Day 4. 286k into the desert
No near roll overs, no having to dig myself out of a hole today. All in all, a good day.
The problem with getting on the road early is that I’m heading east – straight into the rising sun. While the sand is harder, it’s more difficult to see the detail of the track on the side of the dunes that I have to go up. And sometimes at the top of the dunes, when the car is at a certain angle, it is impossible to see anything at all, let alone the direction the track is taking.
So, I misjudged my first dune this morning and had to roll back down to make another attempt. Second time lucky, I was up and over the top. Because of the difficulty seeing properly I was probably a bit more cautious this morning than I needed to be, and used low range where it wasn’t necessary. Though, better to be safe than sorry. As the morning wore on, I could see better, and I was more used to driving the conditions, I used low range less and less, only for steeper dunes and those where it was particularly cut up at the top.
I keep calling these chopped up places ruts, but they’re more than that. They are much more like the whoops on the Finke Desert Race, and that’s how I shall refer to them from here. As whoops. But unlike Finke they’re not even. First one side falls into a whoops, then the next. Unless you drive very slowly your car gets thrown around first one way, then the other, and up and down all the way. I fell asleep last night with my head still feeling like it was going up and down, up and down.
I’m glad I stopped where I did last night. Another 6k along the track and the scenery changed. The sand was whiter, and I started coming across clay, though it was still up and over dunes. And clay pans. And, of course, what do you do when you come to a clay pan in the desert? Donuts. Every single clay pan was covered with donuts alongside the track.
A bit further on I finished the WAA and hit the Knolls Track. The Knolls follows a path along the dunes for 34k rather than up and over. Much easier driving, and very pretty. At one stage I was driving along with a wattle grove on one side, and a clay pan on the other.
Then I came up over a dune, around the bend and suddenly came on different trees. More ‘tree’ like. And – popcorn. The same smell as the wattle in the Northern Territory. I love that smell. Up until this point the desert had smelled vaguely of citrus, and when I collect wood for a fire my hands smell of it. It’s lovely, but it’s not the same as the popcorn smell.
I nearly decided to stop and camp, but it was only 10am so probably a bit early, even for me.
And along the Knolls Track is perhaps the only standout land feature in the desert, the Warra Bullana (Approdinna Attora Knolls). When I first saw these big hills sticking up from the landscape, with what looked like a track up one my heart fell. “Please don’t tell me I have to go over that.”
Fortunately not. Warra Bullana are limestone outcrops, and are particularly fragile and environmentally and culturally important. While you’re allowed to walk up them and look out across the desert, they are fenced off to keep vehicles out. Which, given all the donuts on claypans is probably a good idea.
When I got to the French Line I still had plenty of time up my sleeve, so continued along. I decided to stop before Poeppel’s Corner, which was 40k down the road. About 20k along I found a nice spot set it bit back around a dune, and pulled in. There was even firewood waiting for me.
Either all the flies from yesterday followed me, or there are millions of them in the desert. I think it’s the latter. I sat quietly to listen to the sounds of the desert, and at midday that sound is just the buzz of flies. Everything else is quiet.
Well, except for the sound of diesel engines going past. I knew when I got to the French Line I would come across more people. And I have. Coming north along the Knolls Track I passed two vehicles headed south. Then after I pulled up a group of two went past heading west. I wanted to yell at them “Don’t do it!”, but of course I didn’t. Then there was a group of two headed east, then a group of four, then another group of two.
I decided that as I had so much time I would just sit back and soak up some sunshine. Try to get a bit of a desert tan. But there are some places you just don’t want flies to land. so I decided I’d rather have tan lines!
I’m about to talk about toileting in the desert. If you’re squeamish you might want to skip over the next few paragraphs. I’ll put a star ** where you can start reading again.
While I was wandering around trying to get a suntan I needed to go ‘dig a hole’ as they say. And they say that because that’s what you have to do. You go and dig a hole, at least 30cm deep, and squat over it. Usually when you do this you have to go and find a quiet sheltered spot where nobody can see you. But when you’re on your own there is nobody to see you anyway, so as long as you move away from the campsite a bit you can go wherever you like.
There was a nice shady tree not far from my campsite so I thought I’d go under that. A bit of shade, and away from the campsite. I walked over, dug a hole, and squatted. I looked up, and I was now in full view of the track. Anybody coming over the crest would have an uninterrupted view of me, stark naked except for a fly net hat, squatting over a hole. There’d already been a couple of people past, I was desperately hoping there wouldn’t be any more for at least the next few minutes!
