Monday, March 31, 2008
Today I spent more time in the city. I spent a frustrating day searching for a crocodile skin belt only to find what I need is only available in Sydney and Darwin. Thus I went to Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, to eat my frustrations away.
The restaurant is quite narrow, and the long espresso bar takes up half the restaurant. Between the seats at the bar, there is a long narrow table attached to the wall that runs parallel to it, forcing customers to sidestep to the kitchen/dining room in the back.
In the "dinning room" sits a long wood table 10 feet long and three inches thick. It is one piece of wood. An arm’s length away stand the cook and her kitchen. It has been five years since I last ate here, and the gray-topped lady who used to cook and swear in Italian has been replaced by a younger version - second generation, whom I would imagine would be beautiful if she smiled. She speaks in a heavy Australian/Italian accent. This time I understand the swearing. The staff does not smile, with the exception of Nick, the owner, whom I recognize from the many awards, articles, old country ads, and autographs (Billy Joel’s is conspicuous) that cover the wall. I think Nick smiles because he does no visible work but sip espresso, read the paper, and shoot the bull with customers. He walks in to the kitchen, a man from a different time - "Rocky and Gnocchi. Gnocchi and Rocky, you could switch the names and it would not make any difference to us."
I only caught the tail end of the conversation, but I got the gist. Nick turned to the beleaguered cook and said something in Italian, teasing her, and then walked back for "an important phone call." She muttered " Nick, the dick" under her breath and served up my Gnocchi. Nearly a dozen dishes are either cooking or warming in the kitchen on one old stove that looks like it could barely boil water. The food cooks all day and thus is far past "al dente", but it’s still "deliciouco." The gnocchi is hand made, each piece is similar in shape, but not precise. I ask about the old lady who used to work here, and I am told she broke her leg. I was glad to find she was still alive. The cook continued "us old wogs, we don't want our kids to work as hard as us" ("wog" is a derogatory term for Italians in Australia). She continued, "it’s hard because the staff is getting old, and it’s hard to get good help that sticks around."
I was crushed at the idea of this restaurant disappearing to old age, but that can’t be stopped. At least for now, I could enjoy my gnocchi, washing it down with the grapefruit granita. They keep it in big plastic buckets in the back, pulling it out as needed into a large stainless steel tank behind the bar. It is sweet and tangy, and the ice fine and grainy. Little slivers of grapefruit float in it. You drink it through a black straw that gets you 3/4ths of the drink and a teaspoon that lets you go after the icy, watered-down fourth.
I finish and make my way from the kitchen to the espresso bar and order a double espresso.
The cook comes out with a causal flourish holding a plate of Marinara.
"Marinara" she calls out in what might be described as a downright pleasant Italian accent. It is clear it was her first language. "Marinara?" she calls out again. Her irritation is becoming quite visible, and she calls out once more. I quietly hope that a customer will pipe up. My lady seems likes she lives in a world of not enough good days. She turns to one of the men behind the counter and questions him in harsh English.
I finish my coffee. I have had better food and been served by more friendly staff, but the granita and coffee are superb. It’s the character I crave and keep coming back for. I pay the man behind the counter and get a "thanks" with no smile and hardly a look in my direction. He picks up his towel to dry dishes and starts singing something softly in Italian. I would imagine it was the same 56 years ago when it opened.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
They might as well find you handy (thank you to the "Red Green Show"). Today Jonno and I tackled a few of the dozen house chores that come and continue to come with any house in any condition. These chores are of late an exercise in frustration that I have actually come to appreciate, and working with Jonno, it has become a downright pleasure. We moved slowly into the day, starting with coffee at Café Stone underneath the orange tree. Breakfast of poached eggs, sausage and toast at his local on Race Course Road which, in addition to races, seems to provide courses for a wide range of appetites, as this two-block stretch holds cuisine of at least four continents. Australia is fortunate to have a large immigrant population, especially Greeks, Turks and Italians that brought with them their various Mediterranean foods that are a much better fit for Australia’s summers than the meat pies and stews (good winter food as it is) of their English and Irish heritage.
There was a fair bit to do, and in his relaxed yet energetic way, Jonno casually laid out more than we could possibly do in a day. He had interspersed so many breaks and diversions into the plan that you could work non-stop for a week on this kind of schedule and not feel ruffled. We repaired the roof on his shed and planned other small tasks, but the biggest task, one that Jonno did not want to face alone (but very well could have), was the creation of a Pot and Pan rack out of an old green ladder that could be raised and lowered on a set of pulleys.
I could see exactly what he was talking about and felt like it was a great idea. I had done nothing of the sort before, but felt confident in my ability to figure it out. Jonno's faith in me was encouraging as I spent his money on various blocks and tackle to make this rack move smoothly. As with most jobs, the first half of the day was spent finding supplies. As the last half unfolded, to my great joy and surprise, this pot rack was actually starting to look like what I had imagined in my head and not the 1st grade quality drawing I had sketched in my journal. The actual blocking device went together smoothly. My greatest fear was the unknown of where exactly the joist was in the 14-foot ceilings in the kitchen. After putting both our heads together, we managed to find it and only put two extra holes in the ceiling.
As a child, one of my favorite books was "The Sorcerers Scrapbook." One of the many asides woven into the narrative is the sorcerer’s satisfaction of a neatly cast spell. While my effort was far from magic, myself and Jonno could not help but have a beer and proudly stare at our effort the rest of the evening, while taking every opportunity we could to raise and lower our rustically efficient device to display the ease of which the pans were now available.
Friday, March 28, 2008
It was great contrast from the warm open cobbles to the dark loud inside of the club that we walked into. Our schedules had met up serendipitously. Another friend could not make a concert, and now John was stuck with an extra ticket and a Yank. John assured me that the band, "Maximo Park," was worth it for the lead singer whom he described as an absolute "nutter" in a bowler hat. We packed into the floor, and a well-dressed young man in a red shirt and bowler hat came on stage. Sweat was already starting to glisten on his forehead, and the crowed packed a little closer.
He looked straight out of "A Clockwork Orange." Digital cameras and cell phones rose above the crowd, and everyone behind them could now view Maximo Park though a dozen tiny screens. Each song brought the hum of the crowd higher and higher. I wished I had earplugs and immediately thought to myself what an old dork I am at 25. I was later gratified when, at the end of this rollicking set, the lead singer, shirt now crimson from the sweat, told the crowd to hold on while he put in his earplugs. I was close enough to see they were the high-quality, small and discrete latex kind, not the standard yellow or orange foam ones from a factory that would no doubt clash with the message Maximo Park was trying to send. He had an uncontrollable ease of movement, a charisma of complete abandon that, as far as I can see, is the best reason to go to a live show. Unlike a studio-perfected recorded song, a live show has just that: life with all its imperfections, and because of that, it exists only once - for the audience and band. That combination of people and place and sound will never exist again.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
As I walk down the low arcades on Swanson Street in Melbourne my ears are filled with at least a dozen languages. You could get the same mix on a tram and half the streets of the city. I see a dark gray-eyed girl in the tram. Our eyes meet, and she speaks French into her cell phone. I dine at Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, the only restaurant that I wanted to ensure I came back too. I will write more on them later.
