My sister of course. A week of drinking, catching up and being a foreigner, what more could you ask for.
Chasing the sun and wet weather, though of course I will quickly learn to regret this decision, in my sun burnt water logged agony.
Long drives, hot weather, serial killers and dust, dust and more dust. hopefully somewhere a large red rock.
After far too long travelling, I am now somewhere that I want to be, and more importantly wants me to be here too.
Three long days hard at the cruise control with nothing to occupy my time but to flick across the ever changing radio stations, and for a while there driving with my Ipod in a hopelessly unsafe attempt to learn Italian whilst at the wheel. These initial distances may have pushed me further away from Sydney, but got nowhere near recapturing the adventurer mind set I held two weeks previously, the hopeful and relaxed one that saw multiple opportunity in this current crazy endeavour. The first one thousand clicks into the unknown felt as comfortable as pulling my own teeth.
There is what is said about crossing the Nullarbor and then there is what one finds in reality, though I imagine the same crossing in the searing summer heat would manage to push both Silvio and my own buttons and merely twenty years ago it would have been a severe test of machine, but the road that I found is just one big country track. The much vaunted Road Trains, these fearful Optimus Primes, travel mostly at just off the 110km speed limit and strangely for their awesome reputation (but I am very keen to add, polite and considerate drivers) become more of minor overtaking irritant to the Falc's big in-line six as he swoops past at the legal limit and then some. However there were two times on the drive over where a glance in the rear view was rewarded by the unwelcome sight of the leader of the Autobots bearing down at an uncomfortable and perhaps maybe slightly illegal pace. Silvio of course is a Falcon and these are the journeys he was designed for, I suspect I would be reporting a different story had I partnered up with a Yaris for this trip.
Whereas the Falc' took the never ending blacktop in his stride, I did not. I was pretty wired for the whole crossing, out of Sydney way through to deep into WA. Just the fear of not knowing what to expect, an uncomfortable uncertainty that reveals the bigger survival quest going on within me at this moment. I need not have worried, well I say that, there was a very big freak out in Port Arthur to contend with, but I think I got away with it and nobody seemed to notice me stashing my Henckels 7 inch carving knife that Tash gave me for Christmas one year in my jacket to go get supplies from the local Woolworths. Actually I may have been seen favouring non discretion as an extra deterrent, but as many of them looked like they were already packing heat, I doubt this scary bunch of jacked up 4 be 4, bulging eyed, gap-toothed wonders would have been that bothered by my pitiful attempts at grocery self defence. So, a rum looking place and I can see why Adelaide keeps one peninsula and two gulfs between them. My general state of mind at this point wasn't so crash hot, in case you hadn't noticed, the kilometres, the boredom, the loneliness and the driving (sic) need to keep going were all taking their toll, but the worst bit was the fucking weather, Jesus this is supposed to be an arid country! From Broken Hill through to Ceduna, via the Eyre Peninsula, four days behind the wheel and don't forget these are long days, the same as driving from London to Edinburgh and back twice, all completed in classic English Easter bank holiday weather. Rain, more rain and gale force winds.
The Nullarbor starts just west of Ceduna and it was with great relief that I woke up, as I do when I road trip, at day break, to nothing but the mechanical cacophony of a road train hoofing its metal carcass past my head not more than twenty metres away from my hideously expensive, for what it was - a breeze block room of prison cell proportions - motel accommodation. A feature of this trip has been a variation on WWTD (What would Tash Do); at every opportunity I seem to have found the most expensive option, most notably being caught out after calculating that the most expensive petrol must be at Eucla or Border town as they are in the middle of the Nullarbor But no, they were quite reasonable compared to the Esso pump at the Madura Pass Motel the next stop along, provisioning the most expensive petrol I have ever purchased ($1.77 per litre, Fuck!). Somewhere after this fleecing, between the unwelcome discovery of the shanty town aesthetic of the Cocklebiddy Motel and the one stop shop Caiguna, fatigue met with good reason and got the better of my fear of both dropping to sleep at the wheel and paying through the nose for motel room and after scouting the roadside for a suitable dirt track, sent Silvio off into the bush. I have irrational fear and lots of it, it is in everything I do at the moment, but it is on a level that is entirely human; writes the man who slept making a finger crucifix until he was thirteen because he was terrified of Vampires and has seen phantasm arachnoids in reality for most of his thirties. I know a thing or two about irrational fear and the tricks your mind likes to play and what is going on with me at the moment is manageable and for the most part a harmless by-product of other processing, if at times, a little odd. I did however give some credence to some of this ridiculousness whilst choosing where to crash for the night. If I was a maniacal axle welding Nullarbor prowling lunatic I would sure head straight for the roadside rest areas, so I chose a dirt track leading to other dirt tracks and signs that this has been an unofficial rest stop for, guessing by the age of the upturned car I spotted, thirty years. Hey, if I was found by the Nullarbor Necker then I would be the first to admit, via a Medium of course, that maybe this was not such a good idea, but statistically I had to be safer hidden from the road, no matter how freaky my environment for the night initially made me feel, than visible from it. That is until I spotted the small shafts in the dirt dotted around the car with cobwebs in them and, well you don't really need to know anymore about my phobias especially with spiders.
