Through Facebook networking, my hubby sold a car which needed to be delivered to Townsville, a short 1337.64 km away from Brisbane. The vehicle also needed a canopy, which meant it wouldn’t be ready until Friday, and a speedy delivery, so the road trip was shaping up to be a weekend journey: with my busy life this suited me, short and sweet, flying out of Townsville late Sunday night.
A quick sms to mycj (My Friend Chris Jackson) and a joyful shout back saying yes! Yes! YES! and we were on our way, earlyish Saturday morning after the glasses of wine the night before and complete lack of sleep had worn me down.
Ron, her hubby, was sitting on the step with his camera ready to capture our departure, that’s what he told us anyway, but I know Ron well enough to know that he was going to photograph the beautiful shiny red dual-cab, manual 4wd Colorado!
Both CJ and I had discussed road trips we could take with each other over the years, and although we had done several shorter ones together, including flying to the Hunter Valley for a weekend, this was to be our big adventure. We even had our overnight bags, which we jokingly called our Running Away From Home bags. We were packed. We didn’t really discuss Thelma and Louise, but in our minds we were excited beyond belief that we were actually going to do this together! Woot!
It wasn’t until we had reached Aspley, one of the northern suburbs in Brisbane, that I realised that my t-shirt was on backwards, a great start, I thought, as I glanced sideways to CJ. I swear she had sent 4 sms dits on her mobile already! I relaxed into the seat, all new and shiny and stiff, and the road loomed ahead.
“Have your seen the new dealership building yet Chris?” I asked, and we make a quick detour at Caboolture and almost run through hubby’s new building, me pointing this way and that, laughing, joking, and then yelling BACK IN THE CAR, NOW! (not the first time I was to utter that phrase) and we were truly on our way. Almost. It was 8am.
I always feel the adventure doesn’t begin until you get past the point of no return, that familiar landmark or road that you always turn down, the rest is unfamiliar territory.
The exit for Maroochydore loomed to our left, Road Trip Adventure starts: NOW!
Various road signs loomed in front with kilometre readings, but I ignored them as they have little effect until you need to know.
“We need a rabbit Chris” I tell her, explaining that a rabbit is someone who is prepared to drive a little bit faster than you, and take the blow if there is a speed trap. Run rabbit, run!
A selection of songs - SING LOUD – and we both settled into routine with the ease of old friends. It’s funny, but our friends think we both talk too much, however CJ and I don’t think that: we both think we are vital, interesting and interested, curious people, who are actively involved in our community and others lives. We give each other space enough in our lives that we don’t know everything about each other, and yet we know each other intimately.
We know our own strengths and weaknesses, we know we are loved, and we know who we love, we know each others hopes and fears, we know the truth, and we know and understand each others thought processes. It’s almost heaven! We are captivated hostages to our own thoughts, minds and opinions.
In Gympie, we stop off at the shopping centre, so CJ can get some relief for her hay fever, it’s making her eyes itchy and tired, and she grabs a cappuccino whilst there. I buy a large box of Lindt chocolates for mum when we arrive in Rocky that afternoon. It’s a nuisance to stop before we get into the rhythm of the trip, but it had to be done.
I give CJ my big Canon camera, so she can snap away and make her own memories, but the big lens is giving her grief, and it won’t focus for her. She’s missing a lot of photos, and so I pull over in Childers and sort it out, changing the lens to my little workhorse ‘snapper’, and she is now able to photograph to her hearts content.
We discuss everything, from our first kiss to our last lover, our husbands. We learn about God, and praying the Rosary, and we discuss in great detail our friends, both present and newly past. Every now and then Chris exclaims, “How good are we?” and I know she isn’t really asking, she’s telling. Even when we disagree, we are polite and nice to each other, we have respect, and patience, and it shows. If either of us were our husbands, there would be fireworks, but we both recognise the greater good of the trip, and the amazing opportunity and privilege we have been given, We are Blessed.
The road slides past gorgeous lush country, grass so thick you could dance on the tips, past Apple Tree Creek, past disused sheds and crops, cows and agriculture, past the little road side crosses marking someone’s grief and tragedy.
