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. 

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