Monday, December 26, 2011

Are we there yet?

I'm not really sure where we are with the big trip now. Even though we're not yet back in Warrandyte it sort of seems over. Everybody appears to have emotionally abandoned ship. Tori has had enough of walking 100 metres to the bathroom especially if it involves trying to bathe Kim. She wants her own bathroom and a laundry with a washing machine now, which is totally understandable. The kids have hit a squabbling stage where I periodically want to bang their heads together. They just want to go back and see their friends and have their own rooms with proper size beds and the ability to shut the door and lock each other and us out. Kim has reached a stage where he has worked out that if he can make a constant groan like moaning sound that he will get otherwise occupied people to pay him more attention. Controlled crying looks like it won't be too far away for him after we get back and he has his own room somewhere away from the rest of us. Geographically speaking we are currently in Sydney and have been for a few days, a place we have all been often enough for it not to be particularly novel. Not in an exotic kind of a way anyhow. Tori's folks Mike and Maggie, the kids' Grandma and Grandi, live here. And I guess with family comes a sense of being home. As does meeting up with a load of friends here in Sydney. Having driven somewhere in the region of 40,000km we are now only 900km from Melbourne. A short hop in the scheme of things. But I was actually in Melbourne for a few days last week. And I was in Sydney for a night a couple of weeks ago, before we actually arrived in Sydney. It's all a bit confusing. Perhaps I should rewind the tale a bit to where we were camped in the idyllic little beachside haven of Crescent Head. A beautiful location on the banks of the Killick Creek just where it spills out into the ocean. The plan had been to chill out there for a week before cruising on into Sydney for the run up to Christmas. And it was all going along nicely too. Swimming, boogie boarding, a bit of basketball up at the local court, the stroll for coffees in the morning, evening beers and barbys. There was even discussion of bringing out the fishing rods once more to see if we could have any better luck here. But then all of a sudden my mum was in hospital. Her back had given out again and the specialist had sent her directly to the Royal Melbourne. She was in agony despite the strong painkillers they were giving her and sounded frail even down the end of a phone line. Her back has been particularly dodgy for a couple of months now, having already had one spell in hospital a short while back, but this seemed even worse. After a bit of a discussion with sister Nat, I decided to fly down to lend some support. My idyllic time in Crescent Head came to an abrupt end as I threw my laptop and some clothes into a pack and next thing we were driving down to Port Macquarie airport where I was to get a flight to Sydney and then onward to Melbourne. Only two hours after deciding to fly back, I was watching the ground disappear out the window of the little twin propeller plane.

