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The Seasons Determine our Speed

Moonijin-Camp — 2000-06-08

Because of the shorter days we have decided to rise an hour earlier. At 6 o’clock, Tanja’s alarm bleeps. It is pitch dark and unpleasantly cold. The thermometer shows minus 3 centigrade. At the horizon we notice a hue of pale pink. Tanja and I work quick as the weasels to get an early start today. Indeed, we leave the camp by 10 o’clock which is a new record.

As we’ve mentioned before, our aim is not to establish a record, however, we must find a system in the coming weeks to cover greater distances than before. The days of the Australian winter are extremely short. Today, for instance, the sun rose at 7:04 and will go down at 5:16 p.m. So we don’t have too much time of daylight available to get the lot of work at the camp done and cover the walking distance. Besides that, the seasons dictate a rough schedule. In December, the season of cyclones and storms starts in the north. Some of these whirlwinds are disastrous and absolutely destructive. We have to, whether we want to or not, reach our first stage destination, „Broome“, by January at the latest, because the storms occur with relative frequency starting that month. According to my calculation, it is approximately 2500 walking kilometres to Broome. Having a little over 7 months at our disposal, we have to cover about 400 kilometres a months.
At the moment we are doing half of the scheduled stretch, which is due to all our starting problems. Also, we departed 6 weeks behind schedule, which we’ll have to deduct from our periods of rest and recovery.

Although most of my thoughts revolve round this subject, I do not see any real time pressure at the moment. As I said, we want to enjoy the country, nature and our lives here, too. I do expect we’ll be able to considerably improve our daily walking distance in the next weeks. The most important factor in this calculation is our health, of course.

„Train! Train! Train!“ Tanja’s warning cry arouses me from my thoughts. We meet a freight train once to three times per day now. The camels are meanwhile accustomed to the iron monster. Except for having their eyes open wide and gazing nervously, they show hardly any reaction. „Tuuuhhht! Tuuuhhht!“ the shrill signal horn sounds. The train conductor leans out of the windows laughing and waving encouragingly. It feels good that the Australians are so well disposed towards us. Nearly every encounter with the people here is a happy encounter, where the native population shows us their enthusiasm or gives us a word of encouragement.

Later on, as we reach the community of Amery, an entire school is waiting for us. All of 15 kids and their teacher make up the village school. With great interest the young students ask us why we make this trip, they want to know what a camel eats and where we spend the night. We take the time to have a photo taken with the kids which some days later appears on the title page of the Goomalling daily newspaper. Then we say goodbye and continue our march. Actually we had planned to set up our overnight camp right after we leave Amery. Unfortunately, there is plenty of human litter lying about here and we are forced to move on.

It is already 4 p.m. and time to set up our tents, but the fence to the left and right of the tracks prevents us from taking camp here. In a distance of approximately 3 kilometres we discover a row of trees cutting through the barren farmland from left to right. Such rows of trees often point to the existence of a road or path along which you can sometimes find a place to set up camp. „It looks good up there!“, I call trying to encourage Tanja and Jo who rush behind the caravan. When we reach the row of trees it turns out that the tracks remove from it at this point in a sharp curve to the right, and there is no other way to get through the fence but to cut it up. Filled with frustration, we follow our iron directory. At 5 p.m. we reach another row of trees cutting through the land. This time we are lucky. A farmer comes to meet us with his jeep. He has seen our camels from afar and wants to know who we are.

Jo, the sheep breeder, and his son, Adam, offer us a place to camp on their huge estate, only about 500 metres from here. We accept the offer gladly, and stride toward our overnight camp site. Before even setting up the tents I activate the Flying Doctor Radio to get in touch with Tom. „Yes, Denis, I can hear you well!“ his voice clatters from the small speaker. „Where are you? I read your last marking at the rail crossing near Amery.“, says Tom whereupon. I explain our present position to him, „5 kilometres past Amery there is a gravel road leading across the tracks. Follow it for about 500 metres westward, then you can see our campfire,“ I reply. „Okay, I’ll find it. Over and out,“ he closes the radio link according to the rules.

Only 10 minutes later Tom has found us. As usual when he comes to visit us and pick up Jo for a night or a few days, he brings fresh rainwater and other necessary supplies for the Red Earth Expedition. After a friendly embrace we tell him all that’s happened in the last few days. Before they leave we remove the front saddle pads from Sebastian’s saddle. They are the last ones that are stuffed with a synthetic foam material. In the past days we noticed that Sebastian’s shoulder is chafed so badly that in a spot the size of a palm all his fur has disappeared. A large burst-open blister now demonstrates what a saddle pad can do that is not stuffed with straw. Straw is the only natural material able to adapt to a camel’s body and to breathe. „Anything that has to do with plastic or synthetic foam should never be used as a saddle pad!“ Jo and Tom say. This statement has proven to be true already after 12 days of marching. Jo is going to stuff the saddle pads with straw over the next two days and bring them back on Saturday night.

Day: 28






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