Exactly one year ago, I planned an 8-day camping trip throughout the outback in Australia. I only made it one day before experiencing the unimaginable. People warned me that the outback was dangerous; I wish I had taken them more seriously.
As the end of June approached, excitement electrified the University of Queensland campus in Brisbane, Australia. Exams finished and semester-abroad students started packing up their things and saying their goodbyes. I, on the other hand, was still eagerly awaiting one more trip. My friend Adam and I planned an 8-day camping excursion throughout Australia’s Northern Territory. We planned to drive along the Red Centre Way, in the heart of the Australian Outback. A path to natural and aboriginal attractions, our itinerary included Alice Springs, Rainbow Valley, Uluru, King’s Canyon, Glen Helen and Ormiston Gorge. From Brisbane, we flew into Adelaide (Southern Australia), before taking another flight to Alice Springs. Once in Alice Springs, we rented a camper van.
The camper van
The night before our flight from Adelaide to Alice Springs, Adam and I met George. George was Australian and visiting Adelaide for a business trip. Originally from Perth, George preferred the beaches to the outback. When we told him about our trip, he immediately said, “Be very careful. The outback is a dangerous place and people die there all the time. Make sure you have enough food and water for at least a couple of days, and make sure to give your itinerary to people.” Adam and I thought his precautions were a little severe, but I took his advice into consideration.
Our first day, Adam and I bought enough food and water for at least a week. I started our drive along Stuart’s Highway. After 5 years of driving on the right side of the road, driving on the left took adjusting. I repeated over and over in my head “stay on the left side, stay on the left side!” Although I knew I was driving correctly, every time I’d see a car coming on the opposite side of the road, my racing heart screamed," you’re going the wrong way!" Eventually, the traffic, (when I say traffic, I mean 2 or 3 cars an hour) on Stuart’s highway disappeared.
Adam and I drove along, surrounded by a sea of red dirt. Vegetation was scarce, but the red hue was breathtaking. Our first stop was Rainbow Valley, named for the “rainbow” coloring of the mountain. It was about 20 km off of the main road (Stuart Highway), but we rented a 4WD van so we could take these side trips on the unpaved roads. The sun started to set, and we wanted to drive a little bit longer before calling it a night.
Adam took over driving and we started our trek back to Stuart Highway. The 20 km strip back was deserted, giving me a sense of tranquility and peace. Ten minutes into the drive, Adam picked up speed. We approached a curve and my heart kicked into action again, warning me this time, “slow down.” Before I could say anything, we tried to turn around the curve, but because of the boxy shape of the van, and the unstable terrain, we continued to go straight. Whipping the wheel to the right, Adam tried to keep us on course. Within milliseconds, my adrenaline sent warning signs to my brain. It was clear: we were going to tip. Seconds later, the van tipped onto my side, skidding across the ground before coming to a stop. The windows shattered and everything was thrown throughout the van. Seatbelts prevented any major injuries, and as I looked over at Adam, I realized his seatbelt was the only thing preventing him from crushing me. The next two minutes were a blur. I remember telling Adam to turn off the van, but I don’t remember how we got out of the van. I do remember ridiculously trying to tip the van back over. As I jumped up and down, frantically pulling the van downward with little success, a pain in my arm grabbed my attention. I looked down to lots of blood, shredded skin, glass and dirt. Immediately, I used my shirt to wrap my arm and realized we had no first aid kit.
I yelled to Adam that I needed to go to the hospital right away. It was getting dark and there was absolutely no one in sight. On the verge of hysteria, I screamed in a hopeless tone, “what are we going to do?!” Walking around aimlessly, we tried to construct a plan, but neither of us could think clearly. Miraculously, minutes later, a ranger, who only visited Rainbow Valley once a week, happened to drive by. Adam ran towards his car, waiving his hands, and yelling that we needed help. The ranger called a coworker on the radio, and instructed him to send a vehicle to pick me up and take me to the hospital. Two hours later, and another two-hour drive to the hospital, I arrived at the ER in Alice Springs. Told it was a 6 hour wait, I made my way to the night clinic. Luckily, the doctor said she could fix my arm. Ten shots of Novocain, 16 stitches and 10 hours after the peak of the accident, Adam and I found ourselves back in Alice Springs. Our trip was over. The van was destroyed, and all I could think about was how lucky we were to be alive.
Throughout the entire accident, I didn’t shed one tear; however, when I got to my hostel, I bawled. I didn’t understand how something that began so well, could end so badly. Today, I sit here with a healed scar but a terrible memory. We were so naive to think that nothing bad could happen. Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes horrible experiences like this to realize how important it is to prepare for the worst. It was a learning experience that I will always remember as I prepare for more trips abroad.