It’s New Years Day in the Australian outback town of Ceduna. The locals are drinking beer in the 42 degree heat. I sit on the roads edge swatting blowflies and trying to study the map.
We are about to begin our quest to conquer the Longest Stretch of Straight Road in the World, the Nullarbor Plain. The preparation is done. The tank is full. Our weapon of choice? A rusted old Land Cruiser. Rough and ready.
We’ve already drove 1950kms, but this stretch was set to be the highlight of the trip. I wanted to see some red desert dirt. Ben wanted to be out there in the great expanse of nothingness.
With a groan of the motor, we are off.
Welcome to the Australian outback. The only law around these parts is tribal law. The boomerang always hits you back.
The heat of the sun makes the horizon quiver. It’s all just flat, ochre earth as far as the eye can see. We pass skeletons of burnt out cars. Outback fugitives take stolen vehicles on joyrides out here. Torch the motor in the starry desert night and you’ve got yourself a bush disco.
The novelty of the drive wears out in a matter of hours. When you’ve been on the road with someone for 2,000kms, conversation is reduced to single grunts. “It’s so hot” or “how far now?”
We haven’t used the air-con in an attempt to save fuel, but the heat has made me antsy. My back is dripping and the seat is sticky with sweat. I wind up my window and pump the AC.
A loud ‘whoosh’ of the fan is followed by a splutter of the engine. The air fills with dust. Steaming hot water spurts out of the vent, spraying down the cab. We come to a grinding halt.
Lifting the bonnet, the engine hisses. Uh oh.
No mechanics. No Yahoo answers.
What have I done?
Everyone’s advice comes back to me; “Don’t help people who are broken down”, “Don’t ask for help”, “Don’t break down.”
Ben fiddles around with the engine.
My fear swiftly switches to Survival Mode.
I begin to think about our rations. How long will instant noodles last us? Four days?
I inspect the frypan. Potential weapon. Tent pole? New spear.
What if no-one stops to help? Should I dig beneath the sand for water? Eat ants?
I set up a roadside refuge, pulling out the awning and gathering sticks for a fire.
I feel like Bear Grylls, ready to battle the elements and tame a wild camel.
‘Vrooom.’ That familiar sound. The engine begins chug.
“What!?” I drop the sticks.
“The air-conditioning hose blew. No worries” smiles Ben triumphantly.
My heart sinks.
Back on the road we go.