Other considered titles
My Worst Nightmare
Worst Night Ever
Oh. My. God. Last Night
A disclaimer before I begin. No one was hurt and therefore in the grand scheme of events that can occur during our travels in the outback this was inconsequential. And yes, we are already aware of all of the deadly creatures and assorted threats possible during remote travel.
My sister, Eliza flew from Brooklyn to travel with us for three weeks. We were incredibly excited to see her and eager to give her a taste of our travel experience.
After a day picking her up and getting organized in Adelaide we headed northwest to show her a bit of the desert before heading to the beach.
We settled on an evening in Kingoonya, which is about 40 kms off the Sturt Highway and positioned us to travel due south to explore the Eyre Peninsula. It was evident after a long day in the car that this was not her idea of a vacation. Packed car. Long driving days. Long stretches of nothing but desert scrub. After driving all day, we pulled up off a dirt road to a camp site. I was enthusiastic about the flushing toilets, but apparently the otherwise barren landscape didn’t translate to a great find.
We cracked open our cold beers in the 100 degree F (40 degree C) weather to discuss the days ahead. I was busy worrying that we had gone too far afield and the camping was a bit rough. I was reminded that our adventure is not everyone’s idea of fun. After a bit, we all settled in and I was starting to gain confidence that the plan was OK.
We were all sitting around in our camp chairs waiting for our curried lentils from Smitten Kitchen (try this recipe… It’s fantastic!!) to finish cooking when a I spied a slithery brown friend approaching our camp. Like any experienced camper, I stood up on my chair and screamed “SNAKE!”
Before I tell the rest of the story, I must disclose a couple of things. First, I hate snakes. I have been terrified of them for as long as I can remember. My memory of my first nightmare of my life was snakes in the desert. In the weeks leading up to our departure, all of my anxiety was manifest in dreams where snakes appeared at my campsite. It’s a phobia. I get it. I’m not afraid of bugs. I am terrified of snakes. The second important thing for you to know is that it is relatively rare to see snakes. In the last 4 months on the road, we have only seen 3 snakes and 2 of them were from the car (though to be fair – one was a python that stretched across the length of the road- yikes!) On the whole, snakes aren’t interested in people and if you aren’t looking for them, they’re relatively easy to avoid.
So here we are. I’m standing on my chair. Liza is on her chair as is Finn, and Lake is watching the snake. I have tossed Jay the headlamp and asked him to track the snake to ensure that the snake continues it’s travels beyond our trailer and into the night. As we are eagerly awaiting confirmation that the first snake has departed, one of the boys screams “another one!”
The next several minutes unfold as only a nightmare can. One snake, then another one – longer! THEN ANOTHER! (Jay: they were clearly being drawn to the sweet smell of lentils wafting softly over the red gravel). So, now we have 5 snakes slithering amidst our campsite. I am pondering what level of stress could actually lead to my death on the spot. As the seventh snake twirled around her blue Dune camper chair, Miranda expires…..
But the saving grace that keeps me breathing is the overwhelming guilt I feel for putting my sister in this situation. Somehow the competing anxieties are offsetting each other enough to sustain my erratically beating heart. In the lead up to her visit, I repeatedly offered that any fear of encountering any of the awful Australian critters was theoretical but irrelevant possibility. Joke is on me. Luckily the boys are calmly observing and noting aloud the paths of the various reptilian visitors. One passed under Lake’s chair, for example.
I try inadequately to suggest this is an unusual occurrence as Jay whisks the kids into our tent. Liza and I scurry behind taking as few steps as possible to reach our canvas safe house. She announces she will not be sleeping in her separate tent tonight, as we see a brown fiend unfurl from beneath her tent fly.
Jay brings a table and dinner into the tent and we all try to settle down to have a semi normal dinner. (Our hero!) We are shocked and wondering how we would handle needing to use the facilities during the night. I found myself wishing we had alcohol in more concentrated forms than beer! The dinner turned out quite well and our excited discussions of the snakes were intermingled with exclamations of how good our dinner tasted. We really are a food loving family.
