Leg One — Sydders to Brissy — 1050 kms
[image: tit stop #1, five minutes from home]
I’d kept the baby awake through two normal nap times in the flurry of packing and cleaning, so was hoping their usual hatred of the car would be dulled by sheer exhaustion. Sure enough, I turned on the engine, shoved them in their capsule, leapt into the driver’s seat, and with a sigh of relief saw their little eyes droop closed in the rear vision mirror. I waved to my sister and my bestie, silently mouthing “goodbye” so as not to wake the baby. Then, four hours after my planned departure time, I eased into peak hour Sydney traffic, trailing my little polkadot caravan behind me. Two minutes later, having made it 500m down the road to the harbour bridge turnoff, the baby started screaming blue murder so we made our first tit-stop (pitstop for breastfeeding). At this point I thought very seriously about turning around and going back home to my nice warm clean little apartment. But I didn’t. Mostly because unpacking the car again felt like even more effort than doing a six month road trip. I fed bub and then we got back in the car, but by the harbour bridge the screaming had started again. Despite my attachment parenting instincts to pick up a crying baby immediately, I pushed on (there was nowhere to pull over!) and after about ten minutes they fell blessedly asleep. I drove for four hours straight without stopping to do a wee, terrified the whole drive that I’d arrive at our family friend’s and not be able to park the caravan.
As we pulled into Forster, the baby woke up and screamed so hard that I eventually had to stop. My bladder was fit to burst, but we were on a very well-lit grass verge opposite a pizza shop, so there was no chance of a curbside wee. The GPS said we were eight minutes from our destination. I called the friend and she said, “eight minutes? Great! I’ll come wait out front!”
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “We’re eight minutes away and we’ve had to stop. We’ll be at least half an hour.”
Somehow I held my wee in and eventually we arrived at stop #1. Hot dinner, clean sheets, and a shower. I felt like I’d been on the road for weeks. It had only been four hours.
Waking up the next morning overlooking the beach I felt light. I’d done it. My baby was gorgeous in cute new peach overalls, the view was divine, the weather was already getting warmer, and life was just going to keep on getting better! Buoyed up by the four hour stint I’d managed the day before, I decided to do another long stretch. I set my friend’s house in Bello in sight for night #2. Bub and I hung out on the beach for the morning, pushing through the morning nap, and then hit the road in time for the midday nap. I thought I was being clever. I thought the baby would be extra tired and would sleep for twice as long. Not so. Just as we hit 50km of roadworks the baby woke up. There was nowhere to pull over. I drove for fifty minutes at 40km an hour with an hysterical baby screaming in the back until I found somewhere to stop. There was a ginormous shitty nappy waiting for me that had oozed out onto the baby capsule. I had no running water. I managed to clean the worst of it up and then we limped 10km further to a truck stop. There was a stinking drop-toilet, a bit of gravel, and a heap of truckies. I set up our picnic blanket and got my boob out, and made peace with the thought of staying there the night. Three hours later it was dusk and the baby was showing signs of sleepiness so I made a mad dash the last 50km, via a Chinese takeaway for dinner. Blessedly there was plenty of on-street parking at the friend’s, so I didn’t need to manoeuvre the caravan at all. And another hot shower, another proper bed, and yippeeee a washing machine! At the friend’s we dithered around for two days washing nappies, lunching at cafes, and babywearing for sedate little bush walks. I also spent a lot of time reshuffling things in the car, and there was a glorious moment where bub fell out of the caravan and into the gutter while I was refilling our water bottles. I called the health helpline and then panicked and hung up when they asked for my name. Babies in gutters wasn’t a good look, I suspected.
[image: our first camp]
After two nights I packed up all the clean dry nappies and we trundled off to Minnie Water National Park for our first spot of camping. It was a short drive but we didn’t arrive until dark, thanks to a three hour tit stop at a quiet beach along the way. I was starting to enjoy these enforced pauses—already I was seeing places I’d normally just zoom past, and with no strict deadlines these pauses were able to become adventures of their own. This was also our first night on our own—just me and my little baby under a blanket of bright stars, the surf crashing softly nearby. I felt bold, and free, and capable. A friend drove down to meet us for the second night and we went skinny dipping, had a fire, and did a bush walk into the tiny town for ice creams and vanilla slice. The water pump on the caravan wasn’t working, but other than that, with the campsite set up properly and a few days to get into the rhythm of things, I started to feel excited about the trip ahead. Up until this point, if I’m honest, I’d mostly just felt extreme anxiety. How far would I be able to get each day before the baby woke up and screamed? What if we had to stop miles from a suitable campsite? Would I be able to park the caravan easily when we needed to stop? Or would I have to drive on and on, while the baby screamed on and on, trying to find enough curb space??
[image: skinny dipping at Minnie Water]
My brief joy was swiftly undone the next afternoon when my GPS led me astray on the drive from Minnie Water to Lezmore. My friend had gone on ahead to prepare for our dinner party, and bub and I got stuck on some random road in the middle of nowhere, breastfeeding on someone’s lawn. It was a very green lawn for a property in the bush. They must have had a massive water bill. Eventually we made it to town, where a bunch of queers and their kids descended to meet my new kid, who promptly grizzled the whole way through dinner, belying my promises that they really were a very sweet little thing. The next day the door on the caravan refused to lock. What with that and the water pump, and of course the earlier dead battery and broken tv, I was starting to feel pretty pissed off. By the time I’d got the caravan stuck in a dead end road while trying to find the nudist tea tree lake for a midday swim, my anxiety was back up to high.
That night bub and I moved on to Tumbulgum, to a luxurious house on the river that my aunt was housesitting. I sat on the verandah breastfeeding and watching the world float by, trying to soak up the calm. I washed more nappies. I ate chocolate and drank wine. I tried not to think about the caravan. The following day I made a snap decision to drive backwards. The friends I’d seen in Lezmore had invited me up to their communal land, and I wanted to stay the night. So in the early evening I put a tired baby in the car and, against my better judgement, backtracked an hour. It took me two. I don’t know how many tit stops we made but there were so many that by the time I made it to our friends’ I was having serious conversations with myself about going back home. “What on earth made me think this was a good idea?!” I groaned. To which one of them responded with a story of a trip to Perth where she’d had to swing her baby to sleep in the capsule, in the red dust by the side of the road, and then leap into the van as it slowly passed her, sleeping babe in hand. Two wines later, by the side of a gently dying fire, sounds of the bush all around me and my beautiful baby in my lap, I was feeling better once again. The next day I drove straight to a caravan repair shop (via lunch at the pub with an old school mate), and bub and I played by the side of the road while they fixed the broken door. The pump, sadly, was a lost cause, though I carted 50 litres of water around with me for the entire road trip in the hopes that this would change. I coughed up several hundred dollars to the repair guy, put baby in the car yet again, and then we drove the final hour of the first leg, from the Gold Coast up to Brissy, where I promised us both that there’d be no more driving for a while.
[Sydders = Sydney, Bello = Bellingen, Lezmore = Lismore (a place that harbours lots of lesbians), and Brissy = Brisbane, for those of you readers who are unfamiliar with Australian slang]
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