Sunday, 28 December 2008

Day 585 - Sydney

So I am still here in Sydney, and just like most other stays in towns an cities I have far less to write than when I am on the road.

Most days are pretty relaxed. Etta and her flat mate wanted a few Couch Surfing free days before Christmas, so I left on the Monday and moved to Glebe much closer to the city, just a 25 minute walk away. I checked into what looked like a reasonable hostel, but having sorted myself out I looked in the Lonely Planet book and was alarmed to find it in there with the following description "If you are looking for a party hostel, this is the place to be", I wasn't so I left the following morning. I spotted a house that had rooms to let, so I tried there, it was ok, he wouldn't give me a discount but he agreed to 8 nights rather than 7 for the same price. It's a much better place to stay for me and considerably cheaper than staying in a hostel.

On Monday I joined the ringers at St Andews Cathederal for a practice, they were very good ringers, but very welcoming. With a local band they managed to ring Bristol Major, London Royal and Cambridge Maximus, all way above my head, but 12 year old James Perrins rang in all 3, as did 4 other members of his family. His older brother, now 16, was apparently much better than James when he was 12 and was even conducting peals on 10 bells. Probably the best family of ringers I have ever met and by far the best young ringer. At the pub afterwards I was talking to Nigel sat next to me only to find he was English too, had lived in Oxford for about 12 years and had rung at Woodstock a number of times, though that was probably though one of my "retirement" periods.

Tuesday I rang on the 8 bells at Randwick where I met Paul again who I had met on Sunday. Elaine invited me to Christmas dinner where there would be other ringers and cyclists. We once again ended in the pub over the road, much more sociable than there British counterparts.

Christmas Eve saw me back at St Andrews at 17:30 for ringing for the 6pm service, then hanging around in the tower, eating and drinking until we rang for the 8pm service. I didn't wait around for the 11pm service, instead sloping off to head for St Something in Broadway to join them for their service ringing, probably the only chance to ring at that tower. Walking around the city centre earlier it had felt for the first time like Christmas, the shops were packs, people were leaving with bags full of shopping and carols were being sung around Christmas trees.

Christmas Day saw me dashing out early morning to ring at Burwood. Once again I had forgotten to take the name of the church so when I pulled up I asked a lady "Will they be ringing the bells here for the service?", "No" she replied, almost at exactly the same time they started ringing. This is where sister Cathy rang regularly 20 years ago, they remembered her well. By mid day I was over in Bexly for Christmas dinner Aussie style, in the back garden. A number of people there had at some stage been ringers and/or cyclists, so it was all very enjoyable, Christmas Day worked out very well after all.

Ok, time for a little story that may well make you go "Urrrrg......YUK!", we haven't had one of those for such a long time have we? Anyway, I was walking back to Etta's flat from Bondi Beach on the night of her party, when I scratched the back of my neck, only to be alarmed to feel a huge zit there. Clearly I didn't want to be going to a party with a big zit so I squeezed the thing, but nothing happened, I squeezed harder, making sure there was nobody behind me to squirt at. But no matter how hard I squeezed nothing really happened, I gave up, but it did feel a little smaller and much more uncomfortable. When I went for a shower I couldn't really see it in the mirror, but it didn't look like a zit at all, it was brown, it looked like a large mole that I didn't even realise I had, so squeezing it as hard as possible wasn't a great idea. I just left it to cure itself, but as the days went by my neck just became worse and worse, the discomfort grew into pain and the area of pain increased, it was very uncomfortable to sleep on. On Christmas Day as I rubbed my neck I could feel a lump underneath the skin on the side of my neck, oh poo, things weren't looking too good at all. By Boxing Day my mouth had gone numb, it really was time to see a doctor though being a holiday they were all shut. By the 27th my fingers were numb, with my forearms heading in the same direction. I went in search of a doctor, but despite the fact they said they were open on Saturday, the door was firmly shut. Clearly an Aussie doctor isn't going to let a few dying people get in the way of him having a good time. At last I found one open and at $68 for consultation I can understand why? I rather suspected they would send me to hospital for a check up, so I decided not to pay somebody $68 to tell me that and just went there anyway. I was called in an examined, they could feel the lump on the side of my neck and when the checked the one on the back she said "I think it's an insect, I will just get another doctor to check, just in case I am going mad". This is Sydney, I was now being checked over by 2 doctors, one from England and one from Ireland, it was an insect, they could see legs moving "It's a tic I think, I will just get our tic expert". It had dug it's way in deep, I would have done too after a week, especially if somebody had tried to squash me. The extraction hurt, actually it was bloody painful, hardly surprising as by now it was painful just to touch gently. I sat on the bed and clamped on tightly with arms and legs as the Irish doctor kept saying "Sorry, sorry". I replied "Don't keep appologising, I am just a wimp when it comes to a bit of pain". Stramgely enough me left leg kept lifting up involuntarily, I would have been proud of that in my yoga lesson in Brisbane. At last it was out, still alive and the biggest tic the resident expert had ever seen on a human. I have met so many doom merchants in Australia "Watch out for the crocs, don't camp less than 1km from water", "The spiders are a problem, keep an eye out for the redbacks and the funnel spider", "The only thing I am afraid of when camping is the snakes", "Don't go in the sea, it's full of stinging jellyfish and sharks". All these wonderful exotic creatures would have made such a good story, but what do I get......a poxy tic, you can get those at home for goodness sake. Still, it's a bit revolting the thought of it living off me for the past week, but I guess it's better than walking around for a week with a shark hanging onto my neck. Aparently they can let of a venom that can cause an allergic reaction causing temporary paralysis, I guess I was having a lesser reaction. "We will just prescribe you some anti-biotics until things get a bit better" the doctor said, "Are you allergic to anything", "Er, yes...tics it would seem!" I replied. My neck was red and slightly swollen, but being as I couldn't check it, or even see what it was like at the moment, the drew a big black line around it so that somebody else good check it for me. Having taken a photo to have a look, it seemed fine to me. I have to say I left the hospital with a huge weight off my shoulders, ok, it was pretty disgusting, but I could see my trip coming to an end and having to return home as I had rather assumed it was something far worse, which just goes to show that most fear is all in the mind. As I write I still feel rather strange, my whole body feels as though it has had dental injections that are wearing off, me legs feel very heavy too, but at least the pain in my neck has dramatically improved.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas from Down Under

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and joyful New Year

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Day 578 - Sydney (NSW) Arrivee!!!!

"There is pure bliss in each moment: find it......" That's the whole quote, the dots don't indicate that some of has been left out by me. Think about it for a minute...........

I find it a facinating quote. It was painted on the wall of Jill and Ady's dining area in Brisbane, I noticed as soon as I arrived, my first thought was "That's just not possible, it can't be so", but can it? But by the time I left I had read some of the book "Power, Freedom and Grace" by Deepak Chopra and talked about general things with Jill and Ady and things were a little clearer in my mind, perhaps, just perhaps it was possible. Some people have told Jill that the "find it......." bit is arragant, but I don't think that is the case, I think of it as challenging, to me it's saying "Not every moment will appear as bliss, but there is bliss there if you search for it". I left open minded.

Whilst on the subject of of Jill and Ady, after each "Couch Surf" you leave a reference for each other so that others can make a judgement as to what the people are like and in there reference for me they wrote "Thanks for stopping by John". They gave me free accommodation for 5 nights, fed me, did my washing, took me to a yoga class where Jill was the teacher, let me use the internet, helped me in my spiritula journey, filled my ipod with music, and at the end of it THEY thank ME for stopping by. That illustrates the wonderful hospitality that I have received while Couch Surfing, I have met wonderful people who do and give so much, place so much trust in a stranger, expecting nothing back in return. It's uplifting, it brings a tear to my eye. Having said that, by the time I left Brisbane I felt I had known Jill, Ady, Charlie and Joe for years, it felt as though I had been visiting old friends, it even slipped out when I arrived back on one occasion that I was "home". On the last night 6 year old Joe showed far more confidence in my ability to hold on to him as he climbed up onto my shoulders, than I had in myself, I really didn't want to drop him, he was already sporting a broken nose after bouncing off a wall a couple of days earlier.

So I was away, taking the straightest route south out of Brisbane as it would be the easiest to follow. The roads here must have been built by the Romans, they went staight up and down all the hills, hard work but easy to follow. I reached the Gold Coast, a 30km stretch of high rise flashness right by the sea. It was about the distance for an overnight stop, so I called in at a campsite, but at $35 I was soon on the move again. The same happened at the next one, I was beginning to understand why it is called the Gold Coast. They were all around the same price, they also all offered one of 3 excuses "But it will be more expensive next week when the summer holidays start", "Oh great, I will come back next week then!", or "All the sites have full power", I needed no power, or lastly "That's for up to 2 people", it seemed I always had to pay for something I wouldn't, couldn't use. I carried on, it was getting dark, then I spotted a wood with a path running along the side, I decided to hide myself away in there. I pulled up at a picnic table and asked the guy sat there, Leon, if there was a tap around, I had no water. "No, but I have some in the car if you would like it....oh, you can't have that, it's too warm", "No, no, it's fine, it always gets too warm on the bike when I ride, besides, I need it for coffee and cooking" I replied "Well I knew Pommies drank warm beer, but I never realised they drank warm water as well. Well will you at least have a cold beer?". My country's reputation was at stake here, I felt I had to have a cold beer, which just goes to show a cyclists life is not always an easy one! We chatted away and by the time Leon left it was dark, I still had to find a place to camp, so in the end I just pitched the tent beside the picnic table on the lush grass, right next to the creek estuary and the sea, I had just had another stroke of luck, grace was in my favour again.

I was up at 5 the following morning and amazed at all the joggers and walkers already passing by me. Before long I was able to leave the busy Pacific Highway, down a small roads and even onto a cycle track, though I was far from impressed when it came to an abrupt end at a sand dune, I rarely use cycle paths as you never know where you will end up, but this one looked too good to be true, it was! I took a detour to Byron Bay, the most easterly point of Australia. I sat on the rocks where the gulls decided I had food for them, they just hovered in the sea breeze, right in front of me, just feet away, at times in touching distance, it was wondeful. From Byron I headed inland and was taken by surprise. Firstly it was very hilly, but it was also very green, it reminded me of England, of riding in Shropshire, it was delightful. But it was also hard work and slow, but as I rode slowly uphill I thought "where is the bliss in this?", but then I noticed lovely little yellow flowers on the bank, gently bending in the summer breeze, so there was a little bit of bliss there afterall. I arrived at Lismore later than expected. and after doing a bit of food shopping I was surprised to find it was an hour later than expected, New South Wales are on daylight saving and an hour ahead of Queenland. That made me very late for the ringing practice that started at 5pm, but when I arrived all was silent. The doors were locked, perhaps I had the wrong time, but I stopped a neighbour as they were about to drive away and found I had been directed to the wrong church, that will teach me not to take the church name. I dashed across and was able to join them for the last 30 minutes. By the time we left a thunderstorm had started. They told me the church had only just finished being repaired from a thunderstorm a year ago, it had broken every window in one side of the church and destroyed the roof causing over $1m worth of damage. The hail was so big that the storm had also written off 600 cars in the town. I was thankful not to be cycling in that one, even normal hail hurts my poor little bald head. I made a dash for a campsite and parked my bike in the shelter of the camp kitchen and the storm worsened. They were a friendly bunch, the guy seemed to be refusing my payment and said "Follow me, I have something to show you" and he took me to 2 Swiss girls that were living in a van there. I wasn't in the mood for being sociable, once the storm passed I just wanted to get set up and sorted out, but the girls kept talking. Once again I thought of the bliss quote, I relaxed and enjoyed the conversation, I could set the tent up at any time. That short little quote was working for me. In the end I didn't set the tent up until 10pm, but it just didn't matter.

