The Grand Escape
“Farkkk. Well, there go our winter holiday plans.”
As Gladys announced the NSW-Victorian border closure, I felt my heart sink. It wasn’t unexpected, just another shitty trick in the shocking magic show that has been 2020. I closed my eyes. The spark of hope that had been a planned roadtrip during an otherwise dreary year had just been trodden on, spat on and shoved into the dirt. Unless…
“Abby, do you reckon we could just leave tonight?”
“Are you serious? We don’t even have a car!”
Hmm. It was a tricky one, but we were desperate. After a brief phone call with our friend Lucas, we convinced him to leave his full-time job for an unknown period, drive seven hours to collect us, only to leave again immediately. A hiking tent, sleeping bags, a few cans of beans and a dodgy camp stove were thrown in the car, and we were off.
The twin cities of Albury-Wodonga are inextricably linked, and many residents see them as one and the same. Yet suddenly they were divided. The glow emanating from the police cars setting up the checkpoint brought with it a sense of foreboding – things were changing.
“I wonder when we’ll be back again.”
“What if we get locked out of Victoria too?”
“I guess we can just do uni on the run? I’ve always kinda liked the idea of living out of van.”
Except we didn’t have a van. Instead, our hopes rested on Pete, a ’98 Nissan Patrol best described as temperamental. Yet it was 8pm, the border closed at midnight, and we’d made it out. We were ecstatic.
Over the next six weeks, we lived in varying states of disrepair. It was a matter of days before the tiny tent we shared had established its own unique odour, and the scent gradually infiltrated the whole car. Our best attempt at some form of hygiene was a designated ‘punishment corner’, which consisted of an ever-expanding space in the car where we threw our damp bathers, dirty bowls and the grubby yellow towel used to clean our feet. Aside from this, the car was packed like a game of Jenga, and just as likely to topple on the unlucky person in the back seat.
“I can’t believe we’re going to go a whole season without seeing the snow,” Abby grumbled. And so, it was decided – Kosciuszko National Park was our next destination. My stomach clenched as we tried to make up for lost time by racing along the mountain’s curvaceous roads – as per usual, we were setting off late in the day.
“Guys, the strap on my pack broke again.” Lucas’s old green hiking pack, a memory from school Cadets, was well and truly due to be replaced.
“Lucas! You were supposed to get a new one!”
“Yeah, but I didn’t exactly have much time to prepare for this road trip, did I?”
I argued that my lack of skiing ability meant I would be slow anyway, whereas Abby needed something to weigh her down. Yet the track was steep, and the pristine white was scarred with generous lashings of rocks, so it wasn’t long before we ditched our skis. Despite this, Abby trooped on steadily with the vast majority of the gear while Lucas and I flitted about the track with our insubstantial packs, enjoying the sparkling of the snow in our torchlight.
Our days were spent skiing; our nights were spent playing cards and drinking tea. It was pretty sweet.
We traversed the NSW countryside, spending long, lazy hours perched in any number of uncomfortable positions in the car. We read to one another, gradually trawling through the chapters of a battered copy of ‘Gone’. We listened to music, we sang, we talked.
“Next stop – the Warrumbungles.”
We pulled up at the tourist information (late in the day again), and in classic style, hadn’t realised you needed to book campsites in advance. Whoops.
“When will we get good at this game?” Abby laughed.
We admired the fancy maps, planning our route for the next day. We wanted to hit all of the peaks, make the most of our one day of paid park entry. It added up to a solid 27km of up and down, and the man in the Parks office said it couldn’t be done in a day. Of course, that only meant we had to prove him wrong.
“Why would I pay $30 to set up a tent when there’s a perfectly good park across the road?”
“Exactly! Who needs showers and kitchen facilities anyway? That’s what the river and our Trangia is for.”
On the night before our big day of walking, we waited until dark before chucking our tent on the ground and sleeping in it burrito style – making it easier to dash for it if necessary. We were woken, covered in dew, by some early risers and their dogs.
Needless to say, it was a long day. But we made it.
“Would you like to take some oranges for the road?”
We had been staying for a couple of nights at a farm in Forbes and were about to head off once again.
Lucas shook his head, Abby and I nodded furiously.
“Fine,” he conceded, “just a couple.”
A huge Styrofoam box was loaded into the boot, overflowing with citrus fruits. They made excellent projectiles, another downside for the person in the backseat.
We were camped by a river eating a creative mix of canned soup and overcooked two-minute noodles, attempting to keep our measly fire alight in the drizzly night when a friendly couple came over.
“Wanna share our fire?”
It took one look at the deliciously warm blaze they had going to convince us. We ate chocolate, drank wine, and shared our oranges with them.
It was winter, but we’re from inland Victoria, so we put the coast to good use. Our hair went crusty and the car sticky with salt, but we couldn’t be happier. Except when we weren’t. Because when you spend every moment with the same two people, tensions build, and the tiniest things can trigger irritation – from the way they brush their teeth to their preferred sleeping mat rolling method.
Over the six weeks, I spent less than $600, including food and fuel. We barely planned a thing.
Adventures don’t have to be expensive; they don’t have to be well planned. You can have the best time ever staying in a five-star resort, but you can have just as great a time with a couple of friends and an old car. Thank you COVID, for helping me realise this.
Photos by the author