"Australia 1999" story # 11


Girraween Nat'l Park, Queensland
March 30, 1999

With a day of abseiling ahead of us, and having gone to bed with no dinner, I was in need of a big, tasty meal to fill me up.
     ... welcome, Justin, to the group's breakfast selection: Oats (a.k.a. the most tasteless, god-awful food ever invented). Oats. Ewww. We ate them in a bowl of water, but there was no harmony between solid and liquid. There was no taste, only paper-like grains of Oats between gulps of boiling water.
     I forced a quarter-bowl into my stomach and dumped the leftovers on the rock. I mourned for the poor animal who'd come along and eat that. The sun shone, though, and the big sky made me feel as free as a kangaroo - until one bounded across our rock and I saw how quickly and effortlessly it could move. It was a milky light brown, with no fat: only sleek muscles made from springs.
     Tony took us up Big Bald Rock again, and we took turns abseiling. This meant we wore helmets and a roped-in harness and lowered ourselves backwards down a wall of rock. Our first descent was from 20 feet up, and then we moved on to a 120-foot cliff. I mulled over the helmet's potential effectiveness before going down the large cliff for the first time. Wow, was that big cliff cool! It wasn't too scary when you simply looked forward at Tony's worryless, comforting face at the top of the rope. However, when I looked over my shoulder and could see miles of Australia's living bush, all steadily fastened to the ground, it made my gravity-defying position seem so distant from the safety of land. Also, the inept "spotter" below me, one of my peers, didn't reassure me - nor did the helmet she was wearing, which only hinted at the possibility of me falling and offered nothing in terms of protection for ME.
     Not too long after I reached the ground, it was time for lunch. I was finally able to eat (one peanut butter and jelly sandwich, plus the one I was supposed to ration for Tuesday), but the meal didn't come without its price. Once again, I was mocked, with anessa leading the charge. She kept calling me a lizard, because I took advantage of the sun to lay on a rock and tan. Also, she (and everyone else, she made sure) made fun of the book I'd brought along for the camping trip, entitled Dangerous Marine Animals. She said, "What do you expect? To run into a blue-ringed octopus in the middle of a rain-puddle? Ha, ha, bloody wanker ..."
     (She laughed, but you could never be too prepared for the blue-ringed octopi, I learned. Listen to this passage from Dangerous Marine Animals: "A diver caught a small blue-ringed octopus, which was reported to be 8 inches across. The diver let the octopus crawl over his arm and shoulder and finally to the back of this neck, where the animal stayed for a few moments. When the octopus was on his neck, it bit him and caused a small trickle of blood. A few minutes after the bite, the victim began to feel ill, and he died about two hours later." They're sneaky devils. I also learned from Dangerous Marine Animals - thank god I brought that book along! - that, "If it is necessary to kill a blue-ringed octopus, stab it between the eyes." Because, as that last story served proof, you should never grant your trust to a vile blue-ringed octopus, ESPECIALLY at Girraween ... 100 kilometers from shore. Who's laughing now, Vanessa!? Ha, HA! ha, ha, ha.)
     After lunch, Tony let us try something new and go down the big mountain forwards. Jeremy and I tried it out first and simultaneously. Now, I hadn't mastered abseiling any better than I'd understood "sighting" from the day before. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just started swinging around like a ragdoll. Jeremy was coming up alongside me, while I spun around like an out-of-control car. People started yelling up all kinds of useless advice. "Lean forward!" some said. "Lean backwards!" said others. I also heard "Go slower!" from Matt, but "Go heaps faster!" from Tamara. But, I couldn't keep from doing a horizontal tango on the rock wall, while Jeremy sped down the rope like he was riding a horse. Just as he drew an even height with me, my balance went berserk, my legs wobbled, and I swung out to his rope. The only advice I was given here, as Jeremy and I braced ourselves for a collision 80 feet in the air, was from someone below: "Don't fall on me!" We all gasped, but, luckily, with one firm tug to my intestines, the rope stopped me from hitting Jeremy. He continued down with ease. I'd explain the rest of my descent as a horizontal, very slow, very jerky roller-coaster ride, and if my stomach wasn't clinging to the only food it'd seen in 24 hours, I would've puked all over my "spotter" and everyone below.
     Before a couscous dinner which I abstained from, we explored the boulders and hidden rooms of some nearby caves. I searched these caves a little later, by flashlight, for snakes to study, but I couldn't find any. Also, I was able to confidently report back to my group that the surrounding area was thankfully octopus-less. Whew! This news didn't do much to settle Jeremy, though. He spent all night fortifying himself against possible angles of snake attack, and he worried at every sound that a slimy reptile might've been trying to cozy up in his sleeping bag.