So we all tucked in for the night a little after 10PM. I was just drifting off to sleep as the wind kicked up. I listened and initially felt disappointed it would be such a windy night. The canvas can be a bit noisy in the wind and it doesn’t always lend itself to the best night’s sleep. Oh, how wrong I was to worry about that!
Over the next several minutes the wind went from annoyingly loud to exceedingly concerning. The canvas buckling in on us as the wind raged. By this time Finn is shouting “Mommy, what’s happening?!?!” And the adults are casting worried glances at each other. I remembered we were under a tree and decided immediately that we needed to get the kids out of the tent and into the car. (I know this is why you don’t set up a tent under trees… It was just SO hot…)
Liza and I each grabbed a kid as Jay furiously tried to close up our camper. The winds were so strong it was hard to get to the car. All of our items that had been left outside were now strewn about. We made it inside the car and the world quieted just a bit. I realized we needed to unhitch the trailer from the car so I could drive away from the trees.
Jay and I were standing next to each other, trying in vain to shout over the winds with the pelting sand stinging our skin. The pin in the hitch was jammed! It really felt like we were in a bad movie at this stage. Who would even believe this absurdist plot twist. We finally get it free. I jump in the car, drive away from the trees and position our high beams on the trailer as Jay continues to try to close the camper trailer. Liza and I are back and forth from the car trying to help and feeling woefully inadequate against the elements.
Then the skies open up and the rains begin. The torrential kind. (Now I need to take a moment here to share some relevant info about heavy rain that may not be apparent to city dwellers who dread rain because it slows down trains. Rain also floods dirt roads and erodes the surface enough to render them impassable. Most dirt tracks like the one we are on includes notes that say they are in good enough condition to drive except if it rains…”drive to conditions indeed!”)
Wow. This night just went from unbelievable to beyond absurd and now into some other stratosphere that words fail to capture the circumstance.
Jay dashes to the car having closed the camper in record time (Jay- don’t expect this kind of enthusiastic performance in the morning – adrenaline works better than coffee apparently 🙂 ) Now we are all sitting in the car and taking a collective sigh of relief.
So this is the story of how the five of us ended up sleeping in the car. We really know how to show our visitors a good time!
Once light emerged we were able to assess the damage. Our things were spread quite some distance all around. Liza’s tent was wrapped around the tree but generally we were pretty unscathed… At least among our material possessions.
With our planned track impassable, we decided on the only logical recourse. We headed straight to wine country.
It was about 12 degrees Celsius hotter than our guidebook’s projected average Spring temperature for pretty much our entire trip from Longreach to Adelaide. Ouch!
Last Wednesday a friendly caretaker at Beltana Station saw sweat tickling down my brow and asked me how hot it gets in New York. She had seen a movie one time where the main character is a woman who is trying to escape oppressive heat in a New York summer. I almost didn’t want to answer because this was going to be the alligator and the crocodile all over again. And the “American” position never fares well in that debate.
In case you’re an American wondering what I’m talking about, well, let’s put it this way: Australians aren’t much impressed by alligators. To hear them tell it, they consider Gators at about the same threat level as a pet iguana. And I’m not talking about the Gators coached (for now) by Will Muschamp. I’m talking real toothy gators hungry for a meal. Everywhere we go, if the subject comes up, Australians point out that crocodiles are far bigger and tougher than alligators. Now, I have wrestled neither alligator nor crocodile, and have no imminent plans to, but by all accounts the saltwater crocodile is a super predator which hunts man and beast alike with an unmatched wild ruthlessness. They are hard to spot – it’s the croc you don’t see that gets you- and I want no part of an unexpected croc encounter. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make alligators geckos. An alligator is certainly capable of ending you, or at least taking a limb. Apparently there is a reality show about Cajun Gator hunters popular in Queensland, which made it seem like alligators are weak animals. I have no way of verifying either that the hunters were Cajun or what they did that made the gators seem docile, having not seen the show, but Aussies out there I assure you – gators will bite hard if provoked.
