Three Years on the Road
by
Brett Davis


85. North by North-West

Our alarms had us up at 5am. Rain had fallen sporadically during the night, but the last few hours had been dry. We packed up quietly, but Pauline and Gary were soon awake making preparations of their own for moving out. Karen said goodbye and wished them luck while I pushed Elle through the mud and water-filled pot-holes of the rest area and rode across the bridge to make contact with Gary the Mailman. We did not want him to leave without us.

I found him loading the van, ages away from being ready for departure. Gary was a funny little man, with close-cropped grey hair and beard. He reminded me of a troll - the mythical Scandinavian pixies who live under bridges - especially when he showed us his sleeping shelter under the loading dock. Nothing seemed to bother him - he just pottered about, loading and checking parcels, and muttering to himself as he sorted everything out.

Karen arrived a few minutes later, and while Gary loaded the minibus, Karen and I loaded our bikes onto the open trailer attached to the back. The only other major piece of freight was a two hundred and forty seven kilogram anchor which was resting on a truck tyre in the middle of the trailer. We hoped it was well secured, because if it moved our bikes could get rather bent.

We were ready to go just before sunrise. Karen climbed into the back of the bus with the parcels and gave me the passenger seat. Gary kept us entertained with a commentary on the land and properties we were passing, and stories about his five years of driving the bus. When the sun came up we spotted roos, cattle, sheep, a fox, a few wedge-tailed eagles, some emus, and lots of undulating red sand, spinifex, saltbush and low scrub.

Coral Bay is two caravan parks, two small shopping centres and a pub. Strong westerly wind made it look rather uninviting, and Karen and I were glad we were going to Exmouth. After dropping off a parcel we drove to the bakery for breakfast, where Karen had coffee (of course) and I had a really yummy cream bun. We drove through more desert until near the airforce base at Learmonth, where the Cape Range appeared in the west.

A little further along we stopped at the Kailis prawn works to drop off the anchor - literally. A chain was attached to both the anchor and the tyre, and then pulled off the trailer by a fork-lift truck. During the extraction, the heavy anchor overbalanced and one end swung upwards, putting a large dent in my front pannier basket. I straightened it out quite easily, thanking my lucky stars that the anchor had not hit Elle's spokes or wheel rim.


Elle and Mel in trailer, anchor on ground

When we arrived in Exmouth Gary drove around to his home, a metal shed about thirty metres long by seven metres wide situated in a light industrial area on the outskirts of town. While he unhitched the trailer he told us where the tourist information centre and the caravan parks were located, but then in typical fashion he carried on the sentence and said that we could stay at his place for nothing if we liked.

Karen and I quickly inspected the shed to see what we were letting ourselves in for. It was roughly divided into three. One end was a used clothes shop called Cherishables, which was temporarily closed. It contained racks of old clothes and Gary's kitchen. The middle section contained the bedrooms and bathrooms, with two of the former used as change rooms when the shop was operating. The other end of the shed was an open workshop with an adjoining open plan lounge-room. I loved the arrangement, and could easily have lived in something very similar. We thanked Gary for his offer, and moved in immediately.

Gary showed us how to lock up the place and drove away to finish his rounds. Karen and I locked our bikes in the workshop and walked into town to get money and do some shopping. We booked a snorkelling trip to the Ningaloo Reef for the next day, and a Cape Range day trip for Saturday with Neil McLeod's Ningaloo Tours - the same tour that Elle Macpherson had taken.

We spent the arvo drying the tent in the shed, sewing up two holes in the tent bag, and enjoying the comforts of home. Karen and I had not had a solid roof over our heads since Derby, seven weeks ago, so it was nice to sit on a lounge, next to a television, with hot water, an electric kettle and a toilet all within close proximity. These were mod cons we had not seen too much of lately.

Gary dropped in briefly in the evening, just long enough to shower and change. He then headed to the pub before starting work - not for a drink but for a counter meal. Everybody in town knew to contact him there if they had any last-minute deliveries to be made down to Minilya. Karen and I had the shed to ourselves.

We set up our mats, sleeping bags and pillows on the floor of one of the change rooms. It was surprisingly quiet during the night, with the walls and ceilings of the rooms actually quite separate from the metal of the shed. In the morning we walked down to our pickup point for the snorkel tour only to find that it had been postponed until the weather was better. The wind was fairly strong from the south-west, and cold. Exmouth is on the east side of the Cape Range and reasonably protected, but the reef is on the western side and very exposed.

