From Hill to Hill

 

From Wagga we headed towards Broken Hill, albeit via Swan Hill first. It’s too long a stretch to go straight to Broken Hill in one day, and we would have been travelling at dusk, when even more of the usual wildlife would have been roaming around.

Big 4 Swan Hill were super supportive and gave us a deluxe cabin overnight. We can’t tell you how wonderful this was, after packing up in the warm Wagga sun and driving for five hours! To not have to set up camp, was such a wonderful gift. These cabins are beautifully appointed, with a queen bed for the parents, and bunks for the kids in the second bedroom. Air conditioning, TV, bathroom, full kitchen with all utensils. Paul & Kirstine were able to sit on the front porch and watch the children burn off energy on the jumping pillow. The kids are very patient when we have long days in the car. We try and avoid them, but there are some distances in this vast land, that can’t be travelled in just two hours.

After a peaceful night and coffee on the porch in the morning, we got back in the Legend and headed north to Broken Hill. We have used Broken Hill as a jumping platform to the outback before, and always know we’re getting closer by the numbers of wild goats around! Black, white, tan, grey and all combinations thereof, it’s something the kids love spotting as we drive.

The Lakeview Caravan Park in Broken Hill had offered us a cabin with a toilet for three nights. We set up the Cub on the site next door, as we had to access/rearrange things anyway, and needed power to keep the Evakool fridge running. The kids loved having a flushing toilet, as well as TV and AC. It rained quite heavily while we were in Broken Hill, and a green tree frog made an appearance on the glass cabin door one evening. Quite random, we would have thought, a green tree frog in Broken Hill, considering that we’ve only seen these before in Far North Queensland!

Broken Hill does get sporadic heavy rainfalls, and their storm water drains alongside AND across the road (nice dips during the dry), become fast flowing torrents in periods of rain. “Water crossing in Broken Hill!!” shouted Coops, as we later drove the Legend through a small river of water across the street.

Hot showers in the updates amenities block at the caravan park, made sure everyone was clean before we headed off the next day, one day ahead of schedule.

Outback, here we come!

Out of range in the Outback

We’re at Packsaddle as guests overnight in cabins. Mia even threw in our meals, which is fabulous! 

We’ll be off grid for a few days as we travel to Tibooburra, Cameron Corner and part of the Strzelecki Track. By Wednesday we’ll be back in phone/internet range with stories and pictures to share. 

We have our UHF and HF radios, the Legend has just been serviced and new tyres fitted. Plenty of food and water on board.. just no phone or internet. 

We’ll check in when we can!!

A Normal Life … ?

 

Travelling so many long kilometres, it gives you a lot of time to contemplate the road ahead, and not just the black top under the vehicle.

When we talk about our trip, we’re often asked what we’ll do when the journey is over, the Legend is returned to Nissan, the camper trailer returned to Cub Campers. What will we do when life goes back to normal?

Kirstine has come to the conclusion that there is no “normal” life for us. The plans we had when we first married have for the most part gone out the window. Oh sure, we still want our “happily ever after”, but our perspective on that has changed dramatically since Paul got sick last year. When you get married, you plan on spending the rest of your life with your partner, and eventually taking care of each other when you grow old. That’s how it goes in the movies, isn’t it?

In 2016, nine days after we got married in New Zealand, Paul had multiple heart attacks and nearly died. Less than three months after we eventually returned from New Zealand, Paul told Kirstine that he nearly took his own life on the way home from work. The fun loving but strict father who used to spend time on activities with the children, disappeared. The ambitious and efficient husband, who’d had such a successful high-level career, who laughed at his wife’s wacky ways, changed. Paul could no longer go outside, kept the curtains closed, shook uncontrollably with anxiety, lost all interest in life, and was enveloped in an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Shortly thereafter Paul was diagnosed with PTSD and major depressive disorder. Kirstine’s domestic job description changed from Mother & Wife, to Mother, Wife & Carer. Kirstine looks at family photos she’s taken over the last couple of years, and can’t believe the change. Not exactly a Disney movie, huh?

