2013 Diary of a Canning Walker

Day 5 - Warning Signs

Day 5

Connecting with the Diamantina Tour convoy Day 5, 04 June 2013.
Photo's - Solo Walk - Billiluna to Kunawarritji 657km

The fear I lived with on this walk was that the spasms in my back would pull my vertebrae out of alignment, rendering me unable to walk. This has happened before with some bouts of incapacity lasting up to six weeks. Before falling asleep I dosed up on muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory and pain killers in the hope that this would calm the angry over worked muscles during sleep, allowing them to relax and the vertebrae to re-align. But by morning the muscles were still in spasm. Worried, I again dosed on medication.

The plan was to walk six days, resting on the seventh. This would give me something to strive for mentally, i.e. a rest day to look forward to and ensuring that my body benefited from regular recovery time. My first rest day was scheduled in another two days, but if I did not listen to the warning signs my body was issuing me, I would suffer consequences I could ill afford. To be forced to lay down on my back, unable to move possibly for weeks except for a painful crawl to toilet, would not only endanger my life, but it would mean the walk was over. On the Canning Stock Route I was no-where near medical treatment, I had no-one with me and I would run out of water and food on the second or third day due to being unable to walk to my next supply point.

The stupidity of my situation was vexing. Because of the back pain during recovery, I had not been able to train for this load. I had hoped to keep it down to 15kg, not R35 to 40kg! The first time I walked with a fully loaded backpack was the day I walked out of Billiluna five days ago. I railed against the unnecessary difficulty of it all. It was so unfair!! I wanted a 4x4 to carry my load! Why could Pam not have kept her eye on the ball instead of leaving me out here to do or die!!

Due to the pain, Day 5 was re-assigned a rest day. I set about washing clothes, cooking a big breakfast of maize porridge and burning the rubbish, but that lasted to mid-morning leaving me champing at the bit to be back on the track. Pacing up and down, I agonized over what to do. The weather looked like it was going to storm, the wind very strong, the sky overcast. Getting caught out in the wet was a bad idea, body temperature stability a real consideration in the desert where the temperatures drop to minus 5 in the night and a change of clothing is limited. Indecision gnawed at me. The day dragged on. I paced. I knew I needed to rest my back, but could not stay still, and instead resumed walking.

It was on this day that I ventured off the track for the first time, cutting a corner. My GPS did not have a map, only waypoints for my supplies, but looking at my laminated Westprint paper map I reckoned a little shaving off the track was safe enough. I just made it back on the track in time to meet the Diamantina-Tour convoy led by gourmet camping cook Andrew Dwyer and enjoy the familiar ritual of paparazzi camera clicking. All too soon they were gone and I was left alone in the desert once more. Rejuvenated by the meeting and the incredible artists' light all around me, I found myself power walking for the next few hours until the sun dropped into the horizon. In such inspiring surroundings, I was feeling particularly at one with nature.

Because of the late start, I did not make it to the next drop near Well 51, only managing 16 kms. The walk turned out alright though, my back behaving itself. Free of that 5kg of excess weight, I even enjoyed the incredible views. So when I saw a herd of cows munching contentedly on the plains, looking much like a peaceful painting, I decided to pitch my tent in the last of the light under their curious gaze.

Suddenly they ran away ... only to bring back the bull!

A sleepless night was had by all - human, cows and bull. Stupid of me to camp so close to them! The whole dark moonless night the bull patrolled up and down outside my tent. As he ‘grumbled’ away into the distance I would sigh with relief and try to fall asleep. But then he was back again. The cows could be heard mooing, egging him on, 'Come on Shamus, earn your mounts and get rid of the pesky intruder'. Shamus the bull was fortunately more sociable and content to just patrol our imaginary borders of personal space and let me know that he was keeping an eye on me.

Camping among wild cattle was nerve-wracking. One time the bull seemed so close, I imagined within 50m, but that might have been my fear amplifying the night sounds and my paranoia. Anxiously lying down in my sleeping back in the little tent, trying to figure out how I would protect myself from being trampled and gored by the big bull if he decided he had had enough of the cows' nagging and it was time to dispatch the intruder, I picked up my catapult and a lead sinker. In the light of my headlamp they looked particularly pathetic, my hunting knife by my side equally unconvincing. If I found myself grappling with the bull as it trampled me in my tent, I was in serious trouble. Then I remembered that animals are afraid of fire. Taking out the cooking meths and lighter I placed them at the entrance to my tent. I would set fire to the spinifex if I had to. I would burnt the place down. Despite the comforting thought of burning everything down, sleep eluded me.

At first light I broke camp, and together with a dingo that slipped quietly out of the spinifex and onto the track, we headed south. The bull and the cows were nowhere to be seen. There and then I renewed my late night vows to never, ever camp near wild animals again. Yeah, right. Camping alone in the desert and on foot, there was plenty of wild company in the nights to come.

CSR Survival Tips

Camp away from wild animals.
First Aid Kit - pack muscle relaxants and strong pain killers.


None, unless recent rains to form pools in the open,

Map note

You will notice an inexplicable spike in my SPOT Track towards the end of the day. This occurred a few times in the north of the CSR. Not sure why. Perhaps there is some invisible disturbance in the area or the satellite ping was malfunctioning.


Last Updated on Saturday, 20 January 2018 21:33

Go to top