I think I’m a bit like my Granpa, in that my favourite time to keep a diary is when I’m travelling. We’re heading back to Nymboida, our 100 acre bush block (with tiny cabin) in Northern NSW for 3 months of writing, rest and what we fondly refer to as ‘bootcamp’. I can already feel my muscles stretching and strengthening… the toughening-back-up has begun!
It’s going to take a few years to get good at this too-ing and fro-ing, from one state to another, but each time we do it there will be less ‘stuff’ to pack and move. This is our second trek from Darwin to NSW. Last time we went, in September last year, we had to move out of our home of 25 years. We gave many of our possessions away, sold the lounge suite and the fridge because they were too big for our new gypsy lifestyle and packed a small load into a covered trailer to take with us. The rest went into storage.
I still laugh and shudder when I remember the drama’s we went through when we arrived at our new block in NSW. We’d damaged the driveway getting bogged on it 6 months earlier, a week before we decided to purchase it. Getting bogged was a blessing in disguise (one of many in my life) because it gave us time to fall in love with the land and the people. When we turned up with our dog and packed trailer in tow six months later, we discovered that the driveway-fix-it bloke hadn’t gotten round to our job yet. I may have partially cured my fear of heights by dangling off cliff edges, being rescued by helicopter from a waterfall ledge in Kakadu and paragliding off mountains in Austria, but roads with steep dropping edges and potholes still scare me. I held it all together until we arrived safely at the tiny house (its a long driveway), and then burst into tears of relief! Would you believe it still isn’t fixed?! We need a new driveway fix-it guy who has a wee bit less drama in his life.
We came back to Darwin in January, rented a unit for 6 months, and worked our butts off so we could afford to go back and do another three-month stint once the unit lease was up. After six months of soft living, all our hard-won Nymboida bootcamp-fitness had dissolved, and at the end of every day of packing, moving and cleaning, I could hardly walk, from physical pain and exhaustion! Now, after four days of travelling, I’m feeling strong and fit again; all the kinks have been stretched out!
And I LOVE the physical and psychological toughening up that happens from the harder living in Nymboida… I know we’re not there yet, but it starts with the packing and moving, and then steps up another couple of notches once we hit the road. The first day was a breeze, especially given we didn’t have the dog with us this time. He’s staying at his new ‘retirement home’, with my parents-in-law. He’ll be 13 soon, and life on the road, being lifted in and out of a 4WD multiple times a day, is a bit rough on an old dog.
FROM DARWIN TO RENNER SPRINGS
On the second day, we had our first drama, which I wrote about in a post on facebook:
“Yesterday, after packing up, we went swimming at Bitter Springs. Loved floating on my back and watching the paperbark trees, birdlife and St Andrews Cross spider (my power animal).
Had lunch near The Highway Inn; my version of a burrito bowl with a Mediterranean twist… rice salad, black bean topping, coleslaw, pesto, olives, tomato, avocado, and sundried tomato. The photo happened after it was half eaten because hunger trumps photography hands down.
My beautiful husband pulled over after we’d been driving for a while to give me my first long flower stop after he spotted a turkey bush and some flowering trees. The last stretch into Renner Springs was mine, and when Steve reminded me to check the temp, I realised the car was hotter than it should be and climbing fast. We pulled over and poured water over the radiator.
While waiting for everything to cool down I went flower hunting again. Found some beauties but didn’t get to photograph all of them because it was all hands on deck trouble-shooting our bone-dry radiator. Discovered the breather tube that attaches the neck of the radiator to the pipe that runs to the coolant container was busted! Not just that, but it had broken years ago and a previous owner had rigged a clever repair (using an inserted piece of brake-pipe) that had lasted, until now.
Sooo… we taped it all back together with electrical tape, filled the radiator back up and tentatively went on our way. Got to Renner no worries and this morning we did a more robust repair with gasket goo and knead it.
Had an amazingly delicious dinner last night. Not sure why I cook better on the road, but I do! I think because I have to think on my feet, improvise, adapt etc and have less to work with. This morning, as we were packing up, we were visited by a trio of geese and a I got very distracted at a crucial radiator repair moment by a massive flock of white cockatoos flying overhead. I could resist looking up for a fraction of a second, but no harm was done!
Now we’re on the road again. So far so good, with the repair.”
FROM RENNER TO TENNANT
The fix has held well, so far: no evidence of leaking. But our dramas had only just begun! I took my turn at driving once we got to the Highway Inn, and then we turned left, onto the Barkley Highway. I think we got about 40 minutes down the road when I started making longing noises about wildflowers. I was sure I could see an orange grevillea out there and it was driving me half mad not knowing. After dropping a few hints, Steve finally took his cue and suggested we stop so I could go flower hunting. And not a moment too soon! As soon as Steve opened his car door, he knew something was wrong. He’s the nose, after all, and the nose knows. No one else I know has such a well developed sense of smell… except maybe our son!
I heard him groan and followed him back to the trailer. The wheel on the passenger side was covered in grease! We’d lost our bearings on that side, along with the dust cap. Saved just in the nick of time by the orange grevillea! Woohoo! Mind you, knowing that we had narrowly escaped an accident didn’t change the fact that our trailer wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry, we’d forgotten to pack spare bearings, we were well out of phone range, the closest built-up area (Tennant Creek) was an hour away and it was 3.30pm on a Sunday. Have you ever noticed how these things always happen on a Sunday?
