A week on the road

I travelled by car to Melbourne and back for a conference. It taught me more about myself than I expected.
Selfie taken at Thunder Point, Victoria

On Sunday 2 October, early in the morning, I piled bags into the back of my silver Kia Rio, plonked my pixie on the front seat (where she looked amazing on the passenger-side KISS car seat cover), arranged water and music and notebooks and pens (in case I was struck by inspiration along the way), gazed fondly at the front of my house, in which was my husband, and started the car.

I took a deep breath. Driving approx 700 km in a day is no mean feat, even for a seasoned long-distance driver like me. I was nervous, because last time I was at my sister’s, I inexplicably lost my voice and we ended up in a huge argument, even though I couldn’t say anything. I was excited because I had a whole lot of family and friends lined up to visit, plus my first ever conference gig as a content strategy professional. And I was speaking at said gig.

Travel Diary & CS Forum 16

The next week was going to be a gigantic effort. I’d been relatively isolated for a few months. My head had been down and I’d been focused on my business. Much of my other efforts had kind of started to fade. The garden is growing, my book had stalled, my course had stalled, and all I was doing was focusing on delivering value to others, being cool about things, getting metrics and systems really rocking for the first time. I’d not been to many events, I’d been saving my money, not going out, not even really dancing a whole lot.

During this time I also (this is way too much information, but fuck it) experienced a haemorrhoid, which totally stopped me in my tracks. I felt betrayed by my own arsehole. My health practitioner asked me, when I went to see her, what I hadn’t done but felt like I should be doing. There were a heap of things, and I was embarrassed to admit it. She told me that the physical effects were related to my mental state, that I’d been piling a ton of pressure onto myself and that if I didn’t deal with it, that it would get worse. She proceeded to tell me to be kind to myself. And then explained what that meant: Scheduling time daily, small amounts of time, to address the things I wanted to do.

I was being told that I need to take my own advice. Humbled and more than a little bit ashamed that I’d ignored myself for so long, I meekly accepted her healthcare, her good advice, and her wisdom, and paid the bill.

And then went and did things like write the talk for this conference I was now going to. Happily, since then the physical thing had abated and I was on my way. My diet had changed dramatically in the three weeks prior to the trip, and I was nervous about what travel and tiredness would do. So, in a bid to stay kind to myself, I kind of planned ahead – mentally anyway – what I’d buy and eat where, and how to deal with hours and hours of inactivity.

The drive over was supremely awesome. I discovered new cafes, I revelled in the solo time, I spent the first three quarters of my journey from Adelaide to Hamilton rehearsing my speech.

To clarify, I didn’t write the speech. I had loosely planned a structure; I settled on an opening and a flow; and I pretty literally coloured in the blank space in between. I knew I had 35 minutes, and the preparation involved talking it out, refining it, talking it out, refining it, talking it out, refining it. To tell a story, I had to create a flow. It was very unlike me not to write something. But truthfully, I didn’t write anything until I’d decided on things a few iterations in; and then what I did write was a few notational signposts more than anything else.

The drive was great for thinking about tonation, flow, and gap. I could time it easily (the car has a clock in front of me), and it literally ate up the time on the way.

Then I started to worry about losing my voice, so I stopped and listened to the many-CDs-long recordings of Jim Rohn’s Creating an unshakable character. I’d gotten most of the way through the deck of CDs by the time I got to Hamilton.

It was my niece’s 12th birthday. The night before, she’d had a bunch of friends over. They’d drowned themselves in sugar and being awake. The result? Taylor was asleep; she’d been sick; her parents were concerned about her. In between showing me the videos the girls had made of themselves miming to old ’80s tracks.

All I could think was, Thank fuck there were no video cameras when I was growing up! Ha!

That day and the day after were filled with family and conversations and friends. I went to visit my oldest friend (we knew each other in utero) and walked through her amazing property, and hung out with her little girl, and drank too many cups of tea. I drove through to Ballarat, listening to Mr Rohn, admiring the landscape I’d grown up in, and wishing I’d never left.

For the first time in my adult life I started regretting ever leaving rural Victoria. People there seem to have their shit together in a really meaningful way. Now, I realise that this is entirely a daydream, a grass-is-greener kind of effect. But they’re all within a few hours’ drive of each other at most. Not a whole day away, like I am. Their lives feel difficult to them, but to me – a person whose life is filled with striving and thinking and change – they seem so simple and grounded. They grow their food, they have families, they spend their lives loving and living, and that’s enough.

It’s more than enough. And it’s so damned refreshing.

By the time I got to Ballarat, though, I was pretty knackered. I’d been on the road for two days. I’d been Little Miss Social (after being relatively isolated for a few months), and I’d had about 4 hours’ sleep the night before. Then when I got to my cousin’s place, his kids (who are absolute whirlwinds of brilliant energy) consumed me until bed time.

Despite sleeping like the dead, I was tense about driving through Melbourne the next day. And I didn’t want to miss saying goodbye in the morning. I was staying and working in my cousin’s house until the afternoon, but the family was all bailing: Childcare and work called, from very early. So I still felt unrested.

Then when the wind, rain and hail kicked in, all I could think was, fuck me I have to drive in Melbourne traffic, on Melbourne roads, and I have No Fucking Idea where I’m going. And in Ballarat, Google Maps doesn’t work because the mobile connections are pretty rubbish.