And it’s not just a matter of doing your business and moving on. Once you’ve finished you have to burn the paper, then fill the hole in again. That’s a bit more complicated than it sounds, because the paper is a bit wet, so doesn’t burn easily. After you’ve set it alight and watched it burn the first time, you have to do it again. Each time involves you putting your hand right down in that hole. You might even have to use the match to separate the paper a bit if you’ve folded it over a lot. And yes, this is all necessary. Apparently toilet paper doesn’t disintegrate easily so needs to be burned to ash.
OK you can start reading again now.
Later in the afternoon, around the time most people pull up to camp,
I could see another group of three headed east along the track. The first car got to the entrance to my camping spot and stopped. He waited there for what seemed like forever while I whispered to myself “Keep going. Keep going.” Finally, he moved on. I really am loving this isolation, and I know that the further east I go, the less likely it will be that I will be alone.
Though half an hour later I was almost wishing they had stopped, when a dingo wandered into my camp. And I mean into. I had just made my “I’m still alive” call to Doc when I turned around and there he was. Me on one side of the camp fire, him about 3 metres on the other side, standing still, just looking at me. I hadn’t heard him coming. I stood as tall as I could and tried to stare him down. This will be the only time in my life I say this, but at the time I was wishing I was Julie Bishop!
After about a minute of a staring competition he wandered off, but only to the side of the camp. He was sniffing the ground as he walked, then he wandered behind the tree and started digging. You would think that somebody who can dig a Suzuki out of the sand would be able to dig a 30cm hole. Apparently not. Or in my haste to get out of site of the track I hadn’t filled it in properly. Either that or my shit really does stink, because that’s what he was digging up.
Then he curled up under the tree and went to sleep. About 10 metres away from where I was. See if you can spot him in the photo on the left.
If you want a real wildlife encounter, there’s nothing like being alone in the desert with a wild dingo 10 metres away from you. And then having it get dark so you can’t see where he is. To say I was a bit nervous might be a slight understatement. I built up the fire as much as I could, and turned the lights on in the back of the car. Then I spent the rest of the night by the fire holding the shovel, occasionally shining the torch around to see what he was doing. I was not going to move away from that circle of light.
I’m willing to bet that that dingo had got food from that camping spot before, and was now looking for more. I was just hoping that he didn’t mistake me for food!
When I was in Dalhousie somebody told me the sunrises and sunsets were spectacular, but they were disappointed by the night skies. Not very many stars and you couldn’t see the Milky Way. I’ve found the opposite. Because of a lack of clouds the sunrises and sunsets are really just the sun coming up. You might get a bit of pink in the morning, and in the evening there will be an orange glow along the horizon, but that’s it.
The night skies are lovely. Not as good as the Kimberly, and the Milky Way isn’t as bright as I’ve seen it elsewhere, but there are still a lot of stars up there. Given there’s no other ambient light I can only think it was the light from the full moon that would come up later that made the stars less bright. The moon itself was so bright when it did come up no other light was necessary. And far too bright to do any time lapse photography of the night skies. But I did want to get a shot of the night sky above my campsite before the moon came up, so during the afternoon I set up the tripod about 15 metres away, all ready to just put the camera on top and press the button. But with a dingo lurking that tripod can stay where it is, I’m not leaving this campfire and circle of light. That sky’s not going anywhere and the tripod could sit there until morning.
I had been planning on having felafels with salad and tahini sauce for dinner, but decided that I wasn’t going to entice the dingo with the smell of food cooking. Dinner turned into just salad with tahini sauce.
There were no dingo track around the campsite the next morning, so at some stage he’d decided there was no food to be had. I have no idea when he left, whether it was while I was still up or after I’d gone to bed because I didn’t hear him. Dingos are silent, which makes them even scarier.
Practice really doesn’t make perfect. When I pulled up I decided to refuel the tank from the last jerry can. I was worse at it today, though I still don’t think the spillage will be the difference between me making it or not. I have an almost full tank, and less than 200k to go.
And my computer doesn’t recognise me any more.
It’s been four full days since I last had a soak in the spring at Dalhousie, and three days before that when I had a shower and washed my hair. Every morning I have to soak my hair with spray-in conditioner just to get a comb through it. And I’m still wearing the same clothes that I started from Dalhousie in. Except for the knickers, they get changed every day. But I’ve worn the same shorts and the same singlet the whole time. I even sleep in the singlet. Lucky I don’t have a mirror!
It’s probably just as well there’s nobody else near me