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DAY 244: Gassing the old girl

2 May

I’D thought ‘gas’ was American for ‘petrol’ – giggle – but no. I’ve been joyfully reunited with my ute, now fixed, and I’m filling it up with a bit of gas because it’s dual fuel and it needs a bit in the tank at all times.

I pump the gas into the connection and it hisses right back out again, forming a frozen pool by my shoe. After a few minutes of this I fill the other tank with petrol and get back in – once I’ve figured out how to get the passenger door open again.

Truth be told, I’m too nervous to drive the thing myself right now. As a first car for the nervously inclined it’s starting to look like a dubious choice, and my parallel parking lessons didn’t extend to skips on wheels. So I get Old Dog to peel off down the freeway, with the old girl making a curious tha-thunk noise whenever there’s a burst of acceleration. Atmosphere: tense.

Keeper? Avoiding gas wherever possible. This vehicle is starting to look like a year-long challenge in itself, grumble.

DAY 234: Dwelling in the gutter

22 Apr

Before.

I’M dubious about driving this ute; I’m sure it’s all fairly roadworthy and everything, but it’s like steering a sodden mattress that only wants to go left.

Despite his years on the road, I notice the bush pirate is gripping the handhold above the passenger window just as futilely as I gripped the map pocket in the glider yesterday. He’s already skulled a can of Monster so that there’s absolutely no danger of him falling asleep while I’m at the wheel.

My task today is to practise driving with the left wheels in the gutter, partly to stop my habit of hugging the white centre line, and partly so I will know not to overcorrect if I have to steer off-road in an emergency.

Inching into a gravelly trench at speed is as uncomfortable a feeling as deliberately punching yourself in the face, but after a few kays I stop thinking about it. In fact, I notice a couple of dead kangaroos on the other side of the road and automatically veer over to take a look.

“It’s time to pull over,” the bush pirate says tightly, “so let’s go through the stopping… process.” I’m not actually trained to drive manuals, so the stopping process pains us both.

“I’ll assume you indicated and checked your mirror there,” he says, voice deepening an octave in displeasure.

With the bush pirate back at the wheel, we reach the desert in double time and the rain stops abruptly. You could score a line where it starts; wheat fields and earth suddenly giving away to witchy black trees and white sand.

The sight of a sidetrack fills the bush pirate with unadulterated glee, and he gets me back behind the wheel for some four wheel driving. At first I’m hammering along, but I’m thrown when a Land Rover approaches and I veer up a verge sideways, burning rubber on sand. I’m as rattled as the suspension, and suddenly can’t find neutral or work the park brake, and have to do the humiliating slide along the bench seat to let the bush pirate take over in front of our new audience. It takes all his skill to hoik us out of both the sand and my gathering storm clouds, but of course he manages it.

After.

Keeper? It’s really tempting to idle, dribbling and glaze-eyed, in passenger mode forever when you’re in the company of a shit-hot driver. I blame VicRoads and their lack of encouragement.

DAY 233: Having a go on a glider

21 Apr

WE’RE tooling around the Grampians, finding our every route thwarted by recent flooding, when we pass a field with two gliders and a tug plane lined up in a row.

“Let’s ask them to give you a ride,” yells the bush pirate, over the roar of his trusty ute.

By some curious coincidence, getting in a glider has always been fairly near the top of my “I’m never doing that” list – just below hang-gliding. I pretend not to hear at first, then protest that they won’t want me dorking around, but by the time we reach the third bend in the road, we’re pulling a u-ey and heading back. It’s shockingly easy to twist my arm.

Looks perfectly safe.

No sooner have we pulled up than glider bloke Brian is agreeing I should go for a whirl, and signs me up as a member. What luck. I’m strapped in to the featherweight fuselage.

“How do you get down?” I ask the man who’s walking me through the various knobs and dials around my knees.

“Awkwardly,” he hoots. “Oh, and don’t touch this red lever – it jettisons the towrope, which can be really embarrassing. And this yellow one ejects the canopy. Best not touch that, either.”

John is my copilot, and he’s got decades of flying experience, having served in the air force. On several occasions he likens the humble glider to a Porsche in terms of control – which might be his way of admitting he’s driven a Porsche – and insists it’s as maneuverable as a fighter jet; capable of all sorts of acrobatics.

