I don’t know if I feel like writing because I am sitting here with Jim and Gayle quietly like we did so much last fall in Seattle or if I just have to tell a story. I think it might actually be a combo of the two really. This week though a recurrent theme has come up. When Brooke and the boys went off to Maui to see Luke and Emily they rented a van to haul themselves around in. Being the cheapskates we are Brooke used one of our many maui finds to rent a car through a place called Maui Vans. It is a great place a bit off the airport and the cars are often a bit rough around the edges to say the least. Liam (not a cheapskate) was taken aback by the fact that the van did not have automatic sliding doors and he had to actually use some muscle to open it. These complaints triggered a favorite memory for both Brooke and I.
in 1998 right after I graduated college Brooke and Mark on separate plans ended up both doing a semester abroad in Australia and I being recently educated and therefore unemployed had to go. I have written about this trip many times but one of the highlights was the three week exploration of the south east of Australia via car. At the end of their semester Jim and Gayle had come down under to join the fun for a little while. We planned on renting a car and traveling around a bit as we had done a fair share of train travel in the six months. Unlike Americans, Aussies are a bit more modest about the size or function of their cars and finding a car that would hold five adults and luggage was not easy. Being essentially broke and not wanting to use our mooching power with the parents on other finds we went for the cheapest biggest car we could find which turned out to be a lovely white family wagon of some indonesian brand I believe. It was a beater. But it worked to fit us and the gear and it seemed like it just might make it out of Sydney only far enough that if broke down we could change plans and hop on a train again.
We were pleasantly surprised when we made it past the end of the southern commuter rails and down to Jarvis Bay that our new ride seemed to like the open road. We spent the next 7 days laughing as we flipped the windshield wipers on at every turn, yelled at each other for driving on the wrong side of the road and rolling through some very awesome places we would love to return to some day for longer. We found playgrounds with slides 300 ft long and zip lines for kids which ended over 20 foot cliffs. We toured vineyards and wrestled with each other in rose gardens. Saw penguins and strolled the capital city promenade. We got lost in Melbourne and found ourselves in splendid green farm valleys. We climbed mountains in moonlight and dodged kangroos in the dark. We swam in fridgid waters around the twelve Apostles and slept on beaches. We had one of our most memorable Thanksgivings ever along the Great Ocean road in some little hotel where all we could find to cook was angle hair pasta and some red sauce.
Partly this last memory was something we all remember around Thanksgiving. We had not planned for a dinner and found ourselves with only one little mini mart type store in this little beach enclave we had decided to stay in on Thanksgiving. We did scrape together some veggies and some bread and had just enough silverware and pots to make a decent dinner. Jim, Gayle, Mark, Brooke, and I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner on a little screened in porch with the beach just down the little slough across the road after a wonderful day in the sun. It may have been one of the tastiest Thanksgivings I can remember despite the simplicity.
In the drive was good old White Lightning. That car we were sure wouldn’t make it out of Sydney was doing great. It carried us a lot further than we imagined. At one point we had gone for a hike on some obscure road and when we came back we found a car company doing a commercial film with some new car. They were just using the area we were in because the scenery and lack of people. We thought it fitting that here they were trying to show off some new car and we were rolling around in such a junker in the same spot.
Jim an Gayle left us somewhere along that trip and the three of us managed to eventually get the car back to Sydney. We had become so reliant and convinced that White Lightning was unstoppable we decided to head north of Sydney for another 4 days. The entire two or three weeks to that point we had managed to avoid any road greater than 2 lanes mainly for fear of a blowout of the engine going highway speed. Yet, to get to the north we would have to jump on a freeway for about 30 miles and clearly by now we trusted the car. Our fatal flaw was getting attached to a material good though. After about 10 miles on that major freeway the warning lights flipped on and the car started shuttering. We were able to coast it through traffic to the edge of the freeway. With Brooke screaming at us we managed to get out of the car, there was not much of a shoulder and with a big beast like that opening the door had to be well timed amongst the road trains rolling by. After skirting back along the road a half mile we found an emergency phone (no cells those days) and figured out how to get a tow.
We eventually got the car back to the rental place and I think before we let them see how far we drove it or even waited around to see what ailed old White lighting we grabbed our packs and ran the other way. I can only imagine when they saw how many miles we put on it they realized we had probably killed that engine. Of course for all I know it had already done that trip many times, been rebuilt, and driven twice as far by other cheap travelers. I would like to think maybe White Lightning is still out there somewhere in Australia carrying some other youngsters towards a memorable Thanksgiving of pasta on the beach.
Thanks White Lightning.
Head Up, Heart Strong. I need a cure. Here are some memory pics