Somehow, I am never the one to “find plans.” Friends tell me their extravagant happenings each weekend and I wonder what Facebook group they’re in or what special contact they have to get them into all these things. When my roommates told me they would be leaving for the weekend on a road-trip, I thought it was simply one of those situations where I just wouldn’t have a way in. I wasn’t in the right group message, maybe. “Oh, that’s nice.” I first said, and went back to my homework. “That’s alright,” I thought. “They’ll have fun and I’ll get a lot of work done. Maybe I’ll check out the fish market on Saturday. They probably have some deals on salmon.”
That’s when I stopped myself. The fish market, Aubrey? The fish market? When your house is going road-tripping in Australia? I thought of the short twenty minutes it would take me to saute some salmon and the four days of fun they were about to have. It simply couldn’t happen that way. So I casually sidled my way into their conversation. “Oh wow, Byron Bay, that sounds really cool. You know I’d love to go there someday…” I gradually snuck in a few, “You think you might have an extra seat?” until eventually, there was an extra seat and eventually I was the one occupying it. I’m not usually a fan of people inviting themselves to things but I had to make an exception for my otherwise fish-market-bound, pitiful self. Good thing I worked my pestering magic.
When we got to our first stop at Byron Bay on Friday night, we found ourselves in the smallest nook of the whole hipster town. I forget the name of the bar, but I can’t forget the feeling. We walked up the wooden stairs as the wild squealing of a fiddle and electric guitar grew with each step. Women in their forties, fifties, sixties, and ages untold unapologetically danced out their hearts’ dreams on the floor in front of the band. They stomped their feet and twirled and twisted in their flowing flowery shirts. They closed their eyes and fell into the music as the flashing lights- blue, green, red- lit their moves. A crowd of over one hundred middle-aged fans clapped their hands to the pristine rhythm of the old country music, laughing and drinking their Australian beers. The band was incredible. It had been so long since I had heard live music. We moved to the front of the place. Right underneath the Round Mountain Girl band, I felt like I had slipped away into some other time, a time with an atmosphere these dancing people understood. It must’ve been the feeling of their youth.
Getting to bed around 11 pm that night we set our alarms for 2:20 am. An early start for what we hoped would be a magnificent day. A ninety minute drive and a fourteen mile hike awaited us in the morning in pursuit of a supposed magnificent sunrise at the top of Mount Warning. At 6 am and two hours into our hike in the rainforest, we found ourselves scrambling to make it to the top in time. A 300 meter rock wall stood between us and the legendary sunrise at the summit. We were sweating, out of breath, and willing to stay put to watch the big event from 300 meters below our goal. How unfortunate that would have been. We gave a final push and pulled ourselves (literally, using a chain on the side of the rock wall) to the top. The rock was slippery, and I began to panic. As my muscles shook and I looked back to see the 200 meter drop below me, I told myself I couldn’t do it. Then I remember the last time I almost had a panic attack on a mountain top in New Hampshire. I thought of my friend from home who coaxed me (with unbelievable patience) to the top of the South Baldface Trail, and I laughed to myself. “Of course you can, Aubrey,” I heard her say as I trembled on the side of the rock wall in the Australian rainforest just minutes before sunrise. I started to laugh at my precarious situation as I remembered that the literal only choice I had was to keep going up. With a few more pulls, I made it the last one hundred meters. At the top we thought we missed it. We made brief conversation with two men who were flying out to hike Mount Everest in two days. We drank our water, sat down, and told ourselves at least we got there, even if it was a few minutes too late. The day was too cloudy anyway. Just five minutes later, we saw a golden ray peak through the clouds on the horizon. Then another. Then another. We hadn’t missed a thing. The sun reached out its arms one by one and we turned our heads to see the awakening of the distant star that keeps our planet alive. Unlike any sunrise’s I’ve seen before, this one was 3,700 feet higher.
At the end of the weekend my roommates continued their journey. They don’t have classes on Mondays or Tuesdays and were headed off to another destination. They dropped me off on Sunday morning. As I opened the door to the apartment as they drove away, I realized I had seen another side of Australia. I saw life away from the famous beaches. I saw the countryside and the back dirt roads that I thought only existed in Kenny Chesney songs. I saw the older generation of Australia living their youth on a Friday night and I felt the pulse of their wishful freedom. I saw the bravery in my friends and bravery in myself and I saw what a 200 meter drop looks like when you’re 100 meters from the top. I saw the sunrise from a mountaintop. And as I walked into the empty kitchen at the end of the trip and opened my fridge to grab a snack, I sure was happy I didn’t see a single piece of sautéed salmon on my shelf.