“It’s too rough out here,” crackles someone on the radio, which no one but me seems to be alarmed at. We’re connected to the jolly yellow tug plane by a very low-tech looking rope, then yanked off into the air, surprisingly smoothly.

As the tug plane climbs in front of us like a bandy-legged goose, we hit pockets of air and I cling on to the only thing that isn’t a deadly lever – the little map pocket. John keeps up the bedside manner to make me feel better, but once he releases the towrope we careen off to the right before correcting. We’re much higher than I’d expected, and a few times we have to lurch off at speed to avoid the other glider, which is looping the loop and generally fannying around in a reckless manner. John lets me have a go at steering – there are dual controls – and we stay up for around 20 minutes; enough for my mouth to dry out, but not enough to be sick.

The landing is smooth as butter, thanks to the wee wheels beneath the glider that you can’t see. We touch down and follow the narrow crevice in the grass of previous gliders with total accuracy.

Keeper? Probably not about to become a regular, but I love hearing nerdish enthusiasts talk about their obsessions. Love it.

DAY 216: Mini GP go-karting

4 Apr

IN my flashback I’m seven years old, on the dodgem track. I’ve insisted on having a go because my brother is, but I’ve immediately driven into a bank of empty bumper cars and I’m stuck. I can’t reverse. My plaits flap around my head as I try to attract help without having to yell.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” chuckles photographer Leigh when I mention my lack of motor skills, “but a woman got killed here a few years ago.”

My mate Zo’s invited me along to a go-karting shoot for her magazine Veri Live, with handsome young tykes Dead Letter Circus. The Brisbane boys turn up pumped and ready for blood. With the exception of drummer Luke, who’s more worried the breathalyser will pick up the morning’s vodkas, each one of them is totally focused on the goal. I’m going to get flattened.

We’re warned that these aren’t dodgem cars (oh good), and that an amber or red light will flash if someone stacks it, depending on the severity of the case. When I see that these aren’t soapbox-style go-karts I have a minor hyperventilation in my helmet, but we’re pretty quickly strapped rigidly in and cranked up like so many deadly lawnmowers.

As we take off, I’ve got two bits of advice in mind – Zo’s ‘motorcycle rule’ of always looking ahead to where you want to go rather than at what’s going on in the periphery, and my mate Emmo’s general instruction to accelerate out of a corner, as soon as you find your equilibrium or something. These go-karts drive like washing machines around tight corners, though, shuddering like they’re on spin cycle.

I’m quickly overtaken by the entire band, Zo, and a journo – which leaves no one – but bear in mind the band are out to slay each other, Zo’s got a race car in real life, and the journo’s running on fear-spiked adrenalin. He gets a nudge a few laps in and limps out of the race, crying whiplash.

The more laps the rest of us do, the more competitive the band get. We reach speeds of 60kph and on one corner all five of them barge me within seconds of each other, one shooting me an apologetic, country-style wave over his shoulder. I might be driving like a nana, comparatively, but I reckon I’m the only person not to stack it into tyres. Zo even gets a nudge that sends her flying with all four wheels off the ground. She lands partially on bassist Stu’s kart and the pair hold hands for a mo across the track as they get a bollocking from the authorities. That’s nice.

I come in lucky last in the end, but I’m pleased enough that I didn’t touch the brake once and accelerated like a bastard coming out of those corners. Effort: fair.

You would, too.

Keeper? Yes! Thanks for the pics, LEIGH WILKINS.

DAY 206: Driving with my knees

25 Mar

IT’S common country practice to drive with your knees, thus freeing up your hands for beverages and trying to something young and modern on the FM dial, so today I give it a go.

It’s not as easy as it looks. My right foot’s working the pedals while my left knee is steering, but I frequently end up veering towards one verge or ’nother – I can’t quite believe passenger Old Dog once pulled off an entire trip, knees-only. (A trip made out of principal, not necessity.)

“Driving with one wheel on the verge is good practice,” Old Dog soothes. “You need to know that you can carve down the verge if you have to, so that you don’t panic when another car approaches. ‘Carve, not scoop’ is my saying. It hasn’t caught on, though.”

