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Machete Man

In 2017 I headed off on a big adventure - I was going to hike 1000 km in 28 days with about 20kgs on my back in the middle of the bush in WA on a trail called the Bibbulmun Track. The plan was to push out 10 to 12 hours of hiking a day. I was completely fully self-supported, I carried everything I needed on my back and I was by myself; it was a big adventure that I planned for 18 months and the planning and the training had been part of the thrill. I was so excited for this journey ahead of me and it was with much anticipation and a little bit of fear that I headed off on April 1 for day one of this big adventure.

It was the best! I would stop and eat when I was hungry, I would stop when I wanted a break; I relished being alone in nature. At night I would find a spot and set up my little tent and boil some water and rehydrate my dinner, have a chocolate bar, and then go to sleep.

It was a simple process every day of just doing the same thing and whilst I was pushing my body to its extreme my mind was enjoying the relaxation and just being in my head with nothing else to distract me. The bush was beautiful, I experienced so much wildlife and witnessed some of the most beautiful sunrise and sunsets of my life. Mother Nature wrapped me up in her love. I did a lot of self-reflection, I grieved for those I missed, I had a lot of personal growth.

After an incredibly stressful day of walking that included a lot of diversions around areas being burned off by the rangers – important for bushfire management - I arrived at the Murray River Hut. I was only expecting to walk 6-7hrs for the day but thanks to the diversions I had pushed out almost 12hours, some of this walking on a trail with the bush on one side of me, and burning embers on the other side. Some scary hiking when your alone in the bush! Adding to the stress was the fact that I had left behind one of my maps so I was blindly doing these diversions based on my sense of direction and trusting that the markers would be sufficient. Diversion markers are not always trustworthy.

When I arrived at the Murray River Hut I almost cried with relief! The camp site was so beautiful, nestled under the trees on the banks of the river. There was also not a soul to be seen which I was incredibly grateful for as I wanted a night alone after the stress of the day. As the sun dropped over the horizon, I had a quick wash in the freezing river and set up my tent beside the hut. I preferred the safety of my tent because the huts only have 3 walls, and I am terrified of kangaroos waking me up whilst sniffing out my food. It was freezing cold and I snuggled up in my sleeping bag for a well-earned rest.

The following day I was walking along the river just really enjoying the beauty of the day. I had a big day ahead of me, expecting to walk about 45kms for the day, and I had been up since before the sun to tackle it. This part of the track was very overgrown, and I had to really push through dense bush. I was in my own happy thoughts when a brown dog came around the corner. He looked like a staffy but I am sure he had another breed in him as well. He had a collar on, and he was wagging his tail – I love dogs so I crouched down to give him a pat and talk to him. As I was scratching behind his ear his owner stepped out from behind a tree in full camouflage gear with an army style pack on his back. The first thing I noticed was the large machete that ran down the side of his pack – easily accessible for him to pull out with his right hand. The second thing I noticed was the mean look on his face.

I looked down at the dog I was patting and my first thought was, ‘I am about to die.’

My second thought, ‘How I react in this very moment might just save my life.’

I stood and plastered a big smile on my face, saying, ‘Hi, how are you? Is this your beautiful dog?”

The man considered me for a while and then smiled back and said ‘Yep, he normally warns me that someone is ahead, but he obviously likes you.”

We chatted about the trail and he told me about some upcoming diversions around the burn-offs being conducted. I told him it was my last day of the hike and my husband was picking me at the highway. Total lie of course. I had a story like this ready to go for each day of my hike to make sure I wasn’t followed to a campsite by someone who made me uncomfortable. We said goodbye and passed each other in opposite directions. For the next 2-3kms I turned around about 50 times to make sure I was not being followed! All I could think about was the machete and the look on the man’s face.

Once I started to relax, I thought about my interaction with ‘machete man.’ When I was a Police Officer, many years ago, they taught us the importance of ‘verbal judo’ and we spent weeks training in this method. The crux is that how you react to a person or a situation can frame how the situation evolves. In my time as an officer I never had to use force; I had to support another officer using force but I had talked large men who were initially violent into the back of a paddy wagon using only my speech. My ability to respond with a cool demeanour helped me never have to physically hit or spray or shoot anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I had some close calls and I fully understand that there are times when Police Officers genuinely need the supportive tools they carry on their vest or belt. I also really believe in the power of effective communication.

My Dad, who left this world 8 years ago, would tell me as a girl that ‘your voice is you most valuable weapon’ and yet I didn’t realise just how powerful it was until I walked away from situations such as ‘machete man.’ Your words and your reaction to anything can set the scene for the response you either desire or dread. Before you react with anger, or emotion take a breath and think about how your reaction to a situation might be taken by the other party. It’s important to also consider how you are being interpreted when you communicate and ensure that the other party understand what you’re conveying. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them.

Effective communication is important in everything we do. Ordering your coffee; you don’t want to end up with an almond chai latte instead of a flat white - which has happened to me and I was not a fan of the almond milk! Explaining to your hairdresser what you mean by ‘just a little bit off the ends’ rather than assuming they know. It’s also super important in the workplace. There is a reason that Alison Drew-Forster has called it her ‘favourite’ key ingredient of exceptional workplace culture. Check out her live this week as she talks about this topic in depth.

By taking a deep breath and thinking about what outcome you want and framing your response to suit a situation – you can quite literally save your life.

Disclaimer; I didn’t finish the 100kms hike thanks to an infection that nearly saw me lose my foot….but that’s another story to come….

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