Day 116: Breadalbane, NSW to Binalong, NSW - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

December 20, 2014

Day 116: Breadalbane, NSW to Binalong, NSW

We say goodbye to the fire station just after 6:00 and set out into a morning that's cool enough to turn our fingertips numb, even though the sun has been heading up from the horizon for the past half an hour. The world is quiet and still and ours alone.

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We pedal and pedal and pedal but no cars pass us and we don't see any dust clouds kicked up by farm trucks on the gravel tracks in the distance either. We only head past a few houses, but the doors and windows are all shut and there's no one outside tending to gardens or mucking about with the lawns. Trains go by on the line that's never out of sight from the road, but the windows of the cabs of the locomotives are dark enough that we can't figure out if anyone's actually at the controls.

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Soon we start to talk about how different this trip would become if all of a sudden we were the last two people left in all of Australia. At first it's kind of a joke, but we keep pushing and winding up and over hills and still we don't see anyone. It's just the two of us, the cries of sheep held in a pen who are (or were) about to be sheared, the grating shrieks of cockatoos in the trees on the other side of the railroad tracks, small herds of curious cows, unknown kinds of insects clicking in the trees above us, and the sound of the wind rushing through the branches.

"We have to cross the highway soon," I tell Kristen. "If we don't see any cars there, then we'll know for sure that everyone's dead."

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In the end, a late-model Mazda sedan heads by in the other direction just before we reach the town of Gunning, almost two hours after we started riding. We take advantage of the continued existence of civilization by stopping into a cafe and eating overpriced but delicious French toast and poached eggs.

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The post-non-apocalyptic miles that follow take us down roads just as empty as the ones that made up the early morning. In the fields beyond the fence line, birds sit on top of randomly spaced groups of prehistoric boulders that range in size from out-of-shape cycle tourist to sprawling suburban home. The cicadas are active and wailing in some patches of trees but not others, so the noise rises and falls like a series of waves. There's a hand-painted sign that points toward a saddlery, and almost every mailbox is made from small rusted barrels, old microwaves, or old washing machines.

"I'm pretty sure that was a famous actor who just drove by," Kristen says as we approach a highway crossing.

"Who?"

"Oh, what's his name, the guy who put gerbils up his butt."

Long pause.

"What the hell are you even talking about?" I ask.

Two minutes later Kristen pulls up a page about urban legends on her phone and reads from it.

"Several years ago, they say, Richard Gere was admitted into the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital with a foreign object lodged in his rectum," Kristen says. "Some say Gere was alone when he arrived, others say he was accompanied by a friend (former love interest Cindy Crawford tops the list). In any case, an x-ray was taken and it was determined that the foreign object was a gerbil (either alive or dead at that point, depending on who tells the story). Mr. Gere was rushed to surgery, where it literally took a team of doctors to extract the unfortunate animal. Some say the gerbil was found to have been shaven and declawed; others claim it had been encased in a special plastic pouch. I've even heard it said that the gerbil was Gere's own beloved pet (appropriately named 'Tibet' in this variant). In any event, when the gerbilectomy was done the medical team was sworn to secrecy (unsuccessfully, we must conclude), and Gere went on his merry way, suffering no permanent harm other than to his reputation."

"There isn't a shred of evidence that it ever happened. And while Gere himself has neither confirmed nor denied it — indeed, he has rarely spoken of it at all — neither have credible witnesses come forward in the twenty-some-odd years this story has been circulating to offer firsthand testimony to back it up. 'I've never worked harder on a story in my life,' National Enquirer reporter Mike Walker told the Palm Beach Post after spending months trying to verify the rumor in 1995. He came away convinced he had been chasing an urban legend."

Although we'll never know if it was in fact Richard Gere that we saw on a back road in rural Australia, at least we now understand the truth about that narrow slice of the Venn diagram that includes the circles titled "Richard Gere's butthole" and "gerbils."

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The unsealed surface on the back road between Jerrawa and Yass brings with it soft patches of dirt, more pot holes, and short sections of washboard, but it hardly bothers us. We're too happy riding away from traffic and instead having the peace and quiet to better enjoy the cicadas, the kangaroos, and the darker-colored bark and leaves of the blue gum tree, whose pale blue color reminds us of North American junipers.

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"It feels like one of the best days of my life," Kristen says.

It really does.

A year ago, neither of us could have imagined that the other existed, let alone that we'd be cycling across Australia together, on obscure roads that most people would never think of riding, and loving every moment of it. And yet somehow here we are. Earlier in the day Kristen asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I told her that I don't want anything at all, because I already have so much more than I ever thought possible. The simple fact that we're out here on this adventure, happy and content and full of Tim Tam cookies, is enough.

The best.
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With the heat of the day starting to bear down on us, we fly down a series of long hills and coast into Yass. We shelter ourselves from the sun under the awning of a grocery store and eat lunch before moving on to the shade of the trees in a nearby park. There we watch teams from Yass and nearby Harden play a game, or a match, or whatever the hell you're supposed to call it, of cricket. There's a guy who looks like a pitcher in baseball, but he has this running, whirling windup that takes him up to about forty feet from the batter by the time he finally releases the ball. The batter has padding all over his legs like a hockey player would, but instead of a narrow stick he swings a long, flat, wide bat that looks like something stolen from an S&M dungeon. Behind both batter and pitcher are a set of wickets that don't serve any obvious purpose. There's a guy in a blue shirt who looks like a referee or umpire, but who stands with his hands joined around his stomach doing nothing but watching the action and shifting his weight from side to side. There are also roughly eighteen other guys standing around, who may or may not be part of the same team, and who alternate between folding their arms and clapping and cheering at moments where there doesn't seem to be anything worth clapping or cheering for.

I watch all of this go on for more than an hour but I still have no idea what's going on. This must be how every non-American feels when it comes to football.

I don't think any of them know why he's running either.
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We climb hills to leave Yass, and then climb more hills on the awful four-lane motorway that's the only way to connect to the quiet country highway that will take us toward the west and the north. It's a long, loud, hot, sweating, bad-smelling five-mile run with an astounding number of roadkill animals to swerve around, but we crank through it as hard as we can. Along the way I sing out the guitar riff of "Smoke on the Water" to try and lodge it in Kristen's head, for no reason beyond the fact that I find it hilarious.

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Our reward is a ride past arid fields that glow blinding yellow in the early evening sun while we stay cool in the shade of still more gum trees filled with still more cicadas. When hunger shows up, we pull ten feet off the road, lean the bikes against a tree, and eat corn and red peppers purchased at the market in Gunning this morning from the farmer that grew them. With Dum Dum Girls playing in the background, we watch a caterpillar take little bites from a dropped piece of corn and watch ants try and carry away bread crumbs twice as big as their bodies.

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It might be the best evening ride we've experienced on the trip so far, so we just keep going. Our legs stay strong, the miles add up, and our shadows grow longer and longer until the pair of them stretch across the width of the highway and start to crawl up the bank on the opposite side of the road. Moments after the sun sinks below the horizon we roll into Binalong, population 250. It's a small enough town that as soon as we see the park complex with its pool, tennis courts, and rugby pitch we know we don't have to ride any farther. We hang out at a picnic table until it's dark, then set up the tent at the foot of the big yellow slide that shoots down from the top level of the jungle gym.

Today's ride: 67 miles (108 km)
Total: 3,452 miles (5,555 km)

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