Canberra | Breakdown

A quick engagement, my employ spanned nine hours of not-so-gruelling labour over three days. A lot less than I would have liked but the income got me a week of this travel lifestyle. Or perhaps the money would be spent elsewhere. Canberra camping appeared slim, at least according to WikiCamps. The first night I stayed at a roadside stop along the highway from Sydney, very noisy, the serenity was blasted away every few minutes with the thunderous rumble of engine brakes as double trailer trucks slowed down for an intersection. The next morning I sat on a stone ledge drinking tea and was greeted by the rest stop committee who met to discuss the next memorial installation or perhaps future maintenance – I am getting used to that naked feeling of being in the public eye whilst camping in a van.

The last day at work was on a Saturday, the morning of which I awoke at a far more pleasant albeit frigidly cold nightly stop. A camp ground west of Canberra along the Murumbidgee River, hot showers, water taps to fill the tanks and glorious glorious silence. So good that I chose to return after the day was finished for an extra night. I spent the afternoon exploring the beauty around me. Rivers, flowing fast and shallow over rounded rocks sided by tundra like foliage and sporadic casuarina giants – the scene felt familiar to the national parks of the USA, where tall and thick forests smothered the rolling hills around and great bears went fishing in the icy streams. The morrow I would ride over Mt Stromlo mountain bike park, looking forward to it.

I am quite efficient at packing the van ready for movement nowadays, fifteen minutes and I can convert a comfortable camp into a drivable vehicle. This morning I woke slowly, finished my morning routine and made ready for the mountain biking adventure. I turned the engine over and it roared into life before returning to that familiar diesel rattling idle, then, to my curious surprise, silence – I turned the key again – nothing but the starter motor pushing around a stubborn engine. I gave a few more attempts before the battery told me of its exhaustion and I called the NRMA.

It was a Sunday, the mechanic suggested an issue with the van’s wiring and not the engine itself –I felt void of comfort yet comfortably void – I would not be able to contact an auto electrician until Monday so I re-established the camp and made ready for another day here, a perfect location to break down.

I took the bike for a spin and found many a great track for riding, from visiting the water catchment dam to lugging the bike up steep terrain in quest for a cave adventure. Upon a platform overlooking the valley below I met Andy and Marian who were out to enjoy the beautiful day among nature. We had an enjoyable conversation at the lookout and discussed the best route over the several peaks and troughs to get on top of the great dam wall, Andy was doing his best to convince me of a route but I saw only upward hills preventing the tired body from desiring the achievement. I coasted down the steep windy asphalt to return to a hot shower, tea and food – such luxury.


Andy and Marian had returned from their walk and we discussed the van, camping and adventures in general. I enjoy the spontaneous friendships that generate on my travels, when fear (it is subtle!) of the other is released magical encounters abound. That night, more of the same around a warm fire with a fellow camper, this gentleman, a builder, is saving his money before another Thailand trip to visit his sweetheart (and a meeting with the parents, serious stuff) – we drank port and talked the night away.

The next morning I put my phone in my pocket ready for a walk up the hill for reception to ring an auto electrician. I remembered the NRMA mechanic’s advice to test-start again before making the call – I inserted the key into the ignition and turned once to heat the coils, I turned it again, the next movement would start the hulking engine – I was full of conflicting hope and expectation.

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