I lived through the night, of course, I slept in my steel tent, but fate still managed to intervene with a reminder that life is about balance and in saving $80 in roughing the night I had to pay recompense of $49 to replace my air mattress that blew it's chuff in the middle of the night. If you just give yourself chance, you will be amazed at how sensitive a machine we humans are, I couldn't hear the hiss, but just knew that there was some sinking going on, and on, and on, my air bed relaxing into its post coital collapse, until I was sullenly woken from my sleep as my hip contacted the tie bolt on the back of the folded down rear seat, Nuts, cold hard 2am, pitch black, man eating spider, Nuts.
The great drive was pretty much a two day affair and the last morning contained the thing I really wanted to see, not for me completely, but for my friend Andy in London, the interstellar freak. You remember Skylab, the great American space dream sent up and brought down when the world was still wearing flares and nylon was king, well in keeping with the US foreign policy still in place of what is yours is usually ours, this part of Western Australia became a convenient landing area for the final re-entry of Cape Canaveral’s holiday home. The only problem was that this was no Space Shuttle and its arrival was more in kit form. Most of Skylab either burnt up during the fiery entry into the atmosphere or plummeted into the Indian Ocean, but enough made a far quicker, but decidedly more one way, trip to Balladonia than I had just managed. It was a good way to start the day and one, I appreciated, that signaled a more balanced feeling, now that the balls to the wall roadwork was almost over. Norseman, the opposite of Ceduna at the West end of the Eyre Highway, nearly undid that fine start. Noticing, as I bit into processed sugar masquerading as a health bar, that I was physically cowering behind a seat at the BP service station, the only building in Norseman that looks like it has seen even a sniff of investment since the sixties and that is to say nothing of the local populace.... Actually hold on, so far I have been astounded in WA, the people here are totally without the pretensions that I normally see in this country; they are friendly, talkative and do not think it acceptable sport to bag out the pommie at the first meeting. I feel welcomed by their smiles and the waves from their vehicles as I drive past. However the fact still remains for whatever reason I was not adjusting well to my new environment and was shit scared in Norseman. My internal dialogue once again asking a not unfamiliar question in the last fifteen months: "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?"
To be honest I was not too sure and am still not. Since leaving Sydney, as it is now, eight days ago I have been trying to accommodate this new reality I have chosen and it is a tough sell. Like steel grinding steel, the two opposite halves of my inner arguments have been butting together as the tectonic plates of my future. I am burning out, I cannot take anymore change and I cannot take anymore loss, but something has to give and I have to keep going, still propelled by the force from the epicentre I stood at in May last year. Whilst I have no denial at the loss of my wife I am now angry and struggle to come to terms with how I feel about the people we knew - Calm down, I am not going to rant at any one of you, this is general - Soon it will be Eighteen months and I am still losing, the grains of what was my life are just falling through my closed fist and there is less and less I feel I can or want to do about it, such is the duplicity of my current position, because the more important struggle is not to make loss a way of life. So what is the deal I hear you uniformly shout as one, well it goes like this; Everyone but me has had the option not to deal with Tash's death, they have their lives to get on with and on occasion there is bleed-through, there are still tears, there are still thoughts and this is all good. Unfortunately no one has the option to avoid the fact of the matter when they see or hear from me and every person from my past life that I speak to or see has the ability, through their lack of processing, to slide me down the back of the snake right to the start of the board alongside them and it is a hill I am sick of having to scramble back up. This is not too dissimilar to a situation we used to encounter with Tash, we would keep the ones with the wild eyes away from her, their fears for cancer had no place being pushed onto the girl, except now there is no one to ride shotgun for me as I did for her. Most often though they don't speak, don't call or just don't show up and for them it is just one person walked away from, I was more her friend anyway. But for me it has been many, on many, and I keep losing still. My desperation at this turn of events I suspect now very evident in my communication. As if my loss wasn't already the greatest, I get gifted everyone else's as well. This I appreciate, is not just poor me, I have mentors in this field, contacts who I can call on for advice and this happens a great deal in situations like mine. It is my greatest misfortune that my wife gave up her life at a time when everyone else was starting theirs: weddings, careers and babies. There is little room in the upward elevator for those of us tumbling down the stairs it seems and with this comes a feeling of acute abandonment. But in ten years there will be divorce in this family and sadly in twenty there may even be others like me and then you might know how I now see the world and that is the shame on all of us.
