Day 129: Greater Bendigo National Park to Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 2, 2015

Day 129: Greater Bendigo National Park to Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve

Some time around 4:00 in the morning I wake up to the sound of thump thump thump on the crunch of the leaves and sticks that cover the forest floor. I hear the lone kangaroo approach from the north, stop when he reaches the edge of the pond, drink for maybe ten seconds, and then listen to his feet thump thump thump again as he hops slowly away into the trees to the south. And then the world is silent and still once more.

The air is cool when we return to the road two hours later with the sun having just crawled up over the horizon, but we know this is going to be temporary and short-lasting. Up until now we haven't faced a day hotter than about a hundred degrees, but today it's forecast to hit a high of 112, which is really just a dress rehearsal to get us good and ready for the 114 that's coming tomorrow. 114 degrees! We're about to become very familiar with the libraries and cafes and motels of Western Victoria.

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The tall trees under which we slept last night turn out to be an anomaly. As we head south through the national park they trade places with scrubland, where short little bushes dominate the landscape and the trees that do exist are shorter, skinnier, and stand out above everything else on the rolling hills that surround us. The big ones only reappear briefly when a line of them cross the road along the path of a creek or a stream. And then, as if a switch has been flipped, we cross out of the park and ride past fields filled with wheat and cows, where the acidic stink of pig shit streams out of the dozens of long white buildings that dot the countryside. Old Australia, meet new Australia.

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Fast food joints, car dealerships, motor lodges, and newly built tract homes that all look the same soon follow as farmland turns to suburbs and then to a proper city. By 10:00 we've made the twenty miles to Bendigo, where we settle in at the library and set about doing anything but riding a bicycle in the intense heat that has already started to funnel down from the north.

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A great leap forward in bicycle touring nutrition.
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If you're interested in a sure path to personal wealth, open a small restaurant in Bendigo. The owners must have fat stacks of cash in the bank or under a mattress somewhere, because every place worth eating at is closed, with a sign on the door that explains to hungry and disappointed customers how they've been closed for the holidays since Christmas Eve and that they'll reopen next week or maybe the week after. We end up at a restaurant with a lunch buffet, where we eat under-flavored, over-sauced, westernized Chinese and Thai food that shimmers with a thick layer of MSG. We share in the experience with a bunch of overweight Australians, whose poorly behaved children bang on the tables, run all over the restaurant, mouth fart, and scream out for attention that their parents have no interest in giving them.

Listen to the neckless, muscle-bound man.
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Look at that sheen.
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We drink water by the gallon throughout the afternoon and into the evening as we sit together at a desk in the far upstairs corner of the air-conditioned library. The stated goal: pee with the volume of a cow by the time we reach our campsite tonight. In heat like this, hydration means everything.

We walk through the sliding glass doors of the library at 6:00 and step outside into the sun where it feels every bit of 110 degrees. That's less than the promised 112, so in a strange way we're kind of thankful. Of course it feels much hotter when we start to pedal, but in heat like this the context matters more than the big number. It's hot, but the humidity is so low that we sweat only a fraction of what we would if it were eighty in South Florida. And it's not like we're cranking up New Zealand-type hills, either; other than a few little rises it's mostly flat. It's also the evening, which means the temperature has nowhere to go but down the farther we ride. This isn't to say it's all ice cream and cold beer, but it's so much better than cold and wet and wind that it's impossible for us to complain.

Only for the bathroom, I swear.
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Not long after eating a dinner of Tim Tams and crackers, Kristen does in fact spot an ice cream truck selling soft serve in the gravel parking lot of a reservoir a few miles out of town, so we stop and grab dessert too. Then we continue on in the shade of gum trees, past small country homes, black-faced sheep, and hand-painted pieces of plywood that advertise horse poop for a dollar a bag. As the sun makes its way down, the air cools just enough to erase the harshness, a breeze starts to blow over us, and against everything we expected only an hour before it's a wonderful time to ride.

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"Oh, hey guys. What's going on?"
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When the light starts to die we pull down a dirt road that leads into public forest land and climb inside the tent that's now undeniably our home. We listen to Father John Misty and Neko Case and Local Natives, eat bananas, and hear the fart-like exhaust of a distant dirt bike. Headlight beams of passing cars sneak through the gaps in the trees and the faint rumble of jet airliners bound for Melbourne sprinkles down from above, where a full moon shines unobstructed. As sweat outlines in the shapes of our bodies form on our Thermarests, we reflect on two amazing truths from today. Even though the temperature hit 110 degrees, we still made 36 miles, and it wasn't difficult at all. And despite the best efforts of that sketchy looking Chinese buffet, we head to sleep blissfully free of diarrhea.

Today's ride: 36 miles (58 km)
Total: 3,987 miles (6,416 km)

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