     When we woke, I watched the others eat their breakfast in disgusted horror. I managed to convince Jeremy to see the Oats my way, which, as you can imagine, wasn't too hard. I announced to Kristi, Matt, and the others, "If I was to the point of death, and all I needed to survive for the next two minutes, when a large pizza would be delivered, was to eat a single Oat, I would choose death over that Oat." Jeremy said, "I'd rather gnaw off my own arm than eat this crap!"
     After breakfast, with instructions from Tony, our group and the Dutch group set off on bushwalks. Matt noted that my pack looked light, so he fastened on the tent he was meant to carry. "There," he said. "Let's go."
     And, with large backpacks strapped on, we were on our way through the forest paths. This was the day on which Matt earned the nickname, "The Nazi Bushwalker." I'll never forget how he looked in that khaki fisherman's hat and glasses, barking orders as if he'd held a whip in one hand. Matt wanted nothing to do with breaks, enjoyment, and leisure but only speed, sweat, and toil. "We gotta stay ahead of the Dutch," he'd say, his water-bottle falling from his backpack every five minutes. "We can't let them catch us." And he meant it, too. He wouldn't slow down for anything, even Tamara and Jeremy putting on their shoes after a puddle, and I doubt he held any mercy for my weak state of hunger.
     Had we taken our time, we would've experienced what appeared to be a very contemplative environment. Off-path, patches of long, sharp grass scattered around the dirt floor. There were the occasional old logs and dark lakes, and every scene seemed almost to have been framed by the sparse trees' hanging leaves, preserving it with a constant tranquility. Once, a family of five athletic-looking kangaroos hopped across the path. Their gentle step was hushed with a rogue's touch. There was nothing here not relaxing and peaceful, except for us.
     After ten miles of walking interrupted by a mere ten minutes of resting, the hikers finally revolted and demanded a lunch break. We were all exhausted, and I finished my peanut butter-and-jelly supply for the remaining 24 hours. Tamara tried convincing us to sample some of her VegaMite, which nearly made Oats sound bearable.
     Kristi's hunger overcame her, and she started eating peanut butter straight from the jar, dipping her knife in and licking it and dipping it in again. This caught Matt's eye. "That's disgusting!" Jeremy said to her, "Why don't you just spit in our mouths!?"
     Kristi tried to defend herself, but the Nazi Bushwalker had already stopped caring. "Let's go, guys. We're not making good time!" And we were off at break-neck speed, well on our way to getting (surprise) lost. (Believe it or not, I had nothing to do with this. I'd long ago washed my hands of any administrative decision-making or any activity that might've taught me anything. My stance was clear from the start; I'd come to wrestle any animals we might come across, such as a feral pig or echidna. I was the toddler of the group.)
     We were supposedly nearing one of our map's larger landmarks, which would've helped us decide what our next turn should be. "Hey, there's West Bald Rock," said Jeremy.
     "No," said Kristi. "That's not it, I don't think, Jeremy. It's up ahead somewhere."
     "Faster, faster," said Matt. "The Dutch are gaining!" We walked and walked. Luckily, Matt had made a revolutionary discovery involving his backpack and water-bottle, so that I only had to pick it up every ten minutes now. A briefer-than-expected period of time passed, and we suddenly found ourselves at Old Stone Cottage, which marked the end of the walk.
     A wrong turn had been made somewhere. The others tried to sort the mess out, while I searched the Old Stone Cottage for snakes and lizards. Jeremy said, "Here's what I think happened. When we passed that rock and I said, 'There's West Bald Rock,' then Kristi said, 'Shut up, F*#@face, that's not the stupid rock,' I think that was it." We burst into laughter, he'd exaggerated her words so much.
     The Nazi Bushwalker, khaki hat and imaginary whip in place, made clear his original intentions to finish the two-day trip in one day. He beamed with pride, but we were in shock.
     Jeremy and I discussed the value of our walk. "We just walked twenty kilometres non-stop and we didn't even look at the scenery and enjoy the walk," said Jeremy.
     I laughed. "Yeah, all we've seen the whole way is the back of the person's legs in front of us. Not to mention, we carried fifty pounds of crap the entire way that we didn't use for anything."
     Jeremy revealed how the tent I'd been carrying was originally supposed to have been carried by Matt. That nearly put me over the edge.
