Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 44: Together and Alone – the Outback Way

December 28, 2010

“I think our next holiday is going to be one of total leisure.” Johan slumps in his camp chair, his elbows resting on his knees. We’re having breakfast and the day’s supply of heat and bugs have already surrounded us. I don’t think he’s looking forward to another round of packing up the tent.

The issue of Johan’s back pain is an untold story in our travels. It’s not easy traveling with a disability; also not easy to travel with someone with a disability. He’s either mad or brave to attempt it. It takes a lot of something to maintain his patience and his good spirits during such a demanding trip, which mostly he does.

But it’s wearing on him, I can see that. Much of his days are spent nursing his pain, slumped over the steering wheel when he can’t easily get out of the car after a day of driving, or hobbling carefully through the exercise of putting up and taking down the camper trailer, or clutching his leg in a camp chair when his pain interrupts yet another camp chore, or crunched up in bed, reading a book while waiting out yet another back attack while I’m off walking or exploring the countryside.

This morning, when I ask him, as I’ve done several times during this trip, if he’s had enough, he says again, “No, it’s good to be out here.” Still, we play with various fantasies about our next holiday – a week at a luxurious resort in Bali; inviting the entire extended family, which spans five countries, to a holiday resort in Cairnsnot in the wet season; or maybe we’ll just become cruise ship junkies, reading books on deck chairs all day.

It’s getting to me too. Not that I mind the extra work to compensate for Johan’s many down times. I like the physical exercise of setting up camp after a sedentary day in the car. But the back pain does interrupt the flow of things, quite regularly and the challenges of doing ‘normal’ holiday things – shopping, enjoying a meal in a café, visiting museums and sites of interest – often make it just too difficult to attempt. I think what bothers me the most is a sense of loneliness over the fact that Johan and I just can’t do many things that we used to do together anymore. I do a lot of things on my own now.

No, what really bothers me most is when my own nerves get frazzled to the point where I don’t feel compassion anymore for the amount of pain he has to endure. And the stresses of a physically demanding holiday, coupled with high heat and too many flies, render me frequently grumpy. It doesn’t help his back situation.

Today we drive through monotonous flat landscapes of grass and sparse trees. Once we cross the Northern Territory border, the road conditions worsen. I guess the N.T. doesn’t have the revenue of Queensland, which is working hard to get their end of the Outback Way upgraded. Johan drives the whole day, partly because it’s something he can do that doesn’t cause his back to flare, partly because he knows I don’t like to drive. And partly because he doesn’t like it that I’m not as cautious a driver as he is on outback roads!

Late in the afternoon we start to see hills, a welcome relief from so much empty desert. We take a side road along the Black Hills and find a spot to camp in the savannah below them. The Aboriginals call this strip of hills “Sleeping Woman” and after pondering them for a while, Johan points out the face, breasts, belly and feet of the snoozing lady.

There’s a cairn atop the highest hill – it looks like the belly button on the massive round stomach of the woman – and up there somewhere is our next cache. I leave Johan to set up camp while I climb the peak. It’s steep and requires some rock hopping and scrambling but it doesn’t take long to scale. A pervasive sadness sits just under my bad mood, remembering rock climbs and hikes we use to do in our early days together. Now all my walks are done alone while he rests back at camp.

I can’t find the cache, which doesn’t help my foul mood. But the view across the Simpson Desert is striking. I sit alone atop the peak and muse over the beauty and expanse and emptiness of the land.

 The Donahue Highway in Queensland...

...turns to the Plenty Highway in the "Nature" Territory!

 Cairn atop the Black Hills

On top of the Sleeping Woman looking across the Simpson Desert

Black Hills camp


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