Cruising Sand Dunes and Kissed Properly - Australian Hitchhiking Loop (Part 2)

Christian gave me a ride to the freeway after a brief trip into Melbourne, it was time to start the next and perhaps most memorable portion of my great hitchhiking loop back to Mandie's forest in time for another GLO dance. I stuck my thumb out on a city on ramp hoping for a prompt ride to propel me into the country and out of the city congestion.


I belted out lyrics to a song that only came to be as I belted it out, a smile on my face, "people not to often mean to me, still not too sure what that should mean to me, people say I have the means to be, meaningful, seemingly, but having seen all this scenery, I'm convinced its all dreamery, so as lucid as I can be, is as vivid as I will see".


A half an hour, maybe an hour, and a car stopped, a guy with his daughter in the front seat heading several exits down. After that was a ride from an Israeli guy who'd opened up a pizza shop in the next town over. Then there was a woman heading down the road to catch a protest rally about a coal power plant going up. We talked about solar power and this sort of thing, finally getting to town and parking, I walked by the park with people holding signs, her rally.


I kept walking through town, the place was jumping. The roads were packed, everywhere was jumping, the whole country had a rare five day weekend involving easter and anzac day, their memorial day. A mini van with a father and two sons picked me up, heading a few towns up the coast. The view out the window was a good one, vast ocean and coast line.


We fell into some near standstill traffic coming up into the next town, once we got close I hopped out, the guy handed me a bunch of mandarins from the place he worked at and I went on my way, strolling through town looking at the parks filled with people and packed campsites. I enjoyed the juicy fruit as I climbed a hill where the road wrapped up to a good lookout, I threw my bag down there deciding it was a good spot to hitch the next ride.


The next ride came, two girls from Melbourne, one originally from Astoria (New York City) where I used to live, the last place I actually lived before getting on with my travels close to four years ago. We got on great and cruised down the road swapping stories and laughs.


We stopped at the twelve apostles, a scenic spot along the way where big rocks shot out of the ocean like pillars. Being the extended holiday weekend, we were far from alone amongst the masses of people also wanting to see this right around sunset.


We kept on cruising, getting to a little town called Portland after dark. We stopped into a bar, all hungry and feeling a bit too sober with the talk of quality beer we'd enjoyed while driving. The place was fancied out with table cloths and folks wearing dress clothes, perhaps it was easter, we went back to the car and drove around until we found another place, "Where are the train tracks?", one of the girls asked, "I think we need to get on the other side of them".


They both got meals and a plate of garlic bread for me, we sat and talked a while with a couple rounds of beers while they explained Aussie Football rules to me as we watched it on the TV. We got back on the road and in about an hour we were in the small town they were booked into for the night, still a half hour shy of Mount Gambier, the town I was heading for where I'd gotten in touch with a couchsurfing host.


I wandered across a bridge under a streetlight hoping to catch the one last ride. No traffic at all. I waited longer still, eventually deciding I'd start walking, then a pickup truck came rolling by and pulled up for me. The cab stunk of fish, the result of his successful day at the ocean. He drove me the short way up the road and dropped me off right at the couchsurfing host's unit.


I went and knocked on the door, no answer, I knocked a few more times. All the windows were dark, it was around 10 or 11pm. I figured she was asleep perhaps and couldn't hear my knocking. I went looking around the neighborhood for lit windows, finding some and knocking on their door in hopes to borrow a phone and call her. Nervous people came to the door, talking to me through the screen, eventually dialing the number I gave them, but I could tell they skipped some numbers and pretended to hear the phone go to voicemail, "she's not there".


I decided I'd be camping, giving up on the couchsurfing for the night. I wandered the streets, eventually going towards a crater lake I saw on the map, poking around for a good while until finding some wooded area to tuck away in, probably walking and being more selective than necessary.


I woke up to find myself pretty well stashed away, I packed up and hiked my way through a fence and around the woods a bit until I was back crossing the road, then up to a point that overlooked the blue crater lake, fixing myself a peanut butter sandwich, contemplating the day ahead - it would be a good one.


I wandered down towards the main road, checking my messages at a McDonalds - nothing useful, back to the main road I went. I got to a point finally at the edge of town just past the train tracks where I could plop my bag down and start showing my thumb to passing cars.


Ben and Steve picked me up, two friends from the next town over about my age. They had a case of beer in the back and offered me one as we got cruising. They seemed amused by my travels and perhaps a bit inspired, I felt pretty relaxed and happy to meet some friendly people.


Ben brought up some caves we'd be passing, "I used to live in this small town and the caves were the only thing worth seeing, but I never actually went to them", he told me this and the three of us decided to go check them out


"I'll shout you in if it costs anything", Steve assured me, putting me at ease for that point. We went up and booked a tour in the mostly empty place, Steve put a coin in a machine that spit out another coin, a sort of commemorative collectors coin for the cave, he gave me the touristy gold thing and it would provide a joke here and there in the goings on later.


