Bonding in the Outback

It was our last night camping in the Australian outback. I was really starting to enjoy the company of the other 19 people on the tour. Jokes were told, we laughed, we drank, and we sang! What more could you ask for?

Day 406

Once again, it was an early morning in the Kimberley Region. I had a hard time sleeping the night before, so I got up 15 minutes earlier than everyone else. I took the opportunity to put my bag in the front left seat that was by the stairs in the main cab. I finally realized everyone was putting their bags in the truck first thing in the morning or the night before. The seat would allow me to stretch my legs, and it would be close enough that I could try to convince Damien to play my music. 

The day prior, I had put together a playlist of songs that I thought he would think were ok and maybe even like. I carefully planned my approach because Damien is very particular. 

It was time to leave, and almost everyone was in the truck. Damien was in front of the vehicle filling up his water bottle at the campground water spout. I slowly approached, “Hear me out. Can I play some music that I set aside that I think you will like or will tolerate?”

Damien didn’t initially take the bait and said, “Oh no.” I tried to interject, but he continued, “If you do that, you’d have to give me access to your phone, so I can skip songs as I see fit.” I agreed, “Absolutely. I will give you access, and you can skip any songs that you want.” Damien replied, “Ok, fine.” I started to walk away when Damien slightly turned his head towards me and said, “Good negotiating.” I smiled, “Thanks.” 

Shortly after Damien got inside the truck, I leaned on the padding in the rectangular cutout between the cab’s front and the rest of the truck. I asked Damien for the cord because I couldn’t reach it. He handed it to me, and I plugged my phone in. Damien set my phone down near his lap so he could easily skip songs. 

The volume was low, making it difficult for me to hear which songs were playing. There were enough songs to last two and a half hours. Damien only skipped a couple of songs and was letting most play. He skipped the two songs that I knew were risks, but I included them anyway. Then after about 45 minutes, I thought I saw Damien put his headphones on. 

We stopped for a brief stretch, and as I got back into the truck, I asked Damien, “Did you put your headphones on?” He coldly said, “Yes.” I shook my head in frustration and sat down. Damien continued, “I don’t have to like your music.” I was cursing him inside my head. I spent time putting that playlist together, and I thought he would enjoy some of the songs. I was offended that he wouldn’t even listen. He could tell that I was visibly upset, and he didn’t put his headphones back on. He also didn’t skip any more songs. 

Once the playlist was finished, I leaned forward to collect my phone and realized three songs weren’t on there from my favorite band, BORNS. I told him that I just had three more songs from my favorite band and plugged my phone back in. Damien let me play the three songs, and then I unplugged my phone and let him play what he wanted. 

I was sitting next to Armelle from France. She was 50, had shoulder-length brown hair, and was physically fit. We talked about sports, and she asked me if I ever played basketball. I laughed, “People have asked me my whole life because of my height, but I don’t enjoy basketball and never played. I played volleyball, but just for fun.” 

Me and Armelle

Armelle told me how she did a lot of archery and was bummed because the place near her house was closing. They were bought out by some company that was going to tear it down. Armelle has played basketball and enjoyed sports. We stretched our legs on the padded railing in front of us and laughed at the difference in our leg length. 

It was time to stop for gas, and we all piled out of the truck to buy snacks and coffee. Damien recommended the station next door because it had better coffee. After seeing the minimal coffee and snacks supply, I walked next door and ordered a flat white coffee. I also bought a delicious apple turnover. I had them a couple of times in Australia, and they have apples and cream inside – super tasty! 

Everyone else had ordered and received their coffee while I was getting my pastry, so I was the last one inside waiting. Damien walked in and ordered a long black coffee. We stood a few feet from each other, and I leaned towards him, “Did you like any of my songs?” Damien turned his head towards me while giving a smile, “I didn’t hate a few of them.” I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. He said, “I only skipped a couple.”

An Alanis Morissette song called “Thank You” was playing on the speakers above. Damien said, “I like this song. I should download it. You probably loved her. Women your age loved her.” As if we weren’t basically the same age. I replied, “Actually, I hated her when she first came out. I thought she was just screaming. Then I started to like her years later because of songs like this one, and I ended up liking her.”

