Footsteps For Food | James McAlloon’s Story Part Two

James McAlloon’s Firsthand Account From His Epic Fundraising Trek Pt. 2

I can understand how animals in a zoo must feel because that’s my best example of being stuck in a room for two weeks. A feeling many people around the world have had to deal with, it would make anyone go stir-crazy. Afraid to lose fitness and a solution to help stave off boredom, I paced back and forth across my room whilst watching movies. Seven steps each way, continuously for two weeks. With the occasional phone call from my partner and friends, I was left with few options for entertainment apart from movies, reading and personal admin. Although I was warm, safe and well-fed, the day I left was a feeling of absolute freedom.

Life in hotel quarantine

State Border Closures Force a Rethink

Whilst in quarantine, the West Australian government had enforced the closure of its border to the rest of the country except those deemed essential. I was not, and my original plan had failed. After lots of contemplation and discussion, it was decided that the best alternate route would be to walk north through the central desert to Uluru. A fitting finish, the iconic rock would be a great symbol of my accomplishment, and the journey to get there would be a greater challenge than the walk so far.

The updated itinerary for Footsteps For Food

From Port Augusta, I would head north, passing through Pimba, Glendambo, Coober Pedy, Cadney Park, Marla, Kulgera, Erldunda and Curtain Springs. Four towns, five roadhouses and 1,300kms through the harshest environment in Australia. It was exciting yet intimidating as I pushed north, the temperature rising to an average of 35 degrees Celsius and not cooling off much at night. Water became my main concern, but flat tyres seemed to be the thorn in my side.

Australia’s Red Interior

In the month it took me to reach Uluru, I had twenty-two punctures! Bloody ridiculous. Sometimes they were patches that wouldn’t seal properly, one time I set up camp to wake up with seven punctures caused by spiky seeds of the Three-Horned Jack. The words I exclaimed when this happened are not appropriate in the best of times. Despite this continuous setback, my path was one straight, sealed road for a thousand kilometres. On such a route in such a desolate place, the freedom of walking all day every day came back. My mind wandered as I observed the world pass by, one step at a time, listening to the occasional ABC podcast ‘Conversations’, which recounted stories of people that lived in the places I was passing through. I gained such a great appreciation and understanding of a country that I thought I knew well, and now my eyes are opened wider than ever before to the land I call home.

People constantly stopped, offering fruit and water and asking to support the journey, chatting away as if we were at a café. We weren’t, instead standing on the side of the road in the middle of a treeless plain, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from the closest town. Despite the occasional break for conversation, a rhythm took place: wake up at sunrise, pack my belongings, walk 50km, unpack, eat a huge dinner as the sky turned orange with the sunset, read until late and sleep. I was covering tremendous distances, and nothing seemed to get in my way, a successful journey coming closer to fruition with each passing day.

I took a break in Coober Pedy, excited to explore the underground houses which make this place so famous. The morning of my rest day, I met an older couple who, excited by my journey, spent all day taking me to incredible sites: underground houses, opal mines, The Remarkables mountain range. I loved this town. Its quirky population, unique history and lifestyle so different from anything else I’ve seen in the world, I’ll truly miss it.

As I plunged deeper into the interior of the country, I was visited by much more than friendly travellers. An abundance of wildlife emerged, with daily roadside visits from emus, lizards, camels, eagles and one snake. I was able to witness all the well-known animals of the outback with only one scary encounter.

It was 6 PM, and darkness was falling as I closed within one kilometre from the gravel rest stop where I’d planned to camp. Suddenly, the thunder of approaching hooves rang through the air from behind. I turned to see five wild horses (Brumbies) charging towards me. I sh*t myself, frozen in fear with nowhere to run. As they drew within twenty metres of my position, they veered to the side, galloping around me to station themselves directly in my path. Meeting my gaze, they remained unmoved, with two of the males fighting as they swung their necks violently to headbutt. I had no choice but to get passed them. Grabbing my metal bottle, I slammed it into my cart repeatedly, making as much noise as possible whilst waving my arms wildly in the air as I inched forward. Still, they remained unmoved. Closing in, I was only five metres away and now seriously worried that they would not leave. Three metres from them, I felt their size, tremendous beasts not concerned with the whims of a petty human in their land. Two metres away and they finally lost all interest, walking away as if bored at my antics. With a sigh of relief, I ran to my camp, comforted to find other people parked there for the night.  

Crossing the Northern Territory Border

As I drew closer to the Northern Territory border, the searing heat of the sun rose rapidly. From the four litres I had planned to drink, I couldn’t consume less than seven to avoid dehydration, and soon I found myself in a precarious situation. Leaving at 3 AM with only two litres of water left, I planned to walk the remaining 70km to the border town of Kulgera. Departing in the cool morning would ensure I could get at least halfway before it got hot at around 9 AM. It worked, and although extremely thirsty, I reached the border after 50km where the police offered me an abundance of water and electrolytes. I rested for a while under the shade of their tent, drinking as much as I could and confident that I would make the last 20kms to town. As day turned to night and the sun disappeared, I pulled into the roadhouse triumphantly, walking straight to the bar and purchasing a well-earned beer. I was finally in the Northern Territory and within spitting distance of achieving my goal. I felt victorious already and hoped the last 8 days would be smooth sailing.

The positive vibes inundated me as I closed the gap to my destination. Departing from the main highway, I now headed west on the final stretch direct to Uluru. People were stopping frequently now, mostly tourists who were infatuated with what I was doing and happy to stop for a chat. My social calendar was filling up, and the constant hospitality shown to me was heavily impacting on the kms I could accomplish in the day. Being so close, I was eager to push hard to the end, but it was hard to deny the joy of speaking to so many nice people. With only 10km left to reach town, a car suddenly pulled up from behind, yelling after me in a voice I hadn’t heard in months. It was my boss, Chad, who had flown out to meet me for the finish and it was then that I knew I’d made it.

Closing in on the Finish Line

Clean and packed for the day, we strode together in the face of one of the world’s oldest places. For six hours we walked towards the end, the monolith of Uluru rising dramatically in front of us as we drew closer. The excitement and surreal feeling left me silent as we marched, a smile constantly spread on my face. Because of the travel restrictions, the usually busy tourist destination was deserted and having the place entirely to ourselves only made it more meaningful. It is truly a place of wonder and a perfect symbol to the end of a journey that raised more money than I could have ever anticipated.

Watch the video of James’ Footsteps For Food journey.

In total, we raised over $36,000, enough to provide food and hygiene packages for more than 900 families. Although not a final solution to their predicament, the efforts of many to support my journey despite their own difficulties made a large impact on many South American people struggling to live day to day. It’s a firm example of people giving what little they have for the sake that they can and I have great respect for those people. The donors are the real champions, and I am grateful to have been the vessel that drove an initiative in what has been the best and most rewarding trip of my life.

James McAlloon is a Relationship Manager for Chimu Adventures and an author. In 2020, he published his debut novel, Drawn by Water.

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