After a fine meal, I headed back down the streets that clash the classic Victorian with everlasting class and the super modern skyscrapers with strange angles. I wait for my friend, John Acton or Coach "Action." I know John from the MUBC when I was there last. He no longer coaches, but takes care of trusts. He’s heading to India for three weeks in three days. Our meeting spot is Federation Square, an ultra modern steel and glass complex next to the Yarra.
They have incorporated cobble stones into the path. They are modern and cut with machines and even, but still retain the day’s heat. Eyes are glued to the huge TV screen. It looks at first glance like a SciFi movie – a perfect night and hundreds outside watching TV. But on second glance, you see the wine, food and blankets. I didn’t even bother with a first glance. The TV, or more accurately the speakers, called me. They were playing Carmen and blasting the opera across the square. It was free. It was music. I planted myself on the warm cobbles and waited for John.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Jonno and Suze went back to work today. I occupied myself in their neighborhood of Kensington which, in terms of nationalities represented on the two block section of Racecourse Road, gives the United Nations a run for it’s money. Everything from Ethiopian food, Italian sandwiches, Halal butchers, Chinese food, Greek and Korean grocers, and last but not least, an incredible kebab shop with flaky baklava and $3 Turkish bread so light and big you could rig the Santa Maria with it.
I had coffee at the Verb Café at a table with shellacked book jackets of trashy western novels, ate some kebab and caught up on my journal. It being the first day back to work after moving into their house, I decided it would be nice to cook them dinner. Jambalaya is a pretty easy dish if you have good fresh ingredients. I scoured the block and was pleased to find everything I needed in about 30 minutes.
The key to any Cajun cooking is celery, onion and green pepper. This, with the ability to boil water, gets you halfway there. I was pleased to see it turn out as I imagined and even happier when Jonno said, "the Yank can cook."
That night I went to the local, the Dootna Gotta Hotel, to meet "Lats" (Andrew Latrielle) and Condor (Jonno Conn), two more mates from the same MUBC crew. Lats is getting marred soon and is moving to Vancouver, B.C. where I hope to see him. Condor came to visit me in 2006 in Seattle, and will soon move to England. Five years has passed since we all rowed in a boat that punched well above its weight at the Intervasity races up in Queensland. We took fourth with a ragtag group, unusual for the usually well-polished MUBC crew, but with only 3 practice rows before the race, it was not a bad result. It was a pleasure being the token Yank.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Jonno is an exceptional rower, having meddled in the Australian quad at the under 23 world championships. This means he is a hard worker. With a year of marriage and a new house, he has turned his efforts towards work and has not been quite as physically active as he would care to be. That being said, an out-of-shape Jonno is quite capable of a brusque 60 km ride down the beach.
Again, it was great to have the bags off and enjoy some city riding. We lunched with Suze, again at St. Kilda before heading home and making a list of small house chores and getting some supplies from the hardware store. Sadly, it was the Australian equivalent of "Home Depot." I chastised him for not going local and promised him I would check out his local store the next day. The biggest accomplishment that day was the finding and putting up the old brass house number, "#34", found in the corrugated iron garage in the back yard. Old wood filled the hole in the brick where the number used to be. It was brittle, and we cut it out, created a new shim from some newer wood, and screwed it into place. It was a simple, satisfying task. Despite the minimum of manual labor, we were sweating profusely as the sun got ready to set and warmed the brick walls in the front of his house.
We cracked a cold beer and admired our work. The house had a number and looked all the better for it. Suze and Oscar, a mix breed of poodle (a snickerdoodle, I think), came outside, and we lounged in the day’s last bits saying "G'day" to the neighbors as they passed by. I love watching a house turn into a home.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I relaxed excessively today. Jonno makes his own great espresso from a Gaggia brand machine, and I sipped my cafe latte under the shade of the orange tree at "Cafe Stone." Having only moved in for 4 nights at this point in time, Jonno and Suze are already in love with their house (incidentally I am, too), and it already has the feel of a home, something more than walls and a roof - this is probably through the Herculean efforts they put in the week before.
I drove to the beach at St. Kilda for lunch at the "London" and had their "famous" Chicken Parma (a somewhat Aussiefied version of chicken parmesan – think an Italian-type theme but served with chips (fries) and more meat, lots more meat). I had a Campari on the rocks – a drink I have been curious about since Bill Murray had it in "The Life Aquatic." It is sweet, and something I have never tasted before, good for a summer day, also Italian. I like anything Italian. Anyway, they were not lying about the Parma, it deserves the "famous" moniker, but Hell, Melbourne has killer food; I would not have expected less.
Jonno took me to the second best coffee in Melbourne; the best of course being served at 34 Parsons St. That night we had another barbie; I cooked butternut squash and zucchini to great acclaim. Met Frank Stone, Jonno’s dad, and he asked me to speak about my ocean row to his rowers at their end-of-the-season dinner. I was honored by his request and most certainly will. Life continues to be good.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
It’s really not a very flattering name for the little country town 45 km outside Melbourne. It was hot – big surprise. You have no idea how much I was hankering for a watermelon. Past the main town, the road continued into a tunnel of an oak-lined road, giving me the impression that I was no longer in Australia. Beside these ran several fruit stands. I picked one, probably like many fruit stands in this area, run by first or second generation Italians. The fruit was well ordered, and Mediterranean ingredients grown here in Australia filled the shelves. I picked my watermelon, plus nectarines and grapes, and lounged silently beneath the shade tree and fed myself grapes and thought of Bacchus and olive-skinned toga-clad women feeding them to me. But . . . I digress.
March 8th - Melbourne late arvo
It’s as easy as a city could be to get into by bike. A city I lived in for six months in university, and one I could easily live in again. Melbourne to me is fine Italian coffee (sorry Seattle), Turkish and Greek kebabs, and the MUBC (Melbourne University Boat Club) mates I met during my time here. I am the guest of the Right Honorable Jonno Stone (one of the rowing mates from the eight) and his lovely wife, Suze Stone, in their early 1900, new to them, two-story brick house complete with red grate-work and cobbles. Inside this Victorian/Edwardian edifice are old scared wood floors, high ceilings, crown molding, and character oozing out the yin-yang. We barbecued that evening on the red brick patio under the shade of an orange tree. I had the pleasure of also meeting his mom and sister and felt privileged and honored that they would open their new house to a wayward traveler such as myself.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Ballarat was home of the 1956 rowing and canoeing course for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and until recent years, the courses were still in use. Due to drought, the lake could now be the site of a steeplechase, but no rowing. With a few green marshy exceptions, this not quite picturesque lake was now a prairie, but this did not seem to keep the walkers, runners and cyclists from still talking advantage of its nonexistent shores. The boathouses were still well maintained, and an occasional boat sat outside this meadow waiting expectantly for water. This was most certainly the most visible sign of drought I had seen so far. No sails, no puddles, no ripple of oars, just the smell of damp earth. I wondered how many sets of keys and wallets could be found by walking across this old lakebed. The lake’s name is Wendouree, and a small memorial to the games still exists on its shores. On the stone edifice is a quote:
"The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win, but to take part. Just as the most important thing is life is not to triumph, but to struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well."