Back at the shed we washed all of our clothes, walking around in an assortment of second hand clothes we borrowed from the shop. Karen and I were startled by a knock on the door. It was a real estate agent who wanted to show some people through the shed. He told us that Gary had recently separated from his wife and that the property was up for sale. While the people carried out their inspection, we spoke to the agent about property values in Exmouth, still looking for a place to settle down. He asked us how much we thought the shed was worth. I guessed fifty thousand dollars, Karen guessed eighty and the agent said he was asking one hundred and fifty - a lot of money to pay for the privilege of living in a remote part of Australia.

Karen had a few tummy problems and hit the hay early. I spent the evening sleeping in front of the footy and trying to stay awake for the third Ashes cricket test between Australia and England. Elliot got a ton and Ponting got fifty. The television was so much better than our new transistor radio.

In the morning we walked out to the main road where Neil McLeod soon arrived to pick us up for the full day safari with his Ningaloo Tours. We climbed into the OKA vehicle and nodded at the other tourists as we found our seats. Two of them looked familiar, and a bit of conversation with them soon confirmed that we had met them before. They were Bill and Betty, whom we had talked to on the pier at Derby.

Neil drove us out to a couple of canyons on the edge of the Cape Range - the Shotover and the Charles Knife. Both of them were ruggedly spectacular. During the drive, and throughout the day, Neil amazed Karen and I with his ability to remember the names of everybody on the tour. Every time he spoke to someone, he would call him or her by name, and he never made an error or even hesitated. It was a wonderful ability to possess, especially for a tour leader.


One of the Cape Range canyons

We drove up to the plateau on top of the Cape Range to a sink-hole cave in the limestone rock, which Karen and I climbed down into using a convenient tree root. Back at the OKA we had morning tea, including some of Neil's mother's famous cakes. We then followed a rough four wheel drive track across the range, with Neil pointing out various wildflowers, trees, and an occasional feral goat. The descent on the western side of the Cape Range to the coastal plain included a short walk while the OKA traversed a steep, rough section, then it was on to lunch at Osprey Bay.

During a delicious lunch of melt-in-the-mouth corned beef, salads and cheese, the conversation somehow turned to Elle Macpherson, and Neil was quite happy to tell us about her visit. He took off his hat and showed us where Elle had autographed it for him, and explained that Elle had not been part of a normal tour group. Instead, she had been involved in a promotional campaign for Western Australian tourism, and Neil had been selected to show Elle all the sights that the Exmouth area had to offer. In return, Neil was shown a couple of sights of what Elle had to offer as well! He had great delight in relating a story of Elle sunbathing topless a little way up the beach, when Neil had to take her morning tea and cake over to her. He told us he "did not know where to look." I did not know whether to call him a lying bastard, or a lucky bastard!

The only good looking bird that I saw on the beach at Osprey Bay was a Rufous Calamanthus. It was a new bird and therefore pretty exciting, but it was nowhere near as exciting as seeing Elle Macpherson topless would have been!

After lunch we drove down to Yardie Creek for a short boat trip up to the limit of navigation through a lovely little gorge. The cliffs were pretty spectacular, but the wildlife was even better, with reef egrets, black footed wallabies, western spotted bowerbirds and noisy flocks of corellas all over the place. The tour then moved to Turquoise Bay where Neil broke out the flippers and snorkels for all those who wanted to see the coral, only a short distance off the shore. A strong current was running along the beach, so we were directed to enter the water a couple of hundred metres down the beach and let the current carry us back. It was a great way to snorkel, not even having to swim as we floated over lots of colourful fish and some fairly average coral.


Afternoon tea

We had afternoon tea and more of Neil's mum's cake at the back of the bus on the beach, then it was northwards towards the tip of the North-West Cape. With the afternoon fast disappearing, hundreds of suicidal kangaroos were coming out of the scrub and crossing the road in search of their evening meal. Neil managed to avoid them all. Karen and I were especially happy to see a couple of kori bustards take flight as well. All of our previous sightings had been of bustards walking.

After a short stop to check out a fossilised shark tooth in a limestone outcrop near the road, we continued on to the Vlamingh Head lighthouse. Neil had timed our arrival perfectly. We watched the sun disappear into the ocean from the viewing platform which circled the top of the lighthouse. The sunset was fairly ordinary, but we could not blame Neil for that. With the twilight fast waning, we drove back to Exmouth past an array of low frequency towers for which the Cape is famous. They are used by the US for communicating with submarines.

