But did you miss Part One?? Don’t do that! It’s HERE
… Then Sam stopped, hands on hips, and squinted into the distance.
‘Shit, I don’t think we can get through along here after all. Let me look at the map and compass again.’
She frowned at the contour lines on the creased page, telling her a story of steep cliffs and gullies, without revealing the safest route.
‘Sorry honey, but the only way we’ll get past that massive overhang is to tackle the stone country along the top of the ridge. It’s a bit like a jigsaw puzzle up there, which you can never solve. Brace yourself.’
Kelly clenched her jaw for a second.
‘I never knew off-track walking was quite this tough,’ she admitted. ‘Especially for old ladies like us.’
Sam smiled at the familiar joke, but her forehead worried, as they tightened waist straps and headed away from the water without looking back.
Within thirty minutes, thighs screamed with lactic acid as they scrambled over boulders and fallen tree branches, spearing through chest-high spinifex grass. Previous hypothetical worries about snakes were replaced by very real battles with swarming green ants, dropping from their leaf-woven nests to nip at soft skin. The heat lay heavy, while they fought the relentless gravity of their packs on tender hip bones. Squeezing between granite crevasses, trying to keep up with Sam, Kelly soon realized both water bottles were nearly empty, and cursed herself for not re-filling them.
Suddenly she wobbled from one loose rock to another, feeling the weight on her back pitching her sideways; as she fell to her knees with a rush of adrenalin, a newspaper headline staccatoed through her brain:
‘Two women in their fifties died of heat exhaustion bushwalking in Kakadu, within 300 metres of fresh water.’
No! That was not going to happen, she thought, feeling panic surge through her body.
‘Sam, help me up please. I’m scared we’re getting too far from the river. Can we go back down?’
‘No, we’ve no choice. I know this is fucking hard work, but we just have to find a way round…’
Another hour passed, as they crashed, pushed, and flailed against the stone country. The sun blasted them from both sky and rock, while vines tangled their feet, knee flesh was bloodied and scratched, and their cotton shirts grew wet.
‘I almost want to vomit. I need a rest. But we haven’t got any water. This is so stupid Sam!’ Kelly’s voice choked.
Sam licked her lips and wiped sweat from her red face.
‘I’m sorry. But we’re gonna make it. Let’s throw our packs down this ledge, swing off that tree branch, and hope that gully is manageable…’ Her confident voice quietened as they contemplated their fading options.
‘It seems like the bush doesn’t want us here; as if the ancestors are hating our invasion, and we’re being punished. I feel like such a dumb white-fella.’ Kelly began to cry.
‘It’s OK. This is just the first big challenge. We can do it darlin’.’ Sam squeezed her hand, and just for a moment the hum and throb of the tough landscape settled. ‘We are welcome here Kel; we’ve paid our respects, we are treading lightly on the earth, and we’re good people. The spirits don’t want us dead. Now come on: pass me your pack, and let’s get back to that water.’
TO BE CONTINUED…
Part Three to follow soon.
In gratitude for Kakadu, and the wildness within us all, G xO