Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-
This is the Road to Hell
`I`ll just get on that road and I`ll stick out my thumb, for I know for sure you`ll be there still` is a lyric to a song that I used to sing with the band in Sydney for two years and how for once did I really wish it was true…
I walked out of Geraldton and into a petrol station to buy some water. I asked the girls behind the counter how easy or hard was it to get a lift north and they assured me that with my accent that there would be no problems?! Now how the cars would realise that I was Irish was a little beyond me but I took this as a good indication of my chances.
It was a hot day, naturally, and I set off with my backpack to find a spot at the north of town. I couldn`t wear my sunglasses or a cap (or so I surmised) because no-one was going to pick a person up whose eyes they couldn`t see. My theory was borne out 20 minutes later when a woman picked me to drop me off at the `best spot for hitchers`. And she proved to be spot on because I was only waiting a half hour when Edith Amy Juliette Blood pulled up in her ute!
Now Edith was 85 if she was a day and the first words out of her mouth were, “You`re not going to kill me now are you?!” to which I replied “I thought the way these things work is that I should be afraid that you will kill me?!” Amusingly this put her mind at ease and she said that her kids would kill her if they knew what she was doing and I admitted that my Mam would do the same so we promised not to tell on each other!
She proceeded to tell me all about her convict ancestors as I sat back and soaked in the shade. Unfortunately she was only going to the next town, Northampton, but after a brief detour so she could show me her house she dropped me to the north of that town with an assurance I would get a lift and if I was still there on Sunday (this was Wednesday after all!) she would be driving north herself!
So I took up my backpack and started walking north. To be honest I wasn`t in any great rush to get picked up (although I did have my thumb out for the few cars that passed me) because I was loving the walk in the countryside and the omnipresent silence of Western Australia. The sun was beating down and with a stiff breeze in my face to cool me down, things could have been worse.
I actually felt like one of those seanchai`s of old, those travelling storytellers that used to walk around Ireland, bringing news and stories from where they had been and getting room and board for their efforts. I was really happy to be honest and with a heart full of faith in my fellow man, I set off with vigour on my walk.
There could be a period of 20 minutes or more before a car would pass in either direction so I was under no illusions that this was a decidedly unpopulated area and this was enforced when a huge flock of sheep saw me and ran in a group to an area under a tree for security. I wasn`t sure if the sun had turned me pink enough for them to think I was a little pig called Babe but as I approached the 5km mark and one hour walking, I was still in good spirits.
The wind in my face had two conflicting affects, it kept me cool but it also made it difficult to hear the cars coming up behind me so on occasions they would be nearly on me before I turned around to elicit a lift. I had been working on the theory that if people found me further and further away from any form of civilisation they would have to stop and pick me up. Hmmm, that`s the problem with theories, they are always willing to be disproved!
The cars coming from the other direction looked on with a mixture of sympathy and kindness, a lot of them waved at me because they knew the road that I had ahead of me and I would like to think that they would have picked me up had they been going the other way. They looked like nice, friendly, decent people unlike the increasingly horrible people that were driving in my direction! At about the 8km mark, I was not `feeling the love` from those going in a northerly direction.
But still I had faith, I wouldn`t be out here for very long surely! Right?
By the 10km and the 2 hours 20 minutes mark, I was starting to get a little bit frustrated with my situation… Now the cars that were coming opposite me seemed to be timing it that the sound of their engines would mask the sound of the cars coming behind me so now there were times when I wasn`t even getting to turn around and face my potential saviours in time! My mood was certainly turning…
I did have this blog as a salvation though as I resorted to calming myself down by thinking how funny it was going to be when I eventually got out of this mess and wrote it up for ye`re enjoyment. I had written it several times in my head (I`m sure better than this, the final draft) and consoled myself with my humour. Or was that the early stages of sunstroke?!
