Day 138: Coorong National Park to Meningie, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 11, 2015

Day 138: Coorong National Park to Meningie, SA

The night passes with heavy sleep. When we wake in the morning, we hear only the crunching of the rain fly on the morning breeze. A walk down to the shore of the bay just beyond the tent reveals two rare white pelicans swimming side by side. Ants by the thousands crawl over the dips and cracks in the ground beneath our feet, moving in the slow, measured way they always seem to during the earliest hours of the day. When we head back to the highway, native vegetation and tide flats fill the expanse of national park land off to our left, while the stock fields on the right stand wide open and empty of cows or sheep. When we pass a roadside motel it's for sale, and has been for a long time. Soon we see small billboard advertising empty building lots being that have been foreclosed on by the bank. In the battle between nature and civilization, out here nature's winning.

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Farther on, the road hooks left and starts to follow along the curves of the narrow saltwater inlet that separates the mainland from the long, thin barrier island that parallels it for more than eighty miles. We ride easy on rolling hills with a good tailwind, looking out on the thick band of green that shadows the shoreline and seeing the surface of the water reflect back the thin strands of blue that cut across the sky above. Then I see something I've never before seen and may never again: a father emu and his four young ones (male emus raise their babies, not the mothers) foraging along the edges of a dry lake bed on the opposite side of the inlet. The dad stands about six feet tall, and his children about half of that. When I inadvertently sneeze they spring to life, wobbling off away from the road faster than I could cycle, tracking along the fence line for about a hundred feet with tail feathers swinging back and forth, and then jumping the wires of the fence before heading off into the field beyond. As they lope away toward the east, only the upper half of the father and the heads of the little ones are visible in the chest-high yellow grass that twists and bends in the growing wind.

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It turns out I don't have to wait very long to see emus again. Ten minutes down the road Kristen spots three of them slowly walking through the low-lying brush off to our left. The brush is all in shades of dark green and brown, to the point that I almost miss them, even though they stand only a hundred feet away from us.

"Oh my god, emus!" she says turning back toward me, with such excitement that a tiny little fart, a miniature fog horn of joy, squeaks its way out into the cool Australian morning.

I couldn't have put it better.

It's just a couple of six-foot-tall flightless birds with talons on their feet that could disembowel a human. No big deal.
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The brigade of travel trailers and SUVs laden with impossible amounts of vacation gear show up right on schedule at the tail end of the morning and carry us to the shores of Lake Albert and the town of Meningie. That's where we decide to stop at a holiday park for the rest of the day, to relax and get rested and catch up on the business of life. We spend the afternoon in the park's game room, sitting on old church pews and watching the Seattle Seahawks run over the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the NFL playoffs. It's the first time we've watched Australian TV, and it's the first time we realize how Americanized so many of the channels are. In between breaks in the game, almost every commercial for the network advertises the terrible American reality shows they'll be showing in the upcoming week — stuff like Man vs. Food, America's Hardest Prisons, Tattoo Nightmares Miami, Doomsday Preppers, and Baggage Battles. Awful American-accented Coors Light commercials show up in between them every couple of minutes. The ads for the few Australian shows that we do see all cast themselves in the same mold: Motorway Patrol, Border Patrol, and the logical follow-on show, Border Security International.

The man, the myth, the legend.
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In the evening we walk back into town for fish and chips, and afterward head over to the park by the lake. We lay down in the spongy, well-trimmed grass and drink a few beers in the shade of tall gum trees that sway in the southeast wind that hasn't stopped for three days. We feel relaxed and happy, and proud of what we accomplished during the long series of days that brought us here. But our legs and shoulders and asses have been pushing us for time off the bike for awhile now, and we agree that this is the time and place to take a day off and let them rest up.

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We'll spend this day off at the holiday park, and what a holiday park it is. Just on the hundred-foot walk from the laundry room to the tent I dodge little kids riding around the campground on mountain bikes in their pajamas, watch the couple next to us unload a doomsday-level amount of camping gear from their SUV that includes a pair of yoga mats, and listen to a forty-year-old man across the driveway rip a fart and then laugh hysterically as his wife scowls in complete disgust. To my knowledge, exactly zero drug deals take place at the same time.

There's a large part of me that can't stand holiday parks, because they're expensive, they're crowded, they're noisy, and because they make people think they're experiencing nature or the outdoors or whatever, when what they're really doing is hanging out in a suburb where the streets are narrower and the neighbors closer and where you get to hear a stranger pooping whenever you walk into the bathroom. But that other part, well, it kind of loves holiday parks. They manage at the same time to help us stay just ahead of our hygiene falling into some kind of sub-human zone, to provide an endless source of entertainment and curiosity, and to reveal what a society perceives as important and valuable and worth spending your hard-earned money and vacation time on. In that way they're really quite amazing places.

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"I put baking soda in your shoes," Kristen tells me as we lay in the tent after dark, the rain fly glowing orange from the streetlight that stands thirty feet away.

"Yeah, they're pretty bad, I say."

"Um, yeah. They smell like dead animals."

"Like multiple dead animals?"

"Well, there are two of them."

"Hmm. Right."

"It smells like dead animals when I'm near your shoes."

"Ah, okay then. Thanks."

And so ends another day out here on the road, living the dream.

Today's ride: 34 miles (55 km)
Total: 4,475 miles (7,202 km)

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