Saturday, July 30, 2011

An update, of sorts

By Sundance:

Yesterday was something of a landmark, being the first anniversary of our return to Adelaide - or as we like to call it here, Radelaide. So to commemorate that, and to keep this blog active so Google doesn't decide to do anything funny with it, we thought it'd be nice to tell you a bit about what we've been up to.

As we didn't get to do the full ride out to the beach on our return to Adelaide, on October 3rd we rode our bikes (minus panniers and camping gear, thankfully!) into the train station in town, caught the train up to the hills to Belair Conservation Park, and rode into Crafers and back down into town along the bike path along the old freeway, and taking advantage of the nice weather (this time!) rode out towards Glenelg, up the coast along the beach, to the mouth of the Torrens at West Beach, along the Torrens past the city, ad back to our house. This was the way we'd wanted to complete the trip, and it felt like we finally got to close the book on that particular adventure.

But there have been plenty of other adventures. We flew over to Melbourne for the 2010 World Science Fiction Convention, I've been doing a lot of rockclimbing in the Adelaide hills. My dad and brother came over to Adelaide for family Christmas at our house, Yana and I went to Mt Arapiles in western Victoria (about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide) with our friends Linda and Peter for some climbing around New Year's (and for which we also got to take a quick bus trip to see Yana parents for New Year's Eve itself), and spent as much time as possible enjoying the nice weather of summer. In terms of big travels, nothing much on the scale of our bike trip has happened lately, but I did head over to Europe for a work trip to a conference in Madrid, followed by visits to Nottingham, Utrecht and Golm. In the spirit of the bike trip, I did all my travel within Europe by surface transport (trains, buses, and boats). It's a nice way to see the countryside, and I look forward to riding across Europe with Yana someday on our next big bike adventure.

I guess that's all or now. All the best!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What better place to make your base than the arse end of the Earth?

Distance in Australia: 2155.01 km
Total distance: 9536.8 km

By Sundance (with help from Yana):

At long last, the day has come.

Not the day when we return to Adelaide, of course That was almost three weeks ago! The day when we finally get organised and motivated enough to write up the events of our last two days on the road and post a blog entry. Yep, we've been slack.

Last time we posted a proper blog entry, we were in Murray Bridge. After spending a little time at the local library doing our blog post we rolled down to a park next to the tourist info and council offices building and made lunch, then hit the road again to press onwards to Adelaide. Our plan was to make it to Eagle-On-The-Hill, find a turf-surf, and spend our last night on the road in the hills overlooking the lights of Adelaide, before rolling downhill in the morning to the beach, and then inland along the river Torrens linear park back to our house. We'd made an announcement on facebook to our Adelaide-based friends that we'd be passing the Adelaide University footbridge around lunchtime if anyone wanted to drop by and say say hi as we rode past.

The road out of Murray Bridge has a bike route signposted along the way, which diverted us from the freeway and ran past Monarto and into Adelaide along the old freeway. It's a fairly dry pice of terrain, with vegetation that reminded us of how much Texas reminded us of South Australia - if that sentence makes sense. After a little while I found that my rear wheel seemed to be rubbing on the brakes and slowing me down, and since I tend to travel faster than Yana I told her to go on ahead while I adjusted my wheel, and I'd catch up. It only took a couple of minutes to adjust the brakes and I set off again, but very soon I found that the wheel was starting to rub on the rear forks - this suggested something that did not make me happy. The last time I'd had a problem like this was on the road into Van Horn, Texas. I stopped again, turned the bike over, took off the rear wheel and just as I'd suspected, the rear axle had snapped!

Normally that's the kind of thing that would screw up your mood and your journey utterly. Fortunately though, I'd become a little paranoid after the last time my rear axle broke, and had been carrying around the makeshift spare I'd used to get my bike back on the road in Van Horn. Lugging the extra weight halfway around the globe finally paid off. But first I had to deal with the fact that Yana was riding on ahead of me, oblivious to the fact that I needed to do a repair job that would take a substantial amount of time.

And it was here that I noticed a definite cultural difference between South Australia and Victoria. We'd discovered that as soon as we got west of Melbourne it was virtually impossible to stop by the side of the road without having someone pull up and check if we were okay. On one occassion, we'd even been sitting happily munching on our sandwiches for lunch when a tour bus had rolled past us, stopped, and backed up so that the driver could check if we needed assistance. But as I stood at the side of the road, pointing at my upterned bike and making "telephone" gestures with my other hand, a string of about eight or nine cars sped past me with no apparent intention of rendering assistance. Eventually a woman stopped and let me use her phone to call Yana and tell her what the situation was. It turned out that one of the previous drivers had caught up to her and told her he'd seen me fidgeting with my bike. Would've been nice if he'd stopped to check if I was okay, though.

Anyway it took me about an hour to take the old axle out, clean the gunk out of the bearings, get the new axle in position, re-lube the bearings, centre the axle, put the appropriate spacers on the axle, tighten the cones properly and get the bike back on the road. I caught up to Yana on the crest of a hill overlooking Callington, which led us into a fun, fast downhill run. The road continued on into the pretty little town of Kanmantoo. The landscape as we rode in included some very appealing eroded ochre valleys in the green farmland.

