A Standard Journey - 5 horses, 2 people, and 1 tent

By Jackie Parry

Biography & memoir, Action & adventure, Sports, Travel, General non-fiction

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5 mins

We Won't Even Have a Sink

We Won’t Even Have A Sink!

Galloping down the mountain to find a gun to shoot one of our horses, I realised that I had bitten off more than I could chew.
My borrowed horse sensed my fear as we plunged down the trail. My mind focused on the gun, a necessity to terminate excruciating pain. There was a broken horse on the ridge. He had released a knowing groan as his fetlock snapped.
Plunge, jump, ford – I squeezed my aching legs around my brave mount. We both expelled urgent breaths from our flared nostrils. I had to find a gun!
Sweat and tears mingled, running clean streaks along my grubby face, my eyes stinging. My heart banged in my chest, while the horse’s heart thrummed beneath my calf muscles. Time slowed as if we hurtled through syrup.
I cursed Noel - it was his idea. Not to shoot the horse, but living with horses twenty-four seven while trekking along the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT). We had rescued five lost beasts that could have been destined for dog meat. Over many months of struggle, we had transformed the seven of us into a team.

There’s a thrill to exploring remote locations in Australia by horseback that you can’t reach by car. The added challenge of carrying all you need, plus the inherent joy of riding, all culminated into a new adventure.
We’d planned to spend at least two years working in NSW after our previous escapades sailing around the world in a ten-metre boat. After selling that boat and a two year stint of earning money, we had purchased another boat in San Francisco and spent two years traversing the southern Pacific Ocean and sailing back to Australia, ultimately sailing around the world one and a half times.
While sailing, and particularly when bouncing around in lumpy seas, we’d often dreamed about a land-based journey encompassing the same freedom sailing offers. Ideas of riding horses along trails that were void of people and cars floated into our thoughts and discussions, but we didn’t think it was possible. Once we learned about the trail, though, we saw the possibilities.
Noel and I are kindred spirits. We crave freedom, movement, and the adrenaline rush of a challenge. Away from people, houses, offices, roads, and cars, I find an inner sense of peace and contentment: my headspace changes; I can breathe. Not from lack of pollution but from being without the constraints and restrictions of life.
It started young for me, my desire to be carefree. At fourteen I’d argued with my dad and yelled, ‘I just want to be free!’ I was mortified when he told me no one is ever free. But I’ve learned that I can get close, very close. It’s taken me a long time, but now I understand who I am.

It was February 2013, and our inner travel-devil told us it was time to sell everything – again – and become vagrants – again. We’d learned that travel and land-based responsibilities don’t mix – the freedom is marred.
So, we had learned about the trail. We’d found the way to bring a dream to life. We made up our minds; we became blinkered.