In Gin Gin we are ravenous, and we quickly pull over to eat. It’s 11.30am, too early for lunch but try telling our tummies. Must be the adrenalin! Fresh salad rolls are washed down with cold water, a toilet stop, diesel, some phoon photos and Silver Lady photos in front of a giant wall map which shows us we are still 13 hours away from Townsville, and it’s BACK IN THE CAR, NOW!
I try to keep my mother updated with our progress so she can follow us and not fret too much, so at each mobile phone reception we gather our messages, and send our position to the waiting world.
Creeks follow the road to the left, chocked with vines and weeds, they need a good flushing, the famous tired old mud crab notes we are in Miriam Vale and the country changes to drier scrub, gnarled trees denote poor soil, so we know we are getting closer to Rockhampton, Beef Capital of Australia.
I pull the car over at the Spire of Capricorn, which isn’t really, the actual crossing is south and for some reason they changed it and moved it to the city, oh well, a quick tour of famous old haunts of mine, and then we buy some wine and it’s off to see mum and sort out plans to meet my friends.
It’s funny to take someone who is a friend back to your own family home. The memories new and old rush up to greet us on the steps, and mum is standing, as she always is, like a good and devoted sentinel, to meet us. Fortunately, I am able to bring up a large wooden trunk from my aunty, to my sister, plus a large painting and other stuff to be delivered in Bowen. I feel like Santa. I laugh and apologise if I become a bit sentimental, *I know, hard to believe, eh?* and I quickly show Chris where our room is, and then we are driving up to the very summit of Mt Archer to meet Jules and John.
“We will be in the clouds mate” I observe as we start to climb, the grassboys clothed in raindrops, gum trees glowing in the dampness and tree trunks etched in rain. They are both on the verandah waiting for us, happy cries of greetings and hugs all around. They are so welcoming, embracing both Chris and I like old friends.
A bottle is quickly opened, and we sit and take in the view, breathless with the beauty unfolding before us,: bonsaied trees lashing to and fro in gusting wind, rain slashing down with tiny hail spotting occasionally. It’s wild, and we are thrilled to be witness to nature. Later, Sue and David meet us and Jules older sister and her family, so we have an instant party happening, and reluctantly we tear ourselves away to re-group with mum and my niece Tam, for dinner.
A shared meal of Red Rooster and Noodles, more wine, conversations, questions and answers, and then it’s midnight and I must sleep, I must!
Rising early at 6am, I shower and hose out downstairs, under the house, trying to clean it up for my sister’s private space. The area is larger than I remembered, and with a little effort, could be stunning. With a little effort. A quick piece of vegemite on toast, and we are driving to church to see Fr Cameron and Clare from Claremont, and I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he sees us both sitting there in the pews.
Catching my eye just as he is about to enter the Church, he gives me a little twinkle of fingers and a cheeky grin. Cameron gives a wonderful sermon on accepting who you are and knowing yourself, and we nod and sing and pray and receive Communion, noting with a nudge that he has to go back and retrieve another two wafers. “That’s ours mate” I whisper, full of the giggles. Chris is impressed with the precision counting, Clare from Claremont hugs me like the old friend I have become after 3 visits, it’s lovely, and we cross ourselves and leave north to Townsville.
“How are you coping with all the new information?” I ask Chris. I bet her head is swimming with stuff! Names, places, events, memories…
By the end of the day I tell her something, and she questions me about it. “I just told you” I say, incredulous, and she snaps back “Patty! I can’t remember everything!” and of course, she is right.
It is information overload and she is bearing up well. Very well. I have given her my thoughts and memories, now I have to trust her to keep them safe. There is no doubt in my mind. And she will. There is no doubt. By the end of the day, we will be both be tired, strung out and looking forward to going home, but for now we need to drive. It’s late, we probably should have left at 7am, but I really wanted to go to church, and I really wanted to take My Friend Chris Jackson with me. And so we did, and now we press onwards.
The road ahead is full of rain and 100kms speed limit, no one is interested in speeding and today begins slowly, we don’t get away until 9am. Seven to eight hours driving ahead. I make a mental note to photograph the speedo as it ticks over it’s first 1000kms, so I start a countdown, 5kms to go, 3kms to go, and then I am so engrossed in telling a story, that it completely slips my mind to hold my camera up and take the picture until Chris reminds me.