In many ways it was reminiscent of the ride into San Diego - rather than rolling down the backside of a mountain range we were cruising through a succession of valleys and farms and rolling hills. As we passed out of Kanmantoo the hills gradually became more pronounced, and by the time we made it to Nairne, a little after sunset, our legs were complaining and I was muttering bitterly under my breath that I hadn't realised Nairne was the highest point in the Adelaide hills - at least it felt like it must be. When we pulled up in Nairne we decided that eating immediately outweighed all other considerations, and fortunately the BBQ chicken shop we wandered in to served the finest chicken and chips ever crafted by human hands. Or at least it seemed that way at the time.

After eating our fill, we climbed back on the bikes, with some intention of finding a place to sleep for the night between Nairne and Littlehampton. We knew we weren't going to make it to Eagle-On-The-Hill on account of my broken axle, and while we could have headed towards a caravan park, we felt that it would be nice to make our last night on the road a turf-surf night. Almost immediately upon leaving the BBQ chicken place we started encountering signs that we were on the outskirts of Adelaide, such as TransAdelaide buses. Only a little further on, out of Nairne, we realised that the road was becomeing quite busy, and wound tightly through the hills. The nearest house seemed like a good place to stop and turf-surf. A car was pulling out of the driveway as we rolled up to the gate, and the driver informed us that they didn't live there, but the owners were home, so we rode up the steep drive, wheeled our bikes around to the carport on the side of the house and introduced ourselves to a woman who turned out to be named Gale. She was happy for us to pop up a tent in their front yard, and when her husband Graham and their two kids (who were curious to meet the people travelling on bicycles) joined it we wandered across the front yard down towards the duck pond, then back to the rear yard before finding a nice flat spot close to their chook shed. We popped up the tent, and after getting everything organised, and trying to cope with the strangeness of knowing this was the last time we'd be setting the tent up on this journey, headed inside to share our story with our hosts. We were plied with cups of tea, discussed our experiences crossing the USA and Mexico, talked about philosophy and their kids high school academic interests, and finally wound up getting sucked into watching Spicks and Specks, The Gruen Transfer, and Yes We Canberra, before dragging ourselves away from the TV and the dinner table to retire to our tent.

That night it rained. I awoke several times to hear the patter of raindrops on the tent fly, and was pleased to realise that we could roll the tent up and pack it away wet instead of having to dry it in the morning because we didn't need it again.

In the morning we got up, grabbed breakfast, said farewell to Gale and the kids as they left for school, and chatted with Graham while we packed and made ready to depart. Gale and Graham's chickens checked us out as we packed.

We hit the road and wound our way through the hills, passing the Beerenberg store before we knew it, and rolling with a feeling of some triumph into Hahndorf. Our surroundings looked decidedly familiar. Unfortunately the weather left a lot to be desired, but we pressed on towards Bridgewater, up steep hills, and back down them again as we worked our way through Aldgate and Stirling.

In Stirling we somehow missed our turn and found ourselves almost heading onto the freeway, but backed up to check our maps and got some confusing directions from a passing fellow, before spotting a sign that we'd somehow riden straight past before which promised pedestrian access to Crafers. This involved riding up a fairly steep stretch of pedestrian path that ran behind houses and off-and-on minor roads before reaching a footbridge over the freeway. We rolled down the other side looking for further bike directions into Adelaide, and didn't see anything signposted, circled back to a service station to ask the guys who worked there if they had any idea which way we should go, and finally asked some council workers who pointed us in an appropriate direction. In fact, just a few metres past them I spotted the Adelaide bikeway sign that we'd been seeking earlier. This bikeway follows the old road into Adelaide, running roughly parallel to the new freeway, but with none of the traffic. Admittedly, as we were enveloped in a thick white mist at the time we could barely see ten metres ahead of us, let alone the view of the city. Somehow these things never unfold exactly as you imagine they will. It was still a delightful stretch though, as we had the entire old road to ourselves, and it was just a matter of comfortably coasting downhill, towards home. We had decided that the weather was too lousy to be bothered riding to the beach and back, so we stopped when we saw the "Welcome to Adelaide" sign at the bottom of the freeway for our obligatory photo opportunity, with the city skyline (visible at last!) in the distance, then rolled on into town along Glen Osmond rd.
The whole thing was a bit surreal, because we finally knew we were almost through with this amazing journey. From time to time as we got closer to Adelaide we had been discussed how it's sometimes difficult to believe that places still exist when you're not there - the world can feel like a movie set that gets torn down and rebuilt each day. It was a funny feeling to admit that Adelaide had continued to exist for all the time that we've been away doing things on the other side of the planet, and as we rode into town we joked that the props department had done a good job rebuilding everything just the way we remembered - or joking that they'd messed up when we passed a new building or a business that hadn't been there the last time we were here. We continued past the east end of town, through the University of Adelaide grounds and across the university footbridge to stop and make sandwiches and see if anyone would come to say hi (admittedly not likely as it was early afternoon on a work day for most people). While we were making our lunch it started raining on us, so we grabbed all our stuff and ran it down under the footbridge to get under some shelter, then Yana exchanged a few text messages with her friend Richard to let him know where we were. Richard showed up and we spent an hour or so chatting about his travels (across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway) and our own, before I gave my mum a call and let her know we were on our way home. Then we set out on the penultimate leg of our journey.

