Waking up in my comfy bed at the Hilltop Hotel, I hemmed and hawed over what I should do. I was a day’s ride from Hotham - smaller and more expensive than Omeo, and it was getting too cold for my meager bivy and light-weight sleeping bag. Sharon cooked me a damn good brekkie – two eggs on toast, two slices of salty bacon plus all the cold cereal I could eat. I finished and joined Sharon and Tom for a cigarette. I didn’t smoke, but enjoyed their company. We threw the ball to an eager "Dude". Dude nearly got shot for being to afraid of sheep and cattle and thus not worth his weight in food. I reckon he earns his keep here at the pub by being so damn sweet.
I walked around and around the town trying the bakery, trying the coffee at the local coffee shop which makes a killer burger, the kind of lean fresh ground beef that makes it live up to the name of burger. I had a beer at the 5th Golden Age Hotel. Since the 1850s, the building has burned that many times, and in its most recent incarnation, it exists as a 1939 art deco style building. Strangely at home, yet completely out of place in this town. The Hilltop is half as expensive as the Golden Age and the breakfast is free. It sits on the hill (obviously) on the other side of town with a high view of the mountains. It’s a bit gritty, but still kind - I like that.
Tom took me around in his car this arvo. We rode down the valley. Spaces and distance become real when hills and mountains fill them. Golden hills and gum green mountains fill our vision, and Tom tells me the best thing his "parents did for me was have me in Australia." Tom has been many things in his life. In the past 24 hours, he has worked his recycling yard, built part of a deck, and worked behind the bar. In his youth, he traveled and ended up in Basque country and endeared himself to their locals by diffusing a hot situation in a local pub when a piss-filled Aussie refused to pay for his meal after his advances on the publican’s daughter were rebuffed.
The Basques had just locked the door when Tom walked between the warring parties and insisted he would pay for the man’s meal and collect his money from him the next day. They initially balked, but Tom insisted - diffusing a situation in which no one would win. They took good care of him after that. They gave him work, and he surfed Basque country. Tom is kind. He gave me a line of credit and showed me around his home. He even shouted me some drinks – he said because he had been taken care of when he traveled. Tom is 58. 34 years ago he traveled and hopes to go again. I am sure I’m not the first traveler to encounter his kindness. Still, two continents and 34 years and a kindness remembered inspired kindness towards me. I am humbled.