Melbourne to Perth - more tales from the Tour Down South
Those hand made doughs, with the breath of the Antarctic in them, found their way to Knoxfield, a 'light industrial' suburb in Melbourne's sprawling urban network. There, I found Southern Biological, the warehouse site of my next Bush Baking workshop.
Heather, an owner of the business, contacted me some time back when I was planning this journey. She had previously made the trip to the Hunter Valley to attend one of my Sourdough 101 workshops. She convinced me that her space was well suited to running a Bush Baking Workshop, despite the fact that it was a warehouse in the middle of an industrial area of Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia.
She was, of course, totally correct. Her business supplies schools around the country with the essential materials they need to teach the Biological Sciences. This means, among other things, she cultivates various organisms, including algae, ampicillin, 'pond life' (seriously) and even cockroaches, for distribution to science labs around this wide brown land. As such, Heather is well versed with natural processes; but after reading prodigious volumes of sourdough recipes and techniques, and after having attended one of my workshops, she really was struggling with her sourdough game. She was willing to host a workshop so that she could attend and hopefully figure out what was happening in her own sourdough practice.
Lo and behold, on the day, we found ourselves with a brains trust of sourdough geeks who were all well versed in the complexities and intrigues of baking sourdough at home. Heather was totally at home amongst these experienced bakers (from all walks of life). Was there a happy ending for Heather? Yes, jumping forward a month or so, she sent me pictures of her first 'sole baked sourdough success', and I gotta say my heart was very proud - not only for her success, but also for her sheer tenacity in getting the thing that had eluded her for so long to behave.
The Melbourne workshop was a heap of fun, and I really enjoyed camping with Pippa and Mishka in a warehouse/laboratory.
Next on the sourdough workshop trail was Adelaide. This meant that I got to drive the Great Ocean Road in its entirety - stopping at will to set up 'the Boudoir' (my travelling bedroom on the opposite side of the trailer to the classroom) in lots of random places along the way. I will write about this 'journey within a journey' in a separate post - but let's just say this part of the world is not short on scenic spectacularity, and where you find the views, you also find the caravan parks. Some mighty fine places to rest along this route, I gotta say.
The Adelaide workshop was to be held at Brahma Lodge, hosted by some amazing women who had been following my Facebook page for some time, eager to get more into it all. Leanne and Sue have, for many years, built a productive urban food resource (among other things) on their suburban plot on the north side of Adelaide. Venturing into the backyard at their place involves a collision of art, farming and culture, as you begin to experience what can be done with a suburban back yard in a suburb on the outskirts of a city. Mind you, these days Brahma Lodge is positively inner urban, as Adelaide has spread out. In this context, what Leanne and Sue have achieved with not much more than 250 sq metres of backyard is nothing short of amazing.
Our workshop was also amazing, with some serious baking talent showing up - including two of my best long term bread customers, who had recently moved from Newcastle to Adelaide. Quite a surprise - apparently their bread fix hadn`t been satisfied of late, so they decided to make it themselves.
I guess my business model is working.
After the workshop I did a bit of a map from where I was to Perth, where I had arranged to meet an old friend in five days` time. For some reason I had been thinking I could just coast across the Nullabor and make it to Perth with time to spare. Then I added up the distance - 2700 kilometres - the Nullabor only really being a bit less than half of the distance in total. Doing the sums, I quickly worked out I had to cover about 550 k per day.
I had a few last minute bits to sort out before I left - to fix a tyre on the trailer (a slow leak which I had been living with for months), and apparently my air filter also needed replacing. I had to make sure I had something in case of flat tyres, and some basic things like lots of water, batteries, tarps, metho, propane and ice for the long distance camping realities. I had been flat out setting up and running the workshop, so hadn`t yet got to these chores.
The Nullabor, for me, was just a little bit scary. Everyone told me about how big it is, and how prepared one had to be. I felt totally underprepared, and I guess I faffed around for the first day making sure that I was indeed properly prepared for my long solo journey in my 16 year old Toyota and Bush Baking trailer, with two animals on board. I was not exactly cashed up either - I had just enough money for a few days` fuel, with a bit of money floating across to me in drips and drabs from various jobs I had been working on before I left. Thus, cashflow came into play. Nothing like living in the moment, I like to say.
All this `preparation` took the better part of a day, so I ended up having to make the remaining 2500 ks left to Perth in just four days. My daily average distance now had to be over 600 ks. I was starting to panic just a little bit. I hadn`t even begun the Nullabor - I was still on the edge of it after the second day of driving. And the entire Nullabor Plain was not as far to cross as the eastern part of WA was to Perth.
The animals had not yet experienced long days in the car, so I chose to stop every few hours so they could get out and stretch their legs. The sight of the three of us hopping out of the car in the middle of nowhere, with Pippa immediately dashing off into the scrub chasing her ball, and while there stopping for a good old sniff, thereby losing her ball; simultaneously with arthritic Mishka delicately traversing the dry clay ground, like someone walking over broken glass, and me in my stiff old baker`s body, gradually unwinding from the seated position I`d been in for hours, was at times comical to the outside observer. Once or twice Mishka decided to make his feelings about long car trips known by disappearing into the scrub and not answering my increasingly frantic calls until he was good and ready. Cat time doesn`t relate to human time - a fact that I now appreciate better. Of course, he was never more than a few paces away from me - but he was just making himself invisible; primarily, I`m sure, to piss me off. He`s very good at this. I`ve been getting pissed off with him now for 16 years; he had just found a new way to do it, and I`m pretty sure he was as excited about this new weapon as I was annoyed and a bit anxious about the crazy idea of taking a cat in a car across the country.