The ride from the footbridge to the rendezvous point where mum was going to intercept us was exhilarating. Everything was familiar, yet everything that had changed was immediately obvious, like a new footbridge, markers showing the distance from the city every kilometer or so, and new patches of native vegetation being replanted to replace the introduced plants that grew along the river. Eventually we pulled up at the park just beyond Portrush rd, called mum, and waited for her to drive down the hill from her house to find us. Several minutes passed and then a familiar sounding engine and a blue truck turned the corner. It pulled up across the road from us and as soon as the door opened, my mum, sobbing uncontrollably, climbed out and into the biggest hug I could give her.

Needless to say, mum was relieved to see us. She's a mum, and that means she worries about my safety, and boy was she glad to see me alive and well! Anyway, we hugged, and we chatted, and mum took photos, and we rang my dad to tell him where we were, and we figured out how to use the video feature on mum's camera, and gave her one of our cameras as a backup and she drove off to our house to await our arrival, at the last front door we would roll up to, to video the end of the ride. Then we hopped back on our bikes for the last time, and rode once more along the river, amongst the beautiful river redgums that I love so much, past playgrounds, parks, benches, rock cuttings, and ochre-coloured river banks, until we reached our exit onto the road, turned up our very last hill (which we always found pretty steep and difficult when we lived here before, but now seems quite gentle and manageable), turned at the top of the hill, and then paused.

I wanted to make sure mum was there waiting for us, so I'd asked her to wait at the corner to let us know she was ready to video us, and we could get the last part of the trip recorded for posterity as we rounded the final corner and rolled into the driveway of my house. There was no sign of her, and eventually Yana edged forward, peeped around the corner, let me know that mum was indeed there, and we pushed the pedals, I set eyes on my house again, and in the space of a few seconds we had done what we set out to do almost a year ago. We stopped our bikes in front of the house, dismounted, and did all the things triumphant adventurers do, like posing for photos with our steeds, hugging and kissing, putting down our packs, stepping inside our home so mum could show us what a great job she'd done of getting it cleaned up and ready for us to move into, ringing dad to tell him we'd made it, and all that stuff.

And even though this is the end of the bike journey, it's not the end of the story. The weekend after we arrived we got interviewed for SA Life magazine and the resultant article should be in next month's issue. We'll hopefully keep blogging from time to time about our future holidays, or adventures around Adelaide, around Australia, and around the world. Plenty of people have already asked us where we're going to ride next. Kangaroo Island, The Great Ocean Road, and across the Nullarbor are high on the list. And we've picked up a passion for a lot of foods we'd never tried before, so I expect we'll turn this into a bit of a cookery blog too, on occassion. I feel like we should make some grand statement, some finishing note, on a par with the magnitude of our journey. But all I can really think to say is, thank you for reading about our travels, thanks for the comments on the blog (even if we rarely found the time to reply, we still appreciated them), thanks to everyone who helped us along our way, who opened their hearts and doors and back yards to us.

It's nice to be home.

And yes, our legs are tired.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Going all the way

By Sundance:

Just a quick update, to let you all know that we made it to Adelaide yesterday! Hooray for us! It sure feels weird but wonderful to back in our own home. We'll post a full description of the last few days of the ride, and what comes next, in the next few days.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Coorong, and thanks for all the fish!

Distance in Australia: 2036.06 km
Total Distance: 9417.8 km

By Yana:

Harrow turned out to be one of those surprisingly charming little towns, and we found ourselves spending a little more time there than we initially intended to.  We had a quick touristy look at the log jail, which is right next to a little wooden shed which apparently used to be the local "Finishing School for Young Ladies and College of Deportment".  We've rarely seen such a grungy little building give itself such airs and graces, and had a good giggle about it.

By the time we left Harrow, it was well into the afternoon, and we were still about 15km away from Edenhope when it started getting dark.  Still, as we'd kept up alright with our schedule in the previous days, we decided that this didn't bother us too much, and we started to keep an eye out for turf surf opportunities.  We did still have to ride on for a little bit, but after a few sheep paddocks, we found a little house and knocked.  Val, the lady who answered the door, was happy enough for us to put up our tent, and got hold of her hubby, Peter to figure out somewhere reasonably dry to put it.  In the end, Peter offered to stick us in their little granny flat instead, which we accepted.  Another pretty comfortable night.

In the morning, while we were getting ready, we had a bit of a chin wag with Peter, and he bestowed on us a few grapefruits from his tree.  We set off shortly afterwards, and rode the last 11km into Edenhope.  The town was pleasant enough, though not hugely remarkable.  It did have a bit of that vibe of a South Australian country town though, which was kind of nice.  We also discovered, when we got our groceries, that the local supermarket had completely phased out plastic bags!  Great to finally see that.  That done, we skipped across the road to the bakery, as Val and Peter had told us that it was a good one, and had ourselves some pies.  While we were eating, we spotted another heavily loaded bicycle close to us, and realised that there was a fellow traveller around.  When the fellow returned to his bike, we popped out to chat to him.  His name is Guillaume, and he's heading from Melbourne up to Alice Springs via Adelaide.  Very cool.  We exchanged contact details, and if we happen to get to Adelaide before Guillaume does, offered him a place to crash.  Not sure we'll get there before him though, he's not carrying quite as much weight as us, and has a slightly more zoomy bike.  You never know though.

We headed off a little bit before Guillaume, towards Apsley - the last town before the SA border!  We were heading along at a fair clip, which was nice.  We got to Apsley in pretty decent time, and made a quick stop for the local public toilet.  We ended up having a bit of a chat with the guy who runs the local roadhouse, a fellow named Gary.  He was a bit of an interesting character, with the right side of his face tattooed, and skull-adorned swastikas on the backs of his hands.  He was interested to hear about our travels though, and we had a pleasant enough conversation.

