As a cycle tripper, people often ask me, “Aren’t you afraid of trucks or robbers or snakes or whatever?” Lions and tigers and bears, essentially — mythical fears.
The question often surprises me because I think my greatest fear is enslavement by fear.
This dawned on me this morning as i was commuting from the lake where i’ve set up camp, to Kerang where i come to work.
I remembered the question and thought, Sure i’m a little bit afraid of those things — i have a natural and healthy wariness of them. But i cycle because i value freedom, i camp because i cherish nature as a cathedral, and i trust people because i’m a philanthrope — i love humanity.
The alternative, which i experienced for a decade in publishing and i guess the twenty years before that, is no longer tenable to me.
The alternative to freedom is the enslavement of fear.
No thanks! I’ll try my luck with the lions and tigers and bears.
Standing outside the supermarket inhaling a chocolate bar, a woman called Gale approached me and said, “You must have been in town all day — we saw you riding about earlier.”
Indeed, i had spent the afternoon at the library, and was always intending to stay the night somewhere in Kerang to met with Max and his friends by 8:30 the next morning at the clock tower. Talking with Gale about where i might camp the night, it slowly dawned on us that of course i should call Max, so that’s what i did.
That night, sitting around Max’s kitchen table with my tent set up in his vegetable garden, he reckoned there was nothing much worth seeing on the Quamby loop, and that even if i did make it all the way up to Ouyen, it would be a two-day hike through sand if i wanted to get to the pink lakes.
I really want to see the pink lakes, and a two-day hike would not be beyond me if i had the right equipment. Alas, i do not.
So we brainstormed and i decided i would explore another idea i’ve been entertaining for a while: camping outside a town and commuting in to use the library/pub/cafe as my office.
So that’s what i’m doing now, but not before i joined Max and his friends on the long way to and from Barham — a 75km team ride, averaging about 30km an hour.
Such an average is a new personal best for me, but it’s really not a personal best when you achieve something like this in a team.
I bounced at the end, doing burnouts around the clock tower. It was a clean fall and i felt remarkably zen about stacking it into the gutter. After i picked myself up and dusted myself off, it was a chance to feel the body go through its natural response to a mild trauma, shaking and wobbling and generally letting go of the fright — and then, of course, getting straight back in the saddle.
Curiously (and perhaps sadly), stacking my bike makes me feel more alive than most other mundane activities. What a brilliant end to a magical day.
And now i’m at the Exchange Hotel in Kerang, standing up at a perfect-height bench-desk, about to knuckle down on the typesetting i couldn’t finish on Friday, my tent holding the fort down at Lake Merange.
I’m heading out from Barham tomorrow. I’ve had a great couple of weeks here, but it’s time to get my legs on again. Before i go i’ve got some typesetting corrections to finish, which just arrived. So it could be a late night, but i usually can’t sleep before a tour anyway.
I’ve mapped out the following route, which i will probably discard within the first day. I like making maps more than i enjoy following them:
At around 400 km it’s not the longest ride you ever heard of, and i’ll be stopping at Kerang for a day to ride with Max and his friends, and i will stop around Ouyen to see the pink lakes at Murray Sunset National Park.
The only other relevant details about the trip at this time are that i will be visiting one town called Quambatook and another town called Chinkapook. No doubt everyone along the way will call me a nincompoop — not because i am stupid, but because they lack imagination and a sense of adventure. It can get a little frustrating out there that i am seen to be such a novelty. But then it gets me free steaks from time to time.
I am aiming to arrive in Swan Hill around the 21st of March to join a host family there who need help on their organic garlic farm. Check out helpx.net if you’re interested in exploring work-exchange as a way to travel cheap.
Because i’m a cyclist, i will forgive you for thinking this is going to be a whinge post. Titled like that — just: drivers, like all my fellow cyclists will just understand i had a dodgy encounter with a driver today.
Well, today a driver hailed me as i shot through Koondrook on the way to some open roads where i could open up my legs and lungs. First i looked around like a guy who can’t believe the beautiful girl is waving at him. And then i stopped because i thought he might be in trouble — i hadn’t got as far as wondering what i was going to do if he was.
He wasn’t in trouble. He just wanted to chat. He’s a cyclist himself and has been looking to meet other cyclists.
This bloke, an Aussie fella who repairs windshields for a living, must have seen me coming, pulled over onto the shoulder, and hopped out of his car just to hail me down for a chat.
What a legend.
So a bunch of his crew are riding out from the clock tower on Saturday morning at 8:30, which is perfect because i’ve been planning on hitting the road from Barham tomorrow anyway — i’ll camp outside Kerang for the night, and get up ripe and early to go riding with some local crew.
Wanna lose weight but don’t want to diet? I recommend The Poverty Plan. All you need to do is recklessly disregard your Centrelink appointments to the point where your payments are cut off, allow your freelancing infrastructure to degrade to the point of inoperation, and do a lot of long-distance cycling or hard physical labour in exchange for whatever food your host has to offer. Works a charm.
The self-described “reformed chain smoker” on the subject of chain maintenance:
Chain maintenance is one of the most controversial aspects of bicycle mechanics. Chain durability is affected by riding style, gear choice, whether the bicycle is ridden in rain or snow, type of soil in the local terrain, type of lubricant, lubrication techniques, and the sizes and condition of the bicycle’s sprockets. Because there are so many variables, it has not been possible to do controlled experiments under real-world conditions. As a result, everybody’s advice about chain maintenance is based on anecdotal “evidence” and experience. Experts disagree on this subject, sometimes bitterly. This is sometimes considered a “religious” matter in the bicycle community, and much vituperative invective has been uttered in this regard between different schismatic cults.
in which i discuss pooing and Buddhism with one breath
I just used my hands and a teaspoon to dig a hole in someone’s yard so i could take a dump, like some humanoid-cat-dog hybrid. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I am also sun-drying mushrooms on Massive’s back rack because they began to attract ants and sweat inside their stupid-plastic container. They were already reduced for quick sale. Should i eat them? I don’t know. Dodgy mushrooms have a bad reputation. I was going to make mushroom dhal.
