Seeing Australia by bus can be an adventure in itself. The awkward connection times… 3am in Griffith anyone? The awkward conversations, “no, I haven’t seen your pet snake”. But more importantly, the opportunities for stopovers in tiny towns along the way to a larger metropolis.

One of these stops is Katoomba, a small and friendly tourist gateway into the Blue Mountains, surrounded by gum tree forests and train lines. Despite not being on first name terms with any of the Three Sisters, I decided to spend a night on the outskirts of town.

After arriving at our campsite, I suggested a hike into the forest to watch the sunset from a seemingly nearby ridge. From the non-committal grunts around the campfire I should have known this wasn’t a good idea.

Already up the mountain, it all seemed easy. The sunset was spectacular, brilliant red, orange and pink hues dancing over a rapidly darkening blue sky. Getting swept up in watching the last colours twinkle over the Three Sisters, I suddenly realised I should start back… too late though.

Things were going so well until my first stumble. My obsession with carrots wasn’t helping my night vision enough to allow me to navigate a pitch black path covered in canopy. I panicked, shouting “HELP” and “000”. My pleas unanswered except by the imagined serial killers roaming the forest (I was sure I could hear more than one).

I turned to my secret weapon – a $5 watch with a tiny blue light bought from a street vendor called Manny (if you’re out there Manny – thanks). Stumbling and tripping my way through forest, grunting with the effort as fresh scratches lined my body, the “lifesaving” watch gave out.

Manny, if you’re still reading, I want my $5 back! At this point I lost hope, deciding I wouldn’t escape and would try to sleep on the forest floor, hoping I survived till sunrise unless I was eaten by snakes, spiders and maybe dragons.

Resigned to my fate, I actually calmed down. Without my laboured breathing, frantic glances and pounding heartbeat, I could faintly hear running water. My pants were still dry so I knew it wasn’t me – there must be a stream nearby.

Reaching the cold, dark water, I wondered whether to return to my forest floor bed or follow the stream. Walking upstream might lead me into a cave filled with bats. But downstream I might be swept into the Pacific Ocean by a raging waterfall. For one last time, I allowed my broken $5 watch to decide my fate. I dropped it into the stream – if it sank, I’d walk upstream. If it floated, I’d follow it downstream.

The cheap plastic components bobbed downward but then returned to the surface, gently drifting downstream. I quickly grabbed it, shoving it into my pocket. I knew if I didn’t make it and was eaten by a dragon, at least it might choke on this watch as a final small victory.

Wading through knee-high water, I moved quickly in case of crocodiles and piranhas. After 30 minutes, the stream gradually lit up – a reflected light in the distance greeted me.

Treading faster toward a porch light, I cautiously shouted hello, waiting for wild dogs to attack or shotgun blasts to light up the forest. Instead a guy in overalls stepped out of the shack and happily offered to drive me back to the campsite. My fear vanished as the campfire returned to view.

January 20th, 2012