I woke up at 5:30 am again like instructed. I tried to put my contacts in, but the left one was burning. I took it out and tried to wash it several times in solution, but it didn’t work. After ten minutes, my eye was watering so much that I gave up. I think my soap leaked on the contact bottle, which then got on my hand when I grabbed the bottle. I put my glasses on and packed my bags.
I was always running behind in the morning. I don’t know why. I tried to scarf down breakfast, and then I noticed that most seats in the bus already had a bag on them indicating they were taken. I peeked my head in the bus, and only two seats were available.
The day before, I sat in the first row across from the stairs. There was a metal wall in front of the seat, so I couldn’t stretch my legs out at all. My legs are long, so I had to put my feet back towards my seat the entire drive, which caused my knees to hurt. Two days later, Armelle told me that she sat in that seat and hated that she couldn’t move her feet either. She is much shorter than me and said she could only imagine how painful it was for me.
I thought all the seats were similar to that one and dreaded the thought of having to sit like that for a long driving day. I didn’t see a bag in the front seat, but Damien told us to keep moving around seats. Several people were near the truck, and I was standing outside. I said, “Does anybody want to sit in the front? Because if not, I will.”
Damien very rudely said we all needed to move around. I explained that my knees hurt very badly the day before because of the seat I was in and all the seats were taken already. He said, “Ask someone to move. They’re all nice people. Someone will move for you.” I was upset and went back into the truck because I knew nobody wanted to move seats. They must have been putting their bags on their seats at 5:30 am.
I saw one open seat that was a couple of rows back and on the aisle. I looked at the foot section, and because there wasn’t a wall, I would be able to stretch my legs a little. I sat down, and it felt comfortable, so I put my bag down.
We all finished packing up, and as I was getting back into the truck to go to my seat, Damien said, “If no one else is sitting there, then fine.” I angrily said, “That’s literally what I said before you yelled at me. I asked if anybody was sitting there. That’s how I’ve gotten my seat all three days. Everybody picks, and I get whatever is left. I haven’t picked a seat once.”
I got into the van and realized we were arguing like a couple. I saw a few people watching and assumed they thought the same thing, but nobody said anything.
The drive was extremely bumpy on the corrugated dirt road. The Gibb River Road is notorious for being awful and requires a 4-wheel drive. I asked why it wasn’t paved, and Damien told me because the state doesn’t invest the money to pave it. It also floods when they get rain in the wet season, which would ruin the pavement. We drove through a few rivers in the middle of the road, and thankfully our massive vehicle made it through.
I sat next to Grace in the truck. She was 29, had medium-length black hair, wore glasses, and was petite. She was from Taiwan but lived with her boyfriend in Perth for most of the year. He was Brazilian and had been living in Australia for several years. They had been together for six years, but Grace said sometimes she needs her own space, so she was traveling solo. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married. One major reason was that they agreed not to have kids when they first got together, but now Grace thinks she might want them. She was torn because she didn’t want to end the relationship and start all over.
Grace talked a lot and told me she wanted to visit the U.S., but she was afraid her English wasn’t good enough. I assured her that her English was great. She was worried because she had difficulty understanding people when she came to Australia because of all of their jargon. I laughed and told her I was constantly asking what things meant. She felt better and said there are many American English teachers in Taiwan, and she worked in an office at a school, so the English she learned was American.
After a couple of hours, we stopped at a cattle station to take a break. The place was so beautiful! In the dry, dusty desert, suddenly green grass, green trees, and luscious flowers emerged. We ordered scones and coffee and sat outside at a section of tables they created for our group.
The station owner sat next to me and told the group he would explain what it’s like out there. He appeared to be in his early 30s. He and his wife took over the station four years ago. The land is 60 kilometers by 60 kilometers. They lease it from the government and legally have to have cows, but they’re all wild. There are no fences, so they have no idea how many cows are actually around. Some will wander onto the neighbors’ property and become theirs. They’ll also get cows from their neighbors.
To herd the cows together to sell for slaughter, they have to use a helicopter to find them. Once found, they’ll set up temporary fencing. The guy told us that in the last seven years, they only herded the cows once. The prices for cattle were so low the other years that it wasn’t worth the time and effort to get them together.
To make money, the owners bake scones and sell them to tour groups and tourists passing by. When they took it over four years ago, the place was selling 7,000 scones a year. Last year, they sold 17,000 scones. They were delicious and were served with jam and cream. The property also had some camping areas, an outdoor shower, and a small place for the owners to live. They pump in water from a nearby river, which is why it was so verdant.
