The light was dying fast in Prevelly, and the wind was starting to rage. I could barely hear the dial tone on my phone. It was the kind of evening where the beauty of the sunset in its pink and orange cloudy glory belies the fury that’s about to be unleashed by Mother Nature. My aunt, who lives out at Osmington, east of Margaret River, later tells my mum it was the worst night of weather she’s seen in more than 30 years there. It’s very quiet in town. I hear a voice on the other end of the line.
‘Oh hi there, I’m, um, standing in your driveway and was just wondering whether I could stay the night in one of your villas.’
‘Well we usually have a two night stay policy,’ Deidre says, but she’s not sounding that convincing.
‘Um, well like I said, we’re standing in your driveway and there’s not really anywhere else we can go at the moment.’
‘Ok well I guess we can do that. It’s $198 for the night.’
‘Great. Can I pay on a credit card?’
‘No, you’ll need cash.’
‘Um, ok well we might need a lift to the ATM at Gnarabup. We’re don’t have a car on us.’
‘I’ll send my husband around.’
Peter rolls up in his landcruiser, red-faced, with Tahla the golden lab in the back. Lucky you called when you did, he says. We just got back in from a nine-week stint in Cambodia. Had to get out of this bloody cold. The Italian gives me a sideways glance, as if to say ‘owning the Prevelly villas must be a pretty good gig if you get nine weeks off a year in south-east Asia’. Yeah mate.
Tahla is going nuts. She hasn’t seen Peter in all that time, and as if not having showered for three days isn’t enough, soon I’m covered in slobber too. Peter’s sizing us up, trying to work out what the story is, I can tell. The story is that I thought it was a good idea to go on a five-day hike with a man I met and quietly, secretly and very deeply fell immediately in love with, six weeks earlier. Is he my boyfriend? Who knows.
We get our money out separately at the ATM, and hand over a hundred bucks each to Peter. We tell him to keep the $2 change and he tells us it will buy him half the beer he’s not meant to have with his mates tonight, because he’s meant to be going straight home. What a bloke.
I buy a 750ml bottle of shampoo costing $3.65 from the German at the general store. She loves Margaret River. Will never leave. She is blonde, with a face older than a backpacker; tells me it’s been a tough winter, that tourism is down, sales are down. We get pizza, eggs, chocolate, yoghurt, rice crackers and hummus. The Italian is frugal. He looks at the shampoo, looks at me, looks back at the shampoo. I know what he’s about to say. ‘You won’t be able to take that with you tomorrow…’ I’ll use half the bottle washing my hair anyway, I tell him. And I do.
We are in the dawning stages of working out how to understand each other. I suspect this is the start of a long journey. I am serious. He takes the piss. I am guarded. His vulnerability is more secure, more practised, more liberal than mine. He wants to have a crack at everything life has to offer, and at this stage I am still chasing perfection.
The storm rages around us that night. We light the fire, have long showers, and curl up in bed. Thinking of how my mum monitors fire situations in rural Victoria where my sister lives, and knowing she’ll be attached to her phone and the weather app, I send her a picture to let her know we’re ok. I think too of the Welshman with the blisters and no mattress and the woman from Byron Bay, well into her 60s, who kicked my ass hauling herself and her pack across Wilyabrup Brook that morning (not that hard, given I end up nearly waist deep in water…). We have walked more than 20km a day and my contribution has been fuelled mostly by bravado, adrenalin and mum's banana cake.
We didn’t see her again, but we stumble on the Welshman again as we come over the top of a hill in the Boranup Forrest two days later. He is short and serious and has blond hair and glasses. I want to describe him as Hobbit-like but feel that's too unkind. He is sitting on the ground with his legs stretched out having a snack and the sight of him makes me giggle. While we slept in clean sheets, his tent was uprooted no less than four times that night and later we add each other on Facebook. I feel a little less guilty for having spent the night indoors.
I message Deidre to say thanks for having us. Good luck for the rest of your trip, she says. We eat the rest of the eggs and get a coffee at the café next to the general store and he says ‘dammi un basssshione’ like he does a hundred times a day, and so far I am not tired of it, and I oblige, and we keep walking, finding our rhythm on the easy dirt track inland to Boojidup. It’s more protected than the coastal sections and so much easier than walking on the sand.
I can't remember what day of the week it is anymore.