Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away
'Gimme Shelter', The Rolling Stones
It stopped raining at about seven, when we got up. It wouldn't have made a great deal of difference if it hadn't, seeing as both our sleeping bags and our enthusiasm were totally dampened, but I cooked up some porridge for myself while Scott had his usual breakfast of muesli bars, and before long we'd decided that although the weather was lousy, we were already about as wet as it was possible to get, so we might as well press on and try to find a cave where we could shelter. It was pretty obvious we weren't equipped for rain, so it was up to nature herself to provide shelter.
We walked for 10km through patchy but heavy rain, stopping for lunch halfway up the creek. That was when the powers that be smiled on us, because about five minutes after lunch – a sodden affair – we found the perfect spot for shelter. Imagine a vertical cliff with jutting overhangs about four feet from the bottom, with further outcrops above. We spotted the area because the ground was so dry near the cliff, the first dry ground we'd seen on the trip; the rocks we'd been clambering over had been dangerously slippery in the creek beds we'd been navigating.
We didn't waste much time setting up camp, mainly because we needed to dry out our sodden sleeping bags and roll mats. Typically it stopped raining just as we found the shelter, so we thought it would be a good idea to head up to the top of the hill opposite to try out the radio that Scott had brought along in case of an emergency. The problem was that the handheld unit we had brought with us needed to trigger the main transmitter at Millstream, and it simply couldn't do it when we were in the river gorges; then again, it didn't have any luck on top of the hill either. We did manage to get totally soaked in the attempt, though, so it didn't take much convincing for us to go in search of firewood to warm up proceedings.
The fire did the job; we managed to find enough dry wood to smoulder our way to dusk, and the beds were almost luxurious after the dripping of the night before. Quite why that night the heavens above decided to throw the worst rainstorm of the last few weeks at us, I'll never know. Despite being protected from the elements on three sides out of four, the rain managed to blow into our dry areas enough to make it totally uncomfortable, and the only solution was the Clint Eastwood approach: zip up the sleeping bag, lie on your back, pull the drawstring around the head of the bag tight so it covers everything bar your face, with your dry clothes squeezed inside it as a pillow, and lie there, with your face covered by your hat. Comfortable it wasn't, but after one wet night and a day's walking through a creek bed, it's amazing how tired you can be.
Unfortunately it's at times like this that your mind casts around for something to occupy itself, in an attempt to keep itself thinking random thoughts long enough to drift into sleep: nostalgic thoughts of friends and family, the good bits of old relationships, important events in life, the warm feeling of eiderdown... little things that help sleep come quickly. The problem is that thoughts often stray to the day before, as it's the most recent time for inspiration. For example, strained backs, aching feet, spinifex-slashed hands and all manner of muscular problems, they all haunt Clint's dreams. The fire we'd lit to dry our clothes spattered into a grey, wet puddle, and eventually I woke up to a clear day, with a dry sleeping bag and limbs that protested from the solidity of the bedrock.
After the night under the cliff, which kept most of the rain off us, sleeping in a ditch in Glastonbury seems like a walk in the park. Except we were sober, an unlikely event at Glastonbury...