This is the pre-edited beginning of the Kakadu Wildflower Journey. Looking back, I admire my inner strength and courage, but find it hard to believe I did this hike with an injury!
Stirring after a restless night, I took a moment to listen to my body. My heart sank and my stomach churned with a mess of conflicting emotions. There was a part of me that didn’t want to go on this trek through Kakadu and now I had the perfect excuse not to go: a neck and shoulder injury. The first little warning twinges had started the day before and I had hoped in vain that it might clear up after a good sleep. The pain was excruciating and I couldn’t even get out of bed without help from my husband.
That damned massage! I thought to myself crossly. A few days earlier I had received my part of an exchange with another practitioner. She had lovingly given me extra time, but it was extra time I could have done without. It was an Ayurvedic consultation and included an oil treatment. My head was tilted back, hanging off the end of the table, with oil pouring down over my forehead. As usual, I was being excessively polite and I didn’t have the heart to tell her how uncomfortable I was. To be fair, having my head tilted backwards for almost an hour might not have been an issue if I wasn’t also in the midst of re-painting the walls in our old bedroom. My husband and I had moved ourselves downstairs, and were preparing to take on a boarder. As is so often the way, the injury sets itself up during these crazy weekend ventures and then pounces days later while doing perfectly innocent things like receiving a massage.
I checked my phone and found a message from Kate: How’s the neck?
Worse, I replied. I can’t come. Not happy. Steve is going to meet you at Alex’s with the GPS, beanie, mushroom soup ingredients and stock for first night soup. Say hello to the flowers from me! xx
Kate called me back immediately and asked me to reconsider, saying she had spoken with Alex and they would be happy to set up a day-camp so that we didn’t have to carry full packs, and I could rest there if I wasn’t feeling up to the walk. Then found a beautifully worded voice message on my phone from Alex herself, imploring me to come, with similar ideas about how we could still make it work.
I felt so torn! I knew Steve didn’t really want me to go, because he was worried about us getting lost or eaten by a crocodile, and I had similar fears myself, but they really wanted me to come. And I had done so much work to prepare for this hike! It seemed like such a waste. I had been practising walking with a loaded pack for the past two months and I had prepared dehydrated food packs and spent hard-earned money on equipment for the journey, like my compass, boots and backpack.
“I don’t know what to do!” I wailed to my husband. We talked it through for a while and he encouraged me to rest for the remainder of the morning.
“Sleep on it”, he said. “I’ll go and get you some special things to help your muscles relax. Come on, let’s get you back into bed! You can make a decision at lunch time after a good rest.”
I crawled back into bed, struggling to find any position that was comfortable and gave me relief from the pain. Steve soon came back with a glorious bag full of goodies and insisted I play lucky dip. I reached a hand in and came up with deep-heat, which he promptly applied. My second foray into the bag yielded a packet of medicated sticky bandages, a box of Epsom salts, pain-killers and Tiger Balm, amongst other things.
I did feel better when I woke at lunch time, and throwing caution to the winds, decided to text Kate: I’m coming. What time do you want us to get to your place?
Yeehah! 1pm here??
I ate lunch and did one last check on my pack, adding the medicated bandages and filling my camelback (a water bladder with a hose attached so you can drink while walking). Then we drove out to Kate’s. Kate lives on a rural block with her husband and three daughters. She’s a veterinarian with a passion for horses and on their block they have horses, chickens, dogs and a pet crow. This was only my second visit, and Steve’s first. I really didn’t know Kate or Alex very well beyond the practitioner-client relationships I had developed with them, and was looking forward to getting to know them better.
We collected Kate and she guided us to Alex’s house, further out into the rural area. One of Alex’s chickens seemed quite intent on coming with us and we had to keep shooing her out of the car while we were loading up. Steve had made me a walking stick to take with me, and he strapped it firmly to the roof rack. It was a long staff made from an old tree-branch, with the bark scrapped off so that the surface was smooth under my hands. Besides being another point of contact with the earth and thus providing extra support, it had also been designated Chief Crocodile-Basher, ‘just-in-case’.
Steve gave us a brief lesson with the GPS and then before I knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and heading off towards Kakadu! The first few hours of driving were filled with chatter about family and I occasionally felt a bit shy, realising these two knew each other a lot better than I knew either of them. I may have been their healer, intimate with them in ways they perhaps weren’t with each other, but I still knew so little about the day-to-day of their lives. Not for the first time, I found myself brushing away vague fears, wondering what on earth I was getting myself into and whether it was wise to be going into the Kakadu wilderness with two clients and an injury.
Arriving at the turn-off into the part of Kakadu that was to become our home for the next four days, we went through the open gates on to dirt road. Alex refused to relinquish her position in the driver’s seat, even though she had no experience with four-wheel driving, and we had a lovely time guiding her through creek beds with their steep inclines and rises. She did a brilliant job. There’s such an art to finding the right approach and speed when navigating country like this and it was fun watching her exhilaration when she successfully got through each creek-crossing without getting us bogged.
Along the way we saw some wild horses, a mother and child. The discussion that ensued gave me an insight into Kate’s love for and knowledge about horses. I haven’t had much to do with horses myself, beyond my connection with them on a spirit level. My childhood was filled with camels and camel treks and the only time I ever went near a horse, it bit me, so I’ve been rather wary ever since. That doesn’t stop me from admiring them though. Perhaps they are another power animal for me: we usually have a healthy respect for our power animals. When animals come into our lives, they bring spirit medicine with them and the spirit medicine of horses is about adventure, freedom, stamina, strength and warrior energy. Thank you horse, for lending me your strength and spirit. I certainly needed it for this journey!