The King of Terrors enlivened some interesting engagement last week – which is what you’d sort of expect, given that comforting cliche about death and taxes…
I find the whole realm of fear fascinating, kingly or not so kingly. So I’m going to tell you about a really scary thing that happened this week. No one had to die, nearly die, or be going to die in the making of this blog post, I hasten to add, though a morbid fear of all of the above did at times, grip me.
Remember when I told you about Coolangatta Mountain? The mild HILL I can see from my kitchen window at SoCo?
Well, I have a few apologies to make.
My first apology is to Conrad Martens, a highly regarded colonial artist who’s depiction of the HILL looked like a serious case of poetic license. Seriously, I thought the guy must have been on drugs.
The second apology is to all Australians past and present, for my rudeness about how you guys wouldn’t know a mountain if you tripped over one, even if it sits your kitchen window sill.
And my third apology is to Coolangatta Mountain itself.
To all, I beg most humble pardon.
Why the grovelling?
Because yesterday, I went up that hill in a truck called Big Foot and it scared the freaking hell out of me.
Now my husband and children will be quick to tell you, should you feel inclined to ask, that it is not often I am wrong. I’m a bit like The Fonz in Happy Days, really cool and always right. (Shuddup those laughing)
I am wrong in this instance however, although only just, because the view from said kitchen window is not enough to assumptions make, yet that is what I did anyway.
I made an assumption about a hill that turns out to be, in fact, more.
Coolangatta Mountain at its peak, reaches 1000 feet above sea level, qualifying it on the international scale of hills verses mountains, as indeed, a mountain – a mole hill of a mountain, but a mountain none the less. It is in fact, the world’s smallest mountain, as it does not reach a hair’s breadth above that critical 1000ft measure.
In this ancient land, there are probably lots of hills who have lost their mountain status over the millennia, being worn away by time and the elements, but not this one. Not yet.
A mountain is a mountain is a mountain, I have to concede.
You might be amused, then, to hear that yesterday I was subjected to a fear rivalling the King of Terrors, when I found myself in an over-sized, open sided, brightly coloured, Tonka toy of my nightmares – set to take me to Coolangatta’s top.
One boards this particular, purpose built vehicle much like you do a light aircraft – no air bridge, just metal stairs wheeled out on the tarmac.
I’m about as fond of light aircraft as I am fond of ebola for dogs.
That was the first troubling observation. That a vehicle built not for air but for land, had to be accessed via a staircase. The engines of my imagination roared into life.
Question: Why do you need a purpose-built Tonka toy to climb a mere hill?
Answer: Because know-all kiwis are really annoying.
Brucie the driver introduced himself and asked that the 10 of us ‘intrepid travellers’, buckle our seat belts.
Now I don’t know about you, maybe you’re a thrill seeker, but no person in their right mind who has EVER met me or even heard my name mentioned in passing, would EVER describe me in any way, shape or form, as intrepid. To a thrill seeker, I am the anti-Christ. I am scared of spiders that can’t hurt me (stupidly named spiders, btw), I am scared of my adult children being out of my sight (the eldest is nearly 30), and just to round it out, I am scared of getting cancer from being scared. I do good, comprehensive scared.
So the use of the word intrepid by Brucie, did not endear him to me. In fact, suddenly scrutinised, I thought Brucie had to be well over 60; if we’re doing intrepid, shouldn’t we have someone younger?
I didn’t say anything, I just swallowed hard in an effort to keep from vomiting my prejudices.
Brucie kicked the motor over, and we launched. The car park trembled in our wake, as we headed out towards the track.
From the car park, you don’t actually see the track, it is obscured by the gently waving gum trees that I later realised were complicit in misleading the unsuspecting intrepid and trepidatious traveller alike. The purpose of these treacherous, pretty trees I deduced, was to screen the horror of the track behind them.
Because let me tell you, wild horses would not get you into that vehicle if you could see where it was going to take you.
Too late, Brucie was on the move.
The track yawned a double brown gash before us that looked from the very first glimpse, to be some sort of JOKE! My notion of a road – even of a bush track – did not comply with these two deep TRENCHES that constituted the ‘road’ we were to take to the summit.
The mighty Big Foot shuddered its way vertically, whilst Brucie prattled on about the history of Alexander Berry. I wanted to scream at him, ‘CONCENTRATE!’ I was not interested in history – I was interested in the present – my present – and not becoming anybody’s history!!!!
Oh my giddy aunt – I can’t tell you the panic.
As we progressed towards the sky, the road got worse with every foot we climbed. I was petrified. Big Foot lurched from side to side, groaning and squeaking like some over sized wind-up mouse in some kind of horror movie…
(that’s probably a weak analogy, having never heard of a giant wind-up mouse in a horror movie – but that’s just how scared I was).
