What is it that motivates us to travel? It seems we often come to it when our life is at a Crossroads – and on the journey we take time to step back and assess our options, to process things that have happened to us. Sometimes when we feel stuck in our lives, we take a physical journey, hoping it will lead to psychological progression and life change. And sometimes the more we’re at a crossroads, the more we’re attracted to extreme destinations. None more so for me than on my trip across the Nullarbor Plain at the height of the Australian summer.
When I think of that trip I remember vast flat lands and wide skies. From the Bunda Cliffs, where you feel like you could run and then just drop off the edge of the world, to swathes of sand dunes at Fowlers Bay and the vast treeless plain of the Nullarbor. When you’re wrestling internally, the vast landscape has a calming effect. And sometimes it takes getting out of normal routine to show you what direction you really want to head in, to give you motivation to commit or re-commit to something or someone.
This is the only trip I’ve been on where I’ve slept in a swag – out under the stars in a big canvas bag, where you could look straight up at the domed sky as you fell asleep (with a slight sense of trepidation about possible snakes, spiders or scorpions deciding to slip into the swag spend the night with you). The wide expanse of the sky brings perspective and context to the decisions of individual human beings.
Everyone in our original Nullarbor tour group who braved the hottest part of the journey together, travelling for hours at a time in a minibus with malfunctioning air conditioning through 46 degree days, was at some sort of life junction. An overseas student finishing studies and about to return to her own country, an interracial student couple, a single mother and her son, an accident survior and his partner from another country, a woman who had nearly died and the friend and colleague who saved her, a traveller in search of love, a rural new couple, a widow on a first big trip without her husband, a man devoted to photography and me, and our guide. As we travelled we shared our stories between bus seats and we experienced many firsts together. Posing in front of the iconic Nullarbor signs, huddling under a cattle grid waiting for a road train to drive overhead, sleeping in swags on the empty plain at Afghan Rocks, swimming with dolphins and sea lions at Baird Bay, seeing the Big Galah, spotting yellow footed rock wallabies, Running down the sand dunes at Fowlers Bay and frolicking in the welcome cool of the sea at Streaky Bay.
I just heard last week that our guide on this trip, an excitement loving, well travelled, world weary man, had died. He died living a lifestyle he wanted to live. We were such children when he guided us across the plain: in awe of the sights, questioning the dangers and he drove, cooked, advised, entertained. He could certainly tell the tallest stories. I think of the song that somehow became our bus song on that trip: Starships (a song with some dubious lyrical content that I’d never heard before that trip). Whenever the chorus came on, ‘Starships were meant to fly, hands up and touch the sky’, we’d all do actions. It almost felt like our outstretched arms were flying us across the Nullarbor. When I’m stuck at a crossroads, I remind myself, ‘starships were meant to fly’. It tells me I’m meant for something new, a new life journey, a new life experience and I’m meant to embrace it, to fly. No matter what the lyrics meant originally, in the midst of the mundane they also remind me of the highs of life, the moments in the sun. Such as those minutes spent standing atop a perfect sanddune or singing with arms stretched wide as we moved through a landscape that stretched on farther than the eye could see. And when I need the impetus to move forward from life’s crossroads, I say to myself: ‘let’s do this one more time oh oh oh oh’.