"If you're determined to get heat and sun stroke, do you mind not adding dehydration to it? It makes my job more difficult."
"I'm drinking plenty of water, thank you!" I reply with a little sass in my voice.
"Well, if you start seeing stars, you know the whistle. Then sit down in the shade and I'll be to you soon."
The day I met B I learned that when you think you're alone in the desert, you're probably not.
I had just put my headphones in and began singing along to a Cranberries song when I noticed two men walking out of the bush towards me. My heart leapt at the same time my hand leapt to my walking stick. They were both shirtless, barefoot and had a black dog in tow. They were most interested in Athena and my solar panel.
"Are you the woman walking?" one asked me with a friendly smile.
"Yes, well, I'm walking." I replied.
"I heard about you a little south of here. Was interested in your rig set up. Looks nice."
They both seemed genuinely kind and the dog, named Taz, nestled herself in the shade of Athena. They were both heading up North, one on a bike and the other in his car. They offered to share a camp for the night a few Kilometers up the road. I was definitely hesitant to agree to go off into the bush with two men that I've only spent ten minutes with but it felt safe and I began drooling at the thought of lamb chops and steamed veggies. We decided that they would choose the camp, set up and cook for us. That night I ate myself stuffed, drank red wine and slept next to the fire that B kept going throughout the night.
B travels by foot and bike. He carries very little with him and the only time I've seen him wear anything on his feet is when he's pedaling. He rolls and smokes a cigarette every twenty minutes and enjoys white wine with water once the fire is lit and the food is cooking. He stands several inches over 6 feet, his skin is dark and weathered perhaps making him look older than he is. He has many traits similar to the Aborigines like the wide nose and dark skin color but he could easily pass as a sunburnt German. He doesn't ask many questions and prefers not to be asked many.
B offered to show me a few things about the bush lifestyle before he continued to go north on his own. I know he could see how little I really knew about living on the road, my somewhat poor diet of yogurt bars and muesli. He kindly gave me two weeks of support and bush experience without busting my confidence bubble.
Once B found our camp for the night, he would place an orange flag under a stone on the ground to notify me of his location. I would give a whistle in three tones so he knew I was entering camp. He rarely chose a place that had a path or trail. I often had to pull Athena over dead trees, spinifex, sand and puddles.
The first night I arrived to camp I was a bit apprehensive about how we would work together. B had seen me coming and waited for me at the entrance of the trail, staying somewhat camouflaged behind a tree. He put his hand up as if to stop me. He pointed at his eyes with two fingers and then at the North and South, the direction the cars were passing in. He was trying to tell me to watch the cars and wait until there was no one on the road before entering camp.
Once silent from passing vehicles, I ran into the bush towards B. He grabbed Athena's handles from me and with wide and steady strides he pulled her quickly behind him as if she were no heavier than an empty wheelbarrow. I had to run to keep up as I attempted to push her from behind.
He had a fire lit and spaghetti noodles boiling.
"I've put up my tent for you so you can rest under the mesh to avoid the evening mozzies. I'll get dinner ready."
With gleaming joy that someone was going to take care of the necessities for the night, I cuddled into the tent for a sunset meditation.
He began heading back towards the road.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"To cover our tracks. I'll show you that tomorrow. You rest for now."
This was the beginning of learning to move unseen.
LOST IN TWILIGHT
It seemed as though our camps grew further from the road each night, dropping us deeper into the wild. He deliberately chose to take me through stages to make it more comfortable for me. Our last few days together we had gone as far away from cars and people as possible.
After racing the sunset to set up my tent, B invites me to see the landscape.
His hardened bare feet walk over branches and sharp stones that hurt my feet even in my rubber-soled shoes. He walks as surely as someone with steel-toed boots.
We bob and weave until we reach a large are of exposed red earth.
"Does this look like a good camping spot to you?" he asked pointing to the middle of the polished earth.
"Sure, my stakes would go easily into the ground and it's flat and smooth." I replied with a bit of confidence thinking I was relaying my knowledge of choosing a good home for the night.
He walked into the middle of the patch, pointed to a small hole the size of a tadpole and began thumping his foot next to the hole. He then walked back towards me as I watched thousands of ants pour out and head in our direction. He grabbed my hand and led us around the patch so we could watch them.
