Rolling with the desert: first steps

I left Australia some time ago to backpack north into Asia, where I am now. I may have left that continent, but I remember it clearly…

My heart-felt desire for involvement in world record-breaking action takes me long distances. One such trip last year was a 2,000+ km hitchhiking journey (with my temporary bicycle) from the west of Australia to as close as I could get, by land, to Indonesia and East Timor: the city of Darwin. Getting myself to this city was worth a note in itself.

I left Port Hedland for Broome, which took me a day-long sit in a slow, noisy small truck. Immediately that I’d been dropped off by the driver, I cycled several km rather than stand on the sparsely trafficked desert road in the heat, just waiting. About 250 km down the road, I hopped out of a car to sleep in a grove of hardy desert trees, and covered my bike in branches to disguise it. The following morning provided me with a 15-km biking opportunity through the dry and dusty monotonous landscape going east.

I contacted my pre-arranged hosts in the town of Kununurra who were awaiting my arrival. But it took me so long to arrive, they couldn’t wait any longer and by the time I got there, they’d left. The backup accommodation option I’d arranged didn’t work either – the family was away on business. So I crept into the snake-infested bush to sleep, and I shivered in the bright starlight all night long.

A rural school bus screeched to a halt the next day as I stood in silence on the gravel verge with my thumb out. The driver dumped a small pallet of bottled water off and told me I’d need it if I wasn’t to dehydrate to death. I just stared at him and accepted.

Next, a family driving in the opposite direction jammed on the brakes when they saw me hiding under my long-sleeved shirt to avoid getting brutally sunburned in the direct sun; there was no shade at all. I asked for nothing but they were adamant that I needed to take food. As I protested, the driver U-turned to park on the sloped verge and open the vehicle to offer me a lot of food. But!

The hire car smashed to a halt in a culvert, which I later heard the driver describe to the tow truck driver as “the only culvert between here and the closest town 400 km to the east”. I was horrified – not by the damage to the rented holiday vehicle, but because only hours earlier, nature had called and I’d responded by squatting 20cm from where the front wheel bounced into, and then up from, the concrete before coming to a stop. The entire family jumped out and swarmed around the car front. There, they hesitantly discussed who would stand closest to the unfortunate wheel and try to lift the weight off it, just where the source of my impending embarrassment lay. I wanted to faint.

And then it got worse. The driver’s partner waved down the first car approaching, which happened to be police. When I saw the car’s markings, I was sure I was about to be arrested for causing a vehicle accident while hitchhiking. I froze, wide-eyed. Two officers swaggered across the tarmac and all eyes turned to me. Trying to mask my cold fear, I swallowed slowly, hard. Then, as if to save me, the driver piped up, “I was wondering if we could get a tow truck…”

I sighed in silence. The police wished us all good luck and left. I shuffled my feet nervously. The driver reassured me that their insurance would cover all damages and encouraged me to keep hitchhiking. He filled my arms with food and told me I’d need it if I wanted to survive out in the desert. What a kind man!

My thumb hadn’t been out for more than 5 minutes and a 4×4 slammed to a halt, offered to tow the car out, but seeing it was a bigger damage job than they expected, had to leave us all there around the forward-tipped hire car which was obviously the subject of an accident.

The tow truck action was swift. Within minutes, both vehicles were on their way and I was, once again, left at the roadside alone. But this time, I had more water than I could drink in three days and more food than I could eat for a world record attempt. Another 4×4 stopped, I was told to hop in with my bike, and the driver accelerated.

The turbo-charged V8 Land Cruiser speed shot up to 160 km/h and remained there for 3 hours as we zoomed eastward, at dusk – the most dangerous time for hitting road-crossing kangaroos. And I take that sort of risk in my stride if it can’t be avoided; if it’s the sort of thing which gets me to my next potential world record-breaking event destination, I’m interested!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>