We were driving along the Esk Highway on our way to the East Coast when I turned to Steph and uttered the words. The words, so simple, yet so powerful that they are enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
I know a shortcut, I said nonchalantly. But, if I knew what would happen next, trust me, I would have have kept my mouth shut.
Somewhere nearby a flock of cockatoos took flight, a gecko fell off the low lying limb of an old gumtree, and old Mr Morrison, sitting on his porch, felt that twinge in his knee again.
We turned off the highway into the forest. Willow rolled her eyes.
We were on our way to the Bay of Fires to meet my brother and family. They were spending a few days away with my nephews, enjoying the beach and mountain biking tracks. So, as we abandoned the highway and cut through the bush on a bumpy dirt track we were very much looking forward to a night camping by the creek before we met them the next day.
And so, as the story goes, we were about 3kms from the creek. The thoughts of a lazy afternoon paddle boarding on the water were floating through my mind when I heard a whump.
Whump, whump, whump whump whump whump whump.
I held the steering wheel tight and pulled over as best I could on the narrow road. Steph and I got out of the van and we soon saw the problem. The rear driver’s side tyre was all out of whumps.
My heart sank as I thought of my quiet afternoon paddle quashed, replaced by a surprise appointment with six stubborn lug nuts. I poured some water over the tyre and found the spot where a sharp rock had pierced the rubber. But, not as sharp as the mood I was now in!
Then I had to remind myself that I was the one in control of the situation, not the tyre. Yes, the tyre was stuffed, but that didn’t mean my afternoon had to be.
I grabbed the compressor from out of the back of the van and pumped the tyre back up to its former glory – a short lived glory – but glory enough to get us safely down to the creek.
Now, I could have swapped the tyre with the spare as soon as we arrived at camp, but no. I was in no state of mind to be labouring over a lug wrench. I had better things to worry about.
As I climbed the ladder to retrieve the paddle board Willow jumped out of the van to explore our new camp. She watched as I put the board on the water, hopped on, and paddled out.
The afternoon was still and the sun low as I ventured up the creek. I saw other campers dotted along the shore in grass clearings manicured by the wallabies. The smoke from their campfires trailed up into the approaching evening.
Below me the fish darted past the board through the crystal clear water and crabs scurried away as I approached.
I breathed in deeply, and it was calm.
Further along, the creek narrowed and old rope swings overhung the water. I paddled as far as I could go without the bottom of the board scraping against the rocks – we didn’t need two punctures in one day! There I turned around and paddled back, the mild afternoon air soothing me along with the sound of the paddle patting the water with each stroke.
Willow and Steph were there waiting for me when I returned, Willow still unsure about his whole paddle board thing. Steph held me steady while I stepped back onto dry land.
I carried the board back to the van and knew I was ready.
So, when I had to crawl under the van to get the spare tyre down it didn’t bother me too much. And, when I had to stand on the wrench to loosen the lugs it didn’t rattle me.
And, when I thought about how much a new tyre costs it didn’t faze me. Nor did the mosquitos that bit at my ankles trouble me too much.
Willow was inside watching Steph cook dinner, and no sooner than when it was ready had I replaced the tyre and it was time to come in.
A knowing look from Willow told me what I already knew. A shortcut isn’t always shorter, but there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a quiet moment to yourself..
* * *
Yes, we made it to Binalong bay the next day and we had a great time with my brother’s family. We even took the paddle board in the surf with the nephews and caught a few decent waves!