Location: Boarder of Western Australia and Northern Territory (near Docker River) – Docker River Road
Distance: approximately 120KM’s
Expedition Journey Week 1:
Week one has been full of firsts. First steps of what feels like an overwhelming journey. First night in an indigenous community. First words for Morgan including fire, flies, rocks, emu, sky, moon, leaf. First week without a shower, well a first for me at least! First bush bath for Morgan in our portable little camp bucket. First sightings of wild donkeys, horses, camels, dingoes and a tone of beautiful birds and parrots…but there have also been first tears, first doubts and first BIG challenges to overcome.
The most amazing parts have been watching Morgan play happily in nature, Justin and I gazing at the stars and sipping hot coco after Morgan has gone to bed and overcoming the physical challenge that we have set ourselves. Walking through the pain of blisters and sore muscles and pushing our bodies further and further actually felt good. I liked the physical challenge and seeing my body respond well post baby.
We started our journey on the boarder of Western Australia and the Northern Territory in Australia, in a place known as the Red Centre, right outside of Docker River, in the middle of Australia. It’s a place so remote that you need Indigenous elder approval to enter and be able to camp along the gums and dry river creeks in their beautiful country.
It’s a place of Indigenous culture and creativity, remote landscapes – a dry, rugged, harsh country, beautiful landscapes, wildflowers and contrasting colors. The red earth against the green and golden brush, and the clear blue sky never fails to take my breath away. It feels like one of the few places left that isn’t commercialized. Rough, raw, remote, different, indifferent, interesting, ancient.
To be totally honest, our first few days felt like (earmuffs) a shit show. I am not sure there is a better way to describe it. Justin and I were getting our bearings of our new surroundings and working out our systems. Morgan was getting used to her new routine. Everything felt frustratingly slow, clumsy and heavy.
We felt emotionally heavy from the nearly month delay we had already faced due to Justin’s sickness, general parenting packing slowness and overwhelm, and indigenous land permit delays putting us naturally on the back foot from the beginning. Time was not on our side. We felt heavy in our bodies as we had to put on muscle and fat to be able to sustain a three month journey through the Outback. We felt heavy with the gear we were carrying. We still weren’t quite sure just how much food, water and gear we would need to support ourselves over our journey.
We have set ourselves an audacious goal and set out on a big adventure of walking approximately 1,800km’s, through the southern half of Australia – with our one year old. In order to do that our daily travel goal is 20km’s (12.4 miles) a day.
20km per day felt fairly doable until you attempt to pull over 200 kgs for Justin and 60kg’s for me (12kg’s of those being a very active toddler that needs a lot of attention) in over 30C heat, red dust and dirt (apparently it’s the warmest winter the centre has seen in ages).
The first two days were incredibly slow. It took us ages to get our camp packed down and up, Morgan fed, changed etc, leaving us walking in the hottest part of the day and consuming more water that we had provisioned for which was a bit of a worry.
With the oppressive heat and Justin’s heavy load, he was only averaging about 14min/km (23min/mi). At my quickest pace I was walking 11min/km (18min/mi)– which felt good but with Morgan as my teammate, the longest stretch I was allowed to walk happily in one stretch was about 30-40 minutes until we needed a diaper change, rest, water, snack, lunch etc. It was hard to get into my zone and I was feeling anxious about missing our target distance. Day 1 we barely walked 10km – only half of our target.
Day 2 we aimed to get on the trail earlier, when it was cooler and again, no luck. This time due to a flat tire of all thing, right as we pushed onto the trail. This was no small feat to fix and required the total unpacking and repacking of the main cart which took a good couple hours. And just as we filled the new tire up with air, the valve snapped on our only spare tube. The emotional hit felt overwhelmingly heavy.
After some resourcefulness by Justin and a bit of super glue later – we were on the trail nearing 11am – three hours later than our target start time of 8am– again delayed and in the heat of the day. And again, we only made 10kms – half of our target.
A heavy and anxious worry kept creeping into my head – had we bitten off too much? This was meant to be hard yes but also fun and it was starting to feel just a bit too overwhelming and it was only week 1!
Day 3- Day 6 we felt like we were getting into our groove. Morgan was happier in her cart, loved being outside and seemed to be OK with her general state of being covered in red dirt– well more than her mum was at least. I was getting into a routine, my body was sore but I liked the physical challenge and my energy felt lighter, we were moving forward and making progress which felt awesome!
On day 5 we even hit 25 km nearly 17 miles which felt like such an accomplishment.
The evenings were spent making bush pizza and prepping pancakes for the morning, star gazing and falling into super quiet and restful deep sleeps after such big active days. We had now walked over 120kms and the trip was taking shape in a beautiful way.
