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. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I love the smell of Eucalyptus in the morning! Smells like...Victoria!

Distance in Australia: 1164.01 km
Total distance: 8545.9 km

By Sundance:

Once again it's been far too long since we have updated the blog. Email access has taken backstage to getting camp set up in the evening and making dinner. And with it being winter in Australia the days have been short - so hours of daylight tend to be spent riding rather than getting online.

Anyway, excuses over. We're now almost in Melbourne, at my Dad's place in Healesville, taking our first actual rest days since we left Sydney. And that means we can at least update the blog!

We spent the first part of our day in Narooma restocking our supplies, washing clothes, and relaxing a bit. There's a nice new bike/pedestrian path along the inlet which we cruised along as we headed off after lunch, and wound our way past a caravan park I nostalgically remembered camping in as a very little kid. After grabbing an afternoon snack in town we headed out along the highway, making it to the campground at Mystery Bay in time for sunset. Another spot I recalled fondly from years gone by and camping trips with my Mum. It hasn't changed appreciably in twenty years. Yana and I cooked dinner and sat on the beach chatting, before crawling into our tent. The following morning it was overcast and threatened to rain, but I spent a little while climbing on the rock outcrops at the end of the beach. Eventually the clouds opened upon us (just as we finished packing up camp) and we sheltered under the roof of a toilet block before deciding to don our wet weather gear and ride off to the highway, along a winding dirt road fringed by cows in paddocks, wondering who these strange flourescent two-wheeled things panting past them were.

We grabbed an extremely nice gourmet pizza in Bermagui, and pushed on to a little north of Tathra, where we sought a turf-surf. The house we knocked on turned out to be an excellent choice. Peter and Danya who lived there with their three kids told us they'd come home one day to find a female cyclist sheltering from the rain on their front porch one day, and were glad to host more travellers. They fed us cous-cous, let us sleep in a caravan they had in the yard, and I put on my physicist hat, answering questions for their kids about light and mirrors and stuff. And by a stroke of luck, as I stepped outside at one point I noticed that there was a lunar eclipse happening. In the morning we got up and were fed some delicious five-grain porridge before the kids were driven off to Eden to play soccer, and we got back on the bikes. We rode into Tathra (another place I fondly remember camping in as a kid) and on through Merimbula (where we stopped for groceries) before pushing on out of town along a very nice off-road bike path, eventually reaching Eden that evening. We had a chat with a local council worked who pointed us towards a park behind the local sports grounds where we could put our tent up, and nobody would mind. 

Eden used to be a whaling town, and has an interesting history with Orcas herding the whales into harbour to assist the humans with hunting them (in exchange for the humans throwing the whale's tongues back for the Orcas to eat) but our principal interest was hunting for a screw to replace one which had fallen out of our gas camping stove. We spent the morning looking in hardware stores, then a jewellery store, who directed us to a fishing store, who directed us to a camping store, who directed us back to the fishing store, and finally we were in luck. Confident that our cooking equipment wasn't going to dismantle itself mid-meal, we set off through some very daunting hills, but beautiful countryside. We got close to the state border by evening but decided to camp at a roadside rest area. It was a bitterly cold night, and we made a fire in the barbeque area before making dinner. The morning was also icy, and we had to rekindle the fire before we could face making breakfast, but we did get to cross the state border in Victoria in daylight.

We had used up all our lunch supplies, and expected to get more food in Genoa, but discovered that the general store had closed, and there was no food to be had, save for a few packets of potato chips. We decided there as nothing for it but to press onwards to the next town, passing through the annoyingly mountainous Alfred National Park in the process. In the evening we reached Cann River, where we inhaled a couple of pizzas and settled into the local council-run campground for the night, seduced by the prospect of warm showers. In the morning we climbed out of the tent, and the first thing I noticed was an overpowering smell of eucalyptus - whch really drove home the fact that we're back in Australia. We stopped for lunch at a little hotel/tea room in Bellbird Creek where the friendly staff (and friends/relatives) listened to tales of our journey and advised us to avoid the highway on the way to Orbost due to hills and winding roads with logging trucks. They recommended that we take the longer but flatter detour past the mouth of the Snowy River at Marlo. We rode to the appropriate turn-off, tried to make up our minds about which route to take, tossed a coin, and headed to the coast. And very glad we were that we did - the road opened up into coastal grassland, we saw our first non-roadkilled kangaroos since getting back to Oz, and made it to the coast road running between Cape Conran and Marlo. In Marlo we settled into the local pub for a counter-meal, warmed ourselves by the fire, discovered that Hey Hey It's Saturday has returned to Australian TV, and had a delicious sticky-date pudding for dessert. The pub owner even allowed us to put our tent up out the back.