The Bicentennial National Trail is Australia’s long distance, multi-use recreational trekking route, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown in tropical far north Queensland to Healesville in Victoria. The trail follows the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and the Eastern Escarpment.
We sold everything and put our small cottage in NSW on the market. We reverted back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of our first years of marriage, and lived with the bare minimum.
The mindset of selling up was easy; physically it was hard work, but mentally it wasn’t a big deal. We’d done it before and had learned that inanimate objects don’t give you a better life, buy you more time, or make you happy. Now is important, not things; each minute, every moment, connections, the sky, emotions, laughter.
Our good friends, Clive and Andrea, own a spare cottage (as you do on six-hundred glorious acres in Kangaroo Valley, NSW). We planned to rent the small home and keep our horses there too. We just needed the horses! The decision to take on horses wasn’t hard by any means; they were my first love. The connection I feel with these creatures is overpowering. I am not socially inept, but I am incredibly sensitive, and I do analyse what people may or may not think of me on a regular basis – horses don’t judge me by what I say. They don’t worry if I make a bad joke, or if I fumble while relaying a story. They won’t roll their eyes when I can’t recall which president or king was reigning in whatever year. I can relate to horses all the time.
We’d been back on land for a year after sailing, softening physically and mentally. Spongy feet, protected by shoes day-in, day-out, would need toughening. The cushions that caressed our buttocks and the car that provided instant transport would be replaced by firm saddles.
When we revealed our plans to Noel’s daughter, Mel, and his brother, Colin, they both looked at us a bit strangely, and Col asked, ‘Have you sat on a horse recently?’
Noel pondered for a while. ‘Erm, the last time was forty years ago, but I did lead one by the head collar the other day.’ We all went a bit quiet.
Colin weaved his fingers together and turned to me. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘at least you have lots of experience with horses.’ We all felt a bit better, until I calculated that my last foray with the horsey world was over twenty years ago!
With that revelation, we all broke into nervous laughter. We sipped our tea and avoided eye contact, all picturing real and imagined horrors.
‘There’ll be some giggles along the way,’ I said to Colin.
‘Keep the camera on Noel,’ he advised. Little did I know, it would be me the camera should be turned to.
While the decision to take on this challenge may seem like a whim, I can say that it definitely was – in one way. It’s something we’d thought about, and we’d found a way to do it. That’s just like Noel and me – it’s there, so why not do it? But now, I can’t help wondering if the decision was made seventeen years ago. I’d met Noel then, and at that time my life felt like it had skidded to an abrupt halt and then flown off in another direction while I hung on to the tails! Back then, in the UK, I’d recently lost the first man I was going to marry. Leukaemia had claimed him. My heart was in a million pieces, and I had run away to Australia and found Noel; he helped me put myself back together and take my life back under control. So, perhaps the culmination of losing someone, then meeting Noel so quickly, losing my way, then finding my way, maybe that was the start of the journey. The recipe of two ordinary people coming together with remarkable imaginations and wills: two people joining with a smattering of malcontent, and a desire to find contentment and wring out every experience from each moment. To define these emotions now requires more effort than the actual decision to go at the time. Neither of us went through the mental agony of ‘the why’ – we knew it was possible, we liked the idea, so quite simply we did it.
Or was it because travel had become a habit? Running away from a painful past set me on the travelling road, and I hadn’t stopped for seventeen years; it wasn’t just travel anymore; it was a way of life, freedom, space, headspace...
The one thing I do know is that to be constantly challenged is a craving that is deeply woven into the fabric of my being. Not just great undertakings such as trekking with five horses, but day-to-day too – anything from renovating to writing to new languages. If it isn’t tough, I become bored; if life is wishy-washy, I’ll actively seek something to test my resolve and push my limits. I don’t have a desire to prove to others, just myself; I must quench that thirst for achievement. Doing extraordinary things creates bonds between you and those who are with you, and that creates addictive emotions – for me, it will happen time and again.

A few weeks later as the vivid and erratic thoughts of what we were planning plagued my mind, a few home truths struck me.
‘We won’t even have a sink!’ I said, clutching the metal sides of our kitchen basin lovingly. But Noel wasn’t worried.
‘That’s okay, we’ll use a billabong!’ My bearded bush-husband raised his twinkling eyes to mine in challenge.
The daunting array of necessary equipment stretched the list to impossible lengths: tent, sleeping bags, buckets, panniers, saddles, ropes, halters, hats...
‘The horses come first,’ I said to Noel, as he straddled a chair while searching through tent catalogues; I still couldn’t help but glance at my sink and the hot water tap that I knew I’d miss.
‘What? Can’t we just put them on the stand and turn the ignition off, like a motorbike?’ he said, wearing his silly grin. ‘I was wondering how you’re going to manage pitching the tent in the rain alone.’ He rubbed his hands together as if he’d figured it all out.
‘What are you most concerned about?’ I asked.
‘My bottom!’ Noel’s derriere is wee, with no padding at all. Even with my well-protected bottom, I knew I would suffer.
‘We’ll have to work up to it, a little each day; before we know it, we’ll be fine – it’ll be like becoming familiar with moving around on the boat.’ Cajoling our hips, knees, and ankles into foreign positions would create another set of challenges too.
As our thoughts ebbed and flowed, we started to discuss toilet paper. How much do we use a week? Will we need more if one of us has an upset stomach?
‘We’ll need less if we eat less meat, which we will,’ Noel said. I wondered how many other couples discussed the amount of toilet paper they needed on a day-to-day basis.



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