This experience (the pooing one) is something that i’m proud of when, according to society’s standards of respectability, i should feel ashamed.
I feel proud because a vague reason i’m doing this Berri to Somewhere cycle tour is i knew it would force me to be more resourceful than i generally am. Also, one of my main men, Milan Kundera, convinced me long ago that we need to start talking about poo if we can ever hope to escape a life of kitsch.
I wonder what it says about me that i should feel proud for shitting in someone’s backyard because it makes me feel resourceful. It is a vague consolation for me that part of this experience is also about exploring the idea of “respectability”, which is (sort of, i think) one of the Eight Worldly Concerns described in the Dhammapada and expounded upon at length by Osho.
a lesson learned by accident in South Australia’s famous wine region, the Barossa Valley
So i’m in the Barossa Valley by accident—i like to refer to these kinds of situations as ‘accidents’ not because they are actual accidents, but because they are a consequence of my ignorance. To people who asked, i said i was in Greece/Turkey by accident, because it was not something i planned—i mean i planned to go to Turkey (i did not fly there by accident), but i had planned to stay three weeks, not nine months. That was an accident in the same way the unplanned pregnancy of a loving couple is referred to as a ‘happy accident’. Accidentally being in the Barossa though, that just means i didn’t know Nuriootpa was part of the Barossa.
Of course, when in Rome … so i ran some errands in the morning and hit a few wineries this afternoon. I had a full day here because i made it from Adelaide in one day instead of two.
*everyone claps and throws me water and soggy cold chips*
On the recommendation of a guy working at Barista Sista on the main street, i first went to Dorrien to try the Buccaneer, a rum-and-raisin port aged in old rum barrels from Queensland. Because i’m a pirate.
The old place was built by the Seppelts family in the 1910s and the silos are still inside, now decorated with seven murals depicting a history of the region—Lutheran farmers escaping religious persecution in their European countries and deciding to flee here, where nothing harvestable is supposed to grow. On the theme of generations, the woman at the cellar door knows two of my aunties and used to live across the road from the general store my nan and pop used to run—one day in the South Australian countryside and i’ve met someone who knows my family.
For some reason today i’ve been feeling an unnecessary need to rush, so i hurried through an exhibit of decent landscape photography and moved on to the next recommendation, Artisans of Barossa, the combined cellar door of seven boutique wineries that are small enough to not warrant each having their own cellar door.
Standing there talking to the cellar-door guy and finding it hard to concentrate on the conversation at the same time as the delicate bouquet, i realised that the reason i couldn’t multi-task is i was trying to have a conversation with the wine as well as the guy—
i was trying to respond to what the wine had to say by responding with thoughts about the characteristics of its bouquet.
Essentially i was trying to label the scents and the flavours with ideas like ‘pepper’ and ‘plum’, ‘peach’ and ‘potato’—wanky stuff, ya know, but not because i am an actual wine wanker, more because that’s what my experience has conditioned me to believe should be done when tasting wine.
Instead, when i dropped trying to label the various intricacies of each wine (the way we’re trying to label the various intricacies of our physical existence by smashing the atom into smaller and smaller smithereens), i found that i was more able to just enjoy the general character of the wine—it’s character as a whole, i mean.
The same goes for meditation—we’re told often by teachers that we have just witness the thoughts and let them pass through, not labelling them, not judging them. It works—it makes life a lot more enjoyable to not sweat the small stuff all the time.
When we stop trying to label every thought, feeling, emotion and thing, we can start to just enjoy the general character of things.
But what i like most about this approach to wine-tasting our way through life is that even a wine that’s not very good can still be enjoyed, in the same way that maybe anger is not very pleasant, but still we can enjoy it if we just notice that sure, it has a pretty dodgy aftertaste, but soon that passes and you can move on to the next bouquet or emotional flurry or whatever you want to call it.
Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.
– H.G. Wells
I have borrowed my friend’s scooter for a few days and it’s funny, it’s such a piece of junk that twice at the top of two hills i had to jump off and push.
The old Greek men watching me come up the hill toward the café in the village might have found it amusing, but it’s hard to read anything in their listless gaze, which i now attribute to the likelihood they have not ridden a bicycle down that hill, let alone up, since childhood.
Presumably these blokes have observed me a few times riding another friend’s bicycle up the hill toward the village for the last few months, and when i cycle in places where cycling is not really done, i like to flatter myself as a sort of pioneer—riding around Phnom Penh on a fixie was a hoot, the kids loved it, squeezing the rock-hard tires and perhaps wondering why the white guy never stops pedalling.
Aside delusions of grandeur, i just love to cycle—so much so that what i miss most about staying here for nine months longer than intended is Massive, my steely stallion, currently tied up in Dad’s backyard.
But i don’t much feel like expending physical energy the last few days, though it’s fun, jumping off and relieving the poor motor of my weight and running, pushing the thing until it builds up enough speed that i can jump on again, side saddle until it stops again, repeat, and eventually i make it up the hlls i have been cycling up with relative ease these last few months.
And that’s my point, my case for bicycles—our legs are capable of expressing more energy than a small engine, with much less noise and pollution, and with many benefits for our health and well-being.
It hardly needs to be said, but after i saw those Greek men watching me putter up the hill i thought it might be worthwhile to make this case, because if those poor sallow blokes haven’t ridden a bicycle since childhood, at least they might have thought this morning, That weird hippy fella on the scooter would be better off with his bicycle.