Day 133: Wannon Crossing Campground to Wannon Falls Reserve Campground - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 6, 2015

Day 133: Wannon Crossing Campground to Wannon Falls Reserve Campground

Several times during the darkness of the early morning we're woken by the angry ch-ch-ch-ch sound of one echidna responding to the angry ch-ch-ch-ch sound of another echidna in a fight over territory that we can only imagine involves the picnic table that our tent stands next to. Partly because of this, but more because we're lazy, we sleep in late and don't get up until the sunlight hits the rain fly and makes the tent feel like an oven inside which sweat-logged wool socks are being broiled.

Low clouds obscure the tops of the highest peaks off to our right as we head through a national park that's every bit as wonderful today as when we stopped off last night. The air is cool and crisp and clean, the land rich with color and texture, and all we hear besides bicycle noises are the sounds of animals going about their business unseen in the bush that extends away from the road for miles in every direction. There's still no traffic to speak of, and a perfectly smooth road winds its way through all of it with gentle ups and downs. We're still shocked that a place so pristine could be so empty of tourists and campers and hikers in the heart of the Australian holiday season.

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I flick away with an index finger the little bugs that get stuck in my arm hair as we ride easy and happy and smiling through the morning. It doesn't matter where we look, there's not a power line, a house, or even a cow to be seen. All we have to do is relax and pay attention to what's around us, like how the density of the bush thins as we head away from one creek and then picks back up a mile or two later as the road angles subtly down and we start to approach the next.

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The path out of the park soon puts us up against hills long and steep enough that we have to drop down into our lowest gears to climb over them, for the first time in longer than we can remember. In moments the heat builds and sweat starts to bead on our foreheads as we pedal hard on the upslopes and stare out at the harsh sandstone cliffs of gray and tan and orange that make up the sides of Mount Abrupt.

But on a day like this the big hills are worth every kilojoule of energy we put into them, because we coast down the back sides of them in the last of the fresh morning air. Every few seconds we pass through a patch of shade cast down on the road by the trees off to our left, and each time it brings with it a half-second blast of extra cool. And as we travel along in this rare place, on this unrivaled day, there develops a lightness in my heart and a clarity to my thoughts. I draw in a deep breath and then push it out, and in the couple of beats that pass before I breathe in again I feel my arms and my legs and the hair on the back of my neck tingling in a way that can only be the physical manifestation of joy. There is no other possibility. It's one of the greatest feelings this life has ever given me.

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Compared to that, Dunkeld is kind of a letdown. We make a short stop to stock up on important supplies like Tim Tams and bananas and overpriced jam. As I try to find a place for us to hang out during the hottest part of the day, Kristen stands outside the general store with a group of kids ranging from age four to nine who share a shady spot with our bikes.

"Hi guys," she says as she walks up to them.

"What's that solar thing for?" one of the more outgoing little girls asks.

Kristen explains how it charges a battery that will then charge her phone, and how she needs it because she doesn't always ride through towns.

"Where do you stay?"

When Kristen tells her that we go camping, the girl explains in great detail about a place in the Grampians National Park that is called Whale Rock because it looks like a whale, and also it is sixteen meters tall, because she and her friend measured it.

"Where are you going?" the girl then asks.

"All over the whole country," Kristen tells her. "We started on one side and are riding all the way to the other."

The girl considers this for a moment. Then she speaks.

"One day you’ll be able to go around the whole world," the girl says.

And in the half second that follows Kristen's heart lifts. She's touched by the girl's optimism, by her innate sense of adventure and possibility, and...

"...in an airplane."

Ah.

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With a tailwind and cooler temperatures that mean we don't have to worry about our brains melting or our skin transforming into something bubbled or lizard-like, we decide to crank on toward the west. The shadowed outlines of the Grampians become smaller and smaller in our rearview mirrors as we return to familiar country where sprawling fields of golden wheat mix with the charred tree trunks of bush fires long since passed, the skeletal remains of former railroad towns, and rusted windmills, most of which are stuck pointing in one direction. Tui birds call out from the low-hanging branches of gum trees as we roll past, and later we watch as an ibis drinks from an artificially created pond. It's the sort of place where you can figure out the relative age of a farmhouse by the size of the trees planted in the precise lines of wind breaks that surround it.

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A terrible Savage Garden song from fifteen years ago plays on the overhead speakers at the grocery store in Hamilton, because it's a little-known fact that all grocery stores in Australia are required to play at least one terrible Savage Garden song from fifteen years ago at least once every half hour. It's in the upper nineties when we step outside, load up the beans and bananas and cookies we dread having to eat, then swing our right legs over the bikes and head back out for a ride into the evening.

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A few miles out of town we run out of back roads and find ourselves dumped on the only route that can take us where we want to be. We're anxious about what lies ahead, because we've been in Australia long enough to figure out what the different kinds of highways mean for us. All of them come with both a letter and a number, and the letter makes all the difference. Out in the country, A highways have a lot of noisy traffic, but they always have a shoulder. They're unpleasant to ride on, but safe. C highways have no shoulder, but they also have such little traffic that you can hear the cars coming before they reach you, and the cars always give a lot of room when they pass. Rural B highways are the worst of both: heavier traffic and no shoulder onto which you can escape it. As a cyclist, rural B highways will kill you.

This evening we ride on a rural B highway. It requires constant checks of the rear view mirror and an unqualified willingness to dive off into the gravel shoulder if the next glance over to the mirror reveals something along the lines of an eighteen-wheeler hauling three dozen head of cattle barreling toward you at twenty over the speed limit. This is why we've decided to speak of B highways only with B-lettered words: bad, bastard, bitch, bastard-bitch, or, in the best-case scenario, bearable.

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Our reward for avoiding a sudden and inglorious death is a free campsite with toilets that smell bad enough to make us consider holding it in for the next twelve hours. When it's time to settle in for the night, somehow Kristen puts together the tent and the rain fly in the wrong direction. Rather than take fifteen seconds to fix it, we do nothing at all. And so I don't so much climb into the tent as tumble in reverse, land on my head, and tell Kristen, "It feels like trying to go backward into the birth canal."

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Part of me wonders if the noise of diesel engines and compression brakes on the nearby highway will keep me awake, but it turns out there's no reason to worry. The conversations of the older couples camping at the site across the way from ours are so banal and pointless that the drone of them causes me to fall into sleep before the last of the monotone thoughts on caravan redecorating have tumbled out into the cool, still air of the night.

Today's ride: 53 miles (85 km)
Total: 4,212 miles (6,779 km)

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