This article appeared in Issue 49 of 4WD Touring Australia. It explores the search for solitude in the Australian bush and some of the things to think about before heading off on your own.
Solo – A thing done by one person unaccompanied
Solitude – the state or situation of being alone
Having driven for 8 hours it was nice to find a small track leading to the banks of a creek to set camp with the knowledge that the nearest town was over 100km away. Drifting off to sleep, the calm trickle of the creek is interrupted by a distant rustle of vegetation.
It’s nothing. ……
The rustle gets louder and is accompanied by something that sounds like talking.
It can’t be anything. CAN IT? …..
As the sympathetic nervous system releases hormones through the body the brain begins to recognise footsteps.
OMG WHAT THE……
Footsteps are soon replaced with someone moving the camp table only three feet from where I am lying.
At this point, images of Wolfe Creek flash before me and I quickly regret the decision to travel in to the outback solo. As adrenalin takes over I burst from the tent into the dark. At this point I am not sure who got more of a fright. Me, or the wild pig looking for food scraps.
This is just one of the many irrational fears many of us have about travelling by our self. The fear of snakes, getting lost or the dark can prevent us from experiencing one of the most amazing feelings. To sleep under an ink black sky with a million diamonds lighting up the red earth with the knowledge that you are the only human as far as the eye can see. There are many other reasons why some choose to travel by themselves. From Scott Loxley who walked solo around Australia wearing a Star Wars Sandtrooper Costume to Denis Bartell who became the first person to walk across the Simpson Desert unassisted in 1984, each search for their own meaning.
But not everyone needs to be as extreme. The length of time or where you decide to go depends on your situation. It could be a month, a week or even a day to distance ourselves from the noise of the world. We are lucky to live in a continent where we can travel to remote deserts in the knowledge that we are unlikely to cross paths with another person for days. But we are also lucky that it does not necessitate a long trip to the outback. It is possible to lace up the walking boots and head in to one of our National Parks on the edge of our big cities such as the Blue Mountains or Grampians and find solitude within minutes of leaving the safety net of the car.
Travelling alone is often associated with loneliness. It is one of the main reasons why many never pack their 4WD and head out by themselves. But there is a different side to the pendulum of solo travel and that is the search for solitude. Solitude is a holiday for the mind allowing you to reboot the brain and unwind. You may even discover something new about yourself. While some think this requires sitting in a zen position, relaxing in front of an open fire with a cold ale in the hand will achieve the same thing.
But there is a practical side when venturing in to the Australian bush or outback by yourself. The wonders of mother nature can equally be unforgiving for those that do not prepare for their trip. While there are important arrangement such as having a reliable vehicle and recovery gear, we all don’t need to be like Bear Grylls willing to sleep inside a kangaroo carcass for us to venture out by ourselves.
Tragic stories of people coming to an unfortunate death in the outback most commonly come down to three common themes:
1. They left their vehicle – The newspaper article is nearly always followed by a quote from the local police saying, “they would have survived if they had stayed with their 4WD.” While Australia is indeed remote it is amazing how quickly a search party can mobilise and searching for a large metal object is easier than a small sand coloured human body. So, if you want to leave your car. Don’t. If you think you can walk to the nearest station – you can’t!
2. They did not have enough water – all the sleeping in kangaroo carcases will do you no good if you don’t have enough water. You could try to follow Russell Coight’s general rule of how much water you need in the outback – “3 litres per day, per person, per man, per degree over 25 degrees, per kilometre if on foot, in the winter months divide by 2 plus........another litre". Or more simply, pack as much as you can carry in multiple containers and then add some more.
3. They didn’t let someone know where they were going - If you stay with your vehicle and have water, this is only good if someone is actually looking for you. While there is no excuse in this modern world not to have some electronic safety device such as a satellite phone or EPIRB these still don’t replace the need to let someone know your travel plans and expected route. Sometimes accidents can occur where you may not be able to access your personal device.
While the idea of living off the land eating native ants and other bush food may be an interesting skill to have, they are not essential for the average 4WD traveller who wishes to search for solitude. By developing respect for this country and following a few simple rules it is possible to travel solo. But just remember to keep an eye out for an angry wild pig or two.