Thursday, January 31, 2008

40 km west of Jerramungup.

7:50 p.m. January 27th

This is my first night not paying for a strip of land to lay my swag. I am roughly 20 km from Boxwood Hill, about 75 feet from the highway, invisible (I hope) to the road. The wind howls, and I keep my ears open for cars on the road. I lay close to my mat when they pass. It is an old and strange feeling to lay your head down where you need to rest. It is a feeling I am glad to experience, yet one I am infinitely grateful not to have to do on a regular basis. I feel both liberated and entrapped. On the one hand, to lay my swag out where I need gives me a thrill of independence. It begs the question of what we really need to survive. On the other hand, I am skirting the laws of vagrancy, and I, by nature, like to follow the law. I look to my own prejudices. I find that I would be suspicious of someone who chooses to sleep by the side of the road. I think of my friend Ron, in my neighborhood in Wallingford, who is as much a part of the neighborhood as anyone with a house. He sleeps in his old Ford F-250 and panhandles in front of the QFC. He is always kind and easy to talk to. Finding a place to sleep every night is something he deals with every day. Yet here, this warm climate begs you to sleep outside. The sunset is amazing, and I am conflicted. I know I like fine things, yet looking up at the stars revealing themselves above me, I can think of nothing finer. It is a freedom built into our deep past, and yet we are now so removed from it in our modern world lives that we have outlawed it. I do worry about the unlikely chance of being found. I suppose I will deal with that if it comes. It is an apprehension I feel in my gut that contrasts with the peace I have looking at the sky, surrounded as it is by my own 6 gum trees for the night.

PS: An added bonus to this bush camp experience was riding in the evening which closely competes with the dawn. A flock of fluorescent green lorikeets following me from tree to tree for nearly two km in the still warm, but weakened, sun.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Boxwood Hill roadhouse.

January 27th. (5:00pm)

The sun is fierce, but not hot. It heats the ground and shimmers in the distance on the road, yet in the shade I am quickly chilled by the east wind.

Left Albany early today for Esperance through Jerramungup and Ravensthorpe. I have put on 120 km today and plan to ride more before the evening forces me to the bush. Around 1 p.m., the sun becomes too strong to ride in, again not so much the heat as I am still close enough to the southern sea to feel its breezes. It’s comforting to know I have ridden my share today and that anything more makes for a good night’s sleep and a short day tomorrow. The only thing I will miss will be a shower, a luxury I know I will have to give up as I ride the Nullarbor. However, clean riding is easier on the body. The land around me is bush and getting scrubbier. With the hills I have also left the shade and protection of the Karri forest.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My road.

Jan. 26

I love the bike. Love the road. However, this is a different type of travel. I go on my own energy alone and in many ways this limits me. I am constantly keeping a watch on my food and water levels and managing my rest. Because of this, a 10 km detour to a must-see spot is more often than not, too much. Because of this, I see the road. My free time is not spent in populated areas soaking in the towns and vibe. I feel the road. I smell the farms, the gum trees and the road kill. I see the day wake up and hear the birds and animals. I am exposed and get the grit of the road on my shins. These are my impressions. Good, but it also makes me want to come back and see this through different eyes. Right now though, I love it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Encounters of the American kind

Jan 25

I must admit it was initially an affront to my Australian adventure when I ran into Mike Beach of Oklahoma in the Denmark Caravan Park. I was quite content to be the only one of my kind. However, it was not long before this feeling melted away, and we spoke as old friends. You do not meet many Americans in Western Australia, especially not from Oklahoma. We shared similar impressions of this country. The land is in many ways like our western states – vast distances, harsh land and a history of tough people who made a living from it. In the same breath, the story of white settlement and their interaction with the first peoples of this land is almost identical. Mike has a round-the-world ticket and will head to Perth, Melbourne and the red center before heading to Japan and Europe. He blogs at myspace.com/hippiefreak. He met with local students before he left, and they are following him on his trip around the world. One girl drew him a picture of Uluru, which he carries in his bag and when he reaches it, he will take that drawing and take a picture with the real thing and bring it back. He also carries with him a small sack of Oklahoma Rose Rock. "Its not a very practical thing to carry but I give them out to interesting people along the way." He gave me one, a piece that looks like three attached rose blooms. I was quite touched, and now it sits safely in my box of gear, protected from the road.
Everyone carries bits and pieces of things with them that have no practical purpose but perhaps provide some feeling of good luck or goodwill. It may seem like a waste of weight and space, but the memories and the goodwill make these small sacrifices and silly superstitions worth the trouble.

Met quite a few others in the caravan park; some true blue Aussies – 3 young men about my age – who have known each other for years and are down here for Australia Day weekend. Had a beer with them and a family they had just met. Their daughter’s name was Jarra after some of the huge local trees in the forests.

My camp was next to some ex-pat Scots, about 21 years now totally Aussie with the exception of their accent. Had a glass of wine with them and talked of Shakespeare on stage, and The Man Who Would be King.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I walk among the giants.

Jan 25

Early this morning I stood on a 60-meter girder of swaying aluminum 40 meters above the forest floor. This was the treetop walk in the valley of the giants, and it is home to some of the largest trees in the world – the tingles. They get their name from the light red color of their bark; tingle is the local aboriginal word for red. At eight this morning underneath overcast skies, I am the only biped above the forest floor. The bark is spongy and rough and in many places seared by fire. I see two kookaburras and hear many more. The forest looks ancient, and indeed these trees only inhabit a 6,000 square hectare area of the world here in southwestern Australia. They are leftovers from millions of years of evolution.

