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.


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