"We call these bull or meat ants. They will bite you and it’s extremely painful. You lay your tent on their home and they will bite through it to get inside to you."
He began walking again as I watched them scurry about with an air of angry defense. The hole was small with no signs of a typical anthill that I'm acquainted with.
“Don’t put your tent near them. Thump the ground first.”
He walks off again and I follow.
B stops at a gum tree and shares a bit of its uses and history.
The sun is no longer visible and the stars are waking up. B turns to me and says, "Now, take us back to camp."
My eyes got big as I realized I wasn't paying attention to our surroundings as much as I would have if I were alone. I explain this to him and he responds with raised brows and a sly smile. I then understand he had planned this.
B begins, "You must always pay attention to your surroundings no matter the company you're in. Twilight is the most dangerous time to get lost. Start by pointing in the direction you think we came from."
I feel pretty confident and point to the South East. We began walking. He stops me to look back so I can draw a line from where we came from and see if we're walking in the same direction I had pointed.
I hear a car pass and I knew we weren't too far from the road.
I keep walking in the direction I had set out on until we reach the highway.
I feel a bit defeated. I was sure I was walking straight to camp.
"Not bad. You could at least get help on the main road. But look to your right." B points over his shoulder and I squint through the trees making out a hint of orange. Athena is the only thing that gives away the campsite.
As we head back B finishes our evening romp, "Pull out your reflectors whenever you leave camp and place them as high in a tree as you can."
CAMP OF THE SEXES
B sets up his camp, which consists of a tarp, a mat and a sleeping bag.
He builds a fire, starts boiling water for dinner, sits down on the earth and rolls himself a cigarette. His is the men's camp.
I set up the women's camp.
Put up the tent.
Inflate air mattress.
Unroll sleeping bag.
Change into leggings, wool socks and shirt.
Braid my hair.
Refill water bottles.
I pull out my foldable camping chair and place it next to the fire. I slowly collapse into it, nuzzling my bum till I find the right spot, take a deep sigh of relief then look over at B with a face that says, "Ok. I'm ready."
B simply smiles and stirs the pot of spaghetti noodles.
In the morning when B wakes he relights the fire, rolls a cigarette, and pours cold water and instant coffee into his plastic Cola bottle.
Then he sits and begins his fire gazing.
I wake up, release the valve on my air mattress, and start packing up my sleeping bag and the tent. Refill my water bottles, get dressed, eat a yogurt bar, heat up water for my coffee, and begin packing up Athena.
B just sits and sometimes watches me as I wriggle and writhe throughout the camp.
He never laughs or yells at me.
But when I leave to start walking for the day, I think it's possible he gets all his giggles out.
“Show me how you use your nulla nulla.” B stood up from the morning fire as I was getting ready to leave camp.
Already a bit defeated by my inability to get us back to camp the last thing I wanted to do was show my limited defense moves.
A Nulla Nulla is an Australian Aboriginal war club made of wood. I’ve heard an Australian say that most men know not to mess with a woman carrying a nulla nulla.
I reach for my stick, place it firmly in both hands across my body, bend my knees and ground into my image of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, ready to pounce.
He just stares at me.
I keep my stance.
My eyes look around me like there may be someone ready to attack me from behind, which would be a real skill since it’s just the two of us in the bush.
Confused, I ask him “Are you going to attack me or are you wanting to see my air moves?”
He folds his arms and continues to stare at me.
With an air of frustration building in me I drop the stick from one hand and firmly planted the base of it on the ground. My hand loosely gripped the wooden knob while my other hand rested on my hip.
“Ok.” He says and walks off.
Later that night, still holding a bit of anger about it, he tells me “How you use your nulla nulla is shown in the way you hold it and walk with it. The way someone picks up a gun will tell you if they’ve ever used one before. You must always wield your nulla nulla with confidence.”
In two weeks I learned a lot about living in the bush but nothing near what it would take to survive in the wild. When we parted ways, B walked me to the road, embraced me and said "I can't bare to watch you leave so I'm going to walk away now."
He turned and I stood there watching him disappear back into the bush.
I placed my hand over my heart and bowed in his shadow.