Our annual pilgrimage started with its usual quiet build-up, but as we loaded the car our excitement grew. The snow beckoned, and we were finally heading south on a trip we’d been planning for months.
The five-hour drive gave us an opportunity to admire some beautiful countryside, and it also gave us a look at a strange habit of Australian drivers. Littered along the road was bottle after bottle containing liquid that could only have been urine. Various shades of amber fluid glistening brightly in the sunshine.
Two-litre juice bottles, half-filled coke bottles and other assorted containers lay strewn about the highway in a bizarre testament to the gymnastic skill of our fellow travellers in their time of need. No need to stop, just whip out the old fella, jam it into a bottle and away you go – and once you’re done just heave it out the window.
Unless you’re a girl, I suppose.
Occasionally we’d see a mob of kangaroos lurking in the paddocks, and instead of picturing them as Skippy’s cute cousins it was fun to imagine them as a gang of marauding marsupials hatching sinister plots, a bit like the cows in a Larsen cartoon.
Occasionally too we’d see a highway cop lurking in the bushes, but instead of seeing them as Society’s guardians it was easy to picture them as complete bastards waiting in ambush. Fat fucks fondling their weapons as they lie in wait, breaking out into a lather as a potential victim approached.
There were plenty of other interesting sights along the way too. Herds of Alpacas grazing peacefully beneath wind turbines spinning slowly on the breeze. Fluffy young calves head butting each other in mock tests of strength, and tiny lambs bouncing off into the distance, their stumpy tails wagging furiously behind.
The most depressing sight was the large number of animal carcasses lying prostrate in the gutter, their bodies marked with a bright red “X” awaiting pickup by the cleanup crews. Kangaroo, Wombat and Possum – all meeting their demise at the pointy end of Man’s automotive genius.
We’ve taken a serious toll.
Eventually we left the long, flat bitumen and began the climb into the hills, and as snow began falling we reached the final winding stretch of mountain road leading to the hotel. We were only five minutes away from enjoying dinner by the fire.
And then we saw the sign.
A flashing digital billboard screaming out its incessant message.
“Fit Chains Now”
There is nothing worse than stopping in the freezing snow to fit bloody chains.
I’ve seen grown men rip their own clothes off and run naked into the snow screaming obscenities after struggling with the metal macramé of death.
I’d rather eat a hot spark plug dipped in brake fluid than lay down in the ice to wrestle with those bloody things. I’d even stab myself in the eye with a rusty dipstick if it would get me out of that horrid task.
Chains are evil and should be banned.
There was no chance of ignoring the order though; it would have been a stupid thing to do. The road ahead was covered with thick, hard ice and provided no traction at all, and there was a steep drop-off on both sides. I’ve driven through here many times and have witnessed the results of a driver’s bravado lying prone in a ditch.
I unpacked the chains and with a sigh of resignation set about fitting them, but what had been an easy task in the comfort of my garage became a nightmare of mammoth proportions in the icy darkness.
I grunted and groaned, I struggled and strained, but the bastards would not co-operate. I’d just about have them hooked up when they would slip from my grasp; the links would be almost connected only to spring apart under the tension.
It got worse.
To feel the small notches on the hook and link setup I was unable to wear gloves, and now my fingertips were so cold they were becoming solid thimbles of flesh. If I tapped them together I had absolutely no feeling at all.
Visions of frostbitten mountaineers flashed into my head. I’d seen the movies. Legions of amputees bore witness to the danger of exposing limbs to sub-zero temperatures, and it wasn’t my wish to join their club.
I admitted defeat and climbed back into the car, but the pain of my fingers thawing could not match the pain of failure. It was an embarrassing effort.
We drove back into town and went straight to the hire shop to seek help, where to my surprise, instead of taking my money for new chains the young guy working there offered to have a look at mine. He said they were actually the right size for my tyres and offered to show me a different method of fitting them. He made it look so easy. Bastard.
When it was my turn I mentioned that I hadn’t needed to fit chains since 1982 and that I was seriously out of practice.
His comment of “I wasn’t even born then” didn’t help at all.
Wracked with humility I thanked him and we set off again, but this time fitting the chains was completed without incident. My fingers were intact.
Our next two days was spent enjoying some of the best snow we’ve seen in years. The previous week’s storms had deposited metres of the soft, white, pleasure powder, and there was absolutely nowhere that we couldn’t ski. Groomed slopes provided run after run of non-stop fun.
Things that once came easily, however, now required much more effort. Time had inflicted its unrelenting dominance over our bodies, and our rest stops became longer and more frequent.
We didn’t mind though, because down at the restaurants there were huge vats of hot chocolate just waiting to be consumed.
And not a patch of yellow snow to be seen.