When we stopped at the first lookout, I went into full battle with my STUCK seatbelt. It wouldn’t release. With the engine cut, I was sure we would begin to slide backwards down and over the edge and that I would be writing this post from heaven, where I would of course be, given how many crosses you know I have.
“Please remain seated”, urged Brucie, “for your own safety”.
For my own safety? I needed to get out of my seat belt, so that I could avoid a premature heaven experience. My hands were clammy, I think I was panting…
In times of great stress, I am uncharacteristically compliant. I think it’s my survival instinct kicking in, the logic being that if someone sounds authoritative, then they must be an authority in whom I must trust if I am to make it out alive. It’s probably why I am terrified of police, because even though I’m at an age where all police look like pre-schoolers in dress-ups, they have authority. They have guns, too, which probably helps.
Once when we were kids, my mother parked her convertible sports car outside the butcher and told us to sit tight while she ducked in and got some chops for dinner. When she came out, there was a red-faced parking officer in a real state standing beside our car, insisting, ‘I never did anything m’am, I never even spoke to them!’. Inside the car, all four of us kids were bawling, terrified of a man in uniform.
If you’re clever, you’re probably doing a whole lot of calculations round about now, about what it is in my background that has made me neurotic… Add parking tickets to the list.
Back to Big Foot.
As we neared the summit, Brucie announced casually, that as the last part of the track is so steep and as there is no where at the top in which to turn this juggernaut around, he would perform a three point turn at a plateau short of the summit, and reverse the rest of the way.
Are you with me?
As we pitched in for the first of the three pointer, the truck lurched at a pair of spindly gums that appeared to quiver as we neared. Brucie joked that they were his ‘other brakes’ should he need them. Funny Brucie…. he didn’t say anything about the dead gum that lay about a meter away – felled no doubt, on some other, less chirpy day.
I thought savage thoughts.
He then chucked the truck into reverse and we toppled backwards in a seesaw motion that I thought might be my last. In the knick of time, Brucies lunges the vehicle forward again, and there we are – ready for reverse.
True to his word, Brucie backs the bastard right up to 1000 feet.
When we got up there, I looked down to see that we had stopped no less than one single inch from the extremity of what was possible – or at least, where he’d stopped before.
I felt faint, desperate, hysterical. But I had to keep myself together because the worst part of this was, we had Geoff’s executive team with us – i.e., we were HOSTS! And no one likes a whiny hostess…
I didn’t care about the view. I just cared about getting down the massive mountain – but in order to give a semblance of calm, I waved my phone around and snapped a few photographs that look like they were taken from the top of an ant hill – not a colossus.
Geoff thought he’d be helpful by pointing out our farm house. It was a speck of nothing in the distance. I hated it. I wanted to sell. I never wanted to ever go there again.
This is what unbridled fear looks like.
I felt like actually, this was a light plane after all and that this was an aerial view…
I was flying, in a Tonka toy!
Eventually, Brucie revved the engines again, and our descent commenced. I thought I’d be even more scared going down, because you know, brake failure and all that… but so great was my relief that we were returning to earth, I didn’t even care – I wanted Brucie to drive faster and faster!
When we got almost to the bottom, we stopped at a viewing platform, from which we could get a fabulous view out over the Shoalhaven river and the district beyond. Not an aerial view, a normal, pretty view that did not feel like balancing on the precipice between earth and sky, heaven and hell.
I breathed in the mountain air and took stock of all that I am grateful for.
They served us picnic sandwiches for lunch there on the deck and I cannot tell you how ravenous I felt. I mean I was forcing those chicken wraps down my cake hole barely even chewing them.
It was weird, like a first supper, not a last.
Geoff’s team are all nice people, actually, I really like all of them. I looked around at them all (eating at a slightly less frantic pace, I’d have to say) and at that moment, I wanted to embrace them. I wanted to shout, ‘WE SURVIVED THIS -TOGETHER’…. I wanted to grant them all a months leave to be with their loved ones… I wanted to offer massive pay rises… promotions… Geoff’s job…
But I didn’t. I had a mandarin instead.
Because like the rest of them, I came back to earth. Oh Happy Days!
Following our adventure, Geoff and the team of fellow survivors went back to the conference centre to complete their off-site agenda.
I went to the cellar door of Coolangatta Estate, encouraged by the words of enthusiasm for the award winning wines, and spent up large. The semillon is amazing – 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2014 are all terrific vintages and the wines have done incredibly well at the Sydney International Wine Show recently. The 2007 chardonnay is also particularly delicious!
In closing, I’d just like to assure you that I don’t normally taste wines by myself in the middle of the day at a winery hosting my husband and his executive team upstairs by the fire in the conference centre. I am generally far more careful with my reputation.
But I put my own standards aside, dear reader, so that I might bring to you a more balanced report on what is on offer at our neighbours, Coolangatta Estate.
All I can say is no wonder their wine is so good – after a trip on Big Foot, you bloody need it!