"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 top....it 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.