Ben’s fiancé was perched on the front of their stranded vehicle serenely sipping champagne. I noticed that unlike me she did not have hobbit feet and had not adopted a family of flies. I’ve always marveled at women who possess the ability to remain put together in any given situation. I am definitely not one of them. Given the opportunity, I turn primal within a moments notice, casting off any lady like illusions I may or may not have managed to cultivate. Unlike Dad and I – they seemed to have accepted their predicament with grace and good spirits, resigned to the fact they would be spending the night. We shared a laugh over Ben’s altercation with Big Red and chatted about their plans for the rest of the trip. If we had to spend the night, at least we would be in good company.
When I got back, dad was wandering up and down the road poking at the mud with his hobbit feat. It was over an hour since the rain had stopped and the sludge had firmed up somewhat. “Want to give it another crack?” Dad nodded, sliding into the drivers seat. He fired the Jeep to life and the car rocked forwards almost a foot. It was progress. With each attempt we were a little closer until finally dad floored the accelerator and the Jeep dragged itself up and out, shooting forward like a bull out of a gate. In the excitement, I lost my footing and face planted into the mud. What did I say about being put together?
Dad stopped 100m up the road, clear of the flood plane sign and waited for me to catch up. I’m surprised he let me get in the car; I was like a little feral bush baby trying to hitch a ride. I crawled into the passenger side, grinning with a sense of accomplishment. “Nice work dad,” I beamed, he looked worried, oblivious to my verbal high fives.
We crawled along at walking pace, the Jeep fishtailing dangerously, threatening all the while to slide off the road. I got out and walked alongside the car barking orders.
“Straighten your wheels.”
“Turn to your left.”
But the Jeep slid further and further off the crown of the road. We were dying a slow death, losing the battle in increments. Dad stopped, got out of the car, pulled out the camp chairs and placed them in the middle of the road. He walked back to the car, got his iPad out, took a seat and started checking his emails. I watched this performance with amusement. Dad had obviously reached his tipping point and decided he’d had enough reality for one day. I got my camera out to document the moment. It was an adult tantrum if ever I saw one. A silent fuck you to the car, the rain and to life in general.
“Are you going to set the tent up Poss?” Momentarily raising his head in my direction.
“Aaahh nope – I will not be setting the tent up,” I replied incredulously.
Dad had to be in Broken Hill the next morning to scatter his father’s ashes and damned if we were going to miss it but now was not the time to push the point. We needed to take a breather.
I sat down and got my phone out. When in doubt, refer to Google.
4WD traction in mud… I typed, scrolling through to an article that seemed appropriate.
“A sudden downpour on a country road or bush track can create a driving hazard, because clay or dirt surfaces turn into paste that has the friction of soap.
You need to drive very carefully in these circumstances, staying on the ‘crown’ of the road, to avoid sliding into the table drain.
The dark grey soils common around rivers, creeks or channels – even dried up ones are notoriously difficult to handle when wet. The best driving option in black soil country is; don’t. Wait a day or so, if you can.”
I laughed out loud and read the passage to dad. Maybe he was right…we were done. I fished out a can of tuna from the back of the car and took a seat next to dad.
I was finishing up my lunch when we heard it, the high-pitched whine of an engine in stress. It was coming towards us and fast. We scrambled to clear the road, just in time to see a 4WD round the bend, hiding. Never once slowing down, he skidded to the left, expertly bypassing the Jeep in a move that can only be described as 4WD ballet. We stood in his wake, biting dust as he hit the accelerator and sped off into the distance, pulling to a stop near the cattle grate a 100m up the road.
“Now that was skill,” dad said, still staring at the car.
“Mad skills,” I replied
The driver of the vehicle got out and strode towards us, extending a hand and introducing himself. I missed his name but it doesn’t matter because I will forever remember him as The Outback Angel.
The masterful driving we had just witnessed was all the more impressive considering his car was only working in 2WD oh and he was dragging a trailer.
“ You can get through no worries,” he reassured us, “have you let your tyres down yet?”
We hadn’t. He produced a screwdriver from thin air and started doing it for us. The car was his son’s – he was driving it all the way from the Gold Coast to Perth, a solid 4,379 km drive – a struggle for the mere mortal but all in a weeks work for The Outback Angel. He jumped on the back of our car and told us to accelerate hard; we needed to spin the wheels so they could grip the harder soil beneath the sludge. With the tyres down and The Outback Angel instructing us, we made the crown of the road. As we approached the cattle grate he jumped off and waved us farewell. I’m not sure, but I think he might have disappeared in a shimmer of light, a mirage of our own imagination.