The next day we rode back inland along the Snowy River to Orbost, where we stopped to consider the option of moving onto the East Gippsland Rail Trail, to get off the highway.  While the trail was quite pretty, it was also gravelly, so we ended up deciding to stick to the highway for the most part.  At dusk, we stopped in the locality of Tostaree, where we knocked on the door of Glen and Jen, asking for tent advice.  They pointed us to a spot along the path where we could put it up, and invited us in for a cup of tea, and dinner to boot.  Some very good conversations were had before we trundled off to put up our tent and turn in for the night.

We got up and knocked the ice off our tent the next morning, then headed onwards  through Lakes Entrance (where we had lunch), and on to just before Bairnsdale. We thought about pushing on, but came to the edge of the fruitfly-control zone, where we would have had to dispose of any fruit we were carrying.  So instead we opted to find a place to camp for the night, use our fruit making dinner and breakfast the following morning, and then push on.  

By Yana:

Quite close to where the fruit fly zone ended, we found a driveway into a property.  The house was empty, but there was a caravan with its lights on a little further in.  When we investigated, we came across Peter, who turned out to be the owner of the land.  Instead of having us put up the tent, he invited us into his spare bunk room, which we accepted.  He refused our offer to share our dinner with him, and we ended up having a very nice chat, comparatively late into the night, by our standards.  Early the following morning his partner arrived, and they took us along on an errand of buying some rams.  If we had ever felt bad about eating sheep, we came away thoroughly cured of that.  They're not exactly the sharpest tools in the shed.

We got going on our bikes a little before noon, and headed into Bairnsdale for lunch and a quick mechanical check of our bikes.  Sundance's bottom bracket was starting to make some noises, but the local bike mechanic had nothing useful to say on the matter before closing time.  During lunch, we came to the conclusion that we might deviate off the highway and pass through Maffra after all, so I called my rellies from Briagolong to ask if they wanted to catch up.  As I had suspected, they were somewhat out of the loop, and had no idea about my trip, so we accepted their invitation to drop past Briag.  We pushed our way a little bit past dark, and made it at a not too obscene hour.  While Gill and Kline were busy with dinner guests, Frieda took us in very warmly - it was wonderful to catch up again, as it had been a while.  It reminded me of the fact that I really want to set some time aside to bond with my extended family.

The next morning, we stuck around for a little bit to socialise, and Gill showed us her printing studio, which had been built since the last time we had been there.  After some hugs and a group photo, we set off again, through the back roads.  It turned out to be a bit of a short travel day, but we made it a little bit past Heyfield, where we ended up turf surfing on a dairy farm.  While we were making dinner, the owner, Nick, came out for a chat.  He trundled back inside when we were ready to eat, but invited us to come in once we were done.  We did so, and ended up bonding with the entire household and a bunch of people who had dropped past.  Definitely one of the more sociable groups we have dropped in on, and we left the next morning, feeling that we definitely should drop past to say hi again when we're in the area.
We got past Moe and Trafalgar, and turf surfed in the front yard of an elderly couple just off the highway.  It was set to be a bit of a cold and damp night, but we did alright.  The couple in the house invited us in for a cup of tea in the morning, and we warmed ourself while waiting for the fog that had come down to lift.  It stayed pretty dense, so we ended up just riding off, and finding ourselves out of the fog pretty quickly.  We agreed to make it to Healesville in the next two days, and that this day would be for getting a little bit north of Pakenham, and into the Dandenongs.  We got off the highway a little past Warragul, and rode through the town of Drouin with a sense of deja vu - turns out we had stopped there last time we had been in that neck of the woods, to get petrol.  We continued parallel to the highway, stopped in Bunyip for lunch, and finally got to go through the cutely named towns of Garfield and Nar Nar Goon, which was nice.  Not that the towns themselves were necessarily that interesting, but we had both wanted to go through on account of the names.

