In the morning I was surprised to see the river had risen two feet or more. Thanks to some lovely road engineer, however, my camp was nice and dry on top of a flattened pile of gravel.
The water was delicious, if a bit brown from the tannins. But just getting through the scrub to a clean-running spot on the bank to fill my jug was a risky maneuver for my injured leg.
It was taxing enough, in fact, that I knew I wouldn’t be able to cycle anywhere today.
It was perfect, actually. My muscles needed some recuperation anyway, to take advantage of all the strengthening I had been doing, and my mind could use something to occupy it besides day to day survival and “hill will.” I could have a late breakfast, which I love. I could stay warm and dry, tending the fire all day, which I also love. I would venture out into the intermittent rain only to drag home more fallen branches. I could get some letters written, which I love! And I could tighten up my friggin’ brakes.
And I was able to accomplish all these lofty goals in absolute peace and quiet, save for three cars that passed throughout the day, only one of which stopped.
As the maroon sedan reversed and parked on the picnic area, I stood up and tried not to look injured. Yesterday I might have sought help; today I knew I would see through this injury on my own. Also, who knows, there could be a psychopath in that car. Rumors abound of Tasmanian redneck in-breeding. It’s just like Deliverance, apparently. And boguns will be boguns.
But this fella wasn’t either. He was nice! His name was David and boy, was he enthusiastic! He was quite impressed.
“You’re cycling this road!?!”
I smiled and nodded, saying only that I was having a day off.
David wanted to help me, to give me something, somehow. I saw it in his face, and I’ve seen it before. I’m pretty sure it’s simple gratitude for the inspiring effect bike touring tends to have on people.
I was at a loss, however – I felt content, and I had everything I needed. And I was not about to remind him that money is always a great help…. that’s only for high schoolers.
But he spied an empty tuna tin I’d been waiting to recycle and insisted he take all my rubbish.
“Saves you cartin’ it!”
And then his energetically searching mind alighted on another idea, and his eyebrows shot up.
“Some rum! How about some rum? Yeah I’ve got some rum!”
How could I refuse?
“Since you’re having a day off,” he said with a wink as he filled a fifth for me.
Then, he made an offer that I could really appreciate.
“I’ve just taken a job as the manager of the backpackers in Strahan, so if you’re ever coming through that way, look me up!” He pronounced it “strawn.”
I told him he would be the first person I find. We shook hands heartily and waved good bye. Thanks David!
I had the rest of my peaceful day off and it soon grew dark again – pretty short days this far south. I hadn’t accomplished too much to show, but I had given my leg the rest it needed.
And would you believe, after only a bit more than a week on the road, it was already quite weird to be going to bed in the same place two nights in a row….
Relief came gradually the next day as I cycled more and more. The muscle was still pulled, but as it warmed up it came better and better.
Whew! I don’t have to quit the tour, after all.
I knew it all along.
At Corinna the Western Explorer ends (a cause for some small celebration, I don’t mind saying) at a quaint little river crossing town that must see a lot of tourism during the summer. In winter it was deserted. Still very beautiful, but I had to ring the buzzer to alert the barge operator – who also wears the hats of hotel manager, bar man, handy man, lawn mower, and local wino. Once he got the engine running and we were slowly cabling our way across the Pieman River, he asked,
“What happened to your ankle?”
Wha? Whaddya mean what happ… Eek!!
Blood drained actively from my ankle into a pool under my heel. I hadn’t even noticed!
“Oh, um, I dunno. Must’ve been a pedal bite or something.”
“Look like leech to me. You get any leeches?”
Yuck, had I ever! Little sneaky ones under my cuffs and big thirsty-looking ones making their way across the tarp towards me. Slimy and eyeless like slugs, but vampire parasites! Eww! I picked them up mostly while collecting firewood I think. Just yesterday I had pulled one each, mid-meal, off of my identical left and right sandal-strap blister spots.
“Yeah and whatever you do, don’t pull em off. Their heads get stuck in there and get infected. Just burn the bastards off.”
I believe it was my blood trail, then, combined with the huge burn hole in the ass of my shorts (from drying by the fire and still not repaired) that caused this man to pity me, and not charge me the ten dollar ferry fee. I’ll take it!
I stayed the night up the side of a council quarry just outside Zeehan. It was one of those paranoid nights with lots of activity just over the hill, trying to decide which noises to worry about and which are harmless. But in the morning, the quarry workers just smiled and waved. Boguns will be boguns, but most upstanding Aussies seem to understand ditch camping all right.
Then it was an easy ride into Strahan, a gorgeous little salmon-farming and tourist town on Macquarie Harbour. I stopped in first at the post office to ask after the backpackers, and the fella says to me, “Looks like the sunshine should last through the weekend!”
Bloody hope monger. You’re lucky I don’t…
Just kidding! For once it was nice to hear some good weather. And that bloke certainly seemed happy about it, so good on him!
I found David at the backpackers, as promised, and we shared another hearty handshake. Not wanting to be too forward, I gently inquired,
“So… I suppose the campsites are the cheapest option here right? And how much are those?”
