An Unexpected Journey Part Two: Ups and Downs

I went back to the caravan park to turn in my key and see whether the manager really meant it when he suggested refunding my money. I had already packed everything up since I was not confident in the cabin door’s ability to be locked securely. I was carrying the key and the parts of the spring that had fallen out of the mechanism in the palm of my hand. The manager saw me coming and did not even ask what happened, he just stated rhetorically, “How did I know?” And we walked into the office where he said to his wife, “Refund his money” and walked out.

This was unpleasant. He had suggesting the fucking refund, I had not asked for it. He was gone and his wife asked me, “Why are we refunding your money?” I said, “Because he said to. It was his idea.” And she still asked, “But why.” And I asked her, “Remember coming to let us out of the cabin last night? The door lock did not work right.” And she wrote, “broken lock” in a ledger and gave me a refund. She was not smiling. I told her that I had travelled all the way around Australia for a year and had never asked for, nor needed a refund. I said my wife and I were travelling and birding.

And then it all changed. She got her bird book out and was asking me about Gouldian Finches (everyone asks about Gouldians). And then she was telling me there was a bowerbird bower on the property. I finally had to cut the chit-chat short so that I could get going. She had gone from adversarial to amiable through the bird connection. That was nice.

And with that refund, I figured I could splurge and stay the night at one of my favourite places in Australia. I was only about an hour away from Mataranka and Bitter Springs.

I stopped at the Woolworths in Katherine and got some stuff. During The Year, I had gone to that grocery several times. I “knew” that store. It is so cool to me that I am familiar with grocery stores, servos, caravan parks etc. and so on, all across Australia. I experienced this familiarity throughout this journey. In Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek, in Kimba, in Waikerie, in Murray Bridge… parts of the whole continent are like my extended neighborhood and I think that is a wonderful thing. It truly is.

Mataranka is a magical place for me. It is not the springs, although they are beautiful and very cool (although quite warm). It is the total vibe of the place. We stayed a night in a cabin there when we were in the Top End with friends in 2012. I loved those cabins then and they have not changed. I phoned from the car park at Woolworths and reserved a cabin. I said that I would be there in about an hour and asked that they start the air con. I rolled into Bitter Springs Cabins and Camping and by 11am I was checked into my literally and figuratively cool cabin.

Before I got too settled, I decided I would finally go for a swim in the springs, something I had not done on my previous visits. I have had my dive bag with my snorkel gear tucked behind the seat in Troopi for ages. I got it out and I went to the springs. The water is very warm and it is gorgeous down there, but underwater, there is not a lot to see. I saw a few tiny fishes and lots of grey/brown algae covering everything. Doing things like that alone is not my way, nor would it be my choice, but I was there, and I was alone. I somewhat enjoyed it and I was glad that I did it. I often do things because I know that afterwards I will be glad I have done them. However I do not really enjoy them in the moment, not alone anyway.

After only about forty-five minutes I was back in the comfy cabin and spent the rest of the day just hanging out. I showered and even took a short nap. I had not had one of those in a while. Then I had a couple of non-alcoholic beers and a lot of pistachios while fiddling with the laptop. The internet, that electronic companionship that helps keep those of us who are the antithesis of loners from losing our minds (maybe).

I had my usual sandwich and some potato chips. Then I had an ice cream on a stick for my Lifer Pie. They had only had one kind at the office/store and it was Connoisseur Murray River Salted Caramel with Macadamia. That was the go-to Lifer Pie ice cream on a stick during The Year. That was perfect.

I had a lovely evening and the best and longest night’s sleep of the journey. The next morning I drove on to Tennant Creek and stayed in the Tennant Creek Caravan Park. We had stayed there twice during The Year and now I was staying there a second time on the Unexpected Journey. Familiarity.

My next stop over was Alice Springs. I arrived in Alice, went to its very familiar Woolies grocery downtown and then checked into the G’day Mate Caravan Park. I liked that park. The heat was dropping and I had a shady spot. I took a nap. I took a shower. I was sort of content. Not a feeling I experience a lot. I do like it. I just don’t achieve it very often.

The next morning I drove to Coober Pedy for the night. The twins (Depression and Anxiety, as mentioned in Part One) although with me, had stayed in the background most of the time. I had been on a quest, and even alone, questing is something that suites my brain. I was leaving the NT and would be two days drive away from another try at the Copperback Quail Thrush. It did not have the quest feeling of the dash up to the mannikins. I am not sure why either, possibly because I had my doubts about finding the bird. 
Leaving the NT
And it was also my sobriety birthday the next day. On Monday 16 April 2018 I turned 28 years sober. Instead of feeling any sense of accomplishment or joy it just hammered home my sadness and solitude. The twins were completely running the show. It was a shitty, emotional drive down to Lake Gilles. I arrived there at a beautiful spot (although rather too many flies- see photo below). I know that the Quail-thrushes are consistently seen there. I birded that area hard for several hours until dusk without a glimpse of a QT. I decided to drive the twenty minutes into Kimba to the nice free camp for the night.
Lord of the Flies

I find the mallee incredibly beautiful. 
I slept fitfully and was up before 4am and back out at the birding site before first light. It was unexpectedly drizzling and foggy. Regardless of the wet, I birded that gorgeous area of mallee until about 10am at which point I gave up. I had had no sign, nor sound of a Copperback. Robert and I had searched for them two weeks before. I had come back and searched for them (Lynn and I had also looked for them in 2016 on the way back from Venus Bay). So as the Yellow-rumped Mannikin bogey bird was ticked, a new bogey was beginning to be created.

I think anyone who is a serious birder has a bogey bird (or two). If I counted pelagic birds as bogies, Common Diving Petrel is definitely in the running for me as well. But pelagic birds are a different kettle of fish (no pun intended). I do pursue them, but with a different attitude than I have about terrestrial birds.

I decided to drive over and stay the night in Murray Bridge, SA and from there I could reach Lara the next day. It was the first caravan park where Lynn and I had camped in Troopi, Boxing Day 2015. That also hammered home the loneliness and sadness. The twins were right there with me. I showered, had my last ‘road sandwich,’ got a night’s sleep and was driving east as the sun began to rise. I was back in Lara by 3pm.

After 12 days and over 74 hundred miles, Troopi and I were parked again at the tiny house. It is a house that is too small for two and far too small for four if the twins are visiting, and it seems they are more often than not. 
That is more like 50 Troopi hours. We only go 90-95 kph and the speed limit in the NT is 130 kph.
Lifer Day at my little desk. I had NA beer and pistachios whilst writing Part One of this blog.
I am not sure if this is an appropriate entry for my blog. There is “keeping it real,” but there is also “dragging everyone else down into my personal crap.” So I am not sure. And I will never write a “poor little me” entry. Fuck that. I truly do know how much I have to be grateful for, but sometimes that is what feeds the twins even more. I feel better this afternoon and for that I am grateful. I also want others to know that sometimes you can get through some of this crap, not always, but sometimes.

Peace. Love. Contact.