I write this particular paragraph for myself, hoping that stating this externally will in some way help to release me from the debt that I owe. Some time in the before, long before she died, but certainly a vow retaken in the early months of last year, I saw what was happening, knew what my responsibilities were and agreed this deal with myself; No matter what the cost to me, she would be supported and cared for in her hopes and her needs. What would happen afterward and what condition I would be in could not be of consequence in my view during; I would cash all my cheques and gun the engine until it blew, it simply did not matter considering the cause. This is an account for me, as we all have with ourselves, and in recent months it has increasingly required a settlement, which I cannot repay. Some of the reasons for this have been touched on above, maybe I hoped that with all the love in the world, these arrears would be overlooked, but this is an entirely personal credit line. Perhaps in my hubris I expected to be cared for by the world for my good work for another human being, but the world is not like that, it was simply a fantasy on my part and I must give what is now due. I wanted to be rescued, not because I cannot deal with my situation, but because I wanted to feel hope. What I have received has been more human, and I am forever thankful, but governed by practical responsibilities. I have lived the last six years by external timeframes, the first four by the restraints imposed by her treatments: the three weekly Herceptin, cyclic chemo and three monthly scans and after still, there were house contracts, people to see, plans to adhere to and even in this country a delicate dance around the lives of the various couch owners. I need to wander without direction for a bit, see physically where I land and perhaps that will be recompense enough.
So I have said it, some of my words are harsh and now in print. It pisses me because this is not all there is, I have some very good friends the world over, but their combined global effort would not be enough to stop the bomb I have been sitting on all this time and as tempted as I might have been, even momentarily, to take them for everything they would give to sustain the unlivable life I was maintaining, that is just not my style. So I have exited Sydney stage left, too much history and no possibilities. Even my brief encounter was somewhat doomed, though in the end I just listened as the pin was surreptitiously pulled and the grenade handed back, reminding myself as it inevitably went off in my face (but really, how much more can I be hurt, water off a duck's back) of the first girl I had sex with, keeping in with my previous theme of rebirth. It destroyed the bliss in a teenage hormonal firebomb of emotional instability on my part. This then, strangely, twenty-three years later seemed eerily familiar territory, though at the same time immediately opposite and different. All things happen with reason and one is doomed to repeat one's mistakes if one does not heed the warnings when they appear, in my case Tash's home town was starting to let me know that it was time to get the hell out of dodge, even though half of me just didn't want to hear it.
By now not even the worst of the weather could make Silvio's cabin an inviting place to be, forty hours driving over seven days may not seem like much, but at times it has felt like a lonely prison and man, I so wanted out of there for a while, my arms and legs working like pop out springs every time I could find an excuse to stop. The choices at Norseman, other than my perceived hideous death, were upwards to Kalgoolie or down to Esperence. Esperence won purely because it was closer and so I am making my way to Perth clockwise along the south coast. Cape Le Grand, sixty kays east of the town became my residence for two days. The first of which gave me the whole camp ground to myself, solar showers and all, however this was quickly blighted by the arrival of the inevitable solider ant, the major foe in my battle for chosen solitude. In my research for this trip I saw that there was a world of hobo'ing on offer across the country, backpackers and families, left, right and centre pitching up all over the lovely greenery, in reality my companions are housed in metal bodied trailers and campers. They are everywhere, even where they shouldn't, I know I am complaining, but like a cat, it takes while to pick your place for the night, the complicated and sensitive relationship between sleep, canvas, drop bear attack and the elements and then to find half a house bearing down on you is not a good vibe. This is to say nothing of the Camping and Caravanning act 1997, which as I understand it, allows a local council to restrict any overnight escapade up to 10 kilometres around a town except for designated campsites. The truth of the matter has been very different to the literature so far.
