"Sure, but the question is do we have it in stock."
We checked. They didn't. I was hoping they'd just take it back and give me a new one, but apparently torrential rain and wind isn't covered in my purchase agreement.
"We have these." She showed me some spare rods, the same diameter as mine but longer. "But they're too long."
I didn't really want to try to sort out how to take apart the poles and re-string them anyway.
She made some phone calls.
"They have them across the road. Here, I'll show you where to drive."
I drove to the nearby outdoor store she'd pointed me to. The manager was expecting me.
"Here, follow me."
He took me to identical tent poles to the ones I'd just seen.
"But it's too long."
"You just saw it."
"Oh. I'll be taping mine then. Never mind."
He looked puzzled.
"I'm traveling. I'm not carrying a saw!"
"Well, just use a steak knife."
I took one more shot at explaining my situation.
"I have a plastic butter knife."
Tape it was then.
I got back in the car and headed south, past Perth, past the exit for Fremantle, and into the wild blue yonder. My goal was to make it to Albany to see some giant trees before turning around to get back to Perth for my flight out on the 14th.
I made it to a shore town called Busselton, famous for a long timber jetty. I checked into Kookaburra Campground (I didn't see any kookaburras) and walked into town to find some chow.
I'll have to see what things cost in New South Wales and Tasmania before considering this any further, I suppose.
Now I was almost off the map. This is as far southwest as you can go in Australia. From here to the south, there was nothing but ocean between me and Antarctica. And to the west lay Africa. I waved.
"Hello, Africa. Remember me?"
Probably not. I'm just one small person and Africa is a big continent with a lot of stuff going on.
Here I was, where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean.
And it felt like it. Now that's a breeze!
I hurried back to my Hyundai and sped up the road. I'd intended to head east to start my journey to see the big trees, but I missed the turn-off.
Eh. Screw it, I thought. Enough driving. I'm going back to Margaret River for a few days, then to Fremantle.
So my impulsive change of itinerary took me back to the Margaret River visitor's center, where I walked up to the woman behind the desk.
"I need two things. A campground, and something to do tomorrow where I don't have to drive. I'm tired of driving."
She set me up. A few minutes later, I drove up to Margaret River Tourist Park just outside town. This was great—it had one of those level mesh green mats that I'd learned I liked from a few other campgrounds. You brush it off (I bought a whisk broom at the dollar store in Perth), stake your tent down through the mesh, and pop it up with your taped-up poles, and voila, instant nest.
Margaret River Tourist Park had laundry ($4 a load) and excellent wifi ($10 for three hours, used strategically over the course of a few days).
I walked to town for another financial nightmare of a meal, then came home to snuggle up in my warm sleeping bag, my $11 K-Mart extension cord poking through the back screen of the tent, my camera charging.
And in the morning, a man drove a bus up to get me for a half-day winery and brewery tour. I don't even drink alcohol, but I like to taste the wine and see the vineyards, and he drove us around to see the scenery and also a chocolate factory. The others on the tour were six young Europeans in their early twenties and a retired Danish couple.
I had Neil, the driver and owner of the tour company, drop me off in town so I could get a sandwich to take back to camp for dinner.
I'd learned my lesson about restaurants here too many times.
And in an uncharacteristic moment, I even ate in my tent. I'd sweep it out in the morning before breaking down camp and heading back north to Fremantle.