Travel is not always safe and easy. When I spent a few months travelling in the outback of Australia’s Queensland, I learned that in some places on earth you encounter more danger than in others. But trying to live under different conditions than what you are used to is one of the joys of traveling for me and as long as you maintain the right mindset, dealing with danger will not be that hard.
That a situation is potentially dangerous does not necessarily mean that something bad will happen to you. In most cases, it is totally up to you how safe or dangerous an environment or activity actually is, according to how you act and behave.
The following happened to me one day while giving the outback lifestyle a try: My bike broke down in the middle of the outback just at sunset. There was nobody to come looking for me. And the next town was hours of walking away. The experience taught me some valuable lessons, so I decided to write it down for you.
The day my bike broke down in the middle of nowhere
I put on my climbing gloves, a cap and strap my black goggles tightly around my head to protect my eyes from the flying sand. Pushing the quadbike out from the shed, I look up at the cloudless blue sky. It is a nice hot day in the outback. The air is warbling over the desert plain and you can hear the wood of old trees cracking from the heat if you listen closely.
Driving out from the backyard I wave to my boyfriend and leave a trail of dust behind me as I race towards the only patch of bitumen in the area which is the main street. In less than a minute I exit the little town called Adavale that counts only 20 inhabitants. I’m in the middle of Queensland, in the outback, 120kms away from the next settlement. Around me, there is nothing but wild nature. I love it!
Refreshing wind makes my shirt and my hair flutter as I cross over the bumpy concrete bridge that leads me over a dry creek, where the water is low and muddy. I am headed to a trail that will lead me to a set of different waterholes, where I plan to collect firewood from branches that broke off from the white eucalyptus trees that grow on the rim of the little billabongs.
But as I leave the street and drive over crunchy dry grass and cracked, bumpy ground that is uneven with hoof prints of cows and horses that imprinted themselves deeply into the mud during rainy days, I spot a big white animal in the distance and stop.
A few hundred meters away stands a huge white bull that looks like it has eaten nothing but steroids for several decades. The muscles of his shoulders are bulging over its head and its chest is so broad, I can easily imagine a car driving against it and bumping off like a toy. I have never seen it around here and am sure that it is not one of the local cows who got used to me racing by them on my quadbike. Said animal is staring at my blue quad and lowers his head, obviously thinking about taking me on as an opponent. Without hesitating I turn around the quad and go as fast as I can back the other way. As I take a look back over my shoulder I see that it is galloping in my direction and push the bike to its maximum speed. Only as I pass by our house again and cannot see the white giant anywhere, I feel safe enough to slow down again. I managed to escape the danger.
As so often I wonder why Australians bother to build a fence through the entire continent to keep the dingoes on one side of the country while they let their bulls run free.
Considering my other options to get wood, which we need to fire up the oven when it cools down to under 10 degrees during the night, I decide to go the opposite way to another creek further away from home. It is already late in the afternoon and I know I have to hurry if I want to be back by the time the sun sets.
I drive over a long, curved gravel road whose surface is cleaved with many little valleys like a stormy sea, shaped like that by the last flooding. As my bike is hopping over the bumps I sing “What shall we do with the drunken sailor” just for the fun of hearing my own voice quiver at every bump. One of the perks of living in the middle of nowhere is, that you can sing as loud and terrible as you like, since there is nobody around to take issue with it apart from a few cows and kangaroos.
I see the trees from afar and go off the street towards the creek. There are some cows in the distance, but the bull of the other herd seems to be nowhere close, so it’s safe enough to approach the water.
I quickly find an old dead tree whose dry branches I break into small pieces by stepping on them several times. Before I pick up the pieces I kick them around a few times, so that the termites, ants and poisonous centipedes that often live inside the old wood fall out before I touch it with my hands. With no doctor or pharmacy around within the next 500kms, it would not be fun to get bitten by any of them. I am also very conscious of the fact that snakes like the deadly king brown or the taipan like to hide under fallen branches, so I look carefully around before I lift a branch. I have been warned by all the neighbors that this area is famous for its abundance of snakes that even come into the houses of the people. And we have seen some of their run over bodies on the streets, so their existence is obviously not just a myth.
