Western Australia is very big. You can easily drive a long time and still be within the same state. To put this in perspective, the U.S. state of Alaska is significantly larger than any other U.S. state, being 1,723,337km2. Western Australia is 2,529,875km2. I like to travel when I can, to shake things up every so often and plan odd or different experiences, something that will add to the rich tapestry of my life & memories. Sometimes those travels are within my own state, discovering my own "backyard". In that spirit, in 2011, my friend and I decided to do a day trip from Perth to Wave Rock and back again, a road trip in only a single day that would take a minimum of 8 hours driving, only to end up back where we started. You can get a similar driving time going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back, according to Google Maps.
It was a bright and sunny Thursday in late Spring when we set out. I was still unemployed at the time, having quit my previous job earlier that year and not having started the new job hunt yet. My friend worked shift work and was free that day, and going on a Thursday also meant we avoided the weekend traffic spike. In technology terms, 2011 was a long time ago, and neither of us had Google Maps on our phones, having not adopted the new technology enough yet. I did have a map book for country WA though, and we also looked up Google Maps on the computer in advance. Otherwise we just had to rely on our memories and street signs, just like in olden days. Very early in the morning, I packed everything but the kitchen sink, then auspiciously and amusingly started the trip by driving AWAY from the direction of Wave Rock for 20 minutes in order to pick up my friend, before turning back in the right direction and starting to make progress on the day's distance.
The first town, Brookton, was over 1.5 hours drive away through national & state forest, which was apparently longer than my bladder felt like complying with. We stopped on the side on the road, wandered into the bush a bit and took care of that. While stopped, we had a drink & snack too, then got back in the car and continued. I mention this stop because it becomes relevant later.
Somewhere further along our trip, we were passing a random park that took our fancy so we stopped for lunch. I forget exactly which town, perhaps Corrigin. I'd packed a lot of tasty tidbits for a fancy picnic. One of the items I had packed were apples. I had been enjoying one particular variety of apples for a few months beforehand, which I bought from one particular fruit & veg shop I frequented. Slightly smaller apples, but crisp and sweet. Alas, just before this trip, they disappeared from the shelf. I surmised that the season for that variety had ended. Desperate for more of the deliciousness, I made a special trip to a major supermarket the day before roadtripping, just to see if they had this variety of apple. They did, and I was so excited I bought a whole bag. So it was with great glee that I fetched the apples out for our picnic lunch, and anticipated the first bite. Alas, the first bite was completely horrible. Powdery, tasteless, and not sweet at all. My friend thought the same. So I took the whole bag of specially obtained apples and dumped them in the bin. Screw you, apples! Luckily, the rest of the picnic was grand and enjoyed muchly.
My friend was keen on finding a salt lake on the way to go swimming in. Being spring, it was both warm enough to swim plus the water might not have completely dried up in the summer heat yet. She didn't have any clothes to swim in though, so we were motivated to stop at the op shops in various small towns and discover the extra quirky items that one only sees in the tiny country town op shops. Before we reached Wave Rock, we had stopped and browsed in a total of four op shops. In one, my friend found some suitable clothes for destroying in a salt lake. In another, we discovered a huge amount of musical soundtracks on CDs and snapped them up for the drive. My car only played radio & CDs, so it was great to inject fresh new singalong songs into the music I had available. The op shop stops were great, but even though we started stopping at them for the salt lake idea, we never ended up fulfilling the salt lake side-quest and it remains a future road trip idea to this day.
Finally at Hyden, virtually spitting distance from our destination of Wave Rock, we stopped at the local service station to grab some dinner and use their toilets. In the toilet, I pulled down my jeans and got a nasty shock. A huge tick was firmly latched into the skin on my thigh, 5mm big! It had a mark like a stink bug on its back, and long stripey legs. I'd seen ticks before, but usually only 1 or 2mm in size. Luckily, I'd gotten my first (in my memory) tick a few months before, although much, much smaller, so I freaked out less than I otherwise would have. Still, due to the size of it, I was too nervous to attempt removal myself. I vaguely remembered tick heads corkscrewed into skin, but not which direction. I pulled my jeans up carefully, called for my friend, and we re-entered the cubicle together, where with much embarassment I pulled my jeans down again. We mused that the tick had probably jumped on when we stopped for the bush piss earlier that day, then spent the long trip climbing higher up my leg. She concurred it was a bigger tick than she wanted to mess with too. We asked the service station attendee if they had anything that could help and they directed us to the local branch of Silver Chain. They had just closed when we reached there, but the Silver Chain nurse was kind enough to let us come in anyway, and got the tick out for me with tweezers and ointment. She even gave me the tweezers afterwards, which were great quality and I still have them years later. It was a great relief to be rid of the parasite, and hey, cool story for the memories at least.
