Jeff's Walk




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Diary/Notes/Thoughts/Photos for upcoming book

Day 4

  Well, not really day 4 yet. I take up the story from 11pm on day 3. It is Saturday night and, although I am not aware of it, it is the Easter weekend. This will prove to be significant.

   I was woken up by the crash and tinkle of a bottle crashing, breaking and spreading over the rocks not far from my tent. As I awoke, I heard the sound of a car receding and loud, excited voices, although I could not make out anything that they said.

   I unzipped the tent opening and crawled out and, although I don't remember, I was probably sleeping in my undies in the sleeping bag. I doubt that it bothered me at the time. It was a bright, moonlit night and within seconds I heard the car stopping along the road to Quorn to my South, probably only 300 metres away. Again I could  hear excited voices but could not decipher what they were saying.

  It must have been a minute or two that I stood there trying to work out what was happening and then I heard the car start up again. It did a U-turn and headed back towards my camp. I knew they would see me in the moonlight, so I ducked down behind the tent as they approached.

   I heard the loud, excited voices again and also heard rocks hitting the ground around me.

   "I reckon I hit it that time" one of the raucous voices cried out. "Nah. You missed again" yelled another as the car slowed as it headed north past my camp.

   Shit! I was scared. I can't remember the last time I was scared like this. I have a strong survival instinct and "conflict avoidance radar" and don't even get close to "Trouble".  I can even get through a long drive in the city without getting my heckles up. If some nong overtakes and squeezes into the space ahead of me, I just move back and make room for the next one. True! Try it some time. It feels good to advance a step up the "civilised" ladder.

  It wasn't the fear of being hit by a missile, though that did not carry much appeal. They didn't have the unerring eye of an Andrew Symonds and I might even be able to dodge in the moonlight. And they weren't deliberately aiming to injure me (I hope). What I was scared of was the unknown. What was going on? What sort of person does this for fun? Will they try to escalate the level of terror they are causing me?

  I figured they would be turning around for at least one more straffing run so I crawled into the tent and grabbed,,,,, What? What do you salvage when the house is on fire? My radio, the most expensive item? My camera with irreplaceable shots? My clothes? My wallet? Yes, the wallet. It has the cards for money and driver's license to identify me??? What am I thinking? The windup torch? Yep, thanks Evan, you knew that would come in handy. That'll have to do.

   The car has slowed to a crawl and I can see the headlights swinging around to head south towards Quorn again. I clutched my hoard to my chest and ran away from the road into the scrub. It was not very thick, but I figured that if they did stop they would not spend too much time searching for me. I didn't turn the torch on as it was light enough and I figured they would be able to see its glow.

   Cowering behind the biggest of the smallish trees, I watched the ute pass while two guys in the back launched their missiles at the tent, yelling encouragement and friendly abuse to each other. They were laughing out loud and passing comments back and forth with the occupants in the front. I couldn't tell how their aim was this time but I breathed a great sigh when I heard them continuing South towards Quorn with the sound disappearing into the faint outline of the moonlit road.

  I have no idea how long I stayed behind the bush or how long I stood outside the tent. I was in shock! Will they come back? Will they throw a Molotov cocktail? Send down a rain of arrows from their crossbows? Bring back a load of mates and beat the living sh*t out of me?

   In fact, will I continue with the walk? This is only the third day and although I had thought about and discussed the possible dangers I might encounter along the way I didn't expect having to confront the question so early. I figured I wouldn't be coming across any animals that were dangerous to humans, although I would avoid wild camels and pigs. Dingos were on the list  and more on these fellers later. Snakes and spiders were a possibility but I was walking in the clear on the roads and I knew that when I was gathering firewood I had to be sure that "the stick I was picking up was a stick".

   The question of how far to set up camp from the road each evening has been bandied back and forth for ages. Too far from the road, out of sight, and should you need assistance for any reason you would be hard to locate. Close to the road and you might get bottles and rocks thrown at you. I have always argued for and practised "close to the road" with a strong belief in the good nature of my fellow man. Maybe it was time to think about it again.

   So, here I was, sitting in my tent, contemplating my present and my future in the now serene bush of the Aussie Outback still shaking from my encounter. What do I do now? That part didn't take long. I'll pack up the tent and walk the 10kms into Quorn and go to the caravan park. It was now about midnight and I would get to Quorn about 2:30.

   I had never considered traveling at night although it would be much cooler on the warmer days. This was because of the difficulty of setting up (or pulling down) the camp in the dark with the additional risk gathering firewood and of leaving something behind.

  So I set out, probably about 1am and actually enjoyed the moonlight walk. I was still a bit upset though because of the scare and tossing back and forth the ramifications of quitting or, indeed, of going ahead. There was no concern about loss of face. I had told everyone that I would quit if it ever got to the stage that I was not having fun. And being the target was not fun. While walking I had decided to "go bush" at the first sound of a car, from either direction, and do my "cowering" trick behind whatever cover was available.