On the forest floor I see the insides of the trunk are hollowed out from fire, fungus and whatever else happens in a 400-year-old life-span. Some of them look like quaint little homes; many are tall enough that on the inside my six-foot-five frame fits comfortably. I was glad I stopped. This was worth the extra ten km to get here.

I stopped by the general store by Bow Bridge. Decided to treat myself to breakfast on the lovely patio draped with grape leaves. I had a bacon, beef and cheese meat pie baked in Denmark, my destination that day, which was still 42 km off. Despite its good taste and apparent quality, I could not help but think of "Sweeney Todd" and the meat pies in that movie. I finished it off with a Devonshire tea, two scones, cream and jam. This, combined with the overcast sky, left me feeling pretty English. I washed it all down with a cup of much coveted coffee. The only native animals I saw today were birds. With the exception of the trees, I might have been in Cornwall on a very hot day.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Walpole relaxer.

January 24th

The sand of Coal Mine Beach in Walpole is course. Not so much so that it is unpleasant to walk on, however, its roughness comfortably exfoliates my feet as I push them into the wet sand on the water’s edge. Walpole sits on an inlet within an inlet creating, in effect, what looks like a saltwater lake. The wind blows hard from the southeast, white-capping the small waves that brush the beach. The geography and the subtropical look of the foliage that surrounds it gives the area an "Island of Dr. Moreau" feel to it or perhaps the secret inlet where Captain Nemo kept the Nautilus.

To my left sits the Walpole Yacht Club. Nothing bigger than a wind-surfer sails out of it. There are only three boats on the water – two moored 50 yards off the beach and one in the distance, too far away to hear the motor.

I was eaten by bugs tonight for the first time on the trip. However, it wasn’t so much the bites that bothered me, but the incessant buzzing in my ears despite my mosquito net. It drove me mad until I doubled-up my net protection with some deet. Despite the protection, they still got one square inch of my arm 11 times. Looks like I’m bug spraying up from now on.

The day before my rest day.

January 23rd

Pemberton is a pleasant mix of timber-town and tourist-town; the walkers and the backpackers mix well with the loggers, and the shift whistle from the sill cutting saw mill adds an authenticity to the town’s logging heritage. Cattle gave way to sheep, and farmland to forest, but the forest was smoking. There was an aerial burn to keep the underbrush low and it gave the forest a eerie feel. In the distance I could hear the snap, crackle and crash of trees felled deep within the forest. Something I did not worry about until later that night, when I found that several people in the caravan park had been held back as a tree had fallen across the road, denting the pavement roughly six inches.

The last 20 km were brutal; the wind was up and the sun strong. I had, for the first time on this trip, felt strong until the last 10 km out of town, and quite literally crawled in, stumbling into the local grocer like a madman where I destroyed two yogurts, a box of crackers, a quart of milk and a box of cookies. I found the caravan park - four km out of town – and was delighted to find that the kitchen had a TV. Even better, the Simpsons were on. Better than that were the cold beers I had while cooking up and watching the Simpsons.
Later that night, Tom and Rich found me and generously invited me to dinner once again. Once more, some good food, good wine and good company. I went to bed at eleven, the latest I have stayed up since landing in Australia.

On a more somber note, I was very sad to hear Heath Ledger died. It turned out a man cooking potatoes in the group kitchen had tutored him as a young boy. Heath was one of those actors of my generation that I was looking forward to watching as we both grew older. Such is life.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I eat my way through Pemberton

January 22nd 7pm

The first thing I saw as I went to the reception at the caravan park office was the mottled tan and brown fresh farm eggs. I had not had eggs in about a week. They were $1.05 for three. I opened up the stove and cracked them. The yolks were orange, almost red. I was at first concerned that they were fertilized, and cracked another just in case. Nope, just rich orange yolks. I ate them scrambled. This was, of course, not enough for lunch, and I made my way into town to grab some groceries. An advertisement for marron caught my eye. I had just read about marron, a large freshwater crawdad that inhabits the streams and rivers of this area. Not one to pass up an opportunity to eat something new, I went in. I was not impressed. It was essentially a small, overpriced lobster. It would have been great with some spice, but the meager amount for the price was not something I was interested in. I ordered a burger afterwards. Later that night after some milk and yogurt, I was on my way to bed (my swag) when I was offered a glass of wine by Janet. She was a Queenslander gone Kiwi after meeting her husband, Tom, from Auckland while traveling in London. (say that five times fast) They were in Southwest Australia on holiday with their youngest son, Richard. They had seen me the night before and wanted to know more about my trip. As we chatted over wine, Janet brought me two slices of pizza that she insisted had to go. This was followed with more wine and then a vegetable curry. It felt good to be taken in; to have a meal cooked for me on the road is real luxury and a true kindness. They too were heading to Walpole tomorrow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January 22nd - The road to Pemberton and a German Surprise

The last two days of riding have brought me into hill country- farms, cattle, and bush. Today was more hills but all paved. On the last 25 km of the 75 km ride, the scrubby medium sized trees of the bush gave way to the tall and smooth-barked karri forests. Each season as the tree grows, the old bark, weathered with a year’s growth, gives way in great strips that litter the ground, revealing fresh pine-colored new bark to protect the tree in the next year.

