The Most Epic of Road Trips: Part 1

It's always a strange feeling returning home from a trip - especially one that took you so far out of your comfort zone and left such a deep impression on you as a person. You come back and all the things that gave you joy and excitement before now seem so bland and superficial.There's a little adjustment period after your return where you try to remember how to talk to your friends. You want to tell them about your trip and the experiences you had but can't figure out how to do it without sounding conceited and belittling of the things that they got up to.

Don't get me wrong. I am glad to be back. I've missed having showers longer than three minutes, sleeping on something that's not a yoga mat, accessing stable internet and not smelling like horse shit every other day. But after travelling more than 900 km from Sydney to Surfers Paradise and back, and listening to the stories and experiences of the people you meet along the way, I realise that the existence I was leading before was self-centered and lacking in focus. I am a selfish person. I can admit that. I do things that benefit me and make me happy. I am careless with my money and even sometimes prioritize friends over family. It took 8 days of roadtripping and connecting with others for me to realise that there are more important things out there. It sounds overwhelmingly cheesy but The Big Lift made me want to be a better person. It really has.

(Photo Credits: Milo - aka theawkwardninja)

What is "The Big Lift"?

The Big Lift is a society of UTS which organises a "road trip" every year. Two buses, each carrying 40 students, travel from Sydney to Surfers Paradise on an 8 day trip. Along the way, we stop at four rural towns and work on service projects ranging from gardening to painting to mucking out stables (basically jobs that need to be done but for some reason, you can never find people to do them). If you're not sure how rural I mean by rural - one of the towns we stopped at was named Wee Waa. Yep. Anyhow, I saw TBL being advertised on Clubs Day and last year a friend of mine did it and she was relentless in her praise of it. So I thought why not? My numerous friends and boyfriends will just have to survive without my shining and joy-inducing presence for a week.

Day 1: UTS to Geurie

All the Lifters met up at UTS early Saturday morning. We were each given a blue shirt, personalised badges and water bottles and a TBL yearbook full of cringeworthy quotes and bios of the other bus members. (For some inexplicable reason, I wrote that my dream superpower is 'omnilingualism'. Reason #765 why Cynthia will never achieve Cool Human status.) After a couple of awkward ice breakers, we loaded the two buses and got on our way.

We stopped at Lithgow for lunch. I got the opportunity to take numerous deep hipster photos and also freeze my ass off in the wintry country climate.

We got to Geurie (population a grand total of 200) at about 5pm and were sent on the most random photo scavenger hunt while the town prepared dinner for us. The instructions included things like "Hug one of the poles outside the town's antique furniture store", "Obtain a beer coaster from the pub" and "Create your own album cover with the team".

Dinner was served shortly after. We were called back to the memorial hall (our temporary home in Geurie) were we saw this being prepared for us:

The town butcher had donated a whole lamb for us and was in the process of carving it up for dinner. I had about 20 seconds of feeling sorry for the vegetarians and vegans in our group before my carnivorous nature won out 'cause bitch, this was a whole fresh lamb they had spit-roasted for us.  

After dinner, the local kids taught us how to play giant Jenga. We also cleared the hall and did a variety of activities that resulted in bruised faces and elbows. They were fun though. Afterwards, we laid out the sleeping bags and mats. I may or may not have kicked Rosa in the face in the middle of the night and for that I am immensely sorry.

Day 2: Geurie to Wee Waa

See this pile of branches? It is my pile of branches. I (and maybe six other people) poured my blood, sweat and tears into creating this pile of branches. I am proud of this pile of branches.

While I was busy assembling my own Foliage Empire, other Lifters were either painting the hall, sawing logs in half, doing more pruning, or destroying old sheds. I helped out with the shed demolition. Apart from the giganormous huntsmen spiders, it was pretty fun.

We left Geurie later in the afternoon after an emotional farewell to the townspeople. We were not sad for long though because our next stop was an emu farm. I don't even know why but by this point you kind of just went along with everything.

Emu selfie game too strong.

I have a series of these emu photos and it's funny because in each one, my expression gets progressively more terrified.

Unnnnnnghhhhhh emu babies are so fucking adorable. They make high pitched cheep-y noises as they waddle around and if you scare them, they immediately swarm into the middle and stumble over each other to reach the center of the huddle.