The beach at Cape Le Grand was like quick sand, due I guessed to layer upon layer of seaweed under the sand permafrost. The two small rivers that run in to the sea at the campsite smelt of effluent, hard to imagine that one toilet block could be the producer, so I reminded myself of the bigger picture; this new land is an instrument I have yet to learn to play, the fact it produces moments that are difficult for my metropolitan nose shouldn't be taken at first sniff (In fact four days later I was informed, via helpful view side placard that the colour and smell are due to tannins from the dropped leaves of overhanging trees, which at this particular vista made the estuary waters flow like sheets of metamorphosing tan leather against the incoming tide). In this the guidebook was a little obtuse, but for Port Ann the next campsite, two hundred kays west it was spot on. Just out from where the tent was pitched, twenty meters offshore, I spent the afternoon in rapture watching a pod of fifteen or so Southern Right Whales just behind the thin line of breakers along the bay, beautiful and now we are not killing them (The Right whale got it's name because of its high yield, it was the right whale to kill) they fed and frolicked ignorant of the crowds beach side observing them. A perfect place to see whales in their migratory path.
At two weeks out I find myself still dodging the weather, just recently being holed up for a couple of days in a Motel in Albany whilst the town basked in rain and momentarily, hail, and when brave enough, then back out in the tent working around the National Parks in the area. My days to be honest roll into one in a waking dream, only punctuated by watching the sunrises and sunsets, which here are breathtaking, even at this time of year. I feel like crying whenever I leave a town, a warm safe motel room, but never a campsite. This is not because I dislike canvas, exactly the opposite, choosing pitches in earshot of the sea, reverting to my astrological type as I have dropped down to function in a manner I have long used, hand to mouth, both physically and emotionally. There are benefits to this, this is the 4 wheel drive I have drawn metaphor to previously, as there is beauty. The last three hours of yesterday however, where, frankly surreal; There is a relationship with the earth I sleep on and the environment around me, much time is now spent walking round in circles in a feline manner trying to discover the secret of the night's perfect pitch. Last night was not looking good, an open bay and three even more on display uneven camp blocks. Though the site was way down a track deep into an admittedly small national park, a car would appear around the headland on the single track in/out every half an hour and when I forget myself - a singular, tall, bearded, slightly scruffy looking dude, with out of state plates on his vehicle, hardly an easy target, in fact I probably instill more fear in the populace than them in me, my thoughts do turn to the more paranoid and conjure up images of a more concerning nature to my physical well being. I did not feel secure here, but did not want to drive anymore, so sat in the car reading with the tent half up fending for itself as the afternoon's inclement weather set in. As the sun moved further westward and my options to go somewhere else decreased the sun made a last break for attention through the clouds and bathed the bay in a golden light.... and some birds appeared, small brightly coloured happy chirping chappies, then a bandicoot and two rabbits foraging on the pitch next to me for food and out of the front windscreen the bay was framed by the clearest rainbow I have seen in a long while. But that was not all, a large Whale fin sailed itself across my vision - I was in a Disney film! Just as I was about to start singing "Zipi-di-do-da Zipi-idi-day" with the wildlife choir the magic was disturbed by more visitors, who, after a quick fortifying dram of whisky, just for courage you understand, I had a chat with detailing the whole recent Technicolor experience. I must have impressed them with the tale as on leaving they left me a fish, having popped down from god knows where to catch dinner. My evening then finished with barbecued Whiting against the sunset.
Not such a romantic image when I point out that they left me a live fish and the fucker would not die of its own accord; upsettingly there were uncomfortable reflections of a previous experience in its unconscious twitching, and in its stubborn refusal to let go of life, something I really had to deal with not wanting to gut the thing whilst it was alive. Another dram was taken, as well as a deep breath and the edge of the chopping board I carry was raised skywards before ending this increasingly squeamish episode decisively in one, well three actually, firm hits. I think my more experienced friends, Ale the Sicilian, for one, could have made a better job of the cleaning and gutting the thing with a Lego brick than I eventually did with a sharp knife, but it was getting dark.
Perth then, and then Bali, perhaps some good weather in all its forms might come my way.