It was here on the side of the road that I made my tea. Just as I was cleaning up, Kai and Corinne, the German couple from Preston Beach (Martins Tank) with the lovely daughters, pulled up. I love a serendipitous experience; all the more so when you enjoy the company. They were heading to Walpole, my destination tomorrow. We caught up on the four days of travel. It already seemed worlds away. They were rested and remarkably relaxed as their 3- and 6-year-old played by the side of the road; something they no doubt learned from the past two months of vacation. They supplemented my plain breakfast of muesli with an apple, nectarine and orange and were kind enough to offer more. I declined as I had no room to spare.

Their visit left me very happy. It is great to meet strangers who become friends so quickly. My happiness lasted until a two km decent into the lovely valley that is Pemberton; a valley I will have to crawl out of first thing next morning.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jan 21 8 p.m.

A long hard day on the road - Margaret River to Nannup. Again I expected everything to be desert 27 km out of big valley; it intersected with Sues road; no bitumen; lots of hills. I fish-tailed a fair bit and saw many kangaroos; heard even more. Pulled off on side of road for billy -couldn’t stay in the saddle any longer. Nannup has lavender farms and a river that can flood nearly 50 feet it regularly gets to twenty. Right now, I’m at a picturesque billabong with lots of birds. I’m very tired after my ride. It was the most athletic one yet. I’m camping next to some drying laundry – smells good.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wine country, the Bush Tucker tour.

In the early 60’s, three family’s who had homesteaded down around Margaret River wanted to try their hand at wine making. It was these three families who asked the government to do a survey for the land to see if they would have any luck. The scientist was named Gladstone, and after conducting soil and weather experiments, he pronounced that this region of Australia was strikingly similar to the Bordeaux region in France, due in large part to its proximity to the Indian Ocean. From this he drew the Gladstone line, a line that goes 27 miles inland from the coast on this thick fat peninsula that holds Augusta, Margaret River and Busselton. It’s a small region: 27k wide and 90 to a hundred km long depending on the coastline. Despite its size, it produces 3% of the country’s wine, a fair bit for a small area, however, most remarkable is that it produces 25% of the country’s premium wines.

I toured with five couples between their twenty’s and seventy’s and almost every decade in between. The soundtrack in our bus was the oldies, mostly U.S. pop, but some Aussie songs thrown in for good measure. Hour after unrushed hour we were leisurely bussed around, trying up to seven wines at three (or four) wineries, a brew at a brewery and a visit to a cheese and chocolate factory. Lunch was cold meats, some of which were bush turkey and corned kangaroo. All very good, and the witchetty grub that was made into a sauce didn’t really shock me. It was somewhat crunchy. At 5 p.m. and starting to get a headache from the booze and the sun, I rode another 11km to my campsite. Good vibe, but kinda hippy – somewhat different from the wine tasting.

Misconception of the country.

Between this trip and the last I have seen a fair bit of this country. Even so, I expect that each hill I roll over will open up to a vast expanse of outback nothingness. Australia is dry, but desert is not all it has. Riding into wine country this morning was a dream. There was the smell of citronella of the bush. A smell I had only caught a little of since riding from Perth. This soon gave way to vineyards and open fields, and the spicy smell of the citronellas gave way as the sun heated up the earth and unlocked the smells of tilled land and the not unpleasant odor of well fed animals left freely to pasture. I arrived at Margaret River early enough to boil my billy tea, check the tourist information center, and book a wine tour in this much-talked about wine country. Everyone I had met since Perth asked me if I was going to try the wines in Margaret River. I had to.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This jetty, not just any jetty.

This jetty reminded me of a similar one in south Australia; a small town called Port Germein. Port Germein never made the jump from small commercial port to small seaside tourist resort. On my last trip, Port Germein had a pub, a gas station and a street lined with closed businesses. It was dying; no cafes, no tourists, no money.

In both towns it was this lifeline – a port to the world – that gave them life. My walk back to the shore reminded me of this as I passed multiple brass plaques; thin metal memorials to locals who chose this spot as their final resting place. Being somewhat of a sentimental sort, I wrote a few down. They speak for themselves, however, may I guide you through them?

A father and son, side by side.

John "Tractor" Dear
1936-1998
Father of Jules Varga
"Happy days"

His son, Jules Varga died four years later, he was 47.
1959-2006
Life is a challenge. Meet it.
Life is love. Share it.
Life is a dream. Realize it.
Life is a game. Play it
In this bay your ashes stay.

Anne Plunkett
To have known you was to love you.

One plaque; Ken and Molly Spencer.
Ken was 60 when he passed, Molly outlived him by 26 years.
"Together again in the place they loved best"

James Stanly
1926-2006
"He said just toss him, so we did"
-his kids

Inky Wright
1930-2006
"A true gentleman at rest,
courageous and strong"

Herbert D. Gregson
A gentle man.
-wife Daphne

I could write all of them down - each one its own brand of pluck and poignancy. However, the one I will leave you with is Keith Collet, clearly one who had fished this jetty his whole life.

Fisherman’s Prayer
I pray that I may live to fish until my dying day
And when it comes to my last cast
I then most humbly pray
I land in the Lord’s great landing net
and peacefully go to sleep
and that in His mercy I be judged good enough to keep.

Busselton’s commitment to its jetty has in return given life to nearly 6 generations of this town. Sails, steam, coal, and now tourists are drawn to this jetty like the life that grows below it. The locals, always grateful, are as much a part of the jetty as the pilings that hold it above the sea.

The Underwater Sea Lab and a Latte

January 19, Busselton at the Goose Restaurant having a latte followed by local champagne.