Gary had left for another run down to Minilya by the time we arrived back at the shed. I thought I would spend the rest of Saturday night watching either the cricket from England, or the Bledisloe Cup rugby union match from the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but to my dismay the local station had scheduled some non-sport so I was forced to do some reading instead. I made up for it the following day, though, watching Sportsworld and the Footy Show in the morning, then the West Coast Eagles beat Geelong after that. After a quick break to do some shopping in town, it was back to the shed to read the Sunday paper, have dinner, watch a movie, and then catch up on the cricket in England. Every so often it is great to have a complete veg day.

Our re-scheduled snorkel tour the next day coincided with Karen's time of the month. She was a bit apprehensive about the possible effect this could have on the local sharks if she went swimming. Karen was also worried about the amount of time and privacy she would have, both on the water and the shore, and of course there was always her perennial fear of passing out due to the pain of the cramps she might have, so we postponed the snorkelling for the second time.

With time on our hands, we packed up our gear and rode out to the Cape Range national park after a brief stop at CALM (Conservation And Land Management) to arrange a three night camping permit. An easy fifty one kilometres at twenty two kilometres per hour took us to a place called Mesa Camp, a flat rectangular area of compacted sand and stone divided into twelve sites, each about six metres square, nestled just behind the beach dunes only one hundred metres from the water. Some recently pruned conifers struggled to provide shade along the northern and western perimeters of the camp. Facilities consisted of two immaculate drop toilets, half a dozen garbage bins, a recycling bin for cans and a free gas hotplate.

Karen and I spent a few hours exploring the beach and dunes, and even dodged a couple of sting rays during a short swim in the cool water of the shallows. A small waterhole only metres away from our tent had almost dried up, but it still attracted quite a variety of birds. We saw Brahminy kites, red capped dotterels and great egrets fishing in its waters during our stay. The rest of the saltbush covered coastal plain and the sparsely grassed dunes also provided a surprising amount of birdlife. A walk back towards the road late in the afternoon produced sightings of a rufous calamanthus, white winged wrens, red capped dotterels and a banded plover.

We also sighted Neil McLeod's OKA, parked near the low ridge containing the fossilised shark tooth, so we walked over to say hello, and to see whether his amazing memory for names was permanent or only a party trick. Neil had a bit of difficulty remembering our names, but covered his embarrassment by inviting us to dinner at his Exmouth home when we returned to town.

After inspecting the water situation at a signposted bore on the other side of the road, and finding it good, Karen and I walked back to camp at dusk for a noodle dinner and cryptic crosswords until our torches began to fade. Our entertainment for the rest of the evening was the regular shooting stars which streaked across an unbelievably clear sky, and listening to Australia score yet another cricket test win against the hapless English side.

We fell asleep listening to the pleasant sound of waves breaking on the reef, about two kilometres away. Depending on the direction of the wind, the sound was either a rumble or a roar. In the morning we spoke to a fellow camper who complained about the noise - and he was almost deaf! There is just no pleasing some people.

Another pair of neighbours were experienced bird watchers from Manjimup in the Western Australian south-west. Karen and I spoke with them for quite a while, picking up many useful tips on where to sight birds further south. Afterwards, we walked down the beach a couple of kilometres, spotting large starfish on the beach and small turtles just offshore. After cutting inland through another camp we followed a gravel access road to the Milyering Visitor Centre, an environmental building of rammed earth with a passive solar design which housed a mass of information about the Cape Range National Park. Good displays on snakes, the reef and the Cape made for interesting reading, but the most fascinating bit of data we picked up was about whales, which are supposedly descended from a wolf like creature!

After viewing a fifteen minute video on the park, we walked back along the beach for lunch at our camp, and spent the afternoon reading, writing postcards, and walking to a ruined water tank about two kilometres away. Another night of stargazing was followed by a morning of swimming and reading in the sun, but by mid afternoon the inactivity triggered Karen into gear and she suggested a walk up onto the Cape Range. We wandered around looking for birds in the shallow, rocky gullies of the range's western slopes, finding nothing new, but getting excellent sightings of emus, grey-headed honeyeaters, spinifex pigeons and painted firetails. An encounter with an echidna as we walked back to camp was a highlight too.

Much to Karen's disgust, I suggested we interrupt our dinner of pasta and chicken sauce to walk up to the top of the dunes to view the sunset. Karen eventually agreed, but gave me hell when the spectacle turned out to be a real dud. We finished our dinner in the dark and worked on a cryptic until Karen's torch completely gave up the ghost. Spatters of rain hit the tent during the night but a stiff easterly wind dried everything off almost immediately, although it also disturbed our sleep with its flapping of the tent and the bike cover.