This rolled into my mind, and for a second, I was brought in black-and-white imagination to a lake filled with water 52 years ago. Smaller trees and cotton uniforms with the all too familiar smell of wet and sweat and the rhythm of the oars. I was sad to see this lake, home of struggles, go now through its own struggle for existence.
Friday, March 21, 2008
I wanted a bit more time at Sovereign Hill, and my night at the Sovereign Hill Lodge entitled me to one extra day’s entry to the hill and the adjacent gold museum. I left a little too late to get out of town but was quite satisfied with my time there. It was certainly worth the extra paid night at the cheery "A Welcome Stranger" caravan park on the edge of town.
Traveling on bike invites people to speak with you - such was the case when I met Andrew just walking out of the caravan park office. He looked at my bike with curiosity, exclaimed something as to the effort entailed and promptly invited me to meet his mates 30 feet over at the electric barbie. My new friends were Andrew and his wife Deb, his mates Darrin and Shawn and their respective wives Virginia and Sam(antha).
I like to think mate-ship is a quality in every culture, and I certainly feel that way with my friends. However, while sitting round the table talking the piss (teasing each other) and learning about one another, it’s easy to see the camaraderie Aussies are famous for manifest itself in ripping on one another. The more you are teased, and the more you can tease yourself, the more you are accepted and liked.
I had stumbled on quite a crew. The boys had known each other for over 20 years playing footie. Aussie rules in this case; however, any sport that involves a ball and a foot is casually referred to in this way, leaving all sorts of openings for a foreigner to impart insult by making assumptions as to what sport is actually being referred to. In most cases you just listen and catch as catch can.
Darrin and Andrew met Virginia on a whirlwind tour of the States, and then, back in Melbourne, met back up with Virginia and her long time friend, Deb. Boys meet girls, and their weddings were three months apart. Sam was a newer addition to the group, and she and Shawn had been married four months, three days and twenty-six hours. Not that anyone was counting.
Thus, life goes on. People grow up or at least fake it. D and V have three kids, and A and D have two, and the whole mob of them are thick as thieves at the long weekend (Aussie labor day). Friendship, Mateship, whatever you call it, you’re rich if you have it.
PS: The women liked my accent. This was the first time in my travels that someone has said that. It felt great finally being at the other end. Virginia told me, "Don’t ruin it" by joining her husband and Andrew in a farting competition. It’s nice to know that joy of fine audible flatulence is a cross-culture common denominator.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This is the name of the evening show that describes the events leading up and including the Eureka Uprising. Much has been written about this, and I will endeavor to write a brief synopsis.
To curb absolute lawlessness and mayhem that would ensue in any ungoverned gold rush town, the Victorian government issued licenses to miners to pay for administration, construction, and to try and keep any Tom, Dick or Harry from walking off their jobs (some of them quite important) to seek their fortune in the gold. These licenses were overpriced, and penalties for not having them were stiff. The under-funded and under-manned police force soon became corrupt and began to resemble uniformed thugs rather than the rule of law. They would go on license hunts and abuse miners ("diggers", now a common term for Australian soldiers) until it became intolerable. The miners organized under the Ballarat Improvement League whose banner was a deep blue flag with a large white cross tipped in stars - the flag of the Southern Cross. They demanded their human rights as well as representation in the government that made the laws they were governed by. This was not a cry for republic, despite the fact that many of the ringleaders were from America (a fact I took great delight in), but instead for justice.
Meetings of up to 10,000 were held on Bakery Hill (home now to McDonalds and a roundabout). Naturally this would upset the police and local government. Both sides anticipated trouble, with the miners at the Eureka diggings acting first by building a stockade around their camp. The commander of the police was on orders to pick a fight, and in the wee hours of the morning roughly 300 soldiers and police raided and burned the camp, which was also home to many of the miner's wives and children. Over 30 miners and 4 solders were killed. Once the main battle was over, soldiers continued to fire towards the hill causing several more casualties. 13 ringleaders were arrested and tried for treason. A year later, in Victoria’s highest court, all 13 were pronounced innocent to cheering crowds in Melbourne and Ballarat.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I slept 20 km outside Ballarat. A larger town than I expected. Having spent the past two months among small country towns, I was a tad bewildered and not a little bit irritated that I could not find a local bakery. I was feeling a bit country mouse and unjustifiably vexed that I had to settle for "Maccers" (McDonalds) on the ironically named "Bakery Hill."
Like many of my countrymen 150 years ago, I was in Ballarat for the gold. In my case, it was my curiosity of the history that the gold produced. Ballarat is home to the richest alluvial (surface gold) deposits the world has yet found. In a few cases, inches below the surface nuggets of up to 60 kg and more were found. This was not the norm, however, it only takes a few of these to get a gold rush started. The surface gold quickly ran out, and from the late 1850s to WW I, the miners went deep underground. Lack of manpower stopped the mining when the manpower went overseas for war. The unmanned mines quickly filled with water, submerging the 60% of the gold still estimated to be under Ballarat. Even with modern mining equipment, it would take over 20 years to pull it out. You will be hearing of Ballarat soon.
Sovereign Hill is the historic recreation of the 1850s gold town (think "Wild West") and the Eureka Uprising that occurred during those years over miners rights and what they saw as unjust government laws regarding their work.
I was somewhat unsure of what to expect, but I saw this wild west town from the streets of Ballarat in 2008, and the historian inside me had made my decision – I would treat myself to a room at the adjacent Sovereign Hill Lodge.
Mar. 6th - 11 a.m.
Nothing in the world can keep a historic recreation from being slightly hokey, but until humanity develops a time-machine, Sovereign Hill will be the closest thing to it. Nowhere in the States would liability insurance or personal injury lawyers allow you to get finger- (or arm-) losing distance from an actual 1850s steam engine that still works and still powers a town in which wagon wheels, tin products, candles, candy and other traditional crafts are still made with all traditional equipment.
It’s a fine balance of charades, old time dress, theater, museum and modern media; but make no mistake, this is a completely functional 1850s town powered all by wood. The workers spend their days half-acting, half-running the logistics of the town. Where appropriate and discrete, sound and touch-screen LCDs built cleverly into crates tell the stories and dreams of the people who came to seek their fortune in Ballarat.