****Warning**** Following blog contains multiple and vague references to "The Life Aquatic"

After walking roughly one kilometer over the Busselton jetty, it was not the rotting chunks of wood on the deck that concerned me. The wood was old, but amply thick enough to stand rotting for a few more years before it deteriorated to any real danger. What concerned me was whether the $20 ticket to the Busselton Underwater Observatory for a 45-minute tour was worth it. 836 meters to go, and I would find out.

The Jetty itself has been in existence for over 140 years. Starting at roughly 150 meters right off the town’s main street, it was used for the loading of timber that ultimately paid for the unloading of dry goods that built Busselton. The Jetty was forced to grow as wind and wave action brought more sand. The ships, once lighter-weight sailing vessels, grew bigger and deeper with steam and coal. Horse carts gave way to rail and Busselton boomed through the virtue of this slim timber gateway to the world.

With the development of Bunbury’s port to the north, ships did not need Busselton’s jetty, and it was closed to commercial traffic in 1972.

It was a liability, and cost a fortune in upkeep. Yet the town chose to keep the structure. In 1976 an underwater observatory was proposed. 27 years later in 2004, it became a reality. 550 tones of concrete and eleven $20,000 acrylic windows were anchored to the sea floor.

From the shore it looks like a large shack on the end of a very old jetty. Up close, it looks like a modern shack. Inside, the top floor and entrance are “museum chic.”

I was still not convinced. Our guide was pregnant, but not chewing any gum. We descended to the first level. It was more or less at this point that I felt I was stepping into Alistair Hennessy’s sea lab. On the first level – the tide level, revealed in a cross-section of air and water – the surface acted like whipped cellophane revealing silver dollar sized barnacles. The next level was the same 100-year-old piling, now hollow in the middle and held together only by the life that had made their home around it. The colors: orange-purples, blues, reds and greens. Their soft texture looked like an artist’s brush strokes. It might as well have been an impressionist’s picture of an underwater piling.

On the sea floor, we walked on dry, red terracotta tiles Through one window – an encrusted anchor, another, a school of yellow-finned mackerel. No food is brought to them. Just the natural attraction of the unnatural reef draws them in. It was truly breathtaking. My 45 minutes inspired me, and I felt compelled to take something, like an espresso machine. Since this was not the Life Aquatic and there were no espresso machines or interns, I had to settle for my latte at the posh "Goose" restaurant on the shore side of the jetty.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obligatory Food blog.

Being my rest day, I figured I would treat myself to a real lunch and went to the local pub. I had a pint of the Black Swan out of Perth and followed that up with a guinea pie – Great, Good and Expensive – $22.50, and that’s American bucks, cause if you don’t know the dollar is getting crushed down here and in the rest of the world. That night I had to do some food shopping and replenish my supplies. I went to the grocery store for the long haul stuff. Muesli, tuna, and rice were the main items on my list. Then I noticed the meat – so much meat – so much cheap meat. At first I wanted the sausages, then I wanted the lamb, then the kangaroo. I was in a great red meaty heaven, and I knew I was going to take advantage of the barbeque at the caravan park and eat like a king. All supplies, plus meat, and fresh veggies, two VBs, and way more food – all totaled – 27 bucks. I don’t think I will ever eat at another restaurant again (unless someone takes me out). The roo was lean and tender, a little gamy, but went down easily. It felt good to be topped-off for the next day, when I was up at 3:30 a.m. and on to Bussington on the 19th.

Rest Day, Bunbury

Jan 18

There is a primal satisfaction in sleeping at dusk and rising with dawn. Despite our lives being surrounded by light any time of the day we want, I am certain that deep down it feels best to rest when the day ends. The ground was not hard last night, and I slept well, rising only slightly sore, but glad I was to get a rest day in. I rolled down to the beach, which is secluded for at least a half mile in either direction. Only the tracks of a dog were fresh on the beach. The water was warm, again, not something I am used to, and again I braced myself before jumping into the waves, only to be delighted at its warmth. Still wet, I rode to the top of the hill where the wind was up and made my breakfast without the flies that inhabit the dunes en mass. I hope my route does not make these days uncommon.

So far I am the only American I have met; seems us Yanks don’t make it to WA (Western Australia) as much as Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. The people I meet are interested in American Politics and want my guess as to what the election will bring. Today it was Peter, a tan rotund man, well traveled, but yet with the image of a provincial. He was very opinionated, and I tended to agree with him on most points. Whatever my or anyone else’s views on politics are, it seems the rest of the world will be ready for our current president to leave office.
I enjoyed a cup of coffee today, something I am stereotypically addicted to in Seattle. Out here it’s great coffee, but expensive, and it’s hard to justify 3 bucks for a cup when a sack of loose leaf tea is 7 bucks and looks like it might just last the trip. But when I do treat myself, it makes for a hell of a cup.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Humbled by the stars

Jan 17

I woke at 2;30 this morning on a picnic table staring up at the stars above the trees. It was windy. For the past two hours, I had again been cold. Whereas, the first part of the night had left me hot and sticky despite stripping down to nothing in the thin Gortex® of the bivy. It was clear, and wind came from the east – something I hoped would not follow me on the Nullabor in the next few weeks. I lay uncomfortably considering my options. I wanted to sleep in. If I did, I would be riding in the hottest part of the day - not an option. I could rest here in the bush for a day, not idyllic, but there was plenty of shade, and hell, I had Martin’s Tank to look at? I then realized that I had 4 liters of water, enough to get me to the next road house, but not enough to wait a day before heading on – again, not an option.