Keeper? I’ll keep the carving, but knees are for bending, I reckon. I don’t plan on holding a can of Cougar anytime soon anyway.

DAY 201: Conquering the quad bike in reverse

20 Mar

Watch it.

ACCORDING to WorkSafe, quad bikes are “exceptionally dangerous vehicles”, and yet I am driving one without so much as a driver’s licence. Backwards. Cop that, VicRoads.

The faithful reader may recall that it all got a bit much on DAY 176 when I crashed a quad bike into a bush and couldn’t reverse out again. Today, the bush pirate suggests I return to the challenge – and spank it. He shows me once more the reverse function.

To reverse:

* Heave down button above left handlebar using the might of both thumbs.
* Simultaneously crank lever.
* Hit another button twice.
* Gun throttle with other hand. Oh, wait – you don’t have another hand.

The bush pirate tilted the camera so it would look like I was on a steep hill, but I think the angle of the grass gives it away.

Mission accomplished, I reverse down a track for a little bit and then go hooning through a paddock. After some bunny hopping (this thing lurches like a bloodhound when you change gears) and a detour into a prickly moses, I get it running smoothly. Thank fuck for that – you see three-year-olds operating these things on farms on the telly.

Keeper? Yes. Will try these stunts next.

DAY 199: Stalking seals

18 Mar

Stench.

THE stench! I rate seals only slightly below ducks and rabbits in my top animals poll, but I had no idea they reek of wet dog, rubbish and rotten fish. No danger of a new pet here.

We’re out in Apollo Bay in Kenty’s sparkly purple speedboat, which he’s smashing down on dips in the ocean with great aplomb. Earlier, the bush pirate betrayed the unspoken trust of menfolk by relaying the phone conversation he had with Kenty. “We’ll just take the boat out, give it some sharp turns and scare her a bit,” Kenty said.

So as not to disappoint, I shriek and squall sportingly whenever we take off over a wave and slam down again. I am a bit worried the electric engine contraption he’s screwed on to the front of the boat (for creeping up on fish) is going to fly off and break my nose, though.

“Is she going to be sick?” Kenty yells, as the wind whips off his hat.

“No, she’ll be right.”

We idle at the seal colony and watch a big group of them arf-ing and wrestling in the surf. Others sit atop pointy rocks, grinning. They’ve no interest in us, and ours wanes after a bit too, so we nick off to the site of  70-year-old shipwreck Casino. She went down in a storm, but not particularly dramatically. Today we can barely make out the dark outline. Time for some more yahooing, then.

“This does explain your hair-do of the last decade,” the bush pirate observes of Kenty’s swept-back look as we roar into the harbour.

Keeper? Wasn’t sick, just hoarse. Might have to grab the wheel next time.

DAY 195: Baiting Miranda at Hanging Rock

14 Mar

HYPOTHETICALLY speaking, if one were to take a moonlit saunter into the Hanging Rock reserve – to retrace the steps of 1900s schoolgirl Miranda and her ethereal, doomed chums – one would have to first climb the fence, then tiptoe past slumbering rangers (or perhaps they’re playing cards, or learning Jack Johnson tunes), then hike up sheer slopes of thick bracken and thistles.

One would thus be a bit of a dolt to embark on this hypothetical mission with bare legs, slippery-slidey cowboy boots and a handbag. Ah, the wisdom of hindsight.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, set at these volcanic boulders some 70km northwest of Melbourne, is a novel and film “of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria”. Missing schoolgirls, corsets, undies and a suicide plummet – it’s got it all. In real life, though, this spot was an Aboriginal initiation ceremony site until the 1850s, for boys coming of age.

aaiiee!

I’m getting pretty spooked – not least by the low mutter of the bush pirate explaining the worst case scenario if we get caught. As we crash through the undergrowth, beating our way upwards into blackness for about 20 minutes (nope, can’t find the path), we hear kangaroos thudding loudly, weird birdcalls and furry things thrashing around in the trees.

“Wait!” The bush pirate hisses, freezing. My heart lurches. I prick my ears for eerie panpipes.

“What?”