Back to my story. So you see my predicament. When I say a hot summer’s day in New York is in the mid-90s, my new friend will do the math (35 degrees Celsius) and chuckle. You see, 35 is hot of course, but it’s in the mid 40s today here and still Spring. I don’t even want to know what 50 degrees feels like (122 degrees), but we will almost certainly encounter it in the summer if we come back to the interior. The thing is, New York IS hot in the summer, even at 35 Celsius. Sure, it’s no Outback, but with the humidity and the heat from the concrete, busy streets, smog and automobiles, it gets petty darn uncomfortable. I suspect even this woman would emerge from the subway drenched in sweat if she were unfortunate enough to have to wait too long for a train during a commute from a subway platform without aircon in her office attire. But if I say any of this, it will just sound like an excuse, like I can’t admit my inferiority. Even my Alabama childhood, which consisted of long stretches of 100-plus degree days in the summer, doesn’t really compare to 50 Celsius with no AC. Plus, this place had alpacas…I’m just saying, it’s not likely you will ever win the one up game against someone who has alpacas…
My dad used to describe this as the “one up game”, something in human nature that compels people to tell a bigger or better story after they hear you tell your story.
Well, I answered the question. “95 degrees.” Her eyes moved as she calculated mid-30s. She shrugged. “That’s not so hot.” I tried to explain about the humidity, about the amplification of heat in the city. “Still, it’s a lot hotter than that here, right now,” she said, clearly let down by 95 degrees. I couldn’t bring myself to discuss heat indexes. Instead I tried to recover with an Alabama story, about how hot it was at a BBQ festival I went to at Sloss furnace one time when the temperature was 102, people were smoking ribs everywhere, and the heat was coming at you from the sun, the gravel, the cooking and the furnace. I got a look of mild approval when I reminded her of the unmatched Alabama humidity factor.
Then she made her next move in what had clearly become a losing hand for me in the one up game. She tells me of an outback summer day in the 50s, no aircon (I just don’t understand that part!). “It was so hot, she says, people were flooding into the hotel (also local pub) because It was the coolest place in the town, paying top dollar for a cold drink,and watching birds drop dead from heat, falling to the ground right out of the tree in the town square. Yep, birds were just falling from the trees.” Game. set. Match. We have found the one up champion of the world in the “how hot is your town” tourney. >
What does sunburnt yuppie taste like? Just ask the tiny flies outside of Birdsville, because they sure took a bite out of me!
This week we began a long trip to South Australia from the Tropic of Capricorn through the scorching heat of the Australian Outback. While we have been in many areas of the country that would qualify as the outback by any measure, we had not yet been to the desert country. I had been looking forward to this part of our journey, but this fair skinned bunch was afraid of the heat. The forecast was in the 40s Celsius all week, with little respite in the evening according to hearsay from other campers. At one point at an information center in Windorah, the woman behind the desk looked at me in wonder and said- “Don’t you know it’s HOT now. The season for adventure driving down that way is over until March. ”
It’s a wonder we went, after that warning, and a testament to my lovely wife’s adventurous spirit (despite her hatred of being hot) that we stuck to our plan to go south towards Adelaide by way of Birdsville, one of the hottest towns in Australia, followed by the Strzelecki Track through the Strzelecki desert. This area is well known in part as the harsh country that took the lives of Burke and Wills leading an expedition in search of a route north in the mid-1800s.
The route took us over scorched land so remote you could actually see mirages in the distance as the earth curved over the horizon. Lake and Finn LOVED this. That’s not water?They said. They were really into it! No I said, it’s just a mirage, a famous trick your eyes play on you in the desert. I made up a story about explorers wandering in the desert chasing the mirage, but they could never reach the water. Lake and Finn wanted to know what other tricks our eyes play on us, finding it so funny that their eyes could be so tricky! I told them about false summits when you are mountain climbing, about the first time I fell for one while hiking with my friend Drew, and about people searching for the end of rainbows, but that was all I could think of…
We set out by heading west across the Capricorn highway from the friendly confines of Rockhampton to Longreach, one of our favorite remote towns. Miranda has chronicled our time in Longreach already, but I’ll just reiterate that it is full of friendly people everywhere from the Information Center, where two workers gave Lake and Finn a bucket of “special red rocks” after giving me directions, to the butcher, who remembered us with a smile.
