15.08.07

Warrnambool to Adelaide: 968-1586km

Nick

IMG_0472.JPGClimbing up from the cow paddocks of the coast into the sunshine and gum trees of the hills, my odometer clicked over to 1000km by the Grace West Community Hall. A thousand kilometres since Hobart, hey, it felt like an awful lot. I sat on the lush grass munching a special lunch: bread with salami, as well as peanut butter, and as a super-dooper treat, a Mars bar. The sugar hit felt wonderful, I could feel it hit my stomach and spreading to my legs. A thousand kilometres: a fraction of the entire journey and a mere fifth of crossing Australia, but a long way on a bike and very satisfying nonetheless. Today, I realised how FAR I'm travelling.

Today I saw my first fox. It had the most beautiful bushy rust-red tail. I disturbed it from scrub by the road as I cycled past, and it ran into the nearby paddock. It's a shock, coming from (almost) fox-free Tasmania. That would be why I haven't seen any roadkill on the mainland - not only have I been travelling through some intensely farmed areas with little space for native wildlife, but the foxes here have wiped out much of the smaller ground-based animal life. On one day in Tasmania, coming in to Cressy, I counted 56 roadkill in one day. It took until the afternoon today to see one dead kangaroo.

Sorry, a bit gory. But you do notice things like that. Flocks of red parrots are everywhere, they make a great big squawking chatter as the fly off from the roadside.

Once on the hilltops the eucalypts gave way to endless pine plantations. I felt like a toy moving through a plastic landscape: grey road, light green grass, deep green pine trees, blue, cloudless sky.

It was quite exciting to come across a huge water tank, filled by a windmill beside it. Really for fighting fires, little did the owners know that a few litres were used by one very hot, sweaty and smelly cyclist for a quick shower between cars passing. I contemplated getting into the open tank for a swim with the tadpoles, but I feared that it was so slimey I wouldn't be able to get out. How did the tadpoles get there?

It's funny how quickly the heebiejeebies can hit. A dilapidated picnic area surrounded the last water tanl. Broken concrete stools and tables, barely recognisable barbeque, a 'no littering' sign were bathed in hot sun and the smell of a rotting kangaroo. The windmill for the tank needed oiling, and creaked: eeeeek, eeeeek, eeeek...I cleared out of there at twice my normal speed. The people in passing cars looked cunning and creepy; the pine forest felt claustrophobic, like it was pressing against the road. I just pedalled and pedalled, it was the only thing to do.

Just as quickly, the heebiejeebies left. Instead of concealing another axe-murderer a Volvo with its lights on presented a smiling, waving family. Pine trees gave way to open paddocks and the gums of a national park: suddenly I was in Nelson, by the border with South Australia on the coastal outlet of the Glenelg river.

My campsite blocked the path of two kangaroos. I had to hide in the bushes to let them pass: they called chet-chet-chet to each other before sprinting between my yellow tent and the bush I was hiding in, less than a metre from my eyes.


IMG_0481.JPGSomething got a hold of my mind. I just wanted to pedal, and pedal, and pedal, like pedalling was the only way to get it out. I wanted to cover ground, and pedal until I couldn't pedal anymore. Through into South Australia, and wherever I got to after that. I felt indifferent to what was around me. I pedalled in to Mt Gambier, hardly looked at the cave gardens, did my shopping and had a huge, nice lunch (fresh stuff! pickles!) and then headed off again. I just didn't care what was around me as long as I was on the move, and fast.


I started feeling really angry, like it was driving me on, even though the sun was setting and I needed to find a campsite. It was dusk when the sign to this tiny reserve came up, and I found a small corner by a bird sanctuary lake, and collapsed after 100km on the road.


A huge talk with my sister. This trip just wouldn't happen without the support of friends and family there for me. It was such an intense day because now I've worked out that I can physically make the distance, I've cottoned on that the hardest thing about this journey is the mindgame. My head is clear of the worry about physical ability, and I don't have a daily routine of brain-intensive work during the day. So when I'm riding it's like a meditation: thoughts come and go, anything bubbles up.