“I think it’s a ring-tailed possum, look – up there.”

For fuck’s sake!

Once at the summit, we lie down for a bit and look up at the constellations of stars in the cloudless sky. The moon lights up the rock formations around us. It’s a wild and woolly romantic spot, when the tourists aren’t around. “Beats staying home and watching Entourage,” the bush pirate notes. “Is that your hand on my balls?”

While the bush pirate talks to Miranda, I take pictures – our spoils – and type stuff in my phone. It occurs to me that if we do get caught or go crashing to our deaths, I have all the evidence here to put us on Australia’s Dumbest Criminals.

After a spell, we follow wombat tracks back down the slope and then stage-tiptoe down a horribly crunchy gravel road to get back to the gate. The bush pirate starts doing Robert Crumb and James Dean-style tiptoes to calm my nerves.

Keeper? A real kick… but I’m not a gambling girl, and twice might be pushing my luck. A word of advice to anyone planning on scaling a wiry fence any time soon – don’t wear a loose-knit jumper. I hung, crucified, from the top, plucking bits off jumper off fence spikes for what seemed to be an age.

DAY 194: Diving in a kelp forest

13 Mar

IT strikes me, as I flounder through spectacular underwater kelp forests in a blind panic, that most of my activities with the bush pirate involve classic ways for the English to meet their demise.

You’ve read all those stories in the newspapers: an English falls off a sheer cliff-face (perhaps after being told to harvest hard-to-reach ferns); an English loses balance on rocks and is swept out to sea (after it is suggested a swim in a wave-lashed lagoon at high tide might be in order); an English drives a quad bike down a mountain and is lost… I’d not be surprised if a future idea involves hitch-hiking through Belanglo State Forest.

The English, I’m convinced, are not designed to put their heads underwater – yet here I am, tootling in fear up my snorkel. As ever with this year’s missions, though, the mathematics astound me: I go in 100 per cent sure this is a wearying, unpleasant idea – considerably further down the good ideas queue than ‘having a latte’ – and come out feeling 100 per cent more WAHOO!

Mystical hermit or grizzled surf dude? It’s up to you.

The lagoon at Castle Cove is cloudy today, but we spot rockfish, a stingray and abalone. The kelp usually rises up in columns so that you can swim among them as though you’re in a forest, but today they’re shimmying around the seabed, revealing bits here and there like saucy fan dancers. In the cliff walls, sea wrens are nesting, and apparently there are some sea hawks bandying about too, but I’m too busy trying not to get sucked out to sea.

Keeper? Will practise holding my breath – the three-second limit is hampering my experience.

Found this disturbing pic. It's like stingray porn. But for humans, not stingrays.

DAY 184: Pulling off a numpty

3 Mar

This isn’t me, but the level of finesse is there.

THE pheromones of fear are permeating my lycra. I’ve almost conquered my vertigo with this trapeze course, but the idea of pulling a new move gets everyone here a bit pungent.

A ‘numpty’ is a somersault dismount. I know. We’re attached to ropes so we can’t catapult off very far (I’ve already checked the instructor-bicep-width to flying-numpty ratio), but even so, I’ve never been fond of rotating in mid-air.

As I hang onto the bar atop the platform and lean into the abyss (plenty of practice at that), the instructor rattles off a string of unfathomable instructions from below. I give him a blank look and jump off. What the hell, eh?

At the moment I reach the ‘dead point’, he yells at me to tuck up my knees and let go of the bar. I really need to practise saying things like “damn” and “blast”, because I let out a loud profanity as I land on my feet. Which is great, but I didn’t somersault first because I let go of the bar too late.

“Why is it called a ‘numpty’?” Angie calls down to the instructor as I climb up the ladder again.

“Because any numpty can do it,” comes the reply.

This time when I reach the dead point, I let go on time. The instructor yanks on the ropes and I somersault with legs akimbo, letting loose a shrill “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” (hereby known as a JFC so as not to offend). I land spreadeagled on my back on the crash pad.

“Did I let go?” I ask the upside down instructor, in a moment of quaint confusion. Apparently so.

Keeper: Yeah. This will look really good if I can keep my legs together and maintain a stoic silence.