I once travelled in a ‘hippie’ backpacker bus up the west coast of the USA and the bumper sticker said “It’s not the destination that counts but the journey.” It sure was an interesting indie trip with us sleeping on seats turned into makeshift bunks and cooking up steaming flap jacks the next morning in a hippie camp in a Oregon forest on route from San Francisco to Seattle. On a recent family holiday, those words came back to haunt me on Friday the 13th.
I can hardly contain my excitement. We are about to set off on an adventure close to the hearts of many a Wheatbelt farming family in Western Australia. At the height of summer, the stubble in the paddocks lie bare and bleached and the gum trees droop. It seems the dulled Eucalypt leaves cannot bear another day without rain as the layer of dust fails to reveal their true lustre. The barren landscape has become bland and featureless and this Real Farm Wife and Traveller Extraordinaire is more than ready for a change in scenery to the alluring azure coast. I am about to become a Camper’s Coastal Wife and Travel Blogger for two whole lovely luxurious weeks and my spouse will soon become a Photographer’s Husband.
It’s Friday and two weeks of daily swimming lessons are finally behind us, I’ve spent all week painstakingly packing the camper trailer and the car. The bed’s made up for Grandpa’s farm sitting duties, I’ve left the TV channel set on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission, renown for up to date news, weather forecasts and good documentaries) and I hide my Bessemer ware (non stick cook ware) in case he has ideas of cleaning it with steel wool. The house is clean, the dishes are done, the snacks are packed, the animals are fed, the washing’s folded up and dispatched. A few more loose ends to tie up for my home based business as well as the farm business. I’ve got the BAS (Australian Taxation Office’s quarterly return for businesses) submitted online well before the due date and now all I need to do is sell the last of our grain. At the last minute my husband comes in and packs his bag for the ablution block, jocks and socks, being his total contribution to the holiday planning effort. “I’m ready” he yells as he ties up the bikes to the back of the camper trailer. “What’s taking you so long” he impatiently asks. “I’m stuck in front of the computer,” I replied with distinct annoyance. It’s farm finance that can’t wait until we get back due to spiraling interest costs. We had only finished harvest the day before and we need to sell the grain for cash to get the overdraft balance down. Of course, my husband is ignorant of the fact that we can’t make a cash contract on line based on yesterday’s price, we have to wait until today’s grain prices go live. At 0900 I refresh the screen every five seconds for the next hour and a half, waiting for prices to be uploaded. When my constant page refreshing fails to yield any results, I impatiently call the office. “When are the prices coming out” I enquired. “They are usually uploaded by 10.30am” the courteous woman replies. I consider taking the computer with me to speed the holiday up but decide against it otherwise it will turn out to be a working holiday. I express another sigh before I find more things to do to fill in an hour and a half. By the time I finish selling the grain and printing off the contracts it is now 1100 and we still have a six hour trip ahead of us.
One more job before jumping in the car involves a final inspection of the one packing job I entrusted to my husband because I miserably failed Knot Tying 101. For reasons completely unknown, he has tied our new kayak down on top of the camper rather than on the roof rack where it belongs in my ordered packing world. After a heated exchange of words, the packing Nazi loses the argument and the kayak suspiciously stays in situ. An hour into our trip and half an hour after the last significant town, we encounter road works, major road works. We are instructed to wait by the lollipop lady. By now I am getting pretty good at waiting. The arduous lingering takes twenty precious minutes before we are allowed to pass. After ten more minutes of driving we are delayed even further by a flat tyre. Incredibly, my husband can not get the workshop tightened wheel nuts off. My idea of calling the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) to get a representative out from the main town forty minutes drive away is squashed when we discover there is no mobile reception from either of our phones. Adding to my distress, no cars are passing by, but luckily, there is a farm house about five minutes walk away. While my husband labours over the wheel nuts I volunteer to walk to the house for help. The estimated one kilometre walk turns into a two kilometre walk after my short cut through the paddock was cut short after I nearly electrocute myself going over the fence. Sweat oozes from every pore as the afternoon sun beats down in the unrelenting heat as my insistent entourage accompanies me to our saviour in the 38 degree day. “It’s soooo hot” whines my last born. “I’m soooo thirsty”. In my haste to solve the problem at hand I left the water bottle in the car. Rather than beating myself over the head about being a bad mother, I tell them it was their fault for not staying in the shade with their dad. I now know how Burke and Wills must’ve felt at the sight of a dried up water hole as it is soon became apparent that the occupants of the house have also absconded to the coast for their annual holidays.
“These flies are really annoying me” my first born complains. “Do you think they are not annoying me?” I sharply retort. After dragging my sorry offspring back to the pit stop, I discover my triumphant spouse has successfully changed the tyre. We quickly assess the risk of driving to next smaller town which may not have extra tyres, or back track the 40 minutes to the larger town which will definitely have a tyre. It’s a no brainer so after waiting at the road works again, we backtrack into town and it takes an hour to replace our tyre. We are on our way again and this time the familiar lollypop lady at the road works is getting awfully curious. Five minutes past the post of the flat tyre incident, my husband looks in the rear vision mirror and notices the bikes are no longer on the back of the camper. Trailing behind us are our bikes along with a bunch of expletives, one after the other with the rope still barely connecting them and the added spectacular of fireworks flying off the road threatening to spark off a dangerous bush fire.
Thankfully, there are no vehicles behind us on this lonely stretch of road. My husband quickly pulls over and we assess the fall out with wide eyes and dropped jaws. “But that’s my new bike, I hardly used it,” cries my first born as he laments over his mangled birthday present. Upon inspection, it is evident the nose of the shifted kayak had rubbed through the rope tying on the bikes. The ‘I told you so’ moment rises up furiously from my frontal lobe and is about to metamorphise out of my mouth before I decide family tensions can not bear this extra piece of important, but potentially explosive information.
One bike is totally unsalvageable and with a plethora of words normally reserved for the sheep yards, my husband raises the sacrificed wreck above his head and one goliath heave it ceremoniously lands in the road side ditch. I stifle my urge to mention that this is blatant littering. He is convinced he can fix the rest of the bikes and salvages them. I know this will never happen and once again battle to bite my tongue. “This is turning into the worst holiday eveeeeeer” as my oldest expresses what we are all thinking. The next few hours are very quiet as we all contemplate a holiday with out bikes. Another roll of the Monopoly board dice and we land on “go back to jail, miss a turn” and “do not have blissful holiday breezing along the bike path bordering the bay as we make our daily pilgrimage to the bountiful bakery”. I also spend this quiet time reflecting and seriously consider abandoning my travel ethos that I’ve stood by since my hardcore backpacking days of twenty years ago. “It’s not the destination that counts but the journey.” Eleven hours later and with half an hour of daylight to spare, the battle weary finally appear in the caravan park, brow beaten, wounded and attracting unwanted attention by our collection of towed scrap metal. We quickly set up our tent before more doom and gloom sets in.
Things improve on Saturday as we visit the highly coveted Twilight Beach in Esperance. It’s voted as one of the best beaches in Australia so my photographic juices well and truly flow with optimism and opportunity. I spent my formative years living by the coast and as a result, I immediately feel its retro restorative powers as the amazing vista of azure waters unfolds before me, and all the stress of the previous day dissolves.