I was so angry because I know what I want to do, and there's no easy way to do it. That's it! For once, there's no tidy course to do, no exam to pass; no predefined route with a job waiting at the end...this time, I have to build my job myself from an amalgam of all different skills. It's stupid really, it's the sort of challenge I've always wanted, I'd be disappointed if it was as easy as doing a course, but somehow I just hadn't cottoned on that I'd have to do a lot of hard yards of my own initiative.


Phew! All that screaming through my head and squirting out as a furious 1-2-1-2-1-2. Thank god for sisters who are good at listening to tired brothers. Tomorrow will be slower: I've got to clean and take a link out of Sputnik's chain which will take me an hour or so in the morning. Today made 1cm on my Australia map, so I'm happy with that.



Surely this was the same as cycling in Holland? A flat agricultural landscape lay on each side of the road, which was raised a metre above the fields. Everywhere was flat, you couldn't see any landmarks.


When you're riding along a flat road through a landscape with few features, it's easy to enter a dreamy state, particularly if you've just eaten a whole row of dark chocolate. Eyes fixate on some part of my bike with high contrast, like a glinting part of the front fork; legs find their own rythmn and suddenly you're on autopilot, steering with peripheral vision by the white line on the road shoulder. The mind wanders from thought to thought. Then an approaching car presents in the mirror or with the hiss of tyres and your head snaps up and your arm waves.


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IMG_0492.JPGRobe is a pretty town, the first one in South Australia so far that I've liked. If the road felt like Holalnd, then Robe has the feeling of New Zealand's Caitlins area, or Stewart Island at a push. There's a lot of low, surrounding bush, lakes and a sense of history to the place. Where I'm staying is an ENORMOUS stone mansion converted to a backpacker's. Apparently it was built by a labourer in the 19th century: he inherited a baronetcy and the wealth with it, and decided to live it up in grand style. He ran out of money though – it was supposed to be two storeys but it's only one. The rooms have the height of a two storey building though, the ceilings are so high you almost expect to see the weather up there, like Hogwart's dining hall.


I'm almost the only person here tonight – so I've got a dormitory to myself and Sputnik is happily parked against another bunk bed. It was exactly 77.96km from tentside to bedside.


The people you meet, hey. Sheryl, one half of the couple who are also here tonight, grew up in Papua New Guinea, the daughter of a Lutheran missionary. Very chatty.


Now the trouble is, I made such an huge butter chicken extravaganza for dinner that I've eaten far too much and am lying in bed feeling like a bloated cow. If I rolled on to my front it would be messy. I can feel the blood pumping in to my legs and am happily thinking of all that protein going to good use.


I've decided to stay another night.



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A sluggish day, treacly even. By one o'clock the only thing I could do was blob on a couch and watch Harry Potter.


In the morning I was treated to the town gossip. I've discovered that local libraries have combined visitor centres with internet access. The pleasure is that you can sit at a computer ostensibly typing an email to your Mum, but at the same time keeping an ear open to the conversations of the librarian. The librarian at Robe knew everyone and everything and had an unofficial role in lending an ear to the idle lonely of the town.


IMG_0484.JPGYoung man comes in: Librarian says 'How are you? You've had bronchitis, haven't you?'.'Oh, I'm good. How'd you know I was sick?' 'Ah well, you know...' 'Oh, right! [pause] I've got a new journo for you, her first job. She's from Mauritius, speaks fluent French, meant to be very good looking...' 'Oh, yes...' [awkward pause] 'OK then, time to be off!'


The final visitor is a very spiky looking woman whose main reason to visit seems to be to tell this librarian with a marvellously sympathetic ear that she's treated herself to some dark chocolate after her eight or nine kilometre walk this morning.



IMG_0524.JPGSix rashers of bacon. Two fried eggs. Two slices of toast with jam. Five mushrooms, sliced and sauted (bathed!) in butter. Dijon mustard. A big bowl of porridge topped with banana. Off at 9am. A tailwind: I FLEW along! At one point I was cruising at 40kmh. On a day like this, I feel like I could cycle around the world and be back in time for tea.


The landscape gradually got BIG. The hills to the east dropped and flattened again to wide paddocks then scrubland, and only the only dune or two to the west. Somehow, it's hard to describe how, the sky just got bigger, the road straighter and me and Sputnik just a tiny fleck careering along a bitumen ribbon.