The next morning, with our food running out and the area thoroughly explored, we packed up the tent and headed back towards Exmouth, but not before saying goodbye to our campground host Peter, our birdwatching neighbours Arthur and Bess, and to Dutch Hans who gave us a mass of tourist information. We attempted to detour to Mangrove Bay for a look, but the road was pretty bad so we skipped it, stopping instead at place named Jacobz where the reef comes in close to the shore. The stiff easterly wind was ruffling the water so there was nothing much to see, so out we rode again, past the VLF towers on the tip of the Cape and into headwinds all the way back to Exmouth.


The lighthouse at North-west Cape

When we finally arrived back at Gary's shed we were quite content to veg for the rest of the day. It felt so good we veged again the following day, especially after some occasional overnight showers continued on and off all day, getting more consistent with every passing hour. It was good to have the rain while we had a roof over our heads, and not when we were out on the road somewhere. We watched television, read, listened to the rain, walked into town to do some shopping, wrote a few postcards, and basically just lounged around.

I did fix the tent, however. During our last stay in Sydney, Karen had exchanged a number of heated letters and phone calls about the deterioration of our tent-fly with Macpac, the makers of the tent, and Paddy Pallin's, the shop from which we had bought it. The fly had split in a number of places as a result of the fragility caused by its exposure to sunlight combined with its self-destructive ability to sag when damp then stretch as tight as a drum when it dried. One talk Karen had with Macpac was particularly enlightening and gave us plenty of ammunition for our fight to have the fly replaced.

"So what is the problem?" Macpac had asked.
"The fly sags when it is damp. We tighten up the straps to make it taut again, but when it dries it shrinks and it has started to rip in a number of places."
"Can't you keep the straps loose?"
"If we do, the fly touches the inner lining of the tent and water comes in. In a wind, the whole tent would flap if we left it loose, anyhow."
"Can't you just loosen the straps when the tent starts to dry?"
"We are not always around during the day to be able to loosen the straps."
"You don't mean you leave the tent up during the day, do you!?"
"Of course. Sometimes we stay at places for three or four days at a time."
"Well the fly is not designed for prolonged exposure to sunlight."
"What do you consider 'prolonged exposure' to be?" asked Karen.
"The fly specifications show that it loses fifty percent of its strength after two hundred hours of exposure to ultraviolet radiation."

If we assume that the tent is exposed to sunlight for ten hours a day, the fly would have weakened by one half in less than three weeks! More letters and phone calls followed. Eventually Macpac presented us with a choice. They would either replace our fly with an identical model made from the same material, at no cost, or they would replace it with a new model made from a stronger, improved, rip-stop material, at a cost of one hundred dollars. Given the amount of use our tent experienced, we chose the new model. One hundred dollars is a lot of money to fork out for a tent fly, but nothing like the four hundred dollars we would have had to pay if Karen had not complained long and hard.

Although we had been given assurances that the new fly was the same dimensions as the original, we found that it was actually slightly larger. Because the fly was constrained by the size of the inner tent, it tended to hang loose and flap loudly in strong winds. After the disturbed night at Mesa Camp, I decided to do something about the problem, and added six inches of elastic to each of the three straps which limit the width to which the fly can be stretched. The result was excellent - a nice, firm, quiet tent, just as its makers had intended. Finally.

The veg day continued afterwards when I made a spaghetti bolognaise dinner, with a cheesecake dessert and a bottle of wine. A great meal deserved a great finish to the night, and it was provided by a telecast of North Melbourne beating Essendon in an AFL game.

Our re-scheduled snorkelling trip was put off yet again the following morning because of the rain and its attendant overcast, which made visibility poor. Two hours later, the sky cleared to a cloudless blue and the wind died away to nothing. The snorkelling would have been superb, but instead, Karen and I did housework for ourselves and Gary, Karen vacuuming the lounge while I did a load of washing and swept the kitchen, showroom, hall and garage.

Karen became her usual toey self at the lack of activity, so late in the morning we took Elle and Mel for a ride down to Pebble Beach, thirteen or fourteen kilometres south of town. The name of the beach was particularly apt. It was made up of small, rounded stones of many colours, mostly red, white and brown and all the variations in between. Karen and I collected quite a few which would be mailed to Sydney later, before returning to the shed to watch another game of footy.

