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.


dad said...

Well John you have been doing just what I have been doing lately. No, not cycling, but reflecting on the way mny life has been guided by circumstances not anticipated. My reflections on life go back much further though. How the route my life was taking changed at 11,14 and 18 years of age. And how I avoided certain death once and serious accident twice, by fractions of a second. The only reason I weas in the right place at the right time throughout my life was down to something much greater than mere dates. Think about it.

aoiffe said...

Having followed your travels with the aid of a world atlas it feels very different now you are in australia; the place names are crowded together along the coast and there is less of the feeling that you are travelling remotely.

Phil is of course jealous of the surfing opportunities that you are no doubt allowing to pass you by. He says that if you would like to pay his air fare he is fairly sure he could find the time to come out and give you a few surfing lessons.

John Harwood said...

Actually Aoiffe, I have moved a few km inland and been taken by surprise at just how remote it is here, to the extent that on the last two nights I have had to stop without enough water to camp with. I should have learned my lesson on the first night, but to do it again the following night was a bit silly.

Tony said...

Plenty of entertaining intellectual demands! Eg, still trying to work out which way up the moon is/which way it "slants"/which way up I am (and whether I slant).

Then there's thinking about the infinity of things, good and bad, which didn't quite happen!

Maria said...

Hey John - so glad you got to Brisvegas (as us country folk call it) safely and found another good couchsurfing experience.
We have arrived in your part of the world to the winter cold and short short days! Experiences that are giving us plenty to think of.
Safe travels our friend and maybe we can meet in the mother land some time in 09.
Michael & Maria