A few buildings are original, but the rest are recreated – a few sizes smaller than original, but are still excellent copies of descriptions, lithographs, and sketches of the old town.
The rush happened in ‘51, two years after the California ‘49 rush, and many experienced American miners came here to try their luck here. Some with money and an eye for business started shops to cater to miners and gave them names like "the United States Hotel" and "New York Bakery". I enjoyed a beer at the United States Hotel before walking 30 meters underground to an old quartz gold mine found accidentally as Sovereign Hill was being built. I saw $80,000 ASD of gold being poured, saw candy made, wagon hubs crafted and gold pans lathed. I also witnessed the lovely singer and dancer, Lola Montez, furiously address her detractor, the editor of the Ballarat times, with a riding crop after he would not take back the slanderous things he wrote about her. It was just a day in the life of a good old mining town.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
I don’t make a habit of stopping at the many crosses, flowers, and memorials on the side of the road. Most of them are not situated in safe and assessable groves of gums. Nor are these burned black, but healing trees spray painted with pink hearts, names and confessions of love. On a large stone was a place, the following words were engraved and encircled with flames:
"Tragedy of the 2006 Grampians fires
Took the lives of Milky and Zeke ----------
Ending two generations on their fatal
May we all learn from this
Our love for you will burn forever
in our hearts
Sharon, Kayla, Jacinta (4 musketeers)"
I had seen the blackened trunks throughout my two days in the Grampians, but the re-growth and life was so readily apparent that it was easy to discount the fires. Forests will always burn. It’s part of their cycle. It’s a part of life. I thought of Milky and Zeke for many miles, still at rest in there pink grove of gum trees.
Monday, March 17, 2008
I am sure at least a few of you may wonder why I took the inland route as opposed to the celebrated Great Ocean Road. I assure you it was not because it’s shorter. I have been down the GOR three times already, once by helicopter.
I had been to Halls Gap once before, but it was in late winter and not its best month. The summer is much better. I wanted a day in Halls Gap, not for rest, but to enjoy the freedom that can be attained from climbing its hills unencumbered. My first climb was Mt. William: bitumen (asphalt), rock, dirt, plants and an average of a 13% grade for 10 km. Even turns carved nicely into the mountain. It reminded me of the climb behind Sandia Peak outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Upon reaching the top, I met Laura from Wyoming and Stephanie from France. A PhD student and intern from Melbourne University respectively. Laura is a botanist collecting samples, and Stephanie helps her. I brought up the similarities of Sandia Peak and Mt. William, and she confirmed my speculation. Both are "Questa" formations. I can only assume a similar formation sits on or close to Questa, New Mexico by Taos and must be the name sake of this formation.
Forgive me if I get this wrong, but a Questa formation is when sand, silt and dust settle on an ocean floor. The ocean dries up, and the land is compacted into sandstone. Later, tectonic action lifts the ground creating on one side a steep section with exposed layers. The other side slopes less steeply back down, creating the hill I just climbed. On the steep side, the view of patchy bush and tree-lined roads among the golden grass gives the impression of an ordered savannah. Hills, small from up here, dot the landscape. In the distance lies Ballarat, home of some of the richest gold deposits in the world. Behind me the land slopes green into a valley before towering up again into another ridge. This rough patch of land was so unlike anything I had yet passed through on this trip – replace the gum trees with Douglas fir, and this would be like my childhood camping in New Mexico. I zipped down through town, chilled with the help of gravity taking me downhill. I raided a bakery and climbed back towards Horsham, this time stopping at the lookouts to admire these Questas.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Horsham provided me with a picturesque bush camp in a grove of large gum trees well off the road. Contrary to the usual dense underbrush I use for cover, it was refreshing to take advantage of the large tree trunks and fallen logs (checked for snakes) to obscure my camp. I was too tired to sleep well, and something small and light tramped around my camp. It looked too large and lean for a fox, but still much too small for a dingo. He crept towards me with curious eyes that glowed when I turned on my flashlight. He came close, less than a meter. There was no malice in his posture. Having just awoken, my body seemed incapable of being startled. It took me a minute to realize what a good photo this could be. I moved slowly, pulling my camera from its box and hoping its curiosity would overcome my now awake and moving body. It did. Its eyes continued to glow in the flash, and I managed some good if slightly fuzzy pictures. Dawn broke suddenly, and he left.
The dark green silhouettes of the Grampians had revealed themselves to me yesterday afternoon. Now in the early morning light, the crags of gray and black rock revealed themselves. I took the back roads -quiet country roads lined with trees. I saw few people, but felt the vibe of the mountains - that tangible knowledge of place and identity that comes from proximity to large and distinct rock. They were hills, but on the verge of being mountains. Pines, a recent addition to this landscape, had found a ready home, and my nose would quietly switch gears from Australia to America when the pine reached my nostrils. Water, running water, my namesake (in Hebrew Jordan = running water) rippled in my ears. I had not heard this sound the entire trip. The simplicity of the babble was enough to entice me to breakfast by it. I did this and then climbed over the mountain to the village of Halls Gap.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Road: M1 highway to Melbourne
I had a rough time getting started this morning. It was no doubt the fitful sleep from the high pitched go-carts, different from the road and rain sounds I have become used to. Expectations on an exciting or eventful day were pretty low. No towns of consequence, just a slogging day that gets you to a destination before your real destination.
I was wrong.
Kaniva was a smart town with wide streets and an evident pride of place with neat store fronts and carefully watered gardens and flower pots that could have only been watered using water that was either unfit for humans or collected in one of the many rain storage tanks that are rapidly becoming a regular fixture on all the houses in this drought-beleaguered land.
I am a total sucker for a country bakery and was appropriately delighted to find a small doughnut machine warming up as I walked into Kaniva's bakery. As bready sweets go, I would not claim to be a doughnut man. However, when warm and fresh, they are a force few can resist. I got six. They were 60 cents each, and by far the best deal in the house.
The proprietor apologized. This was a new machine, one week old from America, and he and his wife were just perfecting the dough. As a Yank, in his eyes at least, I was no doubt an expert on such doughy matters, and he was eager for my input. Fried dough rolled in cinnamon and brown sugar - what kind of expert do you need to be. I told him they were excellent, and he gave me one more, making my total 7. Lacking any real skill or constructive criticism to give to the creation process, I suggested he follow the lead of the Southern American doughnut designer - Krispy Kreme, and put out a sign when hot, fresh doughnuts were available. It is a scientific fact that doughnuts are 22.5 times better when eaten hot and fresh. In a town of this size I expect it would take three weeks to have the locals trained on the times hot doughnuts were available. He looked at me like it was the best idea he had ever heard and handed me two more for the road. I burped doughnut for the next 30 km. It was a good problem.
