Locked In The Forest With Willow (And Other Misadventures)

I enjoy writing about the special moments on our travels with Willow. The days we share together exploring towns, the cosy nights in the wilderness, and of course, the sunsets. It’s these experiences that are a pleasure to share and to reflect back on – the times where everything feels so right.

But there are, of course, other days. Days when nothing seems to go right! Days where I question what we are doing out here, and when even a pebble feels like an unscalable mountain.

This is the story of one of those days and everything it had to teach Steph, Willow, and I.

Where is it?
Other places we have visited

Locked in

Now, Willow and I are no strangers to being stuck. Over the past 5 years we have been stuck in the sand dunes. Stuck with a broken timing chain. Stuck in the mud. Stuck with a flat tyre. Stuck in the mangroves. But, never before had we been.. locked in!

Our story starts on a crisp morning in a small patch of state forest in North West Tasmania. We had entered the area two nights earlier where we found the perfect clearing to enjoy the quiet forest. It was now time to leave and we had just started the 5 minute drive out to the main road on our way to Savage River.

In Tasmania, there are two government bodies managing our forests. Parks & Wildlife Service looks after our national parks and reserves, whereas Sustainable Timber Tasmania (formerly Forestry Tasmania) looks after our state forests. The great thing about Tasmania is that camping and pets are permitted in any state forest unless otherwise signed. This offers a wealth of wilderness to explore around the island with your best friend.

Before we enter a forest some due diligence is required. We have to determine that it is in fact state forest by checking maps and also see if any forestry operations are underway (for the sound of trees being felled does not make for a relaxing stay!).

Despite all that due dilligence, as we neared the end of the forest on our way out it became apparent that we had fallen prey to what many a forest user dreads. Sometime over the past 72 hours someone had closed the gate.

We were locked in.

I was perplexed. There was no felling activity in the area. Why would the gate have been locked?

Then we remembered that there was another road out of the forest that passed through a farm on the Northern side. We clumsily turned the van around and drove 3km that way only to find that there was also a gate there, and it was also locked.

I rested my head on the steering wheel and tried to breathe deeply. There goes our plans for a relaxing morning drive, away with our plan of getting to Savage River and seeing the waterfalls.

I grabbed my phone and dialled the number on the main gate. Disconnected. Luckily, with just enough internet access, I found the number for SST. Closed on weekends.

Then Steph remembered the national parks ranger station at Arthur River. Maybe they would have someone’s number? I dialled and got through. I explained the situation to the friendly ranger. It looked like we might be stuck there till Tuesday when the SST office opens. She told us she’d call us back.

That she did, and she let us know that she’d have some rangers down there with some keys in an hour or so. What a champion!

The rangers arrived and I waved as we walked down the road to meet them, the four of us separated by the menacing breadth of steel.

I’ve got some bad news, one said. None of our keys work, which means whoever put this lock on isn’t from Parks & Wildlife or forestry.

A mystery indeed. The other ranger retrieved a pair of bolt cutters from their ute and was about to make the cut.

Wait! Is there a chance the farmer next door knows anything about this? I thought it might be prudent to ask before the lock was destroyed.

The rangers got the number and made a call. To the disbelief of the rangers, and Steph and I, yes, they had put the lock on the gate yesterday. The farmer, concerned about people using the forest to access his property, had come down in the evening and locked off an entire state forest with us in it!

Now, I can’t begin to fully understand the position of the farmer, he has a property to manage and a business to run. But, to illegitimately lock off a state forest for your own personal needs seems like a rather grandiose extension of one’s liberties.

Nevertheless, the ranger convinced him to come down and let us out, and let us out he did. No smile or apology, just an air of confoundment as to why anyone would want to visit such a place.

We were on our way again, four hours behind schedule.

If that farmer only knew the secrets that forest holds if you stop for a while and listen. Willow knows..

Of mountains and pebbles

As we turned off the sealed C214 and onto the very unsealed C249 we may have been forgiven for thinking that our troubles for the day were over.

The van leant into the corners of the twisting white gravel track as we commenced our 80km or so journey through to Savage River, avoiding the potholes along the way.

The C249 is known as the Western Explorer and passes through some spectacular windswept buttongrass country with views of the mountains. This is remote wilderness at its best.

