Day 130: Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve to Maryborough, VIC - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 3, 2015

Day 130: Shelbourne Nature Conservation Reserve to Maryborough, VIC

Knowing that the hottest day we've ever experienced waits for us, and knowing that there's not going to be any cool in the morning to give us a break before the big heat gets here, we wake up in darkness and start riding as soon as the first hint of daylight makes it safe enough to do so. We've already made it five miles down the road by the time the sun appears, and the heavy tailwind that's been blowing since just after midnight means that we charge across the wide open landscape at fifteen miles per hour. The goal is to get as far as we can before about 11:00, and for the first time in many days we're getting some help to make it happen.

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Our legs spin fast and strong as we crank in our big chain rings, cross dry creek beds on narrow old bridges, and watch our shadows stretch across the two-lane country highway, over the gravel of the shoulder, and brush the base of the trees that run up to the edge of the barbed wire fences. For mile after mile, hour after hour, the tall blades of yellow grass that line the road never fail to bend in the direction we're heading.

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We stop in the shade to eat bananas and dates and drink as much of the hot water in our bottles as we can stomach. Then we entertain ourselves to no end by making fun of the dancing and facial expressions and clothing choices of the lead singer of the band Future Islands, who has redefined the definition of the words creepy and unnerving.

Soon we pick up a long series of short rolling hills on the road that heads south toward Carisbrook, but it comes with a line of trees on either side that give some shelter from the sun that's already causing the distant fields to shimmer in the waves of heat at 9:00 in the morning. Cows and sheep walk across the fields in small groups, headed for the shade of broad gum trees, where they'll probably stay huddled close to one another for the next nine hours. But they are the lucky ones. We spend far more time than we should saying terrible things about the farmers who let their animals wander in fields where no trees or barns or other shelters exist anywhere. In a part of the world where 110 degree days happen all the time it is without question an act of animal cruelty.

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The air fills with the smell of patchouli and we see sex toys littered on the side of the road as we approach Maryborough. We can't help but wonder what kind of town waits for us beyond the big red Reduce Speed signs that mark its edge.

Trying to escape from its red satin satchel.
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What we find is the friendliest town in all of Australia. It's a place where tanned old men in tank tops and ball caps walk up to you and ask, “Now I just have to know, where are you two headed on those push bikes in this kind of weather?” When that conversation ends five minutes later, there's another old man sitting on a bench ten feet away who picks up where the first left off. We use the self-checkout line at the grocery store, but we screw up the weighing of the bananas and the attendant has to come over and override the error message. When she hears our accents we fall into a discussion of where we're from, where we're going, the history of the town, and interesting areas nearby that goes on for almost fifteen minutes. The same thing happens with the lovely older woman at the motel who helps us check in. The assholes and dickheads and grumpy old bastards must be somewhere, but on this Saturday morning they've made themselves scarce.

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The people of Maryborough seem kind and welcoming. The town looks healthy and thriving. If there are tourists lurking and plotting out the town in which they should take their next poop break, they keep a low profile. It's the rural Australian character and charm we hoped we'd find out here, and after every conversation that ends with a big smile and well wishes and encouragement to be safe out there, we find ourselves looking at each other and smiling because so much about it just feels right.

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Doing everything we can to reverse the melting process.
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In the early afternoon we leave the comfort of the thick window shades and military-grade air conditioning unit of our room and ride the mile back into downtown to do laundry and buy more food. It's already a hundred degrees, and the wind howls from the north at thirty miles per hour with gusts up to forty. In the course of any long bike tour there are a handful of days where riding a bicycle seems like the dumbest thing you could possibly do, and holy shit is today one of those days. I can't think of many better ways to ruin a bicycle trip than to head out into the countryside in this kind of weather and risk heat exhaustion and dehydration and horrendous tan lines all for the sake of bagging twenty or thirty miles you won't even be able to remember by the time you reach the next town because all you can think about is how goddamned hot it is.

Even though it would be great to keep pressing on toward Perth, we're happy to stay cool and sane and keep the fluid in our brains from reaching a rolling boil.

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Thunderstorms roll in during the evening, smothering the heat and drenching the world in a long string of short but powerful rain showers. Inside our room we talk about how happy we are that we made it through our first real blast of Australian summer, and how good it feels to know that we aren't just surviving this country, but enjoying and thriving within the experience. We can't wait to get back to it tomorrow.

Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 4,024 miles (6,476 km)

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