Geelong and Port Power are not two of my favourite teams, but footy is footy so I watched it, right up until the last quarter, which was ditched in favour of breaking news from the New South Wales ski resort of Thredbo. For an hour or more we watched a close-up of five guys standing outside a hole in a hillside, doing absolutely nothing. They were waiting for Stuart Diver to be rescued at Thredbo, but I wanted the footy! When they eventually got him out, we watched two minutes of action as he was stretchered to a waiting ambulance and driven away. It was not exactly riveting stuff!

With Stuart Diver safely in hospital, and the football well and truly over, we rode into town to do some shopping for dinner, exploring the back streets during our return to the shed. Karen tried spicing up my spaghetti bolognaise and only succeeded in making it worse, before going out to a "reef teach" night with WAGS (West Aussie Getaway Scuba) - the company we were trying to go snorkelling with. I was not interested and had a night alone, the two hours that she was gone being the longest that Karen and I had been apart in over three months.

The next morning the snorkelling trip actually happened! Paul from WAGS rolled up at 10:30am in a Toyota troop carrier with the dive boat towed behind. We went around Exmouth picking up a few other people for the tour as well. We met Magoto - a Japanese guy, two Scots - Ronny and Eldonna, and a non-aquatic Pom named Pas who was just along for the ride. We also picked up Barbara - the other half of WAGS - and then drove around to Tantabiddi, a glorified boat-launching ramp about fifteen kilometres north of Mesa Camp.

The nice morning started to turn sour when we neared the boat ramp, the wind turning strong and cool from the north. Lots of cloud rolled in and a good sized chop whipped up on the water. We all piled into the boat and bounced about five kilometres south to a coral bomby off Mangrove Bay. All of us except Pas donned fins and masks and slipped into the cool water for forty five minutes of average coral and good fish, clams and rays - but nothing too different to anything we had seen before.

Karen and I were two of the first people back into the boat. Paul made a good attempt to get us to the outside reef just north of our launch point, but the increasing swell made the going difficult and the chances of sighting a whale or manta ray very slim. Everyone agreed that conditions were too bad, so we turned around and anchored about a kilometre off the launch ramp for another snorkel. Karen and I did not get back into the water. Both of us were pretty cold, and after three months in the tropics we were much more familiar with the warmer water up north.

The whole snorkelling trip was an anti-climax. We knew we were in Exmouth at the wrong time of year for whale sharks, but a whale or manta sighting would have been almost as good. Still, we had given it a go. It showed us that we cannot always expect perfect day trips.

I was happy to get back to the shed to watch the local derby between the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle. The Eagles won, but the best thing about the game was that I saw it all - thankfully, it was uninterrupted by a Thredbo disaster. Karen, of course, did not watch the football. In all the time I have known her, she has never watched a complete game of Australian Rules, with the exception of our visits to live games. Instead, she reads, or writes postcards, or does house-work. Some people just have no appreciation of the finer things in life!

After the game we dressed for dinner in our finest, walked into town to the Potshot Hotel to buy a cask of lambrusco, then wandered around town in the dark looking for Neil McLeod's place. Neil introduced us to his wife Coralie, his mother Bernice, his dog Spot, and his boys Daniel, Hayden, Casey and Lincoln. While Neil cooked a barbecue of sausages and satays, and later over dinner with salad, apple pie and icecream, we talked about the national parks we had seen, and the dangers of development until almost midnight.

A few ten by eight glossies of Elle Macpherson were on display around the lounge-room. One showed Elle in the boat on Yardie Creek, one arm around the shoulder of one of Neil's sons. The lucky, lucky bastard! Karen and I also had a couple of strokes of luck that night too. The first was when Neil gave us the address of his brother in Margaret River, and a promise that if we needed a place to stay, he would ring his brother and arrange some accommodation for us. The second stroke of luck was getting home - the night was totally dark and moonless, the Exmouth street lighting almost non-existent, and the light from our one working torch barely bright enough to illuminate the road beneath our feet.

After a week and a half in the Exmouth area, and with all of our tourist activities and social obligations complete, it was time to think about hitting the road again. Karen and I spent our last day in the shed preparing for cycle touring again. I washed and de-greased the bikes, oiled the chains and cables, and adjusted the derailleurs. Karen shopped especially for torch batteries and food, and we both spent the afternoon packing up all of our sleeping gear from the floor of our bedroom, and arranging our panniers. Before he left for dinner and his final pick-ups, Gary left the trailer with us so Elle and Mel could be safely stowed.