So remote that you wouldn’t want.. anything to happen out there.

We were about 50km in when we heard a noise, high pitched and piercing, coming from the front of the van. Steph and I glanced at each other before finding a spot to pull over as I tried to keep it together having been rattled from the morning’s woes. The noise stopped.

We started driving again, the same noise stabbing our ear drums. My jaw tensed as we continued driving. Maybe it will just.. go away?

It did not. We found a suitable stop to pull over near a river

Now, the noise was not completely unfamiliar. Back in South Australia in 2017, Steph, Willow, and I were driving on gravel when a small stone made its way in between the front right brake rotor and housing causing an almighty screech as the wheel turned. We had to take the whole wheel off to remove the little bugger.

Back on the Western Explorer, Steph crept the car forward as I tried to locate which wheel was affected. I was puzzled. Could the noise be coming from the front diff?

Without phone reception and being hundred kilometres from a mechanic, we took matters into our own hands. By process of elimination I removed the front right wheel and checked the rotor. It didn’t look damaged, nor could I see a stone stuck in it. I remove the left wheel. Same situation. No pebble screaming out, ahh you got me! Jokes over. If something was there it was doing a great job hiding.

I took a deep breath in, tired and now dirty from the days debacles. I thought about having to tow the vehicle, and finding accomodation and a safe place for Willow while our home was fixed. I thought about this day that was not going how I planned it.

I lifted the blankets in the back and found Willow half way through her afternoon nap. She stretched her legs out, toe beans parted, before sitting up and looking outside. She didn’t care where we were, or if we were stuck. She just cares that we are all together.

So, I decided that that’s what I too should care about. Who cares about a stupid noise.

Willow jumped out and looked around at the dusty track that cut through the wilderness – on the side our van, with one shoe off. She looked up at me slow blinking as if to say, this place is actually pretty cool.

I looked down at the river. It was breathtaking.

Then I reflected. Everything I have ever worried about ever has turned out okay, or been overcome – and I have spent a lot of time worrying. So, who cares.

With the wheels now back on and us still having no idea what the problem was, we took off for a test drive.

Screeeeeeeeeeeech, we heard as the wheels turned. Unwilling to bargain with the noise, I put my foot to the floor.

There was a clunk and then it was gone. It was gone.

Steph and I looked ahead in stone silence, afraid we’d jinx ourselves. Maybe the pebble had repositioned itself only to cause havoc again later. I looked out the rearview mirror hoping catch a glimpse of the culprit – a rock now laid back on road – but I saw nothing.

All’s well that ends…ughh

We continued on as the afternoon left us. Just 15 minutes down the road we saw a police 4×4 with lights on and a motorcycle aside – the rider had wiped out on the corner, the rider now attended to by air ambulance personnel. The policeman saw us approach and let us know that they have had to close the road until they can get the patient into the chopper.

For just a split moment, I am ashamed to admit, I thought, how could this happen now when we need to get through?

Then it dawned on me how lucky we were. That even after all the calamity the day had presented we were all okay. That all the menacing gates, disgruntled farmers, and crafty rocks had still afforded us a day together.

Maybe our day from hell wasn’t so hellish after all.

The emergency personel had now transported the patient to the chopper on a spinal board and was now safe. His mate collected the bike and stood it up on the side of the road. We were now free to drive on through the mountain.

We did make it to Savage River that evening, and in our van home we cooked dinner as Willow ate her biscuits. Steph and I tucked ourselves into bed, and Willow jumped up to settle on my knees.

And, as I started to drift off to sleep I was content that everything did turn out okay, and Willow was there to help us see it. And as with many stories, it’s not always a mountain that’s conquered, sometimes it’s just a pebble.

* * *

Thanks for joining us on our trip down the Western Explorer. There were shakes, there were bumps and rattles, but we made it through!

I just want to send a big thank you to the people at Parks & Wildlife for coming to our rescue. As they don’t accept donations directly I am choosing to support the Save the Tasmanian Devil Appeal as this is a cause in the hearts of many rangers and Tasmanians alike. Send your support in the menu below and we’ll pass it through or donate directly here. I’ll start the ball rolling with $20. The Tasmanian devil is facing extinction and they need our help.

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