This area is extremely remote. The owner told us about when his wife was pregnant the year prior. They planned to go to the hospital in Darwin a few weeks before her due date in case she went into labor early. They had to drive a couple of hours to a small landing pad for small planes and helicopters. When they got to one of the rivers, it was too flooded, and their vehicle wouldn’t make it. Instead, they took a small boat across the river, and then she had to walk a couple of kilometers to the airplane. All of that just to get to a city to give birth.
We continued our drive, and it was getting more and more beautiful. Finally, the area wasn’t just flat with the occasional gorge. We drove up some mountains and stopped at the top of one for lunch. The views were incredible, but it was scorching outside. We set up tables near the truck on the side that had shade.
Some of us briefly got cell service and were on our phones. Our service was slow, so we walked around on rocks and high points to get a signal (sort of like the “can you hear me now” guy). I quickly searched Google for “how to fix error 10 on a pioneer stereo” because of the argument that I got into with Damien a couple of days earlier. The manual showed that it’s a connection error, and you have to turn the engine off and then on again. Great. The engine had been turned off and on many times. I quietly walked over to Damien and told him that’s what the manual said.
Damien was getting noticeably nicer. When he wasn’t around, people started to comment on it. He was playing more upbeat, happy music. Damien occasionally talked on the microphone, giving information as a tour guide should. His attitude was much better than it had been.
We continued driving, and the road was still terribly bumpy. Sometimes I’d fall asleep and wake up being flung around from a bump in the road. When I was awake, I occupied my mind. I thought about how I need to protect my heart. It had been four days with the group. I was starting to like Damien, but I just knew he’d hurt me. We’d never work in a relationship anyway, but I enjoyed talking to him. I enjoyed the attention he showed me. I was getting more and more attracted to him as his facial hair slowly grew in, giving him some scruff.
I know I have a tendency to be too open and give my heart to the wrong people. I told my heart we were going to change this. In my head, I wrote a letter to my heart. It was something like this:
- To my heart: I’m going to put a shield around you. You are no longer going to be careless. You have been shattered too many times for too long. There are too many scars. If you continue with this path, there will be nothing left. I don’t want you to become black, cold, hardened. But I need you to be more careful before you’re hurt again. You will distance yourself from people like Damien, who you know will only cause pain in the end. Listen to your brain – it knows best.
I listened to my music and imagined a wall going around my heart – a wall of protection. The friendlier Damien became, and the more he joked with me, the more I could tell I was enjoying his company. But my brain knew better. My mind knew he was the “bad boy.” My heart is too sensitive for him.
We arrived at Emma Gorge, and it was beautiful! It was full of green trees, ferns, and shade. We hiked into the middle of it, climbing on rocks and over the river. The trail got progressively harder as we got deeper into the gorge. We even saw a snake!
We arrived at the pool at the end of the gorge, and I got in the water. It was so cold again, but there was a small section to the side that was sort of like a hot tub. I circled the pool, and drops of water fell on the sides of one of the walls. It felt like being inside of a fairytale. I laid back and floated for a while, just soaking everything in.
The walls above were bright red, with tree roots forcing their way inside. The water drops fell from above against the bright blue sky. The nice thing about always being in the back of the pack is that everyone was out of the pool drying off, or hiking back so I could enjoy the pool with minimal people.
On the hike back, I talked with Brock’s dad, James. He worked in quality control for a beef company. I asked him about the cattle station we went to, and he explained that they don’t buy wild cows because the beef is too tough. The problem is that they’re not fed as well and don’t have an easy life like fenced-in cows. He said, “The lazy well-cared-for cows taste better.” His company ships the frozen beef to the U.S. by boat, which takes a month. It can last for 140 days. He said employees get $1,000 a year of free meat.
Toward the end of the hike, I talked with Oliver from The Netherlands. We talked about University. He was 20 and the year before, he started a program in science and biology, but found it boring. He stopped going and started working for six months. He planned to start school again when he returned in a month or so. He wanted to begin a program that helps farmers grow in the most environmentally friendly way.
We finished the hike, and there was a small shop and restaurant. I bought an ice cream bar and a soda, which tasted so good. Damien didn’t have many sweet treats for us, so this felt extra special.
We boarded the truck and headed to El Questro to camp for two nights. It was a short, 30-minute drive, and Damien talked on the microphone so we could all hear him. He said we would be at the next campsite for two nights and it would be pretty crowded because they have a bar and live music. Damien didn’t care for the musician and said he’s always there in peak season and plays the same songs. He was an ok musician, but Damien was just tired of hearing him. There was some sort of tension between them.
I started to wonder if the musician was Chris from Tinder. I matched with him my very first day in Australia. He “super liked” me and messaged me every day for a week. I had moved on to Ballarat the day after I arrived, so I was an hour and a half from him. He kept insisting he could drive to see me and take me on an adventure – it wasn’t a problem. After a week of messaging, I told him I was available in two days. He said he would come up with something to do that would be a fun adventure.
