A view from the other side: What Nick went through and discovered along the walk

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Image: A nice sunny day, with Nick off in the distance of the brown flat surface of the lagoon. a

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

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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,

Nick.

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Navigating changing conditions on the lake

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Image: Nick with his backpack on and cane, walking off into the distance on his own. No foot steps but Nicks are to be seen on the white surface.

We got down to the lake edge and all seemed good. We had storms come through that night, and our flat dry salt pan literally became a lake. We waited a day for it to dry out. There is still plenty of water about which makes camping difficult but it is travellable.

Because of the rain, we walked to the narrows together. On arriving the surface in the main lake seemed good, at least for the first bit. I had a burst of confidence and set off on my own.

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Image: Weather forecast map with rain over the region we are in, Woomera.
After about 2km I came across water, so Sarah and Monique directed me by radio back to a nearby shore for some dry ground to sleep.

If the surface remains wet today, I will need to camp on the island. Monique will direct me in any necessary direction changes by radio.

I am still feeling confident and travelling well, but for now, I must continue walking!

-Nick

Keeping track in the dessert: How Nick will stay safe

Today, we focused on creating strategies to manage possible risks to me while I am out on my own.

A big one that concerns me is losing my backpack, as it has everything I need in it.  Sarah devised a system using 5m length of cord which will stay securely attached to the belt loop on my pants.

This means that when I need to move or am at risk of moving away, I will attach the other end of the cord to the pack using a carabiner.

I must remember to check that I have attached the tether securely to the pack before I move away.  I also have a carabiner on my cane so that I can clip it to my backpack.

I am also concerned about finding my direction accurately.  So, I have two compasses.  They will both be attached to a lanyard around my neck, so that I cannot drop them.

I will use the audible compass mainly, and have the braille compass as a back up.  I have spare batteries for my audible compass and have practiced changing them.

I will make sure I am sitting down on my mat when I am changing the batteries so that I have a better chance of finding them if I drop them.

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The other system we focused on was our communication and GPS tracking.  I will have two radios with me to be able to talk with Sarah and Monique.

I have practiced using them both.  One of these radios is also a GPS and this will send my location to Sarah and Monique.  I hid from Monique to test the system, and she found me quickly.

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I will also have a SPOT Tracker on my backpack which will be sending GPS coordinates every 10 minutes.  However, I need to reset I will also have a SPOT Tracker on my backpack which will be sending GPS coordinates every 10 minutes. However, I need to reset it each 24 hrs.  I am confident I can do it.  Some devices are easier for me to use than others, as they have sound signals.

We plan to drive to the lake edge today, Sunday, and then start the 3 day trek on Monday.  However, we have some light rain here this morning, so this may set us back.

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The final leg: Approaching the salt lakes

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Image: Nick with his cane standing on the vast plains of the salt lake. A little cloud coverage and a mountain far off into the distance, with nothing but a flat crusty ground.

From Port Augusta to Wirraminna, 234kms. A day closer to the start of the trek. We started the day finding someone that could repair our cracked windscreen.  We also restocked with some fruit as this would be our last opportunity.

As we got close to Wirraminna, we started to see some small salt lakes. I heard Sarah exclaim, ‘a salt lake!’.  It was small, but had a very white surface.

Half an hour later we arrived at a look out from which we could see Island Lagoon in the distance. As it was still early in the day,  Sarah thought it was a good opportunity to visit the finish point of the trek.  This would give me the chance to feel the surface of the lake, and enable Sarah to become familiar with the tracks that she will need to navigate later.

This involved firstly finding the faint tracks that would lead us down to the lake edge, and also managing the vehicle over the rough terrain. We had to let air out of the tyres to be able to drive the vehicle through the sandy areas. We followed Lucas’s instructions and GPS linked map.  We found and followed his tracks from when he and Paddy, Lucas’s son, had explored the area a month ago.

I felt quite excited to finally walk out on the salt lake, and went for a short walk on my own.  The silence was loud.

We had a late lunch there on the edge of the salt lake, and gathered some photos and video footage.  I interviewed Sarah, recording it on the GoPro.

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Image: A group photo on the lake, with Nick smiling with Sarah to the right and Monique to the left.

Monique climbed a nearby sand dune, and looked out over Island Lagoon.  She reported that there were some different colours on the lake, and we discussed the possibility of variation in the firmness of the surface.

We travelled slowly back along the tracks to the main road, and made our way to Wirraminna Station.  In the evening, we met with Rob and Stacy, the managers of Wirraminna Station.  They kindly provided us with valuable local knowledge about the area.  They were interested in my trek and have been very kind and helpful.

