Thursday, March 27, 2008

J Is For Journey

Rain Clouds Bring Hope For The Outback

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


You might not grasp the significance of the first photograph in this series that I shot yesterday, but those are rain clouds on the horizon. Rain clouds? Yep, real rain. And believe me when I tell you that's a big deal in this country.

Here in Melbourne, where I live, we've just had the hottest start to autumn in almost a century. A week ago, we were sweltering in unseasonal temperatures of 100+ degrees Fahrenheit. Our lawn, seemingly resistant to every hot dry spell of weather that we've ever had, finally started to succumb. The emerald green sheen disappeared, slowly but inexorably replaced by widening dun patches that were the colour and consistency of hay.

Then we drove to Sydney for Easter (yes, that's why you haven't heard from me in a week) and as we hit the outskirts of Sydney, we could see the difference. They've had lots of rain while we've been parched. Their paddocks were green, as far as the eye could see. As we got into the city, we could see green grass - a rarity in Victoria, our home state.

Then, as we prepared to drive home to Melbourne yesterday, the clouds began to gather as we packed for the journey of almost 1000 kilometres. We were still on the M5 motorway out of Sydney when the rain started and, for what seemed like the first time in months, I actually had to switch on my windscreen wipers. The horizon got darker over the hills we would have to traverse, and I knew the driving conditions were soon going to get a lot tougher.

Before midday, the weather was was so challenging that it was like driving in the gathering gloom of dusk. Not only was I driving with my lights on, I also resorted to a wonderful safety protocol I learnt in England more than twenty years ago. Because the visibility was nearing the critical grey-out stage, I put on my Ray-Bans. If you've never used high-quality dark glasses in smog or bad light, try it and you'll see what I mean. Their lenses bring a touch of definition to a scene that would otherwise be just an undistinguishable meld of various hues of grey.


But I knew that there was a section of the Hume Highway where extensive roadworks were being carried out. I realised I would not have the comfort and security of a dual carriageway all the way home. Sure enough, just as the weather deteriorated further and the rain came down in sheets of torrential fury, I encountered one of those stretches of winding highway where I had oncoming traffic for several kilometres.

The rain was drumming down, turning the soft shoulder into a red river. I could not pull off the highway, because it just wasn't safe to do so. With a long stream of traffic behind me, I dropped my speed from 110 kilometres an hour to 100, then to 90 and then to 80 and finally to 70. But I had no one in front of me; no one's tail lights to follow through the midday gloom.

For about ten kilometres, I had another problem to contend with. The rain was sheeting down with such intensity that it was starting to pool on the highway. I realised that I would soon encounter the problem of aquaplaning, where my own wheels would throw up a wall of water that would threaten my own steering, even for a millisecond or two. Sure enough, this happened about a minute later, and continued for an agonisingly long stretch.

The other problem I had was that every time a truck or a semi-trailer went past me in the opposite direction, it would almost always obliterate my windscreen with its own inevitable wake. At the same time, the murk degenerated to the point where I could barely see the lights of oncoming traffic.

Another critical factor came into the safety equation at this point. Would the creeks beside the highway burst their banks? And if they did, would I be able to see the danger in time?

I've driven more than half a million kilometres in my time, much of it on highways and freeways. And I can say, hand on heart, that I have never driven in conditions as tough as I did yesterday. But after about 45 minutes of being severely tested by the weather, things started to improve - slightly.

By the time we got to Holbrook, just after 2pm, I no longer needed to drive with my headlights on. We sat down to order lunch at the Submarine Cafe and the owner, a familiar friend from many of our interstate drives to Canberra and Sydney, came over to take our order.

Relieved to have come safely through the dangerous weather, I greeted her warmly, asking, "Did the bad weather hit you as well?"

I had (inadvertently) revealed what a city slicker I am.

Bless her. She could have chided me. But she just smiled. "Bad weather," she echoed, looking happily at the storm clouds. "Bad weather? No, here in the bush we reckon any rain is good weather."


For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

31 comments:

A.Bananna said...

wow! I sure hope you get some rain! I know how it is going with out any rain and having 100+ temps! :) great pictures!

Shrinky said...

Oh hon,

You've just described my usual 20 mile school run (wink).

Great to have you back again. Love the Ray-bans..

Mima said...

I'm a scaredy cat driver at the best of times, so that would terrify the life out of me! Glad that you made it home safely.

KaiBlueCreations said...

Aloha David,
I'd read that the drought- heat- hot- rains- are all effecting the growing down there, especially the wine growers..
Interesting visuals!!
PEace, Kai

Old Wom Tigley said...