The day was starting to bake, necessitating a watermelon "refuelment" at the town of Nhill - a country town with a street going either direction! The refueling went down with the sticky and refreshing red taste of summer. This was, of course, followed by a relief stop. I spoke earlier of not traveling with music and the joy that I find when fate brings me two it. So it went with the Bach piped into the bathroom. I’m not the kind of guy that lingers in a restroom, but the melody certainly slowed my actions.
70 km to go, and the bake was well and truly on. I wished to be in Horsham before sundown and did not want to stop. This did not prevent me from fantasizing about murdering a milkshake. In the middle of this fantasy, a white van rolled up, and a nice looking woman thrust her hand towards me. It gripped a Solo (lemonade-type beverage).
She spoke franticly, "Would you like a Solo?"
My mind was slow from the heat.
"Yes?" I replied slowly, following quickly with a "god bless you guys" when I figured out what was happening.
"Have some South Australian almonds!"
Her husband spoke, "we got traffic coming."
The almonds were tossed at me, and they sped away.
I called out to the exhaust - "thank you!"
The can was cold and sweating - pulled right from the eski (ice cooler). It hissed commercial-quality refreshment as a I cracked it open. This was the spinach to my Popeye. I peddled on into Horsham.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The moment between walking out of the bush and peddling off on my bike is exhilarating. Should a car roll by to catch that moment, my guilt is proven. If not, I am no doubt just a cyclist that started in the last town - most would assume that. The only record of my roadside transgression is this blog and the imprints of my waffled foam sleeping pad on the sand and fallen gum tree leaves.
My goal this day was Bordertown, 15 km from the Victoria Border. Towns and settlements along the way were more prevalent, giving me the impression that I traveled further than I actually did. The high-pitched whine of go-carts greeted my arrival in Bordertown. Clearly this Saturday was race night for local young aspiring race car drivers that whipped around the track at 35 to 45 mph. Their oversized helmets on their small bodies made them look like seriously competitive modern-day hobbits.
One of my great joys on this ride has been buying a quarter or eighth of a watermelon at the end of the day. It’s certainly not practical or possible on the Nullarbor, but a must when in a town of any size. I had one in Bordertown. I also took advantage of fresh lamb, butternut squash and zucchini. I had nothing that came from a can or that could keep indefinitely that night.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Took until one in the afternoon the next day to leave Strath. Josh had to be at work at 1:30, but with four hours of sleep, he decided to go in an hour late. We sat on the couch watching South Park. Like YouTube, it was awesome. Like McDonalds, I’m not going to apologize.
I was quite taken with Strath and took my sweet time among its well-shaped parks, churches and shops and stopped for a pasty and coffee overlooking the river. Josh stopped by on his way to the bank and sat down. Having just finished my coffee and with Josh due back at work (the bank is a 1 min walk from the real estate office, and it’s pretty apparent if he procrastinates), he invited me back to the office for tea. I felt comfortably out of place in my spandex among Josh and his nicely dressed workmates. We talked a little real estate and property management. They don’t make any more land, and what’s around is booming. Despite Australia’s size (think slightly larger than the USA), the twenty or so million people who live here are not too keen to move to the dirt pieces of Nullarbor land to set up shop. Said "goodbye" once more and walked to another bakery.
It was justifiably lunchtime, and the meat pies had been recommended. Josh walked in five minutes after me, and we easily avoided the sometimes awkward situation that develops when "goodbyes" are drawn out over hours. We picked up right where we left off, shook hands once more, both pleased at a new and serendipitous friendship.
This time for real, I rode out of town and the last few hills of Adelaide into a flat and well-ordered wine country where the vines were capped at each end with red flowers. My last link with this picturesque wine and farmland was a short river ferry across the brown Murray River. Five km later, my country dream was rudely awoken with the sounds of a freeway. This was my road, and it was still close enough to the big city to be unattractive and busy. I slept between the road and the train tracks, neatly obscured from both, but still vulnerable to their noise. The rumble of the train woke me up that night, yet, instead of startling me, the creaks, screeches and moans of metal on metal were comforting. I lay lazy and comfortable in my bivy, looking at the stars and listening to the sound of Rail and Road. This was a far cry from my first roadside bush camp. This was starting to feel normal
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I love the elegant patchwork quilt of country hills. The land elegantly divided into living sections of cattle, bush, farm and home.
I took the train out of Adelaide @ 3:00 p.m. today to avoid the frustration and danger of escaping the city. The end of the line was Belair. Not quite a suburb, not quite country. The train dropped me next to a school. Uniformed children foreign to my west coast eyes mobbed the street. I was feeling peckish, and perhaps that little unidentifiable sadness that comes with the opening and closing of chapters, in this case the end of my travels with a mate and the challenge of the Eyre highway. Now the challenge is again solo. Although I find when around a town, it is anything but. Seeing a lone man on a bike laden with gear seems to spark a lot of curiosity. Perhaps no more than two bikes, but one seems more approachable. The traffic was still heavy till Clarendon, but soon work began as, for the first time since Margaret River, I cycled hills. I was delighted. I love hills. The work of hills is honest, not fickle like wind, and it is always followed by the reward of a raving descent. It’s far more than the thrill of easy speed. The height and angles create a lens, in this case a one of farm, cows and bush, that reminded me of the agrarian quilts of central Italy. I passed Kangarilla - briefly wondered what an animal of that name would look like – and climbed and coasted through Meadows and ended up in Strathalbyn.
I found this town immediately appealing. Lovely stone pubs, hotels, churches, and a park with a river running through town - just so. I wished to treat myself to a pub stay at one of the many hotels, but the gods of frugalness were watching out for me, and everything but the caravan park was full. After my last enquiry at the Robin Hood Hotel in which I was promised a spot on their floor if nothing else worked out, I crossed the street to Cafe Ruffino. Along the way, I passed the town library, a somewhat art novo type edifice. Behind its locked doors, the big sounds of brass piped out big band music from the 30s and 40s. Not a song I could recognize, but a sound I found intimately familiar. I leaned on my bike. Five minutes of music was not going to make a difference, and if it did, I was not supposed to stay at the caravan park in the first place. I leaned on my bike and smiled, closed my eyes, and tapped time with my fingers and feet.
The caravan did have a spot, but the owner was out, and I did not stay to pay. Josh, working back at Cafe Ruffino had a better offer of a free couch bed. He had noticed my yellow Lance Armstrong "Livestrong" bracelet. He had one too, and this quickly turned into a conversation of travel. I ordered ravioli and a beer, and he followed me outside to look at my rig. Josh has designs of a motor bike trip from Alaska to NYC. He works two jobs - managing the Ruffino, a job he has worked since he was 14 (he is 22 now), and in the past year a job in real estate, and at that young age has already invested in property. It was readily apparent that Josh is both smart and motivated. After finding out he has taken off four days in four years, I am shocked that he can appear so laid back. I feel his lifestyle will start to pay dividends in a few short years, but I only hope he does not get caught up in his success and put off the travel he seems so keen for. I followed him home on my bike, changed shirts, and we went out to the Victoria Hotel and met some of the locals, including his house and workmate, Tessa. She wants to get into nursing. We stayed up late shooting bull on politics and life back at his place and looked up funny videos on You Tube, a much too regular pastime at home, but a welcome diversion on the road. The only internet I have used I had to pay for, thus I am efficient.