“Well, camping is usually ten bucks, but for an adventurous soul such as yerself I’d be happy to let you stay for free. Just make yourself at home!”
I thought you might say that. =)
“Just one thing: don’t camp in the corner there, there’s a huge branch caught, and I could fall at any second.”
Gotcha. “Widowmakers,” we call ‘em.
Since I would have access to the cummunal kitchen, I stretched my rain tarp(normally used to stay dry while cooking) over my tent instead. Sort of a double dry tent; in the event of rain or dew, now only one article would need drying out.
Then I realized, with a gasp and a thrill of exhilaration, that there was still room under there for me to cook on a campfire! I can set it up like this every night! Upgraded camping system, cha-ching! Now why didn’t I think of that earlier?
Now – on to that rear wheel. I was riding with two broken spokes today and I had used my last spares yesterday. Definitely time to respoke her. I made a coffee and had a very pleasant wrench session in the sunny center courtyard.
About halfway through, a tour bus unloaded and I had a chat with a few of the international girls. Hey, I remember this! Chatting with girls, nice!
David was working but passing through from time to time, and he suggested I join the tour group that evening to see a local theatre production, “The Ship That Never Was.” He was friends with the troupe – even acted with them for a season – so I thought it only fitting that I spend my camping money on this, instead.
The play was a silly affair, but the story was quite amazing.
Tasmania in the 1800s was a colony of convicts. Here in Macquarie Harbout there was a prison island for bad convicts, where they were made to slave away building Her Majesty’s boats at the shipyard, on Sarah Island. They built 131 ships, these convicts, before the yard and prison were to be shut down. So a handful of crafty ones manipulated events and managed to steal the final ship ever built there, the Frederick. Not only did they hijack the whole ship, they sailed it to Chile, where they scuttled it to destroy the evidence, and took up very happy lives in South America. For a year, that is, after which the British navy found them and brought them all the way back to Tasmania to stand trial as pirates – a capital offense.
But these crafty ones escaped hanging through a loophole: there were no designs nor records of the ship(having sunk) and there was never an official christening of the vessel, nor any formal orders for her crew. British bureaucracy saved these chaps, and each one eventually found their way to live free in the end, whether it was reaching the end of their sentence and earning freeholder rights, or escaping again, and in one case, by building and stealing another boat!
At least that’s what I gathered. There were only two players, using the audience as characters… ‘Twas a bit confusing, your worship, so it was. But worth ten bucks for sure.
After the play we retired with some of Davids friends for a home made chicken soup and local Tassie beer. A fine night was had by all.
And then : the shower.
It’s amazing how, living outside constantly, in the winter, you forget how cold you actually are all the time. Raising my core temperature like that is a pleasure normally reserved for climbing big hills!
So buzzed and cozy warm, I had a great night’s sleep – until a huge CRASH! nearby woke me up. What the hell?!
Ah, the widowmaker…! Thank god I had taken David’s advice! And thank god he had given it; I’m not sure I would’ve even looked up into the treetops, much less noticed the accident-waiting-to-happen.
Well, no need to hire that arborist, after all. Back to sleep…
In the morning I was ready again. Gear dried out, wheel respoked. Batteries recharged, literally and metaphorically. And with sun in the forecast….
But I was in no hurry. So I hung out with David.
I can handle myself fine in nearly any company, but it’s especially fulfilling when you meet someone who’s on the same level as you are. I like to call them my tribe.
He said some nice things, too. Some things that made me think.
One was, “It’s good to see someone out there achieving!”
I have to clarify, because when I think of “achievement,” I think of… Well, I think of Lily.
Fast paced, goal oriented, moving a mile a minute, and keeping a full account of what major accomplishments she’s achieved before what age.
That’s achieving, isn’t it? Clearly. It can be written and counted and held up to scrutiny. None could deny the worth of it.
Now why does that make me feel a bit sick inside?
I could give myself a pep talk here.
I could say it’s all relative. I could say that most folks who are bent on achievement probably aren’t that happy. I could even employ a cliche: “to each his own.”
But isn’t it possible those are just the words of someone who hasn’t achieved? It’s easy for those who just bum around on bikes to criticize those who live in the fast lane. It’s easy for the poor to criticize the wealthy. It’s easy as well to say “You shouldn’t compare yourself to others.”
What’s hard, is achieving.
I hope she’s happy.
I do have ambition, you see. I have a deep desire to make a mark, to accomplish great things. To hold my list up to others and nod in satisfaction. To grow old and look up on that shelf and say, “Look what I did.”
Yet… to have “achievement” as a main driving force in my life, just doesn’t feel right. And it’s gotta feel right, if I’m going to notch it under my belt.
Perhaps I’m broken. Certainly I must be odd.
But David’s one who looks at me, bumming around Tassie on my bike, and sees someone out there achieving. Thanks for that, mate.
I’m not sure what I am accomplishing.
But it feels right.