I was ready to leave the folloing morning, I still hadn't paid, there was nobody to pay so I left the money with a note at the girls van. The $15 was a little bit better than the $35 on the Gold Coast and it was also the first time I had had to pay for accommadation after 14 nights without having to pay a cent. I was on a busyish highway to Casino where I bet the library wouldn't be open, I won. I wanted to check the internet as I realised that if I pushed on a bit I might get to Armidale in time for Sunday ringing. I calulated the distance and decided I could do it, but this time I wanted to make sure I was at the right church. I turned on to flat small roads heading south, nice and easy going after heading for Lismore. Towards the end of the day it became a bit hilly, but that meant the farmland finished, the trees returned and it was easy to find a nice secluded spot to camp for the night.

I passed through Grafton where the library was open and even had free internet of one hour. Norwich had lost 2-1, where's the bliss in that? I suppose they did score a goal! After Grafton the hills returned. It had been overcast all morning but now it started to rain, the temperature dripped rapidly (a little typing error that I thought was quite appropriate). I decided to leave taking on water as late as possible, there was no point lugging all that water up and down the hills, especially as there were houses dotted along the way. But the rain got a bit harder, the road started to go uphill and my day started to go downhill rapidly. The road didn't stop going up, this was the worst sort of hill possible, it was the end of the day, it was raining and it just kept going up and up, I had know idea how long for. No hill in Australia so far had been more than a couple of kilometres, but this one had other ideas and to make matters worse the roadside were steep which meant there were no houses, I wouldn't be getting any water unless I went back. I had been climbing for about an hour, I had no intention of turning back. To make matters even worse my cycle computer stopped altogether in the rain. What marketing wizard produced this pile of crap, I bike computer that doesn't like the sun and goes entirely black as soon as it get warm, them stops working altogether in the rain, suitable for the fair wheather winter cyclist. For you cyclists out there it's a Cateye Velo 8, you would be better off giving your money to charity. It was getting late again, I needed to stop and find a place to camp. I soon found a pull off where I could put the tent out of sight of the road. Once I was set up I collected some water that was running down the roadside and started to filter it, but it was slow, hard work to pump a trickle though, there was more trickling down my neck than I was getting through the filter so I gave up and boiled it. It was brown enough not to have to put any coffee in it!

It was still raining when I woke up in the morning though thankfully it had stopped by the time I was ready to leave, I also fitted a new computer to the bike, though as it wasn't raining the Cateye was happy to talk to me. I had an altimetre on the new one, I was already at 700m, I must be near the top. At last it went down, though I was soon heading up again, a theme that would carry on for a few hours, each time going a little higher. I passed a few houses where the letterboxes were all together and made out of old fridges, microwaves etc. I stopped for a break at a village and talked to a couple of guys, the young said "There are only a couple more hills and you are at the top", the older one said "You should be thankful the wind isn't blowing" that's true, it wasn't. 30 minutes later a wind suddenly whipped up and the rain started again, the wind was against me for the next 3 days, thanks mate! 3 hours later as the road was still up and down with an upward trend I was trying to work out just which of all those hill the young guy thought were THE two. I passed through Ebor with its Hilltop Roadhouse, at last the wasn't. The two guys had told me about Ebor falls, so I took the detour to them, a worthwhile visit, but would have been much nicer if it hadn't have been raining. At last I peaked at 1350m, but it was then up and down with a downward trend, so hardly felt like a descent. The village I intended filling up on water was a kilometre off track, I decided to get water from a roadside house, you can guess what happened can't you? But I would never have guessed that my camera would break at the same time, an intermitent problem where automatic took on a new meaning as the camera flipped modes and meter reading constantly and at times wouldn't power on, just told me the time instead. It was getting steeper, I was getting tired and a farmer was entering a nice grassy field, it looked a good place to camp so I rode over. "Can I camp there the night please?" I asked. "It's not my fucking land I couldn't say mate. You're fucked cycling in the rain" he said, but despite us speaking the same language I didn't really know what he meant by that so I just said "Yeah, does it ever stop raining in here?", he replied "No, I am not sure that it does". I had always thought that the NSW on car number plates was for New South Wales but I am pretty sure it stands for Never Stops Waining. Just a kilometre further on I found a lovely spot, away from the road, but beside a nice open field with a lovely view, perfect apart from the fact that I only had 1.5 litres of water of washing, coffee, cooking and washing up. It's amazing how far you can make a little water go when you need to, though I didn't bother with a wash, I had just had that, all I needed to do was dry myself.

