I have never had a better start to a New Year then this one. We have been having the same discussion for a while now and it’s probably getting annoying for everyone to hear but you know, we are definitely most certainly going to leave to cycle around the world this year. Guiltily we have put it off so often the idea appeared to be falling away, and as if we needed to remind ourselves what we’re doing here we made sure we hit the ground in the right way.
That was a bit of a strong introduction since all we did was cycle down the north coast of NSW for a couple of days, but it was the first bit of touring we had done since we came to Australia, and on the bike Dan is going to be using when we do the big one. I could find a few more significant things about it like it was the perfect beginning to a year that is going to end the same way…significant.
I stopped to ask for water at a rundown house with tall grass and overgrown shrubs. I was thinking nobody must live there anymore when a little old lady emerged from the dark room.
I had planned to work through the dead holiday season to show my dedication and perseverance, but after 3 days the brain trauma of sitting around and doing nothing with the entire day was closing in on me. I read entire books in a single day, wrote endless notes or tried to avoid getting stuck in terrible conversations that would last the length between jobs, which was hours. I bailed from that idea and I did a last minute ask to have two weeks off in the new year and Dan and I made plans; Byron Bay to Taree.
It was the usual start to our traveling plans. We rushed to collect Dan’s bike from the FEDEX base and put it together within the hour before the last train out of Sydney. We tip toed around each other knowing how we piss each other off when there is a deadline, each of us annoyed that they are working too slow or being careless in their haste. Not quite getting the brakes to work or the gears shifting we left without one more minute to spare, forgetting my phone, chargers, headphones, books and warm clothes. We had caught the last train out of Sydney through the night and by morning we were almost knocking on Queensland’s door. At 4:30am on the streets of Byron Bay we were assembling our bikes again under the brightest streetlight after dismantling them for the train.
We left Byron the same day but not before falling asleep at a park bench for a few hours, our heads in our crossed arms and after getting someone to help put Dan’s brakes and gearing right, we headed for Balina. Byron was exactly how I had pictured it: a beautiful landscape with a load of people enjoying it; harem pants, bum bags, children with long hair holding coffee cups, tie-dye, backpackers and surf boards in the back of cars and under the arms of young boys.
We rode only a short way past Balina and we made a early campsite around the back of an abandoned house and shed, the sun that gave me my first sunburn was still blazing and the tent stifling but we slept anyway.
We woke like we had been drugged, hot, sticky, stinky, and the sun was hammering down already. With no way of gaining any freshness we just packed up and left for a big day of riding. Still without a map we made poor choices of roads and after hours on the shoulderless highway, with cargo trucks violently kicking the air and throwing our shirts up to our shoulders, we reached a one-shop town called Harwood. In all fairness the one shop was a pretty versatile one. It was a fast food take-out, a post office, a Commonwealth bank and a grocery store, with the lights out in the fridges and one of each (almost out of date) item. We bought sugar, carbs, and juice and nursed our heat stroke for an hour. We had done 70km from Balina and we had another 70km to Grafton where we stayed in a motel, got two separate types of take away and ate ourselves into a coma.
I don’t want to go from day to day about what we got up to because really it was all just a bunch of riding in hot weather but there was a day in there where Australia delivered. It was one long road from Grafton to Coffs Harbor; it was bushland that reminded me of my childhood. It had been so long since I had been playing in the dusty colours of Australia, that red and orange clay, the rocky soft edges to the sun bleached roads, dried crunch on the plants, cloudless skies and the thick, hot breeze that does nothing to ease the heat. It’s a love that is probably more nostalgia then true landscape beauty. It’s not green and lush, it is dry and tough and scratchy with sounds of cicada’s and Kookaburra’s loud and close to your ears. There is a difference between riding country like this and riding country that is lush and watered. It makes you feel more rugged by association; the dried sweat on your skin, the sunburns and the thirst matches the landscape. It’s as simple as having something in common with what is around you. It’s not the same as riding through the English countryside when the soft green is all around you while you are thirsty and tired and sore. Australia is different again in the type of animals you encounter, we had already worked ourselves up over how we would ever survive with all the dangers out here but the only traditional fearsome fauna we saw were dead tiger snakes on the highway. Dan looked up all the deadly bastardly things that sneak into your shoe or ear and kill you in 5 seconds, probably because I put the fear in him, but they hardly ever kill anyone. Box Jellyfishes get a couple each year but otherwise the numbers for people actually getting bitten by a spider or snake or whatever else and dying are miniscule. We’re much more likely to be killed by a human than anything other living thing here and Australia’s murder rate is something like 1 per 100,000. Happy numbers.
At Coffs Harbour we had a stunning campsite overlooking the beach from a grassy clifftop. None of the rushing and bad packing or discomfort mattered at all. We sat there drinking beer and eating candy snakes laughing. We watched 4WD’s come and do burnouts in the sand below us and a couple trying to have a romantic skinny dip get caught in the headlights of ute. They stood frozen as a photo covering their bits waiting for the lights to change direction.
We stopped the next day in a dusty town to swim in the river, jumping off the rocks and rope-swing under a bridge with the locals. We stayed in the shade and waited the midday sun out while eating huge desserts from the bakery and scribbling in our notebooks.
Dan always makes me feel like a slow and lumpy cyclist and we’ve always had trouble riding together. The main rule is: no talking on hills. Dan breaks the rule. As I push my guts out up a hill, concentrating on each peddle, burn flooding my legs I crouch down in an aggressive style to force the bike forward and gasping for sweet air, unable to talk… Dan, while riding on my rear wheel in a voice so steady and casual will say something like ‘this town smells like salt and vinegar chips’ or ‘those little hills are sneaky aren’t they?’
Trains here are dirt cheap, our 14 hour trip was $70. Maybe they’re too cheap. I am not a high class gal but the passengers on this train seemed like they were competing to be the most disgusting people in the country. Depending on your mood it could be entertaining or annoying. At 530am a woman about in her late 50s started on a couple of little eastern european women who looked about 70. They were so innocent with pastel scarfs on their heads tied under their chins. They had spoken during the night which was enough to set this animal off on her bigoted rant. She was pointing at them telling them they were too poor to buy meat and saying Australia should stay pure. She made the interesting points that the successful people in the world stay where they are born and that other countries like Canada had better immigration systems that don’t let everyone come flooding in to luxuriate on welfare checks. Dan helped her out on a few factual errors and I nicely tried to stop her from speaking 😉 Eventually she was booted off the train and arrested; you just don’t pick on cute old ladies in scarfs. There was another classy woman who walked by in a fur coat looking like a very rough version of Courtney Love. She told us she had anthrax in her hair, that the government put it there and she was dying.
Coming back to Sydney I was thinking of all the eating, sleeping and sitting to be done, which got me thinking how sweet will it be to be coming home to wherever home will be at the end of this cycling the world thing, and also sad that because we are planning to finish in London were we won’t have lived for years and wont have a home to go back to. It’s a minor thought.