A funny note on Stonehenge, at least 15 people were gathered at the local bar, just under half the town’s population of 31. I immediately liked the bartender, who somehow was in possession of and proudly displaying a Chuck Norris T-Shirt: Chuck Norris doesn’t take what life gives him- he bends the universe to his will. The Stonehenge Bar also had one of the most delicious burgers in Queensland, a juicy burger overflowing with wonderful goodness and just the right amount of toppings….
In stark contrast to the bartender’s shirt, and the general feeling of dusty toughness permeating the bar, I noted that the telly was showing Home and Away – and a few big guys were watching. Knowing this was a popular prime time soap show here – basically a mix of Dawson’s Creek and Days of Our Lives – I feigned the ignorance of an American tourist and inquired as to what the show was everyone seemed to be so into? “Oh that, nothing” he said, flushed. “I don’t know someone must have just turned that on…” Every tough guy has his weak spot, but what would Chuck Norris say about that?!
After Stonehenge we moved on to the next morning in the blazing heat headed to Birdsville by way of Windorah for an in-person visit to the iconic outback town. More on this, and the unseasonably warm weather we faced tomorrow after our monthly data plan renews!
Would you boys like to feed a cow? Pick an avocado? Crush a macadamia nut? Feed a cow? Feed the chooks? Sit on a tractor? Ride on a mower? Eat a green ant? The list goes on and on! We had just headed off after a fabulous stop in the hills outside Yeppoon, QLD. We were invited to stay at Cameron’s house on our trip south. You may remember Cameron was one of the Australian heroes in a diesel 4WD that saved our neck on the Tele track a few weeks ago. He would claim he provided more comic relief than mechanical expertise, but that’s another story…
We had a great time hanging out on Cape York and we were enthusiastic about the opportunity to get together again. Little did we know it would be among our favorite experiences so far.
We met up in Yeppoon while we were in search of a laundromat after many days bush camping. Cameron scoffed at the notion and led us out of town to his place with a promise of a washing machine and a tasty dinner. We followed him on a winding road towards Byfield National Park and eventually pulled into a dirt driveway lined with macadamia trees, mango trees, green paddocks and tractors.
Our morning got off to a quick start as we dove into a bunch of activities designed to engage the boys. They began a bit timid and fearful of Tiny, a very small 12 lb dog. Cameron led us down a hill to where we could all feed the cows on his property. The boys looked skeptically at the cows, tossing food far past the cows rather than feeding them with their hands. When we fed the chooks, the boys started out hiding behind me, but slowly peeked around me to eye the birds. In this case, the feeling was mutual. The birds were apprehensive about the small new visitors to their coop. Fifteen minutes later they were crouching down with the chooks pecking the food from their hands. Their bond grew over the next few days. The boys would enthusiastically head up the small hill with a bag of food scraps in search of fresh eggs. The chooks also adjusted to the boys presence, meeting the boys eagerly at the door to the coop awaiting their morning feed.
The boys got a bow and arrow lesson while we pulled together lunch. This was quite a treat as the boys had been trying to devise a way to make their own bow and arrows for the previous week at our various stops. I thought that the smile might explode off of their faces as they tried to carefully line up the arrow towards the box target.
Our next stop after picking fresh tomatoes was to crush the fresh macadamia nuts for a snack. After a brief discussion about whether we should use a brick with a nut sized divot for cracking the shells, our hosts opted for a vice. The boys took turns winding the vice just far enough to split the shell before unwinding and revealing the yummy snack. It’s a rare opportunity for me to eat such fresh nuts. I am much more accustomed to the variety that lingers on supermarket shelves for many months before they arrive in my stomach so it was a great treat.
Next up was a seat on the large tractor and then a trip around to the lawn where the boys got to drive the ride on mower. I am aware that ride on mowers are not exotic for our suburban readers, but given that our backyard in Brooklyn was a tiny patch of cement and bricks, it still counts as pretty cool for our small team.
In the midst of all of this excitement, Cameron was prepping a pork roast and whole chicken for the rotisserie, which we would enjoy that evening.
