❝An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.❞
~ G K Chesterton
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Suddenly, another voice broke the bush silence, away to the left in front of me, the same voice it seemed as before…maybe. I had only just splashed water from the creek onto my parched lips a minute or two earlier, but they were already dry again…with a renewed sense of purpose I repeated the action, slowly and deliberately spreading the water around my mouth in a massaging motion with my tongue. Composing myself and pursing my lips, I took a deep breath and mustered all of the remaining strength in my now croaky and feeble vocal cords. Starting with a whisper I tried screaming out, “Hello! HELLO, HEL-LO-O-O, down here in the creek!”.
I strangely felt like I was practicing how to speak all over again…mercifully by the third ‘hello’ the utterance had become stronger in pitch and reasonably audible. A silence followed – seemingly agonisingly long but only fleeting in actual time lapsed – then a reciprocal greeting from the direction of the bush hinterland. I expect my heart skipped a beat at that very moment with a sheer and unbridled sense of relief…yes! I couldn’t see anyone but “the voice” indicated that I should stay put and he would come down to where I was.
Seconds passed, maybe thirty-forty seconds, “the voice” was now silent. My mind, still rushing at 100 miles an hour, was in such a state that I was thrust into freefall panic mode…he’d stopped communicating with me, my immediate fear: he might just vanish again into the harsh bush scape, never to reach me and my lifeline to the outside world would be dashed once more! A cacophony of doubts were assailing my brain. I had such a heightened sense of anxiety, at that moment the most important thing in the world seemed to be to maintain a constant dialogue with my would-be ‘saviour’! Panicked, I just started calling out to him, “hello, are you there?” again and again, until finally he reciprocated – my relief was tangible!
I figured by the sound of his voice that he appeared to be about 20 metres or so from where I was in the creek, but it took an agonisingly long time for him to make his way down. Several more minutes went by, during which I could hear his boots crunching his way through the rugged and inhospitable bush. He must have had to zig-zag through, around, under and over countless dense scrubs and branches. I waited and watched anxiously for him to appear, until finally he came into my line of vision. He was indeed a welcome sight to behold, the first human I had sighted since the previous Wednesday.
I blurted out the basic details of my inglorious bush escapade to him, he looked like he was a fit-looking, stocky young bushwalker. He reassured me that he and his friends had food and water with them – the word ‘water’ resonated singularly with me (I didn’t experience any cravings for food during my entire ordeal, but my thirst, my desire, for water, was all consuming).
His companions were still winding their way down to the creek bank and didn’t appear for several more minutes. The guy, having emerged from the brush, stepped confidently like an experienced bushman onto one of the large rocks in the creek. He motioned towards a clearing in the bush behind me where he said he could lay out the much needed refreshments from his back-pack. As he led the way, striding purposefully and confidently over the wet rocks …to my complete surprise he suddenly slipped as if on a banana skin and landed half on the rocks and half in the water with an all-mighty thud! I was now anxious for me and him (at least I was no longer alone in my plight!). With real concern for my putative rescuer I checked on his well-being, to my relief he quickly responded that yes he was fine. The shock of seeing him being rent asunder like that left me with a singular jarring thought that had instantly and indelibly imprinted itself in my brain: Jesus!, this guy is going to rescue me! He can’t make it from one side of a 12 foot wide creek to the other without losing his feet and falling slap bang on his arse!?! His dramatic and spectacular fall didn’t exactly install me with confidence as to his credentials as a would-be rescuer. If it wasn’t so serious I would have laughed out loud at that point (probably hysterically) … but in truth it merely underscored just how ultra-treacherous the uneven and obscured creek floor was.
On the safety of firm, dry ground I gulped down the bottle of water provided by my would-be rescuer who identified himself as Nathan. It wasn’t cold, lukewarm at best, but who’s complaining, I was just delighted to get liquid into my depleted system, my kidneys were busy thanking him! I drank a second bottle in equally rapid time. His companions (his wife and his workmate) had by now joined us. Lauren, his wife, offered me carrot sticks and a muesli bar for sustenance, I took them out of politeness and nibbled a bit at a thin carrot in a disinterested way. Water was the only revival fuel that I could contemplate at that precise moment.
As I took some nourishment and slowly started to revive, Nathan delivered some news that astounded me: there was a path, right there where we stood (it was hardly discernible to me but I must have passed it several times whilst trudging east and west) which would take us back up the bushy hillside to the Ross Crescent exit, where my car, and as it turned out, their car, were both parked, 15 metres apart! Amazing! Although Ross Crescent wasn’t far away, it appeared in my depleted condition a very steep and arduous ascent, and seemingly interminable. I was surprised at how drained I now felt despite the sustenance – possibly this was because having been ‘saved’ I had relaxed with relief and the strain of my ordeal had finally had its full and debilitating impact on me…my mental exhaustion had finally caught up with my physical exhaustion!