We made it to Pakenham pretty much exactly at sunset, and pushed north a little bit.  Things got pretty dicey after dark, as there was no shoulder, the road was winding and unlit, and there were some reasonably fast trucks going along it, so we decided it was time to stop for the night.  We were just about to ride into someone's driveway when a car beat us to it - it happened to contain Paul, the owner, who happily gave us permission to put up our tent.  He also remarked that it was going to be a bloody cold night, but we assured him that we had almost certainly camped through worse.  As it was, we did take the opportunity to warm ourselves for a while at the fire he lit outside, and Sundance explained physics-related concepts which Paul was curious about.
It did turn out to be a fairly cold night, but nothing we couldn't handle.  We did wake up to rain pattering on our tent, so we had to roll it up soggy again.  Not to worry - we got ourselves ready to go before Paul and family were up, so we left them a thank you note, put on our wet weather gear, and got going.  We rode through the rain for a little while, grinding up a few respectable hills before the weather cleared and the road flattened somewhat. It was a real relief - we had expected crossing the Dandenongs to be a lot worse than it actually turned out to be.  We made it to Woori Yallock for lunch, at which point we were only another 16km from Healesville.  We bypassed the town itself, and took the back way to Gary's place.  We pushed our way up the steep rise of our last hundred metres or so, and were greeted by Gary and Teena.

By Sundance:

Teena spotted us coming up the street, and Dad was waiting in the driveway to take a few happy snaps as we rolled in the front gate. It was a true delight to back at my Dad's place, settling into familiar surrounds, and sharing the company of my father and Teena again. From here on, everything will be familiar ground, and perhaps for the first time in the entire journey I feel physically connected to Adelaide, and the culmination of our trek. But for now, we get a couple of rest days. Today we relaxed, ate well, and went shopping for dinner and breakfast ingredients after talking travel, politics, and life. I've even got a few of my old clothes to wear that I'd left behind last time I was here. It makes the person in the mirror seem just a little more like a long-lost friend.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wheee! of the Never-Never

Distance in Australia: 396.7 km
Total distance: 7778.5 km

By Sundance:

Picking up from last time, I felt like adding a few of my own thoughts to Yana's recollection of our last night in Sydney, and the fantastic meal we had. At one point I found myself staring out of the restaurant window at the street below, and feeling very impressed that Australia had such wonderful things to offer, from food to natural beauty. And it felt in many ways like the rest of the world doesn't really get it. I was grateful that I live here. After so much time on the other side of the world, coming home to a place that's so familiar and yet so different from my reality of the recent past made me feel like a native of a fictional land, like Neverland or Oz, coming back to reexperience all that magical stuff I grew up with and had missed so much.

On Friday morning we got stuck into reattaching the remaining paraphernalia to our bikes - front panier racks, bottle cages, speedometers and so on. It took a little doing, but we managed to remember how most of it attached and make up what we couldn't remember. This (naturally) took longer than we'd hoped, but a little after lunchtime we bid farewell to Amanda and Eddy, and set off through Sydney. But first we stopped off for a bite of Thai food. Then we set off through Sydney, making our way eventually to the southern edge of town. We had a quick chat with a fellow at a 7-eleven who assured us we could camp in the nearby National Park, and made our way in that direction. It was after dark when we arrived and the park office was closed, but we found a ranger's house and asked where we could put up a tent - well apparently we were supposed to have pre-registered to stay in the park, and he gave us a bit of a talking-to about that, and eventually said we could pop up a tent out of the way in one of the picnic areas. So we found a spot, Yana popped up the tent, and I discovered that the stove was being temperamental. I fiddled with cleaning it a bit and trying to get it to work, but eventually Yana just made us some peanut butter sandwiches. Quite a contrast from the previous night's dinner!

We awoke the following morning just before the Sun peered over the hills, and took great delight in the light creeping through the treetops and the birds wandering around our campsite. After breakfast we took off to ride through the rest of the park, struggling up the hills and realising that we're a bit out of shape, and zooming down the other sides. We passed through the mix of eucalypts and palms thinking that it really gave Maui a run for it's money in terms of beauty, and eventually emerged at teh southern edge of the park to overlook the Pacific. A bit further on we rode into the town of Stanwell Park and grabbed some groceries to make lunch. We wandered down to the beach chatting with a fellow named Jim - who looked a bit dishevelled. We weren't sure if he was homeless or just a little lonely, but he seemed to enjoy having someone to talk with, and it made us feel good to obviously brighten someone's day. Stanwell Park turned out to be where Lawrence Hargraves did his experiments in the 1890s, being lifted off the ground by large box kites. These experiemnts helped him figure out how to stabilise an aircraft, and although he didn't fly any powered aircraft, his ideas certainly helped the Wright brothers design their machines.

