Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 47: A Hot Highway South

December 31, 2010

Sleep doesn’t come easily but when it does it only lasts until somewhere in the deep recesses of the night. Then I lay awake listening to the slow shuffling of feet on the gravel road near our tent. It stops and I drift but come full awake again when I hear them again, closer this time. I’m ready to pounce if I hear that zip. Nothing. Again I drift.

I think about the encounter with the woman and wonder if it was real. Wonder what’s real and what isn’t in this crazy world. Whether those footsteps out there really are the return of the prowler or just my fetid imagination. What was that with the woman anyway?

It doesn’t seem long before the birds start singing the praises of the morning. I can see the light ascending in the interludes between my restless sleep. People are starting to make noise. A car starts up and rumbles past. Johan has gotten out of bed.

The water from the cold tap pours over me as I have my last shower before we head back into the bush. I wrap the towel around my head and let my body air-dry in the hot morning. As I’m approaching the tent, Johan’s sitting in his chair finishing breakfast. “Look here,” he says, and holds up my green wallet. “The manager just brought it by, found on the top of the Coke machine. He’s looked around for mine but nothing.” Everything’s as it was in the wallet, except for the cash and the few bits of paper found yesterday. And now the credit cards are worthless.

So it’s back to the practical necessities of life on the road – life on the road with no credit cards. After packing up we head into town in a quest to get enough cash to get us through the New Year holidays. We ask at two credit unions whether they’ll do an interstate transfer as our credit union doesn’t have branches in the Northern Territories. The first gives us a curt no. The second smiles and says, “No problem.”

It’s noon before we’ve finished our errands. The forecast is not good for New Year’s in South Australia – most centres south of the border will be well over 40˚. We head south on a section of the Stuart Highway we’ve now traveled over three times. The heat has done its thing with me and my mood is surly and introspective. That thing that happened last night sits on me like a gnawing animal tearing at my insides. What was that all about anyway?

The temperature gauge sits on 40˚ as we travel south on a near straight road. The mirages flicker thick and fast and make it seem more like we’re sailing down a river than driving down a highway that’s slowly melting the rubber on our tyres. It’s five o’clock before the temperature gauge reaches its peak at 43˚, six o’clock before we finally surrender our air-conditioned comfort and stop to pitch camp for the night on some deserted backroad.

A hot highway south

New Year's Eve in the bush

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