Slept soundly all night again and the exercise and peace is obviously agreeing with me. Up on Wednesday, at usual time around 5.30 and crossed the river above Crystal Falls at 8 AM. Here I had cause to reflect on what an injury does to you. I used to be really good at jumping from rock to rock crossing rivers and prided myself that I could do this with a backpack on and not get my feet wet. This time I couldn’t. I had to take my backpack off, hand it across and then get some assistance, because I couldn’t jump with my bad leg. I think I’ve lost a lot of confidence. Nevermind. After being in a wheelchair for three months this year, every step is a joy. I also think that my leg it is slowing my walking pace, possibly it’s shortening my stride. I’m now only walking at about 3 km an hour where I used to be able to comfortably manage 5 to 6 km an hour. It’s not that important. I just have to make adjustments. Had an accident after crossing the river. I had to jump down off a rock ledge about a meter above the river bank. Instead of landing on my left leg, as intended, I landed on my injured right leg sending an electric shock of pain into my knee. For a terrible moment I thought I may have broken my leg again. I walked on for awhile and it appeared to be okay. About half an hour after crossing the river we visited the Crystal Falls lookout which gives a spectacular view of where we had been swimming and the falls that thunder below. This is spring water running off the escarpment down into the river system in 17 Mile Valley. Presumably, it ends up ultimately in the Daly River and then out into the ocean. The southern edge of the Arnhem land escarpment where we are walking, just bleeds water throughout the dry season. There must be a huge aquifer under our feet. We changed direction today and gradually headed north-west as the escarpment swung in that direction.
After a couple of hours we stopped and visited the Amphitheatre, which is like a huge natural gully. It reminds me a little of a miniature version of the Grand Canyon. Some great rock art and also some very well-defined spear sharpening grooves in the sandstone. It was very cool down there. At 12.15 we reached our destination for the day which was the 17 Mile Fall. We camped there on the northern bank of the river. One disadvantage of walking slowly is that you are last into camp and get the worst camping spot. I had to tuck down between some rocks. Not too bad. This is a beautiful spot with the waterfall cascading down into a big round swimming hole. Very deep, clear pool but not big enough to have a swimming race. Washed my clothes again and sat on the rock ledge and let them dry. I regret bringing the second change of clothing. Completely unnecessary.
I had an interesting day today. Because I hurt my leg jumping off the ledge I couldn’t walk very fast and very quickly ended up being last of the group. Soon the group in front disappeared and I was left largely on my own. I was ambling along rather than walking. I have never done this before. For the first time it occurred to me that if we got lost it wasn’t my problem anymore. I wasn’t the navigator. If the animals ran away it wasn’t my problem as there were no animals and in the evening it wasn’t my responsibility to make the fire or cook the meals. For the first time I was irrelevant to the success of the expedition. I look at the flowers, Hibbertia is out and the Honeysuckle Grevilla are everywhere. I stopped and looked at interesting termite mounds or features on the rocky cliffs. I didn’t feel pressured and I realised, that for the first time, I was just having a nice holiday. I can’t walk all that fast, but it doesn’t really matter and it puts a lot less pressure on me and I don’t get as tired. All in all, it’s much less stressful to just amble along and not try and keep up with the group. I just blissfully got lost in my thoughts and enjoyed the wonder of outback Australia. Late in the afternoon, just on dusk, I went and had another swim and sat on the rock ledge at the bottom of the falls. Everyone else was either asleep or getting ready for dinner. I had the place to myself. The sun set and threw shadows across the waterfall and surrounding escarpment. It was breathlessly quiet. The only noise was the gurgling – the eternal gurgling – of the waterfall. What a beautiful, lyrical place north Australia is, with its abundant freshwater. The only sound is mother nature working its wilful way on the sandstone as the river systems work their way to the coast. Where in the world could you do this? Drink the water you are swimming in? For such a dry country, we have amazing swimming holes with pristine freshwater. Maybe clean fresh water is actually one of Australia’s great legacies and assets. We probably should be protecting it more and not sticking so many big coal mines in it just so a pile of Chinese folk can get rich. That doesn’t seem like a very good trade to me.
Another pretty easy day today. From Crystal Falls to 17 Mile Falls is only 10 km. We have now done 29.3 km in three days. We used to do that in one day in the Tanami. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I don’t care. I’m having a lovely time just strolling along looking at the scenery, having a swim in the rockholes and letting someone else worry about the logistics. The joys of irrelevancy.
Covering my feet and legs with zinc cream every day. First time I’ve done this. Excellent results. Slow pace is helping. Also wearing a straw hat for the first time. Much cooler than my trusty Akubra. Tomorrow will sort us out – 17km. I think I’ll be tired after that.