You’ve never been in a storm until you’ve been in a desert storm.
In the city the roads flood, people duck for cover, idiots drive through flood waters and someone can always be guaranteed to get out a canoe or surf board to ride the Main St rapids.
In the desert there is none of that.
It was the holiday of a lifetime, seven months, a four wheel drive, a caravan and the two of us roaming the country with no agenda and no time table.
Australia is a big place when you stick to the made roads, but it gets infinitely bigger when you start exploring and that’s what we were doing.
We’d left the small town of Border Village, which is little more than a truckstop and some rental cabins on the border of South and Western Australia at breakfast time. I’d taken a dirt road which promised to take us further into the desert but lead us to an attraction that no tourist could miss. We had no idea what that attraction was because it was a secret but that made it all the more important to see.
We were headed north east, the day was warm and the sky was cloudless, the bulldust that filled the small ruts in the road was thick and the plume of dust behind us would have hidden any following traffic. The sun was still rising in the eastern sky and I was constantly cursing, to myself and out aloud, about how annoying the blaring sun was and how much I wished it would just get out of my face.
Twenty minutes later when the clouds covered the sun it was like I’d been granted a free wish. Ten minutes after that when the sky turned black I found myself wondering if that wish was as good as it first seemed. Ten minutes after than when the rain started hammering on the windscreen I was sure it wasn’t.
The wipers were on their fastest setting, each swipe cleared the windscreen allowing me just enough time to get my bearings on the unmade road before again being covered in water. I dropped the speed down to less than forty kilometres per hour; I turned my headlights on and gripped the steering wheel tight.
Had there not been the deafening thump of the pounding rain on the roof of the car I’m sure we’d have heard the massive claps of thunder as they roared through the desert but instead all we got was the semi regular blasts of lightening turning the dark sky into daylight. Despite the headlights trying to cut through the teaming rain they were failing and with every fork of lighting it was like looking at a camera flash going off in a dark room.
Through strobing light and the swipe of the wipers I squinted to see out through the windscreen . The road went from a dry corrugated dirt bowl to a darkened pool of water as spoon drains filled up and swamps of water took any path they wanted too. In hindsight I should have stopped but it was too easy to convince myself that stopping on a desert road in a storm where visibility was slow low was just an accident waiting to happen, even on a quiet road, so I kept pushing on.
When I felt the caravan lift and begin aquaplaning on the massive amount of water flowing under it I knew we were in trouble. The caravan gently slid side to side, a move that on dry bitumen would have been easily remedied but on water I had no chance. The caravan flung left then quickly flung right yanking the rear end of the four wheel drive with it. As the back of the car started to float on the water I looked over to my wife and simply mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”
When I woke up the storm had cleared, the warm sun was shining and the engine was still running. I was upright, my seatbelt was still on and I had no pain. Then I opened my eyes and looked over into the passenger seat where a large tree limb pinned my wife to her seat and then I realised there is one pain worse than any other. The pain of knowing I hurt the one I loved.