Since it's winter in Australia, and very close to the shortest day of the year we wandered briefly onto the beach to have a look around, and then headed back onto the road, southwards once more. We passed numerous pretty vistas, and eventually found a bike path that promised to run all the way into Wollongong. Just short of there we checked at a caravan park on how much they charged for a tent site ($27! No thank you!) and headed further along. Not too much furtehr along we came upon a fellow walking his dog for the evening and asked him if there was somewhere cheaper to camp for teh night, and he offered us his backyard. Milton was his name, and Tasha was his very friendly German Shepard. Milton turned out to be renovating his house to make it a nice beach house for his kids to stay in when they visit, and despite his numerous apologies about the mess we had a very pleasant evening chatting with him - he even put on a video for us so we got to watch The Men Who Stare at Goats. That was an amusing film, and it reminded us of the place we rode past in Indiana that was selling fainting goats.

The next morning we headed off along the bike path, and after only about 400 meters wound up having an extended chat with a guy who'd done a bit of bike touring himself, including a ride from Alice Springs to Canberra. The path wound its way along the beach, past downtown Wollongong (which seemed pretty nice actually - we stopped off in the main street to get some toiletries and thought it was a nice little place) and then continued along a slightly circuitous but verdant path down to Shellharbour where we had lunch, and Kiama. The whole coast is just brimming over with beautiful little towns, and we couldn't help noticing that everything seems very new and vital compared to the USA. It was clear when we were there that a lot of American infrastructure needs a fair bit of re-investment and repair, whereas everything looks pretty modern and well-maintained in Australia. Although it was starting to get dark, we pressed on through Gerringong, eventually finding a place to ask for directions to a nice cheap campground or a spot to turf-surf. The couple who lived there offered us the spare accmodations where there kids stay when visiting, which included a bed, bathroom, and stove to make our dinner on. So we got a hot meal and an episode of Dr Who before turning in for the night. In the morning we chatted with Malcolm about his dairy farming and then took off along the bike path beside the road. We took a brief detour to look at and wander along the beach at seven-mile beach national park.

By Yana:

We continued on our way to Nowra, where we made a quick stop at the tourist information centre, mostly for a few minutes using the internet, for some of our basic and necessary bits of communication. That done, we headed to the supermarket to top up our food supplies, then found a nearby park to have our lunch. Taking into account the rate at which we were going, we decided to aim to do 70km that day. We reached the town of Wandandian around sunset, at a little bit shy of 60km. The plan was to ride on to the other side of the Conjola National Park, and then find somewhere to pitch our tent, but that didn't eventuate. We had made a small stop at the local general store, and while we were making various phone calls, the guy running the place offered us the spot next to the shop to set ourselves up for the night. We ended up accepting. The guy, Mick, was actually very generous, and wouldn't take payment for a few items of canned fare we planned to use to supplement our dinner. Of course we always appreciate that kind of kindness, though it is also a slightly embarrassing thing when it happens, as there are times when you do want to pay. We got ourselves fed and bed ready fairly quickly, and turned in at a reasonable hour.

The following morning, we packed ourselves up only just before it started to rain lightly, which was a bit of luck. Mick arrived shortly before we were done, so we said our goodbyes, and left a few dollars and a note explaining that this was us buying him a beer - we didn't give it to him directly, as we suspected he wouldn't accept, but we wanted to give something.

We set off through the National Park, and found that as time went on, the rain slowly got heavier, until we were quite damp and cold when we reached Yatte Yattah, on the other side of the National Park. As there wasn't much going on there, we ended up pressing on to Milton, where we had a really nice lunch at a local vegetarian cafe, followed by some fish and chips, as we were also craving some hot greasy protein. At least it warmed us and dried us a bit, but the rain continued, so we got ourselves more properly decked out in our wet weather gear and pressed on despite the ickiness of it all. We headed through Ulladulla, and stayed cautiously hopeful that we might be able to make it to Batemans Bay that day. We ended up falling a little bit short, but achieving a little over 70km for the day, and stopped in a tiny little place called East Lynne for the night. It seems to be little more than a servo, but it does boast some apparently award-winning home-made pies. We arrived in time for some sausage rolls and Bundy ginger beer, then got ourselves set up in the back paddock. The owner of the servo even helped us light a fire to warm ourselves a bit, which was a bit of luxury before we crawled into our increasingly soggy tent.