After agonising most of the day, drinking loads of tea, and walking around on Ryan’s beautiful, warm, floor-heating-soft-slidey-floor, I decided to get my shit together. How hard could it be? How much choice do I have? And if it goes wrong, I know tons of people in Melbourne city. And I’m an RAA member. And … so on.

So, I focused. I got my slide deck started. I re-ran my speech about four times, to the back room, with a timer. I breathed and meditated. I ate. I packed, and I departed.

It turned out that I was better at remembering and navigating Melbourne than I’d remembered. Yes, I took a few wrong turns, and yes I went around in circles, but by and large it was fine.

My accommodation was easy to find, and my roomies were already there. They were Kiwis. I’d never met them. I was on the phone when Max came down in the lift to find me, and very happily played concierge when I arrived.

To my utter delight, my new friends from New Zealand felt like people I’d known my entire life. And for the next few days, we talked each others’ ears off. The conference was hands-down freaking amazing. And my speech went down wayyyyy better than I anticipated. I thought that a few smiles would be incredible. But I got gushings of emotion, lots of love, lots of questions, and a whole lot of respect. I got the audience to stand and stretch and breathe and give each other compliments. And then I performed. The best thing was that when I sat down for my mental rehearsal just prior to actually doing it, I hit on a few jokes that made me giggle, and they all went down a treat.

Every speaker was amazing. Every part of the conference was nicely handled. Everybody was professional. The entire profession seemed to turn out its best colours, make friends, inspire each other, and support each other. I met a whole lot of massively significant people in the field, including those like Rachel Lovinger and Kristina Halvorson, who are widely credited with its Big Bang.

And as for me? Well, I made friends, met fans, and generally speaking had an amazing time.

Then, on Friday, I cancelled everything.

By Friday, I was exhausted. I’d had a blast but the constant socialising, low sleep hours, and self-motivational-talks every day were pretty draining. Then, leaving our AirBnB at 10 am, I couldn’t exactly leave my vehicle at the accommodation, and traipse around Melbourne. My mate (with whom I’d intended to stay) didn’t finish work until 6; another one was working in another suburb; and it was just absurdly difficult.

So I decided to go surprise mum and dad by turning up early. Driving Melbourne to Warrnambool is an easy drive, and a gorgeous one at that. On the way, I found out that it was the last day of car manufacturing in Geelong that day. I discovered the intense beauty of Camperdown & regions. And I stood at Thunder Point in Warrnambool by myself and remembered that my Granny, who so loved Thunder Point, and with whom we took photos every time we visited from when we were children, was dead. And I made a promise to the spirits of the sea that I’d go and take selfies every time I was in Warrnambool, to continue the tradition in her honour.

Selfie taken at Thunder Point, Victoria

When I got to mum and dad’s, I pulled up and mum leaned out of the kitchen to have a look. It took her a moment to realise it was me. Then, with a squeal of delight she raced out and hugged me. What a welcome! Surprise! I was a day early.

We had an amazing just-short-of-24-hours together. And then it was back on the road for the longest leg yet: Tower Hill to Adelaide, via Mt Gambier and the Coorong. It took me nearly 9 hours, but only because I took it easy (read: Under 100 kph) through the roo-filled state parks, stopped along the Coorong to take photos, and spent time regenerating in Mt Gambier and Meningie. The 120km or so between Millicent and Kingston SE seemed to take a hundred billion years, and for the first time on the whole trip I became quite terrified of being in a crash. It’s a remote road; it has very little traffic; there are very few people. Lots of cows, not many people.

But I survived. On the way back, I listened to Nevermind in its entirety in the first time in what would be something like 18 years. I listened to the Tygers of Pan Tang, AC/DC, Skid Row, KISS, Soundgarden, and a bunch of other Nirvana albums including Incesticide.

By the time I got back to Adelaide, I felt like I’d achieved so much. I’d driven close to 2000km in seven days, alone. I’d navigated Melbourne by myself, without a Melways, for the first time in my life. I’d crashed in accommodation with three strangers, made friends with a whole lot of people, made myself go to the conference party when I didn’t want to, and really enjoyed myself. I made decisions to be kind to myself. I reconnected with my inner teenager and made peace with some elements in my life. I’d performed in my first major conference, on the main stage, and kicked arse doing it. I missed my husband unbelievably, which made my resolve to level up so he can travel with me even stronger.

Panorama of the Coorong in October 2016
Panoramic shot of The Coorong. Stunning.

It’s been a crazy week, but now I’m facing The Real World tomorrow, and kind of dreading going back into the same old cycle. There’s one thing about breaking out of your routine: It shows you why making yourself uncomfortable, why going out of your zone, why doing things differently is so important. And after a week of being pretty well disconnected from the usual Watching The World Online routine, it’s empowering. I came back to my life here knowing that my life is what I make it, that it’s ok to live here and not over there (as much as I am part of the country back home, and miss it terribly). I have rediscovered parts of myself I’d forgotten in the past six months.

Travelling by car through Australia isn’t the done thing, for people who travel for work. But when your family isn’t on a flight path, when your home lands can only be reached by road, sometimes it’s viable – even necessary. This week was as much a spiritual event for me as anything else. I celebrated my niece’s birthday with her; I visited mum for her birthday; I shared time with cousins. I sent my love and greetings to the water in every location, from Melbourne to Lake Alexandrina. And I lived just until bed time every single day.

It’s pretty amazing how much you can achieve in a day, on very little sleep, when your only aim is to live well that day.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be all out of my comfort zone again, but this time in far northern Queensland. Stay tuned for more adventures, lessons, and life.

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