We rested for a bit in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day and then headed out to walk through the back of the property. We stepped through the barb wire cattle fence to explore over the hill. I showed my city stripes as I inelegantly struggled through the fence managing to catch my shorts on both trips through it.
Our walk through the property rivaled any paid nature walk I can imagine. Cameron pointed out holes that the kangaroos dug to reach fresh water, native plants and insidious introduced weeds, the sheen of the mango tree leaves, inflated pods that could be stomped on to produce a large pop and so much more.
That night we were treated to the delicious rotisserie and we had the opportunity to meet Cameron’s parents too which was a treat. A whole evening of adult conversation!
The following day we headed to Byfield National Park. We took a walk through the forest seeing lots of interesting birds, trees and even a slithering resident. I did not spend much time looking at the s-n-a-k-e. They are not my scene and as much as I push myself to do things that scare me, I remain comfortable with my phobia on this kind… And I was glad the boys who had someone who could look at it with them.
After a swim in the river and a lunch at the picnic tables we drove on towards the beach.
I know I have previously mentioned the way that corrugated roads have a way of shaking random things loose. Well on this stretch of road, the peanut butter jar managed to shake it’s cap loose. This wouldn’t have been an enormous problem if I would buy the regular hydrogenated stuff, but since I have gone the pure peanut kind, it resulted in an unseemly mess all over our car floor. While I cleaned up the mess, Benita, Cameron and Jay let the tires down. Cameron warned us that there was a long hill with deep sand a few turns ahead. After a quick discussion, we headed out in low 2 aiming to maintain momentum up the hill.
We bounced and pitched a bit, but Cave Lion did us proud and we emerged at the top of the hill to a beautiful view of the ocean.
We spent the afternoon on the beach. The kids built sand castles. There was a brief sojourn out in hopes of catching some dinner spearfishing. But the equipment was not cooperating and a swarm of sea lice came our way, so we abandoned that plan in favor of a hike up to a fresh water waterfall. All in all a lovely day.
The next couple of days were a whirlwind of errands, delicious meals and some amazing repair work from Cameron. He replaced the (second) faulty water pump in our trailer, fixed a few items that were dinged on the trailer on the Tele track and a whole bunch of other little items that will improve our camping quality of life. The welding project was a particular favorite of the boys as it yielded the opportunity to wear a “Darth Vader” mask! And when that was all done, Jay, Cameron and a generous friend of Cameron’s did the 200,000km service on Cave Lion and made sure she was ready for our trek through the desert.
Such a fabulous stop. So appreciate our welcoming hosts, the delicious food and even better conversations! Hoping to find a way to connect with them somewhere on the road in the future!
Forgive the Cheers reference, but this story was too good to pass up.
We spent one afternoon in Longreach about two months ago, and we stocked up on our meat at the local butcher during that stop. We have been bush camping a lot, so when we make our way to town, often a bit bedraggled and dirty, food shopping is the first order of business. Then showers and laundry. When we fist arrived in Longreach, I was quite enthusiastic to have found a local butcher. Somehow our previous week had not yielded one, and we had been forced into a few days of vegetarianism by accident.(No offense beloved vegetarians!)
I stocked up, got our meats cryo-vaced and had a friendly discussion with the man behind the counter about the area. He gave me a few suggestions on what to see, and I went on my merry way.
Longreach is a community of a little more than 3,000 people. It is also the regional service center for central western Queensland, so it has services making it feel like a much larger place. There are a few solid blocks of shops in this town.
We decided to stop back through Longreach on our way back from Cape York / Cairns on our way to Adelaide because we had such a nice experience at our last visit. The town is very welcoming to visitors.
When I walked into the same butcher on this stop I was greeted with a friendly welcome. But then, he surprised me and said “Hey, weren’t you in here before?” I was floored. One of the things about traveling — especially so far from home — is that we never come across people we know… We’re never recognized because at the point we become familiar, we are moving onto our next destination.
I was so surprised! I let him know that in fact our last stop through was a couple of months ago. We chatted a bit. In all honesty, I think I had four solid years of weekly visits to the Grand Army Plaza farmers market* in Brooklyn before a vendor even acknowledged seeing me previously. Now I know I can be a bit shy at times, but wow, Longreach really won me over on that one.