Yet, those incredibly dark days, weeks and months, which still linger and haunt, led us to where we are now. It’s definitely not all sunshine and roses, travelling full time with children, and talking about our experiences. Sometimes people, under a guise of caring, want to know specifics about the events which culminated in Paul’s breakdown, and he becomes disillusioned with the ghoulish intentions, retreating from everyone again. Kids, being kids, bicker and argue. We get cranky with them, they get cranky with us. Even Paul & Kirstine get frustrated and snap at each other occasionally. Kirstine is teary every time she talks about her role as a Carer and concern for Paul’s health. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for all of us!

And still, we are always complimented on the kids’ behaviour, and their ability to help set up/pack up camp. They surprise us with the details of sights we have seen and how it has impacted on them. They are excited every day to see where we are going. Paul & Kirstine still sing duets in the car, much to the amusement of the kids. We are making memories as a family, and putting all else into perspective, what’s an adventure without some stress to make you appreciate when everything is running smoothly?

Kirstine met a kindred spirit in Wagga. Mrs G, a woman whose husband was diagnosed with PTSD after serving 24 years in the NSW Police. After two-three years, her husband has returned to work in a completely different field, and has purpose again in life. He no longer takes a huge list of medications the way he used to. Mrs G’s story ran concurrently to ours in so many ways. Her husband’s illness showed the true colours of “friends” and family, and brought out the people in their lives who truly cared. They stopped socialising with people who couldn’t understand/believe that her husband was mentally ill after a successful career. They made new friends. Most importantly, Mrs G told Kirstine that it’s “early days yet” in Paul’s illness. “It may take a couple more years, but he’ll get better”, she said. “PTSD never goes away, but there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, hang in there!”. Like Kirstine, Mrs G’s eyes were watering, the emotions of a Carer always run just under the surface, showing themselves when happenchance brings you into the path of another who understands and empathises.

This amazing road trip that we are on is changing us fundamentally, as a family and as individuals. Whatever comes afterwards, we’ll be together as a family. It won’t be a Disney movie, but we’ll find our purpose, our happily ever after, by working hard at it. You can keep your “normal” life. We like ours just fine, warts and all 🙂

Waylaid in Wagga

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Waiting for mail to arrive can be a frustrating experience for us. It seems that no matter how organised the Senders and Recipients are, Australia Post delivery timelines just disappoint.

We were welcomed at the Big 4 Wagga Wagga Holiday Park, who kindly gave us a huge powered site for our stay. One of our three parcels was waiting for us, beautiful lens filters for the DJI Mavic Pro, provided and sent by FPV Australia & Mongrel Gear.

The next morning our next parcel arrived – Luna’s new mindDog vests and ID card. We were on a roll, and seemingly on track to leave on Sunday as we’d planned. A rainy day came in handy for creating a checklist – a review of tasks required before we can head outback again.

Paul took the opportunity to fly the Mavic Pro over the holiday park, with their permission, to provide them with aerial shots and a flyover video for their website. No air traffic (as per the Icom Airband radio), sunshine and light winds, and only territorial birds to worry about, it gave Paul a great sense of pride to pop the stills and video onto a BP USB stick and give it to the new park manager. Our thank you for their support of our travels.

You know that feeling of anticipation when you have something exciting due in the mail? Yes? Then you know the sinking sensation when the mail arrives sans awaited item. That was our Friday morning when we checked the tracking on a super important item, and saw it was still in situ, not even in transit.

Right – departure delayed, we kicked our checklist into action. Maintenance, replacing broken tubs, sorting under bed storage & rearranging same. Paul has been editing videos, and Kirstine went to replenish our emergency food supply tub. Part of Australia that we will be visiting are actually getting rain for the first time in several months. If roads are closed and you’re already on them, you can’t move till they’re opened again. “Be prepared” is not only a Scout motto, but ours as well. With a supply of tinned/packaged goods, we’re set if things turn slushy and we have to stay put.