Exmouth had heavy rain the night before we left, and our last day in the town had been showery. It had not improved a great deal by the time Gary arrived to pick us up. Our first surprise of the night was the discovery of three backpackers in the bus - Karen and I had assumed that we would be the only passengers again. We were relegated to the back of the bus, where I contemplated the three or four metres of empty space between me and the front seat, and calculated how fast my un-seat-belted body would cross that space if we had a head-on collision at one hundred kilometres per hour.

Five kilometres down the road I noticed that Elle had almost fallen over and Mel was looking pretty wonky too, so I got Gary to stop while I re-secured both bikes. A short time later it began to rain, and a bit later still it began to pour. With so many people in the small bus, the windows began to fog up. Gary brought out his handkerchief and wiped a circle of fog from the front window so he could see. I was suddenly hit with a feeling of deja-vu, with recollections of the nightmarish trip home from the airport after the return flight from Lord Howe Island. The bus jerked with every deep puddle of water we encountered on the road surface. Gary did not slow down, in my opinion driving much too fast for the extremes of wind and rain which we were experiencing.

While one part of me was thinking we were going too fast, another part was playing the devil's advocate. Hadn't Gary driven this road more than any other person alive? More than anyone else, shouldn't he know how to handle these conditions? After all, he had driven the round trip from Exmouth to Minilya and back to Exmouth five or six times a week for the past five years. That is more than two thousand kilometres a week, which is a million kilometres a year, which amounts to over five million kilometres, which is equivalent to driving around the world one hundred and twenty five times! I know that, I told myself, but he is still driving too fast.

All the way south to the Coral Bay turn-off, I looked from the back of the bus through the passenger's side of the fogged, rain-spattered front window, hoping that when the head-on occurred I would have enough time to see the headlights coming and throw myself behind one of the seats in the back of the bus. When we turned right for the short run into Coral Bay, I cursed the extra twenty four kilometres we were suddenly forced to endure.

The passenger in the front seat departed at Coral Bay, so I jumped into his spot before the others had a chance to move, quickly buckling up my seat belt. When we got moving again, the rain stopped and the road conditions improved. In addition, I started talking to Gary about anything I could think of, and our conversation seemed to make him drive more slowly. The eighty or ninety kilometres to Minilya passed in relative safety. We arrived just before midnight to a roadhouse full of puddles and a rainless sky.

Karen and I walked over to the rest area but found only mud, puddles, and few if any places to camp, so we returned to the bus and successfully asked Gary if we could spend the night in it. While we waited for the bus from Perth to arrive, drop off its parcels for Exmouth and pick up the other passengers from our bus, Gary, Karen and I worked on a cryptic crossword. I was brilliant, probably because I still had the adrenalin from the trip down from Exmouth coursing through my veins.

The bus arrived at 12:30am, and a half hour later we were all asleep, Gary under his loading ramp, Karen on the wide seat at the back of the bus, and me on my thermarest in the aisle-way. An hour and a half later the door of the van flew open and scared the living daylights out of me! Two girls fresh off the southbound bus and headed for Exmouth threw their backpacks inside and climbed over me onto the two double seats beside me. Once my pulse rate returned to normal and my incoherent thoughts became less confused, I managed to convince the girls that I was not the driver of the bus, that he was actually sleeping outside under the loading ramp, and that we would all be woken up sometime after 5am when Gary would begin packing the parcels received from north and south.

Nobody got much sleep for the next three hours, with too many people crowded into too small a space, and none of us comfortable. If any of us did manage to drop off, someone else would sneeze, or cough, or belch or worse, and wake us up straight away. After an hour of shuffling around on the confines of the seat, one of the girls jumped into the front seat and tried stretching out on the bucket seats. At 5am the other girl disappeared, probably into the roadhouse. A half hour later Gary opened the front door of his bus and scared the shit out of himself and the girl lying on his front seat. What a night!

The rain had stopped and the cloud was clearing from the west, promising a rain-free day. Karen took a photo of Gary surrounded by parcels outside his bus and we said our thankyous and goodbyes. Elle and Mel were quickly unpacked from the trailer. We leaned them against the roadhouse wall while we had breakfast, Karen scabbing hot water on three separate occasions, once for tea for me, a second time for our muesli, and then again for coffee for the both of us. What a woman!


Gary loading the van

Exmouth had been great, one of the few places in Australia that Karen and I had liked enough to consider living in permanently. We still had places to go, however. Carnarvon was one hundred and fifty kilometres down the road, a bit too far for us to reach in a day.

Despite the relative luxury and security of Gary's shed in Exmouth, it felt good to be getting back to our normal life of riding, camping and never knowing where we would be spending the night.



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