On camels, cameras, courage & kindness

camel trek trilogy

From Alice to Ocean now joins my well-worn and well-loved mementos of Robyn Davidson’s journey.

Those of you who read my first blog post, On camels and tiny houses, know that one of my huge influences as a kid was the National Geographic story on Robyn Davidson’s trek alone across the Australian outback with her camels. I was completely floored the other day when Rick Smolan, the photographer for the story and who has since gone on to do other incredible photojournalism projects, wrote on my blog. I was even more amazed when he offered to send me a copy of From Alice to Ocean, the coffee table book he did documenting Robyn’s trek (also see the addendum to the Blood, sweat, tears, blueberries & the most awesome three walls ever… post for yet another interesting connection).

Yesterday, 35 years ago to the month from when I first got that magazine in the mail, I received Rick’s book. It was a strange feeling leafing through the beautiful, vivid photographs accompanied by excerpts from Robyn’s book Tracks. It transported me back those many years and to the other side of the world. It was like no time had passed. I was in awe all over again.

But it’s also notable because it’s a reminder just how small the world can be. This has been coming up again and again since starting this blog, demonstrating what is good about the internet: it brings people together in ways you’d never dream. Rick’s thoughtful gift is also a reminder about how a small gesture can have great meaning for whom it’s bestowed upon – the power of random acts of kindness. Ridiculous perhaps, but, holding it in my hands, it feels significant, like things have come full circle; a sort of biblio-benediction from the gods that this tiny house – or at least the journey – was meant to be. That feels very heartwarming.

My first post talked about how I saw parallels between Robyn’s journey and my decision to build a tiny house. I was going to elaborate more on that but realized that Robyn and Rick put if far more perfectly than I can —

First an excerpt from the front flap of From Alice to Ocean for those unfamiliar with the story:

From Alice to Ocean is the astounding story of a twenty-seven-year-old Australian woman who set off to cross the desolate outback, accompanied only by four camels and a dog. It was a trip that began as a pure and (many said) lunatic gesture of independence and quickly turned into an all-out battle of wits against the forces of both nature and civilization. Cocky and outspoken, Robyn Davidson’s tale is at once the probing journal of a daring and stubborn woman and a wilderness adventure of the most exhilarating sort. Rick Smolan, the photographer, had his own adventure tracking Robyn down to document her trip for National Geographic magazine. The outback of Australia, seen through Rick’s cameras and Robyn’s words, is an ancient awesome landscape swept by rain, heat and dust and inhabited by all varieties of marauding life, from poisonous snakes and wild bull camels to swarms of tourists clamoring after their newest heroine, the “Camel Lady.”…When Robyn and her caravan reach their destination six months and 1700 miles of outback later, their arrival marks the end of a true odyssey and an unforgettable book.

Robyn’s concluding thoughts from Tracks:

As I look back on the trip now, as I try to sort out fact from fiction, try to remember how I felt at that particular time, or during that particular incident, try to relive those memories that have been buried so deep, and distorted so ruthlessly, there is one clear fact that emerges from the quagmire. The trip was easy. It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts. The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any adventure is taking the first step, making the first decision. And I knew even then that I would forget them time and time again and would have to go back and read those words that had become meaningless and try to remember. I knew even then that, instead of remembering the truth of it, I would lapse into a useless nostalgia. Camel trips, as I suspected all along, and I was about to have confirmed, do not begin or end, they merely change form.

And Rick in this excerpt from his preface:

This book is deceptive. Although it may appear to be the adventure story of a young woman’s 1700 mile trek alone across Australia’s outback, in fact it’s about a completely different kind of journey. From Alice to Ocean is the story of what happens when you discover that the most dangerous terrain is not the external but the internal…My deepest hope is that her journey will inspire you to look inside and find your own journey, your own “camel trip.”

Thank you, Robyn. Thank you, Rick. To camel trips…

Categories: tangents | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “On camels, cameras, courage & kindness

  1. Ash

    As with all your posts, a beautiful story.

  2. paula

    Those of us who consider changing our lives need stories like these to give us courage–that anything can be done–it’s not that hard. I think the hardest thing is the fear–fear that I’ll fail, fear that I’ll be destitute, scared, and alone, and fear that I’ll look back and regret quitting my job. I need stories to help me conquer my fears, which are bigger than any real life challenges.

    • I think those are feelings we can all relate to, Paula. Be sure to watch Rick’s TED talk in his comment below yours for another inspiring story.

  3. Naj, loved your column and the pleasure is all mine. Robyn changed my life and the lives of so many others the least I could do is share my book with you. At the end of Robyns journey she asked if I was going to go back to being a hired gun – waiting for other people to tell me what to photograph, what to care about, or if I was going to find something I cared about (like her) and use my skills as a photographer to tell that story.

    Here is what I did as a direct response to her challenge:

    all the best


  4. Rick, that is an incredible story! Thanks so much for sharing it. The ripple phenomenon of how each person can affect others, and the continued radiating outward, is amazing to me.

  5. Hazel

    I have a copy of this very National Geographic on my bookshelf! Robyn’s story always inspired me to disregard fear and just LIVE life as I want to live it. I’m so happy to see that her influence has travelled far and wide. Thanks for sharing.

    • I love that you’ve kept that story close by too! She’s definitely an inspiration as I slog my way through building obstacles – puts things in perspective. Thanks for letting me know.

      • ricksmolan


        Glad you liked the book and thanks for the blog post

        The theatrical release of the Tracks movie has just been moved by The Weinstein Company to late oct/early November. A MUCH better time slot which bodes well for the film and expectations that Mia Wasikowska may get an Oscar nod!

        Take care


        Sent from my iPhone

  6. Thanks for letting me know, Rick. Sounds good for the film; I’ll update my “Why tiny housers should see the movie Tracks” post. I’ll just have to be patient a little longer 😉

    Hope you’re doing well, Kate

    • Joel

      I saw “Tracks” at the San Francisco Film Festival and I was really moved – it is a gorgeous and emotionally powerful film. I’ve been waiting to see it again during it’s U.S. theatrical release, they moved it to Sept 19, but now if Weinstein is going to move it even later I guess I’ll have to wait longer. It’s worth it if the film gets a big push and more people get to see it. Not only does Mia Wasikowska give a great performance (what an amazing talent) but I feel the film really touches on some profound points. This film is an antidote to so much of what ails our AD/HD society. It’s a great film of lasting value.

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