I told him that I was house sitting, and I couldn’t have anyone over to clarify. He said, “But who would know?” I replied, “The neighbors and I would know.” He wasn’t pleased about that but said he’d get back to me about what to do. We talked about the weather the next day and how cold it was. Then the morning we were supposed to hang out, I messaged him, and he ghosted me. I had my hair and makeup done with nowhere to go. He never unmatched with me; he simply stopped messaging.
I knew his full name because a quick google search found him. He’s a musician from the Kimberley region. He tours all around Australia and is almost always on the road somewhere. He had told me his timeline for the next few months and planned on being back in the Kimberley recording a new album and doing shows.
We were in the Kimberley, and it was four months later. I thought to myself, “No way – If he’s here, I’m going to call him out for ghosting me!” Ghosting behavior is exceptionally toxic. You can find lots of articles about it. It’s so toxic because you leave the other person wondering what the heck happened. You give them no closure whatsoever.
We arrived at the campsite, and it was crowded – full of other tour groups, families in campervans, and people in cabins. There was nothing else around for hours. As we unloaded our stuff, we could hear live music playing from the bar. I set up my tent, and the musician played a song – Kimberley Time. It was the one song I listened to when I looked him up back in April.
I couldn’t believe it. My adrenaline was pumping, making it difficult to set up my tent. Alex from the U.K. came over and helped me set up. I was frantic and told him, “Alex, I’m pretty sure the musician is a guy that I matched with on Tinder in Melbourne in April. We were supposed to hang out, and then he ghosted me. But didn’t unmatch with me. He just stopped responding.”
Alex was intrigued. He ran over to the bar and came back, exclaiming, “The poster board says his name is Chris Matthews!” I excitedly said, “Yup! That’s him!” Alex said, “He’s really attractive, at least on the poster.”
I was flustered. I realized I had better take a shower first, but I really wanted to confront Chris. The showers were close to the bar, and the top was open-air. I could hear him playing and talking to the audience during my entire shower. I went back to our campsite and tried to calm my nerves with some alcohol. Dinner was almost ready, so I needed to wait. I didn’t want to miss his set, though. Someone went and checked the board and said he’d be playing until 8:30 pm.
I stood anxiously at the side of the table where the food preppers were. Oliver asked me, “Are you hungry tonight?” I explained, “No, I’m just anxious. The musician is a guy who ghosted me a few months ago on Tinder, and I would like to confront him.” Oliver was shocked, “No way! What are the odds you’d run into him in the middle of nowhere in such a large country?” Damien was standing two feet from me, and Oliver said, “Damien did you hear that?! The musician…” Damien interrupted him, “Yes, I heard it.” Shortly after, Brock said, “That musician is great at the guitar.” Damien admitted that his guitar playing ability was better than his singing.
I quickly ate a delicious chicken burrito and had a couple of drinks. Damien brought out Tim-Tams for dessert, but I skipped them so that I could get to the bar. Chris would stop playing in 20 minutes. I had no makeup on, my hair was still wet from my shower, and I was in casual clothes. It is not how I would have chosen to meet a Tinder match. I started to walk away, and Suzanne said she’d come with me. As we walked to the bar, I told her what happened. She looked surprised and said, “But I thought you were Damien’s girlfriend?”
I wasn’t expecting to hear that. I told Suzanne, “Ha! He hates me.” She said, “But you guys argue like you’re a couple. No lie. I thought you guys were together.” I explained to her that I sort of liked him, but it was complicated, but nothing was going on.
The bar was outdoors and had a fire pit. Chris was on stage with another guy. We bought glasses of wine and sat at a tall table towards the back. I was so happy to have Suzanne with me. I told her she was my “bestie” for the trip. From that point on, that’s what we called each other.
Chris played two more songs, but one was just fancy guitar work. Linda, Brock, and his dad James joined us. Then more people from our group joined the table. They were all intrigued. Chris was done playing and said he’d be at the bar if anybody wants to meet him. I immediately walked up to him at the bar and said, “Are you the Chris that was in Melbourne in April?”
Chris paused, thought about it, and said, “Yes, I was in Melbourne in April. Hold on. Your face is familiar.” Chris stared up at the ceiling, thinking. I stood there with an attitude.
He said, “Your name is Christy.”
“You were in Ballarat.”
“You were housesitting.”
I was surprised he remembered all of that. I was trying to stay mad and wanted to go off on him, but then he started being nice and asking me how my travels had been. I told him that I bought a car, traveled around, but then it died in Broome. Then I ended up on a tour of the Kimberley. Chris asked me who my guide was. I told him Damien, but Chris wasn’t sure if he knew him and asked what he looked like. I said, “He’s tall, thin, has long hair.” Chris jumped in, “Oh, I think I know who you’re talking about. I don’t know him, but I think I’ve met him once.”