We waited by the car with some more beers until the tour started. The tour itself was just a woman bringing us and a few others into the cave and saying "check it out, ask me if you have questions". The cave was pretty amazing to look at, a small chamber with giant stalactites coming down from the ceiling. The story was some kid chasing his dog or some such stumbled upon it, told his parents and they bought the land, started giving tours eventually.


We drove off from there, more beers and talking about sand dunes and off roading and spotlighting kangaroos - things that could be done - they asked if I was up for any of this or was in a hurry to get to Adelaide, saying I could crash on Ben's couch that night even. I had no immediate hurry and in fact had nowhere to stay in Adelaide even if I were to get there.


We stopped in town, Millicent, going to Steve's dad's place to pick up some pot and switch to his four wheeler truck. His dad had some youth in him and a head full of news and politics. We talked for a few minutes, he was telling Ben about some girl in Asia he'd found online and was trying to get over to Australia to start getting serious. Ben and Steve later told me about a few nights ago when they'd gone to the bars with him and he'd broke out the coke and the night had gotten pretty wild - he seemed like he had a lot of party left in him.


We stopped for beer and got back on the road, heading towards the sand dunes. On the brink of them we stopped for a puff of the pot, then got cruising. "No need for seat belts out here, just gives you soar shoulders", Steve shouted back as we got bumping along.


We pounded over the sandy track, coming to a clearing where tracks in the sand went in all directions, mounds of sands like ramps all over. "This is your playground out here!", I shouted, smiling with the beginning of a beer buzz coming on. They smiled and we kept hopping down the track, bouncing ever more until we reached the ocean. We hopped out there and took in the waves hitting the shore.


Steve took a swig of beer looking out, "This is the real Australia, off the main road, you wouldn't see this any other way". I took a swig and nodded, appreciating his statement, appreciating hitchhiking, the beer in my hand and became conscious of the growing frequency of moments I had like that one - a flash of full appreciation for everything in the now, all that lead up to it, the momentum and where that momentum would potentially bring me, all at the same time having flashes of friends and family across the planet while remembering experiences I've had with them and will have that may or may not have any direct connection to the current moment other than the reoccurring and underlining thought of "good times". I was in the moment and every other moment that has been and will ever be, this is what I'm always after.


We popped right along after that, the gray skies of earlier in the day now turning to blue and sun breaking through. We paused on a sandy peak, just to pee. Some sort of police car drove by, I casually looked not sure if it was any matter. Steve talked to them for a minute and all was ok.


We saw a sign heading back to town I'd seen a few times in the country so far along the motorways, "Driver Reviver, Free Coffee".


"Is there really free coffee?", I asked.


They laughed, "I don't know, I've never been, I guess so."


Next thing we were going to investigate, stoned and beered up we rolled in, smirking to ourselves in ridiculous fashion. An old man sat at a picnic table and a couple women behind a counter, all smiles anticipating us as we walked up. Cheery and chipper, as if full of coffee themselves, they greeted us offered us coffee and snacks.


"Where you heading?", the asked. Ben was first to answer after a pause by all of us. "Kingston", he said. I didn't realize it at the time, hadn't even thought to think about it, but that was not where we were going, he'd just said it to make it seem like we were actually traveling in order to justify us taking advantage of the free coffee and all. Anyways, this story started spinning as more questions were asked, I could tell he was tripping over words and I was on to it then.


Before we'd dug ourselves too deep in the useless tale, another car pulled out with two girls on the travel coming from the other direction.


"Maybe we won't be heading there straight away after all...", he chipped in to the old man at the table sideways looking at the girls walking across the lot. The man smiled, standing up carefully to make room for the coming girls and the pending implied moves that were to take place. But nothing happened with that, the girls were from France or some such and none of us or them said anything interesting, so we slugged the last drops of our coffee and said our goodbyes and thanks.


We stumbled into the car, all bursts of laughter as we got in. "We really held ourselves together", I laughed. We eased up the road, Steve nervous but mostly laughs.


"OK... ", still laughing, "should we actually go that way...", I realized then about the false town, part of the spun tale was us going to the next town far down the road, to the right, but we were actually going to the left just to where we'd come from - in another burst of laughter we peeled out to the left. I saw the old man behind standing and watching with a look of confusion as the unnecessary coffee con men disappeared down the road.


We headed to Ben's house after, kicking around an Aussie football in the backyard for a while waiting for some sort of plan to unfold or come to us. That plan became to hop in the car to go to a park now that it was coming towards sunset, the goal to see a kangaroo. This would always be the goal in Aussie for my trip, to see the elusive kangaroo in the wild. Any and every Aussie would find this ridiculous, including Ben and Steve, "What?! You haven't seen a roo? They're bloody everywhere, pests really. You'll always see them just at sunrise and sunset. I know this place where there's hundreds of them!", this was said by all of them.