I found it strange using this medium of instant availability. SNL skits that run through my friends like wildfire are unknown here even though they are on You Tube. I showed him such favorites as "My box in a box" and "Iran", and he showed me an Australian comedy team that had managed to used a few black SUVs and guys in suits to infiltrate the security the last time President Bush was in Australia with a man dressed as Osama Bin Laden. The price tag for this Swiss-cheese security? $150,000,000 AUD. Good on ya.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
25th - 27th
Forgive me if I lump these days together. Compared to the daily grind of riding, these were relaxed, rest days catching up with emails and replacing worn bits of bike. Incidentally, I have run through one set of shoes (they were five years old when I arrived), one set of cleats, one chain, and three touring tyres.
We stayed with Sharon Emmett. She lives in a house built by her late husband, Don, a master builder, and if walls talked, as they sometimes do through Mrs. Emmett’s stories, they told of a house created with every whim and then some she did not know she had in mind. We quickly fell into a routine of breakfast on Australia’s own Wheet-Bix, toast with gum tree honey from her son’s place on Kangaroo Island, and fruit followed by tea.
Talk often shifted to Don, Anthony’s grandfather. It told of stories and memories of life that make up a family’s mythology. Having lost my own grandfather recently, it felt good to see Anthony’s come to life through Mrs. Emmett’s words. He was a big man; when young, he was tall, dark and handsome - clearly a presence of a man. I gather he was pragmatic. Mrs. Emmett, when in her new house, she suffered from a downsizing of kitchen space. Upon spying a kitchen cutting board on wheels that could act at a kitchen island, Don measured it. After outlining the size in tape on the kitchen floor, he assured Mrs. Emmett that she would have one if she avoided stepping on the tape for the week. Needless to say she now has that lovely cutting board.
No doubt, he was strong-willed, only dying after several years of enduring difficult illnesses. My grandfather was lucky; he suffered only mild illness, if any, throughout his life. When death came, it was quite sudden. Nothing about death is good, but I’m glad he did not spend his final years in a nursing home. With the exception of a short few weeks at the hospital and hospice, he went out traveling.
He would be tickled to know that in Mrs. Emmett’s house, on the far side of the world in her small workshop adjacent to the garage, sits a Hanson bathroom scale, faded green in color, its measurements in kg and stone (14lbs = 1 stone, it’s an older form of measurement still used by older generations in England Ireland and Australia). It was made in the "Republic of Ireland." For those of you who don’t know, my family made scales for nearly five generations. In the 1960s, my grandfather made a bold move by taking the whole family to the west coast of Ireland to the little town of Sligo where "Hanson Scales" became the major employer for over 40 years. One of the places they exported to was Australia. This scale, now with a few rust spots, is still keeping weight for Mrs. Emmett. They were imported by a gentleman named Peter Marich. He also died recently. On my last trip to Australia, I was the guest of his son, Rob, and Rob’s wife, Jan. We went surfing at the Palm Beach Surf Club where Rob and his family are members.
To come so far and to see something that my grandfather designed and manufactured in an unexpected place brought him vividly back to me. I held the scale and then stepped on it. It still kept weight. I thought of Grumpa Stan. He would be proud that his work is still around and keeping weight.
I did not want to talk of death with Mrs. Emmett. I don’t know if I mentioned that my grandfather had died, but I was happy with her stories of Don, her memories of the man who meant so much to her just felt good. She did not know she was giving me more than food and shelter, so much more.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Once on the Adelaide side of the ferry, we still had the country roads, but with the city traffic. It continued to be a stressful ride. Its only redeeming factor was the bright moon, nearly full that presented itself to us in ripe orange glory. Unfortunately, like so many natural phenomena, it could not be done justice by our cameras. The last 98 km were on a busy highway, much smoother quality of road and at night, hardly any traffic.
However, as a cyclist, you can sense a dangerous road, and this was certainly it. 25 km outside the city we had to jump a fence to the suburbs and seek refuge in a local café; you might have heard of it - McDonalds. No, I’m not going to apologize for eating there. It was all things good, bad and familiar – yes, I read Fast Food Nation - I know the food is designed to be that way. But, after riding through the night and dealing with highway traffic, I was just hankering for an Egg McMuffin®, hotcakes, and some hash browns. The familiar packaging assured me it was all Australian potatoes and that they got their eggs from the same place I did. Whoopty-do. And yes, in answer to your question, I was indeed loving it.
At this point all credit for toughness goes to Anthony. There was only one road into town from the north, and half the locals told us they hated getting on it in a car. Our options were getting a big cab or a train. In my beleaguered condition, my vote was for the cab. Trooper that Anthony was, he pushed for the train. As exhausted as I was, he did not have to push hard. I just needed to move to stay awake.
So we combined one part local knowledge, one part determination on Anthony’s part, and one part lucky spotting and finally found a train. Anthony got our tickets. I fell asleep standing up, then followed Anthony the last few km from the city center to the oasis of his lovely grandmother’s house. We ate. I showered. We slept. I woke up with a genuine dislike for the fur on my face. Shaved - felt somewhat civilized again.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Dirt roads on road tyres are always eventful. Makes it more so when on the way to catch a ferry and dodging traffic. Just before we hit those dirt roads, Anthony and I ran into some uncommon roadkill - well, mostly killed, and on it’s way to all killed. It was a snake, and in a land that holds the top ten deadliest snakes, the prudent assumption is that this is one of them. However, its was pretty clear that with the unhealthy-looking flat spot a few inches behind his head, he was not going to do any biting anytime soon. Not that we planned on getting that close so as to test it. The reason I said "mostly killed" was that the last two and a half feet of him flicked and twitched with disturbing regularity. Like the dead wedgetail eagle, it was the kind of thing that boys just have to stare at for a bit. So we stared. It was just about the coolest thing ever.
About 100 meters later and perhaps a few notches up the reptile IQ ladder sat an 18 inch bearded dragon, just off the road as opposed to on it. While I would not chose that spot to sun myself, I was delighted that he/she did because it meant Anthony and I could do our best Steve Irwin impression. You can take it from both of us, he/she was a beut. It also didn’t like how close we were getting, and to our great delight postured up displaying its namesake brilliant spiky throat.