     We came to the soft, fluffy field where our bus would meet us the following afternoon, and we unloaded our bags. I was the only camper in all of Outdoor Ed. who hadn't brought a sleeping mat with him on the trip. After two nights of sleeping flat on hard rock, my eyes pulsed with joy at being able to rest in this grassy meadow. I'd just picked out a slumbery patch of feather-like grass to sink into for the next 12 hours, when Matt interrupted my wistful dreaming.
     "Chop, chop," he said. "We've still got another three miles of hiking if we want to make it back to Big Bald Rock tonight. Won't Tony be surprised to see us!" He disappeared down the trail. The unnecessary trail! Why were we still walking? What an ass.
     I caught up to Matt, having finally lost it. "That's it, Matt!" I entered a tirade. "First, you buy a bunch of crappy food you know I don't like just so you can have more and nearly starve me. Then, you yell at me like a nazi and make my walk a terrible distance 'til my feet hurt, when all I want is just a five-minute break! And, you kept dropping your water-bottle and making me pick it up, thus doubling my walking distance. Now, you're making me walk an extra three miles to get to a slanty, hard rock for a bed when there was a soft, pillowy field to begin with! Not to mention, every time I turn around, you sneak something else of the group's you were supposed to carry onto my backpack.
     "Well, I've had it! I'm sick of carrying your tent and your stove that cooks only my couscous, which I'm also carrying, and you're never gonna see any of it again! Tonight, I'm sleeping in my three-person tent all by myself!"
     We kept walking, all taking in the evidence I'd presented of a Matt conspiracy towards me. We ran into Vanessa on the trail, and I begged her to take me to Pizza Hut in her car. I think I'd nearly convinced her, but the Bushwalking Nazi made our group trudge on when we exceeded his five-minute-or-less breaks policy.
     When we set up camp, as it turned out, my threats to Matt didn't come to fruition. In fact, I ended up being the only person NOT to sleep in one of the tents, because Vanessa slept with our group that night - comfortably in MY tent spot. Man, I get no respect!
     Before bed, Matt joked to Tamara, "So, do you want to make out in the moonlight?" It seemed that Matt had thought of everything for this camping trip, but she said no. Matt said, "What? No moonlight?"
     I laughed. At least one of the Nazi Bushwalker's evil plans wouldn't be accomplished.
     Vanessa said good-night to me. "Good night, you bloody wanker. Enjoy the rain!" And then it rained, meaning I had to roll around on the tough rock, with no mat under me, searching for shelter. I was able to find a small tree with tiny branches for partial shelter, but much rain found its way to my face anyways.
     The following day, we finally saw the Dutch. They said they'd kept walking and walking, hoping to meet up with our group so we could camp out together at night. No luck there; the Nazi Bushwalker made sure of that.
     Our group had its picture taken, and we all wrapped our hands around one another's throats to try to capture the feeling of teamwork we'd experienced all week. Ofcourse, we also had smiles on our faces, because, if you ignored the crappy food, the power-walking, the insults and arguing, the getting lost, the pains of hunger, the heavy backpacks, the hard bedding, the Crocodile Hunter-bashing, and the funk we'd all developed from not showering in days, it was a pretty good time. Better than most American college classes, though that wasn't saying much.
     After arriving in Lismore, we all hurried to Pizza Hut. It was the moment I'd been waiting for all trip long. We ordered all-you-can-eat buffets, and I, known for my big eating, bragged that I could've eaten a horse (or, as the saying goes in Australian: "Mate, I need me tuckah heaps! 'Ah reckon I could eat a whole bloody 'roo fer a feed!"). I ate and ate and ... suddenly and very soon, I filled up!? It seemed the four days of not eating had shrunk my stomach!
     I worried permanent damage had been inflicted upon my favorite muscle, my stomach, but, above all, I was embarrassed. I got housed in the eating contest, taking no better than fourth place. Talya and Brandy both outate me easily, taking in ten or so pieces of pizza and dessert. But, the crown went to George, a.k.a. King George, The New Champine, Dr. All-You-Can-Eat, Mr. Pizza Hut, Power Pizza-Tower Devourer, The Man With the Golden Stomach, etc., who took in fourteen pieces of pizza and three plates of pasta. What an achievement!
     For a fitting end to the weekend, I got very ill from having aten too much. I even required the guys I was with to catch a cab with me to the end of the block, where we were able to ride the shuttle-bus to campus. As I went to bed that night on Kristi's floor, clutching my belly, it was one of the worst feelings I've ever felt.
     But, with spring break nearly upon us, at least I had a trip coming up. It couldn't have come at a better time, either; I'd been doing schoolwork the past four days straight! You know what they say: "All work and no play ... "
     Spring break, here we come!

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