Chris continued to talk about his travels and the new album he just finished recording. I ordered two glasses of wine, one for me and one for Suzanne. Chris was also drinking red wine. After ten minutes, Suzanne showed up at the bar on the other counter, and I handed her the wine. Chris said, “I’m going to sit by the fire. Do you want to join me?” I said ok and sat on the fire pit with him.
We were sitting right next to the tall table that held about ten people from my group. We drank our wine and continued to talk while Chris smoked. He said, “Did you get to hear any of my songs?” I responded, “Yes, I heard you playing when I was setting up my tent, and when I was in the shower.” I told him that Brock said he played the guitar really well. Chris said, “I know. I’m a better guitar player than I am a singer.”
Chris said, “I’m happy you got to hear my music because tomorrow night, I won’t be playing.” He played every night in July, except for Mondays. Chris lived in Kununurra, which is about two hours away. He said he stays at the campground during the peak weeks instead of driving home, so he’d be there the following night too, just not playing music.
I tried to ask Chris why he ghosted me, but before I had the chance, he interrupted me and started talking about something else. Chris then had a surprised look on his face and said, “I’m surprised you recognized my face.” I said, “Yeah. I was like, ‘Hey, that’s the guy who ghosted me on Tinder,’” Chris looked embarrassed and interrupted me saying, “Actually, I deleted the app.” I let it slide and continued talking.
I knew he was lying. Since he hadn’t unmatched with me, I could see how many miles away he was from me. It would change from time to time, so I know he was still on the app. Chris finished his wine and said he needed to clean up his equipment and asked if I’d still be around. He pointed to the table and said, “Is this your group?” I said, “Yes.” He said he’d be around in a little bit.
I went back to the table with my group. They all stopped talking and said, “So …what happened?!” They told me that James tried to sit close to us and listen in, but couldn’t really hear anything. They tried to read our body language instead. I told them bits and pieces, but I was standing, and I was afraid that my voice would carry. Chris was only about 30 feet away, talking to some people at a table. People in my group were loudly asking me questions about him, and I said, “You guys. Shhh. I’ll tell you. Just be quiet.” But after a minute, I was paranoid that he could see and hear me, so I said I’d tell them later. They said, “But we’re dying to know!”
About ten minutes later, Chris sat at the end of a table near us. Suzanne told me, “You need to go to him. He’s not going to come to this table full of people.” I agreed and walked over and sat across from him. We didn’t get much time to talk because an older man sitting near Chris started talking to us. He asked me where I was from, and I said LA. Chris jumped in, “But aren’t you from somewhere else.” I said, “Yes, I grew up in Missouri.” I was confused. Chris remembered everything about me.
The random guy talked non stop about Hollywood and his experience when he visited decades ago. I motioned for Suzanne to come over. I was hoping she would distract the guy, but he just kept talking. After another 15 minutes, Chris finished his wine. The bar was going to close soon, and he asked where I was staying. I pointed towards our campsite. He said, “I know the one. I’ll come find you tomorrow night.” I said ok, and he left.
I stayed with some people that were still there from my group. We talked about what happened, now that Chris wasn’t there. Brock asked me if I liked his “chops” (sideburns). I said they were ok. Chris had brown hair that was sort of fluffy, was 37 years old, and was only around 5’9”. I felt tall standing next to him. He was fine-looking, but I wasn’t very attracted to him. He had a country-Australian accent, and his personality was just ok.
I wasn’t that interested in him, and I was almost sure that he wouldn’t come to find me the following night. Sure enough, he never came to my campsite. A week later, when I got cell service again, I sent him a message asking why he wouldn’t just be honest. Why bother going through the charade of saying he’d come find me? I told him in the future that he should just be upfront with people.
Almost two weeks later, he responded with, “Heeeeeellllllooooooo there Miss!! My late reply shows you how often I’m on here…… and man, that day got waaay messy, I think we cracked the first beer at 8am and by about 6ish I was pretty much done and dusted!! And I certainly did intend to come and find ya that night, but the grog got the upper hand unfortunately!! How are you and where are you now?!” I told him where I was and never heard back. He still hasn’t unmatched with me.
I was so happy that I got the chance to meet him in person – to know he really existed. I was glad he remembered who I was. I was happy that I called him out on ghosting me. I was happy that he had been uncomfortable and was confronted by someone he discarded. I wanted him to know that there are real people on the other end of that app. I went to bed feeling great. I felt like God gave me that opportunity.
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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider