Day 136: Penola, SA to Mt. Burr Forest - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 9, 2015

Day 136: Penola, SA to Mt. Burr Forest

It's still cold when we wake up. Like, early morning in New Zealand cold. When we check the weather we learn that Victoria is receiving more rain over the next two days than they get in a typical month. Here in South Australia the next three or four days are described as a once-in-thirty-years kind of tropical rain event. We mentally prepared ourselves for a lot of possible intense weather during our time in Australia, but heavy rain showers and driving winds lasting for the better part of the week are beyond anything we could have imagined.

All of a sudden we're no longer locked in an all-day battle with the heat; we can sleep in as late as we want, leave when we want, and don't have to try and get somewhere before the heat turns too intense. It's great timing, because today there'd be nowhere into which we could escape the sun for the sixty-six miles that stand between Penola and the next town. But instead of thinking about that, and heading out of town slick with sunscreen, we ride in our rain jackets to block out the cold and the wind.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Soon we pass a one-room schoolhouse that was used for more than a century before it closed in 1994. Now it has fallen into disrepair, with peeling paint and cracked windows and the grass around it growing taller than any student who ever attended class there. Then there's the small community hall out in the middle of what feels like nowhere. We eat wraps and bananas while standing around the edge of its five well-maintained tennis courts and reason over a flyer tacked to a nearby message board that lists the schedule for the senior tennis club's matches against other small town clubs in the area.

Heart 0 Comment 0

It's easy to tell the locals from the people passing through on holiday. The locals all wave with a subtle shift of the wrist or the raise of a few fingers off the steering wheel, while the tourists give out these floppy wristed, forearm-shaking kind of waves that seem kind of embarrassing for everyone involved. Or maybe they're mocking us; it's hard to tell sometimes. Whatever the reason, it's a distraction from the blue gum trees that parallel the road mile after mile. They're planted in straight lines by logging companies, and the lines run very close together, because it forces the trees to grow tall and narrow instead of branching out low and wide like they would on their own. There must be more profit in this method, because the artificial forests never break from the pattern.

Heart 0 Comment 0

When the tree line stops abruptly we ride beside long stretches of farm land on which we see almost no cows or sheep, just water tanks and windmills and rusted implements older than either one of us. The road we travel runs dead straight for two or three miles at a time, leans through a subtle curve, and then continues straight for another ten minutes before the next bend appears. We see fire watchtowers on the top of the few hundred-foot-tall hills that do exist. Knowing that you must be able to see for dozens of miles in every direction from the glassed-in rooms on the top, we push the bikes toward one on a side road. We imagine some rustic and romantic scenario where we climb up to the platform, set up our sleeping bag, and eat peanut butter wraps and granola bars as we watch thunderstorms roll across the plains below. But when we get there all we find are locked doors both on the ladder leading up from the ground and on the trap door-like entrance to the cabin.

A dream imagined, a dream immediately crushed.
Heart 0 Comment 0

We cycle hard, due west across Australia among wide open country, where the only sounds are the spinning and clicking of bike parts and the endless rush of the wind through the branches of the trees. It's very much the image of how I imagined the bulk of this trip to be in the weeks and months and years that the dream of it has been clanking around in the recesses of my brain.

Yet like so much of the country that we've passed through, there isn't an immediate beauty to the landscape, in the way that makes you reflexively yell out, "Holy shit, look at that!" It's a place that forces you to watch for subtle changes in texture and color, and to listen and watch for animals in the brush. It's a place where the intrigue comes from trying to picture what the land looked like a hundred years ago, or a thousand, or ten-thousand, or from imagining what the routine of daily life would feel like if you lived out here. It's about trying to figure out how the cattle farmer in that field over there decided to start herding from the seat of a two-door SUV instead of a horse or a dirt bike. And soon I realize that if you can look at the world around you in those kinds of ways, you can travel almost anywhere — no matter how classically beautiful it may or may not be — and still come away more satisfied and fulfilled than when you arrived.

And if you can do that while speaking in a horrible, stereotypical Canadian accent, all the better.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Subtlety says goodbye when our modest country road merges into the shoulderless two-lane death trap known as the Southern Ports Highway. It's a B highway so our hopes aren't high to begin with, but it turns the ten-mile ride to Robe into a game of sliding to a stop in the soft shoulder whenever two cars pass at the same time, which is most of the time.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Our reward is a seaside town where blond-haired families in expensive Volvo and BMW SUVs from Adelaide or Melbourne go on holiday, and where the holiday parks announce how they have "ample turning space." From a bench in front of the fish and chips shop we watch people jog along the main street in the middle of the afternoon, because it's the kind of town where people who are into things like jogging in the middle of the afternoon go for their vacation.

Robe is where you go to buy floppy hats, or to look at literally a thousand different dresses for sale at places with names like Retail Therapy. There are antique stores every few hundred feet and restaurants that serve five-course meals prepared by chefs with a modest level of international notoriety. The buildings are all well painted, every corner of lawn is well trimmed, and a third of the entire Golden Retriever population of Australia walks the sidewalks leashed and perfectly groomed. You can pay $55 for an unpowered tent site — literally a patch of grass, next to a fence, next to the main road into town — or stay in an ugly motel for almost $200. Only about a thousand people live in Robe, but that number triples that in the summer.

This is how we feel about Robe.
Heart 0 Comment 0

With the exception of the stunning turquoise water of the harbor alongside which Robe hangs like an overpriced barnacle, it's an atrocious place, just as we knew it would be. But we chose to come this way because we wanted a break from the intense heat that's been our companion since we set out from Sydney three weeks ago, and we figured the coast was the only place we were going to find it. In that at least we're successful. Very successful, in fact. Unless we stand in the sun, the cold wind that shoots up from the south at twenty-five miles per hour causes us to shiver and sends us digging through the panniers for another layer or two of clothing.

Heart 0 Comment 0

And so, with the smell of salt in the air and a massive tailwind at our backs we bolt. Although we can't see the water, we run parallel to it as we fly north, cranking in the shade of the stubby trees that permanently angle away from the force of the prevailing winds. The traffic that carried us into town has vanished, with everyone heading the other way toward Robe for an overpriced shrimp cocktail or to check into a boutique hotel room they booked seven months in advance. Farther on the trees give way to rolling hills and paddocks, which carry us on to public forest land, where we walk off the highway and into the woods where we feel like we belong.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

The trees aren't native eucalyptus, but imported pine. The smell immediately takes me back to the first few weeks of this trip, as we wound our way through the national forests of Central Oregon and Northern California. It's an unexpected reminder of how far we've come, how much we've grown both as individuals and as partners, and it puts into perspective how much more is yet to come on this adventure if good fortune continues to fall our way. We're so excited for all of it.

Today's ride: 79 miles (127 km)
Total: 4,367 miles (7,028 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0