A Fork In The Road

Days 390-392

I was stranded in Broome, Western Australia, a town of 14,000 people after my car died in the desert. It was the largest town for hundreds of miles. I spent the first day taking my noisy car to different shops, hoping to repair it. That evening, I met up with Greg and Collise, who I had met a month prior. They had been a saving grace when I met them because I was staying at the creepiest hotel that I had ever stayed at after crossing the Nullarbor. 

We met at a bar for a beer because they were leaving the following day to continue their travels north. The female bartenders were almost naked, wearing just g-strings and tiny bikini tops. We grabbed a tall table to catch up on our travels. I explained my situation about my car and wanted their advice. They recommended that I just take the loss and sell the vehicle for the $500 that I was offered. It was helpful to explore options with them and vent about my frustrations. 

That evening, I talked with my Airbnb host, Flic. She was 51-years-old, had medium-length blonde hair, and was pretty with a great smile. Flic dressed like a chic country girl with a lot of style. She was fit and spunky, and I loved her positive energy. 

Flic was fascinating. She was from New South Wales, and in her 20s, she left her life behind to travel around the country for two years. She left a good job and a comfortable life with just her swag in her car. Flic first went up the coast to Queensland and worked at various places along the way. After a year, she arrived in Broome and fell in love with the outback town. She briefly left, but her heart was still with Broome. She quickly went back and had been there for 25 years! She laughed, saying, “Broome has a way of convincing you to stay, be careful!” 

When Flic was in her late 30s to early 40s, she decided to follow her passion and become a milliner (hat designer). She had a studio in her backyard with all of her equipment and designs. Many of her clients are women attending horse races. She makes designer hats, but also country-styled hats, perfect for the outback. You can find her designs here.

When Flic was still early in her milliner career, she was diagnosed with skin cancer. The surgery on her arm affected her ability to make hats and even do simple things like brush her teeth. 

Flic didn’t give up, and she decided to go to New York Fashion Week. She set everything up, booking her trip to include other stops like Nashville and Texas. Then she found out you have to be invited to fashion week. 

She went on her trip anyway. While standing in line at the concierge desk to get a ticket to a theater production, the people in front of her caused a scene. They were so rude that security escorted them out. Flic will often talk about forks in the road – simple decisions that end up changing the course of our lives. This was one of them. She thought about leaving the line, so she wasn’t associated with that group and going to get coffee somewhere. Instead, she decided to try to make the employees laugh and lighten the mood. 

The women behind the desk helped her get tickets to the Lion King, and one broke down in tears, saying, “Why can’t all the customers be this easy?” They hit it off, and Flic made a joke about wanting to go to Fashion Week. It turned out that one of the women had a ticket but couldn’t go because she had to work. She transferred the name on the ticket to Flic and gave her access for two shows. 

Flic ended up blogging about her experience and highlighted the body of the first male model. The designer read her blog and found her website with her hats. The designer thanked Flic for her blog and said she should be showcasing her hats at Fashion Week. Shortly after that, the producer emailed her, asking Flic to be part of Fashion Week the following year. 

In 2013, Flic became the first Australian milliner to show at New York Fashion Week. She also showcased her hats in 2014 and 2015. She was invited back again and again, but she has chosen not to continue showcasing at Fashion Week due to the cost.

Flic tells her story on an episode of this podcast, where she is very inspirational. She is a firm believer that things happen for a reason. Flic encourages us to dream and to dream big. We need to go for it, regardless of where we’re at. In that podcast, she says, “My little motto is to dream the goal, to live the journey, and love the life. To have faith in yourself and to take action, albeit with many little small steps to get there, but action. And just don’t put the pressure on yourself that you must reach the finish line.”

Flic was full of positive, happy energy. It’s rare to meet someone like that; someone who finds the positive, the lesson, in every situation. She listened to me complain about my mistake of not checking my oil and how stressed out I was. She was patient and told me with a smile on her face, “This happened for a reason. Everything does. It will all work out – you’ll see. Maybe not now, but you will see.”