We headed for the park where we wouldn't see a one, but instead Steve decided to donuts in the grass, we spun around several times, eventually driving off, but not more than 20 meters where we realized we'd rim rolled the tire.


He had a spare in the trunk, we laughed at it and they got to jacking up the car to fix it. In this time a ranger came by. The ranger asked if we planned on camping, seeing their tent thrown out on the field, but this was only thrown out because everything in the trunk was emptied out to get to the tire. This turned out to be ok because it somehow distracted the ranger to the fact that his lovely grass was torn up in donuts and we were changing our tire essentially caught red handed in the tracks of it, instead he was worried we were camping in a no-camping zone, oblivious.


We assured him we weren't camping, Steve got the tire fixed quickly and we were rolling out before the ranger could become any the wiser.


We stopped by the house again, meeting one of their friends, then soon were on route to the local bar. We sat drinking at a table for a bit, then Steve was keen to try his luck at the pokies (slot machines). He lost some, then won some more, as these things go, but ending on a good win. We moved over to a table by the bar along with some other people, someone's family. Steve shouted me a kangaroo steak meal, "if you can't see one at least you can eat one!", I munched it happily while telling stories of travels to people at the table.


We moved back to the bar after good and full, I talked to a girl about New York and the USA.


"I'm OBSESSED with America!", she told me over and over, continuing on about the places she wanted to go in New York and everywhere, I told her as much as I could, but she was more onto the idea of being blindly obsessed and didn't really listen to any of the specifics I mentioned. Some others at the bar thought it was funny I was hitchhiking, and that "Ben and Steve would be the ones to pick up a hitchhiker, of course", laughs and talk about all this.


Steve took off at some point, the beers or something else had caught up with him and he'd had it. I sat at a table with Ben and a few others talking and finishing our drinks. Phones started messaging and ringing and calling out as the rest of us weren't content to call it a night, soon I was in a car with Ben and a couple others in search of what was next. Some were dropped off, some were scooped up and soon there was a few of us going into a girl's house who we found in her bed with a small white dog, we were rousing her up, drunk in the night.


The girl seemed beautiful and I was impressed she wasn't more or really at all upset that she was getting stormed in on. We hung around there for just a bit, probably taking a shot of one thing or a sip of something else. I spied a rubix cube on a shelf and picked it up to start to get it in order, one of the girls around, Autumn was her name, saw me doing this.


"Can you solve that?", she asked me. She was a cute girl in the night with a lip piercing, short dark hair and a snarky smile.


"I'll give it a go", I smiled back.


"You know the algorithms, don't you!", she accused, I just smiled back blankly. "You'll act like you can't do it and think I'll be impressed. The algorithms, you know them don't you?", I laughed and kept at it.


A minute later I handed it to her, complete, "impressed?".


"Oh! I knew it, you know the algorithms, that's how you did it!".


"You do it", I told her, she looked down and messed it up, then got to putting it back together again, a few minutes or so later she had it sorted and smiled.


"Not as quick as you, but there it is".


We hopped back in a car and wound up at Ben's house with two of the girls, Autumn and another. We spent another hour or so kicking around eating meat pies and sipping beer and wine, a big flirtatious back and forthing between Autumn and me and all of us really, knocking America, knocking Australia and laughs of all sorts. Autumn, at one point, started scribbling fiercely on a piece of paper listing all the kings of england or some place in order, as if we'd challenged her that she couldn't, but really she just brought it up that she could do it and challenged herself, finally presenting the paper to me as if I were to check her work. "See!", she said, I could only look and laugh.


At last the night had gone on long enough and the girls were getting up to go. In the doorway Autumn looked up at me, "Can I kiss you?", she asked. I smiled and nodded, the only reasonable response to such a question. She leaned in and gave me quick peck on the lips, then leaned back again, "Can I kiss you properly?", she smiled, as did I, again giving the only reasonable response. She leaned in again and we kissed, properly, the others nearby and laughing. She leaned back again and popped out the door with a goodbye, the girls turned a corner and were gone.


Somewhere in the early morning I heard Ben going out the door, "I'm going to an ANZAC service, be back in a while", he said, I fell back to sleep. I woke up hours later, he was still gone. I got up and wandered outside, from the backyard Steve emerged, he'd apparently been back there camping in the yard, that's where he strayed off to from the bar.


We talked a while, Ben eventually came back and there were quiet recollections of the night before and plans on the day. I got a shower in and soon decided it was time to go, back to the road towards Adelaide and beyond. Ben gave me a lift to the motorway, on to the next adventure.

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