Ride in the cab of a RAA tow truck

James, mechanic with his flat bed tow truck in Yankalilla, South Australia.

Jared’s Toyota wagon rolled to a stop at the foot of a bumpy dirt road in the heart of Deep Creek Conservation Park.

“I just lost power,” Jared gritted through his teeth. “I just got this car back from servicing a couple of weeks ago so this wouldn’t happen.”

This was us stranded in the middle of a remote Australian national park with no transportation and no mobile service. We’d spent the morning exploring the Heysen Trail and had been looking forward to another scenic walk.

Jared turned the key a few more times, got out and tightened the battery contacts, checked the starter motor, and then looked at the engine ruefully.

A young guy in a white T-shirt walked towards us on the dusty road. He asked if we needed any help. “Are you a mechanic?” I asked hopefully.

“Nope,” he laughed, “I’m a paramedic. I can fix broken bodies but not broken cars.” He told us he was staying with a group in the nearby Tapanappa campground. He offered to ask his friends if anyone could help.

Help and beer

After he left, several vehicles drove by also asking if we needed help. One of them was a huge four-wheel-drive, all-terrain recreational vehicle. By that time Jared and I had absorbed the fact that we were stranded.

Colin and Mia turned the 4WD truck around and invited us to jump in the back. “We can take you to the park boundary, no problem,” said Colin. “You should get mobile service there.”

At the park gate Jared used his mobile phone to call the RAA (Royal Automotive Association) and then his partner Ruth (who was busy getting a family dinner together). Inside the truck I shared stories with Colin and Mia about my solo travels by bicycle.

“With a bicycle, a breakdown isn’t a big deal,” I joked. “You just flag down a pick-up truck and throw the bike in the back. Often there’s a case of beer nearby and it all works out!”

Jared climbed back into the truck. “RAA will be here in a couple of hours,” he exhaled. “They’re coming in from Yankalilla.”

Colin and Mia drove us back to Jared’s car. We climbed out and Mia motioned to the backseat. “You want a beer?” she asked, “We’ve got a few extra here and you’ve got some time to kill…”

Jared and I looked at each other. “Sure!” we said almost in unison. Mia handed down a couple of Asahis and wished us well.

Assess the situation

Alone at the car we assessed our situation: we were stalled in front of a campground with toilets and fresh water. It was overcast and not hot with plenty of hours of daylight remaining. We had beer, snacks, maps, and the world-class Heysen Trail nearby.

It could be worse.

“Well,” said Jared, “What do reckon we go for that walk after we finish our beer?” I laid out a towel, leaned back on a tree, took a swig of my beer and nodded enthusiastically.

Heysen Trail marker near Tapanappa Lookout in Deep Creek Conservation Park in South Australia.
Heysen Trail marker near Tapanappa Lookout in Deep Creek Conservation Park in South Australia.

The walk was beautiful, with peeks of the St. Vincent Gulf oceanside and kangaroo families inland.

Kangaroo under gum tree on Heysen Trail near Tapanappa Lookout, South Australia.
Kangaroo under gum trees on the Heysen Trail near Tapanappa Lookout, South Australia.

The tow truck was a massive flat-bed truck. Its driver, James, was a mechanic. He guessed that the problem was the timing belt—a problem he could not fix on the spot.

After some discussion Jared agreed to James loading the surfboard-laden Toyota on the back of the truck, hauling it to the Yankalilla Towing yard, and then dropping us and the surfboards off at the Yankalilla pub. Jared’s dad Darryl would drive in from Willunga to pick us up from there.

Flat bed tow truck from Yankalilla Motors in Deep Creek, South Australia.
Flat bed tow truck from Yankalilla Motors in Deep Creek, South Australia.

I climbed up the steep steps of the truck cab and settled in on the bench seat between James and Jared. James steered the truck along the corrugated dirt road and out of the park.

As he and Jared compared surf beaches, I took in the gorgeous, rolling agricultural views from the heights of the cab. We passed hundreds of kangaroos relaxing in hay fields. A double rainbow hung over Sellicks Hill.

It was beautiful and I felt like I was flying.

Later, Jared and I thanked each other for remaining calm as we worked through the day. He was optimistic that his mechanic wouldn’t charge him for the timing issue because it was part of the work he gone done.

I told him I remember hearing a quote Mother Teresa might have said. It was something like,

“When I encounter a problem, I consider it a blessing.”


Survive a blue Christmas

I feel lucky to have met a kindred spirit. We, like many others, must live through a blue Christmas.

S. lives in Adelaide. Her 31-year-old son died in October.

I’d never met her before, but when I saw on Facebook that she would be in the area with a bicycle, I offered to pedal the nearby Shiraz Trail cycling path with her.

It’s an old railway bed that’s been converted into a paved bike and walking trail. There are many wineries nearby. Unfortunately and as I’ve found in the past, the winery we aimed for was closed and two others were about to close.

No worries. We aimed for a café in McLaren Vale town, ordered pizza and wine, and shared our sentiments about Christmas.

S. has the support of her family and spirit community and so she seems to be doing okay. She has a lot of wisdom and is taking things moment-by-moment, day-by-day.

“You are free”

Me, it’s been thirteen years since my boyfriend P.H. chose to kill himself. His birthday was December 23 and he started feeling low around this time of the year. Like S., I had to learn how to live again, minute by minute. I had to tolerate the months, weeks, days leading up to Christmas.

The dead joy of Christmas.

To survive, I learned that I can mostly escape it by flying to foreign countries. It started with Baja, Mexico, then led to winters in India, France, and this year—Australia.

Being a writer and blogger, I also shared my story in a blog called You Are Free – your suicide, my story, in 20 parts. It felt right, and I wanted other people to know that they’re not alone when they, we, feel sad with the world.

S. and I talked about all this openly and honestly, and it felt like a blessing.

I had planned to attend the Willunga Uniting Church‘s Blue Christmas service on December 21. But having met S. I feel the peace and companionship I might have found at that gathering. Nonetheless, I feel grateful that this little village church would do such a kind thing as to call a service for those of us who face a blue Christmas.

Wild flowers and thistles at the side of the Shiraz bike trail in South Australia.
Wild flowers and thistles at the side of the Shiraz bike trail. You don’t have to believe in God to see the tiny bits of beauty all around.