I thought I would do a Camino at home over the next couple of weeks and walk the Willunga Basin Trail. I did do a couple of sections of it quite a while ago, but it is finished now, and I have been feeling the need to go on a long walk for a while. The gift of the breeze, the chatter of the birds, the buzzing of the bees as our native plants are flowering are great teachers.
I planned which days I was going to do what sections based on the time, capacity and difficulty required so that I would keep enthused and not be too daunted by the 130kms trip. The Guide encourages you to do the eleven sections as half day hikes. I decided to do Sections 1 and 3 first and then on Day 3 Section 2 as it was going to be harder and I wanted to give myself plenty of time to go slow as the terrain looked pretty treacherous in parts and it was a level 4 hike, which means it is hard and you are likely to encounter parts that may not be well sign posted. Despite all that, I was prepared and felt that if I just took it slowly and started out early enough all will be well. The other two sections I had done had excellent signs so I felt confident I could follow then with my guidebook of the trail.
I invoked Julian of Norwich once or twice – all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
I followed the guidebook as I had done the past two days, however the same quality of directions and sign posts didn’t seem to be there and after a slide down to an empty ravine and then what was close to a 90 degree climb up to the other side and no visible evidence of the white posts I expected to see, I walked another kilometre before realising that I was tempting fate if there were no visible signs. I decided the best thing to do was to go back the way I came, at least if I followed the fence line, I would know I was going back to the beginning of the section. So, I slid down the hill I had about 30minutes earlier climbed up and then began the ascent up the one I had previously slid down. I was taking it very slow and decided the safest way was to go up on my backside, clinging to the fence, and keeping clear of the barbed wire and using my faithful walking sticks to dig in when I could. I got about 250 metres up the hill, but at that point slid down 50 metres not being able to get a hold …. This happened three times each time not quite as far a slide, but still a slide and I wasn’t making any progress. At this point I decided to take the hint. I was in trouble and needed help.
As I made this decision my light day pack slid down the hill side with my water in it and map. Through some kindness from the universe my phone was in my hand. Without water I knew I had to act sooner rather than later, even though I had already been sitting there for about 20 minutes thinking through my situation. The time had come to do something that was going to get me out of the situation I was in.
With some messaging apps and advice from two of my children I was confident my GPS location was as good as I could get it …. Fortunately, I was in range most of the time, even though I had only one bar … and decided it was time to call the SES. In the background my daughter was taking her son to the doctors as he had a secondary infection, and my son was organising himself and his wife and child to be catching a plane to come see us for Christmas. A friend was delivering Christmas produce and was calling me to find out why I wasn’t home, and I calmly texted her back to tell her how to get in, not revealing my situation.
Through as series of calls both the SES and CFS got their crews together and made the trip to come and rescue me. Their first challenge was to find me and although I had given them the best advice I could they were having trouble and called me a few times before I saw three of them also sliding down a nearby hillside and waving my sticks and calling out, we all found each other. The other crew was well equipped and included a nurse who made sure I was actually alright and did the best part of first aid which was to offer me reassurance and congratulations for stopping and calling for help when I did.
While I was waiting on the hillside, I thought about what lessons were being offered to me in this moment and the clearest message was about asking for help. I had Bono’s voice in my head with the U2 song – Sometimes you can’t make it on your own. Bono wrote the lyrics as a reflection on his father and while the whole song wasn’t calling me – the line that sometimes you can’t make it on your own was ringing true. My self-sufficiency over decades is real. One of my biggest challenges is to let other people help me. So, I got the lesson writ large. I don’t need to learn it again surely!
I am really sore and got a few bruises, but I came out of it all very lightly really. It could have been very serious if I’d broken a bone, or had to be airlifted out of a stony ravine with little space for a helicopter to find their way in. (I did momentarily toy with the idea of calling someone I know who would have been able to do that, and once he heard my tale from a mutual friend, he said I could have called him – a typically generous act of chivalry.)
The crews were excellent. I told them I was the mayor and so they entertained me with a list of things they’d like Council to do for them – making the most of the moment. I absolutely loved how my dignity was not compromised with their humour and steadfast skilfulness. These men and women are all volunteers. One was making his way to Queensland before Christmas for a new posting in the armed forces, another was going on duty to one of our public hospital’s emergency departments, and I am sure others were needed at home or work for Christmas and childcare activities. They were all there helping me, gifting their time and talents so I too could get home safely. A new piece of harness equipment was tested out on me, so I was pleased to have helped with a new drill! And tried and true ropes and knots did their work as I was carefully escorted side by side, front and back, out to the waiting units. When I did arrive at the top, I was shocked to see a police officer as well. I am still not sure why he was there. (I have my theories based on my recent election.) My daughter and sick bub were waiting for me too having been kept fully informed every step of the way. We were both impressed with the high quality of communications and care for her as well.
While asking for help was the number 1 lesson there are plenty more that can be applied from my hiking adventure. For instance:
- If you think the road will be tough – don’t go alone
- Always keep your phone charged – you never know when you will need it
- If you tread where others have gone before you, the road might seem easier, but it may not be the safest path, you are not the same as those who have walked it before
- Give thanks for all times you have volunteered because there is such a thing as volunteer karma
- Stay still and stay calm and find a shady spot to enjoy the view while help is on its way
- Sliding down a hill is a way to get to the bottom
- Always tell someone where you are going
- A sense of humour is always helpful
- If you are in the rescue business, you are in the communications business – keep letting everyone who needs to know where you are up to
- Search first, rescue second
I got home safe, and sound and it could have been a very different outcome. Thank you to the bees who kept dipping into the golden daisies, the tiny black hard coated beetles scurrying under the grasses, the peregrine falcon who swooped close to me probably wondering if I was carrion and kept flying, to all the thousands of flies who kept me company, the butterflies who flit around me and the kangaroos who bounded by, and the sheep whose bleating I could hear from across the valley. Grateful for all the visible and invisible help around me and I sincerely promise to take the lessons of Section 2 into 2023 and ask for help more often and not wait until I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I now understand the meaning of a toe hold Approx: Latitude -35.32547 longitude 138.50618