“WHERE ARE WE GOING?” Bonica attempted to shout over the music and through the morning softness at the back of her throat.
“MEL-BOURRRRNE.” I replied with a heartily, ridiculously, rolled R-R-R-R. I tugged on the bottom of my hastily-neatened beard and squinted my eyes against the rising sun. I was driving into that morning orb, the Great God of the East, preparing myself for the road ahead.
It was the Electric Holy Road Trip. A round journey of something like 23 hours through the picturesque right butt-cheek of Australia. To call it a butt cheek might seem a bit rude, I know, but there are some truly beautiful right butt cheeks out there in the world when you stop and think about them.
From the Hills of Adelaide we bounced, full of coffee and eggs and excitement. Bonica had arrived from Spain almost two months earlier. We were making the most of her last few weeks in Oz by driving through it as slowly and painfully as possible, aiming to stop by in Melbourne for a couple’a days and get all jiggy with it.
But first… I forgot to pee.
We pulled over in Tailem Bend, a smallish town on the right-hand side of Murray Bridge, early in the morning. Bonica waited in the car, no doubt itching to get under way, while I jumped out and headed for a public bathroom.
The town was silent. Ghostly. Nothing but the buzz of morning traffic. The sun filtered in through the leaves and bounced off of yellow-brick buildings to create a golden glow that I just had to soak in. The toilet trip took much longer than it should have because of this. But I think it was worth it. You have to stop and appreciate these little moments, to find those places in the world where you feel utterly alone, even in the best of company. Places where you and sunlight rule together.
Bonica and I? That’s a whole ‘nother story in and of itself. I’m sure I’ve hinted at it now and then over the life of this blog, and I’m sure my familiar followers will know it quite well. The only thing to really say at this point, while we roll across the tarmac through the hills and stop at the Settler’s Cottage in Keith for a bite of Belvita and sip of coffee, is that Bonica and I… Well, this trip meant a lot. A whole lot.
Together we took on our shoulders a massive adventure, something I’ve never attempted before: a half-day road trip of straight roads and fast driving. Sure, I’ve been on the road a lot before and I’m no stranger at all to the monotony of the highway, but driving such a distance without a back-up driver seemed like some whole new exciting, massive challenge in itself. As the old cliché saying goes: it’s not about the destination, it’s about forcing yourself to stay awake and fresh after six hours of pedal to the metal.
After the beautifully mindful urination at Tailem Bend and the quick brunch at Keith, we really got going. Blasting across the flats like a pre-apocalypse Mad Max, we reached and passed Bordertown at a screaming pace, before grinding to a halt at the border of my state and the next.
You think about these liminal spaces often as something almost mythical but really a border is just an imaginary line drawn in the dirt. I jumped from South Australia to Victoria and back again a few times just to see if I could feel anything. Victorian air didn’t taste that different.
Along the mighty highway are many cutely morbid rest areas, places where truckies bed down for a nap, where elicit sex acts take place in daylight hours, where frustrated dads pull off for a break and a whizz. Being young and spritely, I didn’t think that I needed to visit any of these rest-stops-of-the-damned. I could go on for hours, I could!
That’s what I thought until I read the words: “Pink Lake Rest Area”. To state the obvious, “It’s a fucking Pink Lake!”
It was a body of water—surrounded by squishy green hills and a bit of beachy scrub—that was stained a beautiful shade of pink by some algae, bacteria or witches curse. What witch would be angry enough at a lake to turn it pink, I don’t know, but there it was. Neither Bonica or I could get over the rosy waters. We thought it was some rare, unique occurrence, something made just for us in that tiny corner of the world… until we passed two more pink lakes and a pretty neon-green one for good measure. Seems that Australia loves to decorate its lakes in the latest season’s colours.
On the banks of the Pink Lake we ate a make-shift lunch. Cans of tuna, crushed Belvitas, cashews, salt and vinegar Pringles and V8 Juice would be the fuel to keep us going all the way to the Victorian capital. I love a good travel lunch. You don’t realise how alive you are until you’re eating something rushed, tasteless and probably terrible for you.
