An Outback Adventure
Why did I, a woman petrified of spiders and snakes, decide to travel into the Australian Outback with 300 strangers in an old banger of a car and a close friend?
It all started 12 years ago, I received a call that pulled the rug from beneath my feet. My husband told me his father had passed away, only 9 months after being diagnosed with cancer. Colin Fletcher, my father-in-law meant the world to me. He had welcomed me unconditionally as part of the Fletcher family. A year or so after his passing, I started to fundraise for Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK. I organised an art auction, hiked the 3 highest mountains in the UK and other things. Fundraising was the only help I could give, and it pushed me to achieve things I never thought possible.
When my husband, Ben and I moved to Australia 6 years ago, I began looking for an interesting and challenging way to raise money to support cancer research. After a few Google searches, I happened upon Shitbox Rally. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before and looked completely amazing. But totally out of my comfort zone. A dream of mine is to complete the Paris Dakar Rally and ‘Cannonball Run’ is one of the all-time greatest movies - so maybe, just maybe....
But, come on. People die in the Outback. Not only is it one of the harshest climates in the world, pretty much every creature wants to kill you, but you are a day from any civilisation! I can’t do that! I can’t even change a car tyre, let alone get a Shitbox up and running to drive it. I shelved the idea as ‘way too mad.’
On 18th January 2018, I received a call that once again took the rug from beneath my feet. My close friend, Nikki rang to tell me her best friend, and partner, Mike had passed away from cancer. I was floored, Mike was 10 years younger than me, had a young son and was the most adventurous, spirited person I think I’ve met. He was Nikki’s soul mate, and now he was gone.
To say Nikki was devastated is an understatement. The funeral was an occasion I never thought would happen in a country I’d lived for less than 5 years. It was a day full of love and stories, mainly involving cars, that made us laugh as much as cry. A little voice in my head said ‘Why not do the rally? Do it in memory of Mike.’ I left the thought there and focused on supporting Nikki. But this little voice kept saying to me, ‘Do it for Mike, he’d have loved it!’
One day we got to talking about Shitbox rally. It turned out that it had been on Mike’s bucket list. But I still chalked it up as ‘never going to happen’, mainly because it was always booked up. Then one day, I found their baby brother event – Mystery Box Rally. A shorter 5 days in the outback, you just didn’t know where you’d be going. And the registration was still open.
So I called Nikki one day, and just asked. The conversation went a bit like this:
‘So, you know this Shitbox Rally? Well, there’s another one. 5 days, no idea where you’ll go or who you’ll be with. You'll know where the start and finish is, and that you’ll raise at least $3,500 for the Cancer Council. What do you think?’
She thought about it, then replied ‘That would be amazing, and the perfect way to honour Mike. He’d always wanted to do this. Let’s do it!’
So, in October 2018, we joined 300 strangers on a journey into the unknown. We’d bought a 25-year old car that we’d never driven before, and set forth on the adventure of a lifetime. We had spent an anxious last 2 weeks fundraising, nearly missing the required $3,500 to participate. Our little Subaru Liberty (we named her Libby) was loaded up with jerry cans, spare tyres, camping equipment, first aid kit, some food and water. As I fell asleep the night before we left, my husband rolled over and asked 'how will I know where you are?'
I replied, 'I don't know, there's a Facebook page I suppose....'
The next few days turned out to be the most amazing adventure of our lives! We both achieved things we never thought possible. We drove on roads formed from loose rocks, with so much dust and rattling that we could barely hear ourselves talk or see! We were beyond the reach of phone signals, spent hours and hours driving on bone shaking roads. It was fantastic.
We slept next to our cars on the hard, red dirt of the Australian desert with skies so dark the stars shone like a Christmas tree. We travelled to towns so remote that it takes 24 hours just to get to a hospital, so you'd better look after yourself! We visited historic sites of Australian explorers. We encountered road trains, goats and kangaroo's - thankfully no snakes or spiders. We stopped at a small village because a young schoolboy had written to the rally director and asked, because nothing ever happens in his town. We made a difference to some of the remotest communities hit by the harshness of drought. Every penny we spent on food, fuel, drinks, souvenirs and campsites went to help a family.
We met some truly fantastic people, and made friendships that will last a lifetime. So much so, that on the journey back to civilisation we started planning for the 2019 rally. And we did that one too!
The moral of this story is don't discount an idea you thought was mad, ridiculous or out of your reach. Doing something selfless to help others is quite often the motivation you need to achieve beyond your wildest dreams.