So I was 30k from Armidale, all being well I would make it there for the 9am service ringing. I was on the road by 6:30, so I just needed to maintain 12kph through the hills and against the wind to make it there in time. In the end it wasn't too hilly and I made it there with 30 minutes to spare, I was even at the right place. Well, it was well worth the effort, a lovely punch of people and for such a small band a very competent band of ringers, I even surprised myself by being able to ring some mixed doubles. Afterwards they did what we do at Woodstock and went for a coffee, so I was able to enjoy their company even more. They even gave me a contact of some relations 45k south, right where I would be passing, they had been such a nice bunch it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. So after Uralla I turned on to the Thunderbolts Way, through delightful open and rolling countryside, dotted with lakes and different again to anything I had passed through. Soon I was riding down the 500m track to the home of Liz and Bruce. They had their family their too, so I felt as through I was gate crashing a bit, but I was made very welcome. The 6 of us chatted away comfortably and Bruce filled me in on all the world news that I had missed out on, all a bit depressing really, thankfully I am living in my own little world at the moment. I was kindly offered a room for the night, but I camped outside so as to create less work for them, though I did have a wonderful hot shower with rainwater collected from the roof and heated by the sun, natural resources put to good use. Liz cooked up a nice dinner whilst I took up their offer of use of the internet, once again I am being spoilt rotten.

As I made progress along the Thunderbolts Way there was no sign of an end to the hills. A car pulled off the road in front of me, I knew it would be Michael and his wife, nephew of Liz and Bruce. We had a good chat for about 20 minutes, but it was suprisingly cold just stood around talking in the wind. For the last couple of day I have been over 1000m, it's only about 150km from the coast but the climate is completely different, it's cold, cold enough to be using a sleeping bag at night for the first time in months. The last chance of collecting water for the night was at Howendoc, 1km off the highway, this time I didn't make a mistake, I took the detour and took on 10 litres of water. Typically the road then became very steep up and down, it was tough going so I chose to camp after just a few kilometres and continue with less weight in the morning. The wind dropped overnight, I was camped in the forest yet there was complete silence and a crystal clear sky, wonderful stuff, a moment of pure bliss, in fact lots of moments of it.

A few kilometres further on the road made it's way down a horrible steep descent, brakes on hard around the sharp bends, what a waste! But it was noticable that as I went down the temperature went up. I started the day wearing a jacket, but soon enough I was sweating buckets, the temperature rose about 10 degrees. I was once again passing through lovely Alpine like scenery, I would never have believed it was Australia if I had been shown a picture. I stopped by a farm gate for refueling and the farmer arrived in his tractor wanting to get into the field. He was over retirement age and worked every single day on his 6000 acre farm, he said he might have Christmas off. But he loved his life "How could I do anything else in the surroundings?" he said. The farms around him formed a close knit little community, they worked together well. It was a joy to talk to him, so enthusiastic about life. By the time I passed through Gloucester the scenery was far less dramatic, the traffic was picking up. At the end of the day I was struggling to find somewhere to put a tent, the land was either steep hillside and covered in trees, or flat and covered in cows. I passed a wide green track leading away from the road, so asked the farmer if I could camp there. It was no problem, he told me the best place to camp and even filled me in on the local sights I would pass tomorrow. The area was just perfect, right next to a river where I had a cool bathe and did my washing. I sat by my tent thinking just how lucky I was, the warmth of the sun on my back, lush green grass running down to a pretty little stream. Like the farmer I was very happy with my lot, I felt so at home with the simplicity of life at the moment. I poured over my map decided on which way to head towards Sydney when I heard heavy footsteps to my right. I looked up, "Oh shit!!!" a bull was stood looking at me and no more than 10m away, all his bully friends were 30m back in a little huddle egging him on "Go on, go on, just head straight for him at full speed, it'll be such a laugh". I thought about my sister Mally, what would she do in this situation? By now she would have been over the fence and out of the field, good idea, I will do that. But my brain was working faster than my body, that wouldn't solve my problem, my bed was still in the field. So I decide to take a red rag to a bull, otherwise known as my best T-shirt that I was wearing. I walked straight towards it arms out wide and thankfully it proved to be a bigger wimp than me and turned and ran, it mates ran too and soon I had got them all out of my "bedroom" and shut the gate.

It was a warm night, but despite there being no rain that I was aware of I packed away a very wet tent. Yesterday I passed through Gloucester, today I made my way through Newcastle and Swansea and passed near to Cardiff and Toronto. Newcastle was just industrial, coal gets brought here, then shipped out to Japan. I was now back on the Pacific Highway, it was busy, though the first place I checked as a camping spot was just about perfect, about a kilometre from the road and nice and quiet. I soon discovered it was far from perfect, I was close to a lake and deep in mossie territory, hungry mossies, all delighted to have found dinner.

I set off the following morning knowing I had an easy ride into Sydney, oops, bit of a mistake that one. I passed through the busy town of Gosford, then the road climbed. All the traffic went down the Freeway, cycles weren't allowed, I had to continue on the Pacific Highway, which was closed. Thankfully a detour got me around the closure, only to met by another. This time I moved the barriers and carried on through, it meant I had the road to myself, a nice twisty road through the hills with views at time over the river. I reached Hornsby, the edge of Sydney where I expected it to flatten out, wrong again. I avoided what I thought was a motorway and ended up on a very hilly route towards the centre. Navigation was easy until I neared the Harbour Bridge, then there wasn't a single useful sign. I eventually got there to find it closed to cycles, but by asking around I was directed to the cycle path at the side. At the start of the cycle path was a sign that said "Uneven surface - Take Care". That was a bit of an under statement as it went up 5 flights of steps, lugging 50kg up it was not my idea of fun. The cycle path was on the wrong side of the bridge to see the Opera House, I could just see the top couple of metres of it. For the last 19 months I have had visions of crossing the bridge looking across to the Opera House, what a let down. I then had to make my way to the Eastern suburbs where I would be Couch Surfing with Henrietta, I just had the address, no direction, my map didn't help that much. At last I got there, far later than expected, Etta wasn't there, but her friends were.

