2013 Diary of a Canning Walker

Day 4 - Desperate times

Day 4Toyota Land cruiser campervan on the Canning Stock Route

Day 4, 03 June 2013

Stumbling along the track after a late start due to digging up my supplies, the mid-morning heat is oppressive. The backpack and parcel of excess supplies weighs close to 40kg with camping, clothing, medical and survival equipment weighed down further with fresh supplies of nine litres of water, together with excess food and luxuries that should never have been packed in the first place.

Lifting my kit onto my poor back took some ingenuity. It appeared to be nailed to the ground! I'd dragged the backpack to a low mound, sat down on my haunches in front of it, slipped the shoulder straps on, then leaning forward forcefully, rocked the weight over my ankles onto my back, knees and arms, then slowly drawing one foot underneath, pushing up on one leg and then the other. Standing legs apart I then had to pick up the parcel of excess supplies. The combined weight was insane!

Thank goodness for a convoy heading south mid-morning, the occupants chatty, excited to be starting their adventure and already encountering the unusual on the Canning – a walker!

At the first opportunity I ask the driver of the lead vehicle if he can take the package of excess food and equipment I have been carrying in a black plastic bag, and drop it off at the shop in Kunawarritji Community for my later retrieval. He is reluctant and to my concealed alarm, squirming, wanting, I imagine, to say no. His passenger however, reaches across with a big smile to accept the parcel and in my desperation to rid myself of the weight, I hastily push the parcel through the window before the driver can refuse. As the passenger struggles to find room at his feet, I wonder why he is not putting it on the backseat. Peaking in through the window, I notice a third person wedged in the back almost buried under equipment ceiling high. I feel bad adding to their burden, but not enough to take back the parcel. The once friendly driver is not happy about this inconvenience and says his goodbyes. I have taken advantage of these good people, but these are desperate times.

A man in the second of the three vehicles steps out of his 4x4 and thoughtfully asks if there is anything I need. I definitely do not need anymore stuff to carry, thank you! He offers chocolate, which I  decline. Inexplicably my normal craving for chocolate is absent on the Canning, this strange phenomena to prevail for the entire journey. Ray and Ruben are in the last vehicle. They also climb out of their vehicles and chat awhile. Saying their goodbyes they promise to donate via the website. Sadly these promises are almost always unfulfilled. With the excess food and other items gone, I am down to 35kg. The paring down process will continue for a week or two longer, until it settles on about 30kg and less, depending on my water levels.

At least I’d slept well last night.

There are many tracks criss-crossing the Canning Stock Route (CSR) between Billiluna and Well 51, leading off to various Aboriginal places of interest, including Mulan Community on the other side of Lake Gregory. The tracks are reasonable enough for non 4x4 vehicles with high clearance, but I am nevertheless mildly surprised to see a campervan on the Canning. Turns out it is a Toyota Land Cruiser campervan so no worries. Having driven around Lake Gregory via Balgo and Mulan Communities, Helen and Brian Warden are on their way up to Billiluna. After answering the question ‘Why are you doing this?’, they make a donation on the spot to The Eagles Quadriplegic Wheelchair Rugby Team fundraiser. Handing me a glass of cold fresh orange juice from their little fridge, we laugh as they admit that their first reaction on seeing what they thought was a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere, was to lock their doors.

Why are you doing this?

This is a question I am asked over and over in the coming weeks and months. Each time I give a different answer. People might think this insincere, but not everyone is ready to receive the whole uncomfortable truth. Whilst each answer might be different, they are all true, each a piece of the puzzle that once interlocked, reveals the complete picture.

Sometimes I would tell of how I broke my back in a paragliding accident and am now giving back by raising money for Wespac Rescue Helicopters (Walk 4 Wings 2013) which came to my aid. I was in fact raising money for two charities on this walk. The other fundraiser in aid of buying wheelchairs for The Eagles Quadriplegic Wheelchair Rugby players (Walk 4 Wheels 2013) in memory of my friend Bruce McClunan who broke his neck in a hang gliding accident on April Fool’s Day in 2011.

Other times I might reveal that I had already hitched the CSR twice, so walking it was a natural escalation of the Canning Stock Route Challenge.

And then there is that Desert Call … How can I explain how strong the call to return to Country is? Whilst I am not Aboriginal, I do understand a little of how utterly desolate and inconsolable a person might feel stepping out of the Country that makes my heart and Soul sing. There is a deep sense of Calling in me that insists the desert must be walked, that the names of the plants and animals must be sung, that the waterholes be visited and that feet leave their prints in desert sands. In the desert I feel more connected to life than at any other time since my accident.

But all these reasons came after the primary reason that took me into the desert in 2013 and that is one I could reveal to few travellers at the time of my walk.

Why am I walking the Canning Stock Route?

Depression has dogged me my whole life. There are cycles where some years are good and others desperate. At the peak of my physical condition, a champion kickboxer at age 28 years, my depression went supernova triggered by my experiences in the Rwanda Genocide of 1994, and tipped over the edge by family betrayal upon my return. Discovering that everything I was brainwashed into believing in was a lie, my world tilted ... and I slid into the darkest of black holes.

Seven years of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ensued in which I struggled to stay alive, floundering in a sea of emotion, a boat without a rudder. One night I took my own life. It was not a cry for help. I planned my departure for two weeks and I was fully committed. I failed.

Six months later I discovered paragliding and with it a series of highs that I have never in my life felt before or since. Paragliding made life worth living. That lack of connection I felt amongst humans was provided for by the Unseen. When I was flying, there were times when I was One with Everything. What an incredibly joyful feeling!

Then I fell out of the sky and broke my back paragliding in Australia. 2012 was a Leap Year otherwise my accident would have been one year to the day after my friend Bruce McClunan broke his neck. As I lay on the ground, Bruce's fate sharp in my mind, I wriggled my toes. They moved! Whilst my injuries would never be as severe as Bruce's, trapped in a body unable to move other than blink his eyelids, I could still find myself in a wheelchair for life. Aware that my injuries were serious, I was careful to keep my spine immobile, waiting for help to arrive. As a result of my actions, my spinal cord remained intact.

Despite one burst vertebra and a second chipped and compressed vertebra, recovery was phenomenal, my mission from the start to walk myself to full recovery. When a friend remarked that a person would never guess I had such a serious accident except for the slight limp, I worked hard at removing all traces of that limp. Four months after my accident I tested my comfort levels in the sky, but the consequences of possibly breaking my spine a second time, and perhaps landing my bum in a wheelchair preyed heavily on my mind. I did not want to seem ungrateful for having been spared such a serious challenge. My days of flying were over. Paragliding had been such a big part of my life for eleven years, but I was not going back into the sky again. All that was left for me to do was walk. And I was so grateful I could walk.....

Without the highs experienced in paragliding, managing depression became a full time job instead of part time. Torn from the sky and with it my chances of immigrating to Australia, I was in danger of becoming that rudderless boat again in a sea of emotion, and I knew that if I ever went that deep into the ocean again, I would not be coming back. Walking does not bring me joy in the way paragliding did, but it does keep the muscles supporting my spine strong and healthy and long distance walking gives my mind focus, a goal to strive for. Thirteen months after breaking my spine, I was walking the Canning Stock Route.

Every day that I am out in the desert, I experience a deep sense of gratitude for being alive and mobile.

Why am I doing this? To stay alive.

Every Step of the Way.


CSR Survival Tip

Why are you doing this? Be very clear about the WHY and the HOW. You will need to hold onto that in the coming months to get you through.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 January 2018 13:13

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