After touring my way through the wine areas of South Australia, largely in the rain, I arrived in Halls Gap in the Grampians in late August 1997. Tired of staying in hotels and B&Bs, after my stay in a little cottage in Burra, I’d discovered the world of the off season holiday chalet rental market, so I searched out a little holiday village on the edge of town and decided to stay for a couple of days.
I remember the place, largely because I remember getting lost in the woods on a walk; but what I didn’t recall until I reread my journal was just how much I enjoyed playing house for a few days. I elected to stay longer than I originally planned and, rather than continue my progress east, I opted to do day trips out from my cosy little base, deciding that driving out and back each day was worth it to be able to enjoy having the time to unpack my bags, do some laundry and even iron it, and cook for myself in some approximation of ‘normality’.
I’ve told the story of getting lost a few times in the intervening years, and it was quite surprising to see how calmly I recorded the events in the diary, as the memory is quite an unsettling one, so comprehensively had I lost my way. It was quite a foolish thing to do, to set off into the woods on my own without a proper map, but the officer in the National Park centre had told me that the route shown on the leaflet she sold me was easy to follow on clearly defined paths.
Both of these things were true, but only for the first 2/3rds of the route, which is about where I lost track of the path. Or maybe it was before then, because by the time I noticed, crossing over a messy river, through a stretch of mud and tried to turn back, I couldn’t find the path then either.
It took me nearly four hours of scrambling hither and thither to finally find a path – I was seriously starting to think about what kind of place I should look for to spend the night – i did have some food, water, waterproof trousers and jacket, but it was not a pleasant thought given the amount of wildlife both large and small that seemed to be about.
I’d even started shouting ‘help’, when I thought I’d heard voices in the distance. On the path I managed to get back to the road and then I walked the 5km back to the car trying to sing to myself to keep me going, walking along the white lines in the middle of the road to give me some point of reference in the dark.
It’s funny that I didn’t record the thing about the story that always makes people laugh when I tell it, which is that I found the path only after noticing that the sun was setting and following that direction, but only after having stopped dead for a few moments wondering if the sun sets in the west in the southern hemisphere and working out from first principals that it does.
When I got home I couldn’t believe what a mess I was – covered in mud from all the full length falls down the wet hillsides; hands and knees scratched and bruised. Fortunately no marks on my face. Everything, even the rucksack has been in the washing machine today.
The next day, I hobbled around and had a quiet time. Well and truly chastened, I think.