Thanks BF Savage & Co Butchery!
* Luckily we lived in Brooklyn for eleven years and had some great friends at the Farmer’s Market- yay Ray Bradley Farm!
Today we were on a bush walk through a rainforest in Eungella National Park at the top of a mountain above the dry forest below. We were walking through the forest, enjoying the cool air trapped by the canopy, with a trail that wended its way through trees, vines, and large rocks as we headed towards a platform that was supposed to be optimal for a late afternoon platypus sighting. The boys were engrossed in Jay’s stories of Greek and Roman myths, intermixed with stories of King Arthur. I hung back behind the group (I’ve determined these slow meandering walks are a good time for mild calisthenics, but that’s another story…)
Generally I let my mind wander during these walks. Today I was thinking how far Lake and Finn have come in their hiking, which no longer requires a trail of M&Ms to get them moving past a kilometer. I periodically get pulled back into reality when one of the boys drops back to walk at yet a slower pace, but otherwise I am left to my own thoughts during these walks.
I clued in as they began talking about the creation of Rome. Lake eagerly added it was founded by twins (Romulus and Remus) who had been raised by wolves.
This got me thinking about the current point in the boys development. One of the struggles on this trip is how to immerse the boys in the outdoors – adventuring, getting dirty, feeling fearless while also teaching the boys good manners.
I imagine there is something incongruous about spending all their time outdoors, climbing, exploring trees, testing out whether the current cave is an echo chamber – and then suddenly (from their perspective) telling them to keep their voices down, that they are no longer allowed to pee outside, and these trees are not for climbing.
I find this balance a challenge and sometimes when the boys look at me like I might be a hypocrite, I think they might be right.
So upon hearing about Romulus and Remus, I am pondering a different thought process: Perhaps these boys being raised by proverbial wolves will not be limited from doing something great and even civilized, as a result of our adventure…after all, Rome was arguably the most civilized city of its time- even if this strategy looks a bit rough around the edges right now.
I begin with a disclaimer that this post is written with a total lack of cultural sensitivity for my new Australian friends. I apologize in advance for my American post, but I will say this is the only time I plan on being so brashly patriotic on this blog. Other times it is just an accident… This is not an accident 😉
One of the more surprising realizations we have had over the past three months is that people in Australia are largely unaware of the soul serving joy of s’mores. For the uninitiated / Australian readers of this blog, a s’more is a campfire-roasted marshmallow with a piece of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers.
I was confused when I learned this was not a given for camping in Australia. I naively assumed that this must mean that there were no marshmallows in Australia… That’s how merged these things are in my mind…. If you were going to have marshmallows, of course you would have s’mores! In my mind, there is no other purpose for marshmallows except maybe Rice Krispy treats, but I digress….
We searched the baking aisles at grocery store after grocery store to try to procure marshmallows, but we never found them. I knew at this point that roasting marshmallows was in fact a camping tradition in Australia, but the white puffs remained elusive. Finally, on one frustrated journey I wandered the candy (confection) aisle and voila marshmallows!
After the initial shock wore off, I grabbed several bags, baffled by yet another odd occurrence. All the packets were half pink and half white. I searched in Cairns for an alternative, but alas, I left with the combo bag shaking my head – a pink marshmallow?!
The block of chocolate was an easy win. None of the bars were as thin as a Hershey bar, but that is certainly not worthy of complaint. Bring on that fine Aussie chocolate!
Our next challenge was the Graham Cracker. Graham Crackers are not available in Australia. Luckily, there are enough ex-pats who have worried about this issue that there were several articles online suggesting an acceptable alternative. After reading the descriptions of the various options we went with Arnott’s Nice biscuits.
We secured our supplies making Finny particularly ecstatic. He claims s’mores as his favorite food upon occasion. We had to wait a few days to make our first one as we were stuck for a couple of nights without a campfire.
When the night arrived the boys eagerly gathered sticks and got to work. The conversation focused on the relative “s’more master” levels in the family. Jay is a padawan (a young Jedi) while Lake clocks in as a s’more master and Finny reigns supreme as an ultimate s’more master.
