Australia Chapter 7 - Goats, Snakes and Lost in Hell
“Wow, look at all the goats.”
In the morning we drove to the Mountains. It was a long drive that took all day. Our camp differed greatly from the last camp. There were never-ending green meadows, and the terrain was rocky with goats roaming the land. It wasn’t the Swiss Alps but still beautiful.
Big John suggested the boys try to catch a goat and bring it back to camp. I’m always up for a challenge and didn’t take offense that he only suggested the boys go. It’s Australia, for Christ’s sake, male chauvinist prick. No, I love Big John. He just doesn’t know any better, I’m guessing. Plus, he’s never met me. If you say I can’t do something, I’m doing it.
Mitch, Marty, Peter, and I head out walking. I really wasn’t interested and catching a goat as much as I was needing to get some exercise. The ride was so long and I needed to move.
We started up the ridge, Peter and I were together, and John and Marty tried to flush the goats towards us. Peter caught one right away, but she was pregnant. Which we all decided didn’t count. We let her go.
“Hey, more goats”
We started running after them. It was difficult running over the rocky terrain, and the boys were ahead of me. I yelled out because I could not see them. Marty yelled, “Barbara” and I could hear the “baas” in the same direction. When I caught up to them, they had a goat. I missed it, but I guess John caught it. Marty was carrying the goat on his back draped around his neck, holding the legs in each hand in a firefighter’s carry. It was a kid and not very big, but the boys were proud of themselves, so I said nothing.
We head back towards camp, at least the way we thought was camp. It was getting late; I think around 8 pm. Darkness came quickly and we were walking for some time. Marty finally decided to let the goat go.
It was black now and I couldn’t see very far in front of me. I fear the darkness and all that lives in the unfamiliar outback. Of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, can you guess how many are Australian? The short answer is bloody heaps. The fact 21 of the world’s 25 most deadly snakes can be found in Australia freaks me out. Never mind the numerous other creepy crawlies that can deliver a nasty bite.
I gingerly step over rocks, trying not to trip or get stabbed from the dried roots, shooting up like knives. There is dead silence except for the crunch of the bush under our shoes and my occasional moan when I get impaled. I can hear my breath. In and out. My eyes ache, looking in the darkness, trying to see in front of me. I rub my eyes. Mitch is holding my hand, leading me into the darkness, trying to help me not get hurt. It’s useless. I stop short and tug his hand to stop.
“Guys, I’m getting stabbed, and we can’t see where we are going. It’s stupid and one of us is going to get hurt. We need to stop”
It was unanimous that we would need to stay put and wait until morning. We had nothing with us but the clothes on our back (actually the guys didn’t have shirts on). No water, no food, no shelter…nothing. I read somewhere you can last a max of three days without water and that number decreases if you’re engaging in a physical exercise like walking. My heart is pounding, and I’m scared.
John and I searched for a place to lie down to sleep. We find a spot in the tall grass. We rip up the grass from the ground and make a bed. The temperate is dropping fast. Peter and Marty sit down on the bare dirt ground under a tree. They said the ground was warm. I lay down with John like a spoon in the grass to sleep. It wasn’t too bad at first. John falls asleep right away…dick. I feel something crawling on my face and brushed it away. Then on my leg, on my neck, in my hair,…I’m trying not to move but keep feeling something on me.
I hear Marty and Peter complaining about the ants and the cold.
“Guys, why don’t you come over here in the grass? It’s not too bad”
Safety in numbers.
We all worked together and picked more grass to make it a bigger grass bed. I suggested we all lay down in a spoon position in this order, John, me, Peter, and Marty.
“No way am I putting my nuts up to Peter’s ass!”
Marty kept his distance from Peter’s. I had to laugh. You’d rather be cold than hug your friend…hummm. Homophobia or intimacy issues?
I fall asleep, but it doesn’t last long.
