kangaroo

Bad Day, Good Day. Same Day.

The Bruce Highway, which I’ve been bumbling up for hundreds of miles now, is quite possibly the dullest road in the world.  It’s so tedious that there are ‘amusing’ signs posted along the roadside to keep drivers awake.

I thought I was bored in the mid-west of the US, with its slow alternations of sweetcorn and soya beans.  And nothing else.  But the scenery along the highway here is pretty much entirely unchanging for thousands of kilometres.

Just a billion trees.  Seemingly endless bush.  And lots of trucks.

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But things started to change a little on Monday.

It was Day 183, which the mathematically gifted amongst you will note is half a year since I left London.  A day of great significance, then.  You would hope.

I left Marlborough resigned to another long day of heat and bush.  Ahead of me was the emptiest stretch of road I’ve encountered since my run across the Californian desert.  In fact, I’d been warned by locals that there was ‘nothing’ between Marlborough and my destination campsite at Clairview.

Actually, there were three man-made things (not counting the road and a couple of burned-out cars) in 66 miles.  Which is not much, I admit.  But it’s not quite ‘nothing’ either.  After tanking up early on at a petrol station, I was pretty happy that I’d make it to the large rest stop, about 30 miles up the road, with no bother.

The wind had other ideas, swinging around to face me, decreasing speed and increasing sweating and water consumption alarmingly.  I was a sorry mess when I got to the rest stop; time was ticking on, and I still had over 20 miles to go.  I was down to a couple of mouthfuls of water.  And there was nothing to drink at the rest stop.  Just one cafe (closed), and a nice toilet block with ‘non-potable’ signs on every tap.  Risk the undrinkable water, or maybe peg out from thirst?  Decisions, decisions…

This was a low point.  What an awful day!

As I sat moping in the shade, a car turned up with Anton and his family in it.  And things got rapidly better.  They were heading home after a holiday down south.  They had carried 10 litres of water (nicely chilled by the car air-con) there and back for no apparent reason, and I was welcome to as much as I liked.  And there’s a free shower, meal and bed awaiting me a bit north of Mackay, too!  More lovely people!  I trundled out of the rest stop in significantly better spirits.

It was getting close to sunset as I approached the campsite.  About five kms out, a head suddenly shot up out of the long grass by the side of the road, maybe 10 metres away.  The head was followed quickly by the rest of a startled grey kangaroo, which bounced off pretty rapidly into the fields.  I stopped, but it was long gone before I could get a picture.  Shame.  But as I scanned the field, I saw another three kangaroos.  From long range, admittedly, but that’s four wild kangaroos.  I arrived at the campsite with a big grin on my face.

This was a high point.  What a good day!  Amazing how quick things can change on the bike…

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Yesterday morning (Tuesday), I woke up by the seaside.  And the bush finally started to fade into sugar cane plantations as I headed north again.  There was time for one more (thankfully half-hearted) Aussie magpie attack, though without any physical contact this time.  And then I broke out into open farmland on the approach to Sarina.  Hooray!

So, six months and a little over 11000 km (or a little under 7000 miles) done.  And I’ve finally seen a kangaroo or two!  And after a few tough, hot days lately, I should be able to get closer to the ocean, and maybe to the Barrier Reef, as I head further up Queensland.

Hopefully.  Let’s not forget, there’s:

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Not a Ferry Good Birthday*, and Eating Australia

*Actually, it was fine, but I needed to use the awful pun somewhere…

I never thought there could be a downside to a strong tailwind, but there can.  I never thought that riding through a National Park in the sunshine would be anything other than idyllic, but it was.

My birthday (Friday) began well, as I woke up to a strong southerly wind, which would shove me effortlessly up the coast from Newcastle.  And it did.  For a while.

I was so chuffed with the tailwind that I decided to push on from my (extremely unambitious) target for the day.  I’d initially decided to give myself a super short day as a birthday present.  But I’ve learned never to waste a tailwind, especially a gale-force one, so I sailed gleefully onwards, to catch the ferry from Nelson Bay.

I got to Nelson Bay with twenty minutes to spare before the ferry.  And it was only lunchtime.  I’d be able to make ground at a superb rate.  Perfect.

The ferry was cancelled, due to my tailwind.  In fact, all the ferries that day were cancelled due to my tailwind.  Not so perfect.

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Still, the town was fairly large, and touristy, with a lot of yachts.  By dinner time, there was a throng of brightly (some might say less-than-tastefully) dressed tourists bouncing around.  Looked like it should be a decent evening for a couple of beers to celebrate being another year older.

They disappeared.  Nearly all of them.  Vanished.

The maximum number of other people in the pub was seven.  In the middle of town.  On a Friday night.  What manner of madness is this?

On the bright side, a gentle birthday evening meant that I didn’t need to use my ‘Emergency Hangover Day Off’, which I’ve been carefully holding in reserve (think it may still come in handy for Christmas or New Year, mind you).  On Saturday morning I was raring to go.  And the ferries were running.  Onwards!

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While the ferry rolled its way across to Tea Gardens, we kept a sharp look-out for dolphins.  Apparently, the bay’s residential pod means that they are spotted on 95% of trips.  Given my wildlife history thus far, I’m sure you won’t be super-surprised to learn that the nearest thing to dolphins we spotted was a bunch of kids in speedboats.  Still, dolphins are not the highest on my wildlife-spotting list.  I can live with the disappointment, as long as I can see a kangaroo at some point.  Or even a wallaby.

After leaving the ferry, eating a massive pie, and heading north again, I met Bruce and Marg. They are in the relatively early stages of riding around the edge of Australia, pausing only to climb the highest peak in each state.  They gave me some very useful advice on surviving the outback, having just done a chunk, and also provided me with a useful shortcut through the bush, which would save me time, save me climbing, and provide the Beast with a little off-road action.

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It was a track.  Not good enough to count as a dirt road, and closed to vehicles, but easy enough for the Beast to deal with.  I even heard some panicked crashing in the undergrowth, which I took to be kangaroos legging it from my rattling, crashing, and altogether not very subtle approach.  Didn’t see any, obviously.  But I was getting closer, and decided that dirt roads are something I needed more of.

Today (Sunday), after a night in the pleasant, but again, surprisingly empty, town of Forster, I resumed my northward progress.  I thought I might just be able to make Port Macquarie today, as there was a fair chunk of fast but dull highway involved.

Then I got distracted.  There was a dirt road through Crowdy Bay National Park, which would take me to Laurieton, just a short hop from ‘Port’.  Another 25km of quiet, pleasant meandering for the Beast, and another chance to nail that elusive first marsupial.

Or, as it turned out, a chance to get a real taste of Australia.

It tastes gritty, and slightly metallic.

A lesson learned about dirt roads.  If they have cars on them, you’re going to ingest the countryside as well as see it.  Cycling has a real knack of bringing you closer to the environment through which you travel…

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To round things off, the hostel which the internet had advertised in Laurieton doesn’t exist.  There is some debate locally about whether it ever did.  It is, however, a thoroughly agreeable town with a lovely harbour.  And a paragliding school who were kind enough to take me in for a small fee.

As I try to wash the flavours of Australia from my mouth with lashings of ginger beer, I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be rushing back to the dirt roads.  Anyway, I have a hot tip that golf courses are the way to go if you want to see kangaroos.

I’ll let you know how that works out…