   A memory from the deep past came back to me. I had a small (tiny) air charter business in Broome in the late '70s and there was a commercial pilot for the flying bit. But I thought it would be a good idea (and fun) to get a basic pilot's license. Part of the training was to keep a continuous lookout for a place to land in the event of an engine failure. In such an event, it is nice to remember seeing a suitable landing spot a few miles back. While I was walking in the moonlight, listening for the sound of a motor, I was scanning the sides of the road for a suitable place to "land" and hide. As it turned out, there were no more cars on the backcountry road at this time of night.

   Before I even saw any sign of civilisation a dog picked up my scent and started a howling that sent a shiver up my spine. I hope that it is part of a homestead. I scanned the bush in the direction of the barking and eventually I saw a light, and now that I was looking for something at a particular distance and in a particular direction, I picked out the lights of several more dwellings. Soon I crested a small rise and there in the distance were the unmistakable lights of a small, sleepy township.

   I followed the signs to the Quorn Caravan Park and walked slowly and quietly past the office to a small grassy area where there were a couple of  tents erected. I would check in in the morning 'coz I knew that van park owners and/or managers do not like to be disturbed for someone inconsiderate enough to book in after office closing hours. I set up my tent as quietly as possible but still managed to wake up one of the occupants of one of the tents. I apologised profusely and, when prompted, gave a brief overview of my circumstances. We would talk about it more in the morning over coffee.

   It was a long day (and night) so I had no trouble getting to sleep and probably "slept in" till 7:30 or so which is pretty late for me.

   When I arrived here at the Quorn Caravan Park in the early hours this morning, I had walked 28kms including the trudge over the Flinders and the moonlight bit into town. Mind you, I had 3 or 4 hours sleep in the middle but, even so, it was the longest distance I had ever walked in a (24hr) day. So I officially ended "day 3" at Quorn which is at Lat 32:15.898 and Lon 138:00.970.

   The tent neighbours were John and Richard from Melbourne who were regular distance cyclists on a three week trip to Wilpena and return as a short holiday from their workaday lives. We chatted as they packed up their tents and re stacked their bicycles and this reminded me of my decision to walk instead of ride. It is much easier to put it all in the backpack and just "walk off" And,,,, they had a fair bit to say about riding up and down the hills on the Mawson cycle trail which can be rocky and with fallen branches and the downhill parts were the scary bits. To say nothing about getting multiple punctures each day. But they were thrilled to be riding their bikes on this trail and were loving every minute of it.

   Talking about scary, they had no hesitation in encouraging me to continue on my walk. "Don't let those bastards stop you" they said. "The chances of this happening really are tiny and far less so the further you get away from the big smoke." I was feeling more this way myself after "sleeping on it". In fact, by the time I had brought it up on the mobile phone with Bill an hour or so later, the idea of quitting was already in past tense. And Bill was in agreement even though he was one of those that favoured camping "far from the road".

   The good thing about the "rocks" incident was the great "one liner" that I am able to recite whenever this story is told.

  I love to conclude "So that is how it came to be that I got "stoned" on my first Saturday night on the walk!"

        The welcoming sign       Gary and Bronwyn, thanks a million      My tent at Quorn Caravan Park 

           The "welcome mat"     Gary and Bronwyn; you're legends        Safe at last

      I spent the day walking around Quorn which is a lovely town and an immense amount of time, and I assume money, has been spent restoring the buildings and the historic Pichi Richi railway. It was much bigger than I expected and the first item on the list in town was a big steak sandwich and chips at the Quandong cafe. The cafe wasn't quite five star but the steak sandwich and chips rated a good six and a half. Maybe it had something to do with my meager fare over the last few days.

        Restored Quorn Railway Station      Even the private houses       Good tucker

 Restored Quorn Railway Station    Even the private houses             Good tucker

   The IGA supermarket looked inviting, so I dropped in there for a look around and came out with a loaf of sliced bread, some sausages, a small tub of margarine and a small squeeze bottle of BBQ sauce. The camp kitchen back at the caravan park was going to earn its keep tonight and tomorrow morning.

   Back at the caravan park, I decided to stay for an extra day (and night) having spoken to Gary and Bronwyn about finding something for me to repair or help with around the park. They had already made a donation to the DeafBlind Association an amount equal to my park fees so I felt obliged to "earn my keep". Gary told me there was a Maytag commercial washing machine in the laundry that needed looking at. And the "cordless" phone in the office seemed to have lost a bit of range over the years. Both these tasks were right up my alley. And I wanted to have another look around town, to see if I could find a policeman to report the stoning and have a serious look at my batteries and the solar panel to sort out that major problem.

   All in all, at last I am "having fun".