I spent the next day chilling a little, then walking from Bronte beach to Bondi beach, then back to help out for the party Etta and her flatmate Morena were having. I am no party animal, especially when I don't even know anybody. It was a mini Sydney, very cosmopolitan with people from 9 different nations, there were even one or two Aussies. It was enjoyable, but very packed, about 50 people in the flat. I had set up my tent outside to make more room for others to stay over. Two things really hit home to me, firstly those I had met the previous evening seemed like good friends, it was good to be around them amongst so many strangers, and secondly when I eventually got into my little tent it felt huge, I had so much space, my space. Etta lives life to the full, a bit of a whirlwind, she had 3 hours sleep, then was off to work. But she and Morena want a Couch Surfing free few days before Christmas and who can blame them, so I will leave tomorrow morning, probably for a hostel somewhere. Just now the thought of a hostel full of drunks fills me with dread. I am very grateful for putting me up for a few days just before Christmas and been made very welcome, once again wondeful hospitality has come my way. Today being Sunday I made my way to the city and managed to ring at 4 towers for service, a bit of a dash. Simon from Armidale maintains the Anzab website and kindly put in a note that I may be visiting, it worked really well. As I turned up at the first tower and introduced myself I was greeted with "Wow, so you are this famous ringng cyclist". I am not sure I am famous, but it was a nice greeting.

So I have reached my intended destination, so what happens now? Well, regular readers of this will know that I asked for prayers for my sister Aoiffe back in June prior to her bone marrow transplant, and it was because of that that I would be heading home from Sydney. Well I have great news, it looks as though our prayers are being answered. The transplant has gone really well after some problems during the build up to it. Aoiffe now feels so much better and is really looking forward to Christmas. This time last year she wondered how she was going to get through each day. In fact she is even beginning to think about what she will do with her new life, a life that she could hardly dare to dream about. There is still a long way to go but the outlook is promising. Also as I have said before you can never tell what is around the corner in life. I expected to be heading home to help with looking after Aoiffe, but it seems that is not required. I have talked it through with her and have decided to carry on travelling, we are both very lucky, but in very different way, are dreams are continuing. So what will I be doing? Well, for some time now I have felt drawn to Tasmania, so that is where I am going to head, via Canberra and Melbourne, the along The Great Ocean Road and on to Adelaide. After that I will end up in North America and cycle across USA ending my trip at New York, well almost ending it there, I want the end to be back in Aylesbury where I set of from 19 months ago.

At the moment what lies ahead of me seems like pure bliss, I am sure it wont all work out quite like that. But that little quote has really made me think, may be it can be done. If you can find pure bliss in each moment then that is surely the route to true happiness, something I am sure we are all looking for, or at least should be.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Day 564 - Brisbane

On my day off in Maryborough I toured the town by bike, amongst other things I visited the birth place of P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, something I only found out about from the comments you have made on this blog. I was moved, and so was she, she was moved to London at about the age of 4 and by 12 she had started writing, her Mary Poppins book being picked up by Walt Disney. I also checked out the local engineering works where they build train engines and the rolling stock. The sheds were immaculate, you could have eaten you dinner off the floor. I took a few photos of the new carriages that were effectivley on the open road, and that made the security suspicious. "What are you doing?" they asked, "I am taking photos" I replied, "Why?" they asked. I always find that difficult to answer for some reason "Because I like taking photos. Shouldn't I be taking photos?", "No, it's not allowed". Mrs Security Guard took out a mobile phone and started to take photo of me, "Hang on" I said "She's taking a photo, shouldn't you be stopping her?", "No, she is staff" came the unamused reply. On the last night Michael heard that I liked sausages and cooked up a selection, along with mashed potato, that went down a treat. We were all treated to a view in the night sky (photo), something that I don't think was visible in the northern hemisphere. It's Venus, Jupiter and that big thing, all very close together. Apparently it only happens once every 2000 years, and I was informed that the last time it happened was at the birth of Jesus, and that these were the stars that led the 3 wise men to the stable. Once again, leaving my couch surfing hosts turned out to be a late start. Besides the fact that it would be rude to leave as early as I normally start, I also find it very difficult as I socialise over a breakfast with wonderful people who very quickly become friends. Maria and Michael had been terrific hosts, I felt totally comfortable, there place was mine for a couple of days. Before I set off Maria printed off a route from the internet to make life easier for me, I was sorry to go. Finding my way out of Maryborough was easy, at last I was off the Bruce Highway, the roads were quiet and once away from the town I didn't see another building for about 60km. It started off flat through pine forest, but suddenly the hills returned. I stopped for lunch, pre packed by Maria, including the sausages left over from last night as well as apricots and a mango, it made a lovely change. Eventually I joined the road that runs from Gympie to Tin Can Bay, a bigger road than I had been on yet it was a dead end road, I was back in traffic. As I stopped in Gympie and asked direction to a supermarket a cop car stopped in front and the two police women queued up patiently behind the person I was talking to, did they know a better route perhaps? No, I had guessed right, they were the helmet police, they offered me a $75 fine, so I chose to go with wearing the helmet. I rejoined the Bruce Highway, a shock to the system, plenty of traffic again, though I pulled off after about 4km and camped for the night.

