So efficient, I looked up the op shops on my phone before we left the motel. I discovered opshop.org/ which is worth checking out if you are in Australia and like bargains. We had breakfast in a great greasy spoon milk bar called the Silver Key, where a chinese woman made good bacon and egg sarnies and cappuccino in thick old china cups. Then, horrifyingly, the Vinnies turned out to be recently demolished, a pile of rubble and pipes in the middle of a busy street! Disappointing.
Michelle drove us out of town to the petrol station, I think she's still nervous about my driving near the bowsers. After that I took the wheel and drove for the rest of the day. The highway out of town was easy, mostly straight sections and easy merging traffic. I feel different about driving now, more relaxed and ready to face whatever comes at me. I know what to do and can see that the other drivers mostly know as well. That's a skill my father never mastered, he always drove as though squeezing the wheel hard enough would magically prevent accidents from happening, and he seemed to believe that maintaining enough tension in his tendons would give him superhuman reflexes to dodge accidents. I find that driving at least 5k under the speed limit allows me to change lanes easily and my pedal foot never tires or slips.
I followed signs pointing towards Tumut, but turned off at Adelong, a small town with a single street, and took the scenic route through Batlow. The hills rose around us as we headed for the mountains, traversed by cow paths and sprinkled with granite boulders. Trees appeared, plantations of mature pines hidden behind screens of native trees. Logging trucks roared past us, all the same, a truck and trailer with upright bars to hold the load of logs in place. A fine rain of sawdust and sand blew off the loads onto our windscreen. They returned empty, the trailer upside down on the back of the truck with the bars folded down. We stopped for a closer look at the pine forest. The edges were dense with brambles and weeds, the interior of the forest spooky dark and waiting. I noticed large divided hoof prints, small holes rooted in the soil and strange pasty dung like human shit. It wasn't until we drove away that I realised it was pig spoor, there must be wild pigs in the forest. Wooly cows grazed the fields between sections of forest, wild cows that ran away when they realised humans were watching them.
Batlow looked familiar, an apple region like Bilpin, where we often go mushroom picking. The apples had almost all been picked for the season, and there were many orchards where the old unproductive trees had been grubbed out of the ground and were piled up ready for a fire.
We stopped in Tumbarumba when we spotted a Vinnies on the main street. It was full of a mob of old ladies who said "yes" to each other repeatedly in a soothing tone, discussing how they ought to catch the bus to Corryong just to keep it running. While Michelle picked over their knitting needles looking for tortoise shell pairs, they tried to work out how to cast on a synthetic yarn one had bought, which was actually a tape with holes in it. Michelle tried to help, but they wouldn't listen to her. Another of their number entered the store and announced that she had been to a workshop on modern knitting in melbourne and knew the secrets of the tape holes. We escaped gratefully an had lunch in a small cafe run by a frazzled young couple who could barely cope with 3 customers at a time. I had sautéed potatoes with bacon, because, bacon.
Onwards we drove, into the mountains proper. Michelle became worried about the height, barking at me to brake on the corners, or "harelip bends" as she called them, her hands convulsively reached for the wheel, until she forced herself to relax and see that I was not in any danger of flying off the side of the mountains. I enjoyed the bends, slopes, switchbacks and single-lane bridges. Luckily there was no traffic on the road besides ourselves. I kept to 60k at most on the straight sections. Mich kept her eyes ahead, trying not to notice the drop always to our left. We drove through forests of snow gums, tall with streaky bark and masses of hanging bark strips like a frigid spanish moss. The moss grew thick on the rocks. We drove under high tension power lines carrying current from the hydro electric scheme, passed concrete overflow chutes running down the sides of the hills, small waterfalls gushed from culverts. The orange roadside marker poles appeared, announcing that we had entered the snow district. The trees fell away and we entered the wide U-shaped glacial valleys full of dry brown grass and old granite, surreal in the late afternoon sun. For hours I had silently worried that we might be lost, turned around somehow, headed up a one way road to some isolated ski town, but we saw signs for Cooma ahead and knew we were okay. We paused in a layover beside an old hammer mill and a big perforated iron cylinder, mining equipment from an old gold mine, used to crush ore and extract gold dust. Our car windows fogged up and Michelle had to run the de-mister for me, usually my job while she drives. The sun set, casting a rose peach light across the barren hills. I practiced switching on the headlight, setting te beam high and low, Driving at night had the feeling of an old computer game, navigating a black world strung with simple lights of roadside reflectors and oncoming vehicles. In the distance ahead the lights of Cooma appeared and disappeared behind hills.
We arrived in town around 6.30. I drove through the town while Michelle looked out for a hotel, but she couldn't make a choice on the first pass. I let her take over driving while I looked out. We found a likely place that claimed 3 1/2 stars but was the shittiest hotel we stayed at so far, with the sprayed concrete ceiling that looks like porridge and for some reason horrifies Michelle. At least it has radiator heating, a necessity in the mountains.
We had dinner at the Tourist Cafe, a brightly lit 60s style joint on the main street. The host was a vigorous older lady with a hoarse voice of an all-day talker, her staff were all earnest teens, the cook was a giant cheerful surfer dyke. Michelle had pork, I had a mixed grill, which had local sausages and fresh eggs. We watched the fascinating patrons, especially the perfect specimen of a long haired spinster hunched over her travel diary in drab grey mens clothes, a couple of local GenY kids out on a date, and a party of old people reading books together and drinking tea. The host was conferring with various staff members about someone on the day shift who had been rude to customers, she was considering firing this person because customers were walking because of her. We decided to come back for breakfast and see who it was.