AUGUST 25th - AUGUST 31st
THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD: MELBOURNE TO MOUNT GAMBIER
WE ARE HUMAN, COLLECTORS OF THINGS.
After a month in Melbourne living out of bags and undergoing a weekly migration from one Airbnb to another, we were excited and relieved to finally have a permanent residence. Settling into our new home was at once soothing and perplexing. We unpacked the backpacks and sorted things into their new receptacles only to find that the few cabinets and drawers reached capacity well before we ran out of things to put away. In addition to things that we had brought over on the plane we now had two milk crates full of bric-a-brac as well as a rather large collection of books. The floating crates and other items that couldn’t seem to find a home certainly made a small space smaller and we resolved to fix that problem…eventually…when we got around to it. For the moment we were quite content to deal with the constant rearranging. We were officially home.
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN...
Despite the intelligent buildout of the van, we found we did have certain unexpected problems. Our dry storage cabinet had a tendency of falling open during any wide turns and spilling its contents happily across the floor. Our makeshift bookshelf had no means of restraint and books were often found far from their original location. The drawer where, at the time, we kept the majority of our dishes often slammed open and remained that way until man-handled back into position. The dry storage cabinet in particular needed attention. I failed so often to secure the bungee in place that I was eventually responsible for a broken jar of oh-so-precious coconut oil and half dozen eggs, a folly I have never forgotten nor has our flooring. Thusly we developed a rather inelegant but effective system of controlling these small inconveniences. Enter the world of bungee cords and conveniently placed crates.
LIVE SIMPLY AND WHAT YOU HAVE WILL BE ENOUGH.
I think my greatest misconception about living in a van was that it would somehow be incredibly different from a home that lacks mobility. I imagined our lives as they had been and the amount of space each of us used to occupy with our belongings and thought about condensing that to fit inside of a van. We were bound to be bumping into one another and by the nature of the beast must always be under-foot. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. We adapted quickly to the smaller surrounds. True, we were often in one another’s path, but it was never so troublesome as to make it anything less than a pleasant encounter. We realized that living in a van is about maximizing potential. It’s true the spaces are narrow, but everything you need is within reach. Cooking meals becomes a favorite past-time. It requires the finesse and teamwork of master and sous. One person stands upright in the kitchen in charge of flavor profiles and the treacherous gas stove. The preps and sorts from a seated position in the living space. Twenty minutes of all-star teamwork and a delicious meal finds its way to the table. We have reached a level of efficiency and skill that has no parallel in any but the finest restaurant kitchens, I assure you. We have grown to appreciate the modular nature of our seating as it allows us to morph the living room into a lounge with a maximum chill level of three thousand. Winter held on tight this year so our massive and wonderfully warm doona took up the majority of the living space and 90% of our time in the van was spent beneath its comforting weight. There are worse ways to pass a cold night. This is the sort of life that appeals to me.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS.
This first week showed us a pretty interesting part of the nomadic community. The Great Ocean Road has strict regulations in regards to campers and caravans along the route. If caught sleeping roadside or in a lot you could be served with a rather hefty fine. Having already familiarized ourselves with Australian ticketing agents and the massive cost of a citation we naturally chose to pay the more reasonable fees at the caravan parks. These havens for the home on wheels offer an occasionally flat and possibly paved space in which to park your vehicle. Some have ablutions blocks and maybe even a camp kitchen. Most offer power and water. All are priced at around $40 a night regardless of what they offer simply because they can. Upon entering, you will usually find that all the spaces are right on top of one another with the goal of cramming in as many as possible. You are assigned a lot number and have to navigate your new neighborhood in search of your hired driveway. It’s incredible. These people pull in to make camp. Pop up an enormous satellite dish. Pull out carpets and tables and chairs to create their own living room. A good many of the caravans have all the comforts of a brick and mortar home. Not just a shower and toilet, but washing machines, full sized refrigerators, even stoves. I looked at our sweet little van and couldn’t help but marvel at the difference. I was perplexed at first. Taking to the road was a reaction to and need to escape from the sort of life we had lived before. The point, for us, was to simplify and reduce and live in an entirely different way than the we would if we were stationary. An attempt at being present and untethered. Some of these behemoth trailers look to offer mobility, but at what benefit if you've brought all your vices with you? I wonder still if some of these people started in little vans and slowly graduated to the rolling behemoth as age impressed upon them the necessity for personal comfort. All I know is that, with a few notable exceptions, most camper parks leave me with a sort of hollow feeling.
A Bear, A van, and a Hill.
When it comes to driving a new vehicle there is a short break-in period. You have to become familiar with your vehicle and all its strengths and weaknesses. In this instance we also had to learn how to navigate from the left rather than the right side of the road as well as develop manual driving proficiency. That’s a lot to ask. I felt the Bear adapted with unusual quickness to his new requirements as pilot. In the beginning there were a few errors, of course. A tendency to drift too far to the left and we kissed a curb or two. There was occasional confusion at intersections incurring bemused honks and shaking fists. Not to mention the times we would accidentally turn onto the wrong side of the street and take a moment too long to realize it. It was my duty to police our left flank at all times and call out should we be too close to the line or any large objects - my penchant for distraction left my warnings a little late from time to time. What neither of us could have prepared for was the difficulty of scaling a hill. The first night we drove our lady from Mansfield to Melbourne we had some difficulty that we hoped was the result of ignorance and lack of practice. That night the heavy clock of nightfall and a constant downpour added to the trouble. When we embarked on the GOR a week later we were nearly stranded at Erskine Falls by the preposterously steep incline that we had so easily ridden down. The Bear was an absolute champion that day. Slowly but surely he made sure we crept our way to the top of that hill with only a handful of backslides and one truly horrifying emergency-brake-start. As I said, you have to learn your strengths and weaknesses, our girl was too weak for the mountains and we would eventually need to figure out why. In the meantime we adjusted our expectations and did our best not to panic when she stalled out on a climb with ten cars stacked right behind us.
WHEN THINGS GO ASKEW JUST ENJOY THE VIEW.
At one point or another every vehicle breaks down. You would hope it wouldn’t be on Day Three of an epic road trip, but that can’t be helped. When Le Delphine the Falcon got stuck in third gear and stranded us near Wye River on the GOR we were a little nervous though not surprised. Both of us performed quite admirably operating under the pretense that our non-existent mechanical knowledge might somehow get us out of this bind. After a good thirty minutes of this we came to the conclusion that we would have to call for help. So we gave up on the driver’s cabin, hopped into the living area and made lunch. We passed a few hours reading and watching a raging winter sea crash into the cliffs. Breakdowns are part of any journey, and there are worse places to find yourself stranded.