There are lots of places where travellers can pull up and camp right the way across the Nullabor, and I came to appreciate them more and more as the trip went on. Some campspots were utterly spectacular - perched just high enough the low scrub to be able to take in the full immensity of the plain and the night stars. Despite these welcome respites, days driving alone, with no radio reception and no internet, kind of sent me a little troppo. I recorded lots of voice memos, sang acapella badly, and managed to invent numerous bakery related devices with all that free mental space. I guess it was productive - stay tuned for the podcast!
I found the feel and look of the Nullabor to be constantly surprising. While there were a few salt pans, I gotta say I didn`t see any actual desert. The earth was covered the whole way with life - low scrubby plants, acacia bushes and even forested regions. Judging by the amount of roadkill, there are plenty of kangaroos there as well.
I concentrated on conserving fuel all the way across - the enormous road trains could be tagged behind, and if you got the distance between the truck and the car right, you missed out on losing your windscreen while still being able to get maximum fuel efficiency. I did try to get right up close behind them to see how big the drafting effect was, but found myself dodging rocks and stones more often than was comfy, so I hung about 50 metres back and just allowed these huge trucks to cover some of the fuel cost instead of me. Over the years I`ve done a heap of cycling, and learned how effective the `peleton` is at reducing wind resistence. The same applies here.
Day 3 or 4 and I was beginning to catch up on time, though today the wind was huge and scary. I found myself getting blown all over the road, with the Bush Bakery acting like a sail catching strong cross winds. I tried to sit on the tail of the road trains again, but the wind was making the task feel very scary indeed. I judged my fuel badly - partly due to the fact that servos now were charging over $2.30 a litre, making my 140 litre capacity very expensive to fill; I kept hoping that the price would begin to drop as I got closer to Perth - but at every roadhouse, the price just kept going up. I figured I could just make it to the next town - I think I was actually across the Nullabor by now, and was in WA - but still, the gaps between fuel stations were often in the hundreds of kilometers. I arrived at my chosen destination (Calguna? I'm crap at journalism, but I think this is the general area) bone dry, but grateful to have made it. A big BP roadhouse on the edge of a patch of `desert` can be a welcome sight at these times, until one approaches the door and reads a hand written note (looking not exactly freshly written) apologising for closing due to a `family emergency`. Judging by the aging paper, I concluded that the family emergency was sustained. This servo had shut down, and I had about three drops of fuel and sixty more kilometers to the next town. Joy.
I have a relationship with the Muse, from time to time. On this day I must have been singing to Her and She could well have enjoyed my efforts. I don`t really know what happened, but at that time I was beyond believing in luck.
Nonetheless, I decided to drive as fuel efficiently as possible as far as I could get, and just camp there. It was mid winter - darkness began a bit after five, so I only had an hour till I had to stop anyway. Mostly, people don`t drive at night in these areas unless they have to. There will be animals, and some of them are pretty hard to miss. Better to park and rest. Much more civilised, as well.
I really didn`t think I could get 60 kilometers on the amount of fuel I had. Let tomorrow happen tomorrow, I thought. Just get as far as you can today.
I accelerated very slowly, working to keep the revs as low as possible while I allowed momentum to do its job. Eventually I got to 80ks. I have two tanks in the Toyota, and they were both getting close to empty (and I mean well below the line at the bottom - I mean EMPTY). I decided to run the reserve tank until it gasped, and then flip over to the main tank for as far as it would get me. The rest of the day had been a struggle with a constant side wind, which frequently became a headwind. I fully expected the final part of the journey to be the same.
Lo and behold! The Muse must have had a whisper to the powers that be at the Weather Bureau! The wind swung around behind me and literally propelled me down the road as if I was sitting behind a road train. I found that a fairly constant 90 kph gave me the lowest revs per kilometer with these conditions, and with the wind at my back for the first time in days, I covered the 60 kilometers to the next town well before dark. I think this may have been Belladonia, but I've been wrong before. Safely ensconsed in the caravan park in the first actual town I had seen since back in SA, me and the Creatures (Pippa and Mishka, as they shall become known from this point forward) stretched our legs and set up the Boudoir for the night.
I was left to ponder. Was it the Muse, or just Dumb Luck? Or was it actually extremely high levels of driving skill coupled with superb mathematical ability?
Perth was only a stone`s throw away now - maybe a day and a bit. I had actually volunteered to pick up my friend at the airport, so time was pretty crucial in the equation. These last couple of days saw me ramping up the daily averages significantly. I had been making a point of hitting the road as early as possible each day, and staying out on the highway as long as was workable with the Creatures. Inevitably, it was a war of attrition, and despite my poor start, I seemed to be winning it. The distance remaining was finally looking manageable in the time I had left.
And how did I go with the cashflow? Well, the same night I made the town (name?) with the wind at my back, I also had a record day for bookings to my other series of workshops, the Soursough 300 series (being held in October back in the Hunter Valley). Suddenly the Gods, or Dumb Luck, seemed to be smiling on me.
PS. I arrived at the airport ahead of time. My friend`s flight, however, was running four hours late.