A problem. I've picked up a little chappie. He's yellow and wears an orange hat and grins a lot. I grew up without a television, but know he's probably off Sesame Street. Is he: a) Elmo b) Bert c) Ernie d) one of the Bananas in Pyjamas? I've only (sniff!) got his head. He's had some surgery and is safely watching the road for me from my front fork.


IMG_0505.JPGIMG_0502.JPGThere are 130 working tractors at Kingston's Tractor Museum, and you can't miss it, the Museum is right next door to the Big Lobster, which is indeed big. They appeared to be the main attractions of the town. A couple of hours later I was on a sandy track travelling parallel to the main highway along the Coorong.


In Australia the Coorong is a little special. It's an enormously long, narrow waterway bounded by the mainland on one side and a long sand dune spit called the Younghusband peninsula on the seaward side. The waterway opens into the lake at the mouth of the Murray River, the longest river in Australia. When you cycle beside the Coorong, you're on sandy tracks weaving around ephemeral salty lakes in low scrubland, which supports a lot of wildlife and birds.


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A couple of emus ran along the road to check me out, two wombats hurried up along the road out of my way, and lots of wallabies bounded off into the bushes. No pelicans! I think it's the wrong time of year.



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IMG_0529.JPGChinaman's well seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but the signs tell you that it used to be the key part of a small settlement of market gardeners supporting a wave of Chinese immigrants during the gold rush days. The other states of Australia imposed a tariff on immigrants, except for South Australia, so a generation of young Chinese left for the gold of Victoria's goldfields, via the ports of South Australia.


Wells like this one in the Coorong were built with mindboggling labour: you can see where the stone for the circular wall and doughnut-shaped cap were chipped out of solid bedrock.


Tonight is the most random campsite so far: four metres from the road hidden in the bushes beside a paddock. The ground shakes every time a truck goes past and the powerlines overhead keep buzzing.



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It just about killed me, but I made it to Adelaide today. A hard 140km ride, but absolutely magical.


A slog through headwinds after crossing the Murray at Wellington put me amongst the vineyards at Strathalbyn. There, massive stainless steel tanks overshadow one stone houses and there's money sloshing around. Lots of cellar doors.


I was sitting at the bakery in the town when I guy randomly said hello. We began to discuss the route I'd take in to town. A softened rascal: pot belly and long silver beard, a grandad at 50 years old and keen on his cars. He returned saying 'I was just sitting in my car about to take off and thought, hang on, he should go through Clarendon, not Mylor...' As we were talking a gleaming Rolls went past, complete with Scottie dog in a tartan coat. You don't see that wealth in Tasmania.


IMG_0555.JPGThe Adelaide Hills were insanely green and beautiful. Soft ruffled hills, a luscious velvety green and soft, painted clouds. Everything was soft. The houses are built of local stone and trimmed with red brick. There's a reddish tone to even the stonework that makes them look warm and friendly. Verandahs are low, below the tops of the windows, like each house is half asleep.


Everywhere is so warm and glowing you expect it to slip in to soft focus and Blyton's Famous Five complete with Timmy the dog to come tumbling out of the corner shop, having just had ices and ginger pop on the way to Aunt Fanny's for tea.


By Clarendon dusk had set in. Such a nice change to be cycling in the dark instead of the glare of day. I rode with frogs ribbetting below, silver barked gums around me, magpies warbling above and traces of pine, macrocarpa and eucalypt woodsmoke in the air.


Surely one of the nicest approaches to a city. You don't know that you're so close, but the price of horse manure gives it away: 50c a bag doubles to $1 and finally $2 as you get closer in. Then bush and farmland gives way to winding roads with stone pubs and local shops and you're there.


So good to arrive. Two weeks from Melbourne, and I've landed in a bike-mad house. Three occupants, seven bikes, and I'm sitting on the couch watching the Tour de France. I'm looking forward to a week of rest, catching up on writing, interviewing a couple of people and making a few phone calls.


IMG_0524_small.JPGPS Have been informed, after some controversy, that it's definitely Bert.


 

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