Day 115: Bungonia State Conservation Area to Breadalbane, NSW - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

December 19, 2014

Day 115: Bungonia State Conservation Area to Breadalbane, NSW

I wake up and think, Man, I can't wait to take the world's biggest piss and then starting drinking water by the gallon for the rest of the day. Then from the trees I hear long and exotic bird calls that sound more like the hoots and cries of a gibbon or some other kind of primate. Minutes later a big gray kangaroo hops past the nearby bathroom block, only to be followed right after by one that crosses less than fifty feet from the open flap of our tent. When we start riding again we see more than a dozen kangaroos bouncing away into the bush, bouncing across the road in between the farm paddocks, or standing on the tops of distant hills and watching us pass with stubby little arms held close toward their chests. Yep, we're in Australia.

The back road we cycle on is so free of traffic that we roust the amber-colored butterflies that sit on the pavement in the shadows cast by the trees off to our left. Some of those same butterflies then head west along with us. I can't see them, but I know they're just behind my shoulder because I see their shadows on the ground next to the outline of my bicycle and me.

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With the cold weather in New Zealand we hardly did any morning riding, but today we being to remember how wonderful it can be when you're riding through a part of the world where the days are hot. The morning isn't just cooler, but the colors are also more vibrant and defined, the animals more active and alive, and the drivers friendlier. If all of a sudden bicycle touring always felt like an early morning ride through the back roads of rural Australia, the size of our humble hobby would grow tenfold overnight. The conditions don't get much better than this.

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We spend a few hours climbing over a low mountain pass on a series of gentle rises and flat that make it feel like we're heading up on a giant staircase. On the steeper parts we ride next to one another and debate important things, like what kinds of effects the compulsory election voting requirements of Australia would have if they were applied in America, and whether or not this part of Australia is remote enough to satisfy the wilderness-driven travel needs of Bill Saint-Onge, one of our favorite journal writers. (On the latter point Kristen says yes. I say no; too many farms.) We also decide that the things that look like tan boulders over near the fence line are actually massive termite mounds. With our food supplies all but gone, we then talk in exquisite detail about all of the delicious things that are sure to be waiting for us when we roll into Goulburn.

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Delicious things like Tim Tams and bread and pesto do in fact wait for us in Goulburn, but so too do 22,000 other people who are probably all driving around the city looking for the same stuff. The crush of lunch-time activity, the chaos of crowded parking lots, and the traffic jams caused in the grocery store aisles by elderly people with poor shopping cart awareness raises our heart rates and puts us on edge.

It's also strange to watch the three teenage girls who walk into a payday loan store, spend five minutes inside, and then when they step back out go one door down and head into the tattoo shop. Same goes for walking into the library to see seven or eight moms and their kindergarten-aged daughters in a glassed-in back room dancing and singing along to "Surfin' USA," "The Edge of Glory," and "Let it Go," the last one of which is from the animated movie Frozen and manages to stick itself into my head for the rest of the day. It's hard to believe that the hum and the hurry of a small city would seem so dramatic after only two-plus days of riding in the country, but those two days have been so easy and pleasant that we've already downshifted our minds to match the pace.

The half-sports-car-half-truck. They make absolutely no sense but we see them absolutely everywhere in Australia.
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We don't make our way out of town until mid-afternoon, but instead of walking into what feels like an oven as we've been told over and over to expect every day in this country, it's a beautiful seventy-five degrees with winds that take away any edge the heat might have had. We ride by groves of olive trees laid out in precise grids, horses wandering in pairs through fields bigger in square mileage than most towns, and of course cows. It doesn't matter where we travel, if we're outside of a town or a city, cows are never farther away than the next curve in the road, ready and waiting to stare in wonder as we roll slowly by. And today we do roll slowly. They call this part of New South Wales the Southern Tablelands, but the thing they bear less resemblance to than anything else in the world is a table. The road never stops going up and down.

The wind also slows us down. But we don't complain, because it takes a special kind of person to bitch about the wind when they've chosen to ride in an area where the highest hills are topped with wind turbines. It also takes a special kind of person to pee squatting down in the grass along the edge of the road while a farm truck passes by, but today I find out that Kristen is in fact that special.

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It seems like we pass by a tiny country cemetery once every five miles. It's a reminder of how short life was back then compared to now, and how lucky the two of us are. It's not just having the longer and healthier lives that we do, but also the ability to take time away from working life and ride bicycles with twenty-seven speeds and comfortable seats and indestructible tires, and to use them to see the world in a measured way that means something to us. It's easy to lose sight of all that as we close in on four months spent on the road, but it's a truth that's always with us.

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We wind our way along an intricate series of turns that guide us through farm country where the diversity of wildlife goes far beyond what we would have imagined. Reaching the bottom of a hill I see an echidna scuttling across the road. He's in no great hurry, which makes sense, because the echidna is covered in a thousand little spikes and can do whatever the hell he wants. Around the next corner we spot two kangaroos bouncing away also in no great hurry through a paddock next to a slow-running stream. Our tires then crunch over the exoskeletons of cicadas that sit dead on the surface of the road, and soon after we pass through a cloud of twenty butterflies that twist and turn in jerky patterns on the breeze.

A foot-long lizard stops to check us out while crossing the road, before deciding that we're not that interesting after all and squiggling his way into the grass. The crash and clang of our panniers that come from banging over shallow potholes cause a flock of seven white cockatoos to spring into flight from out of the branches of a broad old gum tree and then squawk in horrible screeching voices as they spread out and head off toward the north. Later we feed and pet and talk to a pair of horses, who follow along with us as far as the fence line will let them when we return to the bikes and start to cycle away.

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We decide to rest and put together dinner in front of the sheet metal-sided fire station in Breadalbane because it shades us from the sun and protects us from the wind. At one point while eating we realize that it's been more than twenty minutes since we last saw a car pass. We also notice that there aren't any houses around, just a small country school and a one-room community hall and an empty church. And when we walk behind the fire station to fill our bottles, we find a flat area surrounded by water tanks with just enough room to set up a tent. There isn't much need to debate; even though we planned on making more miles after eating, we've instead found an ideal home for the night.

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Moments after we crawl into the tent we notice that we're being watched. Eight bulls from the adjacent field have walked over in our direction and stand with their noses pressed against the fence thirty feet away from where we lay. In between snorting and eating the grass that hangs over the top of the barbed wire, they bump each other out of the way to try and get a closer look at the most interesting thing that's happened in their paddock since maybe forever.

Taken from inside the tent. Everyone's a little confused.
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Gusts of wind rumble the metal of the fire station walls and train horns blare on the nearby set of tracks until well after nightfall. It's a far different place from the kangaroos and eucalyptus forest of last night, but given the choice between the two, there's something about the charm of the rectangle of grass behind the fire station that makes it every bit as wonderful.

Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 3,385 miles (5,448 km)

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