Great Post David... I actully aquyplanned this morning when someone stopped suddenly in front of me.. The land rove as drum brakes on each corner as well. I was forced to use the hand brake and twisted the wheels to the left... I managed not to hit anything but I came to rest slanted.. ha! Glad you made the trip unscathed

RuneE said...

I don't know whether I am going to feel sorry for you or not. We get 2000mm + rain each year, so driving in rain is an ingrown option in the spinal cord. 100 degrees F (I'm not sure what that translates to in C, but I should guess somewhere between 30 or 40). At the moment we have a terrific weather, 10 cm of snow and a slight frost. That means ice on the roads...

I think the word I'm searching for is envious...

dot said...

I was wondering where you were. What a journey!

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Won't be long and we'll be having those 100+ temperature days. I can so relate how nice it is when autumn rolls around. Enjoy. :)

Hilary said...

Always a matter of perspective eh? But what a harrowing experience.. I could feel my own knuckles going white.

John said...

Great Post David!...and good pictures as usual.

Anne-Berit said...

Great story,and photos:o)

Paulie said...

Glad your journey ended safely!xyjx

CrazyCath said...

Oh David that is so funny! Glad you got home safe and it IS scary in torrential rain against HGVs and aquaplaning - but in England (especially North) you kinda get used to it! You poor soul - just when you think you have heroically come through a nightmare, trust some girl to burst your bubble! I am glad you're back though. In one piece. ;0)

I'm not sure if you post awards and stuff but there is one at my place for you if you'd like to pick it up. I just could not leave your blog out - I get so much from it. Thanks. Great post. (Try 6 foor of snow across the North of England in force 9 gale! lol).

Sniz said...

Wow, you're quite a writer. I was right with you in that car! I'm glad you're safe and that the rain finally came. Maybe you're lawn will green up again. BTW, we are starting to warm up SLIGHTLY where I live which to me means spring is coming. It's weird to think you're headed into autumn.

D... said...

Driving in the rain scares me silly. Glad your adventure ended safely!

Loved the pics.

holly said...

"the weather was challenging"

no. quizzes are challenging. weather is crappy. two p's.



i used to drive back and forth to college through snowstorms in wyoming. (yes, i wasn't at all bright... anyway...) what i loved most about the drive was the high-five my friend and i shared at the end.... merely for still being alive. those trucks. how did we not get creamed by those trucks?

leslie said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this story of your journey - also glad that you made it home in one piece. :D

Sharon said...

What a scary journey! I DISLIKE driving in the rain!

Momma said...

We had a similar drought last year in Maryland. My grass was actually crunchy, and the most water it got was from my dog and her recycling bit ;-) We were under orders not to water our lawns, so I just had to watch it wither away.

As to the Ray-Bans, that is a new tip I'll pass along to my husband, who does most of the driving now. He swears by his Ray-Bans, which he got specifically for flying. He said he can be flying right into the sunset and doesn't have a bit of trouble. Good investment, I'd say.

Glad to see you back around - D

Dave Coulter said...

I just saw a program last night about this amazing fossil (a marsupial lion!) discovery in a cave in the Outback. Looks like tough country there...it must be beautiful.

Go rain go! :)

lime said...

giggling at the assessment of the friend from the bush. driving in rain is nothing. come on up here and i'll rustle up some snow, slush and ice for you ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, sounds like a helluva rain. They had massive rains last week in my home state of Arkansas, and flooding for the first time in many many years.

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

The weather was "challenging"...hmmm..... heheheh!

Come an see the snow on my blog the larst few days!!!!

quilly said...

I am glad you made the drive safe and sound. I have been in such conditions and it is scary.

jennifer h said...

What a story. You had me on the edge of my seat.

Windscreen. Paddocks. Dual carriageway. You have nicer words than we Americans do.

Glad you made it safely.

jillie said...

Even gray skies can be beautiful. I can't imagine all the heat...pffft!

Ida said...

Great J post. :)
What a journey!

i beati said...

was reading abbout your drought there and its affecting wildlife etc.

San said...

Here in the high desert, we consider rain and snow good weather too, but the treacherous driving conditions you have so vividly described give me the willies!

Beautiful photos--I can smell the rain. Such a soothing aroma when it hits the earth.

Neva said...

A fabulous post and glad you are safe and sound....I hate driving in really unsafe weather but I have ended up a time or so in bad bad weather where you can not pull off..as it would be even worse! I will try the trick with the raybans...never heard of that before!

Max-e said...

Hi David, I have been somewhat busy lately and have done very little visiting, so am doing some catch up.
Sounds like an "interesting" drive. We once drove from Port Elizabeth to Harare, a trip of 2,200 kms in non stop rain. To make matters worse the aircon went on the blink and the windscreen kept misting up. I was exhausted by the time we got to Harare.