I've loved the idea of road trips ever since I got hooked on Supernatural and realised that a road trip doesn't necessarily mean being squished into a minivan with your siblings, one of whom is carsick, one of whom has their music up too loud, and both of whom insist that you're taking up far more than your fair share of the back seat even though they clearly each have an elbow in your space.
The old family haul is one species of road trip, and one that I've come to enjoy a lot more in the years since Pamela outgrew her carsickness and Geoffrey developed an attention span. And okay, my learning ways of amusing myself that don't involve instigating tickle wars with my brother has helped too.
But there's another sort of road trip, one that everyone longs to do and no one ever has the time for. It's the classic road trip adventure, the one that's so enticing on TV, the one where you strike out into the unknown with a map spread over the dashboard and a pile of snacks, a tent, and probably not enough changes of socks in the seat behind you. That's the road trip I've just finished.
My friend sprang the news that she was moving to Townsville a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to drive up with her. As a PhD student I'm allowed to do things like that, so naturally I agreed. We left Friday afternoon and spent four days driving barefoot through Queensland, drinking warm Coke, playing geography games and stopping in pokey little towns to switch drivers and take photos of the Big Pineapple or the Big Ned Kelly. We camped out in caravan parks along the way and had eggs scrambled into instant noodles for dinner.
There's a lot of variety along the east coast of Australia. The temperature and humidity went up every time we got out of the car, and the scenery slowly changed from the familiar gumtrees of New South Wales to the rainforests and sugarcane plantations of the tropics.
The first night, we half-froze in a caravan in Armidale. The second night, we were swarmed by mozzies in the Glass House Mountains. On day three, we waded into the sea at Hervey Bay with Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, in the distance. On day four, we stopped for lunch at Airlie Beach, docking station for the Whitsundays, and swam in the enclosed lagoon - the beaches close in summer up there because of the deadly stingers.
By the time we reached Townsville, we'd logged 2580 kilometers and I had learned to drive manual.
A random old man came over on his lawn mower as we were taking photos of the Big Mango. He wanted to know where we were from because apparently we both have Chinese accents (...?), and he offered to take our picture with the Mango. I was dubious about handing over my camera because he was half-naked and dripping from head to foot with what could have been water or could have been sweat. But he was also large enough that despite my sprained toe, I knew I could chase him down if he tried to run off with my prized possession.
Before we left, he made us promise something. "Canada," he said to me, "I want you to enjoy yourselves, and I want you to drive safe." We hopped back in the car and I executed a perfect hill start. Our only casualty on the trip was a turtle.