Having spent the day stopping at various places all the way to Wave Rock, it was getting quite close to sunset when we arrived. We paid the park fees, then went and admired the huge gorgeous wave-shaped rock. There's no fence blocking anything off, you can go right up and touch it and do anything you want. So my friend went up the curve a bit and then scooted down again on her butt, pretending to be riding a real wave. Wave Rock indeed. Further along there was a path which led to on top of the rock, a big open area that you could wander around, staring across the landscape and jumping off small outcrops in the rock. We also breezed past the nearby Hippo's Yawn rock, which looks like the big open mouth of a hippopotamus. The ground is the bottom half of the mouth, and the rock is the top half of the mouth, so if you wander up close it looks like the hippo is about to eat you.
There was still a little bit of daylight left when we'd had our fill of the Rocks, so we piled back into the car and visited nearby Mulka's Cave. The cave was named after an aboriginal legend; long legend short, a big & strong cursed son turned cannibal/children's bogeyman lived in this cave and was eventually hunted down and killed. The cave was interesting to visit because it has aboriginal hand stencil paintings on the walls and some line paintings too. With the daylight fading fast, we took torches in with us, and shone them on the wall to see the art. We also saw some redback spiders hanging out in webs on the cave wall, which struck me as odd, then struck me as odd for seeming odd to me. It's not that redbacks are uncommon in Australia, it's just that we're used to seeing them in mundane suburbia or hanging around human stuff on farms. Seeing one "in the wild", as it was, seemed peculiar to me, even though they were here hanging out in the land before the White People arrived and therefore naturally would be seen out in the middle of nowhere in the wild. I reflected on the fact that perfectly normal things could seem so abnormal because of context.
It was now night time and we were ready for the trip back home. Rather than simply back track, we had pre-decided to go another way home, having utilised those Google Maps in advance while still at home. The way we drove to Wave Rock was the major road, and the other road out of Hyden in the direction of Nurumbeen looked a bit smaller but still normal. High beams on, flying along at 110km/h (~70mph). Paddocks stretching for miles, noone around, no streetlights. Just us in the darkness, flying along the asphalt road with gravel shoulders, grass, then paddocks. Suddenly I was fighting for control of the car. As we had passed a long driveway, the road had suddenly narrowed in on both sides with no tapering, changing in an instant, and half the wheels that were on asphalt before were now suddenly and unexpectedly turning on the unseen newly wider gravel shoulder at a tremendous speed. Between the only light coming from the headlights, the funny way the driveway had joined the road, and the speed we were going, it was just about impossible to see in advance. The car was fishtailing back and forth. My friend was panicking, her hands instictively reaching towards the wheel then halting, her attention split between the road and me, words frozen in her throat as there was no time to speak, only react. I reacted. I left the brakes completely alone, and gently steered in the same direction the car was going at each fishtail. The wildly swinging fishtail became more gentle curves and eventually came back under my control while I gently braked. My friend and I looked at each other, stunned, alive, filled with adrenaline. We sat there for a while, recounting what just happened to each other. She told me she knew how to handle it if she was driving, but when it happened, her split second thought was "How do I tell Silverai_me how to handle this?" and had no idea and no time. Luckily, a second or two later she could see that I had it under control and was able to reduce the ultra high alert a little. For my part, I told her how grateful I was to have overheard as a child the adults around me discussing fishtailing on the gravel and how to react. I knew that the natural response of steering the opposite direction to the fishtail curve just caused the fishtailing to get worse and meant you lost even more control of the car, possibly to the point of rolling the car over. Doing the counter-intuitive thing instead, gently steering in the same direction as the fishtail curve, meant that you slowly got control back. Two decades later, that story I had overheard as a child saved my life. (Since then, I make a point of telling this story to all soon-to-be-drivers I know; maybe that will save a life too one day.) We were doubly grateful to be completely unhurt. We both were aware that we were in the middle of nowhere at night, there wouldn't be another car for a long time, and therefore had we been hurt, we could easily have bled out or something before being discovered.
After we had calmed down a bit and stopped repeating "holy crap!" and our various recountings of what just happened, we got going again. We were mindful that we still had to get home and were barely begun on the return trip. Soon after, in the far distance along the flat road, we saw a lump and wondered about it. The road was long and afforded visibility of the lump far, far in the advance of when we would get anywhere near it. We speculated on what it was as we sped along merrily. As we got closer, it started looking like a man, standing in the middle of the road unmoving. We were still a long distance away, and the man-shape never moved. We had long enough that we started to feel spooked. What sort of crackpot stands in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere, unmoving with headlights in the distance approaching? It was eerie, and we got more and more spooked the closer we got, since despite all hopes, it still looked like a man the closer we got. Eventually we reached the place. It was then that the man-shape resolved itself into a huge kangaroo just hanging out in the middle of the road. We slowed down to almost stopping. The kangaroo looked at us, then deigned to slowly hop off to the side. My friend and I burst out laughing, all the spookiness resolving itself into the absurdity of the situation. A kangaroo! Standing in the middle of the road unmoving! Looking like a crackpot human! For aaaaages!
