There was no signal, but I figured I could make the 30 metres out of the gorge to get coverage.
But, as I went to put the phone in my pocket, it slipped from my hand, falling into the creek.
Now I’m seriously in trouble, I panicked.
Living alone, and with my grown-up children in NZ, no-one knew where I was. And, surrounded by thick rainforest, there was no chance anyone would find me.
I knew there was a junction of two creeks three kilometres away, where a helicopter could spot me.
It also had a track where people exercised.
Now I just had to get there…
Unable to walk, I shuffled on my bum.
My left hand also seemed to be fractured, so I relied on my right hand and left elbow to manoeuvre across the creek base, while I held my shattered leg up in the air.
Each shuffle was a challenge as I navigated ledges and rocks the size of cars. Luckily, the creek had rainwater I could drink.
Every metre I stopped to take a breather, and I decided that every four hours I’d take painkillers and nibble on energy bars.
Running on adrenaline, I didn’t feel pain.
To keep me going, I thought about my family.
When dusk fell, I found a flat area and crawled into my emergency sleeping bag for the night.
As soon as it was light, I set off again on my bottom.
By this point, my leg was so weak, it would no longer hold up by itself.
So, I had to grip my pants to support it.
The second day was exhausting. Checking my map and compass, I made sure I was heading in the right direction.
It was an incredible relief when I reached a watering hole I’d passed on my way.
Only 50 metres from here to the junction, I encouraged myself.
It was dark, so I stayed there for the night.
At around 8pm, I heard a helicopter whirring in the sky. Under heavy trees, I knew there was no chance they would spot me.
But it gave me hope – was someone looking for me?
Setting off early again, I reached the junction at mid-morning and hoped the helicopter would return.
Finally, after an agonising few hours, it was back!
As I waved my arms in the air, a paramedic was winched down to me.
‘Are you Neil Parker?’ he asked.
‘Yes!’ I cried.
When I told him about my injuries, they sent down a stretcher before flying me to hospital.
On the way, paramedics explained that when I hadn’t turned up to work on Monday morning, my boss had phoned my ex-wife, Tania. She called a few people, including my friend Judy, who knew about my walking plans. I didn’t even remember telling her, but
I was so grateful I had!
At hospital, my three sisters, Dawn, Tania and Lila, were waiting for me.
I needed three operations, two of which involved screwing metal plates into my shattered left wrist and leg.
My son Josh got straight on a plane too.
‘I can’t believe you held your leg the whole way,’ he marvelled when he saw me.
Finally, after three-and-a-half weeks in hospital, I went home. And after six long months, I was finally off the crutches.
I’m back to exploring the great outdoors – but now I always tell people where I’m going.
Plus, I take a GPS beacon, so if I need to contact someone, I’m not relying on my phone.
I learnt the hard way.
I feel so lucky to be alive. ●
Neil has partnered up with safety and communication brand, GME, ahead of their campaign ‘Where The Bloody Hell Am I?’.
It encourages those bushwalking, camping, 4WDriving and fishing to choose and carry the correct safety and communication equipment when exploring the great outdoors, such as a radio and emergency beacon.