Living in a Marsupial World
 

Part I: 28 Days Later - Outbreak at Wilderness Farms

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A few days before we left Wilderness Farms, we discovered that our rear left wheel (the same wheel that had caused us trouble near Hughenden) had been punctured and was completely flat. The day before we left, the guys changed the tire to the spare and Devin and I began our preparation for the night’s American-style dinner: chili and fresh bread. Earlier that same day, Colin, Tom, and a new WWOOFer all suddenly came down with a terrible illness – the same one, it seemed, that had afflicted a few others earlier in the week. This particular bug materialized very quickly; one moment you felt just fine and the next, you’re puking your guts out and become completely immobilized with body aches and fatigue for a good 24 hours. The instantaneous onset and the apparent randomness of its victims had everyone at Wilderness wondering who would be next.



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Later that evening while we were making our dinner, people were placing their bets. Stefanie, one of the fabulous WWOOFers from Paris, marked me as the next “infected.” I had felt slightly off in the afternoon but I dismissed it as fatigue and the celebratory beer at the end of the workday that I drank on an empty stomach. As the night wore on and I continued to make bread, I suddenly had the urge to walk out into the woods. A few steps past the fence and I was yacking Exorcist-style into the wilderness at Wilderness. Afterwards I crawled back to the open-air kitchen and spent the rest of the night slumped over, instructing Ben on how to finish off the braided bread. When I finally caved and decided it was time to go lie down in bed, Ben began walking me to the house. Before I could get out of sight and earshot of the rest of the party, I had one last, Monty Python’s Meaning of Life finale puke. Fabulous. 



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Devin in the throes of Wilderness Farms Ebola
The next morning I was feeling weak, exhausted, and without appetite, but all in all a bit better. We had a long, heartfelt goodbye with all our new WWOOFing mates and found out that a few more had gotten sick after I left. As we were putting our last few things in the car, we found Devin lying pale on his bed, fallen victim to the bug. The three of us packed Devin in the car and very slowly, we made our way out of Wilderness Farms.
 
Our original plan post-farming had been to hike and paddle up the beautiful Katherine Gorge for a few days. However, with Dev and I incapacitated and Em and Ben ticking time bombs for illness, we decided to rent a room at a local homestead for the night. Despite our regrets about the gorge, this turned out to be a great decision as Emily became ill that very night. Ben miraculously never came down with any symptoms – I’m guessing it’s due to a Samson-esque power in his massive curly hair (which he hasn’t cut since we were in Boston). We’re still not sure where the bug originated from but we’re guessing it must have resulted from either something in the organic soil or from something in the river, which was the source of our drinking water. 



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Part II: Breakdown on the Stuart Highway

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As we limped out of Katherine after our rest at the homestead (thanks again Em/Adele), three of us weak from our 28 Days Later virus, we headed back towards Darwin so Emily could fly to Cairns to begin her solo WWOOFing in the Daintree.
 
The highway between Katherine and Darwin stretches for about 300 kilometers and is speckled with just a few small one-street towns and roadhouses. We had traveled 130 kilometers north of Katherine, near Hayes Creek, when Ben, who was driving, noticed a strange rumbling coming from our car. Just as he wondered out loud whether it was the road or the vehicle, a tire suddenly blew out and Ben managed to safely slow us down and bring us off the road. Once we got out we realized the tread on the spare tire had managed to completely peel off like a candy wrapper, resulting in the rest of the tire to collapse and pop. We then realized that the shoulder on which we had pulled over was no wider than the car itself, on a curve, sandwiched between a guardrail and oncoming road trains. 



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To make matters worse, as Ben dealt with RACQ to arrange a tow truck, the sun dropped below the horizon and it began to rain. Enormous road trains hurtled by in both directions, spraying us with water and road grime as we urgently discussed what our next move should be, including whether to leave the car and head up the road on foot. Just as things were looking rather desperate, an angel appeared in a beat up ute (pickup truck) and pulled over onto the opposite shoulder. “All of you need to get in the truck right now before you get killed!” she yelled across the way. “There’s a roadhouse just up the road from here. You can wait for the tow truck there.” Completely flabbergasted, we immediately gathered up what we needed from the car and carefully made our way across the road while spouting tongue-tied thank yous in her direction.



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At the roadhouse, Ben continued to coordinate with RACQ as we huddled over our pints. “I saw you guys stranded there and I just thought that if I didn’t pick you up and something happened to you all I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” the woman said, exasperated with worry. To our amazement, she then offered up her camper trailer for two of us to spend the night. This gesture was a huge relief to us, since only two of us could ride back to Katherine with the tow truck, leaving the other two at the pub. Now the only real issue was that Emily would have to miss her flight from Darwin the next morning.
 
Ben and I arrived in Katherine around 10 pm that night, not the least bit thrilled to have experienced a second tow truck ride in less than 2 months. We begrudgingly checked into a pricey motel and the next day made our way to the mechanic to check on poor Alby. Two tires later (and one Wilderness Farms paycheck down the drain) we made our way north again on the same damned stretch of Stuart Highway that seemed to now be mocking our aspirations of making it across Australia in one piece.



Part III: The Backpack Crisis

Leaving Katherine for the 80th time, we headed up the Stuart Highway towards Darwin once more, picking up Dev and Em in Hayes Creek along the way. We finally made it back to Darwin and drove straight to a familiar caravan park to spend a short night before Emily’s rescheduled 5 am departure to Cairns the following morning.
 
As soon as we drove up and Devin went to pay and check us in, he quickly realized that his daypack was missing. This daypack contained most of his precious possessions: his wallet with IDs and credit cards, his cell phones (both American and Australian), his digital camera, his GPS, his newly acquired light-up poi balls, as well as the canvas bag itself. We tore through the car to see if it was tucked away somewhere, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. We called the roadhouse where he had spent the night, but the barkeep who answered was less than helpful and we eventually found that the backpack was not on their property if it had been. Concluding that it had either been left in the Hayes Creek parking lot and stolen, or had fallen off the roof along the highway, we were at a loss for what to do. Between this distress, residual illness, and the emotion of Emily’s departure, Devin was a bit out of sorts. 
Later that evening, just as Devin was deciding to drive all the way back down that long stretch of highway alone, a message materialized on Ben’s phone from a woman who claimed to have Devin’s pack. Apparently it had been on the top of our car for about 100 kilometers and fallen off between Hayes Creek and Darwin. Someone had found it on the side of the road and brought it into a mining operation where this woman worked. When we finally connected with her, she said she would be driving into Darwin the next day and would deliver the backpack right to our campsite as she used to live at the very same caravan park long ago. This kindly woman did return Devin’s bag, but unfortunately, whoever had initially found the bag had taken his camera, cash, and GPS. Luckily his pain-in-the-ass-to-replace items (cards, IDs, phones) were all still in tact.
 
In between, we had a tearful goodbye with our fourth Musketeer at 3 am at the Darwin airport. Since then, we’ve spoken with Em via email and she had been doing great at the Daintree Zoo – walking wombats and relocating crocodiles to name some of her awesome activities. Miss you Em!



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