Stuck in the middle with you

Don’t make rash decisions when travelling in the outback, is probably the lesson we take away from our adventure to Mutawintji National Park.

About 3 hours drive on a dirt road from Broken Hill, we went to visit Mutawintji park. Lost in the absolute nowhere, we had a great day bush-walking in the park’s gorges. After this hot day out, we settled at the one and only campsite in the area. A nice place except for the zillion of ants all over the ground, with no exaggeration, it was hard to stand still on the ground without having at least 20 ants crawling up our legs and giving us those little bites. Harmless but definitely not very nice… We had to eat sitting up on the table feet off the ground to be safe!

Anyway, we woke up to a cloudy weather after a few hours of sleep and ready to start our way back towards a more civilised place. Our gps announced that we should either take the same road back to Broken Hill and then hit the highway, or continue on the dust road to pass through a town called White Cliff, follow on probably more dust road and then jump on the highway from there. Our initial plan was to go back the same way we came since we knew what to expect, but when we arrived at the crossroad that’s when the bad decision-making started. Maybe it was the few hours of not so good sleep in the car, maybe it was the feeling of missing out on something new or maybe we were just feeling adventurous that morning, but very impulsively we made it right instead of left at the crossing and that’s when it went all wrong. Well, not for the 2 first hours at least…

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We kept on driving on the red dust road although it seemed more sandy than the day before. Also it seem like it might had rained during the night, but we completely ignore those signs… We kept on driving, music on, until we came across a puddle.

That’s when we made our second bad rash decision of the day: thinking our car was to low to make it through the water, we contoured the water driving on what seemed like dry cracked earth. A few meters in, we realised we had sunk into mud, Adrien gave a stronger hit on the gas pedal to make it through and back on the road, but it was already too late, the car did not get any further.

Adrien was the first to jump out to evaluate the situation. He turned back to me when his feet sunk 3cm deep into the red mud and shot me one of those looks that mean “it doesn’t look good”…

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It took us about 40 minutes to understand that we were in quite a situation. The first 20 minutes, we collected a few branches here and there, tried to get rid of the mud around the tyres and laid out the rest of them underneath to get a better grip when starting the engine. But our efforts were unproductive and the 20 minutes that followed, we stopped laughing at the situation and started to assess what was happening: we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we had not crossed a single car the whole morning, of course there was no reception on our phone, the closest civilisation we knew of was the few people we had seen at the campsite which was now about 80km behind us, and the town of White Cliff which was probably 70km in the other direction, and the car was good and well stuck! The only positive though at that stage was that we had enough water and food to survive a few days!

About an hour into our situation, we were still pretty positive that a car would eventually drive by and help us out. But stilll, hands and feet in the mud, we continued to dig the back tyres out. About 2 hours into the job and still no car, it started to rain while we were collecting everything we could from the bush, stones and branches, to lay them out below the tyres and give a few go driving away.

We were trying to remain calm, it was only 1pm after all, the chances for a car to come were still good. But a few thoughts were trying to get us into panic stage:

  1. We are in the middle of nowhere with no-one around, walking into the bush collecting stones. What if one of us got bitten by one of those deadly snakes or a spider?

  2. What if it keeps raining an water starts to rise?

  3. Worse, what if it starts raining heavily and the park closes the road (which happens quite often here), we would be stuck here with no-one driving by maybe for a few days…

  4. If the car stays stuck and gets damaged, that could be the end of the trip for us considering the high caution we left to the rental agency…

There was not much we could do about our situation but try to remain calm, and even if the chances we’d get the car out by ourselves were very low, we continued on thinking of a plan to make it work. I think mostly we were trying to keep our hope at a certain level.

If you’ve been in the Australian outback, you probably are aware how full of flies the place is. So try a hot stormy and rainy day, around a muddy place like the one we were in, with mud all over us… we were both walking around with our own cloud of 60 flies around us (not lying, we actually counted them!). But so we continued collecting stones with the plan to build a little stone path under the car hoping it would do the trick.

It is only after 4 hours that a car finally drove by. I cannot even explain the feeling of relief and joy we felt! It was a woman in a 4wd. She was pretty impressed with the stone road we built so far and felt a bit sorry for us at the same time. Unfortunately for us, she didn’t have a rope to pull us out or any radio or phone to get help. Fortunately for us, at least someone knew we were stuck here, and that felt really good!

Since the lady obviously couldn’t do much to help us she said “you guys will just have to trust me that I will go get some help for you. Either I will come back with a rope, or I will send someone. Just stay where you are!”. Yeah, like we were likely to go anywhere!

She left driving through the puddle, easily! But our mood was up again! Someone knew we were stuck here, and someone would come soon to help us! We even gave up on building our little paved road and started to watch the kangaroos jump by… But after one hour waiting, our positive mood started to come down again. We started to realise that it had been a while since she‘d left, and that maybe she didn’t find anyone and had to drive all the way back to Broken Hill (3 hours away) to find someone, which only meant that help might not get to us until the next morning…

The rain intensified and so did panic.

It was hard not doing anything, so we got back to our work and tried a few more times to get the car out but our efforts were helpless…

It was only 2 hours after the first car passed that a second one came. Our luck had finally turned. 2 rangers got out of the car, not really preoccupied for us. They got out of the car and cracked a beer open while laughing at our situation (or at us for that matter). But lucky enough, they had a rope and it took just a few minutes to pull us out of our mud whole!

The question then was: should we continue on an unknown route, or drive back the other way we knew, knowing that it was getting dark which meant kangaroos were out and we would have to drive very slowly, but also think about a place to spend the night, with showers preferably!… The rangers insured us that we could drive through the water. We were dubious since they kept laughing at us, but they wait for us to go through just in case.

So we did and opted for driving back to Broken Hill. We drove through the puddle with absolutely no problem and screamed a good “Yeeeeeeeees” of relief! We were back on the road again! The 2 rangers gave us a thumb up and drove by us at all speed.

We asked them before if someone had sent them for us, but they had no idea we were here and were just driving by randomly.

We took our time to drive back to the city, which we knew had free public shower. We had a beautiful ride back to civilisation with a stormy sunset in the outback, and plenty of kangaroos jumping around us.

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It was a good thing we were out of our whole, because first of all we didn’t cross any car on the way back to the city and secondly when we finally reached the paved road, the storm broke and rain absolutely poured down. The rain was coming down so strong we couldn’t see anything any more. We reached Broken Hill in the rain and some streets were flooded, it was crazy! We made it to the public showers and it felt so good getting rid of all that mud! We didn’t even think twice about it and headed strait to McDonald for late dinner. After the day we had,being stuck for 6hours, we deserved it!!

We spent the night in the car, on a safe paved rest area. The next day, all traces of our adventure in the outback had been washed out by the rain. The car was almost clean as new!

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