Day 111: Sydney, NSW - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

December 15, 2014

Day 111: Sydney, NSW

When we think back on our time in Sydney, it won't be marked by the Opera House, or the harbor, or the golden sand of Bondi Beach. What we'll remember is walking and riding through the city to track down replacements for all of the parts and components that have worn down or fallen apart during the three months it took us to get here. Because we plan to avoid Australia's other major cities, Sydney is the last place we'll pass through until we reach Perth that's guaranteed to have everything we need, no matter how common or obscure. We're determined to make the most of our last full day in the city.

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Having spent so much time in rural New Zealand, and in rural America before that, the pace and sounds and textures of Sydney feel like a sea change. We walk through the kind of neighborhoods where every block has at least two hairdressers shops, which stand among gay bars, spas for pets, posh restaurants, and the kind of boutiques that sell such expensive clothes or shoes or ottomans that they don't list the prices. It's a world of short dresses and skirts, skinny ties, well-tailored suits, and yoga pants worn by attractive people who are all in such good shape that the clothes fit exactly how their designers intended. It's Porsche SUVs, Aston Martin sports cars, and road bicycles worth more than what I'll spend for everything it takes to travel on my touring bike for the next twelve months. It's designer dog breeds, vegan cupcakes, and million-dollar homes and condos.

The cost of an upscale Sydney breakfast: approximately eighty-four dollars.
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Today it's also a new chain, a new cassette, and a new middle chain ring for my bike. I hadn't replaced any of them since before the start of my attempted ride across America early last year, and didn't expect to until we finished cycling in Australia and returned home. But the wet and dirty highways and back roads of New Zealand placed a heavy amount of wear on the drive train, which in the mix of riding, sickness, volunteering, and switching countries I didn't pay enough attention to. The mechanic I talk to today does, and one close look at the chain stretch and the shark-toothed ring confirms how worn out everything has become. Luckily he has all of the parts I need in stock, and so less than two hours later I tear off down the streets of Sydney on a bike that's a lot less likely to fail in some terrible way and leave me stranded and feeling like an idiot in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain.

These seem so safe and smart and wonderful until the moment I realize that every car entering or leaving a driveway or turning onto a side street ignores them entirely. This makes them more like attractive little bike lanes of death.
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Even though a hostage crisis that has captured the attention of the international media rages in a cafe only twenty blocks from where we're staying, we have no problem boarding a train in the early evening and heading down to the Sydney waterfront. It's a strange place on this beautiful day. As we walk, seagulls screech and cry and then swoop down from overhead and pass no less than four feet above my head as they shoot by. Tourists with camera phones attached to three-foot-long plastic sticks try to capture poorly composed pictures of themselves with the iconic shape of the Opera House in the background. There's also the rapid-fire clip and clop of hard-soled shoes on brick and concrete as office workers run toward the docks to catch the ferry home with ties and jackets flapping in the breeze. The scene is watched over by dozens of police officers, who have been posted to watch for suspicious activity in light of the nearby hostage situation, but who mostly talk rugby and cricket as they patrol the quayside on foot.

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That iconic Sydney gelato.
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On the walk back to the hostel we travel along city blocks tunneled by the kind of buildings where people manage mutual funds, create SWOT analyses, sell reinsurance, develop actuarial tables, and trade New Zealand sheep futures. It makes us feel what we so often feel in large cities: that we could be anywhere, in any major city in the world, because aside from differences in weather they're all more or less the same. There's nothing uniquely Australian about Marriott, Radisson, Citibank, or Pizza Hut. The same goes for the shopping avenues that surround them, where the brand names on the signs might be unique, but what's inside never changes.

It's another reminder that it's time to leave the city behind, and to leave it behind for a long time. One of the things we've come to appreciate in the last few weeks is how closely our happiness is tied to sleeping in the tent. Sleeping in the tent means spending our days outside, in the country, where the pace is slower, the world quieter, and our minds capable of operating in the mode of reflection instead of reaction. It helps us experience the climate of where we're traveling, understand the character of the wildlife that surrounds us, and makes us feel healthy and alive and connected to the earth in a way hostels and cabins and motels never will. If we don't fall asleep outside, there's a part of each of us that somehow feels incomplete.

It isn't that there aren't benefits to cities — for dinner we make sure to take advantage of the last cheap and delicious Thai food we're going to see for a long time — but on a cycling adventure like this they come with a strict time limit, and now we've exceeded ours. The only thing to do is escape into the country, and that's exactly what we plan to do tomorrow.

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