The results were delicious!
We did a quick survey. The primary drawbacks were the size of the marshmallows – probably equivalent to the size that marshmallows were in the US 30 years ago before everything got super-sized. But be that as it may, they do seem small… And there is certainly no Marshmallow stacker type option which has recently come on the scene in the US. Australian s’mores got bonus points for the Nice biscuits – we think they may outperform graham crackers.
In the final tally, there were two votes for equal to s’mores at home and two votes for better in Australia!
Now back to the campfire…
One of the things I have enjoyed about Australia is the way that everyday nature is so different from home. This might seem strange to an Australian, but I love looking at gum trees of all kinds, not because I’m looking for koalas – which I’ll admit, sometimes I am- but because I love beautiful trees, and these are all so different from the ones I am used to. We have a running joke that Australia is teeming with “Dr. Seuss trees” because of their windswept nature, long trunks and bushy tops. Truffulas anyone?
The other day I was sharing a drink with two locals in Townsville, and they found my fascination with trees hilarious. “Trees?” One said. “What about the people? You’ll never see such handsome people again”…. It turned out this modest gentleman was a Pomme, so that provides a bit of explanation 🙂
The different types of the tropical birds are also truly a treat. I aspire to learn more about the birds here, which include parrots, cockatoos, lorikeets, and of course kookaburras. I was fortunate to grow up with a backyard full of bluejays and robins, and love listening to birdsongs.
You’d think that the most distinguishing thing about a kookaburra would be it’s wild laughing call, which sort of sounds like hysterical monkeys, with an incrediblly loud oooo-ooo-hoo-hoo-ahh-hahhh-ahh from the predawn hours into dusk. This was in fact a shock, but one I was prepared for – especially given its name….
But the most surprising thing to me about kookaburras is that they are so brazen. These suckers are willing to swoop down right into your meal and snatch the food right off of your plate. That’s right; Kookaburras are not afraid to take your bacon. The funniest thing about this behavior is that, once successful in stealing our bacon – Lake’s bacon, actually – on one otherwise fine morning, the kookaburra at our campsite vigorously whacked it on the ground simulating a successful hunt… Or perhaps it was just taunting us…
One of Jay’s most impressive parenting talents is his ability to tell the boys incredible stories incorporating all of their friends, favorite animals, super heroes and just about anything else he can think of to pull them in. It has been a wonderful way to help the kids continue to feel connected to our friends and life in Brooklyn while they are sleeping in the middle of the Outback. Their Montessori Day School classroom features prominently as the Seagull Superheroes head out to various adventures in the stories.
The stories are almost entirely off the cuff and seemingly can expand to fit whatever amount of time is required to complete the activity. Although Jay claims the stories are of higher caliber when he spends some time working on the storyline in advance of telling them. I generally think of this skill as an incredible tool Jay has in his parenting arsenal, but it is one he gets great joy from too. Sometimes at bedtime, I have been left shaking my head as Jay is telling a “goodnight” story and I discover all of them laughing and hollering as he reaches an entertaining climax of the story.
At the beginning of each story, there are lots of shouts and enthusiasm as each boy lobbies for the content they are most interested in hearing about. When Jay is in the midst of the story, he can get the boys through just about any activity. Today he used that talent to distract the boys once they realized our rainforest walk was a bit longer than they bargained for. The stories seemed to center on Greek myths today. Jay bounded back and forth using the Greek and Roman names as Lake has a love for all things Ancient Roman. Any pause in the story would quickly lead to whines of “are we there yet?!” But as soon as the story resumed, they plodded down the path as happy as can be!
Before we cover what happened next to Cave Lion, who we left bogged in Nolan’s Brook, left front tire spinning in the sand, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how lucky we feel to have been able to make the trip to Australia’s tip.
If you haven’t read parts 1-4, you may want to take a look before moving forward:
Our trip up to Cape York was the kind of adventure we will remember for a lifetime. While we couldn’t have imagined all the details in exactly the way they unfolded, this was exactly the experience we envisioned when we decided to pack up our apartment in New York, and set out to the other side of the world. There was adventure, adversity, friendship, and the beginning of building a family in love with the outdoors and all it has to offer.
