In the end, it wasn’t an ant invasion that broke me. It wasn’t the unseasonably cool weather, the cost of fuel, or the tiny scorpion I found crawling up my arm.
It was the extension cord.
We have a blue extension cord that runs into the tent. I don’t even know how long it is. Fifteen meters? Twenty?
Doesn’t matter. It’s long, and it has a mind of its own. On this particular day we were in Moonta Bay, on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. The sun was shining and we had a great site with ocean views. The morning had gone smoothly and we were nearly ready to go.
It wasn’t windy or rainy, which can make packing up hell. I was just…tired. Physically and mentally tired of the constant packing: the tent, the poles, my clothes, my toiletries. Living out of a bag, carrying my shower stuff back and forth, rummaging through the deep drawers of the car to produce a fork.
I could not get this cord to wind up properly; it kept kinking and twisting in all the wrong places so I threw it to the ground, violently, and began kicking it.
Jared witnessed the whole scene from the rear view mirror, which I didn’t realize until I abandoned the cord and walked around to the front of the car.
“How’d you go with that extension cord?”
“Not great,” I said. “I’m pretty done with camping.”
* * * * *
A few days later we were driving into Adelaide when a car turned left in front of us. Jared hit the brakes as we were going over a speed hump, and there was a loud clang from the back of the car.
“The trailer came off,” he said, slack-jawed. “I forgot to put down the latch.”
Sure enough, it had popped off the towball and was connected only by the thick black chain. The towbar was underneath the car, but the spare tire had stopped the trailer itself from crashing into us. We re-hitched and jumped back in the car, still on edge, imagining how much worse that could have been.
Both of us were growing complacent, forgetting to do small but important tasks. We’d really hit our travel groove in the Northern Territory and across the top of WA, but now it felt like we were slowly going off the rails. Little things started happening: a rock chipped the windscreen, the blinkers shorted out, and the windscreen wipers started going berserk even when set in the off position.
“Let’s just get back before anything else happens,” Jared said.
* * * * *
The plan was to allow two weeks to get from Adelaide to Newcastle, a distance of over 1,500km. On our first night out of the city we unfolded the tent and realized the ground was too hard to hammer in the pegs. The wind howled all through our setup, sucking the walls of the tent in and then blowing them out. In the evening we sat on the floor of the tent, eating zucchini fritters and pretending not to notice the aggressive walls.
“If we cut out the Snowy Mountains we could probably be back in Newcastle by Sunday,” Jared said.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
Gone was my compulsion to see it all, my stubborn insistence to squeeze every last drop of life out of this trip. One of the most useful lessons travel has taught me is knowing when to call it a day.
It was time to call it a day.
* * * * *
We drove into Newcastle four days ago. The closer we got to Jared’s parents’ place, the more I felt time slipping away, sloughing off until it seemed like we had never left. It felt like the whole trip had been a dream. It reminded me of the end of North (worst movie EVER), about a kid who goes on this epic adventure only to wake up at the end and discover it was all a dream.
Coming home is like that; after so much stimulation and newness, returning to a familiar place is surreal. We’d been on a huge trip around Australia, but nearly 18 months and 40,000 kilometers later, here we were, right back where we started.
I can’t count the number of times people commented that we were ‘living the dream’. It makes sense, then, that it feels like I’ve woken up to find myself in a previous version of my life. A life where the power cords are mostly hidden, the kitchen isn’t confined to a drawer in the back of the car, and we don’t have to re-build our house every time we arrive in a new place.
I loved this trip. I know that one day in the not-too-distant future I will be nostalgic for twisted extension cords and ocean views, wind-battered tents and breaching whales in the distance. I’ll eliminate the minor annoyances from my memory and yearn for the freedom of going anywhere the car could take us.
But for right now, it is so nice to be home.
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