I had another 40km on the Bruce Highway before turning off and heading for Noosa Heads at the top of the Sunshine Coast. It looked a really nice route on the map, beside lakes and rivers and through a couple of little towns. How deceptive maps can be at times, it couldn't have been further from the truth, I saw water just once, there were new roads everywhere, new roundabouts, most without signposts, it reminded me of Milton Keynes. I went down a steep hill, probably the steepest I have experienced in Oz, I was shifting, belting down at 76kph, just a tad slower than the rest of the traffic, yet still they squeezed past and filled my safety gap. I moved out to block them off completely which meant they sat on my backside, hand on the horn. Some Australian drivers have about as much road sense as a kangeroo, a dead kangeroo, a live one would win hands down. I reached the Sunshine Coast and made my way south beside the sea, not that I could see it most of the time, the prime spots had been built on and hogged the beaches, there were one or two nice spots though. I pulled over into a free camp area. Come evening there were constant flashes and the sound of distant thunder. A guy nearby suggested I stop under the shelter, it would be safer, "No, it's alright" I said, "It will probably miss us altogether". Why do I open my big mouth, will I never learn? Just minutes later it closed in on use, there were flashed every 2 to 3 seconds followed by enormous claps of thunder, one was incredibly close and I don't mind admitting I shit myself! Knowing the storms they had endured recently in Brisbane with about 150 houses totally demolished and numerous roofs ripped off, I felt very vulnerable with a couple of bits of nylon held down by a few pegs, the only thing between me and the power of nature. It rained, but thankfully the thing I feared the most, the wind, never materialised, I was able to sit it out in the tent, though I was mighty glad when it seemed to go back in the direction it came from.

The run into Brisbane would have been an easy one, though I took a large detour. I passed Australia Zoo, going along Steve Irwin Way. It seems that you are only great when you are dead. I made my way to Redcliffe, it sort of stuck out into the sea and I was drawn by the very long bridge heading out of it towards Brisbane. By heck it was posh. The first part I went through was very exclusive, each house with their own jetty in the back garden, not the sort of place you would even think about moving to if you only have one yacht. Most of it was right by the sea, beautifully maintained and very peaceful, yeah, I could live there. Down that part of the coast I managed to cycle from Scarborough to Margate in about 30 minutes, on the back roads too! From there heading into the centre of Brisbane was really easy. I crossed over the river via Story Bridge then used Maria's route to guide me to Camp Hill and my next family to couch surf with. It was hilly, short sheep hills and when I arrived there was no answer. I did what most cyclists would have done, sat on the front lawn and had something to eat. Just as I did so Jill and her 6 year old son Joe arrived home. Joe managed to find one of the more unusual questions I have been asked "Does that bike float?", "No, and nor do I!" As soon as Jill spoke I knew she was from England, but I have forgotten the accents, I couldn't place it, but when she told me she was from York I wondered how I could possibly forget it. I was given coffee by the swimming pool as Joe and friends dived in, then her eldest son Charlie arrived, the family being complete when Ady arrived home from work later, Ady is from Leeds. I looked through the books on the bookshelf and suddenly realised that I have changed in the last 18 months. There were all sort of books, including travel books that I always used to go for, but I was drawn immediately to a book called Power Freedom and Grace by Deepak Chopra. In the past I may have looked at it, but would have put it back thinking "I am not reading that load of old tosh". But it captured me right from the start with "To experience grace is to find ourselves in the right place at the right time, to have support of the laws of nature, or 'good luck'". Now that's funny, because I had been thinking alot about that sort of thing recently, and I do consider myself to be very lucky, very lucky to be staying with this lovely family for example. But I also think how did that come to be, how did I manage to be in the right place at the right time. You can trace my route to this house, this family, this book, by going a long way back in this trip. For example, I am here couch surfing, something Nick, who I met in Singapore had told me about, but I wouldn't have met Nick if I hadn't met my good friend and French cyclist Clement, who kept me in Penang, Malaysia and forced beer down my neck for 5 days, but I wouldn't have met Clement if I had been stuck for 10 days in Bago, Myanmar, having had all my money stolen, and so I could go on. My experiences in Myanmar didn't seem good at the time, but now I wonder, may be it was good luck after all. And so I could keep going back with people I have met and incidents that have occured that have made the passage of time be as it has. I left Aylesbury on 24th May 2007, but if I had left on the 23rd or 25th the journey would have been a completely different one. Sure I would probably have passed through the same countries, but I would have met a completely different set of people and had different experiences, I would probably not have met Judith and Andre, the 2 German cyclists, on a side street in Istanbul and later spent 3 months on the road with them. It makes you think doesn't it?

Come Friday Jill took a yoga class and invited me along "You must be joking, I am so unsupple that I can't even get anywhere near touching my toes" and demonstrated. She then did the same and I was amazed as her body just folded in half and her head just about touch the floor. But I did go along, I will try anything once, apart from bungee jumping. It was good, it hurt, but the relaxation bit at the end was great, it was a shame to have to move again. In the afternoon Joe and even more friends were having fun in the pool. One little lad, Seth, couldn't swim and was quite frightened, but another mother, Jet I think her name was, went in and through her confidence and encouragement she was getting him to swim, it was amazing to watch. Seth was last out of the pool and very reluctantly at that. The following day I got the bus into town, I thought I had walked my socks off until I realised I hadn't worn any for the last year. The city centre is really nice, right down to the modern motorway that runs right by/over the river, but it is such a far cry from the outback that I may as well be on a different planet. Brisbane has to be one of the few city centres where you can sit on a beach and go rock climbing. Ok, so the beach is man made, but the riverside cliffs aren't. Sunday I was up and out far too early, but I was on a mission, I wanted to ring both set of bells in the city. I managed it too, a ring of 6 followed by the 10 at the Cathederal. I was even invited back to ring at the special service they were having at 3pm for the people that had donated towards the $38m worth of rebuilding that has just been completed. It's odd, but everybody here complains about the hot sticky summer heat, but to me it seems so cool and comfortable after Darwin and the outback.

