ROBERT BOGUCKI’S TRIP TO THE VOID
By Jimmy O’Keefe
The rawest parts of Australia will screw with your head.
There are even stretches of blacktop that can cause delirium – a mix of brain fog, horizon haze, and a hiccupping odometer that syncs with your heartbeat.
One such place – that’s either the cause or the cure for such craziness – is Sandfire Roadhouse.
It’s a servo so remote that it’s achieved town status, simply because it’s the only place for hours where you’ll find any signs of life.
It’s a haunting stretch of the Pilbara, and it holds special significance to the local Nyangumarta. It also holds welcome respite for miners and nomads looking for liquid sustenance in the form of fuel and cool water halfway between Port Hedland and Broome.
When you get back into your rig, you look to the east, to the interior, and it’s almost as though your ship could sail straight off the edge of the world. All you can see is the terrifying opening to the Great Sandy Desert.
When you’re confronted by the hot emptiness behind the roadhouse, you realise it’s named Sandfire for good reason. This confrontation with nothingness was all too much for one adventurer back in 1999.
Bobby Bogucki was an Alaskan fireman, no stranger to temperature extremes, but he was perhaps a stranger to the voices in his head that told him to drop everything and pedal his bike straight into the lifeless maw.
The confused cyclist was on a journey to find God, via the depths of hell.
He loaded his bike with supplies that only served to make his bike useless, and on the first day he discarded his wheels in shin-deep bull dust.
Local cops and trackers looked for him but gave up when they found his bike. Not much could survive out there for one day, let alone seven.
His family funded an independent search for their son, believing their little cherub may have hidden from rescuers.
They enlisted a rescuer who seemed even more nuts than their son, a private detective from California named, I kid you not, ‘Gunslinger’ St Clair.
As if to make up for Bobby’s disappearing act, Gunslinger St Clair arrived in the northwest as the most visible man on earth, complete with military fatigues, a team of dogs and hired helicopters.
The cigar-chomping Gunslinger got bogged immediately and was lampooned by the local media. However, on Day 40, Gunslinger found Bobby’s clothes near the Edgar Ranges, as well as his dusty bible and a notepad full of his ‘visions’.
It was a good sign that Bobby had made it this far, but a bad sign that this was as far as he got.
It was big news, so it was fitting that it wasn’t ‘Gunslinger’, nor the cops, nor the trackers, who found the unhinged bible basher, but a Channel 9 news chopper looking for some background desert shots to go with their crazy story about these crazy foreigners.
They couldn’t believe their luck. There he was, Bobby Bogucki, a sunburnt skeleton walking through a gorge. Alive.
When he got to Broome Hospital, Bobby spoke of surviving on brewed gum leaves and black ants and apologised for the worry caused. He claimed he was driven by something else, an “itch” that was beyond his control.
Steven Orr recounts Bobby’s motivations in The Fierce Country, where Bogucki explained, “It’s still going through my mind the things I’ve seen and experienced. I feel satisfied that I stretched that edge, whatever it was that sent me out there in the first place. The only feeling I have right now is a feeling of confidence that God will take care of me.’
Even deep in his stupidity, and putting others’ lives in danger, Bobby’s mission to the middle of nowhere has a certain romance to it. He saw the edge, just behind Sandfire Roadhouse, and he stepped into it.