James McAlloon’s Firsthand Account From His Epic Fundraising Trek Pt. 1
Hungry, I was so hungry and running out of water fast as I pushed into my fourteenth hour of walking, desperate to arrive at the two-street border town of Kulgera in the Northern Territory’s central desert. The unexpected hot weather had forced me to consume twice the water I had allotted and 70kms from the nearest town, my situation had become desperate. Despite my predicament, I couldn’t help but laugh, bewildering the border police as I refused any assistance.
“It’s ironic that I’m starving whilst trying to raise money to feed others.”James McAlloon
The Inspiration for Footsteps For Food
It had been six months since the world as I knew it had halted. In March 2020, at the height of my career, I was barely able to scrape past security at the Sydney airport as I returned from an amazing work-trip to Antarctica. Within days the borders were closing as the world held their breaths, watching as the worst pandemic in a hundred years consumed our freedoms and stole our lives. Work shut down, quarantines were enforced, and industries around Australia and the world started to collapse.
Despite this, my home of Queensland suffered the least, and with government support and savings, I was doing okay. I was in the minority, watching on from the comfort of my home to the devastation this plight was having on others. Working in the Latin American tourism market, my colleagues at Chimu and I were aware that entire cities in South America had been forced into quarantine. Tourism in those places all but disappeared. Without savings, security, or any available healthcare, we watched in horror as people we had worked with for years couldn’t afford food.
“We are looking for any ideas that could help raise money to buy food packages for people over there, let’s us know if you think of anything.”Chimu Adventures management.
That was the message sent by management to everyone, in hopes of finding a way to help however we could. But what could I do? Return bottles for ten cents? Ask family and friends? I wonder if I can still do my climbing trip at the end of the year? A trip!
“What if I walk across Australia to raise money? Let me know!”James McAlloon
Ambitious as it seemed, the idea had always been on my mind, so why not give it a shot? Without question, the concept was embraced by Chimu management and after setting up the fund, coordinating with the support team and vigorously training, the fateful day arrived: July 1, 2020.
Setting off on an Epic Trek Across Australia
The plan was to walk from the Sunshine Coast on the east coast of Australia southwest to the Nullarbor Plain, then west to finish 4,100km later on the western shores of the Margaret River. As simple as getting my morning coffee, I departed the house, walked down to the beach to touch the water then headed west, unsure of what was to come, but excited to jump into this incredible journey.
The first few days were a wake-up call as my body adjusted to strain it hadn’t encountered in training. With the support of friends and walking in familiar territory, the first 400km over the Great Dividing Range to the farming town of Goondiwindi was ideal preparation for the rigours that lay ahead…
The searing pain started in my toes, rising along my shin bones to my knees. Only two weeks in, and I was experiencing the worst pain of my life.
The searing pain started in my toes, rising along my shin bones to my knees. Only two weeks in, and I was experiencing the worst pain of my life. Despite this, taking time off to rest was not a viable option, so I had no choice but to continue. Soon the pain was so extreme that as the hours passed each day, my shins simply went numb. Finally reaching the two-house border town of Hebel, I was forced to concede, worried at the effects of ignoring an ever-worsening condition. After booking into a room and demolishing a large meat lovers pizza, I retired to my room. Having tried everything else to relieve the strain, I fell to my knees, slowly extending my feet to lower my shins closer to the floor. As excruciating as it was and with tears in my eyes, it worked. Continuing this process for another hour, the muscles finally released, allowing me to continue my journey.
The Kindness of Strangers
The road south-west from Hebel took me deep into outback New South Wales, bringing to life the colours and scenery that centuries of storytelling had illuminated in our imaginations. The grass got dryer, with waterholes becoming an oasis for kangaroos, emus and other creatures of the outback. I was now one of them.
The mornings were freezing, and I took comfort in my warm sleeping bag until the sun was well above the horizon. However, it was still frigid, the wind chilling me to the bone as the temperature barely scraped above 4 degrees. The faster I was able to pack the sooner I would stop shivering, and with the steady rhythm of my feet, I was able to warm myself rapidly.
Nothing stood out more than the people I began to encounter. As roads altered between dusty and paved, I trotted on, only stopping when approached by a vehicle. The last thing people expected to see on their long drive home was someone pushing a trolley in the middle of nowhere. Some would ensure that I was okay; others would question what I was doing. Many simply offered me anything they had on them to help me along the way. Occasionally it was fruit, but every so often I’d be lucky enough to receive a sandwich. Once I was given an emu egg; an enormous amount of food that I’d hoped wouldn’t attract dingoes during the night.
The Long Road Takes a Toll
With no other ailments and my fitness greatly increased, I churned out the kilometres as the hours sped by. After a welcoming tour of Brewarrina, I was joined in the town of Bourke by the co-founder of Chimu, Greg Carter. Relishing in his company and scoring a few free beers, we parted ways two days later, pushing my trolley south into the guts of a rainstorm on my way to Cobar. This was my first encounter with adverse weather, the clouds causing brilliant orange sunsets as the rain poured down in sheets. For four days, I lowered my head, protecting my face and smiling at the adversity as I felt for the first time like I was on a proper adventure.
From Cobar, I headed west for 500km towards Broken Hill. It was my first true exposure to long distances without a break, a small taste of what was to come. It gave me time to reflect, take in the changing landscape and spend time with myself. Not many people get this opportunity, and some are afraid of it, but it was freedom, absolute freedom in a time when most of the world was trapped. As I arrived in the most remote town of New South Wales, one of my tyres burst, worn through by the nearly two thousand kilometres I had walked to arrive at the only bike shop in Broken Hill.
Entering Desert Country
With new tyres and a well-earned day off, I headed west. From here I entered desert country, with signs warning cars of no fuel for over 200km. It looked like mars, with no trees, red shale rock and the absence of all life. I pushed on in excitement, the sun searing the back of my neck as it rose higher into the sky and switching my focus to my water consumption now that rained seemed impossible. How wrong was I?
Two days passed Broken Hill, and it began to rain. The wind picked up dramatically, and I felt the burn in my calves as my cart encountered the impenetrable wall of air. My waterproof gear wasn’t working, and with temperatures dropping rapidly, my body began to shiver vigorously. I pushed harder, hoping the extra exertion would keep me warm. Clouds of breath blurred my vision, and after an entire day of effort, I lay defeated in my cot, rain changing to sleet as I tried to sleep.
For three days in was the same miserable situation, until 150km inland from the border, I finally reached the quarantine checkpoint. The police were bewildered to see a man pushing a trolley in the pouring rain towards them, with 200km of nothing behind me but the memories I wished to forget. As they reviewed my paperwork, I began shivering uncontrollably. The cop laughed, sympathetic to my situation but unable to assist due to social distancing rules. He waved me on, urging me to get moving as I completed the last twenty kilometres to my forced two-week quarantine in Peterborough. 10km from town, my right wheel exploded: the rim cracking, spokes becoming dislodged and bursting my tyre in the process. I was stuck, and although so close to town, I still didn’t have phone service. I pulled up the saved email from my hotel reservation and using the satellite phone, called them for the number of a taxi. It took me a while to explain where I was and the situation with my trolley without sounding crazy, but finally after what had been the worst few days of my life, I found myself in my new home for two weeks; showered, fed and tucked under two thick blankets as I fell asleep.
Find out about all the twists and turns of James McAlloon’s epic fundraising trek for Footsteps For Food in Part Two.
James McAlloon is a Relationship Manager for Chimu Adventures and an author. In 2020, he published his debut novel, Drawn by Water.