Actually, that briefing proved to be flawed. Expecting the track to loop around the property I found myself at the end of a long ridge, and the end of a long battle with the motorbike. After returning down the gully from the aforementioned stalk I found myself negotiating shale the size of house bricks and had been thrown off, landing heavily on my rifle (dammit) and being pinned under the bike. It eventually slid off down the hill, engine still running. I had torn some bark off but as I had fallen was doing everything possible to ensure I did not hit my head. This is no country to have an accident in. It’s tight and close and even though I was still on a track it would be very difficult to find me should I disable myself. I get sorted and press on, following the boundary fence. Three or four times I had to get off the bike to work out where the track had gone and where the safest approach was. But the country got tighter and tighter and steeper and steeper until in the end I found myself on the end of a long bald ridge. The boundary fence cut down a steep spur onto a flat. I walked some of it and decided it was within my skill set. But very quickly the slope was beating me so I turned the engine off and rolled down on brakes to what proved to be the limit of the property, Now I was a long way from where I started, the sun was high in the sky and I discovered a problem – there was no way out. The spur had rolled out onto a flat area about 200x 200 metres but there was only one way in and one way out for the bike for the area is bounded by steep escarpments. I was in a cul-de-sac. There was nothing for it but to walk out. Easier said than done though – it’s 42 degrees in the shade. Goodness only knows what it is out in the open.
Water check – 1.75 litres. Will that be enough? No hat. Pull T-shirt onto head. That made a difference. Knife. Check. 40 rounds of ammo. But no food. Legs good though abrazed. Feet OK. Feeling OK despite the heat. Toilet paper. Check – I reckon it will be handy not for the obvious but if I find a muddy dam I can make a filter out of toilet paper and an ammo box. I let myself down one of those escarpments and find myself in a creek bed. Now I fully appreciate the heat of the sun since up on the ridges there was always a breeze. Down here it is hot and still. I start walking. At least in this part of the world I have another asset – a poly pipe running from a dam somewhere. If the water situation gets too bad I can shoot a hole in that. I walk about a click then decide I need to get to some high ground so I can get my bearings. It’s a hot ascent and I sit down for a breather and a water check.
I am about equidistant from the highway which I can see in the distance, and from the point where Franko and I had set up a water drop earlier in the day. I decide against the highway. Lugging up the road with a rifle over my shoulder might be asking for trouble even though I am a law abiding license holding rifle owner. I could hide it and keep the bolt but the possibility of losing a rifle and trying to explain it to Mr Plod is not worth the grief at this point. I start to cross country.
It proved a four- five hour exodus. At one stage I thought “this ground is so deceptive” but then castigated myself – all ground is deceptive if you don’t know it. Mind you this is rolling and steep with lots of dead ground you just cant see until you are in it. I could see the bluff I was taking a bearing off but it was something of a mirage as there was a lot of ground to cover in between. I was carefully measuring the water out. Urine was a decidedly unhealthy colour and that got my attention. I slowed up. Best not to push it. Then I found the track we were on last night (forever grateful for the sense of direction I was born with) and so I paused for a break. I had heard branches crashing off their trunks earlier in the day so I took care where I stopped and found shade. Twenty minutes of breather helped. But now I was worried about salt. I knew I was going to need salt, and soon, or I would be in trouble. The salt tablets were in the other pack, idiot. And I was hungry, though I pushed that out of my mind at this point. Salt and water. I checked the water bladder. Still good, just under a litre.
An option was to shoot a roo and get some of its liver into me and possibly even a drink of blood. Are there any parasites in roo blood? I was sure not but figured even if there were I would see a doctor when I got back and get checked. But after twenty minutes I was feeling a lot better and got going again. Mind you the knees and calves, bruised from the bike fall, had stiffened up. It took a hundred metres to loosen them.
500ml of water later and an hour further up the track across open country and no shade to speak of. I took another break. Maybe half an hour this time. It was perfect. I found some shade and thought of Noel Coward and mad dogs and Englishmen. I need to be added to that list. I nodded off after checking the water again and making sure napping was not symptomatic of heat stress. I start to double guess myself when I worry about how subjective my assessment really is. The bush around me is very active. I watch a kookaburra chasing lizards and parrots fussing over a nest. I nod off for a short period, figuring the worst case scenario will be to wait until this oven sun has dropped and I can walk in the evening, or in a worse case scenario, at night. It crosses my mind that our water cache that we had set up earlier is not in the best position – I start to dread the prospect of a stiff uphill climb to reach it. I wake to discover the ants have found my open wounds. There is a burning sensation as they chew away. I leave them alone and drift off.
I am woken by the sound of a Massey Ferguson tractor. Franko to the rescue? Not quite. I have walked to within 200 metres or so of an intersection which takes Franko up the hill with some of his New Year guests for a shoot. I trudge up hill to where they are shooting cans and guzzle whatever water I can. It takes a few hours more before I start to feel not so dehydrated. Its been a long time since I have been forced to think ‘survival’ but that was what today proved to be all about. Assessing risks. Weighing options. Creating solutions. Staying in control.