MAGAZINE - The Path Less Travelled by Gaynor Schoeman in 4WD Touring Australia

4WD Touring - Modern Primitives THE PATH LESS TRAVELLED

The Canning Stock Route, by foot. Words and Pics by Gaynor Schoeman (Full Article Published)

Life has been a never-ending adventure since the day I was born. Open water sailor, Rwandan refugee aid worker, kickboxer, paraglider pilot, deep sea diver and film industry consultant are just some of my adventures.

When I broke my back in a paragliding accident near Barraba in NSW in 2012, I came close to realising one of my worst nightmares - a life severely limited in movement, forever.

Spared by the grace of all that connects us, I began to walk. Walking makes me feel good about myself strengthening my body, most importantly my spine, giving my mind focus and discipline. Fourteen months after the accident I walked the 1657km Canning Stock Route, from Billiluna to Wiluna solo and without a support vehicle; 66 days of desert solitude carrying a 30kg backpack.



The Path Less Travelled by Gaynor Schoeman

It reminds me how good it is to be alive. 

I have always been prone to depression but immersed in nature - whether it be flying, sailing or walking in the desert - I leave behind the pressures of society and get in touch with my core self finding that place within where I am calm and steady and completely self-reliant on the outcome of my day, and my attitude, and that gives me strength.

Desert austerity teaches me that resources are precious, that opportunities are not to be missed and that each gift is to be used carefully and with consideration.

In the desert I experience a deep sense of gratitude every single day. Alone, with no human being to turn to in order to discuss options and seek comfort, it is a matter of survival that I seek out an ally. For some that ally is God. For me it is the desert.



One Step At A TimeSo why did I choose a walk as extreme as the Canning Stock Route? Why did I not travel in a 4WD like everybody else? Because I had already hitched the Canning twice; in 2010, the full length from Billiluna to Wiluna; and again in 2011 from Kunawarritji to Halls Creek. Without money at that time to buy a 4WD or join a tour, I did it with the only resources I had at my disposal - legs, a backpack and a bit of pluck.

The idea of walking the Canning Stock Route only captured my imagination when I was preparing for my first hitch from Billiluna in 2010. There, I discovered that three people had walked it in 1976, and one of them was a woman! It was hook, line and sinker on the spot.

In the summer heat, the Canning Stock Route might not see a traveller for four months, but in the winter there are vehicle convoys thundering down the track usually every couple of days. Despite this activity, a person can still die within a very short space of time if they do something stupid or by accident and are unlucky all at the same time.

Knowing the fragility of the human condition in such a harsh environment, I walked into the desert with a real appreciation for each day, giving thanks to the sand and the trees that protected my supplies, to the thoughtfulness of the man who helped establish them before the walk, for the place that gave me sanctuary during the night, and to the occasional traveller with gifts of fruit, a cold drink or a block of chocolate. When a person is so exposed, isolated, vulnerable and has so little, a carefully wrapped, blemish-free fruit or a hug might result in tears of gratitude.  Once, at a time when I was feeling particularly stretched, a woman got out of her 4WD and gave me a 20 second hug that had me blubbing on her shoulder.

My walk was not without mental turmoil or fearless emotions, but my goal was always clear. Get up and walk. If I wanted food and water, if I wanted this two month hike over, there was only one solution to a successful conclusion. On the Canning my days had purpose. Survive. And finish what I started.

I was inspired by the words of Edward Abbey. "The strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity... Love flowers best in openness and freedom."


Kissing The EarthIn 2015, I was also able to drive the Canning Stock Route solo in a 4WD. Like many others, I dreamed of doing this for years, and I set out on a bushtucker and water exploration journey. I loved my 4WD adventure. I had never done any real 4WDing before, so buying, equipping and travelling the Canning Stock Route on my own was an exhilarating experience. A 50-year-old woman alone in the desert - I was happy.

In travelling the Canning Stock Route in so many different ways, I have come to realise how distinctive and incomparable each experience is. And while each experience is unique, that deep calling, the experience I ache for still, is the one where my feet, and soul, kiss the earth; where I am engaged with nature every moment of every day, where I have nowhere to run. The experience my senses cry out for most, is the one where there is just me and the desert, fully immersed.


Article in 4WD Touring Australia. Issue 45 Modern Primitives





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