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The "Matthew Flinders"
is the roll-on roll-off ferry connecting Flinders Island with
Tasmania and Victoria. Got on the boat at 1:40am after being told
to be there at midnight - tired & cold. A howling westerly
blowing meant 4m+ seas, forcing the Devil Cat ferry to
Melbourne's cancellation. We "camped" (sat in our
sleeping bags) in passenger's rather basic quarters below deck.
The freight gets priority on this boat. The trip started out
quite rough, and then got very rough. We kept hearing the ships'
hull crashing into ocean. After about 90 minutes of this, felt
strangely hungry. I was wrong. Linda and I (and most of the other
passengers) took turns at bringing up dinner, then lunch, then
breakfast. Having never been motion sick in my life, this was a
strange and slightly surprising event. Mind you, we were sailing
in the storm which preceded the one that skittled most of the
1998 Sydney to Hobart fleet, and there was a lot of motion. The
morning was calmer, and we sat in sun on the top deck watching
the islands sail by.
While cooking dinner on the gas
stove in the converted miners quarters of the Mt Lyell mining
company in Queenstown, I heard a load bang accompanies by flames
shooting from the cooker. While my first concern was for the well
being of the dinner, I belatedly realised I came rather close to
being incinerated. There was all this brown ashy stuff sprinkled
down my left leg, and a rather pungent smell of burnt hair that
is, I hope, not usually characteristic of my cooking.
Hastings Caves and the Thermal
Pool were the closest we got to Tasmania's South West National
Park. The national parks run a tourist cave exhibition of
hastings cave. Our tour was with forty other tourists including,
kids, grannies, babies, teenagers and a bus load of Russians. The
40 minute tour took over an hour, most of which was spent queuing
for a glimpse of the degraded and somewhat disappointing
formations. The commentary of the tour guide was probably very
interesting and informative, but I didn't get to hear too much of
it over the screaming kids, gossiping grannies and the constant
yabber from the Russians. Maybe it was just the CO2 levels in the
cave, but I left with headache and a resolution never to return.
The thermal pool was just a swimming pool with spring fed water.
It was filled with running, screaming, splashing and bombing
kids, and had a yellowish tinge that made me doubt the source of
the pool's thermals.
Since reaching the "arid region" north of Port
Augusta it rained on us every day in South Australia one way or another. Sometimes
this can be refreshingly pleasant. At 4:00am when you haven't bothered to put
the tent fly on and the bucketing downpour corresponds with a 80km wind burst,
it's quite a challenge. After the first few drops of rain I got out to put the
tent fly on. Too late. For fifteen minutes in extreme wind and stinging torrential
horizontal rain I clutched stark naked at the tent fly trying to keep at least
a tiny portion of it covering the tent. Linda was in the tent holding down the
corners trying to stop it blowing away. Everything was pretty wet, especially
me. It's the first and last time I'd felt cold since leaving Victoria. Five
minutes after the rain stopped, it was back to still, dry and stinking hot.
On the long stretches between
anything in central Australia, often the only water comes from
bores sunk into the great artesian basin. This bore water has a
horrible calcium taste. It's a bit like someone's put some milk
in it, though not quite that nice.
We'd been warned that he people
the Mary River Roadhouse are extremely rude, and we should get
what we need & go. Someone had gone to the trouble of
grafittiing a sign on the approach road "Don't go there,
very bab place, Good Luck!". Sure enough, as predicted the
old crone running the place was stopping the German tourists'
from using the toilets before they were customers, and mocking
their stupidity (i.e. limited English) to boot. She was far more
interested in stopping these non-customers using the loo than
serving the others in the party with their wallets open waiting
to buy things. "Their" public phone was inside where
they could keep an eye on it (a friend of ours was recently
kicked out of the roadhouse for using it to call internationally
with a 1800 phone card), and a system of mirrors ensured no
customer could remain obscured from supervision. We bought a
ridiculously overpriced packet of biscuits and a soft drink, then
asked if there was anywhere we could get some water. After
tactfully pointing out they had drinking water, she said we
couldn't have any. "The river's just down there". The
river was a stagnant green swamp with "Don't Risk your Life,
Estuarine Crocodiles" signs. Linda was somewhat grudgingly
allowed to the use the loo. It was putrid. Obviously they never
clean it. We left quickly so as not to be thrown out for not
thanking them. I'm sure it's happened. Talking to the rangers at
the entrance station (they get a lot of complaints), it seems
they manage to offend just about everyone who turns up at
"the roadhouse from hell". You don't even need to go in
there. Recently someone was chased away for parking on the road
out the front. The rangers reckon the place will be a gold mine
once the "Under New Management" signs go up, and the
offended tour bus drivers stop there again.