So Tuesday I head south from Brisbane for the 960km journey to Sydney. The harbour bridge and opera house have been icons in my head almost the whole time I have been on this journey, but after just 10 more days of cycling they become reality. Wow! What a thought.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Day 558 - Maryborough

WARNING: This posting contains coloquial Australian and should not be read before 9pm. If you may be offended by strong language, please switch to another blog.

Still with me....good. The day I left Rockhampton I decided to leave at 8am, a late start, but I had breakfast with Monika and Samuel and 8am slipped past easily, so it was 9:15 before I got away. I consider myself very lucky to be traveling and meeting so many good, kind people, people that provide me with such wonderful hospitality, expecting nothing back in return, it's uplifting, I can tell you. Finding my way out of Rockhampton was easy, I had only just left the town when I got a hard whack in the right side of the head, just above the ear "Shit! what the #!@% was that?". Seconds later squawking and flapping around my left ear told me I had been hit beak first by a very agressive Magpie, this one knew all the tricks in the book and was using them, for a couple of hundred metres I had to watch for traffic from in front and behind as well as keeping a close eye on my attacker and ducking and the last moment. Magpies are becoming a real pain in the arse, as well as the head, so if there are any magpies reading this, in future make your nests further away from the roads you plonkers! I was passing through cattle land, a railway at my side. Trains passed every one a whopper. One passed, then stopped, so I measured it at 1499m, 1.5km, wow! Imagine the fun we would have at home with trains that long, "Due to circumstances beyond our control this train will be arriving 1 hour later than scheduled. 2nd class passengers at the rear of the train will be 2 hours late.", or perhaps "The train leaving Euston platform 2 is about to arrive in Reading. Those passengers wishing to disembark at Reading should walk to the front of the train". Ok, so the ones here are goods trains. The day was overcast and warm, perfect cycling conditions, it didn't matter that I had set out late, I could cycle through the afternoon in comfort. For the next 3 evenings I had decided to try 3 free campsites, not matter what they were like, good or bad, to get a feel for what they are really like. The first one was a gem, right beside a large river with only about 6 aother caravans there. Once the tent was set up I just sat there and contemplated life, I felt totally content, a great feeling.

The morning dawned as the previous day had finished, overcast, so another perfect day for cycling. The terrian was becoming more hilly through woodland where I passed more signs for Koalas, but never saw any. I arrived at campsite at about 2pm, very different to the previous night. It was beside the road, but I could tuck myself far enough away to be comfortable, there was already a camper van and a caravan here . As I was about to set up the tent the old guy from the camper van came over, he was only about 50m away, but it took him about 2 minutes to walk across, he looked very frail, I hoped he would reach me as I had just seen an ambulance sign say it was 37km and I didn't fancy going that far with him strapped to the back on the bike. "Are you thinking of camping there?" he asked, all gums, I don't think he had a single tooth left, "Yes, I think so" I replied. "There is going to be a really fucking bad storm tonight, if I were you I would sleep in the shelter over there, you wont even have to put your tent up and the lights are on all fucking night". It still surprises me just how bad the language is of some of the Aussies, especially in the older generations, this guy would have been well into his 80s. "Where are you from?" he asked "England", "Fucking India?", "No, England", "Yeah, India", "No England, UK", "Where?", "The UK", by now I am pretty much shouting, his hearing isn't that great "What?", "The UK, you know Great Britain", "Great where?", "Sydney" I said, "I come from Sydney". He changed the subject "I travel on my own, it's the only way to travel". No sooner had he left than the old guy from the caravan came over, probably in his 70s, but spritely in comparison, "You are not going to camp there are you?", "I was thinking I would, yes, why?", "Have you got a fucking death wish or something", "No, what's the problem?" I asked, "Never...NEVER camp under a fucking gum tree, they just fall down and you are fucking gone.See that big one over there, well all the branches have fallen off. I have seen big trees like that on dead still days, they just fall over, for no fucking reason at all. You are better off over there under the mango trees". That was right beside the 2 vans, I didn't fancy that, so I said, "It's ok, I will take the risk", "Well, leave a note with somebody because you will be fucking dead by the morning, there is going to be a fucking storm tonight". "Well if I die I will leave everything to you", "What the fuck am I going to do with a bike, me lungs are fucked, I smoke too much. That's my father over there, he is fucking 93. Wants to die on the road he does". Well if he drives like he walks his wish will undoubtedly come true, I just hope he doesn't take to many with him when he goes. So I ended up camping there under the gum trees. After a while I fancied a chat, a little more entertainment, so I wandered over and before I had even got to the younger guy "There is going to be a really fucking bad storm tonight. There are only 2 things that frighten me when I am camping." "What's that?" I asked, "Camping under gum trees and fucking snakes. One came out of the bush one, one of the most deadly in Australia, if you get bitten by them you need to get to the...well, there is no point, you are fucking dead. It was a fucking huge cunt, BANG!, I shot the bastard. It was over 8 feet long. For a laugh I took it into the local bar and said 'Does anybody know what one of these are called?', well you have never seen a bar empty so fucking fast in your life". We chatted about all sorts, he was Major Ron Warwick (photo), and proud of the Major bit. We talked about various things, spiders was another topic. I asked about the dangerous and common red backs. He went into his van and came out with one, in fact he gave it to me, thankfully set in plastic like a paper weight. "That's a big bastard mind, they aren't usually that big". (You can see it in the photo album). When I took a photo of him he said, "Don't get too close, you will break the fucking camera". "Where are you heading?" he asked, "Brisbane" I told him, "Well it's a fucking good job you weren't there 2 weeks ago, they had a fucking terrible storm, hail the size of fucking golf balls, outside of town the hail was the size of fucking cricket balls". It's true, they have been battered by the worst storms in 25 years though I am not sure about the hail bit, 150 houses have had to be totally demolished, 100s of others are badly damaged. I always seem to miss the really bad weather, it's always just before or just after me. Somebody's dog peed on my tent, but I just let it go ahead, it was a big male Rottwieler, I fancied it jaws around my legs even less than a Magpies beak in the head. Thanksfully the owner came over and washed it off without being asked.

