Camelus dromedarius.

A couple of nights ago I took a drive with some mates to track down Samantha Gash. Samantha was about 16km from Birdsville at the tail end of a non-stop run across the Simpson Desert. After some chit-chat and words of encouragement, we were just about to leave when one of her crew asked “are there really camels in the desert?”…

After remembering the image of a camel running across a dune towards me my reply was “trust me, there are camels in the desert”. Returning later with beer for the crew, they seemed extremely disappointed that they hadn’t seen any camels during their crossing, while I was only wishing I hadn’t seen any.

Before I left for my walk I repeatedly thought that I really should call Andrew Harper who knows about camels and ask what I should do if I ever came upon them. As per usual I forgot to do this, and instead left town and hoped I would only run into happy camels.

That was not to be.

Although I regularly found myself walking along camel tracks each morning, I don’t think I ever really thought I would run into them, and if I did I just assumed they’d be a long way away from the track.

I was half right.

As I crested a dune early one morning, with my crew still back at camp, I noticed a set of tracks heading north off the road and along the dune. When I got near the bottom of this dune I looked to my left and noticed the silhouette of a camel on the ridge around 800m along it walking away from me. Thinking this was pretty cool I got to the flat ground and took a quick photo before continuing on my way and watching the camel do the same.

Or so I thought.

Looking back in its direction I could no longer see it and assumed it had crossed over the dune and was following a herd of camels whose prints I had crossed earlier.

Lesson 1: never assume.

As I reached the next dune I saw a camel running in its gangly uncoordinated fashion heading across the flat and up onto the dune that I was on. My heart immediately started to pound and what I liked to call “survival instincts” kicked in. Firstly, I thought “WHY, WHY, WHY didn’t I call Andrew and find out how to evade an angry camel!!!”. With that thought aside I focussed on working out how to get away from this giant creature running towards me and looking like it either thought I smelt like a female camel, or like another bull camel coming in to take his ladies away.

Given the crew and I had already repeatedly been called camels numerous times by people in their vehicles as they either followed our prints or saw us on dunes up ahead, I like to think the camel was just confused. On a side note to anyone who called us camels in the desert, I never realised camels wore sneakers with the Brooks logos on them.

Back on track, I knew I wouldn’t be able to outrun the camel so that idea was out, nor was it possible to get downwind of it, so that left getting out of sight and not making any noise. After making what felt like a mayday call to the crew, I threw my bag off in the opposite direction, thankfully remembered to grab my radio off it, and broke right down the dune face to crouch behind some spinifex grass. Watching the camel through the waving spinifex tops standing what felt like 50m away, I crawled on my haunches across to a taller shrub hoping that Mr. Camel wouldn’t notice me moving and eventually managed to stand upright, keeping one eye on the camel and one eye on the horizon praying Clare and Alex would make a mad max style entrance.

At one point I made a very hushed call on the radio through gritted teeth and said something along the lines of “PLEASE COME FASTER”. Thinking my days were over I had one last ditch idea left, and that was that if Mr. Camel spotted me I would curl myself around the trunk of the shrub in the foetal position, and hope that the leaves would give me some sort of shelter so long as it didn’t look down. Given they probably weigh close to a tonne, I doubt leaves would of saved me from a painful crushing death, but it was my last idea apart from running like a kid from “The God’s Must be Crazy” across the flat.

Mr. Camel left his mark. He was big.

Eventually Mr. Camel and his mate who had also turned up started off back down the dune and headed off the direction they were going earlier, although they were always stopping to look back. Once they were gone my support crew turned up in less mad max style then I had hoped for, but it was a relief knowing they were there. We spent some time working out where the camels actually were and it turns out they were more like 100m away from me, and had left lots of camel poo and pee as if to say “stay out of our territory”.

Needless to say my crew were not allowed to go very far away from me for a few days after that.

Given this was also the day that Casino was agitated, she really topped my morning off by saying “I would of paid to see you get chased by camels”. Thanks Cas.

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