Tomorrow, will be a day of preparation for the trek.

Day Two

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Image: Looking down the front of the car, a wide shot of the flat countryside. The clouds are wispy, with vibrant orange and yellows piercing through.

We drove from Cobar to Port Augusta, a distance of 873km. Monique and Sarah did a wonderful job driving the Landcruiser passing through Wilcannia, where we saw some young aboriginal children, our future football stars, playing on an AFL field.  Unfortunately, an oncoming truck kicked up a stone and a loud crack told us that it had hit our windscreen and left a star chip in it.  We travelled on to Broken Hill, the famous mining town, where we made sandwiches to share in the local park for lunch.

While travelling along these roads we saw a lot of kangaroos, goats, pigs and emus, as well as ravens and eagles.  The road was littered with roadkill, and I felt saddened by the destruction caused by cars and trucks.   Monique called it a ‘gruesome scene’.

We were stopped at the quarantine station, which is there to prevent the movement of fruit fly across the country.  Having overlooked this in the packing, we did have some fruit in our fridge.  We surrendered what we had to, and ate as much as we could before we were allowed to travel on.

We travelled on to Peterborough, where there were a lot of lovely old stone buildings and discovered the story of Bob, the railway dog, who travelled up and down the train line in the 1890s.  There was a statue of Bob in the middle of town.

From Peterborough, the daylight faded into dusk and I could tell Sarah was concentrating hard on driving safely.  There were occasions when emus tried to cross the road in front of us.  Fortunately, we made it to Port Augusta without any casualties.   Monique and Sarah described the beautiful sunset and the lights of Port Augusta in the distance.

On arriving at our cabin, Monique made a pasta and vegetables dinner, and Sarah and I discussed some different scenarios that could eventuate on the trip ahead, and how I would handle them.  This helped me to have greater confidence with the upcoming trek.  We also spent some time looking at the radios, that will be a critical part of our communication whilst on the salt lake.

I offered to wash up after dinner and this gave me the feeling of being at home.

– Nick

The journey begins: Cobar

The time has come to begin the journey to Island Lagoon. I got an early morning taxi to Strathfield before catching a train to Leura. Here I met Sarah, Monique and Richard who would accompany me to the starting point of my trek. We had a last minute purchase of a lightweight jacket incase there are windy conditions.

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Image: Taken inside the car, looking down a long straight road with trees and countryside on both sides. A nice clear blue sky above.

We then drove to Lucas’s Event Safety Headquarters, where we packed the vehicle and did last minute checks. We had a nice long drive to Orange, I quite liked relaxing in the back. It was also nice to grab a quick coffee with an old friend, Peter, and his wife Margaret. Peter was my running guide about 30 years ago!

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Image: Nick reunited with Peter Heal outside a Maccas rest stop.

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Image: Nick sitting down on the side of the road, enjoying a nice cup of tea at sunset. Some nomads helped us boil the kettle.

Even though there is still over 1000km to go, it was good to finally arrive in Cobar and see everything come together. We enjoyed a good pub feed, the pizza was fantastic! I even got to meet a Camel!!

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Image: Nick standing chuffed next to the display camel in the pub.

Until next time,

Nick

1 day to go: Early morning thoughts

It is dawn as I type this message and refreshingly cold.  My 10 year old Seeing Eye Dog Unity lies next to me and on the other side  of the open window,  are the 3 native trees that give me great comfort.

It is this time of the day that I often reflect on the many years that have been my incredible journey.

If I tried to acknowledge and thank those who have helped me fulfil the many personal goals in life, well, there would be page after page of names and I would definitely overlook people that have made a difference.

It has been a life that has included so many fascinations and incredible experiences.

I am often asked the question why do I keep finding new experiences

It is hard for me to answer this question. However, I think it has a lot to do with my passion for life an a psychological existence that says “do it”, “try it”, “don’t say no.”

It is in my mind impossible to really understand why I have strung together so many incredible experiences. However, I suspect it is made up of ingredients that include, the disability of total blindness, a need to find my way from the poor suburb of Melbourne, being pushed to have an education, to love  and appreciate the psychological strength of elite sporting  people. A discovery of the wonderment of the various arts, critical ingredients of love, food and shelter, along with enormous encouragement and support.

My life has involved fantastic people who have made it possible.

My upcoming trek in my mind is more than likely the crescendo of an amazing opportunity in life.

I see my trek on the salt lake as a lifetime collection that needs to be celebrated by all the wonderful people that have been part of my life.

I thank all those that have travelled with me on my journey.

-Nick