Back to plan A. My body hurt, and I was not looking forward to the four or so km of sand and gravel that I would have to fight through in the dark before I reached the paved road. Halfway up the road, I turned of my headlamp and bike light. The sand was white. The unfamiliar stars above sparkled vividly within the haze of the Milky Way. Every few meters, I would hear a scramble followed by rhythmic crashes through the bush. More roos.

I reached the main road in two hours, mindful of the dark and road trains, and rode on in the early morning into the sunrise and Bunbury. I hoped there would be a beach.

Pain Pancakes taste like this:

Murphy's Tank, Yalgorup National Park – Jan 16, 8:00 pm

Upon leaving the road house, the scenery changed dramatically; the highway opened up and so did the land. There were verdant gum trees on either side of me. It was green on top with golden grass below, interspersed with light-green spiky bushes. With some cold fluid in me and a light rest out of the sun, came new life. Traffic lightened up, and I felt the miles melt beneath me. It was still quite hot, so when the lonely trees at the next road house presented themselves, I took them up on their offer for shade (no use in overworking myself, right?). At this rate, I thought I’d be there in no time. The road house claimed to be the “Center of the Universe.” Living so close to my own “Center of the Universe” (Freemont) in Seattle, it left me to wonder just how many “Centers” there were and which one was real. Perhaps Einstein or “string theory” can determine this.

Again rested, the miles melted away until the turn off. I was tired, but ready for the last push of the day to Preston Beach. My other knee was starting to bother me, and I was looking forward to making dinner in the shade by the water. The next 30 minutes were hilly, but I swore I could feel that beach coming. When the paved road ended in white sand and gravel, I figured it was just over the hill. It couldn’t be more than 500 meters, right?

Roughly a kilometer in I had traded my bike shoes for flip-flops and my helmet for my wide-brimmed cowboy hat. A handkerchief to keep the sun off my neck completed the ensemble. I was taking turns pushing and riding my bike in the sand and rock and cursing everyone who ever went over 30 km on the gravel road and helped create the bumps that were taking there toll on my rear. Every 50 meters or so, the sand would get too deep, and I would have to push.

But, it was worth it; it was so worth it. I kept telling myself this, and my standards began to drop. First, I just hoped it really was a beach. Second, I just wanted a campsite. Lastly, I just hoped to heaven that I would not have to turn around and go back this afternoon. I passed a broken down car and a couple with two kids – electrical problems they said. They did not need help. A few more cars passed me, and I felt from their looks of indifference that a great Western Australian beach was right around the corner. I spooked two Kangaroos who were hunkered down right next to the road. They crashed through the bush on their powerful hind legs leaving nothing but silhouettes. Down the last hill, I saw the turn off to the campground called “Martin's Tank” .9km away. My motivation was renewed, but quickly vanished as the road turned inland.

The motivation never came back. The white sand of the road gave way to the light brown of the bush campsite, and near as I could tell, Martin's Tank was was nothing but a brackish inland lake with some trees around it and some rancid looking foam around the edge of the shore.

This was not fun, but had I not gone down this path, I would not have meet Kai, Corinne, and their two lovely kids. They are taking ten weeks with their 3- and 5-year-old daughters to see Australia from Cairns to Perth. It was nice to have someone to commiserate with, and they were excellent company when I needed it most. When they found out I was leaving at 2 a.m. the next morning to beat the heat, they gave me an extra liter of water and a sandwich (no Vegemite).

However, I think the 5 of us feel that Martin can have his tank and have the best of luck with it.

January 16th 1:40 in the afternoon at the Dawesville Road House

About 500 meters before the Dawesville Road house, I steeled myself. I was not going to turn in and get a cold drink; I was going to stick with 80ยบ F water from my bottles, but the thought of an icy beverage proved way tooo tempting. I pulled into the shade, and made some small chat with the man outside – standard “where you going, where you coming?”
"Preston Beach," I said. "Bout 35 km right?"
"Oh yea mate, least that." he replied
I had thought I had overestimated, so that when he would say "naw mate, just 25 or so," I would feel good about myself. But no, his answer came with the realization that today my out-of-shape self was going at least 90 to 10 km with about 33kg of added weight. Basically, it mean that I was going to sidle up to the Hurt cafe and order up some pain pancakes.

I got passed by my first Road Trains today – three in a row. I was still close enough to the city that they call them "long vehicles." My knee, which had been giving me trouble before the trip, had been holding up well. The road smells like the asphalt of any hot road, but now and again, I get the tangy smell of salt from the shore, sometimes mixed with the bittersweet smell of Eucalyptus. I am happy.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Up and at ‘em

9:15 a.m. Local time Mandurah – Jan 16th

My day started at 4 a.m. this morning. Despite my spectacular cat nap from yesterday, my night’s sleep was not the least bit restful. I had not taken into account how cold it could get at night – not cold comparatively, but enough that I should have used my sleeping bag instead of just my bivy sack. After a quick stretch and getting my bearings, I set off at 5:15 in the dark. I rode for two hours before stopping off at Kennedy beach for breakfast where a leathery old morning beach walker took one look at my bike and told me, "I reckon tha'd be the way to do it. I’ve gone round Australia on a motor bike, but going slower I reckon you see a bit more."

I made my breakfast of Muesli and powdered milk. The east wind (yet another east wind) had died down for breakfast and allowed the flies to join me, reminding me briefly of the Hostel.