The morning dawned foggy and a bit damp, and we had to accept that we'd have to roll our tent up wet. We got ourselves packed up, tried the award-winning pies fresh out of the oven, had our usual muesli breakfast as well, and rode the last 19km or so to Batemans Bay. We made a quick internet stop at the library, then took the more coastal tourist route towards Moruya. It ended up taking the better part of the day. The weather was decent, although it briefly bucketed down on us while we were having lunch, luckily sheltered under a pavilion. We waited out that squall of rain, then headed off again, and managed to stay dry. It was already getting dark when we got to Moruya, and we decided to head down the road a little further, as we weren't terribly enamoured with the idea of passing the night in an overpriced caravan park, which our map indicated was nine kilometres out of our way. We ended up going another 8km or so onwards, then stopped at a pair of houses a little off the side of the road. Stewart, the owner of the property, was happy enough for us to put up our tent, and came out for a quick chat before it started to rain again. Luckily, by then, the tent was up and there was a roof we could shelter under while making dinner. We said our goodnights when we came up to use the toilet. One of Stewart's kids was having a sticky beak under his arm, heaved a theatrical sigh, then wandered off, which made us chuckle. Apparently he wanted to ask us about our trip, but was a bit shy to talk to us.

We woke up to the sound of rain pattering on our tent, which meant that we'd be rolling it up soggy yet again. Oh well. When we were almost fully packed up and Stewart and family left for their various daytime pursuits, Stewart's mum Jan came up from the other house and offered us a shower. We gladly accepted, as we hadn't showered since Gerroa. As it happened, the TV was running, and we learned that just then, there was a Leadership Challenge happening. The upshot was that apart from having a shower and a cup of tea, we got to watch Julia Gillard become the new PM of Australia. Very cool. This did mean that we didn't get going until the early afternoon, but luckily, we were only heading for Narooma. The weather had turned sunny by then, so it was quite a pleasant day to be riding. We arrived in Bodalla for lunch, and figured it was only right to consume cheese in some way, shape or form. We decided to go for a very tasty piece of cheesecake, as well as another excellent lunch. Once we were done with that, it was past 4pm, so we had less than an hour before sundown, so we headed off on our last stretch to Narooma. We got there a little bit after dark, and found the house of some friends of Sundance's family. It's a nice change to sleep in a bed rather than the tent, I guess.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Soaking up Sydney

By Yana:

We've spent the last week hanging out here in NSW, revelling in the joy of being back in Oz.  On the Sunday of the long weekend, we went for a drive to the Blue Mountains, to be tourists in our own country.  We got started a little late, so we didn't end up having the time for a walk, but it was still good fun.  We stopped in one of the little towns at the edge of the national park, where we had hot chips with chicken salt for the first time in who knows how long.  It's funny how those tiny little things really remind you that you're in Oz.  When then drove on to the town of Katoomba, where we went and had a look at the Three Sisters.  For those of you who haven't heard of them, the Three Sisters are one of the rock formations in the Blue Mountains, three pillars which are connected to an Aboriginal dreamtime story about how a sorcerer turned three sisters into these rock pillars to protect them while a war raged around them, with the intention of turning them back into their human selves when it was over, but he died before he could do so.

We spent the Monday partly in the city, which was when we discovered just how freakishly expensive parking is in Sydney.  Yikes!  Luckily, after a bit of driving around and having to deal with the horror of Sydney's abundance of one-way streets, dead ends, and forbidden right or left turns, we found a free parking spot, and went for a wander through Sydney's Botanical Gardens.  The ones in Adelaide and Melbourne are much better, if you ask me, but it was still pleasant enough, and we got to see a couple of cockatoos, which was nice - we'd forgotten what cute faces they have!  When we got back in the evening, we found that Tony, Amanda, and Eddy were back, and Tony had another magical meal happening.  The man is a wizard in the kitchen.

