On a road

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Ready to rip.

Finally we were leaving Darwin, N.T.. Our bags were back on the bikes, water was filled, food was bought, and gas was topped off. The plan was to make for The Gibb River Road, a notorious but touristy 4×4 high way that runs for about 700km through the Kimberly. Our first day out was pretty mellow yet super efficient. We cruised down bitchumen (paved highway) making great time. We stopped every 100km or so to refuel my bike and its measly eight liter tank, but also just to have a break and chat.

Axel and Mia were greatly enjoying watching me get the hang of riding, let alone riding with a weighted down bike. According to them I was swerving, and rock and back and forth constantly. The best however is when I would start from a total stop, I’d almost hit the deck every-time. So with everyone in good moods and the landscape flying past we arrived at our first camp just outside of Nitmiluk National Park.

The original plan had been to camp inside the park but after realizing that would not be free we quickly turned around and started searching for a new home for the night. With in a few kilometers of leaving the park we found a dirt track that split off from the park road and wound out into the bush. Of course we only followed the dirt track for a few moments before we took off into the brush itself, seeking out a hilltop for our evening camp.

Through the brush we went, Axel and Mia paving a their own paths with me teetering along behind, unsure of how to negotiate non-flat/smooth surfaces. Coming up and over the crest of a final hill we discovered the high point we had been searching for. As we unpacked we noticed the fenced-off area and what appeared to be dump, that was not more than half of kilometer away. Choosing to ignore it and just stay there any way, we went about setting up camp. Distracted by the flora of our new surroundings we were all busy admiring a very white tree when from behind us came a voice.

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Axel captivated by the very white tree

The voice belonged to a young aboriginal man who was dressed in naught but a loin cloth or maybe a very small pair of shorts, I’m not entirely sure. He caught all of us off gaurd as we were all distracted by other things. He was quite slight in build, but of average hight. He carried a machete as well as fishing gear. He walked bear foot from somewhere beyond the dump. He told us a loud, but not angry voice that we were not allowed to camp there, but that he would permit it for the night. He also gave a warning not to head east towards his community least we encounter cheeky dogs. He also advised us to stay away from an area about 100 meters south west of the dump, he said, “And don’t go over there, thats were we bury our dead people.” We had no contestations or arguments to make and before any of us could really wrap our heads around his appearance he was gone.

That first night Axel and I were jammed into his two person tent, a mistake we would make only once. We slept well, but hot. It was still maybe 90 degrees after the sun went down. We all lost a few liters of water to the night air and our sleeping pads felt more like slip-n-slides than the comfortable beds we wanted. But I will admit it made getting out of bed at 4am at first light all the easier. Because Australia’s populations centers are often times so far spread out states like Western Australia have to make certain sacrifices in terms of how the states time zones are set up. Because the country is so large, the sixth largest in the world, the further north in W.A. you go the more absurd the zoning seems. And so to help us deal with the ridiculousness and ease us into a spectacular sunrise I played the 1980’s hit by Sheana Easton, Morning Train.

The first leg out our day was simple, we had to head down towards Kathrine. There we stocked up on food and water and picked up the gear that we would need for the rest of the trip. This included extra water bladders, a new tent for me, and a 20L jerry can to help us make it across the Gibb River Road. Apart from a pretty spectacular near crash in the early part of my day our ride was uneventful, that is until we got to camp that night.

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I took this photo of Axel while we were stopped at a small little coffee shop called The Black Russian Caravan Bar. The coffee truck was parked right outside of Kathrine’s visitor center and made for a great central location from which to gather information and prep for out next 500km stretch.

Pushing on from Katherine and headed down towards Kununurra, we made great time flying down the unbelievably straight roads. As night fell we found ourselves somewhere in the middle between the two cities and very much so ready for sleep. After a hearty meal of spaghetti, our only cooked meal while camping of the entire trip, we were ready to pass out.

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Our exhaustion was however not due to the road traveled that day, but more the offloading once we had reached camp. We had found and heavily used site not far off the road surrounded by a sandy creek bed. A dirt-bikers play ground. Axel and Mia were quick to ditch the gear set up camp and hop back on the bikes to go for a rip. This would be the first of my many crashes due to the sand. Instead of trying to recall the event in totality, I’ll just copy my entree from my journal that night.

Time: 0548HR
Weather: Clear/humid/hot 31°C
Elevation: 436.35ft
Coordinates: 15.8457° South
129. 9082° East
Roadside having ridden 400km from Kathrine, headed to Gibb River Road. Bikes are running great. Took them into a sandy creek bed which was hard as hell, crashed and ripped right sd mirror off. Crashed again on a 2ft drop got thrown from the bike entirely. Big fire, easy sleep, spicy sour cream burritos.

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I think that says enough.

 

 

 

Talking stock

At the moment the dinning hall of the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus is brightly lit, filled with happy voices, punctuated with laughter, and the occasional beep from the microwave. Everyone is in different states of preparedness for the upcoming week, and overwhelmingly the impression is one of anticipation and excitement for whats to come. Along with bemusement of those who had to much to drink last night and made a fool of themselves. It’s interesting to sit here in the middle of active conversation and socialization and intentionally isolate myself with headphones and an open laptop. Quietly observing the body language of my peers, imagining their current state of mind.

Two weeks of focused study later and I am honestly feeling ready to go home. As much as I enjoy the company of these fine people I have to say that there is no replacement for those people we have selected to be our family. And likewise creating a healthy routine becomes almost impossible when your utmost dedication is required to a single task. I’ve spent the better part of 11-13 hours a day focused on the study of emergency medicine and as a result have let other aspects of my life lapse. While I am able to recognize this as a necessary evil in the pursuit of larger long term goals, it is still frustrating to not be able to feel satiated emotionally, artistically, physically. Perhaps the single hardest thing for me is not having the time to be on open trails with dirt and rock under my feet.

This leads me to perhaps one of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned here; I require a lifestyle in which balance is made and then maintained. Actively participating in my own imbalance is a strange and surreal process. To recognize the solution and yet to not be able to fix it in pursuit of something else is quite frustrating. Do we call that sacrifice or masochism? Does it matter? Isn’t it all just complaining anyway? But maybe not? I have to say there has not been a single moment here that I have no enjoyed, and yet if I could I would do things differently. Maybe its just recognizing preferences.

My preferences are for the open and star lit skies which ring with cold. Strong coffee that is balanced firmly in sun browned hands and sipped by dirty faces. Rough rock that absorbs the stress of powerful ethics and the commitment to better days. Tenacious friendships that pick up always where they left off and scoff at hardships. My preferences are for exactly what I’m doing and appreciating it for what it is, recognizing that these moments are the only ones like them that I will ever get. By embracing these few seconds and seeing them for what they are; my preferences are for brightly lit dining halls, filled with happy voices, punctuated with laughter, and the occasional beep from the microwave.

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Shark Fin Ridge between Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt July 9th, 2018 Photo credit: Payton Hoops