I browsed through her hat collection and fell in love with the country hat. I bought one and Flic styled it for me. She gave it an American style, saying it suited me. When she went to get the hat, I noticed a magazine on the table where she was featured and interviewed. It was so cool! You never know who you’ll meet at an Airbnb. 

What to do next?

I was still unsure of what to do. When I checked how much it would cost to rent a car, the cheapest was $300 per day. It was the school holiday, and cars were limited because we were so remote. Flic insisted that it would all work out and said, “Hey, you’ll have a great story for your blog!” I replied, “I don’t want a $5,000 story!” 

I searched on TripAdvisor for things to do in the area because I didn’t want to miss out before I’d have to leave. I knew I might have to fly to Darwin, the Northern Capital. I found a day tour that took people to the Kimberly region for a couple of hikes in gorges and then back to Broome. It was an all-day tour, and I would get to see a bit of the region. 

The Kimberly area is the main reason that I decided to travel around Australia. I wanted to hike and see the landscape. I heard from several people that the Gibb River Road was so rough, they recommended that I not drive on it. It is a gravel road that cuts through the heart of the Kimberly region. However, it was so crazy that you have to drive through rivers, and I knew my Subaru Outback wouldn’t make it. I also met people who had broken pistons and tires on that road. I knew I’d have to take the highway if I had my Outback. 

I signed up for the following morning with a 6:00 am pick up time. I felt relieved that I would at least see a section if I had to abandon my travel plans. 

Unfortunately, the next morning, I wasn’t picked up. At 6:15 am, I called the company, but got a voicemail. Finally, at 6:30 am, a woman called me back. She said she didn’t have a record of me signing up, and they already picked everyone up. The truck was en route out of Broome. Because I signed up at 6:00 pm the night before, that was too late for them to realize that I booked the tour. 

Teagan, the shuttle driver (and operations manager), picked me up and said she’d try to catch up with the tour bus driver so I could still join them. We drove in a van, and she called the driver repeatedly, who never answered the phone. Our only hope was to catch them. We drove into the desert for an hour, when Teagan said, “We’re going to run out of gas. I have to turn around.”

During our drive, I talked with Teagan. She was in her 20s with long, dark blonde dreadlocks. She’s lived in a few cities around Australia but loves it in Broome because “there’s so much to do.” Teagan loved the beach and nature. 

I told Teagan about my car situation and how I was stranded in Broome, unsure what to do. I needed to get to a larger city. Darwin was the next city on my drive around the country. I desperately wanted to see the Kimberly region. Then Teagan said, “You know we have a ten-day tour that leaves Broome and drops you off in Darwin? It leaves every Thursday. You bush camp in swags and hike in all of the gorges.”

When I got back to my Airbnb, I looked at the tour online to see what it entailed and how much it cost. It seemed to be the perfect solution. I would spend ten days visiting the Kimberly region, taking the Gibb River Road. It would drop me off in Darwin, where I had more options for getting to the east coast. Once I was on the east coast, I could rent a car for a reasonable price. The cost of the tour was just over $2,000 U.S. dollars. 

That wasn’t bad considering it covered food, gas, a tour guide, and equipment like a swag to sleep in. I talked it over with Flic and Lisa (the other Airbnb guest). They were excited and immediately said that I should do it. Flic pulled out her swag so that I could test it and see how I liked it. 

A swag is a canvas bag like a sleeping bag. There is a two-inch mattress inside, and you slide your sleeping bag on top of the mattress. Your face is exposed to the outside. I had always slept in a tent, so I was nervous. After trying out Flic’s swag, I figured it would work. It was just for ten days. 

There were a few obstacles: I had to sell my car, and I could only take one bag on tour with me. It was Wednesday, and the group left every Thursday. I called the tour company and talked with a girl there. She said that if I left the following day, there were 16 people already signed up. If I left the next week, there were already 19 people signed up. The tour takes a total of 20 people. 

I wanted to go on the tour with less people and not have to extend my stay by a week, costing more money in accommodation. However, I didn’t think I could sell my car and all of my camping gear by the following morning, so I decided to stay in Broome another week. I found out that I could ship my suitcase on the Greyhound bus and they’d hold it in Darwin until I arrived. I wasn’t allowed to take any hard cases. I asked the company if I could bring my medium backpack and a small duffel bag. There is limited luggage space, but they said since my pack was smaller, it would be fine. 