On Tuesday, we decided to check out the Australian Museum.  I think we spent easily four hours wandering through there - Good thing we'd at least had one of our sandwiches beforehand, because my stomach was growling quite insistently by the end of it.  There were a few absolutely amazing photos of scientific phenomena and crazy insects, which, predictably, was probably my favourite part of the whole thing.  There was an extensive collection on Aboriginal arts, crafts, and history.  Honestly, I could only be so interested in the spiritual side of it, although I was riveted by the little videos of various indigenous folk walking through the bush, explaining various native foodplants and medicines.  And to think it's probably only a tiny fraction of the original knowledge - who knows how much as been lost due to the Stolen Generation.  Actually, there also was a framed print-out of Paul Keating's speech in Redfern, which was quite interesting to read, as you can see the bits of it that were incorporated into the song "Redfern" in the musical "Keating!".

Past the Aboriginal exhibits, we got onto the various fauna-related stuff, looking at various urchins and crabs, as well as some info about the insanely deadly critters Australia has to offer.  I am glad to say that I now know what cone shells look like, so I can steer clear of the things - apparently there is no known antidote for that deadly venom of theirs.  Eek!  There was lots of interesting stuff on Aussie fauna, including on various extinct species.  It really drives home what a shame it is about the thylacine - although I would have loved to see live versions of the various extinct megafauna Australia once had.  Apart from the obligatory dinosaur skeletons, there was also a detailed catalogue of stuffed bird species and creepy crawlies.

Wednesday, we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather by going for an extended walk.  We stopped for lunch at a cafe which had the most amazing chicken and leek pie ever - we have decided that we must learn to master pastry, simply so we can make our own pies.  We wandered through various pretty suburban streets and parklands, until we hit Circular Quay, where we met up with my friend Ben and his lady, Alanna.  We even managed to find some decent food under the price of $20, which is really saying something for that area.  Once fed, we headed to the Opera House, where there is a night-time lightshow of crazy colours and motifs projected onto it.  Honestly, I thought it was nowhere near as great  as the Northern Lights display in Adelaide a few years back, but it was still nifty in parts.  We wandered back to the train station, grabbed some gelati, and then headed home, saying our fairwells to Ben and Alanna when we had to get off the train.

We spent Thursday fairly productively, getting provisions for the next leg of our trip, that kind of thing.  We also spent a bit of quality time window shopping, before we headed to the bike shop to collect our bikes and take them back to the apartment.  By then, we had to hurry, as Tony had made us a reservation at Bilson's.  Miraculously, we made it on time, and sat down for possibly the best meal of our lives to date.  I'm not going to go into huge detail right now, as there were nine courses involved, each of them exquisitely detailed little works of culinary art, but let's just say that we went home in a daze.  Wonderful stuff.

Today, we've been getting a few of those fiddly little bits of work before heading off done.  If all goes well, we'll be getting to Wollongong tonight. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Island Home

By Sundance:

Part 1: Yana in Hana

Total distance on Maui: 183.12 km
Total distance: 7381.8 km

What with our change of plans and flight schedules, we decided to unpack our bikes and take a tour around the south-east part of Maui, to get out of Garrett and Crystal's hair, and take advantage of the extra time we had up our sleeves.

But first, Yana's birthday. On the Monday, we headed out to the Emerald falls again in our rented car to wander through the bamboo groves and frolic in the water. After that we drove back through Paia and went to Mana foods in search of vegan key lime pie to serve as Yana's birthday cake. They were all out, but instead we got an amazing little ginger cake which went down extremely well.

On Tuesday the rental car had to be returned, so we headed to kite beach in the morning, and I got in some more kite surfing practice before returning the car, then wandered back to the beach for some more kiting. I actually managed to stand upright for about 25 seconds, which was a great feeling, and made me think that I might be getting the hang of it.

Wednesday and the early part of Thursday were taken up with unpacking and reassembling our bikes, and by Thursday afternoon we headed off from Makawao through Pukalani (to get some supplies), then uphill towards Kula. As it was a late start, we didn't go very far, and hunted around a little in Kula for a place to camp for the night. We settled on a local church, where we were given permission to set up our tent for the night. The next morning we set off again through pleasant bushland, to the south coast of the island. The road started off nicely but eventually deteriorated into broken pavement, coupled with a persistent headwind (which we expected, given the prevailing wind direction on Maui), dry terrain, and frequent hills. It wasn't fun, especially as the broken bitumen stopped us from building up speed on the downhill stretches to tackle the uphill stretches with. Eventually we made it to Kaupo and a general store where we made lunch and purchased a couple of frozen fruit icy-poles. We were even treated to a view across the sea to The Big Island, and a rainbow (visible below the horizon!) letting us know that we were entering the wet, lush side of the island. We rode on further and a dirt road (which we agreed was better than the broken pavement) and eventually found a place to turf-surf about 10 km south-west of Hana, on a property with a dog who's bark was worse than her bite, and a horse that didn't belong to the owner of the property, but just seemed to like hanging around there.

