A year ago now, our little family of three set off on a trip we never thought we’d do. Packed into the 4WD, we had no plan but head north, less money in our bank than we owed on credit cards, and only a hope that we would get more, somehow. We’ve been back almost four months and friends still ask if we miss it.
A year ago, Australia beckoned. There was nothing we couldn’t do. All our worldly possessions were either in a box in a shed, or with us in the car. We had no television, no rent, no responsibility and no worries. We finally owned our own house; if it was only 9 feet by 11 feet and made of canvas, we didn’t care. We had things packed on the roof and under seats, hanging from backrests or stuffed into crevices. We had no idea what we were doing, because when do you ever do anything like it?
For nine months and one day, we enjoyed the best Australia had to offer. We covered 25,000km of highway, back-roads, corrugations, service tracks and sandy beaches. We camped in the rain, the sun, the wind, the calm. We slept near kangaroos, goannas, grey nomads, dingoes and crocodiles. We walked over sand dunes, through creeks, under rainforests and got lost in car-parks. We saw the sun rise and set over a giant rock, a lonely gulf, breaking waves, skyscrapers and our homely tent. We watched our daughter, River take her first steps, her first fall. We met a family of hippies, a baby who had only ever lived in a caravan, an apocalyptic prophet, a smiling Hungarian, and an Israeli family who weren’t sure if the Promised Land was in the Middle East or the Northern Territory, so packed up everything to find out.
Do I miss it?
I miss sleeping on the ground and hearing the walls move around us. I miss peanut butter and honey sandwiches, even eating the crusts because I was that hungry. I miss cooking breakfast, or lunch, or even dinner for my family and I miss sitting down together to eat it, without the company of a TV. I miss the mornings we planned to move camp, but didn’t because the weather was too good, or too bad, or just because we couldn’t be bothered. I miss the mornings we did move camp, folding the tent just right so it slid right into its bag. I miss hating how heavy it was putting it on the roof-racks. I miss surfing twice a day or fishing for so long Angela worried I had been eaten by a crocodile. I miss eating crocodile. I miss the plasticy taste to all our water and being bitten by mosquitoes. I miss four-wheel driving and chopping firewood with an axe. I miss the stale campfire stink on all my clothes and in my hair and through our tent. I miss Darwin and Seisa, Eungella, Crescent Head, Lakefield National Park, Christies Beach, the Dalhunty and the Towns rivers, Fraser Island, the Gold Coast. I miss the nights so hot we couldn’t
sleep and those so cold, that’s all we wanted to do. I miss how hard it is to go to the toilet at night when your doors have zippers rather than knobs. I miss the friends we met and stories we heard. I miss the excitement of visits home. I miss not worrying about money, despite rarely having much. I miss having the energy, or even the desire, to play with River of an evening, seeing her learn something new as it happens, rather than on a 3.5 inch screen later on. I miss River’s bed time, when all three of us would play in the tent, or the nights when River would end up between us, even if she thinks parallel and perpendicular are the same. I miss being able talk about nothing with Angela or even wanting to. I miss the excitement on her face when she catches a fish or masters damper in the camp oven. I miss the best nine months of our marriage.
Through the grace of the God we serve, we find ourselves with more money in our bank than we owe on our credit cards. More than we had when we left the first time. The Patrol, our old friend, is for sale, but no one’s calling and most of the damage we did has been repaired. It’s early in the travelling season still; what’s stopping us from heading north, or even west? We never got that far last time, it’s waiting for us. Even my voice of reason thinks it’s a good idea.
But no. There are four of us now and we’re about to sign a lease on a townhouse that’s only just bigger than our little home of canvas. We bought a TV and I’m eying off a PlayStation. The money that could see us maybe three months around Australia will pay for a washing machine, some couches and lamps. And a new bike if I can play my cards right. We’ll sell the Patrol, buy a family wagon and the dream will have ended, at least for a little while.
And I’ll never stop missing it.