It was a stressful ride to Lucky Bay, but we managed to avoid any mishaps making it with just minutes to spare. Lucky Bay is nothing but a ferry terminal, and even this is glorifying it. Right now, it’s little more than a breakwater for the twin hulled cat that makes the run 2 to 3 times daily. I expect Lucky Bay will change a great deal in the next few years.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Woke up under the mesh in my bivy - covered in flies. One fly in particular had my attention - a blow fly - a biting fly. This presumptuous little fella bit me through the mesh. I unzipped my bivy, caught the SOB, pulled off a wing, and flicked him to the bush. Two days – 400 km and no shower in between was really wearing on my karmic feelings towards the lowest forms of wildlife.
Fortunately, Cowell provided the shower and much more. It could best be described (and is we were told) as the kind of town that lends itself to movies set in Australia’s past. Cowell’s buildings are wonderful, tan, solid-stone, and are surrounded by large corrugated, iron verandas that are typical of classic Australian homes. It is the kind of town with two pubs and a town monument (in addition to the requisite ANZAC monument in every Australian town no matter the size) - a large and ugly black stump. It exists in memory to that time, some 40-odd years ago, of the Great New Year’s Prank of Cowell when someone put this stump in the middle of the street between the two pubs with the ambiguous sign of "best pub this side of the stump." I suppose they still talk of that day. Incidentally, the actual stump monument is not the original stump. It was stolen years ago and was replaced with an equally large and ugly black stump. No one knows what happened to the original. I suspect it sits in someone’s back yard.
The proprietor of the caravan park took pity on us and let us shower despite our not staying the night. The bathroom had music. David Bowie was playing. When you don’t travel with an i-pod, it makes all the music you hear that much sweeter. I threw in a load of laundry and explored the town.
The Ebb and Flow Cafe earned our business that morning. This up-market joint has, no doubt, been built in response to the ferry from Lucky Bay -14 km north that cuts off several hours of drive time from Adelaide; this was the ferry we planned to catch. Cowell has and will continue to have an influx of Adelaide’s money, and places like the Ebb and Flow will continue to be built. It was a classy establishment, still honest to the old building style charm with worn wood planks, classic molding and well-done country murals on the way to the bathroom out the back. We ate well and lingered a bit to long. We rushed, well-washed, towards the ferry.
Friday, March 7, 2008
I had not realized how high we had climbed from Ceduna to Cleve, but I now blessed those slow, subtle rollers as we coiled cleanly through the well-shaped hills. It did rain, but only very light and not for long. The red lights of the wind farms revealed themselves, and if not for our young friends at Cleve, we would have wondered what these bright red dots were on the gray, but clearly visible hills. It was a gorgeous, gray descent, and despite the light clouds, moonshadows still covered the road. We bush-camped just out of Cowell, cooked a feed and slept.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
I did not expect the heat to wake us at noon. When it did, it was harsh, immediate and stifling. However, I felt surprisingly good. A shower would have gone a long way to making me feel human. Yet, sweating on the bike, a camp meal of cheese and rice, and two ice cream bars were enough to get us through the sheep and wheat fields (they look silver at night) to the well-manicured country town of Cleve. It was roughly eight at night, and we had 40 km before Cowell, our destination for the night. Each of us was hankering for a beer and, hell, a pub meal was sounding pretty good at this point as well. We scanned the streets eagerly for the town pub. No joy. Cleve is so big that the pub is not on the main street - gasp! - but on a side street. Some local kids were wandering around - that’s what you do in a small country town as a kid - and we asked them. Two turns later we could see our liquid salvation. But yet, mere meters from our destination we were accosted by a group of 15 children between the ages of 11 and 15. I admit that as they fanned across the road between us and the pub, I briefly imagined the headline of the local rag: "Cyclists detained after confrontation with local school children on way to pub." Then one of them yelled out, "Roadblock!" followed by 14 other echoes of the same thing.
"Where did you come from?" "Esperance."
"Where is Esperance?" "What are they teaching you in school?" I thought.
"Do you play footy?" Nine out of every 10 males have played, or still play, footy. This always seemed like a silly question, but kids see our bike shoes and run with it. I had to answer, "no."
This was perhaps a tenth of the questions that bombarded us. In the background, four-letter words and other less obvious dirty words were whispered and sniggered at to no one in particular as the leaders continued with our interrogation.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" "No," said I. "Yes," said Anthony.
"Can we ride you bike?"
"Are you gay?"
"No" and "no."
"He’s gay," the leader – Tim - pointed to one boy in the pack. The boy shrugged; "I am," he said cheerfully (this was either a progressive town or he could take a hell of a joke for a kid in the middle of puberty).
They proceeded to ask Anthony questions relating to the physical qualities of his girlfriend, which he deftly parried, and all of the sudden they parted. We had passed this test, and at least for a short time, were accepted as part of their troop, and received an honor guard to the pub, at which more children were running in and out of.
We leaned our bikes against the wall, threw on some jeans, and a rather inebriated man wearing his cricket whites from a match earlier that day flung open the pub door.
"Where you lads from? Across the Nullarbor? Jesus let me buy you a beer."
This was an offer we could not refuse. Inside they had stopped serving food, but we made do with leftover pizza and some meager, but warm, toasted ham sandwiches. Inside were some more good folks who had clearly been holding down the fort for quite a while. A man named "Snook" introduced himself. He and his mate were impressed with our efforts; however, Snook’s friends did make scissor-hands to pretend to cut my hair.
"We don’t like that kind of hair around here."
"But", Snook replied, "he’s got a fair bit of chops" (you’ve seen the pictures; damn right I do).
The conversation with Snook and his mate was one in which I would need to drink a few beers to really get into. A young man who had spent the past eight months on farm exchange in the States introduced himself, and we finished our beer with him. He was coming down hard after his eight months away, and I think he was pretty happy to talk to some fellow travelers. Alas we left him, still 40 km to go, and the Cleve kids had a few more rounds of questions.
"What happens when it rains?" "We get wet," and it was looking like it was getting ready to rain, too. They also gave us some advice, "Watch out for the boogie man!" and some good advice, "Take care on the road to Lucky Bay; it’s about half dirt."
"Those red flashing lights on the way down to Cowell, those are wind farm lights."
I was about to be impressed at the with-it-ness of these kids, when one of the kid’s older sisters walked across the street and yelled out to one of the little darlings, "Mom wants you home."
"Suck me off!" he replied.
With that ringing in our ears and a grin I could not stifle, we rode into the night.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Sometimes you can get the feeling that you’re more rested than you really are. That’s how I felt the day we decided to try and push the whole way across the Eyre peninsula, roughly 400 km, in one go. Two nights in a bed had us revved up, and with six hours under our belt we were feeling like we could go forever. It was enough to get us 270 km or to about 4:30 a.m. on the 23rd.
At Kyancutta we said goodbye to the Eyre Highway. This was our first fork in the road since Norseman nearly 2000 km ago. This meant that for at least a short time we said goodbye to the road trains that dominated the road.
And gradually on the 50 km to Lock, with each peddle over peddle and crank over crank, the bike wore down our determination to try and get to the ferry by 1 a.m. the next day.
