The human mind, and those random people it incites to attempt the most difficult journeys, is one of the most amazing aspects of life. Climbing the world’s highest mountains, surfing the biggest waves, trekking to the poles, and numerous other determination-requisite quests make humanity what it is, as much as war and disease. Robyn Davidson possesses a brain with such ambition, and her 1980 Tracks is the open, inspirational record.
An Australian and lover of her country’s desert lands, in the late 1970s Davidson set out to the interior of Australia with $6 in her pocket and the desire to work with camels such that she might fulfill her dream of travelling from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean by camel. Two years later a handler of the eccentric humped back animals, she was still unable to meet the financial requirements of outfitting a solo expedition. But after applying for support from National Geographic, Davidson was on her way, four camels and a trusty dog at her side.
But the subtitle A Woman's Solo Trek across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback is only the surface of Davidson’s travelogue. Where the book draws its real value is in Davidson’s open expression of the doubts and fears, joys and contents while making the solo journey. Disliking the idea of “selling her soul” to National Geographic (they had made it a stipulation they be allowed to send a photographer at intervals to document her journey), Davidson opines this less-than-personal aspect of her journey. Likewise inducing emotion in the author—at times joyful, and at others, borderline madness—is the loneliness and life-swallowing expanse of the Australian Outback. Her camels’ personalities taking on lives of their own, the hardships she faces, the heat, the worries regarding food, not to mention the wild camels they encounter, are all explained by Davidson from a very personal, exposed point of view.
Truly bearing her soul, Tracks is both a travelogue and an act of catharsis. Along with vivid descriptions of the wilds of the Australian desert, the handful of people she comes across, and life amongst her animal cadre, Davidson openly discusses the huge variety of emotions imbued by the 1,700 mile journey in highly affective fashion. From wandering naked through the red sands to the sadness of dealing with the heartbreak that occurs along the way, her story leaves no personal stone unturned toward relating the persistence and determination of finishing the trek. Inspirational to the extreme, it’s impossible for anyone finishing Tracks not to feel the desire to take on something personally challenging, themselves. Davidson’s achievement is proof ambition and mortality are truly layered.