I swear at myself for the next 3.5kms, and give up beating myself up. What is done is done. We enter the 110 zone, and press the foot a little firmer down. Occasionally the mobiles ring and beep and we chat and send messages to our Loved Ones.
I begin today to message Rachel, the car’s new owner, to let her know we are safe and on our way. I bet she is so excited.
Us too, and we laugh at the rain, and discuss more philosophical questions. Straight bitumen demands our full attention so we don’t daydream and wander off, past small huddles of houses grouped together for company, past tin roofs tiptoeing above the cane fields, like a flag waving surrender to the green.
In Sarina we pick up toasted sandwiches, and to our dismay the coffee machine is broken, so we push onto Mackay for a fresh skinny latte for Chris. A giant cane toad greets us through the rain, and then it’s Mackay, Chris is driving and all is well, until we pull in McDonalds for a cuppa. I swear there must have been 300 people inside. There cannot be much to do here I think to myself, as I struggle with being impatient in the immovable queue. Orders are mixed up, little kids are slipping and sliding in the greasy wet floors, until finally one kid goes flat on her backside, both wrists out to catch herself. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt. As Chris had thrown me out of the car to buy the coffee, she now comes running in totally stressed, apologising. Tis ok, I know the feeling, and so we depart, finally, after a stop-start, stop-start trip today.
The country is lush, canefields, mango trees, winding hills around each bend. Only a few grey nomads on the road, I guess they come up in winter, and now it’s humid, hot, sticky and wet. I take photos of what catches my eye, mostly everything, ha, and Chris settles in to drive in the rain. Every now and then I flick the windscreen wiper as I get claustrophobic and I need the screen wiped, but she is very controlled and doesn’t rouse on me.
We note the coal trains, the freight trains, the semi trailers which seem to be breeding more and more, sloshing sheets of water across the car; the rain is bloody pelting down now, and a couple of times we both say out loud “oh shit!” with the gathering strength of the downpours.
Our talk turns again to the people in our life, and the people we want in our lives. I tell CJ that I think I am growing up; as I have let an old friendship slip into the briny waters of the past, and I feel so much better for it: even though I think of this person every day, it’s like touching a bruise, it feels so good when I stop.
A series of things had happened over the years, and like a loyal friend and a boiled frog, I tolerated her rudeness and abruptness telling myself she was witty and clever, when one day the penny dropped and my epiphany moment came like the proverbial lightbulb.
“It’s ok” I almost shout, “I get it!” The relief at my suddenly acquired knowledge of all the times our friendship didn’t add up, all the breathless times I would look at her and think “WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY?” all came together in a cosmic explosion of common sense, and although I miss her dearly, I do not miss the times she made me doubt myself, or my life. I feel free, and I take a photo and smile.
My friends now are like Wonder bras, supportive, uplifting, and make me better about myself.
Both Chris and I trace our fingers over the relationships in our lives and we emerge like the windscreen wipers, blinking, energetic, forceful, clearing the way of stuff and nonsense, to see clearly where we are both headed in our lives. It’s deep, and we are loving it.
The mountains are now crouching near us, then further away, ever watchful of two women driving from the past and into the future. Mango trees begin to line the roadside, kilometre after kilometre, some trees are empty, other hold sweet blushing fruit, waiting for a greedy mouth and probing fingers to devour it.
Islands of green surrounded by cane, grey skies wash over us and the music cd’s are changed to Carmina Burana. Such a wonderful piece of music, Chris drives and we enjoy our own memories, unspoken, of watching her hubby Ron when he sang in the chorus 2 years ago. I recall memories of mum and I in the Hunter valley, tasting wines, and we daydream, separately.
When I did the same trip up north last October, the sugar mills were busy with the harvest, billowing black smoke leaping from the giant stacks, but today they are still and quiet, as if they forgotten their job.
Soon we are in Proserpine, gateway to the Whitsunday islands, then it’s Bowen, where we fill up and organise a very quick! Quick! tour with brother John.
I fly into the house, with CJ dragging behind me. A glass of water, pit stops, and then it’s BACK IN THE CAR, NOW! and we are off, driving slowly Bowen-style, with John pointing out the various landmarks and settings for the recent movie Australia. He was a guide, with his wife, and so whatever happened, he knew about. He points to the local pub where we have shared meals. “I sat there at that window and Nicole Kidman was sitting astride a big black horse, waiting for her cue, magnificent animal, and the horse was good too,” and soon we wave hello to his little yacht in the harbour, loving referred to as the duckpond, and we are climbing some headland to see what we can see.