It was a short talk of our options before Anthony asked if I would think less of him if we stopped for the night. I told him it was great idea, in fact I said, I think more of him. We laid our bikes on the deserted country road and pealed open tuna and crackers, laying down gingerly on our sides to avoid our battered backsides. We rolled our bikes to the bush and didn’t set the alarm. The heat would no doubt wake us.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Ceduna - In our minds for the past 11 days we had seen it as the end to our Eyre Highway adventure. This was the biggest town since Esperance - smaller than Esperance, but still bigger than Norseman; at this point, it seemed downright cosmopolitan.
It is situated on the coast and has a long jetty that is a regular fixture on all of these towns in western and southern Australia that are built on shallow bays. We spent roughly 36 hours in Ceduna before our big push to Adelaide. Our time here was thankfully uneventful, with of course the following exceptions:
Food: my, what a surprise. Both days found us repeat customers at both Bill’s Fish and Chips for lunch and the Ceduna Hotel/Motel right on the beachfront for dinner. They earned our business for the following reasons:
1) Bill’s fish are as fresh as they could come; some, if not all, are line, not net, caught. The silver, pink and gold fillets are laid out in small quantities in the display case. When that day’s fish are gone, you just have to wait for the fisherman.
2) The batter is tasty, but light. I felt like I was eating a fish fried in batter, not a batter-ball with a fishy center.
3) The hotel serves a decent feed. What brought us back was the diverse, fresh and unlimited salad bar. Good for the fresh veggies we had been missing, plus we could eat to our full volume, which is considerable.
The second reason Ceduna was of note was that our dear Austrian cyclists, Phillipp and Valeska, rolled into town a few hours after us. We both stayed at the same caravan park. It was just 10 bucks extra for our own self-contained trailer over a campsite, and after a lot of time outside it’s hard to put a price on your own enclosed space. We shared some beers, commiserated over cycling, and I was delighted to find out that they planning to head through Seattle to Alaska. I hope to put them up.
Monday, March 3, 2008
We slept. We ate. The weather changed with the wind bringing cool air and the threat of rain. We got ready and checked the weather. Nothing conclusive. We had locked our room as the proprietor had asked, but after looking at the wind and weather we decided to wait and leave at midnight.
Nundroo is owner operated. There is something to be said about this. On a road like the Eyre Highway, you just don’t have to be nice if you don’t want to. That morning I had been immediately put off by the sour looks and pinched face of the landlord, but had held back judgment until we spoke to him about the room. We said we needed it for the day, and he charged us the full $77 AUD. This made sense, as he would be unable to rent the room that evening. I left thinking that despite his constipatidly-pained appearance, he was just a no BS kinda guy. No worries right? That evening, after deciding we would wait on the weather for three more hours, I asked him if we could get back in our room – having paid the full price for 24 hours of occupancy. He leaned back in his stool, crossed his arms and looked at me with disdain through glasses that made his eyes seems rather large, "Well, you’re entitled to it. Do you have your key?"
That morning he had told us to leave the key on the dresser and lock the door behind us. "No" I replied, "I locked the door like you said I should."
"Well, I don’t have a key; there’s nothing I can do for you." Behind this charmer was a wall of keys, and it really defied logic that after each tenant left they would not have a means of opening the room again. I like to think the best of people, but this gentleman was doing his best to make me pay for those assumptions. Fortunately a recent hire, and English bloke, who had been watching the whole episode unfold, piped in.
"What about those keys?" he gestured to the wall, covered as it was in keys.
'They probably don’t work. If they do, it might be this one," he said and pulled off a key ring that looked suspiciously like the key ring that a maid might use as she made her rounds to change the bedding.
Our Limey hero, probably earning a tail-chewing in the process, grabbed the keys and led us back to our room. Trying several keys, he found the correct one. We slept. I believe I am better at napping than Anthony. I think this might irritate him a little. We had instant coffee in the room to wake up and made our way onto the road.
75 km down the road in Penong at the local roadhouse there, we met a kindred spirit of our landlord. She served us terrible coffee and under-heated pastries, but it was really the frown that gave it the vitriolic taste that I really enjoy.
Except for rain, nothing happened on the way to Ceduna. However, I was somewhat disappointed that the lady at the information center who gave us our Nullarbor Completion Certificates was so nice. I was hoping for a hat-trick of nasty people. You just can’t always get what you want.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
At sunset we left this Tarantino-inspired landscape for Nundroo – flat road and a sunset that set quickly on the unobstructed horizon. The heat still broiled the air despite the sunless sky. We powered up on Tim Tams (like Oreos but 10 times better – chocolate filling dipped in chocolate) and Redbulls before rolling away.
I soon decided to ride shirtless, a rare treat as it has usually been quite brusque at night. Riding without a shirt in the daytime is out of the question with my Northern European pigmentation. Besides, I would hate to ruin my Seattle tan - what would the neighbors think? Within 15 km, the land began its transformation from the desolation of the Nullarbor back into, as the lady at Nullarbor Roadhouse said, "good old Australian bush." Scrubby skeletons gave way to fuller salt brush and, eventually, actual gum trees.
Thankfully there was no wind. The road began to show some shape again with the rolling hills that breed speed – something Anthony and I were grateful for after the last few days of slogging it out. In between the heat were pockets of cold, refreshing air that whipped pleasantly across my bare skin.
We arrived at Nundroo a half hour after sunrise. I was more exhausted than I realized. The heat was already up, and the flies were coming with it. Dirty with dust and salt, they went right for our eyes and mouth. It was not an option to ride in the upcoming heat. We got a room for the day.
* Note: My dear readers, by this time you will have realized that these blogs are quite postdated. I did this because the internet between Norseman and Adelaide was very spotty. I am now in Hall's Gap in the Grampians and have a terrible confession to make - since leaving the Nullarbor Roadhouse, I have only made brief notes on the days, and for February 18th through the 28th will have to rely on these and my memory. I will do my best. Please enjoy.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Woke from a deep sleep, and the wind that had shifted from the east to the north – a crosswind. Still tiring, but it was a wind that let us keep up a pretty high speed.
The Nullarbor Plain proper was not the shrubby land we had rode through so far. The actual plain only comes to the coast for 15 km. The majority of the plain is farther inland and nearly the size of England. It is quite treeless; they don’t lie; there’s not even a shrub higher than my knee. The locals say, "miles and miles of bugger all." Translated, this is means a lot of excessive amounts of nothing. Everything is either gray or straw colored and looks dead; yet a few hardy settlers chose this harsh land to make their home.
15 km out, we spotted the Nullarbor Roadhouse – a one-story building that stood out like a sore thumb on the horizon. Too hot to ride, we took a pink trailer room that was too hot to sleep in. We dozed, had beer and burgers, and planned our ride into the night. "Good old Australian bush" was said to be coming up. Having not seen any for 400 km, I was quite happy in anticipation of this.