The photo above is probably the only one I have of Wee Waa. We stayed in a dining hall at a pony club and if Geurie was cold, Wee Waa was 10 times worse. We are talking cement floors, metal walls and cold shower facilities that could only be accessed after walking across the paddock with a flashlight. The crew made spag bol for dinner and we kept warm by playing ninja attack. Sleeping arrangements were basically everyone fighting for the center spot of sleeping bags  and the ones on the outskirts trying to get as uncomfortably close as possible to the person next to them.

I wish I had a picture for our service project in the morning because it was definitely one to remember. We spent four hours mucking out stables - and by that I mean using shovels and rakes to scrape mounds of horse shit out of stalls. We were at a showground and a couple of days before, they'd had a large event with probably more than a hundred horses in attendance. There were eight horse containment rows and each row held about 10-12 stalls full of steaming (or if you were lucky - rock solid) horse excrement. I still hallucinate about the smell.

Day 3: Wee Waa to Mungindi

Same as Wee Waa, I don't have many photos of Mungundi because at this stage, I'd decided to buckle down and do some actual work instead of taking tourist snaps every 30 seconds. We stayed at the Mungindi Memorial Hall and our hosts cooked us a fantastic meal of pumpkin soup, pasta, damper, mash and apple crumble for dessert. I experienced a lot of things during this trip but starvation was not one of them. After dinner, we had a mini-olympic contest between the bus groups where we played a variety of games. More bruises were had but it was worth it.

Day 4: Mungindi to Texas

Service projects the next morning included lamimating books at the local libary, doing gardening work at the nursing home, general maintenance at the community technology center, window washing back at the hall and a whole slew of other random tasks. I wanted to pick gum off the ceiling like everyone else in my group but for some reason, I found myself in the office of the technology center writing an article with Lou on TBL for Mungindi's local newspaper. I did feel a sense of accomplishment when I finished it but I don't even know if they ended up publishing the thing. Something tells me it would be very difficult to find online.

I spent the majority of the bus trip from Mungindi to Texas feeling immensely frustrated. The crew members had decided to tell riddles and were very stubborn on not letting us know the answer. We also started games of Emotional Werewolves (essentially a more complex version of mafia) and that was quite fun.

I had my best and worst night in Texas. I don't want to go into specifics because I feel like that would be violating some sort of unspoken TBL code but I will say that that night's activity fucking killed me. I cried loads. And anyone who knows me knows I never cry - not even in front of my closest friends. I mean, I thought I was fine at first but when it was my turn, I just lost it. I didn't stop afterwards either. Every time someone else spoke, it would bring on a new set of tears. 

Looking back, I think that was the night that we as a bus came together and really just started seeing each other as people worthy of so much more respect. If I had to pick the biggest learning curve of the trip it would have to be the night in Texas - just because of how much it opened my eyes to the struggles and pain of others. We as humans tend to just look at people, see what's on the surface and make snap judgements about who they are. But we don't understand them - not really, because some people are just so good at their pain. It takes something unique and unpredictable like The Big Lift to get us to open our eyes. 

Day 5: Texas to Surfers Paradise

Thank god the morning's service project was so fun. We all needed that after the heavy night we'd all had. There is something so therapeutic about scraping paint off a wall and re-coating it afterwards. I could probably turn it into metaphor about spiritual rejuvenation but I doubt you guys would appreciate it. Y'all only here to see pictures, amirite?

You probably can't tell (because the photo quality of my Samsung phone is soooo superior) but Milo took the previous two snaps with her fancy schmancy camera. (Thanks Milo for letting me use your pics! I am mentally sending you yeah buddys.)

After our painting/impromptu karaoke sesh and my accidental attempts at dip-dying my hair white, we left Texas and entered the second leg of our trip: the Gold Coast. 

(Click to enlarge)

We had a short pit stop at a lookout near Brisbane and the view was positively orgasmic. As a whole bus group, we all settled down the grass and watched the sun go down over the city. It was a beautiful thing to behold.


Next blog post: Staying in a $2000 hotel room in Surfers Paradise, our 2-night clubbing spree, performing random acts of kindness, the most epic of scavenger hunts spanning the entire beach city, flashmobbing in the heart of Surfers, lunch at Byron Bay and the final night at Valla Beach.

Update: Part 2 of The Most Epic of Road Trips is now up: clickmeclickmeclickme

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