I can still remember looking at pictures of this 4WD trip with Miranda from the couch in our apartment in Brooklyn and dreaming of doing this ourselves. We are thrilled to report this dream was eve
rything we hoped! We all had an incredible time exploring the outdoors with our children, swimming in fresh creeks, learning about new animals, and watching them become comfortable in nature. Lake and Finn have mostly been raised mostly in a concrete jungle, calling Brooklyn, NY home for the first four years of their life. Seeing them grow to love the outdoors during our travels in Australia and sharing that transformation has been one of the sweetest things we’ve ever experienced.
One detail I didn’t quite imagine was getting stuck in Nolan’s Brook. I suppose it was inevitable. We had taken a few more calculated risks than normal, and with each crossing after Mistake Creek we were encountering tougher obstacles. A nick to the camper here, a sharp descent there, scraping the bottom of the tow bar a tad. All very minor, but as I got behind the wheel before Nolan’s I remember thinking to myself, “OK. Just one more crossing and we have really done this! Just one more!”
But Nolan’s has a way of being trickier than it looks. Sure, it was deep, but we had been through deep water before and the Cruiser never had any real trouble. We had added a safari snorkel to Cave Lion to protect the engine, but I also added a tarp covering for extra protection. Regretfully I left the tires at 20 psi, instead of lowering then to 15 – still low, but not low enough for the sandy bottom of Nolan’s with a trailer in tow, apparently. Just to be safe, I picked up all the kids books and toys off the floor, rolled down a window. I am extremely lucky I did this because I never would have heard the end of it the boys’ beloved Thomas and Percy pillows were waterlogged!
I put the car in low second gear and drove into Nolan’s. Everything started off great. I made it through the deepest part alright and had a nice bow wave and seemingly consistent momentum, but then, suddenly it wasn’t alright. Horror of horrors! The momentum was gone, and I was stuck. When I realized this, my heart sank. I thought back to anything I had learned before – don’t dig a deeper hole, don’t let water get in the engine. But how…My front left tire was just spinning, and I figured giving it more gas would only make it worse, so I tried backing up and picking a different spot. I was able to back up, amazingly, but apparently I didn’t change course enough, so when I tried to move forward again-I was still bogged! Rats! I knew enough not to turn off the engine, which would have made us dead car number 61 on the Tele, and confirmed that with our friends, who sprang into action, with Leif towing us out of the bog with his Hi-Lux. Cameron made sure the rope was secure, and Leif pulled us forward. It worked straightaway and Cave Lion drove out, freed from the bog before the kids could cry! I felt a wave of relief- she still drove -less than 3 minutes in the water. Hooray!
But the hoorays were a bit premature. After letting water out of the car we decided to park it and check on the camper. The camper was fine – well done, Cub – but the car would not start. Uh oh….Miranda and I then proceeded to be the incredible beneficiaries of Australian hospitality again. As Finn would put it, Australians will “never let a matey down”
Leif, Craig, and Cameron examined, diagnosed (diagnosis: wet fuse box), and cured Cave Lion over the next 24 hours…
The curing involved tedious and methodical work of opening up the car – think removing the glove compartment and all the interior side paneling – and drying the inside of the car’s electrics on the passenger side (that’s the front left in Australia). In one funny moment, our mates turned to Miranda and asked, ” I don’t suppose you are the type of woman who carries a 12 volt hair dryer with you on camping trips, are you?” Umm, no. They got her running that day, which was celebrated with much rejoicing and XXXX Gold, but had to do the whole process over again the next morning, at 4-5 hours per treatment. Truly heroic friendship. Talk about new mates saving my American bacon!
That night we all reflected on our journey and had a great dinner where Miranda made chili and corn bread, and we sat by the fire together. After Cave Lion got going the next day we headed to Punsand Bay to camp and drove a short but surprisingly challenging 4WD track to the northernmost tip of the continent the next morning!
I think this was the first time I have ever been to the northernmost part of a continent, and to do it after such an incredible journey really had the feeling of a great accomplishment! From New York to Cape York in two months. We did it!