The staff at Coles Sturt Mall have been awesome. Everytime Kirstine was there, she had engaging discussions with checkout staff about travel or mental health. On her last visit, the register operator was intrigued by our purpose, as he volunteers with Headspace in Wagga. They do outreach work in small neighbouring communities, and he agrees that it is there that the talk about mental health is important. Close knot communities welcome people coming in, trying to help their youth. This confirmed why we prefer to be in rural/remote towns!

A woman on a mission, moving a heavy trolley towards the carpark, Kirstine nearly forgot to stop in and pick up Paul’s medications from Blooms Pharmacy. Boy was she glad she remembered. Not only because it spared a return trip and accompanying frustration, but this errand item left Kirstine’s spirits buoyed in respect of recovering from the lows of PTSD. This, however, will be part of a subsequent post.

Monday morning arrived along with our registered post item. Why were we so very keen to receive this parcel? It contained BP fuel cards for the remainder of our trip. These cards were provided by the Nissan Australia Foundation, matching BP’s initial provision of sponsorship at the commencement of our journey. Without their ongoing support, our trip could not continue.

Tuesday afternoon brought confirmation of activated fuel cards, and a huge sigh of relief.

That evening we watched the sunset with a different sense of anticipation. This time as we watched the thousands of fruit bats take flight from their roosting trees on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, we waved goodbye. Sunrise for us would mean time to leave Wagga Wagga for now.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems

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Being a trained Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAs) Pilot is fantastic, according to Paul.  Not only has he made new friends through his recent FPV Australia course in Sydney, the topic of RPAs (also known as a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle, UAV) has been a great way to start discussions about our current journey around Australia.

In fact, quite a few of the bigger discussions that Paul has had have started by someone asking him about his own RPAs and its capability.  Paul has also been able to help some people understand the laws around drones.

Unfortunately, there was a situation recently while Paul was flying his drone legally, testing the lens filters that we had just received.  Thankfully Kirstine was acting as Paul’s spotter and noticed that another person had decided to get out his own drone and started flying it towards ours from less than 30m away.  Kirstine let Paul know where it was in relation to Paul (as a good spotter should) and he returned his unit to the ground. The fact that the new person decided to fly his drone directly into the path of Paul’s and within about 15m at one stage as well as flew over the top of Paul where he was standing, understandably upset him.  He decided to not say anything as he didn’t want to make a scene.

Later on, we were walking around the edge of the river near where we were staying, when the same person decided to fly his drone directly above our family.  Our eldest daughter received a small drone for her birthday, (we’ve created a monster – FYI), and  actually said that this other person was not flying in a safe manner.  She didn’t like it and felt scared.  That was when Paul decided to go and have a quiet conversation with the hobby flyer.  As you would expect from an arrogant person, when Paul politely raised concerns for our family in relation to his flying techniques he just brushed Paul off and told him “how does it affect you” and to just “keep walking”. This person could not care less that he had flown his drone into the path of another, and was in breach of regulations. 

There ARE rules around where and when you can fly a drone, based on its weight.  In this case he was breaking at least 3 laws. But that is enough about other people having a negative affect on us. Suffice to say, just because you can afford a drone, doesn’t entitle you to fly it how you like. Please, educate yourself, or even better, contact FPV Australia and complete their CASA Approved course. 

On a positive note, Paul got to put his training and experience to the test whilst we were in Gundagai.  We found some very old bridges (vehicle and rail) which showed potential of being part of some fantastic pictures.  Paul did all the things a trained RPAs Pilot should do.  He checked his location on Oz Runways to make sure he could legally fly there.  He had his Icom supplied Airband radio on him so that he could listen to any aircraft in the area.  He laid out his Mongrel Gear Australia Landing Zone mat on the ground to highlight where he would land.  He checked the weather and did all the safety checks on the Mavic Pro prior to take off.  Kirstine was his spotter.  The result was a fun and safe flight for the DJI Mavic Pro. Keep an eye on our You Tube channel for the footage once Paul has had a chance to edit it!

