Image: A nice sunny day, with Nick off in the distance of the brown flat surface of the lagoon. a
Finally. It’s time. I am ready.
It is Tuesday morning and Sarah, Monique and I are walking along The Narrows. This is the section that winds its way to the Island Lagoon. I am carrying my pack and using my compasses in preparation for what I hope will be an attempt to cross the lake.
The storm that rocked and rolled two days ago had left its aftermath as we sloshed through varying levels of water.
Two hours later we leave The Narrows and in front of me is the lake. Sarah is smiling as she says, ‘it looks dry’. An extra spring in my step involuntarily happens. I probably should have heeded the superstitious event in front of me. An emu dashes across to the lake, looks, thinks about it and runs away.
We take off our backpacks off and share the cous cous salad Sarah has prepared.
It’s as if a light switches on in my brain when I announce that I will start the trek in 45 minutes.
The final preparations begin. We check equipment, check batteries and confirm that my feet are in their best physical condition!
I start walking. It is beautifully dry and no one can see the smile on my face as I head east. I start gaining momentum and even start to sing to myself.
It is two kilometres later that … oh no, splish, splash, I am in water.
As it approaches 3 pm I know that within a couple of hours I will need to find a dry surface to prepare my first night-time camp. I radio Sarah and Monique and I tell them, ‘It is very wet’, ‘Water is up to the top of my shoe’. I think I hear ‘bugger’. I am feeling dejected and yet I cannot help smiling.
Sarah announces standby, and shortly afterwards she radios me to say that Monique has taken off along the lake edge and will contact me as soon as possible.
My radio crackles and Monique is giving me a compass direction, north/west until you find the lake edge. An hour later I walk out of the water onto dry sand and find my own camping spot. It is before the vegetation. It is 5pm and quite windy. I systematically and carefully start unrolling my thin mat, ensuring the plastic is securely unfolded. This will help keep the cold from my body. I remove my sleeping bag and other items, including food. The wind is gusting, at times it’s so fierce I am concerned that I might lose something. It is 6 pm and the sun has gone, the wind has dropped and I know my first night alone awaits me. It’s the first time I have ever camped alone. Will it be the last?
I prepare my meal. It is a vegetarian meal that Sarah discovered. After pouring a small amount of water into the bag, onto the meal and the heat pack, it’s bingo, a few minutes later, a tasty warm meal.
I awake, and have this momentary anxiety. My compass is telling me to go in the opposite direction to where I think I should go. I radio Sarah who says, ‘Nick, trust your compass and start walking’.
I pack my back pack. I must be meticulous in case anything is forgotten or lost. Everything I have with me is vital for my success, my survival.
It is 8.30 am and I know the watery lake awaits me.
Please, Please I plead, let me have some dry sections ahead.
The next seven hours will include surfaces ranging from thick, sticky mud, slippery sand, crunchy, uneven land and ankle-deep water. The hardest thing, the biggest challenge is not being able to rest, it’s just far too wet to sit as I worry about the all-important technology getting wet.
It’s now 1pm and I know things are not so good. I realise that I have not eaten or had enough fluid and yet I struggle to take in more. It is Monique that is reminding me, eat, drink, relax, take your time. I am in deep water – literally and figuratively. Shaking my head in despair I hear my name on my radio. It turns out to be the Manager of the Woomera Station where we had stayed before setting out on the trek. He is in a small plane and ultimately he’s able to tell me, ‘head due north and you will find dryer terrain’. My mood improves when I find it.
At 3 pm the sun is high and annoying me. Of course, there is zero shade on a salt lake and I am still making my way to the area I want to spend my second night in the open. On and on I trudge. I am not swearing, but I want to. Monique continues to calm me and finally, I find a section of dry sand and collapse to the ground. I have been on my feet for seven hours. I take in as much food as possible and climb into my backpack. It is 4.50 pm and the sun is still shining. I don’t care. I want to sleep. I awake a few hours later and experience absolute silence. There is no sound, no wind, no noise. The silence is deafening. I am trying to decide if I like it or not. Isn’t this what I wanted so badly?
The middle of the night and nature is calling. It’s cold, but not as cold as I thought it might be. I climb out of my sleeping bag, attach my lifeline cord to the backpack and unravel the cord about five metres. I dig a hole and ten minutes later, trowel in hand along with sanitiser I pack it all away and slide back into my sleeping bag. It is critical that I leave this pristine environment the way I find it.
I pack up my gear and hoist the heavy backpack onto me. I fasten, clip, adjust, readjust and do a final sweep of my immediate area with my cane. Oh no, please. What is it? I find I have left a food bag on the ground. I take the pack off again, put the bag inside and repeat the routine.
As I walk I hear from both Sarah and Monique to say, ‘Walk north east as this will be the least wet, the best option’.
Sarah is following me on her tracker and I can hear her smiling when she radios, ‘Nick, I love the line you are walking’. I push on. I know with each step I am closer to finishing and although my left ankle is sore I will push through the pain and find Sarah and Monique on the lake edge now only ten kilometres away.
So much going through my mind as I walk toward them. Thoughts interrupted by the sound of the truck horn in the distance that makes my heart jump with joy. The edge is probably only six hundred metres away. I hear ‘cooee’, and I try to walk faster. My problem is that I am deep in sticky mud and not going anywhere very fast.
Finally, I am only fifty metres away and my lifetime of challenges and personal achievements is about to climax. This is sheer relief.
I embrace Sarah and Monique and know that this is such a memorable moment in my life.
Image: Nick smiling with Sarah. The ground is uneven from the rain but has dried up, leaving foot marks and tyre tracks.
I sit on a folding chair. Heaven. The second heavenly moment occurs as Sarah hands me a cup of tea. It’s quality time. We do some photos, some interviews and try to acknowledge as many people as possible. Unfortunately, at that moment it’s impossible to I thank a lifetime of people that have helped me reach this point in life.
Thank you for following my journey,
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