We headed onwards, with only a short distance left to the SA border.  We stopped a few km short to dig up our grapefruits, as we would have to get rid of them soon, which was when Guillaume caught up with us.  After a brief chat, he zoomed onwards, and we lost him completely.

We reached the state border shortly afterwards, took our celebratory photo of our last state crossing, and rode on in search of somewhere to sit down and have lunch.  We ended up sitting down by the quarantine bin when we reached it, made our sandwiches, ate our grapefruits, and threw the peel in.  Interestingly, most of the quarantine paranoia seems to be about phylloxera, that nasty vineyard parasite, although fruit flies are also a thing South Australia is trying to keep out.

After lunch, we kept on pedalling, and discovered a paddock full of kangaroos, wallabies and deer off the side of the road, just short of the town of Hynam.  Quite cute - the kangas and wallabies all hopped up to the fence to say hi, whereas the deer dashed across to the other side of the paddock.  We rode through Hynam witout stopping, and headed onwards to Naracoorte, with maybe an hour of daylight left.

Once in Naracoorte, we considered our options.  The town boasts some nice caves about 6km south, but we also have a big day ahead of us tomorrow if we want to make it to Kingston, which is right on the coast.  We ended up heading to the tourist information centre, and the fellow there was quite helpful.  We wallowed in indecision for a little while, and almost went down to the caves, with the intention of camping and then looking at them the next day, but changed our mind at the last minute, as the weather was turning cold and icky.  We decided to head in the direction of Kingston, to at least knock some of that distance off of the following day's trip.  We didn't end up going much further though, as it was starting to get dark, and a few kms out of town we picked a cluster of housey-looking lights to try for a turf surf at.

This turned out to be a little more complex than expected, as we ended up riding a decent little distance over a very gravelly track with some pretty big rocks, but we eventually found the house in question.  The inhabitants saw us as we rode up, and came out while we were being mugged by a pair of friendly dogs.  Gabrielle, the lady of the house, consented for us to put up our tent, and hung around outside to chat with us while we put it up.  We ended up cooking our dinner indoors, which was a plus, and are now chatting with the family.  We also had the opportunity to do some laundry, which was an overdue necessity.

We ended up having a fairly late night staying with Gabrielle and Brett near Naracoorte, as we managed to get sucked into watching an AFL game.  Hawthorne vs St Kilda, a draw, if anyone's interested.  We still got up at a not too disgraceful hour, but ended up chatting with Brett a bit after breakfast.  To add to all of this, just when we were about to set off, Sundance spotted a bulge in my front tyre - yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first Wal-Mart tyre had worn through, after taking me all the way from Hazlehurst, Mississippi, to Naracoorte, South Australia.  Brett quickly ran us up to town in his ute, and we got a new semi-slick tyre at the bike shop.  A fairly efficient procedure, but it still took a bit of extra time.

Our second attempt to get going was successful, and we said our goodbyes.  A few kilometres down the road, Sundance spotted our friend Guillaume having a rest.  We had a quick catch up chat: he'd stayed at a hostel in Naracoorte, and was now tossing up whether to head to Robe or to Kingston.  We left him to his decision and kept on going, figuring we'd have lunch in Lucindale, which was at roughly the 40km mark.  The terrain was fairly flat, although we sort of felt like we had a bit of a headwind.  Must have been our imagination though, because not a blade of grass was stirring.  We got to Lucindale without further incident, though we were feeling a little pooped. 

We set ourselves up for lunch at a little picnic table, where someone had for some reason left a pristine 3 litre bottle of milk, which looked like it might even still be fresh.  Odd.  We had our sandwiches, supplemented with some chicken nuggets and a sausage roll Sundance procured from the local tuck shop.  He bumped into Guillaume there, who had arrived while we were making our sandwiches.  While we were eating, we saw him zoom past us.  He had decided to head for Kingston, the shorter way.

We headed off not much later, still noting that phantom headwind.  Maybe it was just the fairly rough paving of the road which was wearing us out - it does make a difference.

A few kilometres out of Lucindale, I saw an indistinctly blob-shapped brown thing crossing the road in the distance.  It had burrowed into the grass on the side of the road by the time we came close enough to see, but we decided to investigate anyway.  As it turned out, the critter in question was an echidna!  Very cool.  I'd never seen one before, and to come across one in the wild kind of added to the thrill.  The echidna wasn't feeling sociable, and just kind of stuck out all his quills.  We hung back a little bit, and were rewarded with it at least showing its long nose as it looked around to see if we were gone.

We eventually stopped pestering the little fellow, and continued to head towards Kingston.  We weren't going to make it before dark, so after a little contemplation, we decided to opt for a turf surf, if we could find one.  Pretty much exactly 17km before Kingston, we got lucky.  We rolled into the driveway of an invitingly scruffy-looking place with a backyard overrun with cats.  The proprietor, Colin, wandered out just as we were leaning our bikes against the fence to go and ask permission to pitch the tent, so it saved us a walk up to the door.  He gave us permission, and had a bit of a chat while we put up the tent.  He also got the nearby fire drum rolling, which was nice.