While I stuffed Pringles into my mouth I couldn’t help remembering the time I’d been stuck in Frankfurt Airport train station early in the morning, eating dusty crackers just to kill that grumbling hunger of a day without solids. There was also the flashback to eating breakfast in the form of vending machine nuts onboard a train from the middle-of-nowhere-Spain to Seville. We take our fancy restaurant meals and hipster brunches for granted. Travel food kicks us in the teeth and stomach, reminding us to be thankful that we have food at all.
If you keep following the highway from Dimboola, you’ll soon hit Horsham and then the Grampians National Park. Suddenly, after hours and hours of scrub and pasture, there are trees again. On either side you’ll be surrounded by peeling gums and grey leaves. Among this cheery forest you’ll find a place called “Devil’s Garden” (which we avoided) and, of course…
Our dark lord, The Giant Koala. Bow before him. Th̹͞e̟͎̬̜̤ ̠̮h͔̯i̛͙̯͈̳ͅv̵̺̮͉̪̩͙e̸͈-͡m͝i̪͈n͚͕͙̭͓d̙͓̩͚ ̦̤̥͢r̭͇͔̞͔e͕̼̦͉̯p͍̦ͅr̲̣̻͙̞̘ḙ͎͉͈̺́s̸̤͈̮ȩ̟͕͓͕̯͈̪n̷̘̤͈̙t̼͇̹͡i͇͎͍̰̲̫ṇ̶̦̮̖ǵ̖̗͉ ̧c̴͚̞̣͉h͞a͙̗̯̞͉͖̳ò͈̰̣̥s͔̜͍.̣̖͖͓̻͉͟ H҉̮̦̟̥̩̖e̟̩̯̪ ̶c̸͓̣͍̭̞o̤̰͎m͕e͍̗̲s͍̼͖̭̟̟̱͢
From Horsham, great rocky mounds become visible on the horizon. Against the flat, it rises up like the ruins of some giant castle. The ancient rocks, hidden by distance and mist, are the Grampians, and that’s where we needed to go. Drawn like magnets, we strayed from the path to Melbourne and headed for the Gap.
Hall’s Gap is about as touristic as you can possibly get in the “middle of nowhere”. Lined with hostels, boutique accommodation and ice cream parlours, it’s a small little oasis amongst the ruggedness of the Grampians mountain range. I wasn’t expecting kids to be running around exhausted parents, screaming, I was expecting quiet, magpies calling in the bush and sharp pillars of rock.
We quickly escaped the main drag of Hall’s Gap and found within five minutes the ruggedness we were looking for.
The Yaris took us up a sharply winding, whiplash road, grunting as it went. 4WDs zoomed by in the opposite direction, probably laughing at the city sedan as it pumped up the hills. Quickly, the little-car-that-could reached the top of the hill and we were greeted by a sight unlike I’d ever seen before.
A valley stretched below me, and behind me a vast wall of grey rock stood. I felt dizzy, uncertain and insignificant. The sharp angle of the valley and the wide, nearly flat rock face that stood at a lazy angle on the other side created a strange illusion, almost inviting me to lean over and let myself fall, fall, fall… and splat somewhere amongst the Kookaburras.
The horrific beauty of the Grampians haunts and amazes me still. On our way back, circling around the mountain through roads a Toyota Yaris was definitely never meant to drive on, I couldn’t stop thinking about how inviting the landscape felt. It was a world within a world, so alien to my everyday life, but so absorbing. I’m sure, if I had the right gear, I could spend weeks wandering around the mountains. Of course, I’m sure I’d need some sort of emergency helicopter rescue at some point, to drag my ill-prepared, sunburnt body from the trees, but I’d sure enjoy it up until to then.
Melbourne appeared on the horizon like a spiny, shimming rockfish. It lay squat across the horizon, slowly lighting up with the colours of night time. We crossed the great curved spine of a bridge over the Port, wove through arterial roads, dodge tolls and criss-crossed the city with the help of our trusted pal Google.
After 13 hours of travelling, Bonica and I made it to Melbourne. We rolled into the suburb of Fitzroy in the evening, just as the parties were starting. After so many hours on the road, with hardly a human being in sight, to be suddenly confronted with hundreds of cars, thousands of people, millions of lights was like entering a psychedelic daze. At that point, I didn’t know whether I’d actually died in the Grampians and woken up in cyberpunk heaven or if we’d actually arrived.
But because I’m writing this now, two weeks later, I know that I made it. We made it to Melbourne!