Things were different after I left Pittwater.
Normally I try not to give myself any itinerary nor schedule; something I taught myself not to do during my World attempt. I followed the definition of adventure like some sort of mantra: to not know what is going to happen, but continue forward anyway. Plans run contrary to this.
But in the years since the fracture, that tour – the idea that had been that tour – crumbled. Now there remains but the lingering smoke of its smoldering fire. Will I ever realize its completion?
So much from those years on the road is with me still, though. Riding on the whim of the wind is still my style, still the best way to unlock that elusive sense of freedom. Only at the end, on the last leg of this new bike tour, did that change.
I had a ticket to ride on an airplane. Home.
For once I had a schedule to meet! Now with limited time left on this big island, I realized that people were more important than “seeing the sights.” More important than adventure. So I abandoned my earlier fantasy of riding all the way up to Cairns, or even as far as Gladstone to see the Great Barrier Reef. I’d seen plenty of Australia; what was important was catching up with Keith, and Carolyn, and Susan and Peter, and John and Nia and Jory in Brisbane. And seeing Duncan and Jess one more time before I left these southern stars behind, and flew away over the horizon. I didn’t feel I would miss out, though looking at the map of this huge island, it was humbling to see how little of the country I really did see. In fact it happened many times that a young Aussie would tell me, “You’ve seen more of Australia than I have!”
Out on the road, north of Sydney now and deciding day-by-day which route to take, at every chance I had to take a detour, at every turn-off onto a back road, at every slow, winding road that beckoned, I turned my cheek and chose the direct route, to DeHaviland, Keith’s cattle property in Taroom, Queensland. I forgot all about adventure – not that it was entirely unadventurous! – and let sentiment spur me on towards one of the places in Australia, one of the few places in the world, that I think I can call: a second home.
It became a different kind of tour for me then. A glimpse into a different way of bike touring. Still not my preferred method, I must say, but burning through milestones did bring its own sense of exhilaration. Choosing a single path, instead of entertaining all the possibilities of true adventure, was in some sense liberating. “The true road cuts through a sky of fire.”
So it was that I returned to DeHaviland, one dusky Sunday afternoon, and lay down my load before the gate. I had made it. The tour was complete.
Looking back, I have to say: it wasn’t always easy! But whenever I am asked to choose my favorite memories, usually they end up being the memories of the challenges overcome. New friends are unforgettable as well, like harvesting neighborhood greenery for party decorations with Sam in Melbourne. But as far as the cycling goes, nothing beats the obstacles: nine days of rain in the Tasmanian wilderness – the first nine days of the tour! Climbing over the Snowy Mountains through the ice and snow…. It has been said that perhaps winter wasn’t the best season to do this bike tour. Said many times, in fact. Heh. But actually, I think I avoided the worst of the rains, and the floods created by them (a real danger!) by traveling North in the winter.
And, as it turns out, snakes hibernate during the winter months, so cross off one major hazard of camping in Australia. Spiders didn’t seem to be a problem, though I was pretty careful when collecting firewood. And crocodiles only live in the more tropical regions, farther north. So the worst fauna I had to deal with were leeches and ticks – and magpies. Mostly the animals were a real joy; to finally see a live wombat – what is it? – to warn off the lazy-cute possums, catch a glimpse of a goana walking bow-legged into the underbrush, to spook the wallabies and kangaroos into bounding away, so much like the deer I know, yet so very exotic at the same time; the cows and horses so inquisitive, thinking I’ve got hay for them… sorry guys! And to watch the thousands of birds, o Australia’s birds! In every shape and size and color; giant flightless emus in familial herds; snow-white cockatoos with yellow crowns crowding the fields and roosting trees; sometimes a flock of giant black parrots; tiny multi-colored larakeets and parakeets flitting about everywhere; bald eagles and brown falcons soaring on the thermals; kookaburras cackling like monkeys at dawn and dusk; dingy ibis stalking the city parks; elegant cranes fishing in dams; pink and grey galahs screeching by the scores… all that and more, plus all the normal sparrows and ducks and crows and pelicans and gulls and pigeons and…. I didn’t expect such an avian richness, but it has been one of the brightest gems of the countryside.
Of course the traffic in the countryside – and the city – is still a hazard, but I had a secret weapon against that: my beloved blue-collar work shirt. The one with durable-yet-breathable fabric, designed for exactly my conditions, in fluoro-and-navy with reflective stripes, the quintessential workman’s garb that all Aussie motorists are conditioned to respect. It’s just about the best bike touring shirt ever! Imagine: a driver sees a glimpse of the shirt up ahead, that same old worker shirt everyone sees, every where, and automatically their brain is triggered to be cautious. Then, before they have a chance to wonder “Hey, that fella isn’t actually working,” they’ve already passed me, giving the lawful meter of clearance between.