By morning it turned out that the Major had been right and wrong. There had been a storm overnight, lots of thunder lightening and rain, but I was still alive. I checked the gum trees, they were all still standing, though despite no wind lots of twigs and bark had fallen, I will heed his advice in future if the weather looks bad. I stopped for a break, it was Saturday and the roads were pretty quiet. Once on the go again vehicles started to pass, they just kept coming and coming, constantly for about 20 minutes. Lorries thundered past inches away, not the slightest drop in speed, it was like being on a busy road in Britain, but at least traffic slow at home. Even a passing police car waved at me to get off the road, I yelled back "WHAT?" and carried on. To me that summed up the attitude to cyclists over here, and probably the same attitude is the reason for so many roadside crosses on roads that are not really that busy. It was terrible, I hated it. In Gin Gin I stopped at a garage for water and asked why it was so busy, there had been a bad accident further back at Miriam Vale and the road had just been reopened. For the first time since near Katherine I passed a cyclist heading the other way, he was Terry from England. He was heading for Darwin, everything looked brand new and bought from Halfords. He had a mountain bike with all the luggage on the back, no water bottles on the bike. He was a character though. He wanted to catch a snake and eat it, so he asked for my advice, so I told him how to open a tin of beans instead. He also wanted to wrestle with a croc. Well the freshwater ones aren't too bad, they wont attack humans, but I still didn't fancy his chances. He seemed ill equiped to get through the outback, but fully equiped for a grand adventure. He had no stove, so I asked him how he managed and it turned out his favourite food were the fruit cakes available at Woolies and Coles. I love them too, I always carry one and it will last me about 4 days. The 3rd free camp area I would not normally have stopped at, little more than a village park, but I had said I would to gain the full experience. I was latched onto by a guy, he was just passing originally and visited me 3 times overall, I thought he would never go, but the 3rd time he brought me a great big pile of chips, I scoffed the lot.

At dawn there were 3 other vans nearby, I hadn't realised I had company. The sun was shining, the sky clear. I soon passed through the sleepy town of Childers, well it was 7am on Sunday morning. Childers is where in 2000 there was a fire at a Backpackers Hostel that tragically killed 15 people. Whilst still in town it happened again...."Ow shit!" This time I got both sets of claws from a Magpie in the back of the head, I wasn't even wearing a buff this time. Generally I love the birdlife here and the sound of the Kookaburra laughing is like no other bird I have ever heard. I still search them out when I hear them laughing, but as yet haven't seen them, though I have this vision of them rolling around on their backs, claws holding their stomachs as they shout out "Stop, stop, it's hurting me". The road had been hilly for the last few days, but now it was flatter, I was passing through planted forest for the first time. I had intended to visit Hervey Bay, but in the end couldn't be bothered with the 50km detour, so I made my way straight to Maryborough, where I am couch surfing with Maria & Michael, their daughter Gen and dog Harry. I arrived early, about 12:00 and was soon glad of it as the afternoon was vert hot and still. They live in a wonderfull Queenslander house (photo), about 100 years old, that is old for Australia. It's a wonderful house and I had been really keen to stay in one of these houses. It's all wooden, single storey, but on stilts giving a huge storage/general area underneath that is lovely and cool as a light breeze goes underneath. Once again I was instantly made so welcome. So what was the reason for me coming here. I loved some of the suggestion you gave me in your comments, but Aoiffe, the cuddly Koala place is in Brisbane, and Jacs and Nick, I had no idea about the Mary Poppins connection, but now I know I shall go and visit thingy-me-bobs birth place a little later on. S got it right, it is the first bellringing tower that I have passed since crossing the channel. Maria had found out that ringing was at 5 tonight rather than 6 due to the Christmas concert in front of the town hall at 6pm. Maria and her friend Helen took me into town, but there was no ringing at all as the tower captain was involved in the concert, but I got to see inside. On the lower floor of the detached tower was a museum about the bells with CCTV of the ringing chamber and bell chamber, all immaculate, inside and out. Then another ringer turned up and I did get a little ring on just 3 of the 8. Maryborough is also the first place in Australia to have bells installed, cast in England and shipped out, the boat sank in storms on the way back. We went to the outdoor concert afterwards. Maria and Michael are heavily involved in the local community, it seemed that everybody that passed knew her, I was the honoured guest, so there was plenty of hand shaking. I was taken for a tour of the town in the car to get back just in time for the fireworks, then it was back home for a curry cooked by Michael. And what's more, all this hospitality is provided when they leave in just 7 days time themselves for a 12 month trip to Europe. They will be in England next November, so hopefully I can return their hospitality.

So tomorrow I am off again, just a short 3 day hop to Brisbane where I will be couch surfing again. There are a couple of bell towers there too, in fact the Cathederal has a ring of 10 that has started ringing 3 weeks ago after being out of action for years due to tower/roof maintenance, so may be that will make up for missing a full ring at Maryborough. Brissie will be the first big city since Jakarta, I think I am in for a shock.