Just the two of us now, and a drive of some three thousand km the long way around from one end of the Canning Stock Route to the other. The camping’s easy, pull off the road somewhere, nowhere, anywhere. My standards are not high, the Americas trip knocked that out of me. All I need is enough flat space for my car and tent. And this is WA. Flatness and space are two things we’re not lacking.
The quiet seeps into me. The fancy camping chair I treated myself to is ridiculously comfy.
Sometimes Bryn chooses the campsite, and then standards are even lower.
Venturing on to dirt in an old car is far more daunting than on a bicycle. At the end of the day if my bike breaks down, I can pick it up and carry it. My car sounds like it’s about to rattle apart over the corrugations – and at some point, does, with a wheel grinding sickening crunch.
A bolt has come loose and the left end of my bumper bar is hanging down, grating against the wheel. Short of cable ties, I cobble it back together with a piece of washing line and continue. Mechanicals are my only real worry for this trip, and I’m grateful that this, my first and as it turns out only one, is so easily diagnosed and treated.
Clambering around the beautiful gorges of Karijini with the most precious bundle in the world strapped to my front, my pace is slow and careful. It’s frustrating to be in this place of stunning waterholes yet unable to swim, in water too cold for little 3 month old limbs and with no-one to hold him while I do. We explore as much as we safely can, turning back only at an above water rocky traverse that has caused an entire family coming the other way to slip. It looks as though successful negotiation of it would involve pressing one’s front against the rock face – an option I simply don’t have.
The other tourists are surprised to see us there, but on the whole, approving.
“I think it’s great that you’ve got him out here so young”. A European accent, Dutch perhaps? “We took our son all sorts of places when he was still a baby in one of those backpack things. Once I had to pass him down in it to my husband and I nearly strangled him!” Grins conspirationally and indicates the leggy teenager by her side, still out here with his Mum, “But he turned out OK”. It’s the kind of parenting that inspires me. I hope my teenaged son will still want to be out exploring with me, too.
Several times we attract the comment, “What a shame he isn’t old enough to remember any of this”. Maybe, but then it’s not like I’m never going to take him anywhere beautiful ever again.
Four touring bicycles, parked by Hamersley Gorge, and doesn’t it gladden my heart to see them. Four panniers and a bar bag apiece, and countless plastic water bottles strapped to the frames.
Their riders, four blokes from Victoria and Tas, are probably a bit taken aback when I bowl enthusiastically up to them and claim them as members of my tribe. But they definitely are: they’re riding from Port Hedland to Perth on the tiniest, quietest dirt roads they can find. It’s their established preferred travel style and they’ve have had all sorts of remote outback adventures both in Australia and elsewhere. The main challenge out here is, of course the unpredictability of finding water. And the corrugations. And the vast, vast distances between towns. And the navigation on unsigned dirt roads. And the heat. And…. Hmmm, I’m impressed, and inspired.
Only one is a father but they offer to hold Bryn for me while I have a wash in the gorge. I tell them about Tom and Scott’s trip and they’re suitably impressed, even though in all honesty what they are doing themselves doesn’t sound a whole lot easier. We swap details and I invite them to look us up in Perth when they make it down there.
It’s with envy and a little sadness that I watch them push their bikes off the road into the bush to make sunset camp, while I drive on a little further.
“How old’s bub?”
“You’re brave, travelling alone with him. I miss my grandies! I’ve another due in October, so we have to be home by then. Do you want me to hold him while you have a shower?”
Variations on this, over and over, for driving north at this time of year, I’m on the Grey Nomad Trail. It’s the Great Australian dream: retire, buy a 4WD and a caravan, and head off around Australia. Maybe for six months, maybe indefinitely. Like migrating birds they head north in the winter months and the campsites and roadside rest areas are filled with them, good natured folk who have raised their own kids and have a smile and a cuddle for mine. I enjoy their company and appreciate the kindness shown me. Travelling with a baby, it seems, brings out the generosity in others, much as travelling by bicycle does.
I’m about 40km north of Broome, camped by the ocean for some peace and quiet. I turn my battery depleted phone on to find out the time and to my surprise discover I have not only signal, but an email from Tom! I turn on my car engine and plug in my phone to charge it while I reply and as I’m doing so, the phone rings and I’m able to have the only conversation with Tom that we’ll manage in four weeks.
The boys are making good progress, and were in Kunawarritji community on Monday August 5th. They expect to reach Billiliuna, the northern end of the CSR, on the 15th or 16th. They are finding the sand dunes easier than expected and the corrugations nasty but are making good time and loving the desert camping.