When Robyn Davidson was 26 years old, she decided to walk 2,835km across the harsh terrain of wild Australia.
It was 1977, and Davidson spent nine months travelling from Alice Springs in central Australia to the Indian Ocean off the western coast.
She wanted to find meaning outside of the noise of modern society, and reached out to National Geographic to fund the trip.
The magazine agreed to give her some money to survive the trek alongside her four camels and dog, in exchange for intermittently sending 27-year-old photographer Rick Smolan to document stretches of the journey.
The National Geographic story was published in May 1978, and Davidson published her memoir, “Tracks,” two years later.
It made Davidson a celebrity in Australia, and over 30 years later was adapted into a dramatic film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver.
More recently, Smolan self-published “Inside Tracks: Robyn Davidson’s Solo Journey Across the Outback,” a collection of high-res prints of his original photographs alongside personal essays from him and Davidson.
Smolan shared a sampling of the photos with Business Insider. They capture Davidson’s journey, as well as powerful lessons about love, death, and self-reliance.
Here, Davidson is seen planning out her trip in a notebook. 'To me, what matters is that Robyn permitted herself to listen to the little voice inside that so many of us ignore,' Smolan writes in 'Inside Tracks.'
Davidson requested $4,000 in support from National Geographic for her trip, which she expected to last six to eight months, in return for giving one of their journalists a chance to document the story. Here is a shot of Smolan, National Geographic's representative, and Davidson compared to their silver screen counterparts.
'I wanted to shed burdens,' Davidson writes in 'Inside Tracks.' 'To pare away what was unnecessary. The process was literal, in the sense of constantly leaving behind anything extraneous to my needs, and metaphorical, or perhaps metaphysical, in the sense of ridding myself of mental baggage.' Pictured below is Uluru, the world's largest single rock.
Smolan accompanied Davidson in her hike over Uluru, along with her four camels and her rescued dog, Diggity. Davidson had spent two years learning from Aboriginals to train camels and survive the desert. Here she is by a formation in the wall of Uluru.
An ancient species of shrimp live in the pools atop Uluru, the water collected from rare rainstorms. 'The indecipherable power of that rock had my heart racing. I had not expected anything quite so weirdly, primevally beautiful,' Davidson writes.
Smolan and Davidson developed a romantic relationship during Smolan's trips and remained friends after the journey. When he asked her two years later how she was able to so perfectly capture her experience in her book, she replied: 'Because I was there. While you were snapping away... and scribbling away in your journals, I was letting myself experience every moment.'
Davidson writes that it's impossible to fully answer why she undertook the trip, but if there's any moral to her story it's that 'one can be awake to the demand for obedience that seems natural, simply because it is familiar.' That doesn't mean she wanted readers to drop everything and become a nomad, but rather rid themselves of fear of doing what is expected of them and live how they want to.
Smolan writes that Davidson was the most direct person he'd ever met, and that she taught him that Americans' habit of comforting friends was misguided. Instead, real friends are brutally honest. 'You don't allow your friends to keep making the same mistake, marrying the wrong person, sticking with an abusive boss, and so on,' he writes.
On some days, it was 43 degrees Celsius in the shade. Here, a boy catches some relief from the end of a dripping pipe.
'The camels treated Robyn as the leader of their herd and, while she appreciated their affection, sometimes it felt like being nuzzled by a 590kg dog,' Smolan writes.
'I had been hot, irritable, and tired when I arrived,' Davidson writes about day 210, 'but now these delightful children lifted my spirits with their cacophony of laughter. Aboriginal kids were so direct, loving, and giving with one another that they melted me immediately.'
During the last couple of months in her journey, Davidson had become known as the 'Camel Lady' to both Aboriginals and the Australian press. Intrigued, Australians of native and European descent alike welcomed her arrival when she would pass through their village or property.
Late in her journey, Davidson's dog Diggity ate a piece of poisoned meat that ranchers had left to exterminate dingoes. It killed Diggity, who had become her best friend. 'That night I received the most profound and cruel lesson of all,' she writes in 'Tracks.' 'That death is sudden and comes from nowhere. It had waited for my moment of supreme complacency and then it had struck.'
On day 273, Smolan met Davidson at the end of her journey by the Indian Ocean. Smolan writes that the camels had never seen any body of water larger than a puddle and that 'their eyes bulged at the infinite expanse in front of them.' Davidson and her herd indulged in a swim.
'The two important things that I learned from the trip were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision,' Davidson writes in 'Tracks.'
• 'Inside Tracks: Robyn Davidson's Solo Journey Across the Outback' by Rick Smolan contains photos that can be compared to scenes from the 2013 film using the app Aurasma
• 'Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback' by Robyn Davis is the 1980 memoir that won her the inaugural Thomas Cook Travel Book Award
• 'Tracks' is the 2013 film directed by John Curran and starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver
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