We were still on the same stretch of road, and still had not reached the next town. In between death-defying fishtails & weirdo old-man-kangaroos, we had been admiring the wide open dark barely lit plains and the very bright, very numerous stars. When we saw a space on the side of the road, we pulled over. I had been 2 hours out of the city looking at stars before and already knew the effect of being able to see more stars when the city light poullution was absent. I was still amazed by huge difference between 2 hours out of the city and 4 hours out of the city. The stars were bright in multitudes I'd never seen before. The tiniest stars were on display beside their bigger cousins. The sky was filled and filled again, and we were left star-struck and awe-struck. A satellite crossed the vast sky sea from one side to the other. We lingered for 10-20 minutes, just soaking in the vastness, then we reluctantly got back in the car and continued our way back to our distant home. Shortly afterwards, we came to the road turn-off to the west, with one or two houses nearby, the first we'd seen up close since leaving Hyden.
By and by we came to Nurembeen. Nurembeen was nothing remarkable, but it at least was a decent size town. We started feeling like we had reached a modicum of civilisation again, a point from which we might actually be discovered within a day if the car went off the road and/or we got badly hurt by a random kangaroo incident. The stretch of road between Hyden and Nurembeen was long, dark, and exquisite, and I was glad of the experience of it, but I was also glad to see the ultra-isolation of that road gone. Regular isolated stretches are good enough for me.
The next town we hit, while singing along to the Oliver Twist soundtrack, was Bruce Rock. We took a fancy to the idea of seeing the rock of Bruce Rock. After all, what's Bruce Rock without a rock to call its own? So we followed the street signs pointing us to the only-famous-to-locals rock, which ended up being about 2km out of town in a patch of bush. "Got to pick a pocket or two" started playing as we parked in the darkness, and rain decided to start drizzling down. This rock, of course, was NOT worth driving on a 8 hours round trip to see. It was very large, fairly flat, and spread out along the ground in the middle of the bush patch. Unremarkable. We got out of the car anyway and walked through the drizzle so we could stomp all over the rock of Bruce Rock. Stomp stomp stomp, singing ♫ 'Robin Hood, what a crook, gave away, what he took. Charity's fine, subscribe to mine, you gotta pick a pocket or two' ♫ and generally laughing at ourselves and the silliness of it all. The rain started getting more serious about coming down and we had a long way to go still, so it was not long before we said goodbye to Bruce Rock's rock, jumped in the car, and drove off through the rain while loudly singing more songs from Oliver Twist.
Driving through the darkness, bright solo stars would appear low in the sky in front of us every so often. We drove for a decent time with each star appearing and disappearing. The first one was very mysterious and curious, and my friend and I mused about how odd it was. Finally, the black vast darkness of distance became various shades of closer black. We saw hills, and isolated houses on those hills, their lights reaching bright and far across the land to masquarade as stars, appearing and disappearing in the hills as the road gently curved this way and that.
Once more, our bladders decided that we were in need of a stop. On an empty stretch of the road, we found a roadhouse closed for the night with external toilets, and stopped there for convenience. Unfortunately, the toilets were not well kept and redback spiders had taken up residence. So we both decided to not tempt fate by exposing ourselves in the middle of nowhere in a venomous spider zone, and instead got back in the car and drove a bit further on before pulling off on the side of the road to relieve ourselves in the scrubby bush on the side of the road. The rain had stopped by this time, leaving the air sweet and clean. We stared up at the sky, marvelling. A clear patch of bright stars above, scattered general clouds behind, and in front a spreading darkness gliding fast towards us. We watched the cloud and the cloud stared back at us. A fancy took our minds, with the shape of the cloud as inspiration, that it was a great, dark, and terrible genie, being released from its bottle and spreading out over the sky, menacing all below. We laughed at ourselves, got back in the car, and drove on. Unfortunately, we were driving straight towards the genie and the dark genie continued to spread towards us at rapid speed. The fancy took on a mind of its own and we started to get spooked again. We knew it wasn't real, but in the small hours of the night, with isolation as far as we could see, such fancies got under our skin. We watched the genie and the genie watched us. We drove on towards him and thought of our warm safe beds at home. Eventually we started to come across the more familiar towns, ones we had occasionally driven to before, and the spooky feeling was allayed somewhat.
Finally, early in the morning, my friend and I reached Perth again. In the last stretch of time, we were sad to let the day end and started trading stories from the day with each other, recounting the events, the awe and the silliness, the future plans of salt lake swimming, the gladness of deciding to road trip to Wave Rock. The random wild rabbits that would run along and across the road every so often, or the sudden pop-pop-pop splats of bugs against the car as we drove through yet another small cloud of bugs hanging out above the road. The spookiness and adrenaline. The sunset shining on the tree bark, the joy of the company of a good friend. As we reached her house, we reluctantly said goodbye and promised we'd have more good times ahead of us to look forward to. I turned around and headed home, singing to keep myself awake while driving alone so late, a good end to a great adventure.
Or at least, it would have been, except while getting undressed for bed I discovered a second tick had also decided my blood was tasty. But it was the regular small size and much less freaky, so I removed it myself with the new fancy tweezers I owned, then slipped gratefully into bed and off into dreamland.