Today it’s been busy roads and not a lot of nature to see. Western Australia is booming with mining and tourist money, and building is everywhere. Mandurah, at least the part I have seen coming in from the north, looks like it was built in the past five years. It is tastefully done, modern, and very "beach Australian." I imagine all it needs is people. Today I have 50k more to go to reach Preston beach at the Yalgorup National Park.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

J. Peterman I ain't

January 15th 8:17 p.m., roughly 50 minutes left of daytime.

I rolled into the caravan park around 3:30 opting to pay the $12 for a shady patch of grass as I am still close enough to be considered within the sprawling outskirts of Perth. The grass was coarse, but not unpleasant to the touch . I laid out my sleeping pad and began to make lunch. Boiled water and rice. I stretched out and let it cook before separating the rice from the water, but not throwing it out. In the rice I mixed a can of tuna, a healthy dollop of olive oil (dense fat calories in lieu of the cheese we ate on the Atlantic; cheese would ruin quickly in this heat). To this I added salt, pepper, craizins, sunflower seeds and peanuts; all chosen for their low price and high caloric content. My eyes were skeptical that this trangas stove’s worth of food would fill me, but the density of the meal proved to be a gut-buster. Next I took the warm, milky rice-water, and I cut it with a little more water before brining it up to a boil. Adding a few pinches of single source tea leaves from the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), I had what might be considered my first pot of "billy" tea.

Sated and slightly warm from my “cuppa”, I lay down for a three hour nap. An hour or so was spent waking up in a dream in which the villain Beloch, from Raiders of the Lost Ark, was trying to steal 8 intaglio plates from me, which he did finally get a hold of because I was sleeping in my dream as well. I was not mad though, because even in the dream I could tell this was an epic nap.

I finally woke from my lion-sized cat nap way to pleased with myself, stretched a bit more, cracked a tepid tinny of VB (can of Victoria bitter beer) which I had been saving since the night before, and sat down upon my Thermarest® to write this blog.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Escape from Perth

I woke up at five this morning to the sound of the flies getting zapped in the kitchen. My bike is packed; my clothes are laid out. My heavily-laden bike pushed smoothly through the city down to Swan River and the bike path that would take me mostly into Fremantle, Perth’s port city just to the south. The bike, with the roughly 70 lbs of gear, felt sluggish, a lot like the rider. I'm ridding into shape on this trip, much like the ocean row. My first challenge came as the bike path ended and the only way up to the main road was a set of 3 switchbacks. It wasn’t that steep but with me and the bike pushing nearly three bills it was harder than I thought. The weight on each side pulled me either direction almost toppling me, but I was not going to suffer the indignity of pushing my bike while still in the city limits.

Fremantle came soon after that, and without incident. It is a lovely seaside town, lazy and with perfectly preserved Victorian architecture left over from the gold rush days of the 1890s. Perhaps this was the place I should have chosen to spend the last few days waiting for my bike. I’m a sucker for old buildings, so when I stumbled upon the sandstone edifice of the Fremantle Gaol, I had to have a look. One of the docents was Margaret, who was, as she claimed, from the "older generation." Despite this, she was eager for Fremantle to develop and come into its own as a tourist town. Looking down from the Gaol into the main street where we could count everyone we saw on one hand, I was inclined to agree. But then again, school is out for the summer down here and inevitably the price of tourist dollars is lost charm.

I regretted not staying in Fremantle longer but I have urgent business in the south. I am meeting my friend Anthony from Sydney (the fishing trip) in Esperance, from there we will cycle the Nullabor, home of the longest straight stretch of road in the world. I left Fremantle at ten, knowing I would get caught in the heat. It would have been hot and miserable if had not run into Daniel, an 11 year Swiss ex-pat who pulled up along side me, introduced himself and then proceeded to show me all the bike paths on the way to Rockingham. Instead, it was just hot.

So far Rockingham is a quiet seaside town, but too small when in the grip of tourist dollars which make it hard to focus on its existing charm. However, the water of the Indian ocean is sea green - just like the brochures - except it sparkles a little bit more. I camp tonight. Tomorrow I follow the coast to the Leschenault Peninsula Conservation Park. I will keep you posted.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Bike is Here in Town !

I was putting off the thought of just what a potential pain in my a** finding a new bike would be should it be lost. I was slowly becoming gripped with despair and boredom, when I finished a cup of tea and walked half-heartedly to the front desk. Chris, the German hostel front desk boy, was on the phone, and in front of him was a woman in an odd looking uniform. She looked at me like she knew me. I had no idea who she could be.

"Are you Jordan?"
"Yes."
"I have your bike."

My mood instantly changed.
"You have no idea how much you made my day."

The box was in surprisingly good shape, and the bike had arrived unscathed two and a half days after I did. I lovingly checked over it, and put it together with care. The large boxes that had protected both bike and panniers were surprisingly easy to get rid of. My ride to the chemist was uneventful. . . . Things were going right. This told me two things: 1) God existed in Perth, and 2) He wanted me the hell of here.

Thus I am in the middle of doing laundry. I enjoyed a shave and celebratory beer in the shower and am planning on an early rise to follow the road out. Now, by the time most of you read this, the main event will begin to unfold after this somewhat shaky preamble.

“A fly in the house is worse that two in the bush!”

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

So I think I have hit the vibe of the place: A low rent Rick’s Cafe American meets the Greek system. As the line in the movie goes, “Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. . . . I’ll never get out of here. I’ll die in Casablanca.”