On Saturday morning we made our way into Hana, scouted around for more supplies at the two general stores in town, and hung out a bit drinking a smoothie to recharge our batteries before heading onwards. A little way past Hana we detoured to a local state park so that I could take a dip in the ocean at a black sand beach, as I felt we had better enjoy being by the beach, what with the weather being hot and tropical and all that. A bit further on we pulled into a roadside food stand, to discover that we'd been leapfrogging a pair of hitch-hikers who we'd noticed in Hana. We chatted a bit with them and then settled down to a plate of chicken, while they caught a ride further ahead. After riding onwards, we found ourselves more and more surrounded by beautiful rainforest and vistas overlooking the sea. At one point we stopped to look at a gorgeous waterfall cascading to the side of the road, and refill our water bottles from the water running off the nearby rock faces. As it was starting to get dark, we looked for another turf-surf a couple of kilometers further along the road. Selecting a friendly-looking house, Yana knocked on the door, and we were welcomed in by Charles, who told us that he and his wife, Linda, were avid travellers too (though they tend to go kayaking in South-East Asia), and would be glad to put us up for the night and share traveller's tales. We had a fantastic evening chatting with them, a comfy night sleeping on a futon in one of their numerous spare rooms, and after breakfast Linda showeed us around her studio where she does wonderful paintings of beach scenes.

The rest of the day we wound our way along the Hana highway, back into familiar territory. We stopped at Ho'okipa beach to watch the windsurfers playing, then made our way into Paia for a gelati (finally using the $5 I'd been given as a birthday gift for its intended purpose!) and dinner at the delightful Des Amis cafe. They have a limited menu, but their Greek platters are amazing! After dark we headed back up the side of Mt. Haleakala to Garrett and Crystal's place, and after making a start on disassembling the bikes, turned in for the night.

Monday was taken up pretty much completely with packing. We re-boxed the bikes, then fiddled with the remaining luggage, trying to make our carry-on and checked baggage fit within the size and weight allowances. By Monday evening we were ready, and headed to the airport to drop off our checked baggage before heading to the Whole Foods Market in Kahului to have an all-too-quick sit-down dinner with Garrett and Crystal. Then it was back off to the airport for our flight to Honolulu. We collected our bags upon arrival, loaded it on a trolley, and found ourselves a moderately comfy-looking couple of benches in the vicinity of the JetStar check-in counter to wait out the night. Our flight was fairly early Tuesday morning, so thankfully we didn't have to sleep too much (we couldn't have if we'd tried!) before it was farewell America.

Thanks America. We had a great time. Despite your often bad reputation in the rest of the world, we can honestly say that we found Americans to be among the kindest, friendliest, and most generous people we've ever met. It's been a delightful experience. But, by the same token, there's no place like home...

Part 2: No matter how far, or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home.

It's a ten-and-a-half hour flight from Honolulu to Sydney. A pretty uneventful one at that. We watched some videos on the inflight entertainment and our laptop. We crossed the International Date Line (and the equator) and Tuesday became Wednesday. And eventually we spotted a sliver of land that we knew to be the coast north of Sydney. There was a mixed feeling. It was nice to be so close to home, and yet, at the same time I'd hoped so much to be seeing that sliver of land from the deck of a sailing vessel, instead of a seat in a passenger jet, that I couldn't fight off a twinge of disappointment.

Land. Gather bags. Disembark. Present customs arrival cards. Collect baggage. Collect Bikes. Wait in line at customs/quarantine inspection (we even met a guy who worked there who is planning to ride from Vancouver to San Diego later this year). And then we were through, officially back on Terra Australis.

My favourite part of Sydney airport is the ramp into the public arrivals lounge. Over the ramp are a series of banners, half of which bear the slogan "G'day. Welcome Home". Those three words mean an awful lot.

