ON THE ROAD

A fever dream missive from the edge.

There are the late night roadhouses, their sulphur glow radiating sickly into the pallid fog that sags over the road between midnight and dawn, somehow the only meaningful mile marker out here, the quick glance into the eyes of the attendant the only way to know, for sure, if you’re awake and about to head back into the quiet storm of the highway again or just dreaming behind the wheel.

There is the satisfying thump of the door closing, the rattle, ding, shudder and growl, the crackle of the last of the gravel before the pavement, the roar of acceleration and then the long, smooth descent between the lines, the forced meditation of the night drive.

The open road has its own peculiar gravity. It dilates time and warps it. Songs slow down into a long drawn out single note resonating with the hum of the tyres. A minute becomes an eon, and towns slip by in the twilight like half-remembered faces.

Too few of us watch the sun rise these days. Hunters and medicine men know it all too well, it is part of the language of their day, the rhythm of the beat of their psyche. It is a door between worlds and the symbol of symbols. It is awakening from being awake, the truest journey a man can make.

Out here, the land begins to stir ineffably. Fence posts become visible. Barbed strands will themselves into haze-flecked existence. The road becomes a surface again after many hours of weightlessness in the void. Helios brings more than light with his chariot: he brings gravity to the world, fixing everything together, dividing the heavens from the earth, the road from the heavens.

This is the sweet spot. The light is soft and it comes from every direction. The colours are brighter, truer, to the east. There are almost no other travellers here now. Distant cliffs begin to ake shape, and you realise that you have travelled a long way through the night. The landscape has replaced itself with a new kind of earth. You missed the transition. The night seems like a blink. Were you awake? You must have been. You made it here. Cosmologically, it was a blink, but even in that split second of a star’s life something grew in you, and consequently, in the universe, which lives at every scale simultaneously.

We are trapped between moments and kalpas, between infinitesimal fractures that lie between what we might discern as discrete experiences and immeasurably long eons. Our time is as subjective as our experience of the road. Sometimes the only way we know if we are going uphill or down is the sound of the engine. Sometimes these nights seem to last forever. Sometimes it all feels like a dream, and I’m left wondering how much of it really was? How much of this road did I dream, and how much of the nothing out there did I live through?

Did I look into that attendant’s eyes? The gauge points somewhere between E and F. At this hour, math seems abstract. I know I’ll make it to the next fuel, not by checking the numbers, but by feel now, the way I can tell dawn is coming long before the first flicker of twilight haze, the way I can see the roos coming out of the dark shoulders before they blaze into my headlights crazed.

Awakening – nothing better than heading west with the sun behind you. The landscape lights up, paints itself in rich hues that work themselves up into a staggering crescendo before washing themselves in pointed light for the rest of the day. By now my circadian rhythm is dull and quiet, but dawn light has a way of forcing a whisper out: this is day now – and my mind quickens in response, my eyes relax a little, my hands slide down each side of the steering wheel a few inches. The fear diminishes in waves: blindness becomes sight, weariness becomes attention, tense muscles slacken imperceptibly.

Daylight feels like going downhill, ever so slightly; like a tailwind you barely notice outside the car. Daylight means traffic in the towns, other humans, a mixed blessing. It is less wild, trading humanity for the midnight menagerie, but really, no less dangerous.

The radio plays a little quieter, a little less darkly. There are more major keys under the sun. Under the moon the music is all minor, all dark, all a kind of medicine against the inky blackness outside the glass of the 4WD, fight fire with fire, fight darkness with darkness.

And the wheel in the sky keeps on turning, the widening gyre of our existence, and the centre cannot hold. But was it ever supposed to? In a way, we all share a common destination, but we all have no idea where it might be. In our wildest fever dreams it is heaven, or hell, but for now, my waypoints are the lines on the compass where the stars meet the horizon, my roads the ley lines of adventure across the landscape. The trick is to pack light and carry on.

– Carlisle Rogers

Nullarbor Plain, October 2019