The roads over here are very long and very straight and as I would turn a corner and look at the sheer advance ahead of me (with the mirage like quality of the beating sun melting the horizon) I thought of shooting a gun straight down there and then picking up the bullet in a few hours time! It stretched out like a unanswerable question or, as I elaborated further, a fart in an elevator or a mobile ringing at a funeral…. ok, I had lots of time on my hands and that sun was getting really hot!
And then around the 12 km mark a guy pulled up ahead of me. He pulled it into a parking area and waited for a glorious 5 or 6 seconds. I couldn`t run, my legs were getting tired and there was no need surely as he would wait…. and then he didn`t. With a last look back (and with what I am sure was a chuckle) he took off again. Now because I know my Mom reads this blog I won`t relay what I said about this guy but I`m sure that even Mam would have had some choice words for this idiot!
To be fair, I did wave at most of the people that drove past me as I realised that most of them didn`t have room and I wished them safe passage on their travels but for the ones who just waved at me, I had an altogether different prayer which, had they been answered I would have come across their wreckage a few minutes later but thankfully God isn`t prone to making harsh judgements like I was!
The really disappointing thing though was when I saw backpackers, my fellow travellers, give me the big `hands up, we`re sorry` expression. I have many times waxed lyrical about my fellow transients in these blogs but their score was decidedly an F for this test.
And it was then that I really had my first bout of, if not panic, certainly concern (I can imagine a few of you have been wondering why that hadn`t happened a lot earlier!). Now, pleading with a car whizzing past you has the same affect as pleading with a partner to take you back; it`s ultimately hopeless and it even makes you look more pathetic than you thought possible!
But I was willing to forego my pride and with open arms and then hands clasped in religious sincerity (like an Italian footballer pleading for a penalty) I was close to getting on my knees to get a lift (this was as much for effect as the heaviness of my backpack as we approached the 3 hour mark)
There were no houses anywhere to be seen ( I would have happily called in to one of them had they been about ) and I started to think that Edith may actually have to pick me up on Sunday! If I was still around that is. Not bringing a tent or a sleeping bag on this trip had been a logistical decision so with less than an hour`s light left to me I was facing the prospect of putting on all my clothes and getting into my backpack and lying on the side of the road or in a field and hope that none of Australia`s famed wildlife decided to take more than a healthy interest in me.
At the 15km mark, I decided to stop. The wind was howling now and it was getting dark and I needed a break. It had taken me three and a half hours to walk that far and now I had some serious thinking to do as I hadn`t seen a car in either direction in 15 minutes. That`s a long time folks when you are in the middle of nowhere!
So I decided that the next car that passed I was just going to get on the road and hail it down. That might not seem like a great idea from where you are sitting now but it was what I was left with. So with my bags dropped, my legs given a short massage from their aches and ignoring the blisters on my feet, I prepared for the next car.
It took another 10 minutes but here it came. I waved and waved and with God`s will above in heaven, it stopped. There was no time for formalities or even questions, I emphatically told the bloke that `you are taking me to the nearest town with any kind of civilisation` to which he replied, `ok mate, jump in!`
WHAT?! What did you say?! I couldn`t believe it! It had worked! I was too tired to reproach myself for not having thought of it earlier! Ashley was driving home to his own hometown another few hours north and on reflection, I think he might have actually had stopped for me anyway even if I hadn`t given him the choice! He well and truly saved me and when we had to stop in to a roadhouse for the night (we couldn`t drive on for fear of running into a Kangaroo or some other wild animal) I paid for his accommodation, hey I am nothing if not generous when it comes to my guardian angels!
The place we stayed was a petrol station/motel/scary place but it was like the Ritz to me after the day that I`d had.
To be honest though, I have to say that perversely it was one of the best days of my travels. Things had been going along a little too easily for my liking and when faced with the worst case scenarios of a situation and coming through it (again) well it certainly gives a guy some sense of achievement. I hadn`t made it to my destination yet, that would mean a decision on whether I tried hitchhiking again…
… anyone want to bet what I started to do the following day!?!
The Outback is just way, way too big!