It was turning out to be a rather cold, dewy night, so after having our dinner, we headed inside to socialise with Colin and his friend Wayne who was staying over that night.  We also ended up watching the latter half of Bee Movie, which was unapologetically silly.  We turned in not long afterwards, once again grateful for the fact that the tent is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the cold.

By Sundance:

As we ate our dinner and then later as we climbed into bed it was interesting to note the bats swooping around overhead. Apprently there are a bunch of fruit bats that have taken up residence in South Australia for part of the year, though they normally belong in Queensland. The following morning we awoke, climbed out of bed and chatted some more with Colin and Wayne - Colin is a big fan of some interesting TV series, including Seven Wonders of the Industrial World, and so we had a chat about things like the Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal, and other things we'd like to see on our future travels.

We got into Kingston after about an hour's ride. Fortunately the weather was nice, but being Sunday almost everything was closed. We found an IGA supermarket which was shut, and then some local directed us down the street to a Foodland which was open. Yana waited outside while I went in to restock us on pretty much everything. We took a brief detour to look at the beach, then on the way out of town grabbed a couple of yiros' at a cafe. We're really found that having "second breakfast" is an essential part of not getting worn out by all the exercise of riding. On the road out of town we spotted the big lobster - one of the numerous Big Things made of concrete scattered around Australia - and posed for the obligatory photos. The road north of Kingston was pretty long and uninteresting, though it was nice to reach the start of the Coorong National Park. We had a map of campgrounds in the Coorong that Brett and Gabrielle had printed out for us, and we started looking out for roads leading towards places we could camp for the night (as we figured we wouldn't reach the town of Salt Creek before it was quite late and dark). We eventually opted for a road which looked to be in the right spot, even though there were no signposts indicating camping areas. It turned out to lead us to the 32 Mile Crossing camping area, which is what we had been expecting. Unfortunately, almost immediately after the drop-box where you pay your camping fees and put them in an envelope the road turned from unsealed, to sand! We had to get off and push our bikes, and after a couple of kilometres trying to find the proper camping area decided that we'd satisfied our duty to try and camp in an environmentally-harmless, responsible area and we were just damn well going to camp where it suited us! So we picked a spot where there were no plants to crush, and Yana put up the tent while I made some yummy noodles. As the night settled, a fog composed largely of mist from the ocean rolled in and obscured the stars somewhat, but still, while the rest of the country was watching the final of MasterChef, and the pre-election Great Debate (why not just combine them and call it the "Masderbate"?) we slept in the Coorong sand dunes, beneath the Southern Cross and a full moon.

We woke up in the mornng and, after packing up our campsite, walked te rest of the way through the dunes to the beach, watched the surf rolling in, admired the scenic beauty of it all and then headed back to our bikes, noting various animal tracks along the way. It looked like sometime during the night a wallaby and a feral cat may have crossed paths, and it was a bit disturbing to think of feral cats and foxes running around in this national park. We pushed our bikes back to the start of the path, washed the sand off our gears in a puddle, and rode back to the main highway. We rolled into Salt Creek about an hour later and stopped to buy some chips and local shark and mullet, as well as make sandwiches and clean the sand off our tent fly. By the time we had finished eating we had a bit of a tailwind! So with some astonishment we took off north again, passing beautiful views across the Coorong, and averaging about 20 km/h for the next couple of hours. We were about 10 km from Meningie by sunset, and passed Camp Coorong, an aboriginal cultural centre. We pushed on another couple of kms, and came to a sheep farm where Yana called the phone number on the gate and asked if we could camp for the night. We got permission, but I felt a little bit like it would be nice to see if we could stay at Camp Coorong, so I headed back by myself to doorknock, while Yana set our tent out to dry a bit more. I got to the camp and knocked on the door but nobody answered so I eventually gave up and headed back to Yana.

It was a very chilly night, and as we sat eating our dinner, looking at the moon, and planning our course over the next few days, we reflected that we may only have two more nights before we are back home in Adelaide. That's a very strange thought after almost ten months of travelling. It was a cold morning when we got up, and while we got our gear packed up with our warm gloves making us clumsy we were treated to the sight of sheep being herded past us. Then we set off and rolled along the road into Meningie.

In Meningie, Yana dropped into a supermarket to grab supplies. After we'd restocked we went and ate second breakfast by the shore of Lake Alexandrina, although it was chilly and very windy, and then went to the local library seeking internet access. That turned out to be fruitless, as the computers wouldn't read the pre-written blog |I had typed up on my USB key. We then headed to the council offices, trying to use their wireless network to get online, but their network was down! Frustrated and feeling like we'd wasted a lot of time (which we had) we set off again. The gong was slow and we had to deal with the headwind the whole way.  About 20 km down the road we found a  place to sit in the shelter of some trees and make sandwiches. Unfortunately as we were halfway through our lunch Yana spotted a group of bull ants making their way towards us, and as we jumped up out of their way she got a  nasty bite on the ankle from one!

We pushed on and made it to Tailem Bend just before sunset. At last we were less than 100 km from Adelaide, and could see the Adelaide Hills in the distance.We decided to stop at a caravan park in Tailem Bend for the night, have a shower in the morning, and we've just arrived in Murray Bridge, having completed our last proper river/bridge crossing of the whole trip (although the pedestrian path on the bridge was so narrow we couldn't really ride and had to walk or kick our bikes across.) We're now so close that this will almost certainly be our last blog update before we complete the trip!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We are the Grampians, my friend!

