A Sheila Travelling Alone
So said a curious Akubra wearing bloke at the Menzies Road House, ‘.. now that’s someone you don’t meet every day.’
A couple of hours later I was turning off a dirt road into a mine site where my fellow traveller had insisted a welcome would be waiting should I decide to visit the mine and have a look round. The welcome wasn’t that warm initially as John the mine manager was a tad peeved that Ray, the other mine manager, had extended such an invitation.
He did thaw eventually and the sprightly 73 year old gave me a wonderful tour around the old workings and buildings of the Copperfield district in the Northern Goldfields.
As we stood on the edge of a deep, steep angled side open pit with a soupy, green lake in the bottom I did think later how things might have worked out differently. A quick shove and with the credits for a police drama spinning over the top and it could have been the opening scene of a Friday Night Crime story.
It wasn’t, and back at the Menzies Hotel that evening with a plate of steak, chips, salad and a very full glass of red and thinking about the day, I know that opportunity would not have presented itself if I wasn’t a ‘Sheila Travelling Alone’.
‘You must be mad’ or at least frowns of concern do flash across friends and sometimes family faces when I talk about the plans for a solo trip.
I like to travel alone for a few reasons.
The house has a couple of generations living in it so this is a way to have solitary time out.
Loading up the vehicle with a plan in mind, interesting accommodation booked and the fascinating people along the way who are so generous with their time and conversation and intrigued by a ‘sheila travelling alone’.
A box of maps, notebooks and cameras tucked on the front seat and a pile of cds I can repeat play 15 times.
The main reason though is purely the being of somewhere, standing in the middle of an Australian salt pan or on an African barchan dune, and being alone in that moment in space and time.
There is a common thread through the three most recent ‘you must be mad’ trips.
Four wheels and miles and miles of...well, miles and miles! Desert plains and high topped plateaus, Ghost towns and dusty villages. Extraordinary wildlife and equally extraordinary people in the most unlikely of places in a trio of the most beautiful of places – the Northern Goldfields of Western Australia, the Capes of South Africa and the Central Desert of the Northern Territory.
And the cons??
Well getting red sand bogged is about the only thing I can think of.
Even then, after a brief kip in the camper van and cuppa, a bus load of Irish backpackers arrived. Leaping around like a pack of just fed puppies they literally bounced me and van out of the sand and back onto the road less taken.
Travelling alone leads to curiosity amongst fellow travellers.
Willing helpers, pre-departure water and oil checkers and fonts of knowledge of all things ‘on the road’ abound in caravan parks. Once ‘the missus’ has relaxed her folded arm stance in the Winnebago front door, drinks and nibblies start the sun setting evening and more ‘on the road’ stories.
Fossickers tell of their secret old bottle troves off the beaten track and a Bishop gave a blessing one Sunday morning at mud brick church under rustling date palms in the African dust.
Skimpies share a drink and a story in Goldfields pubs and a Lonely Planet team shared a dinner table in a lodge in the Western Cape.
I’m not a complete hermit by the way. There are a couple of trips ahead for this year, travelling with others and visiting family. I’ve also just returned from France and a precious six weeks with my sister and her partner living in their.......converted convent!
A perfect spot for a sheila travelling alone.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference" Robert Frost The Road Not Taken
…and that's what I try to do, take the one less traveled. Often, however, that road has been traveled by many others but by looking for and listening to the stories, be they courageous, mundane or just down right outrageous and inspiring the travelling is always new. I hope you enjoy the stories as much as I have the journeys, and are as captivated by the people and the landscapes that breathe life and a sense of place into every step of the way.