A while ago I promised to tell you about our summer road trip up the coast, so I'd like to do that. Looking through my photos this morning, I felt glad that I bother to pull out my phone and take pictures as often as I do. I have a bad memory and photos take me right back to the moment they were taken and whatever I was feeling. It's tops.
Our plan was to spend two weeks driving up the east coast of Victoria and New South Wales and then to turn around again when we got to Byron Bay, where one of our beautiful friends lives. Things that I learned from this experience were that it is dumb to try to drive too far too quickly, that putting up and pulling down a tent for just one night repeatedly can we wearing, and that I really (really) prefer being out in nature to being in the city. I lived in Melbourne for about 12 years and loved the concretey life. But I don't any more.
Our first stop was Lakes Entrance. We had planned to camp in a national park beside the Gippsland lakes, but the bushfires that chased us all the way to Lakes Entrance (complete with water bombing helicopters flying overhead and smouldering grass by the roadside) had other plans. It didn't feel safe to be sleeping in a tent on a narrow peninsula, when the people on the radio were saying that the coming high winds meant that the bushfires could not be contained. So, we checked in to a cheap motel, enjoyed pear cider and fish and chips and wandering around the docks during the balmy night.
Don't let this beautiful photo of Ninety Mile Beach fool you. The wind was so intense that the sand was stinging every part of my body that wasn't covered. Also, apologies for the slant, I'm a bit lazy about editing photos.
The following day we hoped to drive on to our next destination, which was Mallacoota. But the bushfires and incredible heat had other plans. So we hot-boxed it in an amazing old caravan instead.
This is why we waited another day. That was our route and those running symbols mean evacuate. NOW!
We lay in a pool of our own sweat for hours, not daring to move, until we discovered the caravan park pool. Us and all the kids.
The following day we were able to push ahead. The road was still smokey, but the wind had settled so there wasn't supposed to be any unpredictable fire fronts. (We're all still pretty jittery here in Victoria after Black Saturday.)
We spent a night at Mystery Bay with beautiful spotted gums, intriguing rock formations and a highly vocal possum.
Because we were behind schedule, we had to leg it from there straight to Sydney. We stayed in Double Bay which is a fancy suburb with big houses and private beaches. The first night we were giddy with excitement. It was humid, there was the scent of frangipanis in the air, we ate delicious Thai food under morton bay figs (one of my favourite trees) and we were anticipating exploring the city over the next few days.
And then we kind of hated it.
I don't know if I was strung out from the long hours of driving and hot boxing in a caravan or if I am genuinely not compatible with cities any more, but I felt overwhelmed, overstimulated and like nobody in a sea of spending nobodies. One day A and I were fighting our way through the crowds around Circular Quay and there was an elderly lady sitting on the footpath holding a sign telling us that she had escaped domestic violence and asking for help for herself and her son. Nobody even glanced at her as they hurried past on their way to spend money somewhere and it felt kind of appalling. I get it, I really do. I lived in the city and I was that person who sort of had to tune out other people's mental illness and despair because there was too much to respond to. Or it felt like that. But now that I live in the country, where the people you pass look you in the eye, it felt jarring. I was busy staring at the sky pretending I wasn't going to ball my eyes out, so I asked A to go and say hello to her and give her the money that we were planning to spend on some crap somewhere.
I remember A telling me about a story he read or heard about a homeless guy who described one of the worst things about being homeless as that nobody would look you in the eye for days. Like you didn't exist.
But, you know, I took some photos of Sydney anyway.
One of my happier moments in Sydney was spending time with an old friend and reconnecting. We had a picnic looking at this.
After a few days, we were sling-shotted out of Sydney to Booti Booti National Park. We stayed at a lovely campground near the beach. It was from about here northwards that we began learning about how intense (climactically and emotionally) tropical weather can be. Alex and I had a yucky argument one day (putting up and pulling down tents repeatedly can do that to you if you're not careful), so I stormed off to the beach and while I sat there with nobody else around, some dolphins swam by and leaped out of the water to eyeball me. It was magnificent.
I saw a spider in this bushland that made me very very afraid.
One day we drove to the nearby town of Forster where we swam in a beach pool. It was fucking cold in that water. So it was exhilarating.
This storm rolled in one evening and is easily the most incredible storm I have experienced. The torrential rain came from nowhere while I was pottering around the camp kitchen making us a Milo. A was in the tent luckily, but the rain was so intense that I had to hide behind the BBQ for a while before making a mad dash to the car where we sheltered while the storm passed over. We sat in the car peering nervously at our tent and drinking bourbon and coke, until we were pretty drunk and didn't care if our tent got washed away. We had a great time.
There is often a beautiful stillness following a storm. Of any kind. And that evening we lay in our tent peering out at it feeling enormously happy.
Another long long drive, via the Big Banana and the Big Prawn, led us to Goonengerry (behind Byron Bay) where our friends live. Their house in the rainforest is breathtaking. Their spiders are also breathtaking. And that's all I'll say about that.
The return journey was planned to take about three days. We drove down through the Hunter Valley which is lovely. This coal train was not really slanty.
We visited my brother and his partner in Katoomba, where they have a property. This is the view across the road from their property. I'm not kidding.
This is a tree that we lay under in a town called Kandos one day on the way home. We were talking about the town that we'd just driven through where there was a pub called The Lady Bushranger and thinking about how some wonderful women came out of this part of the country. Like Louisa Lawson (mother of poet Henry Lawson) and of course Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, who was the lady bushranger. It was nice to think about women who we could look up to for their striving and strength, because our society hasn't always set it up so that worthy women are noticed.
The Drover's Wife by Henry Lawson is a genuinely pretty great poem. It feels very visceral and Australian for me.
By the way, you'll be proud of me. Yoga and running are an everyday part of life for me now. This song is on my running mix.
This song is not on my running mix, but it's pretty great.