The easterly winds whip across the sea, leaving skid marks. Large islands peer through the gloom of the overcast skies, and below us a fisherman runs past in his tinny, heading home with his catch.
Bowen is unrecognisable, and soon millions of dollars will be spent making it look like Townsville, or worse, Noosa. It takes most people 20 mins to cross a street in Bowen, they are so wide. It is exactly as I remember, and nothing like I remember.
Chris is excited to be so far north, for a Melbourne born and raised girl, this is the furtherest she has been, and she asks John lots of questions, and tries to find relationships within the conversation. It’s all good, and I love that they meet and greet each other warmly.
I am now like a driven woman, I can almost see the end in sight, and I want to fall into a chardy on the Strand in Townsville, but first we have a new car to deliver. We hit the road tooting as we drive, goodbye, take care! Thanks for the tour!
Back in the driver’s seat, CJ has a rest, she is tired, and again the white line becomes my constant companion. Some times you want to drive quickly, other times you are happy to dawdle and let someone else be a rabbit.
Run rabbit run!
Soon, our excitement ebbs and we slowly realise that “our” trip is soon going to be handed over to Stephen and Rachel, the new owners, who will drive us both to Townsville. I sing as much as I can, belting out some Vika and Linda…
Morning is rising
I'm lying here by your side
Daylight comes shining
Burning right into my eyes
We're just like children
Playing with matches
Hidden from the world
We've started a fire
We've started a fire
We've started a fire
Chris begins to tidy the car up, rubbish is deposited into plastic bags, and water bottles rounded up, cd’s placed away and so on. We don’t speak. We are already in mourning for each others company and solitude. A quick phone call to Johnno in Townsville, and dinner is organised, all together. Wonderful!
Arriving in Aye, we get the directions out and begin to find their home, becoming lost in the last 2 blocks as the email states Turn into Ayre Street instead of reading Alice Street, and so I phone Stephen and he gently guides us to their proper address. How can you forget your own street name I wonder?
Too much excitement and anticipation! We drive into their driveway, relieved we had made the trip without damage or incidents. I beep the horn, toot! Toot! Waiting, waiting, until I whisper “I don’t think this is them” and I quietly back out. The man of the house comes running out, waving his arms and grinning, thinking his wife had been there to greet us.
Lots of excited hugs and warm wishes, some photos and I admire her shell hangings; Chris admires her birds, mother bird almost flying into her face as she was spooked away from the nest.
Then we visit her parents, and are proudly shown around the garden. It’s all good, and I am impressed with her range of plants, and the health of their garden. Seasol, she nods, knowingly. I burn it into my brain. Rachel's father, Happy,(by name and nature) and I chat about Holden. Then it’s time to go, my chardy is calling me, BACK IN THE CAR NOW!
Chris and I sit in the back, naughty girls running away from home and responsibilities, and I quietly take some photos, because I can. Chris sleeps, chin propped, smiling and listening to the general chat about scouts and camping and the trip and Facebook.
We sold a car through Facebook, which we needed to, and that allowed us to do the Road Trip that we wanted to.
It’s all good, and soon we are in Townsville, but not before we pass square mango trees, pruned for ease and a better crop. Square trees, now I have seen everything.
Parking on the Strand, Chris and I have our photos taken, and then struggle manfully with our bags watching Stephen and Rachel wander to the distance. Suppressing a giggle, we nudge each other and I raise the camera to my eye. They are in heaven, and it’s ok. We can do this. We can do anything!
Within minutes, Johnno arrives with his family, Cathy, and the teenage girls, one comcpletley hidden behind her well coiffured hair. I part her fringe. “Are you there Mrs Bear, behind all your hair?”
She isn’t impressed. Ha.
Drinks are quickly ordered, and Chris Jackson, my friend Chris Jackson, my darling, my Boothville activist, my Mrs Community everything, my road trip buddy and I clink our glasses and cheers.
Our journey into each other and the far north of Queensland is over. It’s time to catch our plane.