4:30pm. The Spinny Hotel, Derby. Game over. This morning I crunched out 23 kilometres in five hours walking. The going was hard but progress was good. The black mud turned my boots into moon boots with an inch caked right around both soles. It added a kilo at least to the weight of each.
But my main concern had been crossing the Calder (River). Light rain, that I had thought would stop, never abated. It got heavier. It was a race against time to get to the Calder before it rose too high. But even though my pace was good, it was to no avail. I reached the river but it was running too high and too fast to cross with the prospect of more rain to come. It would not be dropping for one week and possibly longer.
Too long to sit it out. So I signalled back to Derby for the chopper to come. Only problem was, would it come? So I set up my shelter. Soaking wet. Rain still pouring. Anticipating as many as two days to wait. Got under the shelter and out of the rain. Bordering on cold but not quite. Amazingly, the chopper arrived within about three hours and soon I was up in the air flying over the magnificent Kimberley. So incredible, and most people never ever see it at this time of year. The best experiences of my life have nearly always involved the Kimberley in the wet, plus helicopters!
Flying back over the Kimberley, rain pouring down, doors off on the chopper, the country was a luminescent green. On the flight home we took a route I had never flown before. Normally I can work out where I am from the air flying around the Kimberley and the Pilbara.
Today we tracked west of the Calder, the river that brought my progress to a halt. Flew past the magnificent escarpment lines of the Harding Range and then over the Walcott Inlet. A place that I was lucky not to be munched on by a croc a few years back when my boat sank at 7:30pm in the evening and I had to swim 50 metres in the dark. It’s one of Australia’s most dangerous waterways and known for its big crocs, particularly where I had to do the swim. I got to the bank, looked back and saw a croc was nestled up against my now upturned boat.
On the south side of the Walcott this afternoon, though, we took time for a play, scoping out the paperbark and freshwater swamps looking for signs of crocodile nesting activity. And then it was onto Derby, across the Meda River.
I felt comfortable with what I had achieved this trip. First with Joe, who was with me for three and a bit days of the trip, and then on my own.
I had pushed through the most brutal terrain. When every part of me had wanted to pull out, I had found a way to keep going. Even when it was 20 plus kilometres of near continuous swamp; sandstone country amongst the harshest Australia has to offer; brutal heat; near 100 percent humidity; mosquitoes like I'd never, ever seen before. Even yesterday, when I had nothing at all to give, I found a way to keep going. I was proud of myself. Not something I’d usually say about a failed mission.
But it’s why I pursue these experiences. Because of the lessons they present and those diamonds that emerge and are forged under the great intensity. It gives me great confidence—no matter how tough things get, you can always find a way to keep going, even when every aspect of your being is screaming for relief.
But the reality was the Calder. Not only was it fast and high, but upstream and down there were deep pools. Just crossing through some swamp to get to the edge of the river had me on alert. There are no natural barriers between the freshwater upstream here and the saltwater downstream so lots of reasons for crocs to be here. If I was to be swept away by the current it introduced another croc risk that I would not be able to manage.
So it’s back to civilisation and now I wait for a meal I have craved for days. Barramundi. I’m told that a big system is set to dump 400mm of rain on the Kimberley these next few days. I’m told I dodged a bullet. But I also know, with 100 percent personal surety, that I would still be out there if it weren’t for the failed crossing of the Calder.
Coming close to finding the Rosetta Stone, that’s deep inside everyone, is not an opportunity one gets to experience many times in their lives and I feel my fingertips had touched it, ever so slightly, that day. Instead of tucking into the barramundi, I’d much rather be out there, being taught those life lessons that I go out to learn. But I made the only decision I could take under the circumstances—the right one. This trip didn’t go the distance but the lessons—those diamonds—are presenting themselves already.