On Halloween morning, I stuffed my feet into warm socks and padded down the hallway to the kitchen, where Alicia had started blueberry pancakes. Outside, the sky was a cold blue and the sun was shining. It was a perfect day for our hike to the Pinnacle, an oft-photographed overlook with breathtaking views of the Grampians.
The hike itself was about 3 kilometers round trip, and our entrance point was Sundial Car Park, which was located up a long and winding road.
“Are we just gonna drive to the Pinnacle?” Blair asked. Overhead, the sky grew cloudy. So much for a zero percent chance of rain.
Once parked, we quickly found the trail and got walking. The terrain was beautiful. One second you’re surrounded by eucalyptus trees, the next you’re in a grassy plain studded with rocks. We took a quick detour to see a lake, and as we clambered out over large boulders overlooking steep drops, the sky turned grey and dumped rain on us. Again.
This seemed to be a trend.
We pushed on, however, to where the trail turned from sand to rock, and clambered up to the top of the Pinnacle. On a sunny day, I bet it’s beautiful, but that afternoon, it was lots of grey. A blustery wind cut across the rocky landscape as we took turns climbing the wooden steps to a fenced-in lookout point. Photos didn’t do it justice.
By the time we got back to the van, we were hungry and slightly damp from the occasional rain. Alicia scanned the radio for something to listen to as we drove back down the mountain, and we stumbled upon what sounded like a love ballad.
“Gamble everything for love,” the chorus repeated. Eventually, the song faded out and a lethargic woman cut in.
“Gamble everything for love,” she repeated, somewhat hypnotically. “That was Ben Lee, and he sure has been gambling for love for a while now. In fact, he has just released his 11th album.”
This was startling, but before we could hope for an encore, the radio host switched tack.
“What have you found in your floorboards?” she asked suddenly. After a pause, she went on, unhurriedly. “What have you found in your house, when pulling up floorboards, or looking in your attic? Go ahead and give us a call if you have a story.”
After a quick commercial, she was back, with a man on the line.
He told a story about how, when working part-time, he met a man who came in with a stack of papers that needed filing. Among the papers, he found a register of doctors who had volunteered at a children’s hospital in the ’50s, and was excited to find his dad’s name on the list. He’d known his father was a doctor, and happily went home to tell him about the discovery.
“Well that’s just extraordinary,” the host breathed. “I’ve just had a shiver.”
We didn’t quite understand why this was shiver-worthy, but the host was moving on, talking about what she found in her own home once during a “peeky-boo” in the attic. As we rolled up to our cabin, another man was telling a story about how he’d found some World War I cigarettes in his own attic.
Fascinated as we were, we turned off the van and headed inside to do some laundry. That might not sound remotely exciting to you, but the soft, fragrant heat from clothes fresh out of the dryer is largely underappreciated. Living in the humid Philippines where I don’t have a dryer, I didn’t realize how much I missed that feeling.
That, coupled with the taste of caramel apple Wurthers, a runny nose, and cold fingers, should be poured into a scented candle and labeled “October in Australia.”
Once the skies cleared up a bit, we ventured back out. Blair and Holly decided to stay local and check out the cultural center, while Rosie, Carl, Alicia, and I opted to check out a bar.
Barney’s, the remote storage shed located in a vacant field, had looked like a cool place to get a drink with the locals, so we set out in the van to find it.
It took a few wrong turns, but we finally made it – just to find that it was closed on Tuesdays. Disappointed, we turned back toward town and settled on a bar and bistro just outside the central area. The bistro offered floor-to-ceiling windows with views of a grassy plain and mountains in the distance, but we settled on the front room, a cozy bar with a woodburning stove much like the one in our cabin.
The bar was empty, save for us and the old man behind it, although he seemed to want no responsibility for the place.
“Is your jukebox working?” we asked him.
“Ask my son.”
“Do you sell wine to go?”
“Ask my son.”
Behind the bar was a printed notice that stated, “We don’t do shots. We don’t do double shots.” Beneath that, in handwriting, someone had added, “We don’t give Mary-Ann 2 dollars for the jukebox.”
It may have been quiet, but we imagined there must be times when locals poured in and gave the place a lot of character.
We played a game of pool, then ordered another round of beers and sat near the fire. In the corner, a TV broadcasted the news. We had been off the grid for a few days, so we wondered what exactly was going on in the world.
At this point, an older man sauntered in and joined the bartender at the bar. He ordered a meal to go, and both men mostly ignored us.
The news in Australia is much the same as it is elsewhere: somber. A story about Trump. A story about Kevin Spacey. A story about a 77-year-old man who was run over by a 60-year-old woman. We all gasped.
“That happened just today, here, in the Grampians,” called out the man waiting on his meal. We nodded in response.
Then came the real kicker. Scandal! A senator from Tasmania says he might be British? This story was one that we encountered again a day later, all over the papers. Apparently, he’d grown up in Tasmania, but his father had emigrated from England. With sorrow, he promised he would look into this and resign accordingly if he found he had any kind of dual citizenship.
Politics in Australia is a different ball game, but not one we were going to learn much about. At that moment, the bartender changed the channel to Australia’s version of The Chaser.
“What is the name of the reindeer in Frozen?” the host asked a smarmy-looking man. The man struggled to remember.
“Sven!” Rosie shouted, and the two men at the bar suddenly became animated and cheered her on.
“Yeah!” said the one awaiting his meal. “It is Sven!”
Then his meal arrived and he left.
We decided we’d enjoyed the bar long enough, so we drove back to town. Alicia graciously offered to drive the van back so Carl and I could longboard home on the pedestrian path.
On the road near Wattle Tree, Carl suggested I try a running start. (I pause to add here that when I was younger, I used to be relatively fearless on my longboard. In my age, I find speed daunting and prefer to cruise along. To make matters worse, Manila is not a good place to practice your skills.) This I attempted, though my Birkenstock got stuck in the back wheel and I fell over. A few tries later, I was getting the hang of it.
Back at the cabin, Holly had set out a bowl of candy she’d brought along for Halloween. We baked M&M cookies and hung out on the couch watching Beetlejuice on TV. I’m not sure which we enjoyed more – the film itself or the amusing Australian commercials that came on in between.
In any case, it was as good a Halloween as any I’ve ever had. No trick-or-treaters came knocking on our cabin door, but perhaps that was for the best.
It was a perfect final night in our cabin; the next morning, we were off to Great Otway via the Great Ocean Road.