That shirt has now become as worn as the rest of my gear. My poor gear. Most of it was tired even back in Egypt, and after nine months on a sailboat exposed to the salt air and sea, it was pretty well ridden into the ground. By the end of this tour I was barely making do. Don’t ask me why, ’cause I’m not sure, but I love this kind of shit.
SHOES melted and ripped, laces broken and knotted,
SANDALS holes worn right through from pedals,
JACKET torn and stained, zippers failed,
CLOTHING burned, stained, and patched,
BACKPACK zippers failed, torn and stretched
TENT zippers failed, poles cracked, pegs broken, not too waterproof anymore,
SLEEPING BAG zipper sewn shut permanently,
SLEEPING MAT de-laminated into a gigantic sleeping pillow, dirty, patched, and leaking,
TARPS holed and sun-perished
BOTTLES sun-perished, stained and mildewy
TRAVEL MUG dented and stinky
RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES rusty and tired,
CAMERA operation quirky, lens scratched,
LIGHTS for biking and camping, all malfunctioning, mounts cracked,
DRYBAG sun-rotted and ripped,
PANNIERS zippers failed, nylon weathered, torn and holed,
BUNGEE CORDS stretched and grease-stained
SOAP what soap?
The only things that worked like new were my new hand-fashioned leather belt, my new stainless cook-pot, and my recently warrantied multi-tool. The jaffle iron is still kicking out awesome toasted campfire sandwiches too – it’s only getting more and more seasoned – though I had to glue the handles back on once.
And the bicycle… well, the bicycle has had its own long litany of repairs, but she’s all good mate. She’s destined to become Duncan’s bike.
Now. What, you may ask, of the tour’s goals? What of the 100 days of Fitness & Writing?
Well, cycling & surviving does take its priority, and my fitness regime did sort of trail off. I’m not even sure how many days the tour ended up being. But what I came away with was proof: that I can still go on long bicycle tours. My broken femur and hip-joint complications have healed, if not 100%, then enough anyway to pedal and pedal, across any terrain come-what-may. I was a bit worried that I might discover some further complication, so that was actually a great relief. “I am less broken than I thought,” reports my deepest confidence.
And I’m happy, also, to report that my writing has surpassed my goals. I’ve written all the travelogues, journal entries, and letters that I wanted to, and more. I feel ready to write my book. And this winter(northern hemisphere), I finally will. I must!
And speaking of writing: thank you for reading! My posts this time around have been a bit complaining, perhaps, sometimes even poison-penned. There are plenty of reasons for that I suppose; possibly I was purging some bitterness related to Lily and the failure of our commitment. It’s likely that processing those difficult and confusing emotions came out in my writing, and made it a bit more negative that usual… but instead I think I’ll just chalk it up to a lack of cats in my life.
Pixel, you’ll be pleased to know, has settled into the life of a farm cat at Lothlorien with Carolyn, and has decided to stay. A California kitty in Queensland. She’s got trees to climb, dogs that literally worship her every footstep, and the world no longer sloshes around all the time. I’ll miss her terribly, but she’s got a better life now!
I had a dream a few nights before the end. I was careening down a hill in some kind of snow sled or inflatable boat or something. I was in control, but being pulled so fast by gravity that all I could do was steer.
For some reason the dream stuck with me, and the closer I get to leaving, the more goodbyes I say, the more I feel like it describes my life right now. No more meandering at a natural pace, peacefully communing with my heart’s desires. Now I am on a downhill run, with time only to reach out as I pass by to these people and places that have come to mean so much to me over the last nine months. It will continue, as well, to Hawai’i to meet my mother, to Portland, and eventually, to Madison, Wisconsin. Eventually I suppose the descent will level off, and I’ll have to start pedaling up the other side. Some day I’m sure I’ll slow down again. But for now I’m just holding on, and trying to properly complete not just my bicycle tour, but my entire visit to Australia. For I have come to truly love this country, unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.
You’ve changed me, Australia, far for the better. Thank you! Goodbye now, until we meet again!
3 Comments on This Australian Earth
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Great insight Charlie!
Hope to catch you on that uphill climb. Safe travels my friend.
Dear Charlie, we know you are back in your land now having made it to Portland after your reunion and sojourn with Pam in Hawaii. You showed how much you enjoyed our land and we loved you for it. You are always welcome here, as you know, there is lots more to see. So farewell not goodbye, and as those in my birth place say, pa gensyn.