In my first blog I told you how I drove two days to Cultana and two days home again for just one day in the field. I may have also mentioned that I love driving and I find almost every journey in Australia interesting in its own way.
Sometimes there are lots of beautiful, interesting, diverse things to see along the road – and sometimes the road is so mind-numbingly boring that that becomes interesting in its own right.
A classic example of the mind-numbing road being interesting is a stretch called the Hay Plain.
It’s called the Hay Plain partly because it is a wide open plain and in the other part because there’s a town called Hay on it – and certainly not because you’d be expecting to cut much hay off the dry, dusty, scrubby land.
Anyway, let me tell you the story of my first drive across the Hay Plain, which you must traverse when you take the shortest road route between Kiama and Adelaide.
It was night and I’d already been driving for about five hours.
When I hit the Hay Plain it was very dark with no moon, but a sky so full of stars the likes of which city-slickers never see, even on the clearest night. I could see the horizon only for the fact that the stars stopped where the sky met the land. There wasn’t a single man-made light from any source except my own headlights and dashboard. I could tell the land was flat because I could see the star-defined horizon in a wide circle in front, to both sides and in my rearview mirrors.
I’d been driving for more than an hour on the Hay Plain itself when I began to think it might be time for a sleep. I had my swag with me, so I knew I didn’t have to push on until the next town – which turned out to be about three hours further on anyway.
Then, suddenly, I saw the headlights of another vehicle pop into my rearview mirror – and that was more of a comfort that anything, reminding me I wasn’t the only living soul out there.
Soon after, there was a road safety sign reminding me to take a break every two hours, and another telling me there was a parking bay up ahead.
I slowed down and pulled in. I noticed those headlights were still there on the road behind me. I pitched my tent, watered a small bush – and then thought, ‘oops, he might see me’. I looked and the lights were still there. I thought, ‘perhaps he’s slowing down too, to use this parking bay for the same reason’. I wasn’t sure I wanted the company.
I kept an eye on the lights. They did seem to be moving, bobbing and flicking as he hit bumps in the road. I sat on my trailer to watch his approach. It was very strange how long it seemed to be taking him to get to where I waited. I thought, ‘maybe he’s an old man dragging a heavy caravan’.
Anyway, after what seemed like a long time, I eventually began to hear his engine. Turned out, it was a Mack prime mover with two 40-foot trailers – and he wasn’t going slow! Not by a long shot. The speed limit on this stretch was 100km/hr, and he was probably doing 40 over.
Just then, another set of lights poped into view on the horizon and I had the good sense to check my watch and even start its stop-watch function – and I sat back to time him. Just on 10 minutes later he passed my position – a similar sized truck doing a similar speed. And, all up, it took this guy 22 minutes and 40 seconds before his taillights were either so small I couldn’t truly trust my eyes any more or he did indeed fall off the edge of the world.
If he was only doing the speed limit, I calculated the two horizons were at least 38km apart. More if he was speeding – and I’m confident he was. To this day I haven’t figured out how it could be so, given that Wikipedia tells me a normal horizon for a man standing on the flat is only 5km away. Maybe I was on a slight elevation, but I certainly couldn’t detect it next morning in daylight. This land was flatter than flat for as far as I could see through the heat haze.
And I love this sunburnt country.