This is Perth, and I don’t plan on dying, but “Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.” seems the theme, as do the heat and flies. Me waiting for my bike. Others waiting for work, visa extensions, a hangover to die, or a buzz to kick in. There is even an old lady who I see late at night and early in the morning waiting. Why she waits, I don’t know, but she has breezed through three 400-page books in the three days too many that I have been here. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting, everyone glistens of sunscreen and sweat. Our feet tickle with the crawling of little fly feet. It’s bred lethargy and undeserved soporific-ness. I am waiting for my bike to come, and slowly getting depressed.

Jordan

Hostel to the Flies – Pax Duex

So the fly epidemic continues. It looks like the large amount of flies was, fortunately, not par for the course. Not that that makes it much better. I came back from the grocery store to find the kitchen pleasantly clean and complete with the comforting neon purple hum of a bug-zapper just to the left of the kitchen sink. The hostel clerks were now armed with matching purple swatters and their enthusiasm for the death of the little bugs was palpable. The body count was beginning to become quite visible from my spot on the couch watching season five of “Family Guy” with some of the hostel's other denizens. From my vantage point, I counted 23 little corpses. Just to the left in the kitchen, two Irishmen joined the fun by hitting various parts of the kitchen (yes on the spots where we ate) in an impromptu fly killing contest. Minutes later the flies, no doubt in a panic as their spot as the dominant creature of the hostel begins to wane, start crawling all over the bodies of there comrades for what reason I shudder to think. Cannibalism? Stealing wallets or tooth fillings? This would not be so depressing if this were the outback or a third world country, but it’s a city in a first world country. So it goes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hostel to the Flies

Something that is par for the course in Australia is the abundance of flies. Much smaller than our North American counterparts but twice as audacious, they will go for any part of your body that seems somewhat moist i.e. eyes, nose, mouth; when you sweat, which is a lot, they are all over you. Had this been my first time out here, I think I would be going insane. However, for now at least, they seem a minor, if not a little bit disgusting, annoyance.

For the most part, the hostel is about as clean as you would expect. Clean sheets, no bedbugs (but a very visible warning to announce to reception if you have come from a place with bed bugs) and the showers are not gross by any means. However, the kitchen and patio are in a loosing battle against the backpackers, and the flies are reaping the rewards. As I type in the room adjacent to the kitchen, I can count twenty flies without getting up from my seat, and that’s the best it has been all morning. Who’s hungry?

I can slowly feel myself starting to adjust to traveling alone. I consider myself a sociable sort, so it is strange not to be around all the people I am usually close to, or even a travel partner who is there to watch your back and add another brain to any ideas that come up. It takes some time to make this transition, and while my emotions tend to roller coaster a little bit, I look forward to the challenge and riding into whatever comes with the next mile.

My bike has hopefully made its way to Perth this morning, and with that in my possession, I will feel far more complete and prepared to, well, bike across Australia.

The Mighty Fishermen

About five hours after my call to Anthony, I found myself diving off the boat into the waters of Sydney Harbor just off Little Manly Beach. For a second, I expected these pacific waters to be the same unforgiving cold of the Puget Sound. But no, it was just a liquid salty cradle welcoming me to Australia. The harbor is huge, extending long fingers of blue from the mouth of the pacific several miles inland. Anthony is on his summer break between finishing up the last of University; until then he gets the use of his parent’s house overlooking one of the many nooks and crannies of the harbor. Below their very modern house sits the refurbished original structure; what appeared to me to be a classic 1930s bungalow that is, for all intents and purposes, the "Emmett Fish Camp." The fragrance of the humidity and the fishy smell of bait shrimp reminded me of the coast of southern Alabama. The only difference being the high bluffs around the harbor as opposed to Alabama’s lowlands. We motored out, joined by two of Anthony's friends form high school, Banks and Hamish. We spent an hour or so at three different fishing spots, managing to pull up a flat head. A decent eating fish I was told, but no one wanted to bother with the hassle of cleaning and cooking, so we threw him back. We settled on our spot at a little off Manly, roughly 100 meters from shore, but by this time the motivation for fishing was waning, and we had become just sweaty enough to make not jumping in a crime. We swam, fished a little bit more, and headed back in, returning with a little color in my cheeks after pallid tan of a Washington fall and nearly 20 hours in an airplane.

I made my flight with time to spare and am in Perth right now, the Shiralee Hostel, staying here for a few days to get my bearings and get out on the road. In a day or so, I will have some new pictures on the website and on face book.

Click here for pictures: Fishing in Sydney

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lemonade Out of Lemons

In addition to the normal boredom and frustration of a long plane ride to a foreign country, I was somewhat frustrated to find out my bike was still in LA. Customs and Immigration had seemed almost too easy - I figured I was due for a bump. However, the oversized baggage handler was more than affable . Like many things this turned into a blessing is disguise. Those who have traveled with a bike know this well. Having one less awkward object to worry about is not a bad thing considering they will bring my bike to my Hostel. If I had a tight schedule I might have been irritated. But, any irritation I may have had vanished with a call to my Sydney friend Anthony Emmett.

I placed a call on a pay phone; I had not done that in a while.

"How’s it going?" I asked
"Jordan, you’re in Sydney?"

He sounded like he had a late night. It was 7:40 a.m., but you could not tell form the wired masses at the airport that it was that early.

"I knew your lazy ass would still be in bed."
He defended himself – "I’m not in bed; I just sound like it."

We had talked about hanging out over my layover, but had no hard plans.