After over four hours of fairly
tedious riding, we were still 35km short of Coral Bay when a
metallic snapping sound preceded a piece of metal flying from my
bike. Linda stopped to recover it, but I had other things on my
mind. My handlebars had discovered a new freedom allowing them to
move independently of the front wheel. My first though was how on
earth are we going get that repaired out here? My second thought
was given I could no longer change gear, brake or steer, how on
earth was I going to stop without braking my arm? Through good
luck rather than good management I somehow brought my bike to a
stop with me still in the saddle. Fortunately the Coral Bay car
repair shop (a caravan with a business sign and a few tools) had
a vaguely compatible replacement, but getting there was rather
uncomfortable. I had to ride 30km holding my stem.
The roadhouses have a real
"screw you for everything we can" attitude that bugs me
not a little. After a very long day in the saddle to Cocklebiddy
we stayed in a "budget" motel room and ate at their
restaurant. Supposedly this soften the attitude of the roadhouse
operators to things like giving cyclists water. When paying for
our meal and various other odds and sods we'd bought, I queried
why the bill was $4 over the listed price for the items.
"Oh, that's for your water".
Sometimes we can hear them,
sometimes we can see them planning their attacks, but when they
start their bombing runs our attention is switched from the
genuine potential killers (cars) to the the wannabes, the
magpies. At one point we had a whole squadron attacking us
simultaneously. "Incoming" one of us would scream,
hoping to lock our radar on him and apply counter measures. We
found a short sharp growling yell as they get close usually
shocks them enough to abort their attack, at least for a little
while. They much prefer to fly towards an unprotected head than
raised fist. One particularly savage bird made a few not entirely
unsuccessful attempts to peck holes in my helmet at Khancoban.
The little bugger even waited for half an hour outside the local
milk bar to have second go at me. I got even though. I donned my
armor (bike helmet) and casually wandered out onto the street he
was patrolling to do battle. When he thought the coast was clear
he started his "surprise" attack. He got within three
metres of me before I turned, yelled and threw my fist at him.
This literally scared the crap out of him, and he retreated to a
nearby car roof and later to a far tree as I gave him a full
frontal baton charge. David 1, magpies 37.
The last day riding into Sydney should have been
a triumphant climax to a wonderful trip. I guess it was always likely to have
been something of an anti-climax, but several changes to our home city made
things even less pleasant than anticipated. Steroid enhanced Local Area Traffic
Management for example. Linda didn't really want to do the ride in the first
place, which is understandable as we'd already arrived at her childhood home
the day before. The final day was summed up when we turned towards a park and
a little footbridge that I used to short cut through on my way to work years
ago. The footbridge was still there but the park and the easy access across
the creek was replaced by the M5 freeway extension construction work. Motorists
were getting angry they couldn't pass me as I screamed through a 25kph chicane
at 40kph. After belting through a long and particularly tricky intersection,
I spotted a car appearing from a blind spot as we approached a give way sign.
Linda didn't see the car, nor the give way sign, nor me applying the brakes
for a panic stop, resulting in our first and only bingle of the trip. Linda
wasn't too happy with me when I rather unfairly blamed her for the crash, and
we were barely talking while taking the ceremonial photographs at the finish.
The moral is if you plan a bike odyssey, don't plan on returning home.