For this expedition we had set ourselves a goal of being self supported. This means we would not have a support crew or support vehicle, we would carry our own supplies and we would organize our own food and water re-supplies every few weeks. If something went wrong we would have to adapt and figure it out, as a team of three. And on Day 7 something went very wrong.
Day 7 started out pretty positive. We got on the trail early when it was still cool out and Justin and I were deep in chat about the absurdity of American college sororities and fraternities – something that has always fascinated him. Morgan was happy playing with her musical instruments in her cart for the moment at least.
Both Justin and I were walking through sore/over used muscles and I was walking through a few bad blisters so we were walking at a labored pace but Justin kept saying, man the cart feels oddly heavy and a bit off and I don’t know why.
We pushed through the pain and about lunch time we pulled over under a tree for a break and Justin looked under the cart and just gasped saying, ‘I hope I am wrong but the axle on the right wheel looks bent. Oh my god.’ My heart sank. What does that mean? I ask. ‘It means we aren’t walking any further and I can’t fix this alone.’ The axle should have be able to hold the weight but maybe the rough road and the big corrugations on the way in whilst driving at 70km/h had been too much – it had taken a beating. Our hearts sank and the reality that our ‘perfect’ expedition felt like it was slipping through our fingertips.
Just as we were disusing our options two trucks with the most Aussie of blokes pulled up – you guys ‘right? . Well no actually, our axle is bent and we still have 100kms to walk to the nearest town and to our next supply drop Justin said as he held out the bent piece of metal to show him the dire state of affairs we were facing.
Just as quickly as Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas eve – the man (a legend named Brad) grabbed the axle, proclaimed he was a fitter and driller, and sorts things like this out all the time (he did have arms about three times the size of Justin’s), supplied us with some water and lollies from his truck which a big smile and disappeared for a minute and reappeared with a straight axel once again. What a bloody Aussie legend!
How serendipitous that just after we have some mechanical issues, just the right guys come down the road, offer us assistance and are super nice to boot. Thank you universe I thought to myself. If this isn’t a sign we are on the right path and should keep going I don’t know what is! My heart was bursting with new hope. We went from the lows of thinking the expedition was off or at least significantly delayed again to being back on the road in a matter of an hour.
After facing such a devastating near miss, Justin and I made a pact, to embrace the adventure in whatever form, in whatever twist and turns it threw at us – that in itself would be the adventure.
I made a decision to surrender and go with the flow. Reminding myself again that it wasn’t about the destination but the appreciation of the journey and to accept all the amazing support coming our way with grace and love – even though it wasn’t apart of the original plan.
We got back on the road and had just settled into the afternoon of walking when all of a sudden the wheel of Justin’s cart fell off – completely. The cart looked like a wounded animal on the side of the road. The axel has obviously been structurally damaged and broke in two.
For some strange reason Justin and I took this new challenge with a bit more grace and humor than the first one. We would need help to fix this. We could not walk any further and our only option was to abandon the carts, hide them as best as possible on the side of the road and hitchhike back into the nearest town, 100kms away, to look for a mechanic.
We would be delayed a again and now would have to alter our route to be able to cross the Australian Outback before the heat of the summer became to unbearable and unsafe to cross with a child. The universe was testing us. We had set a goal of family adventure and would now have to unattach from a specific desired outcome. We would have to go with the flow.
After a couple hours after we lost the tire, a legend named Chis came to our rescue and delivered us safely into the town. It was both Morgan and my first hitchhiking experience and it felt oddly empowering after the day we had just had. I did feel a pang of frustration that our first view of the Kata Tjuta and Ayres Rock were out of a car window vs on foot but seeing them non the less is a breathtaking experience and one I am so glad we got to share as a family as well as the quiet times in between.
So here we are getting our axle fixed in Yulara. What a complete 180 degree change from being alone in the bush without a shower for a week to being back in civilization. Justin, Morgan and I decided to enjoy it and celebrated our first week and the 120km’s we did accomplish with a lovely dinner at a restaurant and let me tell you, a wine and a bath never felt so amazing.
And that is what this trip is all about. Practicing our resilience, solving challenges and iterating solutions as a family, enjoying the ride, embracing the unknown, unattaching to the ‘perfect trip’ or outcome and just enjoying the moment. This isn’t always easy but that ultimately is what this trip is about for us. Its not an expedition with the goal of being ‘the best’, ‘the fastest’, ‘the first’, its about having an adventure, as a family and it looks like we are off to a bloody good start. .
So our new axle should be arriving from Sydney shortly then we will set off again on our adventure and will head east to beautiful Mount Connor and get back on the red dirt.