In any case my energy reserves were completely shot. My personal go-to response in most situations is a characteristic “No, I’m OK” (even if I wasn’t!), but now I couldn’t summon up even the slightest pretence of self-reliance or self-sufficiency, I needed Nathan’s firm guiding arm to pull me up the hill. Every ten or so steps, I had to stop and greedily gulp from Nathan’s bottle of Powerade. I was so eager to rehydrate my system that I was swilling the Powerade down, oblivious of the fact that electrolyte-based beverages are supposed to be sipped slowly. Nathan kept reassuring me that it was not far to the top, not far now, he would intone. Somehow I was not convinced by his earnest entreaties. It seemed far to me, interminably so! Every step I took was a trial of effort, it took an inordinate amount of time till we finally and painstakingly reached the second tier from the top. By now I was well on the way to polishing off Nathan’s second bottle of Powerade!
At this high spot on the mountain, we halted a while because my rescuers wanted to phone the police to report the ‘miracle’ of my rescue. When Nathan got through to the police he informed them of the circumstance and an unwieldy three-way conversation ensued – the phone operator would ask questions which Nathan would relay to me and then he would duly repeat my answers back to the officer. Confusion ensured and I soon tired of this proxy communication and insistently took the phone from my rescue-hero and spoke directly to the police staffer who informed me, to my amazement, that they had received no report whatsoever of my being missing in the Blue Mountains over the previous four days. This was quite mind-blowing news because I had been certain that the hovering helicopter I had regularly spotted overhead on days two and three had been looking for me. But it seems I had been truly in it on my ‘Patma’ all along.
All the while I spoke on the mobile, Nathan had been diligently trying to wave away the flies from my battered and bloodied legs. This was a considerate gesture on his part, but I motioned to him, don’t bother! After all that I had gone through, I just didn’t care anymore about such a minor irritation which I had long since become used to. Let the bloodsucking bugs do their worst, I was out of the nightmarish bush imbroglio, that was all that mattered now. At this juncture I was pretty fed up with the whole experience and just wanted to go home. The police had no report on me, I was qui nihil interest to them (a person of no interest). I was somewhat incredulous, I felt like persona non grata, but also relieved at finding out I was free to go home.
Nathan did his upmost to try to persuade me to go to Nepean Hospital to get checked out. I politely demurred at this suggestion, protesting that I was fine (maybe a fair bit of an overstatement on my part, I would concede) and perfectly capable of driving home. Relieved to get out of the trap I had dug myself into, I now wanted only to get home, get into a hot bath, pour in some epsom salts and Dettol, relax, veg out for a couple of hours and “lick my wounds” – psychic and physical. The question of the damage I had sustained to the various parts of my body, I was prepared to put on the back burner for the time being. Of course I had some concerns about my back and the possible dire implications for my spine (and, less anxiously, for my ribcage), but as my back wasn’t causing me any significant pain at this time aside from the occasional spasms since the accident, I resolved to address the medical issues later. Self-indulgence in the form of a luxuriant soaking, followed by sleep, was what I craved most right now. After further debate, in the end we reached a compromise, I agreed to Nathan’s firm insistence that he drive me home in my car (to make sure that I was all right) and Lauren and friend John would follow in their car.
Before we pushed on up the steep last leg of the vertical track, I had another swig or three of Nathan’s crimson-coloured Powerade. With the firm arm of Nathan to guide me, I very tenderly and slowly hobbled on, up and up yet more steps. In my present state of mental and physical attrition, it seemed like an unending track. Nathan kept reassuring me that it wasn’t far (he had said the same thing ten minutes before!). He indicated with a wave of the hand that the tops of the houses in Ross Crescent had come into sight, I looked and couldn’t see them, but took some comfort from the confident tone of his voice. When we got on to level ground at the top, I recognised the long, rectangular, fenceless property on the right, in front of which would be my car (at least I was hoping it was still there!). Only when I saw the sign marking the beginning of Florabella Track, did I allow myself the thought that, finally, yes, my four day ordeal was over. Across from the sign, sitting patiently for the last 78 hours was indeed my little red Colt. No one had seemed to notice it had been unattended for a protracted amount of time, not the people inside the house, not even any curious, other locals. If anyone did observe it, they perhaps only gave it a passing thought, maybe concluding that it was yet another abandoned vehicle in the bush (there were two such disowned cars residing, more of less permanently, at the Warrimo end of the same track). And, to add a further irony to my predicament, there, just a few steps away from the Colt was the car of my ‘predestined’ rescuers.