We let it cool, got the jack and tyre lever out, along with the tool box, and removed the wheel. Then we removed the bearing hub and collected the remnants of the wheel bearings. I really appreciated not just having a tyre-change refresher, but learning so much more about the inside of my wheels. We put all our damaged bits in a bag and debated what to do next. The next bit I loved was learning a bit more about how to immobilise and lock a trailer so no-one else can take off with it (with three padlocks and a strange-looking thing called a stop-lock later). We’d decided to stick together… no one was staying behind. I wouldn’t be safe on my own on the side of the road in this mad world of ours, but neither was I feeling entirely confident about navigating car-mechanic conversations and decisions on my own.
We couldn’t imagine finding much help late on a Sunday afternoon but neither were we feeling keen about sleeping beside a main road. We were tempted to leave the trailer and get a hotel room in Tennant. That idea was winning for a while, until we started going through the list of trailer contents. Leaving it overnight, it was bound to get raided. We were fully cool with losing most of what was in there, including my favourite books and Steve’s favourite tools. But then we remembered the box of archival material for the biography I’m writing. I’d refused to leave it on the block when we drove back to Darwin because it was irreplaceable. If our tiny home burned down in a fire while we were away, I’d have trouble finishing the writing. My uncle’s life was in that box, and his story needs to be told. That decided it. As mad as the idea was, we decided to stay the night.
We made a little alcove using the tent, car and trailer, feeling uncomfortably exposed and unsafe so close to the road. Had a great meal, got some writing down for my next article in The Australian Vegan Magazine, found the elusive orange grevillea in the last of the light and finished the night with many games of Uka (a card game I learned from Steve’s father). Another night under that incredible sky! We were blissing-out on the milky way, the emu shadow and trying to remember what star and star constellation was what.
We set the alarm for 5.30am and went to sleep. Sort of. With a tyre lever instead of a teddy bear for protection. I’m actually surprised how well we slept, considering. We woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off, left the swag, tent and chairs set up to make it seem like someone had stayed with the trailer, and headed to Tennant. We spoke with one bloke on the phone who reckoned “Nah, no one in Tennant will come out to replace the bearings. You’ll have to get it towed in.” Which would cost $800.
Steve wasn’t happy with that answer. We tried again. By the time we got to 9am, we gave up on the mechanics and went to a local parts dealer. Between them, Steve and the spare parts guy found what Steve needed and talked through a plan. It kind of reminds me of the way, when my kids were little, I made friends with the pharmacists and got free advise that I blended with my own naturopathic training to avoid having to ever use antibiotics. I did go to doctors and get prescriptions (just in case), but I never used them. Steve got a ‘prescription’ from the mechanics, but he decided not to use it. The parts dealer was Steve’s pharmacist, giving him that last little bit of confidence he needed.
After gathering what we needed to do a temporary patch job on the bearing, we called the guy we brought the trailer from. What a dude! I like him even better than the spare parts guy. Stephen told him what we needed and today he sent it all, free of charge, via Greyhound Freight. It won’t turn up until Wednesday morning, but I’m telling you, I won’t mind a few days rest in a hotel room. The sound of those massive road-trains whizzing past reminded me too much of my auditory nightmares as a teenager suffering from sleep paralysis! I’m very much looking forwards to a more restful sleep tonight and the hot shower I just had was heavenly.
After talking with our trailer bloke, we booked a hotel room and then drove the hour back out to where we left the trailer and half of our life. All the way there, we sang great songs that we improvised, like those songs you sing at football games in Ireland… something like “please, all our gear, still be there!!!” And wow, it worked (this is where I need an innocent-looking emoji face with raised eyebrows, inserted just here). All our gear was just where we left it. Praise be to the Lord, or whoever grants wishes requested via mad-sounding football-like songs. Or was it the flower fairies, my great-uncle’s leprechauns, or Granma Anne’s angels who kept us and our gear safe? Jesus was trying to take all the credit, with a battered old sign blown into the dust at the site where the trailer was resting minus one wheel: “Jesus died for all”, it read. I’m not sure how reassuring that is, personally, but I’ll take what I can get. Thank you!
It was bloody amazing watching Steve put that bearing together. He hadn’t done it in 30 years! And if I’ve ever done it I must have been too young to remember. All my childhood bush-mechanic skills are rusty. But at least getting bogged a gazillion times in the middle of nowhere while travelling through the bush with my elders has made me a pretty relaxed side-kick when it comes to car troubles in isolated places. First we wiped down the axle and double-checked it to make sure it wasn’t damaged. Then we did a dry-run, loading all the components onto the axle to make sure we knew how everything went together. The most time-consuming stage was bashing in the rings that house the bearings. Next, we pulled out the grinder and ground down the damaged washer to remove the sharp edges that had been worn in and bashed the split pin back into shape.
Steve packed the bearings and the space they were being loaded into with heaps of grease, pieced it altogether and then we replaced the wheel. We decided to steal the dust cap from the other wheel and put it on the damaged side. The good bit about this was that it gave us a change to check the other side for damage and tighten up the spigoted nut. Then I made us a late lunch and we kicked back to rest for a moment. I took this chance to go flower hunting again, and hit gold! Wow! “Have I got time to make flower essences?!” I asked. “Sure!” said Steve. The essence had an ancient, dreamtime-ish, coming-full-circle feel to it, giving me a sense of dropping deeply into the earth, of centring and accessing deeper wisdom from within.
After I made the grevillea flower essence, we drove back slowly, stopping every 15-30 minutes to check on the trailer tyres, and made it back to Tennant without any problems, and a few more flower friends (and photographs) up my sleeve. He’s a patient man, my Stephen. We’ll repair both bearings properly with the new parts on Wednesday, with our hotel kindly providing a working space for us to do this in. In the meantime, we’ll do some more diagnostics and have lots of mini-conferences together and with others, to make sure we’re well and truly ready and prepared for the next chapter in our latest scrumptious adventure.
Blessings and Love