However, I do not think that collecting wood is putting me in much danger. If you are aware of the risks and know what to look out for and stay alert while doing whatever you are doing, then the chance of something happening to you is probably much lower than during times when you think you are in a safe place only to be caught up in accidents that you did not expect. How many people die slipping in the shower?
When the metal basket on the back of my quad is filled to the top with broken branches, I start the bike again and consider to go home. But since I came out all this way already and it is not too late yet, I want to take a quick detour to the caves that we discovered the other day, to take some pictures of them in the orange light of the setting sun, with the kangaroos hopping in front of them. As Kangaroos are most active during dusk and dawn this is the best time to see them.
I drive until I reach the big red hill where many small caves are home to all kinds of wildlife. You can find bones of dead kangaroos and cows all over the place; a sign of dingoes living there.
So far I have only seen dead ones though, that were skinned and hung up on trees by the farmers. As a dog lover, this custom makes me really sad, though I understand that the cattle owners can not afford to let the wild dogs kill their livestock which is their only source of income in a remote area like this. However, I really hope to see a dingo that is still alive before leaving this area that is crossed by the famous dingo fence.
I leave my bike in the shade by the trail and set off to climb up to the caves with my camera. Of course, I am a bit nervous about snakes as I get close to the numerous holes that are preferred hiding places for the aggressive brown snakes, so I am very careful where I set my feet. Now at dusk is the time where the snakes usually come out to hunt.
It is also the time where the kangaroos are getting active and I am delighted to see them hopping around the hill on their way to the creek, where they go to drink and eat grass. I watch the animals and the caves in the colorful light of the sunset and feel cheerful and happy to be in a beautiful and amazing place like this.
There is nothing that makes me happier than to travel to different parts of the world and explore new kinds of landscapes and experience different ways of life by living with people from other cultures than mine. To be honest, I feel a bit bad-ass right now, riding a bike off-road in the remote outback, where hardly anybody ever goes. What I see right now is special: It is something that not many people on this planet ever witness: The big moon over the red earth, the kangaroos whose shapes on the horizon are surrounded by the orange light of the sunset and the ragged caves made of red and yellow stone, where only a few thorny shrubs grow, whose shadows stretch out far and paint spooky shapes on the cave walls. It is a privilege to be here and to see this! And I am so grateful to be alive, to have made it here and to be able to actually experience the adventures I always dreamed of as a child.
As the sun is diving down behind the caves, I feel the air instantly cool down. I know it’s time to go home. In the last minutes of sunlight I will have to hurry back, or else I have to drive in the dark, which is dangerous: no streetlights in the outback.
I climb down and sit on my bike and try to start the ignition. I flinch back as I get unexpectedly hit by an electric shock. What the hell was that? I push the start button again, but all I get is a last resigning cough by the ignition and then nothing but silence, no matter in which angle I push the starting button. I try desperately to restart the bike in any possible way, turning on and off all keys and switches, but after 15 minutes I have to face it: The bike is not going to start. I will have to walk back. By now the sun has disappeared completely and only a few rays of light let the sky glow in a soft mixture of orange and light blue. No matter how fast I run, it will be dark before I reach home. Well, nothing to do about that.
In a situation like that, all you can do is to accept the reality and face the thing you have to do next. Which is in this case: Go on a very long hike in the dark. So what?, I think, a bit of exercise won’t hurt, since I’m getting a bit fat anyway and it might actually be fun to take a night walk through the outback. It will be an adventure! I know the way home and I know I just have to follow my tracks and then the dirtroad back to Adavale. Maybe I will be lucky and a road worker or some of the neighbors might even come along and give me a lift. The only thing that bothers me, is the cold. It will make me really uncomfortable soon, since I only wear a T-shirt and thin cardigan. But I tell myself that I won’t be out long enough to die of hypothermia, since I can reach home in about an hour if I go quickly, so no need to be too worried about that.
