Tracks: One Woman’s Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback
Tracks by Robyn Davidson isn’t what you typically think of when you think of pilgrimage resources or stories. Yet I would readily put it in that category.
If pilgrimage is a journey with intention and significance—something more than just a good time sightseeing (which has its place)—Robyn Davidson’s journey is that.
And yet it’s a very uncommon one: just a woman, a dog, four camels, and 1,700 miles through typically dry outback filled with a multitude of poisonous and deadly creatures.
Robyn Davidson’s Tracks is a true-story travel book about her trek across the perilous Australian Outback.
It begins with her arrival by train in the seedy, small frontier town of Alice Springs. There she worked and prepared for her journey, encountering multiple obstacles. It’s also here that she made a deal with National Geographic that would bring supplies and photographer Rick Smollan into her life.
Tracks then takes us through the challenges and dangers of her walk through the outback, occasionally encountering Rick and at one point accompanied by an older aboriginal man called Eddie, who helped her experience the outback and let go of attachment to schedules.
Through her path along the “tracks” of long-gone vehicles, we have a window into the outback a couple of decades ago, mistreatment of people and the environment common in the culture, and the observations of one who seems hard to know (yet very worth knowing).
We also see how she faces an enthusiastic public and media as she nears the end of her pilgrimage, after the long solitude.
It’s a tale of exploration, triumph over the odds, and the unexpected outcomes our choices can bring to us.
I loved it. I've had Tracks by Robyn Davidson for 20 years and have moved it probably half a dozen times.
The loneliness of the journey called to me. How well she had to know herself to know she wanted it when there was little in her experience to prepare her for something of that magnitude in that place.
And yet she comes from Queensland, young, inexperienced, penniless, and unprepared for a rough life. She takes on hard work to acquire camels and prepare herself to manage them alone for months on end.
How brave and foolish and beautiful.
I’m not going to go through and critique literary merits—she’s a good and keenly observant writer with nice pacing. Tracks has won travel awards, and Robyn has written for National Geographic.
Nor would I nitpick her journey. It’s honest and persistent … sometimes heartbreaking.
It’s the path of a person very comfortable alone with herself, and yet sometimes deeply lonely. I like that she showed victories and breakdowns, doubts and all. There is violence in the journey—in one instance to save her life. But no one who hasn’t faced the rigors of that kind of journey should attempt to judge it.
She also shows the racism and sexism common to the place and time.
Robyn’s pilgrimage through the outback was, in many ways, the beginning of a remarkable life—the one that made future writing and journeys possible. As she put it in her book, it was “the pivot around which your existence turns.”
My takeaway is: Never be afraid to want something different. Throw yourself into it and work toward that end. Put yourself out there and risk mistakes. Seize the day!
It’s not a journey everyone will get, but “everyone” doesn’t need to.
I know people who couldn’t stand to be alone for 17 miles, let alone 1,700. They won’t understand how anyone could want that, or how well they’d know themselves at the end of it. But that’s just it: We’re all on a journey. But we all have a different journey to walk.
Hers reached me.
I’d been eying the Palmetto Trail sections for a while. And when I saw Prosperity Passage, with old train trestles & tree tunnels, I knew I’d found the one.
Even if you’re in pretty good shape, a long pilgrimage can really stress your body. Physical preparation for older hikers is essential to a good pilgrimage