Mum was in a bad way. Not only was her back causing her grief between the doses of morphine but she had somehow contracted pneumonia and could hardly breathe. She was propped up in bed with oxygen tubes stuck up her nose and a very pale complexion. I was immediately glad that I had made the decision to come down. And so the next three days were spent at the hospital visiting mum or hanging out with Nat. While the circumstances were far from ideal, it was great to spend some time with them both. By the time I was due to head back on Thursday, Mum was starting to feel a bit better. She still had a fair way to go but seemed to be on the right track at least. I'd actually hoped that one positive benefit of my trip away from the van would be that I wouldn't have Kim waking me up through the night and I may actually get some sleep. But strange beds and unfamiliar surrounds invariably cause me restless nights and this was not to be the case. We had to be out of the caravan park by 10am on Thursday morning, so I had no real flexibility in how long I could stay in Melbourne. I was booked on the 6am flight on the Thursday so that we had some chance of being out almost on time. The night before I'd decided to stay with Lisa and Dan in the city as it just seemed logistically easier to be based centrally before my mad dash back to New South Wales began. Around 11:30pm when I was going to bed, I couldn't believe I was actually setting my alarm for 4:40am, so that I could get my taxi. In retrospect, it would have been luxurious to sleep until that time. Instead, I woke up hourly until I realised at 3:30am that there would be no more sleep and I might as well just get up then. And so started a mad and sleep deprived day.
Waking up so early I had no dramas getting to the airport on time and was on the plane when it took off bound for Sydney at 6am. Connecting flight to Port Macquarie was all good too and we landed on schedule around 9am. As I walked down the steps of the plane on to the tarmac, I was looking towards the small terminal expectantly for Jaz and Finn who usually tend to be right out front to greet me. Nobody. Well it's not unheard of for Tori to be late, so after a lap of the terminal to superfluously make sure they weren't somewhere else in the tiny building, I tried to ring her. No answer on her phone. And then I realised I had a voice message. "Hi there. It's me", said Tori's recorded voice down the line. "There's been a huge pile up on the highway near Kempsey and the roads blocked off. I don't know when we'll be able to get to the airport. The road could be closed for hours. I think there was a car chase. I forgot my phone so I'm using the guy in the car behind me's phone. I'll try and call you when I know what's happening". I dialed the number that she had called me from and was soon speaking to some bloke named Jerry. "Your wife's just over there. Hang on I'll get her for you", he said. It seems that a couple of young guys had tried to outrun a police car and the police had set up a road block including the use of tyre spikes. In a bid to avoid it all, the runaway car had careened into a ute sending it rolling down the bank where it smashed into a pole. It then slammed into another car  before rolling over itself and coming to a halt upside down on the side of the road. The highway was blocked off, being both the scene of a serious accident and also a crime. Police were suggesting that the road would be closed for hours and that drivers should instead travel via Armidale, some 400km extra on the journey. Tori suggested that if I could get a taxi up to the accident scene, I could perhaps walk around it to the other side where she was waiting and then we could drive back to Crescent Head. It seemed a much better alternative than waiting for who knows how many hours, so I went to look for a cab. There were none to be found. I went to the car rental counter to see if they would tell me how much it might cost to get a cab to just south of Kempsey. "It'll cost loads", said one bloke. "Easily a hundred bucks. If you can hang on five minutes, I'll give you a lift up there", he generously offered. And with that, I was travelling up towards Kempsey with Dave, the owner of 1st Class car rentals. I'd already called the caravan park to tell them of our predicament and that there was no way we'd be out by 10am (it was already about ten to). In the comfort of Dave's car, we got to around 7km or so south of the crash site where we hit the end of the queue of cars that were waiting for the road to reopen. I decided to get out and walk. I passed hundreds of stationary vehicles. People were out on the road on their phones, kids were playing soccer on the road, a family were gathered around a laptop watching movies. I probably walked several kilometres before the road inevitably was reopened and the traffic started to move. I put out my thumb to hitch and watched in amazement as many of the cars I'd passed, the occupants of which I'd good naturedly bantered with on the way, just cruised straight past me ignoring my request for a lift. The crisis was over and it seemed that everybody was happy to get back on with their individual lives now without concern for someone in need of assistance. Eventually I flagged down a car transport truck. "Jump in", the driver said and he took me to where Tori and the kids were waiting. Completely exhausted I clambered in and we began the journey from Kempsey down to Crescent Head.
And we were almost back there when we hit another traffic snag. A house fire was raging on the outskirts of Crescent Head and the road had been closed until the fire crew could get it under control. No cars were allowed to pass the barricade of fire trucks and emergency support vehicles. It just didn't seem real. I'd had so little sleep that I was quite prepared to believe I was imagining the whole thing. But real it was and eventually, after another hour or so, we were able to drive the last few kilometres back to the caravan park. Thankfully Tori and the kids had managed to pack up everything except the van awning so I didn't have to do too much in the way of van preparation. I dropped in to the office to explain to them what had happened. We were all packed up and it was now around 1pm. I'd had less than four hours of broken sleep and been up since 3:30AM. My eyes felt like they were dropping out of my skull. I would have liked nothing more than to fall on to my bed and sleep for a good four or five hours. Instead I took a few deep breaths and drove us and the van 420km to Sydney.

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