Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dusty Roads

Before setting off on my drive from Perth to Darwin, I got a few words of advice from my truckie mates who went up and down the west coast. After loading all my possessions, including tools, several jerry cans of fuel and four spare wheels in my ute, I set off full of confidence.

The first day, I got to Carnarvon comfortably. Stopped at a pub to have a beer with some truckies going south. Probably had a couple of beers, because I was still there three days later and now had only three days to cover the remaining 2,300 km (of which only the last 270 km was sealed). It was mid summer and long before the days of air-conditioning in cars.

But I was not really concerned. Not until I came to a fork in the road that was not marked on my map. Nor was there a signpost. At least there was a Volvo stopped at the fork, so I pulled in to ask for directions. He'd been sitting there for 12 hours waiting for somebody to come by and tell him which way to go. According to my maps and my knowledge of my fuel consumption, I could afford to go not more than 50 km down the wrong road. The guy in the Volvo couldn't even go that far.

We tossed a coin and took what turned out to be the correct road. After a while we drifted apart because the infinite supplies of fine dust made close following impossible. That night, after a brief stop for food, I headed out of whatever ghost town I was in to continue my journey but discovered that both my headlights had fallen out of the car while pounding over the corrugations during the day. All that was left were sad little wires dangling from where the lights should have been.

I waited for a road train going north and flagged him down. He eventually agreed, after sighting my road train licence, that I could drive in front of him and use his lights. He didn't need to tell me, but he did, that I shouldn't even consider slowing down once we were up to 110 km/h, as he would not be stopping. And off we went. The night drive was cooler and once my mirrors had all fallen off his lights didn't bother me too much. But I did start getting tired by the morning and I started to worry about him falling asleep behind me. Fortunately, we both survived until daybreak and I was able to accelerate away from him and get back into my 200 km/h rhythm.

Every two to three hours, I would catch up with another road train's dust cloud. At least the daytime wind was constant from the west, so they could see my approaching dust in their left-hand mirrors. As I got close, they'd swerve across to the wrong side of the road to allow a pass in the dust-free zone on the left. I knew what to do: keep going flat out past the truck. They wouldn't stay out there forever, so timid or law-abiding drivers never passed them. I hear that road is sealed now, so those ancient courtesies have no doubt been forgotten.

It's strange looking back on that trip 40 years later. Despite the great emptiness of the west, so many interesting things happened on that brief journey that it would take fifty thousand words to tell the story. Luckily for everybody, I don't have what it takes to write that much today.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anybody can post comments. I allow anonymous comments, but prefer real names. All comments are submitted for approval, so there will be a delay before your comment appears. I approve everything except spam and abuse.