It was 5:30pm and we were both ravenous. We threw ourselves at the nearest eatery, marvelling at the absence of Burger King and other now-familiar American brands, and the profusion of roasted vegetable foccacias, meat pies, and fruit salad with real yoghurt - and not a drop of high-fructose corn syrup in any of it! The food tasted glorious, and we decided that yes, everything really was as good as we remembered it. Eventually we had to get organised, and we got a taxi-van ride out to my uncle Tony's place where we're staying while we get under control for the ride back to Adelaide. We slept soundly. The following day we got a lift into town, and caught up with my mate Stewart (from my PhD days) for lunch, then wandered around Darling Harbour until sunset, and upon returning home were treated to a lamb roast that Tony whipped up which had to be tasted to be believed. On Friday morning we started reassembling our bikes, and Tony and family took off for weekend away (it being a long weekend). We have spent the rest of Friday and Today taking care of small necessities - getting a new Australian mobile phone number, dropping our bikes off at a bike shop to get some worn parts replaced, lunch with Yana's uni friend Ben, and wandering around soaking up the atmosphere of Sydney, with its slight sheen of pre-World Cup excitement. Tomorrow we may head out to the Blue Mountains and be tourists. But whatever we do, it's nice to be woken by the sound of kookaburras in the trees outside.   

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Maui Wowie

By Yana:

Yes, it has once again been embarrassingly long since our last post.  So let me fill you in on the last little while, in a large nutshell:

We spent a few more days in San Francisco, which included highlights such as riding some borrowed bicycles to and past the Golden Gate Bridge, and checking out the very nifty Musee Mecanique, which is crammed full of awesomely antique and totally functional coin slot machines.  We also tried out the local "Japanese" bath house, which was fun, and went to see Iron Man 2 with Kate, which was gratuitously violent.  The day before we left San Fran, we were also treated to the sight of a bunch of army helicopters landing on the lawns of Crissy Fields.  As it turned out, Mr Obama himself was scheduled to visit a few days later, and this was a practice run with the copters.  We looked up his schedule, to see if there was any possibility of actually seeing the man.  Upon deciding it was unlikely, we stuck with the flights we had, and got up at sparrowfart the following morning to fly to Maui.

The flight and airport time was uneventful, though it was a very strange feeling after having been so in charge of our own transport for so long.  Well, we whiled away the time by watching some episodes of Heroes, which did the trick.

We actually arrived a little early, and enjoyed the balmy weather while waiting for our friend Garrett to pick us up.  As we were arriving a short time before the Mai Tai, a big kite surfing event here on Maui was to start, we knew we would be in for a crowded house soon enough, as Garrett is hosting some kite surfers.  We did spend a bit of time at kite beach over the next few days, me only flying the trainer for a bit before opting to just hang out in the sand, and Sundance occasionally getting to body-drag through the water with the big kite, and then moving up to the actual board.  As public transport on Maui sucks, we rented a car for a day and drove down to Little Beach, to see if any of the friends we made last time were still around - many of them weren't, though we did get to have a chat to Frank, a fellow who seems to be a permanent fixture there.  We also spent a little time wandering along the Iao Valley before returning the car.

After two days, the other two Mai Tai folk (Erin and his friend Steve) came along, and Garrett took us to a few of the social events there.  We also managed to slot in a game of Catan, which Garrett didn't win for a change.  His lady, Crystal, is immune to his methods of winning.

As I had little to do with myself when everyone was kite surfing, we ended up renting a car again, this time for a few days.  We made another trip to the Iao Valley, this time walking along one of the ridges, up to a little clearing where yummy thimbleberries grow.  Ah, wet tropical forests.

Today has been a kite surfing day for Sundance, during which he discovered that he has a much easier time with the double-ended board rather than the uni-directional one.  I went and did my own thing, doing the walk (and swim) up to the top of the Golden Emerald waterfall.  It was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it, and then some, as the weather was nicer this time round, and the water wasn't so cold.

We are also going to hang out on Maui a little longer, mostly because we missed the window period in which we could get a cheap flight, so we booked the next one of the same price out of here, which is a few days later.  We may decide to stick up our tent somewhere, in the name of not imposing on Garrett and Crystal beyond the time we said we would.  Meanwhile, there is more kite surfing and walking through wet rainforests to be done.  Hooray!