 

 

Pathways to Healing

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During the week that we were in Sydney, guests at the Ingenia Big 4 Emu Plains Holiday Park, Kirstine and the kids spent a lot of time chauffeuring (hop-a-long) Paul to/from his course. Thankfully negotiating the busy M4 & M7 was made infinitely easier by the amazing Clearview Mirrors on the Legend. More people should have these on their vehicle – it really does help to take the stress out of driving!

Kirstine ventured out with the children into Sydney one day, to see some of the iconic sights. We figured out the Opal Card system, and hopped a train from Emu Plains to Central. The kids squealed with delight to be on a “double decker train”, and were amazed that the seat backs are reversible, so that they could face the direction of travel. From trains, to the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, street performers, a trip to Manly on the ferry, the kids were agog at all the people and structures. So much so that on the way back to Emu Plains, the littlies dropped off to sleep.

The staff at Ingenia Big 4 Emu Plains were very accommodating of Paul’s injury, and even gave us the key to the disabled shower facility for the week that we were there. It’s amazing how much you take a simple thing like showering for granted, until you have only one foot available for balance!

Leaving Sydney on a rainy Saturday morning, towing the Cub, was an interesting experience! Whilst Kirstine handled it well, it was very obvious that local drivers are very self-focussed on the road. We’ll definitely be teaching our kids to drive in a different way!

We’re really fond of the township of Bungendore, and staying at the showgrounds again was lovely. The caretakers are delightful, remembered us and the kids, and we made the time to enjoy the fresh scones they brought over as we were setting up. Ann even brought a dog biscuit for Luna, and chocolates for the kids. No-one missed out!

It poured rain on one day, which we were prepared for, and with Kirstine miserable with a head cold, it was a close-quarters movie day for the family in the Cub. Five people in one camper trailer could have been a recipe for disaster, but everyone seemed to understand that we were “all in this together”, and by the next morning, the braided river system that had been the road to the amenities block, had subsided and freedom of movement was enabled.

Upon leaving Bungendore, we were welcomed at Gundagai Tourist Park by Gavin & Allison, for a week’s stay. We can’t head to the outback until Paul’s ankle is more healed, and of course by this stage, other family members had succumbed to the head cold. We maintain that our youngest son was Patient Zero. He usually is!! It was a quiet week of catching up on video editing, school work, and itinerary planning. We’re waiting on one small jigsaw puzzle piece before we can confirm our itinerary for NT/WA. We know it’s going to hot. We know it’s going to be humid. It’s just the way our travel cookie has crumbled!

While in Gundagai we had a discussion like none we’ve had so far. Mr S came to see us on our first evening, and shared the story of the loss of his son only earlier this year. Completely unexpected, by his parents and friends, Mr S’s son was a gifted musician, and one to take care of his friends, and who’d had a best friend in a German Shepherd growing up. In his early twenties, Mstr D was always willing to listen, and always asking if his friends were okay. Whilst Mr S shared with us more personal details of his son’s life and death, we respect that this is not our story to tell. We are very much hoping to see Mr S again next year when we are back in NSW, and maybe film an interview. Why are we keen to do this? Mr S has started a Facebook page, and despite his own loss and grieving, regularly travels and visits the pub in Tasmania where his son’s friends hang out. He has done this regularly, and now has Mstr D’s friends see him and come and talk, arm wrestle, and share their feelings about life in general. The statistics for this part of Tasmania in relation to youth suicide are horrifying. In the Apple Isle, a pristine state that so many people seek to escape to from the rat race of metropolitan life, why are so many young people despondent about their future? Mr S is so concerned about this, and doing his part to disrupt the mind set of these young people. “If you feel like it’s all too much, phone me before you do anything”, he has told them. Despite his grief, his own pathway to healing involves trying to protect the vulnerable youth in his son’s home town. We were moved to tears, and emotionally exhausted afterwards. As we say to our children, you never know what battle someone is fighting on the inside, so always be kind. Mr S, thank you for sharing your story, your pain, and your passion for the wellbeing of the youth your son cared about so much. We are in awe of your determination!