I went to work listing my car for sale on Gumtree, a local selling and buying site. Unfortunately, the people who inquired about it didn’t understand the engine problem. It would have been great for someone who knew how to repair the engine and had time to wait to get one shipped to Broome. 

While in Broome

My car was still drivable, so I drove it to the outdoor night market. I needed to take my mind off of things and wanted to see the Staircase to Heaven. It only happens a couple of days a month. The full moon sets in the perfect position where light reflects off the ocean, creating an illusion of a staircase. 

I browsed the market, ate some food, and sat on a ledge for the viewing. There were a few ledges and grass, and people were taking their seats in anticipation. I chatted with a retired couple next to me, Robbie and Eve. They were from the Melbourne area and were campervanning around the country. We bonded over the time they spent on an Alaskan cruise and exploring Victoria, British Columbia. 

Wearing my new hat by Felicity!

The moon started to rise, slowly creating the image of the staircase on the water. It was a beautiful scene, but my camera had a hard time capturing it. 

It was dark outside, and the staircase was disappearing as the moon rose. I walked around the market some more, and suddenly, I saw people from the tour that I went on in Karijini National Park! I couldn’t believe it! I saw Kristy, Andy, Anita, and Nik. I stopped, and we all marveled at the likelihood that we’d run into each other days later, in another city. They had just run into each other before I showed up. 

I told the group about my car and how I was stranded but found a tour that I was considering to get to Darwin. They were all so friendly, and it was great catching up. Andy and Kristy did the famous Horizontal Falls, where a boat takes you through powerful horizontal waves thrashing through a section of rocks in the ocean. I considered it, but it cost $800 per person! They said it was worth it, but I couldn’t afford it after my car debacle. 

I explained that I was headed to the outdoor cinema later that evening to watch a movie. First, I needed to drive to the store to get a few items before my car died. Once that was finished, I lined up outside the theater to buy my ticket. Andy and Kristy showed up, too, so we all sat together. The theater was an old, outdoor screen with reclined outdoor chairs. We watched Top End Wedding, which was a charming movie based in the Australian Northern Territory. 

Andy offered to drive me to Darwin with him and split accommodation and gas. He would drive the highway because his rental car wouldn’t make it on the Gibb River Road. Kristy was flying home the next day. The problem was that he was leaving the next day. I slept on it but decided that I wouldn’t be ready in time, and I’d sign up for the ten-day adventure tour instead. 

Making Arrangements

The next day, I tried to start my car to drive to a museum, but it was dead. That was it. I called the second car shop that I took my car to, just to see if they could look at my car in detail, but it would cost $165, and they didn’t have time to look at it until the following week. 

I called the first car shop (who towed my car in) and asked the owner if he would still give me $500 for my car. He agreed, but it needed to be towed across the street and down a block. I set the towing up with RAA, and they decided to take it over the following day. 

I spent the day writing by the pool outside. It had been an incredibly stressful few days. I talked with several car shops, tried to sell my car as-is on Gumtree, and even checked with the salvage yard. I did everything I could think of, but the reality was that my car needed to be scrapped. I didn’t have the time or money to get the engine replaced. Once I made the decision, the burden was slightly lifted from me. I accepted my fate and started making arrangements. 

The next day, my car was picked up and taken across the street. The tow truck driver asked what was wrong because it was a great car and would be perfect for his daughter. I explained the engine needed to be replaced because I ran out of oil. He shrugged, “I would have given you more than $500 and repaired it myself.” Damn it. Why didn’t he see my listing?! I walked over and got $500 cash from the owner, Warren. He told me that he would have to give 20 cars to the wreckers (salvage) that week and only gets $20 per car. 

I listed my camping gear on Facebook Marketplace and quickly had people coming over to pick up items. A group of four aboriginal people stopped by. They bought most of the equipment, so I gave them discounts. I had seen groups of aboriginal people living in parks and dirt areas under trees, which was sad to see. I was told that they were often people kicked out of their tribe. Other times, they needed camping supplies for the long journey from the towns to their reservations. I bought most of that equipment from a backpacker who was finished exploring Australia, so I ended up getting my money back for all of it. 

