It was a Wednesday.
Our road trip had taken us all the way across the never-ending Nullarbor Plain and out the other side. Hour after hour, all that could be seen was dry desert and scrub, red earth and cerulean sky. Full days of driving, endless driving. Several hours where the road failed to even turn a corner to make the journey a bit more interesting.
On the bright side, at least we had escaped the endless rain that we’d battled with in Victoria.
We covered probably two thousand kilometres in the space of three days. Three looooong days. And so it was that we found ourselves in Esperance, with the first real signs of life we’d seen in Western Australia.
We liked Esperance, a lot. Possibly because it was the first place we’d found with so much as a supermarket, and more than one street. We decided to stay two days, we were that excited.
What a great two days they were. We ate the biggest fish and chips any human has ever consumed. We visited the whitest sand beach in Australia. We camped in a national park with a deserted beach to ourselves, and nobody around to share the sunset with. We drove along the Great Ocean Drive (a real rival to the Great Ocean Road, albeit a heck of a lot shorter). We visited a famous pink lake that confusingly was not pink. We drove back towards town and had our 839th coffee from Coles Express (how can you say no to an 80 cent coffee?).
Then, in our optimism, we thought that we might as well push on towards Albany, our next main stop. Let’s save money on accommodation, that free campsite looks great, what a good idea, how clever we are.
So it’s a Wednesday, and off we go towards Albany at 4.30pm, half an hour until the sun sets.
Laughing, chatting, listening to the soothing tones of Kirsty Young and Desert Island Discs; it’s dusk but we’ve driven at dusk before, we drove across the whole of the Nullarbor, with no fuel stations and not a house in sight, nothing but hundreds if not thousands of kangaroos roaming across the plains, unchecked; we know that kangaroos are most dangerous at dusk, that they will bound across the road without warning, attracted in some suicidal hedonism by the bright car headlights, but what are the chances it will happen to us?
What are the chances?
Then BAM, screech, skid to a stop in the gravel at the side of the road. A flash of brown fur, rising to half way up the windscreen. Over one hundred kilometres per hour, down to none in the space of seconds. Fractured glass spraying across the bonnet; wrenched metal. Windscreen wipers comically whirring back and forth, no rain in sight.
I’m gripping the steering wheel like it’s a life raft, breathing heavy, eyes actually wide open in shock – who knew that was a real thing.
Unbelievable, that’s how I would describe it. Kangaroos in Australia are like rabbits in England: they’re everywhere. You know there’s a risk, you know it’s a common occurrence, and people crash into them all the time, but you still just can’t believe that it really happens, until it does.
Well, it happened.
And now there is a kangaroo-sized dent in our bonnet, the headlight miraculously still works but its casing is in pieces, the indicator gone, the wheel arch mashed up and the right side of the bumper hanging down, the driver-side door with half the handle missing, letting out a groan each time you open it.
We just had to laugh.
After a long, long time, that is. After Meg had tentatively got out of the passenger seat, walked round to the front of the car, and put her hands to her face in a way that quite clearly said,
After we cleared away the detritus – fragments of glass and plastic – from the headlight, after we turned back for Esperance and crawled along at less than 10 kph, after we realised that we could not drive because the damaged wheel arch was rubbing against the tyre. After we pulled over again, tried to think up a plan B (sleep in the car at the side of the road? Ring up roadside assistance to tow us back to town, using up the last of the money in our bank accounts?).
After we were joined by an Australian hero in a van, who yanked up the bent metal, clearing it away from the tyre, and told us he would follow us back into town to make sure we didn’t break down again. After we made it the whole, painstaking way back, at half the speed limit; over an hour to drive about fifty kilometres. After we found a hostel to stay in, where we could sleep in the car; after we explained the whole, ridiculous situation to the receptionist.
After all that, we could only laugh. Because we made it back in one piece.
I don’t know when it happened, but at some point I started changing my train of thought from ‘if only’ to ‘thank God’.
If only we had stayed an extra night in Esperance. If only I had been going slower. If only we had seen the kangaroo before it jumped out. If only we had been two minutes earlier, or two minutes later. If only our car were bigger, better; if only we had a bull bar or were in a 4×4 that could withstand the impact.
Thank God that the thing glanced off the right hand side of the car. Thank God it missed the radiator, the engine; thank God it didn’t come straight through the windscreen. Thank God we didn’t blow a tyre out screeching to a halt. Thank God for the kindness of strangers. Thank God the car was in a driveable condition, thank God we made it all the way back to town driving as dangerously slowly as we were. Thank God that we were both unharmed.
We had a heck of a lot to be thankful for.
I’m being dramatic, of course. But… am I?
On the one hand, I don’t want to worry anyone (sorry mum). I’m making it sound worse than it was. We do drive very safely, and have had no other problems in the past four thousand kilometres. We try our best not to drive in the early evening, when we know that there is a risk. We arrive to most of our campsites before dark. We’ve played it safe in most of the ways it is possible to play it safe.
But on the other hand, I’m playing it down. I’m making light of what could have been a very serious situation. People break bones in these kinds of accidents, and worse. We could have written off the car. We could have been stranded on the side of the road, in the dark. We were fine – we are fine – but there is always that what if?
We took a stupid, unnecessary risk, largely because of money. We thought, why spend $16 on a night’s accommodation in Esperance when we could stay for free a couple of hours away?
Thing is, our budget doesn’t allow us much room to pay a mechanic to fix our wreck of a car, either.
It was a Wednesday.
Just another day in WA. Note to self: don’t drive at dusk.
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