Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Someone Else Can Drive Next Time

It almost went to plan.

Last week I had borrowed the ute, the trailer was hitched to the back, and both were loaded with furniture for my move to Canberra. I needed to make it to Wangaratta by 8:30am to get the trailer registered before leaving Victoria, which meant leaving home by 4:30am. This did not please me, but it was that or make several trips. With a drive of 725km each way, losing a few hours of sleep felt like a small price.

The drive to Wangaratta was mostly uneventful. I had a bit of difficulty with mild fishtailing on the long, slow bends, which I put down to my inexperience with a heavy load, the trailer, and an unfamiliar vehicle. It had rained overnight, and I wondered if that also contributed to my difficulties. Each time was just enough to startle me, but never more than I was able to get under control.

I was able to get the trailer registered without any problems, which was a major relief since I had been clueless what to do if the application was rejected. The woman at VicRoads suggested I go to Supercheap Auto and see if they would be able to help me attach the licence plate. I went back to the ute and checked my load. In the rain the glue holding one of my bookcases together had given way. This reduced the tension in the ropes holding everything down, so I needed to adjust them. Content that it would hold until I made it to the shop, where I could gauge how rapidly the load was shifting, I set off.

There is a petrol station opposite Supercheap. I knew I should pull in, but there was a queue for the bowsers. Instead I decided to go to Supercheap, come back to the petrol station, and then continue on my way. Half way to the U-turn for Supercheap I ran out of petrol. In 13 years of driving I have never run out before, so this was an unpleasant learning experience. I was lucky to be close enough that I could walk to buy a can and petrol, because towns on the Hume Highway are often very far apart.

I managed to sort out my petrol problem, the man at Supercheap was able to attach the licence plate to the trailer, a full can of petrol was with me for the drive just in case, and I was off again. With the stress of running out of petrol, I forgot to recheck the load. I became paranoid about running out of petrol, as I had barely travelled 300km on 50L.

My next stop was at Tarcutta. After a fairly relaxed lunch, I went back to the ute. My load had visibly shifted, and I started to wonder if the instability in it was what had been causing the ute to fishtail. As I stood there trying to work out how to tie it down more securely, a local road construction worker asked if I would mind if he retied the load. I’m very happy to thankfully accept the help of big strong men when it comes to manual work, especially when I’m not sure how to do it myself. It presented a challenge, and before I knew it I had two construction workers and three truck drivers arguing about my ropes and the best way to tension them. They decided to give me a truck tie down, insisting that it was no trouble at all to help a damsel in distress.

I made it to Canberra with vastly increased confidence thanks to their help. The ute struggled to make it up the inclines, and I frequently had to drop down to third gear. A small amount of fishtailing continued, but with the slow speeds I was able to stop it easily. As I become convinced fatigue must have been playing with my skills, I drove past the sign welcoming drivers to Canberra. Home was close and, even though I was confused by why I was driving so poorly, I knew I would have no trouble concentrating for the remaining distance. The ute slid a bit around one of the corners on a backstreet in my suburb, but otherwise there were no further problems.

Saturday morning came, and it was time to make the return trip. There was barely any weight on the ute, the trailer was empty, and many of the problems I had faced on my trip to Canberra should have been irrelevant. I set off with confidence, expecting an easy drive home.

Barely past Yass the fishtailing resumed on a long, sweeping bend. This time it happened at 110kph, not 80kph. It resisted my usual easy tricks to stop it. My heart was beating wildly, and I had to slow to nearly 40kph as I entered a straight section to bring the ute under control. Other drivers were overtaking me, despite the ute swinging out into the next lane. I considered pulling over, but decided that it was better to push on instead of sitting on the side of the road letting my fear build. It felt stable again, and there was nothing I could do about something past.

The road began curving again, and the fishtailing started so quickly that I almost jackknifed the ute across both lanes of the Hume. This is not something I recommend doing at over 100kph. I’ve had a lot of driving experience on unsealed and slippery roads, but this was new for me. My body filled with adrenaline, my heart was pounding so fast I suspect it was above 180bpm, and all I could think about was making sure I didn’t roll the ute and kill myself.

As soon as I had it under control I decided to pull over. I needed to work out what was going on. While I was slowing down in the emergency lane, the feel in the ute shifted, and I suspected I had a flat tyre. I’ve only had one flat before, in a small car without a trailer, and I wondered if I had missed the signs.

