I was expecting this to be the toughest drive of the trip. If I made it to the Saturday afternoon game in Adelaide, it would be 3 or 4 hours after that game on the road and then an incredibly early start and another 5 or 6 hours on the road straight to the ballpark.
The weather in Adelaide and the fire warnings for Victoria decided it for me. I wasn’t going to be un-airconditioned during the day if I could avoid it and I certainly wasn’t going to be free-camping in forest overnight with very little ability to keep track of, or predict any potential nearby fires. Straight through to Melbourne, comfortably air-conditioned for the worst of the heat was the plan.
Saturday morning saw a vague level of planning that checked the fire warnings, noted the big fires currently on the route and their closeness to the road. At that point in time the only thing to worry about was getting to the Ararat area after the wind change.
I left the Adelaide Hills which were already under an enormous pall of smoke from Friday’s Sampson Flat fire (pics in Adelaide game post), which to this point (it’s still burning as of 8 Jan) has burnt more than 12,500 Hectares and 27 homes, but amazingly no deaths and no serious burns. The firies did an amazing job on what is now a 240km perimeter and it’s definitely contained.
After finally getting out from under the smoke, I caught my first glimpse of the Murray River. The Murray completely dominates the water resources policy discussion in Australia, as well as being the subject of umpteen poems and ballads and stories we all learned in school. As I came into Victoria, that happened more and more and more – names of towns and hills and rivers dredged up ancient bits of doggerel poetry from Primary School that I’d no idea I’d kept in the back of my brain.
I took a lunch break in Bordertown. It was at least 43 degrees celcius, but I danced and punched the air for 1km round trip to the public toilets to wiggle out the driving aches. Once I had lunch sorted, I checked my messages. And. Oh.
If you don’t already know it, baseball people are the best people. I had offers of assistance and help and tickets and drinks from all over Australia. I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. I was and still am (and probably always will be) enormously grateful to all the people who I have never met who put their hand up to help me do this slightly odd quest. I’ve been hanging out with Aus baseball twitter for a few years now and Aus baseball Facebook for a much shorter length of time (and much more quietly). I never expected, nor dreamed of so much kindness. Thank you. So very, very much.
So after emailing and messaging and tweeting and Snapchatting (Hi, Jessica!), I got back on the road feeling very, very grateful.
I don’t know if anyone else remembers Saturday, 3rd January 2015 in Western Victoria, but I do. Pretty much as soon as I got into the state, I was looking at the grey clouds ahead of me and couldn’t work out if it was smoke or clouds. Of course, being Victoria, it was both.
I caught up to the change sweeping through and it was ridiculous. Pelting horizontal rain and bushfires popping up from little puffs of smoke to “Yep, that one needs the firies” over the span of about 10 minutes. When it wasn’t raining, I could see at least 5 solid bushfires on the horizon at all times. When it was raining, I was mostly just trying to keep the car on the road. Honestly, Victoria. Either one of the anxiety-producing weather conditions would have been enough.
The original plan was to choose whether to turn south at Horsham, but the updated map of Victoria burning suggested that was a much worse decision, so I pushed on through, on the super-optimistic advice of the Horsham BP “Well, the road’s not closed, so…?”. Also, don’t listen to the Ballarat ABC emergency radio if you’re feeling nervous. I was feeling nervous and a little shredded by Horsham, but the worst of it was actually behind me at that point. The front had gotten far enough in front of me that the crazy wind died down and it was just a steady, cold rain from that point.
Eventually got to Melbourne and feel into a shower and then fell into bed and slept for 10 hours straight.
Lesson 1 – Don’t drive from Adelaide to Melbourne on an extreme fire-risk day
Lesson 2 – Don’t drive from Adelaide to Melbourne in one day by yourself, if you can possibly avoid it
Lesson 3 – Hug a firie. Seriously, give a firie a sandwich, a coffee and a hug. They’re the best.
Lesson 4 – Australian baseball people are the absolute best.