It might be an Australian thing, but I love road trips. I really don't give a second thought to hopping in a car and driving near on a thousand kilometres in a day, by myself. It's just one of those strange Australian things that many other cultures just don't get.
I love to drive. And I love long drives.
As a nation, we're quite apt at driving a few hours just to get to a party. Oh yeah, party in a woolshed out the back of Woop Woop, no wukkas - haybales for seating, lots of beer and Bundaberg rum (or Jim Beam, depending on your taste), a big barby, white bread, a bit of salad, somebody's Mum suppling the pavlova and cheesecake, recipe straight from a Woman's Weekly cookbook. There's a good chance you'll be sleeping on a mattress in the tray of a ute, covered with a tarpaulin, but hey, that's what parties out the back of nowhere are about. Okay, I'm betraying my bogan youth here.
So yesterday, armed with my talking book (Margaret Atwood's "Year of the Flood") a bottle of water, lots of panadol for the sore throat, newly inflated tyres, a full tank full of petrol, a fully charged mobile phone and Shirley the GPS, I set off for the Adelaide. Or more correctly, Myponga, South Australia. According to Shirley, it was 785 kilometres away from my home.
Shirley and I had our first altercation when she directed me down Punt Road. I don't really need Shirley to get to Adelaide, but I like that she tells me when I'm going too fast or when there are speed cameras about the place. I really have to find the Elliot Perlman setting on the GPS, however. In Perlman's book, Three Dollars, the protagonist is trying to find words of wisdom for his newly born daughter - after three days of racking his brain, all he can come up with is "Darling, what ever you do, what ever time of day it is, avoid Punt Road." Sage advice. After half an hour, I was at the start of the Western Freeway, bound for South Australia, the burbs of Melbourne a dim haze in the rear vision mirror.
Shirley and the talking book provide company. Road trips are really best with somebody you either don't know, or get on with very well. The last real road trip I took was with Reindert, when we went to collect the Grounded Dutchman's Landcruiser from Newcastle and drove it 1500 kilometres back to Melbourne. We came home the long way, through such odd places as Dunedoo, Dubbo, Parkes (home of the Dish), Wagga Wagga before doing the obligatory wine stop at Rutherglen. Other than Reindert nearly losing his licence, that was a fantastic trip. We bonded on that trip.
On your own, you have time to think. Time to reflect. And lots of opportunity to play "What's that dead thing on the road?" I saw a couple of wallabies, an Eastern Grey kangaroo, a fox and various possums this trip. It's all in the fur colour.
This time, Andrew, my trusty Toyota Echo sat happily on the speed limit, glad to be out of the stop start of suburbia.
Once clear of Ballarat, the book was getting interesting and I was into the groove of the narrator, I started to look for signs of change. This time, first time in a long time, there are lots of changes.
This is the greenest I have seen the country in years. There is water in the lakes and rivers. After years of road trips, when passing over a signed waterway, there is a requirement to glance over and have a look. For the first time in years, I haven't glanced out and said "Nup, no water today." It's really lovely to see the Pink Lakes, the other side of Nhill, shimmering in it's full mother of pearl glory.
There are other small rituals of the road. The Keith BP Roadhouse, my petrol stop of choice, does the best traditional road food available. Milkshakes that come in tin containers - the way that the best milkshakes come - they even do green lime ones - not to my taste, but my friend Sam swears by them. Yesterday, I took a nostaligic trip and had a hot dog - with sauce. It tasted like the ones we had as a kid. Glorious.
I also love hitting Bordertown. After a swift stop to change my rego plates, I feel a bit safer. Since the "Kick a Vic" campaign there are many South Australians who make it a point to change their registration plates back to the Croweater variety when they get across the border. Victorian rego plates will get you run off the road or tailgated. I tend to do this at Bordertown - where I can also go into the service station and look at the rows of Farmers Union Iced Coffee, FrucChocs and Samboy Salt and Vinegar chips and I know I'm home. If I'm really feeling nostalgic, there's the option of the candied potatoes, made from coconut. I was on the lookout for Woodroofe's lemonade, the best lemonade in the world - nice and tart, not too sweet - but it seems that's been seconded to supermarkets now.
The only downer to this trip, the locusts. Not only are we having floods of biblical proportions here, there's also a plague of locusts infesting a lot of the southern continent. These things have no road sense to speak of. Just out of Horsham, the heat haze became peppered, a repeated banging on the windscreen and streaks of green and red - it was like this on an off all the way back to Adelaide. The stupid things are everywhere. Getting out at Bordertown, the front of the car looked like a bad Pro Hart painting, completely covered in yellow/green sludge, with bits of wings and bodies sticking out for good measure.
This morning, armed with a hose, a sponge and a bucket full of soapy water, I removed the carcasses from Andrew. It took about an hour to go over him, paying special attention to the radiator which was half clogged as well. After years of drought, washing the car on my parent's lawn still feels like an illegal act. They're on bore water - it doesn't really matter. The car is free of the dreaded green sludge - until next Tuesday, when I'll make the trip back.
The final part of this trip is always my favorite. Heading off the highway at Mount Barker, I take the back roads home. Winding back roads through some of the prettiest countryside in Australia, through Echunga and Meadows. It does remind me why I call myself a South Australian. A Croweater. Half an hour behind in time, fifteen years behind in fashion - with great wine. I don't care. This is home. Just like Frodo, returning to the Shire, I get that strange feeling of peace as I motor around the winding roads through the green tree lined hills.
Maybe being a South Australian isn't that bad after all.