My legs were wobbly as I got out and began to check the tyres. Everything on the driver side looked fine. I went to the passenger side, and that was when I realised my rear tyre was missing entirely. Where there should have been a tyre there was only metal digging into the grass.

I let myself freak out for a few seconds, which felt like a perfectly logical thing to do given the circumstances. Once I got it out of my system, which didn’t take nearly as long as I had expected it to, I got out my phone. My phone with barely any battery power left. My boyfriend started driving the 75km from Canberra to rescue me, my Dad suggested that I start the long walk down the road to find the missing tyre, and my phone started warning me that it was about to turn itself off.

After walking back 200m, I came across a pulped kangaroo on the side of the road. It looked like it had been dead for a while, but I started wondering if I had contributed to the destruction of its corpse. This was when I decided that I’d had enough and was going to sit down in the ute and not deal with anything for a few minutes. When I turned to walk back, I realised that I was beside quite a large valley. Any hope of finding my missing tyre faded until I realised I could see where the scratch marks from the ute began on the road surface. I followed the angle, and spotted my tyre resting against a tree. There was no way I would be able to get it out, but I found some comfort in realising how close to the ute it actually was. My tyre had held on until I was breaking in the emergency lane.

A truck driver pulled over to help me. He retrieved the tyre, looked it over, and decided that it was damaged beyond use. He got the spare from under the tray and I started going to the other tyres to remove a single nut from each to replace the missing nuts. Of the five nuts on the front passenger side wheel, four were loose. I tightened all except the one I removed, shocked that I could have lost a second tyre so easily.

My boyfriend arrived as we were screwing the first nut onto the replacement tyre. He removed a nut from the other two tyres and reported that they had also been loose. We all stood there, staring at the ute, and I decided that I was heading back to Canberra. The truck driver was relieved I was not going to try to drive the remaining 650km to Melbourne, and my boyfriend was happy to follow me the whole way home. He was even happy with my announcement that I would be pulling over frequently so we could check the tyres.

I’m very aware of how easily I could have been killed. Aside from a sunburn that covers most of my body, I escaped without injury. Still, there are a few positives in my mind:

  1. It could have been much, much worse, but it wasn’t.
  2. I was able to control the ute through sheer physical force to get it off the road safely. Six months ago I was too weak to drive it at all.
  3. My body’s adrenaline response worked the way it is supposed to. By that I mean I had the adrenaline to save my life, it carried me through the situation, it stopped when I was safely home, and I was able to sleep it off. Previously adrenaline surges took at least a week to recover from, sometimes nearly a month.
  4. I handled a crisis in a way that leaves me feeling quite proud of myself. There was no fear induced paralysis, no hesitation to do what I needed to do, and I know that there was absolutely nothing more I could have done to help the situation given what I knew at the time.
  5. I know more about problem solving when driving than I did before. Next time I am in a situation with unexplained fishtailing, I will know to check the nuts on my tyres. Now I also know to make this check a standard part of my long distance driving routine during the drive, and not just at the start.
  6. My country has a lot of good men who are willing to go out of their way to help a stranger. Their attitude that helping is just what you do made me proud to be their countrywoman. I probably won’t ever be in a position to help those individuals, but I can make sure I stop and help others when I am able.

Of course, all of these things aside, flying seems like a much better idea now.

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The Hoarding Confession

My workspace has become our temporary storage room. Sitting here, looking around, I am dismayed by how much stuff we have. Individually, I know what each item is and why it is there. Collectively, I wonder why we have so much.

Both of my parents are hoarders, and it is a habit they have happily passed on to me. There is that fear I might need an item one day, that getting rid of it could have consequences so horrible I cannot imagine them. This mindset even extends to items that have not been taken out of their packaging, five years after I acquired them.

Hoarding is not always rational.

I’d like to go wild, let loose, and just get rid of most of it. Some women dream of wild nights filled with sexual abandon; apparently I dream of hard rubbish days and giant skips. Clearly I need to get out of the house more often, but the fear with that plan is that I will go near a shopping centre and bring home more vitally important merchandise rubbish.

Occasionally I ponder setting up an eBay account. If I wanted it once, or someone wanted to gift it to me, then it might be useful for another person, right? I cannot possibly own so much consumer rubbish that the other consumers around me are prepared to collectively shake their heads and say no. And some of my things are truly useful, I just don’t need to have forty of them.

