Straight. There is a real-world application of this word that’s more homage than literal. When a friend says, “I’ll come straight to yours,” I can expect they’ll make a right angle or two. An officer says, “Place one foot right after the other, walk in a straight line, please blow in this tube,” and there’s some allowance for a quarter-step deviation. When a travel book says, “You’ll drive straight through Kansas,” that is not, strictly speaking, accurate. Geological features need to be taken into account. Mountains need a roundabout, private lands prohibit intrusion.
Queensland abides by a more literal interpretation. Major sections of Australia’s M1 national highway here are unbending and unyielding. They are altars to geometric straight. Straight through red flatland, gum trees, troops of hopping kangaroos, and bladed sugar cane fields. Towns are separated in kilometers hundreds. Coffee is offered for free in roadside stands, but all the thermoses are empty. The roadhouses plate up brekkie rolls with streaky bacon and scrambled eggs that are like plaster turds, but one bite and you wonder whether life is worth living if you couldn’t take another. You drive through a thousand micro-economies and the agricultural basket that supplies dozens of nations with pantry staples.
In the south, there is Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Both are subtropic. Summers are hot and humid, and night isn’t a respite so much as a torture. Humans, plants, and other animals seem to be in keen allegiance in their intolerance of it. In the north, there is Cairns and the Daintree. Cairns, the launching point for the Great Barrier Reef, is a city of expats that has developed itself into a hard-drinking place, a near-equator expat outpost. And then the Daintree. A rainforest fit for Conrad. Daintree must list as one of Earth’s most prehistoric. The ecosystem is complex and ancient; some of the world’s first plants still exist here, as do two dinosaurs—the crocodile and the south cassowary, a hard-billed, blue-necked bird that is a rarity and my mission to find.
Between Brisbane and Daintree is 1,820 kilometers. With towns in between that are soda makers, prodigious beef exporters, or named after numbers. This is my route.