Distance in Australia: 1631.8 km
Total Distance: 9012.6 km

By Sundance:

After our last blog update in Lake bolac, we hopped on our bikes and pressed wetwards through Glenthompson, where we got sprinkled by a sudden shower a few hundred metres short of a shelter, and then towards Dunkeld. We also caught our first glimpse of the majestic Grampians rising in the distance. About 6km out of Dunkeld a guy pulled up in his ute offering to give us a lift into town. He informed us that his wife had seen us one the road and was concerned that it was getting dark and we weren't very visible. We explained to the fellow (who's name turned out to be Robin) that while we appreciated the offer, it was a bit of a matter of pride to cover the whole distance on our own leg-power, and we really just were looking for a place to put up a tent for the night. Robin suggested that one of his sons had a farm a little way down the road where we could stay, then suggested that if we wanted more comfortable lodgings we could ride to Dunkeld and stay at his place. Since it was only another six kilometres we opted for the latter, memorised the instructions to get to his house, and set off in his wake. We arrived about twenty minutes later, and after a quick jaunt to the local cafe for some dinner, settled in to a very pleasant discussion of the upcoming election, and various envirtonmental and political matters. I also tried my hand at baking some parsnips, spuds, carrots and sweet potatoes in Robin's oven, as our appetites are gigantic and Robin offered us a few extra morsels to cook up and supplement the food we had bought from the cafe.

In the morning Robin had to take some lambs off to market, so he bid us farewell and let us make brekkie in his kitchen, shower, and lock up after ourselves. Yana made some very nice porridge, and we got ourselves well fed before hitting the road, though we did feel compelled to leave Robin some money for the food of his we'd consumed. It was a pretty foggy day, but once we got out of town we found that the sky started to clear, and we had quite a good view of The Grampians as we rode along. We stopped in Cavendish for lunch, where we were amused to see the local pub was called the Bunyip Hotel, and a group of adolescent magpies wandered around our lunch table looking cutely inquisitive. The terrain was rolling, a bit less flat than we would have considered ideal, but it was nice and green with lots of gum trees. We rode on to Balmoral, where we knocked on a door for a turf-surf and met a fellow called Joe, who let us put our tent up at the back of his land, which fronts onto the Glenelg river. While Yana set up the tent, and then got sat upon by Joe's insanely affectionate dog, Monster, I struggled with getting a fire stared (most of the wood was quite damp, at some of it I concluded was taken from fenceposts that had been treated with some sort of fire-retardant chemical, since I found that they stubbornly refused to burn) although it eventually turned into a merry blaze. We popped up to the house before bed to use the loo, and got chatting with Joe and his wife Betty, and ended up having quite a late night. betty did mention that ther were platypi (or platypusses) in the river, but alas we didn't spot any of them.

This morning Joe and Betty had gone to work, and we were having breakfast when Yana spotted that one of their hirses had gotten her foot caught in a roll of wire, so Yana had to be horse-whisperer and hold her steady while I uncoiled the wire from her foot. Fortunately she was a very chilled-out horse and nobody got hurt. We hopped on our bikes, abnd rode up into town wher we saw a very cool house built into an earth-mound We knocked on the door and found that the resident was an American woman who'd moved to Australia 38 years ago to be a teacher. So we chatted a bit about our bike trip, and the design of the house, and then headed off to grab second-breakfast at a cafe in town before riding out into the countryside once more. It wasn't long before we passed the 9000 km mark of our journey, the last thousand-kilometre mark of this trip, as we're only a few hundred km from Adelaide now. We then rolled on into the historic town of Harrow, where we're currently having lunch.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Come and See Dereel Thing...

Distance in Australia: 1477.15km
Total Distance: 8859.05

By Yana:

We spent an extra day in Dereel with my parents, taking the time to chill and enjoy more excellent food.  On our second evening, Mum's friend Christiane came over for dinner, and we stuffed ourselves silly with various types of curry, at which point Sundance of course put us all to shame.  Yup, we still exercise hard.  We also took the car into Ballarat the following day, in the name of getting groceries for dinner that night (Sopa de Lima and Chicken Cordon Bleu), and also to get provisions for the next few days of our trip, as we weren't sure when we would next pass a town with decent shopping facilities - we were quite deliberately planning to circumnavigate Ballarat.

The morning of our departure, we got off to a bit of a slow start, and were only ready to go at midday.  Sundance had to re-measure the front wheel of his bike, as his speedo/odometer had obnoxiously decided to reset itself completely.  Good thing we had written the previous blog entry, so we could enter the important stats again.  The day was quite pleasant, which was a nice change from the previous day, which had been all rainy and icky.  As Mum had had to leave for town, we had already said our goodbyes to her.  Dad waved us off, equipped with his camera, and we headed down Rokewood Junction Road, deeper into the middle of nowhere.  The road was blissfully flat, and even the slight headwind we had wasn't so bad.  We passed through Rokewood Junction, as well as various other little localities which aren't marked on the maps.  We made the occasional snackstop whenever we got hungry, having decided to push all the way to Skipton, in order to have lunch there.  Sundance got a few groceries there and we had our sandwiches, bundled up against the increasing cold.  There was a family from out of town using the next picnic table - Skipton was a point of interest to them, as one of their ancestors used to be the schoolmaster there.