This plan excites me until I remember my last trip to eBay. I nearly bought a $16,000 printing press. My justification for it was that I could start my own publishing company. I had the space, because it would have fit beautifully in my living room. This was my opportunity to live the dream; be my own boss, work from home, create a work life balance my friends could be envious of. Sure, it was pick up only, but Geelong and Frankston aren’t that far apart if you ignore tiny details such as geography and practicality. I didn’t have a clue how to use it, but these things can be learned.

In retrospect, it is probably a very good thing I didn’t buy that printing press.

The weight of my possessions weighs on my mind. My environment is always cluttered with things that seem like rubbish to me. I cannot see the useful, positive possessions I have because they are obscured with things I no longer want but am unsure how to part with. Normally I mentally track the location of everything I own, which takes a lot of effort. It is a chore to find what I want quickly after moving so much. My sense of organisation is gone, and trying to organise so many things that I don’t want to have feels pointless. I worry about what might happen to stuff I no longer want. I spend absurd amounts of money insuring all of this stuff, and for what?

My boyfriend is making plans to sell many of his things. We have a lot of duplication that we do not need now that we are living together. I see the rational, practical side of this. By selling our stuff there is more cash available for other things. We could spend the money on nights out together, we could invest the money for the future, we could even buy nicer items than the ones we currently have.

Instead of embracing the positives in the situation, I am back to my hoarding mindset and fears. If we break up, will our lives be in shambles because we no longer have enough things? That we could buy new items just as easily as we bought the first ones doesn’t enter into my emotional thinking. Some people feel enormous pressure to stay together because they worry about the kids. I am feeling pressure to stay together with him now because of a futon that hasn’t even been sold yet.

I need to break the hoarding habit. Most of my clothes are still in Melbourne, and I like opening my wardrobe and seeing space inside. Half my fabric is still in Melbourne, but even the boxes I brought to Canberra overwhelm me. They come with promises of how much work I have to do to make up the garments I had planned, how much of my beautiful wardrobe space will vanish, and how much extra effort my possessions still require of me.

Sometimes I acknowledge that my habit stems from a past era. I have an old family, a country family, and these things are there to protect me from hard times. My need to surround myself with tools comes from an isolation that meant manual jobs needed to be dealt with in house. I still store far too much food against crop failure. Space is the asset of a farm, but it is the liability of the city. Too many lessons have been taught to me by grandparents who survived the great depression, wars, rationing, poverty, and situations that required a different strategy to my safe, prosperous life.

I’m going to return to my unpacking, and contemplate what to do with the 72L of Gatorade I felt compelled to buy this week. At least we still have space in the pantry.

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Starting Fresh

After three house moves over the past month, I am finally in a place I feel I can call my own home. We have a lot of unpacking to do, and it will require some careful manoeuvring to make everything fit, but there is no longer any urgency to make things happen. I can put my feet up on my old pink/grey couch (we are still disagreeing on how to make the stylish white one fit anywhere), find homes for various small things I have brought with me to Canberra this year, and generally start to form my new life.

I’m looking forward to making a routine for myself. Routines were something I always resisted in Melbourne. I would carefully plan my days with elaborate tables about what needed to be done, when it needed to be done, and struggle to make it all fit. Sometimes I would even pretend to follow through on my schedules, but only if they were beautifully colour coded and highly decorative.

My new routine will not be as rigid as what I tried to make in Melbourne. I am no longer surrounded by people who believe that set times are the only way to live a life, which leaves me free to do things as I see fit. The time I spent arguing with other people about my own life can now be spent living it. Some elements of a routine are unavoidable; for instance, I am a huge fan of eating and sleeping every day. Other than the basics of survival, everything is truly at my discretion.

Instead of viewing my routine as times and places, I plan to view it as a range of emotions and experiences. I intend to plan to be happy, to reflect, to create, to challenge myself, and to remind myself that I am truly alive. I will not base my routine around set office hours, chores, and all the things that used to bind my creativity and emotions.

My best hours vary from day to day, they are rarely between 9am and 5pm, and the stress I would inflict on myself to ignore this is pointless. There is a natural routine imbedded in my body, and I have noticed that I pay attention to it in Canberra in a way I was never able to in Melbourne. Now is my opportunity to learn this rhythm at a conscious level and remember to work with it. This will be a one percent change, but I expect it will have significant implications for me over the coming months.

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