We got back into the truck and continued driving. After another hour or so, Damien said we would stop to check on his didgeridoos. Ten weeks prior, he had put several logs with foil on them in the woods, hoping the terminates would eat out the center, creating a didgeridoo. He said, “If you want to see me be sad, you can come follow me and check out the logs. I know it didn’t work. I know it’s extremely unlikely, but I still get my hopes up like I always do, and it will hurt when it turns out it didn’t work.”

I completely understand that. My brain always knows the likelihood of things. My brain tells my heart not to get excited, not to be hopeful, but my heart just doesn’t listen. I try and convince myself I don’t care about something or someone, and then it hurts every single time when it doesn’t work out. 

We pulled over, and after a two-minute walk, we came to the logs. Damien pulled the first one up, removed the foil covering, and felt the inside. It was still solid. He was sad, disappointed, and then angry. He checked both sides of about four logs, and none of them worked. I felt bad for him because he looked sad. Damien shouted to termites in the distance, “Why didn’t you eat them?! Were they not good enough for you?!” 


We walked another five minutes on the opposite side of the dirt road and up a slight hill and saw an Aboriginal bird catcher. The Aboriginals would hide inside the catcher, and when the birds landed on the branches, they’d shove their spear through. I was in the lead and stopped at a tree with beautiful yellow flowers on the way back down. 

Damien wasn’t too far behind me and said, “You can eat those pedals, they’ll be a little fragrant, though.” I ate two of them, and they were soft but didn’t have much flavor. A few others joined and tried the pedals too.

We continued driving and arrived at Nawilbinbin Gorge. Damien told us to hike the 1.7 kilometers and come back to the parking lot. The hike was a steep climb to the top of a rock cliff. It was beautiful, and I was happy to have some exercise after being in the truck for so long. 


I hiked with Suzanne, and we talked about a professional paper that she was in the middle of writing. She was writing it in English and was struggling with a few concepts. I answered some questions on which phrases and word usage were correct. I taught her some things we’re taught in school like, “I before E except after C.” I explained to her that English is challenging because many things don’t make sense. 

Once we finished our hike, we set up tables and chairs and ate lunch – the same sliced veggies that I had a hard time stomaching after so many days. After lunch, we continued driving. 

Brock was our resident joke-teller. At 18 years old, he was proud of his dad-jokes. For days, he would get a kick out of our responses to his jokes, so he kept coming up with more and more. Everyone was in a good mood. Damien gave the microphone to Brock to tell jokes as his first “mic night.” He was such a sweet and funny kid, but the quality of the jokes started going downhill. I put my headphones on after ten minutes. 

We arrived at our last campsite of the trip at dusk. We had the option of staying inside a small structure tent with two sets of bunk beds. The beds were just a very thin mattress pad on a wooden platform, but I was happy to have some sort of structure because of the wind the night prior. About half of the group decided to sleep inside their swag instead of a tent, which meant the rest of us could have a tent all to ourselves. 

I picked a tent at the far end in an attempt to avoid snorers. Each tent was named after an international city. My tent was called Paris. I put my bags down and realized it was very dusty inside. I moved one of the mattress pads over to my bed, so I had two pads. Grace and Alex were in tents next to me, which was great because they didn’t snore. 

My workgroup was on dishes that night, so while others were cooking dinner, I headed off to get a shower. There were only two stalls, so I was thrilled that I was quick enough to get there first. After my shower, I went to the kitchen area. For the first time, we had a tented kitchen with two picnic tables, a refrigerator, and a sink. Damien and the dinner crew were cooking burgers and fries. 

I sat at a table with Brock, Kayla, Oliver, and Suzanne. We had a blast drinking and being silly. They gave me a shot of vodka, and I was drinking some red wine. We wanted to have a fun, memorable last night in the bush. I don’t remember everything we talked about because it was mostly laughing, taking goofy pictures with my hat, and just having an enjoyable time. 