"I was planning on going fishing with some friends, how does that work with your layover?"
I jumped at the chance. "If I can get back before my flight at 5:50."

And so, I sit 8:15 a.m. local time really hoping I can write about the big one on the flight to Perth, or at least the one that got away.

Friday, January 11, 2008

He Is the Reason Why I Travel

I knew by the intonation of my Dad's voice that Grumpa Stan had died. It was the 30th of this December. As I walked into the hospital in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I had expected him to look frail. I was unprepared for the week's length of white growth on his surprisingly youthful cheeks. I had never seen him any way but clean-shaven. For the first time in his life, he looked his age - eighty-five years this past October.

That week, Christmas, in between the visits to the hospital and my Uncle’s house, I read him the logbook of my ocean-rowing trip. I turned each page one-handed while holding his hand with my other one. It took about an hour and a half to go through the log. Most of them were boring notations of daily life on the ocean and our location on the ocean interspersed with a few gems of genuine reflection. As I got towards the end of the log, I began to get a flush of emotion while reading the last few lines. My teammate Greg's last entry minutes after we crossed the finish line was "History. Family. Triumph. Friendship. Trust." I forced the first two words out and stopped. My voice quivered. Those words had meant a lot on the boat, and now sitting in the sterile hospital room beside my Grandfather’s bed, they struck me once again. His eyes were closed, but he griped my hand tight. My cheeks flushed, and the words "history" and "family" sat thick in my mouth. I paused between sobs and finally chewed them out. He was both, and though I did not know he was to die a few days later, I was already missing him.

My grandfather, Stan Hanssen, was and remains a huge reason why I travel. It was easier to name the places he had not been than the places he had. There were more miles on him than Alexander the Great. He loved travel, old naval books, antique firearms, Puccini's Tosca, fine food, and red wine. His work, the designing and manufacturing of scales (weights and measures), was his passion. Yet most important was his family, and on top of us all, was his wife of 57 years - my Grandma Jeannie. Their story is perhaps the truest love story I have ever known. He loved her with all his heart in this life, and I know he continues to do so in the next one.

We let go of him this last Friday, the 5th of January, upon a mountaintop one thousand feet above my grandparent's house. My 78-year-old grandmother hiked and climbed the entire way. We each said goodbye one last time, toasting him with red wine, as he no doubt would have approved. Moments later a broad tailed hawk appeared from the west and flew close, riding the thermals up and around the summit while never flapping its wings. It circled close for a few minutes, then turned back and flew west until it vanished in the ambers, tans, and sage colors of the desert.

On this trip I carry his passport, his newest, as it is not completely covered in the multitude of stamps and visas like his old ones. I carry it to remind me of him – a reason why I travel. The dreams that his stories, his books, and the bits of history that filled his study captured in my imagination are much of what inspires my drive to travel.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

5:20 pm PST 118 Miles N of LA:

Sunset just going down over the Pacific. Not quite bright enough to hurt the eyes. It’s a classy shade of neon orange that reminds me of the North Atlantic. The land is dark, and the clouds extend cover to the land in such a way that it is hard to tell where land ends and the clouds begin. I will be traveling east once again, this time from Perth. I will face the sun in the morning and have the sunset in the evening. Since I will not be rowing, I will be mindful to catch it.

This blog was written on the Flight from Seattle to LA at 325pm PST.

"Going out or coming home?"
The question was directed to the man in green fatigues in front of me.
"Going home," he replied. He had just been discharged today. His hair was black and he had a smooth olive complexion with the exception of a healed, but still fresh, scar nearly two inches long on the right side of his windpipe.
"Congratulations," I said.
"Yeah, it’s bittersweet. Ten years."

Three combat zones: Iraq / Afghanistan / Bosnia.

"I got this souvenir." He gestured to his scar.
"I got some metal in my back; they gave me a medical discharge."
He laughed."Uncle Sam said I was done."

The athleticism in his movements and gesticulations hid what internal scars kept him from further duty.

"I bet you have some happy family."

He looked down, spoke without losing a beat.
"I haven’t told them I’m coming home yet. I’m just going to knock on the front door."

"Might want to call an ambulance and tell them to get ready for a heart attack." I suggested.

He laughed, "Yeah, I know."

I cannot possibly fathom the relief and joy his parents will have as he walks through their door tonight. I could not – I’m not a parent. I assume there will not be a dry pair of eyes in the house. I do not know what happened to this solider in the past or what will happen to him tomorrow, but I imagine tonight will be a perfect moment.

Our lives exist as a string of moments. In this string, life happens at 24 hours a day. Unedited. Yet in all those moments are the ones that give US meaning, the extraordinary moments that make every life extraordinary.

A Little Pre-trip Depression

Every time I travel for a few months, there is a tinge of regret about the last time I lay my head down on my bed (an exceedingly comfortable Swedish memory foam mattress) in exchange for a knobby mattress, sleeping pads, ground and soft couches. Trepidation tempers my excitement and a cheeky depression kicks in as I check and double-check my preparation knowing that things will inevitably be left behind or undone.

This seems to magically vanish the moment I check my bags. At this point I am privileged enough to enter, for a brief time, the nation of “Traveler”. There are no boarders, and the population ebbs and flows as its citizens step on and off the planes, boats and trains on the way to varied destinations.

However, until that threshold is crossed this Thursday at Sea-Tac airport, I switch between epic procrastination and absolute productivity. My head fills with the daydreams of the unknown as I sort through my piles of clothing and equipment. Curiosity propels me forward, as does the prospect of having a story to tell.