Horror Nights: The Heat of the Day

What’s the hottest you’ve ever been? Running a fever of 102F? A mid-day sunbath on scorching 98-degree day? Today in Australia was the hottest day on record. Somehow, as if tapped by the devil himself, it also struck me as the perfect day for a hike through the bush.

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The outer-layer didn’t last long. Neither did the bottle of water in my pocket.

The Australian bush feels primitive, much like the sun above, relentlessly licking itself in flames.

The streets emanate a lot of heat, but once you’re under the cover of the canopy, it cools down. At the very least, it seemed manageable.

My companion and I brought water, a bottle each, thinking rationing over the course of about 4 kilometers each way would be a walk in the park.

It wasn’t.

The rivers and the dams along our walk were just as parched; woefully stagnant water, pooling pathetically on the bottom of a crevice which they were responsible for carving out. Days long gone.

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Stepping stones meant to usher you across moving water protrude from the ground searching for their purpose.

The heat was hot. It was the type of heat that makes your head pound, your fingers swell to tiny sausages at the end of your slick-with-sweat limbs. Your socks soak in the sweat of your hard-working feet. By the time the heat really began to take hold, my face was already beet red. I took a layer off, a vest, that was ill-preparedly put on for this journey. Still, some relief was found in the exposure of a little extra skin.

By the time we reached the last drop of water in our stores, there was nothing left to remove. And the track that we though we had taken, the goal of a state park surrounding a lake, where we could replenish our stores, had been thwarted by a wrong turn several kilometers in the opposite direction. There was no choice but to seek an unknown source elsewhere. We carried on.

The bush offered little hope. What we heard the deafening buzzing of bugs, swarming in vain over bone-dry basins; the occasional scuffling of a lizard, dragging its tail, quickly, efficiently, out of the path that we were paving; kookaburras in the trees laughing in spite of our anguish.

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A lizard, seeking shelter beneath cool rocks.

Eventually the tune of the bush changed a bit, pointing us in the direction of civilization. We heard the steady stream of cars and even saw sights of houses dotting the gaps in the trees.

Though the road offered promise of resources, it did little to cool our already overheated bodies. If anything, it intensified the heat of the day with emissions and the blacktop reflecting on the scorching rays of the southern hemisphere’s sun.

Arrows pointed us to a few opportunities of reprieve. A retirement home, where us, as young people, could embarrassingly clamor to the elderly for a bit of hydration. In the same direction was a scout center, something we deemed slightly more promising. We trudged up a black-topped hill, panting and parched. The elderly community was at this pinnacle point, the scout center took a little extra labor. A short walk down a slight hill, where every reserve of energy I had was used to will my limbs to carry me there. To the finish line, the end goal, a bit of solace.

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A cockatoo close–but not too close.

When finally the scout center was within reach, it became clear that it was yet another wrong turn. The whole building was boarded up. No sign of life, save for a few knotted ropes that scouts had worked on God knows when. Not a single hose or spigot availing itself to us. No water. All I could find was relief in a touch of shade as I collapsed on the ground, all but beaten, by the heat of the day.

It’s absolute folly to believe you could beat the sun; the ancient star in the sky that both birthed humanity and, when it believes it to be time, will likely obliterate it. The overlord to whom we grovel; our maker with a penchant for pain, is simply all powerful.

Bending to his will, I sat on the cement stairs of the scout center, hoping for a touch of civilization but getting devoured by a colony of ants instead. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the map reporting 105 degrees. Turning back on the five kilometer track would be impossible without a touch of renewed energy. In pain, in fear, in desperation, an angel descended upon me, wearing a brown leather hat. He emerged through the shaking vapors of sweltering air, triumphantly bearing a bottle in each hand of fresh water… and the whereabouts of this oasis to which we could return to get more.

Water: a life-giving, soul-saving substance. I drank it slowly but eagerly. I splashed it on my face. I could feel the red-hot fingers of the devil lose grip. We sat, for a moment, relishing the miracle. And then, it was time to make a plan.

The options were trifold:
A: Call for help, throwing in the towel on our bushwalking for the day.
B: Use the streets to guide us home, in somewhat of a clear-cut time-saving maneuver.
C: Descend back into the bush, embracing the slight coolness of the trees, the company of the wildlife, and the success of having conquered it all.

We went back in.

Fully hydrated and fully restocked, there was a confidence even in our every labored step. We noticed fallen trees and rocky inclines along the way, each serving as another checkpoint. Each signaling that though the road was long, we were shortening it with each step.

We emerged from the trail like messengers from Marathon–sweaty, dirty, thirsty, hungry–with no news to share except: We made it. Please help.

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Back-burning is common to help avoid the current catastrophe of rampant wildfires. This hot and bothered climate is conditioned to beat the heat and withstand fires (within limits). As devastating as it may seem, it will regenerate.

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