We headed onwards, figuring that we'd maybe get another 20km or so further before sunset.  Not quite far enough to get to the next town, Streatham, but we were going to go for a turf surf anyway.  Around the time the sun started to set, we started to keep an eye out for reasonable candidates, especially as we didn't want to ride in the dark, as Sundance's headlight had a flat battery.  We found that it was pretty empty, aside from the paddocks filled with empty tin sheds.  Farmland, obviously.  We did spot a pretty little brick house with a beautiful driveway planted with flowering natives, but it was apparently abandoned.  From the looks of it, the front yard was being used as an occasional sheep paddock by someone, as it was strewn with sheep dung.

We had almost resigned ourselves to heading to Streatham, as it was getting increasingly dark, but ended up spotting some lights a little way off the road.  We went up a long dirt driveway to investigate, and discovered a friendly-looking house.  We were greeted by the lady of the house, Sally, who didn't hear Sundance knocking on the door but fortuitously came out to look for the family dog, and her four little boys.  She was quite happy for us to put our tent, and ended up directing us to the cottage where one of their farm hands, Evan, lived.  We trundled down the driveway to the cottage in the headlights of the car which Sally had put on for our benefit, and knocked on Evan's door, explaining that Sally had given us permission to camp nearby.  He ended up inviting us to use the spare bedroom in the cottage, as the other fellow who lives in there is currently travelling.  Convenient.  We accepted, after making sure we wouldn't be cramping his style.

While making dinner, we also got to meet Sally's hubby, Alastair, who was helping Evan move in some sort of cabinet.  We had our dinner in the comfort of the house, with an episode of Mythbusters, followed by Man vs Wild, which is a bit of a luxury.  We turned in a bit later than planned, but still got a good night's sleep, and didn't get up too horribly late.

We got up to a bit of a damp morning, and got ourselves ready, only briefly catching sight of Evan, as he was already up and about, doing his work.  We went past the main house on our way out, and came across Sally, Alastair, and their kidlets.  As it started to rain just then, we stepped under the shelter and ended up chatting for a bit, telling them about our adventures thus far.  We told them that we would probably be aiming for Dunkeld today, which Alastair told us is a beautiful place, boasting one of the top two restaurants in Victoria.

When we got a break in the rain, we got moving, and back onto the road.  As the road was wet, we found ourselves occasionally sprayed by a passing truck, as they kicked up a fairly impressive amount of water as they went past, no matter how polite they were about giving us a wide berth.  We shot through Streatham, wanting to head on to Lake Bolac fairly promptly.  About half-way there, we found ourselves in another little town, Westmere, and made a quick stop at the little antique shop we found there.  I partook in a cup of mocha, and Sundance got himself some ginger beer as we admired the various nifty little antiques, which were varied indeed.  There were quite a few wooden inlays of various Disney critters, as well as all sorts of crockery, and old motor cycle, a small stove, and several ceramic hot water jugs.  Not bad.

It was raining again when we came out, but we just shrugged and headed onwards to Lake Bolac, where we decided to have lunch.  Conveniently, there is a tourist information centre here, with internet access, so I'm taking advantage of the chance to type up a blog post.  The town itself is quite pleasant, and obviously geared to cater to the travellers who pass through it, which is appreciated.  The weather has also become a bit more sunny, which is nice too.  Might turn out to be a nice ride to Dunkeld, after all.  But I think we must remember to come back here sometime, partly for the consumerist urge to buy one of the rusty metal emu and wallaby lawn ornaments which can be procured here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Leaps and bounds

Distance in Australia: 1384.2 km
Total distance: 8766.1 km

By Sundance:

We had intended to stay at my Dad's place for a couple of days, but the weather decided we should stay for three. We spent our time in Healesville happily hanging out on the farm, helping Dad move an old tree stump, tinkering with the bikes and cleaning our multifuel stove (which works nicely now that we determined that the recommended fuel, called "white gas" in North America, is what we Aussies call shellite), cooking up Sopa de Lima for Dad and Teena, and generally relaxing. On Saturday we decided not to head into Melbourne as the weather forecast was for high winds and rain. It turned out to be reasonably dry, but the winds were fierce, and we were glad we had delayed our departure. Apparently a couple of trees got blown over in Healesville.

On Sunday morning we had brekkie and set out, with much hugging and kissing and well-wishes. We rolled nicely down through the hills beside Healesville Sanctuary, avoiding the centre of town. We rode on along the road through Lilydale, stopping to pick up a few muesli bars to fuel us for the ride. The rest of the way, I found myself gradually seeing more and more familiar landmarks. The route we followed basically took us right through areas that I spent various parts of my childhood in, and I delighted in seeing familiar road names and landmarks - a library where I remembered borrowing books about dinosaurs as a little kid, the area where our family GP used to practice. It was starting to get reasonably late in the day, but I led Yana on a detour past the

park where I first learned to ride a bicycle, and past the first house I remember living in as a child - which was still standing, much to my amazement, although much smaller and dilapidated than I remembered. I knocked on the door, but there was nobody home - although to my amazement I recognised some defects in the paintwork on the front of the house, which I think five-year-old-me may have been responsible for. We pushed onwards towards town, catching sight of the central business district of Melbourne from the crest of a hill. Each new street seemed to hold different memories - being driven down a road the proud owner of a brand-new Swiss Army knife (which has accompanied us throughout this entire trip, decades later), the road my Dad had a shop on, the apartments one of my primary school friends lived in... Eventually we arrived at the corner of Glenferrie road. We decided to have a late lunch in the Chinese restaurant that occupies the building my Dad used to run his leatherworks business out of (largely out of curiosity on my part to see what they'd done to the old building) and discovered that their food was actually extremely nice, and we'd probably be inclined to eat there again if we were in the area.