First stop as we departed the scene in our respective vehicles was the nearest servo where I filled up on bottled water and, of course, Coca Cola (my long-nurtured hopes for Pepsi dashed as the servo outrageously didn’t stock the brand!). Travelling back to Summer Hill, Nathan and I passed time by talking discursively about various topics, politics and religion being prominent among them (my young rescuer a little too eagerly disclosed his weekend volunteer role preaching scripture groups at his local church). Nathan mentioned that John and he were both posties, as was his wife’s father (an altogether charm-free dolt who I had the brief displeasure of meeting when we quickly stopped at Penrith on the way back home). When I heard that my deliverers from the bush imbroglio were all employees (or close relatives) of Australian Post, I exclaimed out loud with a mixture of mirth and relief in my voice, “My God! Saved by Posties!” That brought a laugh to Nathan’s face.
We finally set off from Penrith for the last part of the drive home. It was to take longer than I had hoped though, wife and friend couldn’t keep up with us or kept getting lost and we had to keep stopping and wait for them to catch up…my patience was tested but what could I do, I reassured myself that after everything that had happened I could wait a bit longer).
In any event Nathan was there to ‘entertain’ me or at least distract me! In the course of the drive somehow the topic of religion came up, not entirely accidentally I suspect. Without any prompting Nathan launched into something of a monologue on his Christian faith. Over the next half hour or so I got a sampler of Nathan’s doctrinal ideas about religion…such as his belief in the overarching concept of an intelligent design guiding the creation of the world, not to forget his notion of a ‘selective’ God. As he spoke more and more enthusiastically about his preoccupation I muttered sotto voco to myself, “Christ, not just saved by Posties, saved by Religious Posties!” I mused on my new ‘predicament’: here’s Nathan getting full flight into his preaching spiel and his two, no doubt fellow evangelists, following us close behind by car – had I been ‘saved’ from destruction in the wilderness only to find myself thrust into a world of sanctimonious God Botherers!
Was I, once again trapped, this time inside my own car, with a religious wacko who was going to try to convert me? Not withstanding such misgivings, I was chilled enough after re-hydrating myself to sit back in the passenger seat and let Nathan drone on to his heart’s content. And he did not disappoint, waxing spiritually about the various theological issues he was eager to espouse at every given opportunity. Nathan had more than a whiff of the incipient zealot about him and didn’t need any prompting to expand on his heart-felt moral and religious beliefs. I was just happy to relax and re-energise my batteries.
But after a while of silently listening, I couldn’t help myself even in my diminished state from playing “Devil’s Advocate” (yes I admit, an altogether naturally comfortable role for me!). I brought up one or two of the big religious imponderables, such the contradiction between God’s omnipotence and the stark realities of the world – the desperate, miserable condition of life for the vast majority of the planet. I posed the question “Why does God allow such an intolerable and horrific situation to exist when he had has all the power he needs to intercede on behalf on the downtrodden?” (In Nathan’s Church God is definitely a he!), giving Nathan’s enough slack on the line to really get his theological teeth into that juicy morsel. As expected, Nathan of course had an explanation for this, a very good one, he added confidently. “Its like this Bruce” Nathan began, with the slightly patronising tone of the “good shepherd” in his voice, and proceeded to recount a puzzling analogy: God, he affirmed, “was like a dentist who would refuse any further service to patients if they neglected to pay their bills”!
In so far as I was prepared to go to try to uncoil the enigma wrapped in a puzzle that was his logic, it seemed for Nathan to boil down to a question of God saving only those who exhibit sufficient faith in him – if I was following him correctly…hallelujah! Craftily if predictably, Nathan managed to avoid directly dealing with the imponderable issue of why an all-powerful and presumably all-caring God would ever allow any suffering, let alone the global epidemic proportions that exist in the world today? As would be expected for “true believers” like Nathan, one needs to search no further than a reaffirmation of faith for the answer.
By the time Nathan had pronounced on a few more of his doctrinal hobbyhorses we had reached our destination (given my agnosticism-cum-atheism, mine, at least in the ultimate sense, unlike Nathan’s, was obviously not going to be ‘Heaven’). My growing realisation that evangelist Nat and his companions were devotees of what was possibly some kind of fringe evangelical whacko sect did not detract in any way from the genuine and heartfelt gratitude I felt for these three young bush explorers who were definitely in the right place at the right time as far as I was concerned.
On the drive back down the M4, I waved a $50 note (not having anything smaller!) in Nathan’s direction as a tangible manifestation of gratitude and as recompense for the petrol he would have to use, but he did not want to take it. I sensed, the cynic that I am, that putting himself in God’s “Pearly Gates” books for such a good deed was Nathan’s most coveted reward. After some toing and froing of me insisting he take it and he declining, he took the money and placed it in the dashboard tray, inferring that we could engage in a dialogue later regarding it(!). A later conversation? I wondered…between me and him, between God and him or between all three of us? How many were there in this car? It’s only a small hatchback! It was becoming confusing.