Flight school by FPV Australia

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FPV Australia (one of our fantastic sponsors) offered recently to put Paul through one of their Flight Schools so that he can become a commercial Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Pilot.  This certification means that Paul can capture images with his DJI Mavic Pro in areas where a hobbyist cannot fly.

The training was really thorough, as you would expect, considering that FPV Australia is certified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to provide this course. Paul learnt heaps thanks to his instructor, Jason.  The training included navigation, airband radio use, emergency procedures, charging batteries, weather predicting, aeronautical terminology, legislation and much more. It was the first time in nearly 18 months that Paul has had to concentrate full time on a course. He enjoyed it, but it was not without its challenges to his anxiety. 

Luna joined Paul for the training and was a huge hit with the other students.  Of course, as Paul was still on crutches for the first two days of the course, it was difficult for him to take Luna outside for toilet breaks, but thankfully the students kept offering to take Luna out at every break.  In fact it appeared to be a competition as to who was going to offer first and take Luna for a walk! At one stage there was a tie so Alex and Zoe both took her out. Of course, Luna was not used to be without Paul, and on the first day of being taken outside by one of the course students, Luna zipped away and headed back inside towards Paul. The students trying to help, freaked out thinking that they had lost Paul’s assistance dog. As soon as Luna found Paul (inside the building), she dropped by his side and stayed there. Everyone was amazed at the bond between Paul & Luna, and her insistence on being next to him as much as possible. Of course, she’s not a pet, she’s trained for a specific purpose and was on duty.

Luna was also a huge hit with the staff at Club Marconi and the Star Buffet.  It was great that FPV Australia had informed the club and restaurant that Luna was going to be there, so it was relatively stress free for Paul.  The staff were fantastic with Luna and were all looking forward to seeing her each day.  

As part of the training, Paul and the rest of the students had to fly a DJI Phantom and also perform the role of Spotter.  This practical time was not about playing with the RPAS, but it was about honing our skills to become professional pilots. 

Interestingly Luna, who loves to try to catch drones, behaved during the practical flying sessions.  As you can see from one of the photos, there was one unit directly behind her and yet she stayed where she was told and performed the role of spotter perfectly.

Thanks to the excellent training, Paul was able to pass all the tests (aeronautical theory and practical RPAS flying) which means he is closer to gaining his Aeronautical Radio Operator Certificate (AROC), Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) and RPA Operator’s Certificate (ReOC).  All we are waiting on now is the paperwork from CASA confirming that Paul is now a licenced RPA Pilot.  We were also very pleased to hear that Luna had been accepted as an honorary student and actually received her own certificate when we visited their head office in Yass!

For Paul, drones are no longer a toy, but a tool of trade that will be used at every opportunity to capture what we are doing whilst on our event, and hopefully Paul will be able to pick up some freelance work to help us fund this journey that we are on.  Now that Paul has completed this training, his letter to Santa includes list of  bigger RPA such as the DJI Phantom 4 Pro or a DJI Inspire 1 or 2 Pro (or similar), so that he can capture the best quality images and video that he can. Kirstine isn’t sure if Santa’s elves produce them at the North Pole, but she’ll put the stamp on the letter for Paul anyway!

John, Chantal, Kim and Jason, THANK YOU for all your support of not only our event, but for supporting Paul through his training. He never felt like “just a number” on the course,  and even when his anxiety had him struggling during the day (or panicking the night before), you made sure procedures were in place to ensure he had the best experience possible. He passed, and we are eternally grateful to you all.