My shoulder hurts from leaning on a rock, and I tell everyone to rotate and switch sides we were sleeping on. I was restless and annoyed, so I got up and walked around. It must have been about 2-3 am.
The guys are complaining that they are cold, but I’m comfortable for whatever reason. I instructed the guys to move closer, and I stretched across their shoulders to keep them warm. I called myself the “human blanket.”
A tired brain is like a drunk brain. I’m getting punchy and silly.
I look up to the sky and say, “beam me up, Scotty.” I find myself laughing at things that are not ordinarily funny.
No one can sleep, and we guess what everyone is doing back at camp.
Big John isn’t worried and drinking a Four XXXX beer.
Sharon is bitching and moaning.
Bob was trying to make a satellite out of the car parts to send for help.
My emotions flip and I go from happy silly to pissed off.
“This would never happen in America. They would send a rescue chopper to find us. There is no one looking for us in this godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere!!!”
Mitch gives me a hug and tries to calm my worries. I’m feeling extremely anxious.
We all sit back down and wait. Wait for the sun to rise so we can go back to camp. It’s a long wait, and I lay back down in the grass.
Finally, I can see on the horizon a faint light giving a sign that morning is coming. This morning is different. I push myself up from the cold damp grass bed and brush off the twigs and dirt that had stuck to me overnight. The crisp, early morning air slaps my cheeks and I breathe in deeply. I can’t smell anything, but my sweaty body odor mixed with dried grass. I groan as I furiously finger comb out the tangles from my hair. My legs are covered with scrapes and cuts filled with dried-up blood.
I don’t think I can take this any longer, but I can’t say that out loud. I need to keep it together.
There is enough daylight that we can see where we are going and start walking in the direction we think is going to take us back to camp, trying to backtrack our steps from last night.
We arrive at a dried-up riverbed, and I suggested we follow it because our camp was on a river. I remembered seeing the dried-up riverbed while we were running and catching goats.
“No, I think we need to go this way,” says Marty.
“I think Barbara is right,” states Mitch
“Guys, I know what I saw when you were all ahead of me,” I insist.
This goes on for too long and we can’t agree.
We decide to split up, hoping to find our way back. John and I will go downriver, and Peter and Marty go upriver. The plan was to walk for 10-minutes then return to this spot. John and Marty sync their watches.
We’re all dehydrated, and I see the weary look on everyone’s face. We have had nothing to drink or eat since yesterday at lunch. I’m not too worried about food as I am about water.
We meet back at the designated spot. For whatever reason, they agree with me to head downriver. We’re hoping to be back to camp before lunch. It was already 8:30 am; we have been walking for hours and still no sign of our camp. Actually, no sign of anything but the endless outback.
Anxiety floods through me. “What if this is the wrong direction?”
I start to question if we should just stay in one place which I have read is what you’re supposed to do if you’re lost but then by the time Big John got back to town and they rally up a search party, we would surely be dead with no water.
We keep walking.
Tempers are flaring, and everyone is arguing. I feel like I’m in a scene from Lord of the Flies between Jack and Ralph, but it’s between Mitch, Peter, and Marty.
I’m staying quiet.
The arguing is getting louder and louder and more aggressive. I feel this internal heat coming from my body. I scream!
“SHUT UP!, SHUT UP!, SHUT UP!”
I long to be home. But I am far from it.
This is a true story that chronicles my rebellious journey when I was 24 years old backpacking around the world looking for solace after the end of an abusive marriage (ok to escape). An intensely graphic and heartfelt memoir of self-discovery is about how getting lost can be where you belong, how traveling to new cultures and meeting new people helps you heal (they don't judge), find your voice and remember who you really are and want to be. It is certain to inspire anyone who has ever woken up in a life they don’t want to be in. Many life lessons and some bad decisions (sorry Mom) along the way. Buckle in! It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Barbara Murphy-Shannon is a writer and marketer who works with people doing things that matter. Reach out here.