Checking Out Broome

Once all of that was taken care of, I walked a mile to the museum. It was hot outside, but there was a cool breeze. Some areas of Broome were nice, while others were run down. The museum provided a lot of information about the pearl industry in the area. Divers have to dive great depths to get the pearl shells in the ocean. 

The signs explained that when Europeans arrived in the area and saw the large pearls aboriginal people wore, they exploited the divers. There wasn’t the equipment like we have today, and many of the divers died from prolonged exposure. Some were kidnapped and sold to be divers, becoming one of Western Australia’s darkest chapters. 

Another sign talked about indentured servants coming from the East Indies to dive for pearl shells in “the deadliest, most devastating weather system known to man.” The sign continued, “Roebuck Bay is located on one of the world’s most cyclone prone coasts and on 23 April, 1887 a massive storm slammed into the pearling fleets. Over 140 men were drowned.” 

After the museum, I walked downtown and browsed some shops. I was tired and thirsty, so I stopped at a brewery. I sat outside listening to live music and watching the sunset. By the time I walked back to my Airbnb, it was dark outside. 

When I walked inside, Flic and Lisa were getting ready to go out. They looked great and were excited for a night out with friends. I wrote outside by the pool and occasionally heard noises, which freaked me out. 

When Flic and Lisa came back home, they told me about the gangs that were out, making some of the noises that I heard. The gang there is called BIL (been in lockup). They are groups of kids aged seven to fifteen. They run around neighborhoods looking to break in houses. Flic and Lisa saw a group at backpacker cars, looking to break in. One night, they stole 32 cars and burned them. They burn the vehicles as an initiation to the gang. 

The gang saddened Flic. She said it’s often young aboriginal kids who have nowhere to live. She used to keep a small fridge outside by the pool with liquor bottles at the bar. The gang stole all of the alcohol. Then, her brother put super hot sauce around the rims and inside liquor bottles and beers. The kids stole those too but never came back after that. 

The police in the area get overwhelmed and end up on stress leave. One time, an Airbnb guest came home drunk and left the back door unlocked. The gang had been watching and went inside the house. They took his rental car keys and stole the car. Because of all of this, Flic ensured that I locked the doors and never left items in the vehicle. It’s also why she told me not to leave my car when I was stranded in the desert. People are known to strip abandoned vehicles within hours. 

Reflection

Overall, Flic loved Broome, which is why she had lived there for more than 20 years. It has its problems, like all towns. I talked with Flic and Lisa about my plans. They were so friendly and encouraging; I was extremely fortunate to stay with them during one of the most challenging moments of my travels. Even though it had been a stressful time, I had Flic and Lisa. I was also able to meet up with Collise and Greg. Then I ran into Andy, Kristy, Anita, and Nik. Even though I was a solo traveler going through a rough time, I always had someone there to help talk through things with me. 

I also tried to look at the bright side. It would have cost me $3,000 U.S. dollars to rent a car for five months. For about $1,000 more, I was able to buy one. I was able to drive around half of the country and through the middle, covering more than 7,700 miles (12,400 kilometers). I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to sell the car any longer or do the repairs (the crack in the windshield and the rubber section that ripped off above my front tire). 

I needed to stay in Broome for another week until the tour left, but the room I was staying in was booked, so I couldn’t extend my stay there. Broome was pretty pricey, but I found another Airbnb that I’d be checking into the next day. I was sad to leave Flic and Lisa, but at least I had them for those few days. I held on to Flic’s reminder that everything happens for a reason, and this was a fork in my road. I chose the ten-day adventure tour, which would end up being unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. 

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Published by Christy

I quit my corporate job and sold my house in Los Angeles so I can travel and write. I grew up in St. Louis, MO and moved to the Los Angeles area after college. I worked in the business world for 15 years. Follow along to see pictures and hear stories of people I've met along my journey so far - driving to Alaska.

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