing part. Towards the end my crew seemed to know when I was in pain and when to walk with me, even if they didn’t know it. I have been asked if there was ever a time when I thought it was too hard, but nothing is ever really too hard because “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop”. With a little uvumilivu (perseverance), a top support crew, a good pair of shoes and some painkillers, I never really had a reason to even think about giving up.