Day 137: Mt. Burr Forest to Coorong National Park - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 10, 2015

Day 137: Mt. Burr Forest to Coorong National Park

That southeast wind still blows strong when we emerge from the pine forest. There's nothing else to do but raise a sail, get to cranking, and don't stop until the last of the tailwind has been used up.

We ride past a mother kangaroo and her two big-eared little ones chewing on the yellow grass on the road side of the fence line, and they watch us come and go with no concern, their mouths moving side to side and their stubby arms tucked up against their chests all the while. When we look in our mirrors we find cloudless blue skies due south, but straight ahead it's all gray and white, which leaves the morning shadowless and dull.

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Around us we see big bushes, short trees, and paddocks that stretch to the horizon but have no stock inside them. It's a simple, consistent landscape, and I find my mind wandering toward things like trying to think up a good name for the spider that's taken up residence beneath the mount for my cycling computer. Then I can't help but shake my head at the passing SUVs pulling small trailers behind them, because the family inside has too much stuff for a short weekend trip to fit in the massive storage cavern in the back or in the bulbous fiberglass container strapped to the roof rack.

With the next town at least seventy miles away and likely to be closed up tight if we get there today, we load up on food and water and cookies in Kingston. Beyond town we merge on to Highway B1, where traffic slowly builds on this Saturday morning. I feel a warm rush of adrenaline and give out a reflexive shout of "Oh shit!" as a rabbit shoots out in front of me while I fly down the shoulder at better than seventeen miles per hour. Later I keep my right hand on the bars while using the left to grab the fat fly that gets sucked into the vent of my helmet, where he buzzes and thrashes until I can get my fingers in the right spot to pinch his body, pull him out, and then send him down toward the ground with a flick of my index finger. In between all of this I sing Afghan Whigs songs to myself while steel windmills that haven't been greased in a decade squeal and grind as the blades turn at high speed on the breeze.

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Around 10:00 we both notice a huge increase in the number of cars and trucks pulling travel trailers that scream past us. After taking a few minutes to think about it, we realize we're witnessing the mad rush to get somewhere between the checkout time of last night's holiday park and the check-in time of tonight's. Sorry kids, there's no room for adventure or unplanned stops; we've gotta get a good spot at the next park, hook the water and power lines up, get the awning extended, set up the deck chairs, and get back to sitting around and looking at our iPads while not talking to each other!

The drive is so long and the view so consistent that it literally lulls drivers to sleep.
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I sometimes wonder how America would be different if gas prices were as high as in the rest if the world, if the block numbers below the Chevron or Shell logos on the signs read "9.25" for eighty-seven-octane fuel instead of "3.60." I try to imagine if the roads would be emptier, if the cars would be smaller and more fuel efficient, and if the 3,000-mile summer family road trip would become a thing of the past. It stands to reason that they would. Australia provides a great test case for this idea, because it's also a big, spread-out country where the standard of living is high and where people love their cars and the freedom they bring.

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And today we learn that the answer is no, nothing meaningful would change.

All that would be different is that people would spend more money on gas and less on everything else. They'd complain about it as much as they do now, and pandering politicians would get elected on a promise to lower prices, but the behaviors would stay the same. What we see all day here is the foot-to-the-floor style of driving we have back home, with the same aggressive passing and tailgating, and not a hybrid or electric car in sight. Just like in America, the trailers and caravans and RVs are getting bigger, not smaller. The new models are all taller and wider and more loaded down with satellite dishes and air conditioning units than the ones that came before, and one of the popular trends here is the installation of suspension and off-road tires on caravans, as if they're ever going to travel down anything more aggressive than a short gravel driveway. The desire to have something bigger, faster, stronger, newer, or more complex hasn't wavered at all.

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We don't get much help from the wind, because the trees and bushes that follow the path of the road are thick enough that they block most of its force. They also block the view of anything beyond the tunnel of highway in which we ride. Thousands of acres of farmland pass unseen off to the right, while the saltwater marshes and sand dunes of Coorong National Park remain hidden less than a mile away off to our left. It's also the kind of riding where the shoulder is just rough enough and there's just enough traffic that it's impossible to look at anything beyond the road ahead in a meaningful way. We pedal in this way for hours.

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And then, with everything starting to blend together, we see a couple of loaded bicycles headed over the rise in front of us. It's Teemu and Siegfried, a couple of German cycle tourists and the first long haulers of any kind we've seen in this country. Teemu has been on the road since March, cycling through the Stans and Russia and on to China where he met Siegfried, who he's been riding with ever since. Siegfried doesn't speak English at all, so the details of his story will forever remain a mystery, but from what we gather through the noise of the cars and trucks screaming past behind us is that together the two guys managed to conquer the madness of China, then pushed on through Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. They did a fair bit of this during weeks of torrential rains that turned the roads to mud, while wild camping in areas where land mines are known to still exist, and without using rear view mirrors for a single mile of it. After somehow surviving that gauntlet, they flew into Adelaide a few days ago. Now they're headed on to Sydney before finishing their ride among the hordes of tourists at Queenstown and Milford Sound in New Zealand, where we know Siegfried won't have any trouble finding a German to sit down and have a chat with, although most of them will be shirtless.

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We stop at the roadhouse that is the beginning, middle, and end of the town of Salt Creek. I try to order fish and chips, but when I'm told they're all out of fish I go with the shark and chips instead. It's so delicious that I can only stand to spare a tiny nugget with the awesome little dog who keeps us company as we sit on the front porch, look out on the gray afternoon, and try to decide what to do next.

Team Grabby Hands returns.
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With the wind still giving us a push, and the traffic on the highway having gone home for the day, we take advantage of the cool weather and good riding and keep going. It's a great choice. Five miles up the road we pull off onto national park land, head down a dirt track, and wind our way a quarter of a mile toward the sandy shore of the tidelands. There we find a tent-sized rectangle of dirt surrounded on three sides by the trees, set no more than fifty feet back from the high tide level beyond. In a country full of wonderful places to camp it's one of the best we've so far found.

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Goodnight.
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The sun waits until just before dark to make its only appearance of the day. It sneaks through the clouds long enough to turn the late evening sky into an explosion of orange and purple and pink that we look out at through the gnarled branches of the trees that flank the tent, with the smell of low tide outside mixing with the funk of dirty bike shoes inside. When the sounds of the day at last fade away, all that's left is the constant low rumble of the sea crashing into the shore.

Today's ride: 74 miles (119 km)
Total: 4,441 miles (7,147 km)

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