Leaving Crunchytown was not easy.
I had so much fun there. I became such good friends with the whole crazy bunch: Sam and Shath and Charlene and Kenza and Matt and Mehdi and Jonathan. I could easily envision myself taking a spare room there and staying in Melbourne. It’s a pretty happening place.
But of course, there’s a tour on. And no matter what excuses I can come up with, be it “not enough writings been done,” or “new bikes just arrived that need tune-ups,” or “the fellas need more instruction on the fine points of Dungeons & Dragons,” or “I’ve got the sniffles”… there comes a day when you’ve just got to leave, as painful as it may be. You know how it is.
Even the excuse, “It’s already 1:15 pm and I’ve got to cycle across the entire city before I can camp,” didn’t stick. I was mobbed by a group hug; there are so many people at Crunchytown that I felt like a was under a crowd hug, and that wasn’t even everyone!
And then, I pedaled away, by myself.
I took a couple of turns, and almost instantly I was somewhere I’d never been, lost in the maelstrom of urban navigation. Thank god for maps, and for being on a bicycle, so it’s easy to stop and consult said maps, anywhere.
I let my intuition influence the logical and the direct, and meandered North by East. The suburbs eventually gave way to separate suburban towns, with some farm fields even, and some nature reserves. It was looking alright for camping after all, despite making it only about half as far as I had hoped. I was nevertheless prepared to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner if I had to camp in town; say, in a school practice field, and couldn’t make a camp fire. It’s happened before!
At St. Helena I pulled up to a bus stop to take stock of my options. I made a half-hearted attempt to question an old lady who was just wandering around; she wanted to gossip, which was interesting because her English was colorfully flavored with some sort of Eastern European swear words I think. But she didn’t have anywhere to camp.
I got water at the local strip mall bakery. Watching the faces, all the busy busy faces, I saw a likely older fellow and made another attempt. “Excuse me sir, are you from around here?” Nope just visiting, sorry!
I took it as a sign, and kicked on. Sometimes it’s better to just keep your own counsel.
“Reservoir Road?” That looks promising. Nope – just rows of houses. Ah, there’s a nice lawn area behind some trees – nope, fenced in, council project.
Then I found it: a huge nature reserve park off my highway out of town, following a little creek. Looks pretty popular at the moment with dog walkers and bike commuters and what not, but look at all those trees! There’s gotta be a good spot in there somewhere.
Taking a closer look, I realized the forested area was on the other side of the creek, so I went looking for a way across. I followed the path, “G’day”ing everyone I met. This close to dusk, and me obviously loaded for camping… Do you think they were thinking what I was thinking? No matter really; Aussies are generally in support of camping in the bush. “Everyone does it,” they’ll tell you. If anyone even takes an interest, that is.
Along around a few bends the forest thickened up. I made a quick recon on foot when no one was looking, and soon realized how expansive it was back there.
Time to commit. I moved my rig inside the forest to more concealment; under a railway bridge next to the creek, I leaned it against a tree and went for a stroll.
Anywhere is fine, I suppose… Hey what are these man-made hills here? Shit, is that a structure out here in the woods?! This looks like a paintball arena or something….
Then I heard voices.
My first instinct was to go stealth. But I’ve resolved to be more open with camping, come what may; and besides, this structure is I the prime center of the woods!
I approached, gently. Walking, waving. “G’day!”
I walked past more man-made hills, starting to look suspiciously familiar, and trenches filled with rainwater. A bush-rigged archway leads to the main camp area….
One glance at the frames and wheels, hanging from the heights like trophies, confirmed what I had already begun to suspect: this is a BMX park! Bent handlebars and burnt-out scooters adorned the makeshift walls, and a graffiti style sign declared the locale: Diamo Trails.
And who happened to be chillin’ there after an afternoon of ramp building but the three founders, Paddy, Chris, and Lee. They were the ones who started this park back in the day, and built everything, the ramps, the shelters, even the three-story race ramp they use to get momentum for the big jumps, all, by hand.
I instantly felt like I belonged here.
We started chatting, easy, natural. I felt I could imagine the three of them, best friends through the years, meeting here after school, and later, after work, to add a new ramp or upgrade the central camp. How many nights have there been like tonight, chillin’ after an afternoon of ramp building? If the earth could only tell the tales.
I knew this was where I would stay tonight. Even before they started enthusiastically explaining the wood heater they made in the cabin and bantering ideas for a good nights camping, I knew. This was where I was meant to be.
As the tin roof creaked in gentle time with the wind in the treetops, I felt that somehow the universe had led me, away from that strip mall, and down that road past those other potential campsites, around the creek path, but even farther, under the train bridge, to this very spot, this bike haven, these bike dudes.
I went and retrieved my rig.
On laying eyes on her, in all her heavily laden glory, the reality of what I do hit home for them.
That’s when they offered me the first beer.
I was home.