Having calmed myself down like that, I actually come to enjoy the situation. I set off jogging, to cover as much way as possible while I can still see the path. The exercise is warming me up and the endorphin rush of doing sports is kicking in. I run beside a group of kangaroos who stop for a moment to look at me in confusion before they rush away and disperse into the bush. I pass the creek, where a lizard sits on a branch over the water and takes in the last rays of sunlight.
I slow down for a bit, because I’m starting to get sweaty. I can hear cows moo in the distance and in the wind I can smell them and the dry grass that they are eating. With the big moon shining already bright in the sky and the rural smell in the air, I feel at peace. Even though I’m on the other side of the world, the sights and smells are familiar.
I start jogging again for a bit and listen to the gravel crunching under my feet and to the crickets singing in the grass beside the road. The air is nice and fresh and the wind rustles in a lonely tree that stands in the middle of a far stretching, open plain. By its crooked shape you can tell it has been hit by lightning at least once. I am glad there are no clouds tonight. A hopping mouse is crossing the street in front of me and I flinch back, thinking it is a snake as I catch the movement from the corner of my eye. When I realize it’s just a mouse I laugh at myself and continue jogging. I half hope for a car to come along now, because I’m getting tired, and it’s getting darker, but I end up jogging in the moonlight all the way until I reach the town. I can already see it from far away, because some of the neighbors have lit campfires in the garden, probably doing a BBQ. I can smell the smoke – the smell of civilization – and run happily towards it. Just a bit further!
When I reach home I find my boyfriend trying to fix our broken car to go looking for me, even though he would have gone to the wrong direction, to the place where I got chased away by the bull, since that is where I told him I would go. Since our car is not fit to go off-road and got damaged quite a bit when we traveled over the long dirtroads to get to Adavale, I have to ask a neighbor for help to go back and recover the broken bike. We tow it back with a rope that is attached to her car while my boyfriend sits outside on the quad to steer it. It’s a bumpy cold ride through the dark outback. Branches brush against the car windows, wildlife crosses suddenly our path and the wheels dip repeatedly into deep holes in the earth. But we manage to get back safely.
After that, we invite the neighbor for a drink and homemade cookies and celebrate the fact that we have a safe, warm home to stay and friends to help you out in a pinch. There is nothing like a little adventure to make you appreciate all that you have in life!
What I learned from this adventure about dealing with danger
What this day taught me is, that unexpected things happen all the time while you travel, but as long as you don’t panic and think calmly about what to do next and how to get through the situation as safely as possible, you do have nothing to fear, even if there is a certain danger present. think calmly about what to do next and how to get through the situation as safely as possible, you do have nothing to fear, even if there is a certain danger present.
When you get lost in the wild or a foreign city and have nobody to rely on but yourself, you have to have the courage to trust in your own ability to solve the problems ahead. There are always ways to move forward from an unpleasant position, you just have to think about what steps you have to take next and then pull through until you get where you wanted to be.
Usually it takes a bit of patience and endurance, but as long as you remind yourself that this unpleasant situation will only be temporary and that as long as you manage to stay alive, nothing that can happen to you will cause more harm than you can bear, then you will be able to see the good side of things instead of being weight down by fear.
Imagine how you will tell other people about this adventure when you come home and how there will be a happy ending because you were smart enough to do this and that to solve the problem. That way you can already see the end of your quest and stop imagining all the things that might go wrong from here, which will only cause you to freak out and become blind to the obvious way out of your bad luck.
I think this mindset is something that comes naturally to every traveller after some time, as we all get into unplanned situations and challenges quite often. However, after so many times you will not bother to panic anymore and just think about what to do next to solve the problem. Missed the plane? So what? Call the agency, get a refund, book the next flight. Problem solved! The hotel lost your booking and there is no free room anywhere else? So what? You can ask them to look after your luggage and go out and party for the night, or have a nap at McDonalds. There is always an alternative way. It might not be what you planned, and it might be less comfortable, but as long as it doesn’t kill you, tomorrow you will be able to laugh about it and move on.