Oliver, Kayla, Brock, Phillip, & Me
Suzanne, Oliver, & Kayla
Me & Suzanne
Me & Linda
Oliver, Linda, & Kayla
Oliver & Kayla

I do remember Oliver coming up with an extremely addictive, catchy tune as he sang, “You snore in the mornin.” He was referencing me, and I was slightly offended. He slept near me the first night and said in the early morning I snored a little. I tried to explain that I never snore. I was in a weird position on a couch the few times that I have snored, and it actually woke me up. I told Oliver, “If you heard snoring, it wasn’t me!” He insisted it was me, just in the morning, just for a bit. But it was ironic because I avoid snorers at all costs. His tune was so catchy; several people started singing it, including me! 

Oliver and Brock

It was time for dinner, and I was feeling a little drunk. The burger and fries were delicious. It was time for the cleanup crew to do the dishes, so the five of us gathered and made it a super fun time! Kayla, Suzanne, Armelle, Phillip, and I washed the dishes while singing our new motto, “Everything is awesome” from the LEGO movie. 

Armelle, Me, Kayla, Suzanne, & Phillip

Someone was playing fun dance music on the speaker, and Suzanne loved it! She danced around while singing, and it was such a fun environment. Days earlier, Damien teased Suzanne and me while we laughed on a hike, saying something like, “I know you girls just think, ‘Girls just wanna have fun,’” in reference to the song. The song came on the Bluetooth, and Suzanne got in Damien’s face singing it as he put stuff away. Damien just smiled. I said, “You won’t let me play my music, but you’ll let these songs play now?” He said, “That’s because it’s different when I’m driving and only have the road to look at.” 

Once we finished cleaning, I sat back down at my table. Damien sat down a couple of spaces away from me and on the opposite side of the table. He was drinking beer, and I told him to try my wine. Damien said he didn’t like wine very much. I put the bottle in front of him, and he drank some directly from the bottle. Then he started to slide it back towards me. It was between us, and I slid it back towards him. Everyone was talking, but he looked at me and said, “You want me to drink this, don’t you?” I said, “Yes.” Then he poured some into the bottle cap and drank it from there. 

The day before, I made a comment that I hadn’t even felt a buzz from my drinks and he said I needed to drink more. He also put all of my beers inside the cooler when I only added half of them. I figured it was his turn.  

We were all amused by Damien’s magic card trick, and then Brock showed us one he knew too. Our table was being hilarious and loud, probably annoying the other table. We didn’t care. We had a blast. 

Brock & Damien

Suzanne was standing up near me between the two tables when she asked Damien a question about the following day. Damien was reluctant to answer (as usual), and Suzanne very loudly said, “Hold on, let me get Christy to ask, then you’ll answer!” Suddenly, there was a good three to four seconds of complete silence from everybody. Damien stared at the table, and I was uncomfortable. 

Then Suzanne continued, “Christy could ask the exact same question as anybody else, and you’ll only answer Christy.” Trying to make things less awkward, I said, “That’s not true. That’s not true.” Suzanne started laughing, and everyone started talking again. I didn’t know what to say. Damien never responded to that, but shortly after, he left the table and said he was going to bed. 

Phillip & Oliver
Me, Linda, Phillip, Oliver, & Brock

We continued to hang for a little bit, drinking and watching more card tricks. Then the people sitting at the other table went to bed. We figured we’d better get to bed too, so we didn’t disturb the others. I was headed back to my tent when I saw Kayla throwing up in her swag. She wasn’t far from the kitchen, so the light helped to see her. 

I walked over, and the poor girl tried not to get it in her swag, but her face was in the dirt. I grabbed her and tried to lift her up a little because I didn’t want her choking on her vomit. Suzanne and Sophie came over to help too. I walked Kayla to the restroom, holding her up as we walked. Suzanne and Sophie started to clean her swag. Kayla threw up some more in the toilet and then got into the shower. I got her bag and brought it to her. 

Suzanne, Sophie, and I waited in the restroom for Kayla to finish showering. After her shower, Kayla threw up some more. We felt terrible for her because we’d all been there before. Shoot, I was there a few months prior in Thailand. We told Kayla she’d feel better the next day since she threw up. We walked her back to her swag and made sure Brock and Oliver kept an eye on her that night. 

I walked to my tent and got ready for bed. I was tired and drunk. I was also a little disappointed. I wanted something to happen with Damien. Maybe it was my need for physical touch, but it was our last night camping. After all that flirting, would anything ever happen?

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Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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