So there I was thinking the worst of the long boring drives were over, I didn't factor in the long long drive from NT to QLD. To say that this was one of the longest boringest drives is an understatement. I kept laughing at my previous thoughts that the trip to Alice would be boring, but this drive was just long stretches of nothing but dry paddocks. The only thing I kept thinking was how do farmers survive out here, how do the stations keep operating in this desolate country. The days were scorches, everyday was over 35 degrees and with the goal of palm trees and beaches firmly in our minds we just kept driving and driving and driving.
I was anxious to be on the east coast, to be closer to airports to fly to my sister, to not be in the middle of nowhere with our unreliable car. So we just kept driving, the kids were troopers, enjoying movie after movie after movie. I wore out the iPod listening to our tracks over and over agin, even the kids were sick of the same songs. We stopped briefly for lunch in any little rest stop we could find but the temperature and bloody flies kept us moving quickly. After a massive effort we made it across to Townsville in 3 days. Some days we drove so long on hot roads that by the time we arrived the water in our camper tanks was boiling. The only highlight of this leg (well for Mike anyway) was the day our bike rack slipped from the back of the camper and dragged for at least 100 ks behind the van. When we finally were passed by someone and they flagged us down, Mike stopped to see what was wrong, well I don't think I have seen Mike so happy! He hated the bikes, the constant taking off and putting back on to set up, (even though that was always my job) Our poor Lola was devastated!! She couldn't believe we had to leave them to the Highway Gods and was shattered when she found out that we couldn't fix her wheels! All our travelling friends enjoyed the laugh when we showed them the pictures as they had seen the bouncy bikes on the back as we travelled.
So bikeless but in good spirits the landscape changed again from barren paddocks of highway driving, to the hot red dust of Mt Isa we made a final champion effort and pulled up in Townsville for a few days of RnR. We found the cheapest accommodation we could, at the local Seventh Day Adventist conference centre. Being the model guests we are, we joined the other campers in unhappy hour, (disguising our alcoholic beverages in mugs) we relaxed, cleaned the red dust of every surface and crevice we could manage and enjoyed being back on the east coast again.
Highlights of Townsville: for me it was walking into a shopping centre to see a Myer! (Hehe) For Mike it was making it all that way without the car breaking down! And for the kids it was all the beautiful fig trees to climb in, they created such adventures playing in the branches and the vines of the trees. The one thing we all agreed on was that after months of dust, red dirt and dried earth it was heaven to have lots of lush green grass underfoot, the girls did somersault after somersault enjoying the softness.
After a lovely relaxing few days recovering from our massive drive we slowly made our way up to our friends in Innisfail. It was a great reunion with the Warren families, the kids were so excited to see Priya and Toby and happily swam in the pool at the drop zone, whilst the adults caught up win another awesome happy hour.
We filled in our time, celebrating Toby's birthday at the local gardens and hanging out in a little spot of paradise at Etty beach. We had so many awesome days relaxing with all our travelling friends and watching the kids playing together, building forts on the beach and performing shows for us! We devoured awesome fish n chips at Etty beach and was so lucky to see a cassowary wandering on the beach after tea. (another bucket item ticked off) We found more falls and creeks to swim in and enjoyed the beauty of the rain forests and natural watering holes.
Mike also ticked an item off his bucket list and crazily jumped out of a plane! After updating the will and life insurance policy the kids and I all watched on safely from the ground whilst Mike tandem jumped with our friend Jess out of a plane! Oscar was so incredibly jealous as he watched his dad parachuting down to land! Although he was glad to have done it I don't think Mike will be doing it again, I think it took him the rest of the day for the adrenalin to stop cursing through his veins and for his legs to stop wobbling!
During this time I found it difficult to enjoy the magic of FNQ. My beautiful sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and the waiting to hear about appointments, tests and ultimately when treatment would commence was unbearable. It is awful feeling so far away when all you want to do is hug your sister and never let go!
As soon as we had a treatment plan I left Mike and the kids to enjoy Cairns and Wonga Beach and set off for Sydney to be with my sister. In amongst the angst and waiting to see how Bernie would react to chemo we tried to fill in our days as much as possible. I won't lie and pretend that after 7 months without a single day away from Mike and the kids I wasn't trying to make the best of a shit situation. We kept busy......we had pedicures, went to markets, went out to quirky cafés for lunch, coffee and tea. Hell Bernie even got me to mass (there was promise of dinner out after it!) The dreaded day arrived for chemo and I think every Saunders family member and all our friends was sending love, support and prayers for my sister. I'm sure the earths forces were shifted by the thoughts and positive vibes being sent Bernie's way as that night Sydney was hit with an horrendous storm, the crashing thunder and lightening certainly matched our moods, but as the sun rose, the weather calmed and a new day emerged breathing renewed purpose and hope.
The rest of the week passed with me proving my skills as a SIFE (sister wife (but not in a Mormon Sister wife kind of way, just as a sister performing some '1950's wifely' duties kind of way), Dom should be proud that my tea making skills have improved vastly, and they no longer taste like dishwater!!! I also used the excess energy to reorganise Bernie's apartment. Nothing like a good bout of worry to send me into a sorting frenzy. I'm now taking appointments for all of Bernie's friend to declutter their apartments.! I think I have found my calling!
After nearly two weeks of SIFELY duties, I left my dear sis in the capable hands of her friends and returned to my babies. After an anxious flight, where I felt so torn between wanting to stay with my sister but also desperate to see my babies, a delay with the transfer from Cairns to Port Douglas, it was pure bliss to see their little bodies running towards me and to be able to give them a super squeezy tight hug!
We stayed the last night at Wonga beach, Lola was so excited to take me for a walk in the morning, showing me the beach, where she thought some crocodiles lived (I hoped she wasn't right) and the pool, I swear she grew a foot in the time I was gone. We packed up the camper and as it was so hot we all jumped in the pool to cool off. It felt so cleansing to be swimming, with the warmth of the sun feeding you with its happy rays. Refreshed and ready for another leg of our journey we headed towards the Atherton tablelands.