Whilst we waited in the car outside my home for Lauren and John’s car to catch up, I managed to turn one of Nathan’s pious homilies on its head and put it to him that he accept the money as an equitable act of faith (whatever that means?!?). God must have signalled his approval because Nathan relented and slipped the ‘portrait’ of Edith Cowan into his wallet, saying he would put the cash towards he and his wife’s petrol kitty. Fine by me! I profusely thanked my young Australia Post bush rescue team again for their ever so timely intervention. Australia Post really did deliver on this occasion!
After my saviours had departed I shed and discarded my one remaining boot and hobbled gingerly barefoot into my unit. I felt ratchet, completely stuffed, hardly surprising after four days openly exposed to the elements. I replenished my stocks with water, juices and a little bit of food (I still wasn’t hungry after four days lost in the woods and didn’t regain my appetite for a couple of days). I ran a hot, soothing bath, lowering myself slowly into it and sighed. I then proceeded to gently pour disinfected water over my numerous cuts and scratches, before moving on to my lower back and ribcage to apply a heated water treatment to them.
As I soaked my aching bones, I pondered the question of how I had survived my extreme encounter with nature. I had gone (suicidally?) solo into the bush, I had not informed anyone beforehand as to my intended location, I had no map (not one worthy of the name anyway!), I had gone off-track, I was way too lightly dressed for nights in the cold and without blanket or covering of any kind, and I had taken a woefully inadequate amount of water and no food with me. I had no flare gun to alert potential rescuers of my whereabouts. And, I had injured myself, albeit not so to imperil my survival, although it could easily have been thus. In short, I had done ALL of the wrong things by the bushwalking manual (and the “common sense” manual too!), coming across like a complete tyro, but still managed to survive – somehow.
For weeks after, everyone I divulged my Blue Mountains misadventure to, were only too happy to apply, with full ironic intent, the ‘Bear Grylls’ tag to me! Obviously, a large slice of luck had come down on my side. Having bungled my way into the densely-foliated abyss, and then ineptly and laughingly attempted to extricate myself without success, I clearly needed some sort of effective external intervention to happen. Finding people on the fourth day who were well equipped to salvage what remained of me at a most timely and critical point, could only be described as my good fortune! There are other ways of viewing how I had managed to endure in the bush, if you want to imbue it with sentiment. A close friend who I recounted the story to, marvelled like everyone else at my survival (that is, at my good luck) and commented that it was my late wife looking after me – well, whatever, it’s a nice thought, isn’t it?
When I went for a physical check-up two days later, Dr Phil my GP asked perhaps jokingly, perhaps only half jokingly, if I had a death wish. Freud defined the death wish (or ‘death drive’, more precisely he called it) as an unconscious desire for self-destruction. Well, if it is an unconscious state, then who could ever say definitely? But given my erratic behaviour over the whole episode of the four day bush misadventure, it may well seem to an objective third party that I did.
If you examine the bare bones of it, I went out into the great unknown unprepared, without a Plan B. In my conscious mind, I was definitely not trying to put myself in harm’s way, nothing deliberate, no attempt to test my physical and psychological boundaries. By disposition I am far from being an adrenalin junkie deriving a buzz from putting my safety on the line. Extreme risk sports or activities of your bungy-jumping or base-jumping kind do not appeal to me! I am no ‘funambulator’ (tight-rope walker) in any sense of the word, by nature my “Caledonian cautious” approach to life would preclude me, 99 times out of every 100, from putting my body on the line. The last few days were obviously occurrence number 100!
My predicament was one that I just inadvertently stumbled into, unprepared and unanticipated. I hadn’t planned to end up in the hazardous part of the bush that I did, so I had no contingencies in place to deal with the unpredictable. It could so easily have been a mortal mistake. I survived, I’m still not sure how, but it did teach me the invaluable lesson that if you underestimate the bush, or are complacent about it, even for a moment, you will do so at your peril.
Later that night the mystery of the patrolling helicopter was revealed on the evening news. It transpired that the copter (and the other light plane) I had seen were scouring the area for a group involved in an abseiling accident nearby…an abseiler in his early 30s had fallen to his death heroically trying to rescue his girlfriend who had ‘frozen’ and was stranded immobile on a cliff ledge. It was a sobering thought as I reflected afterwards: I had somehow survived my fall, at the same time this poor, unfortunate guy trying to be the Good Samaritan, trying to do the right and noble thing, tragically did not share my good and perhaps undeserved luck.