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Crossing the Outback on Foot: Epic Family Adventure

LAUREN HAAS JONES reveals what walking 1,800km across Australia with her documentary filmmaker husband, Justin Jones, and a toddler taught her about parenthood

and you thought packing for road trips was hard
And you thought packing for road trips was hard

Halfway through our family walking trip across the Outback 

The sun was setting over the vivid red rocky gibber plains. I could hear the crackling of our campfire and see the silhouette of my husband crouching over the flames starting to make dinner. We were at the halfway mark of our adventure, 900km behind us, 900km yet to go. There was no-one around us for hundreds of miles – beside the flies swarming my face. But I knew when the sun finally set, they too would disappear.  My hair was tied back in a plait, as I had not had a shower in six weeks. The sweat on my brow clung to my Akubra as the searing heat of the day lingered. My body felt tired from walking, but in the good tired kind of way. 

morgan learning about the world
Morgan learning about the world

My 16-month-old daughter, Morgan, was toddling by my side as I finished setting up the tent, happily picking up rocks and exploring the Mars-like surroundings. In that moment I realised I had found a new sense of contentment, happiness and self-reliance that had eluded me my whole adult life up until that point, or maybe I had just never slowed down enough to recognise it.

the experience was great for family bonding
The experience was great for family bonding

Our adventure hadn’t always felt this idyllic. The reality, until then, was often far from it. When we decided to walk 1,800km, roughly halfway across Australia, through the outback, with a toddler in tow, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had no idea how hard, yet life-altering it would be.  

enjoying lifes simple pleasures
Enjoying life's simple pleasures

I’m American and I came to Australia to do a master’s degree nearly 12 years ago. I’d always been a rule follower. In America, there is a specific track for success, and my life had always been very well planned. The unknown terrified me. Then I met my husband, Justin Jones, a professional adventurer and documentary filmmaker. As a 20-something, he kayaked from Australia to New Zealand and skied to the South Pole and back over 89 days, unsupported. I found his love for the unknown and his playful, curious nature attractive. Not that I thought I’d ever do anything that adventurous – my life was more about climbing corporate ladders than mountains.  

adventure baby
Adventure baby

I was 36 when we welcomed Morgan into the world. Like many women, after years of corporate success, I experienced a loss of identity when I became a mother. The expectation to lean in, do it all and be it all felt overwhelming. When Morgan was just three months old, I could sense that if I didn’t take the chance to do something different, I was at risk of losing myself in the whole process. I thought, ‘what better time than now to rediscover and reinvent myself and jump out into the unknown?’. Because, let’s be honest, I was already there whether I liked it or not.

cooking on the road
Dad and daughter coocking on the road

Exploring Australia from Docker River (Kaltukatjara)

Gripped by the urge to reimagine parenthood, Justin and I decided to see if we could build a life that we didn’t need a vacation from. We set off from Docker River/Kaltukatjara, where the Western Australia border meets the Northern Territory line. Our plan was to walk through the wild centre of Australia via Yulara, Kulgera and Aputula and then onto Oodnadatta, William Creek, Maree, Beltana, Parachilna and, finally, Port Augusta in South Australia. Along the way we hoped to see the red rock domes of Kata Tjuta, the sandstone monolith of Uluru, the great salt lakes of Lake Eyre and Lake Torrens, and the beautiful Flinders mountain ranges, all on foot.

crossing the outback is touring with the banff film festival
Crossing the outback is touring with the Banff Film Festival

The first couple of days, even weeks, were unbelievably intense and slow. Every day seemed to offer some new unsurmountable challenge, either physical or emotional. The slowness, in contrast to the busy life I was used to, felt excruciatingly frustrating. I guess that’s why they call it your comfort zone because, when you step out of it, it can get pretty uncomfortable pretty fast. We were in survival mode and things at this stage weren’t much fun. Walking 1,800km seemed impossible. In the early days it was a mental mindset shift to just walk one more section, one more day, one more kilometre or, at times, just one more step.

flies were a constant burden
Flies were a constant burden

Throughout our walking adventure through the Outback, we faced numerous challenges that pushed us to become better individuals

Over 102 days we battled extreme temperatures ranging from -2°C to 42°C and 100km per hour winds. We suffered sleep deprivation (thank you toddler teething!), suffocating flies, dehydration, blisters, and sore ankles. We dodged snakes, dingoes, emus, wild brumbies and camels. And we created amazing family memories founded in passion, self-discovery and personal growth.

taking in the view from the tent
Taking in the view from the tent

One of the biggest challenges for me was not letting perfection stand in the way of progress. I will often hold myself back if I don’t think I’m 100 per cent ready, something isn’t perfect, or for fear I might fail. Through this expedition I learned that true failure is not having the courage to take that first step. I learned that there would inevitably be failures along the way when you are doing something new, and if you view these failures through a different lens, they are actually valuable information.  I think I also gained the awareness that there will never be the ‘perfect time’ to follow your passion, follow your heart or do that big thing you’ve always wanted to do deep down, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right time to take the leap. Often you only live to regret the things you don’t do. 

fun times during the journey
Fun times during the journey

In the end, motherhood and going on a big adventure are not dissimilar. In both I was unravelled, stripped bare and reinvented. Both shifted my priorities and my definitions of success. Both shifted my capabilities. Both allowed the impossible to become possible. Morgan learned to not only walk in the outback, but to run.  Justin and I learned to not only survive, but to thrive. I learned that there is an adventurer in all of us, and we are all far more capable than we give ourselves credit for. 

The film the couple made about their adventure, Crossing the Outback: Expedition Parenthood is touring Australia with the Banff Film Festival.

More information:

See Lauren and Justin’s video podcast series Adventure Thinking, where they bring adventure lessons down from the proverbial mountaintop into real life. Sign up and check out episodes at

Follow the family on Instagram via @followthejonesys


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