It felt great to be navigating through a city by memory rather than maps. We rode onward to follow the bike path along the Yarra river, a path I haven't cycled along since I was in high school, catching glimpses of the city along the way. We turned up Chapel street, and then (getting carried away with how familiar everything was) I forgot one of the turns that Google Maps had recommended, which resulted in us going too far south and having to backtrack to our friend Grace's place. But Grace greeted us warmly, with a delicious Sunday roast, and we chatted far too late into the night.

We spent Monday looking around town (and bumped into an old friend of mine from gymnastics, on the tram into town), doing a bit of shopping, and headed back to Grace's place, where we all watched the DVD of Secretary for after-dinner entertainment. On Tuesday we wound up going shopping in town a bit - I'm looking for a new phone, and Yana's been on the prowl for a new camera to replace the one we've used during this journey (which has gradually been wearing out, e.g. the timer button no longer works, which is why all the photos of us on the blog are taken at arm's length), and in the evening we took Grace out to dinner at an Indian restaurant on Lygon street to say thank you for letting us stay at her place. On Wednesday we headed to lunch with my brother, Luc, and sister Greta, and their mother and caught up on what they're all keeping busy with these days. After that we scooted back to Grace's place, collected our bikes, and rode out to the home of Brad, one of my oldest and best friends from high school. The route was a bit confusing in places, as I haven't lived in Melbourne for 19 years, and a lot of roadworks have happened in that time, but we got there in the end (despite a near miss from a silly woman in a car who rolled through an intersection and completely failed to see me), had dinner, met Brad's wife (at long last - I don't think she really believed we actually existed, as we've kept not meeting each other for one reason or another for several years!), and gave Brad the slideshow treatment of our excellent adventure.

On Thursday morning Brad showed us how to get on the Federation Trail bike path down to Werribee, which was a pleasantly traffic-free and reasonably verdant way to go, even if we were fighting a headwind the whole way. We stopped in Werribee for lunch, and to buy supplies, then headed out of town along a road that eventually turned to hard-packed dirt. That and the headwind made it slow going, but once again we were glad we had mountain bikes instead of road bikes. By sunset we found ourselves a turf-surf on the farm of a fellow called Damien, who drove us across his paddock to camp by a natural spring, sheltered from the wind in a stand of manna gums. Oh, once a pair of cyclists camped by a billabong...

The following morning Damien picked us up and chatted to us, describing how his farm was located quite close to where the explorer Hovell had found a stream and good soil for farming. We then pressed on past Anakie (which means three sisters in the local aboriginal language - referring to three extinct volcanic cones in the area), up into the Brisbane Ranges national park, stopped for lunch in the town of Meredith, then pressed onwards through Mt Mercer to Yana's parent's place in Dereel.

The dirt by the roadsides was becoming that wonderful red-ochre colour that screams "Australia!", and we saw a few mobs of kangaroos bounding across the road in places. Yana's Dad wanted us to call just before we arrived so he could take pictures of us arriving, but the mobile phone reception was lousy, so we made several failed attempts, eventually arrived without proper notice, and had to pose for our "arrival" photos.

This morning we went in to Ballarat, to watch Yana's mother taking their new dog (which looks like he's half-bear) through his paces in obedience class, and this afternoon and tomorrow her father is dedicating some time to teaching me how he bakes sourdough bread. Yummy!

By Yana:

Thankfully, our most recent day of riding hadn't been as windy as the previous one.  As I came to realise in the morning, part of the reason I was going even slower than usual was my chain, which was producing an obnoxious screeching noise with each tread of the pedal - probably less than a km into the day, we stopped at the top of a hill and Sundance lubed the chain for me, which shut the bike up.  Words cannot describe how grateful I was for that, as I really don't think I could have taken twenty minutes of that noise, let alone all day.  Apparently our recent ride through the rain, on the way to Brad's place, had washed the grease off.

Ironically, the steepest hills that day were not while going through the Brisbane Ranges - that was actually quite flat and pleasant - but further on, as we had to cross two valleys.  One of our decents was so steep that even Sundance put on the brakes, which is saying something.

As Sundance has already mentioned, it turned out to be practically impossible to warn my parents when we were about to arrive.  Apart from the reception being absolutely awful in the area, it turned out one of the landline phones was on the blink, too.  Upon seeing us, dad chased us out of the gate again to ride past as he took the photo.  It was already getting a little dusky by then, so we ended up opting for an artistic 5-second shot of us riding past in a curve with our blinky lights on.

It's been surprisingly comforting being back at my parents' place, and not just because I finally got to see my crotchety old cat again.  We also finally got to meet the new additions to my parents' household, their new Siamese cat, and shaggy black rascal of a German Shepherd puppy.  The little bugger is quite the handful, and it's not without a certain amount of glee that I have watched my cat smack him one every now and again.

We now have the decision of which way to go back to Adelaide ahead of us.  While we have pretty much decided that going along the Great Ocean Road is going to be a) cutting it very close in terms of time, and b) disgustingly cold, there are still some other possibilities, including possibly going along part of the Murray River, which sounds like a nice idea.  We shall have to look into it.