Day 142: Tolderol Game Reserve to Kyeema Conservation Park - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 15, 2015

Day 142: Tolderol Game Reserve to Kyeema Conservation Park

The bulls and camels have moved to a different paddock when we cycle back to the gate. But as we approach them from a distance farther up the road, they all start to run in the opposite direction. This is when we witness what it looks like when a camel runs at full speed, which is a remarkable thing. It isn't that they have great power or agility or anything like that, but by virtue of their legs and the resulting stride being so long, even in their loping, awkward, unbalanced-looking trot they manage to cover a lot of ground in very little time.

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As we watch the camel sprinting unfold half with awe and half with laughter, we soon realize that the road that's shown as existing on the map hasn't fully existed in reality for at least a decade, judging by the fence and tall, unbroken stretch of grass that extends straight in the direction we hoped to go. And so begins a five-mile backtrack, where we bang over awful farm roads filled with sharp rocks, plow through wet patches of mud and cow poop, and swat away the legions of flies that land on our cheeks, in our ears, and on our eyelids.

The ride into Milang is easy in comparison. Soon the road turns back to pavement and we pick up tree lines that help block the wind that hasn't stopped for three or four days. We head past mile after mile of grape vineyards, which then give way to stacks of cylindrical hay bales and views out to the muddy brown waters of Lake Alexandrina. We ride in our rain jackets because it's cold, and also because it's raining. Australian summer continues to make no sense.

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We spend several hours at the general store in Milang working through a bunch of logistical stuff related to bike repairs in Adelaide, finding a place to stay in Adelaide, and flying home from Perth in just six and a half weeks. Near the end of it, Kristen does a couple of laps around the shelves looking for food that we can take with us to eat tonight. As she tries to figure out which kind of granola bars to buy, a guy delivering something to the store walks up to her.

"You on them push bikes outside?"

"Yep!"

"Where ya headed?"

"Well, Perth eventually."

"Perth?! Well I got somethin for ya for the road. D'ya eat mettwurst?"

"I'm sorry, what?"

"D'ya ever eat mettwurst?"

It's important to point out that I can tell what he's saying from my seat at the bench twenty feet away. I also know that mettwurst is some kind of meat product, because I noticed it advertised on the chalkboard in front of the store when we walked in. But at this point Kristen hasn't been able to decipher his thick country accent, and even if she had, it's unlikely the term mettwurst would have registered. Still, not wanting to sound ride or confused, she answers the unknown question anyway,

"Uh, sometimes?"

"Hold on," he replies, "I got something for ya."

When the man reappears he has not just a giant roll of mettwurst, but also different kinds of meat in both stick and jerky form, in a range of flavors. He gives them all to Kristen, the current vegetarian, the vegan when we lived in Portland, the one who on our first date suggested we go eat lunch at one of the city's only raw food restaurants. And there she stands, in the entryway of a small country store in rural Australia, with an armload full of meat that easily weighs five pounds. On a trip where unsolicited generosity has been a constant, this offering has managed to make itself stand out in a way nothing before has and probably nothing after will.

We're rich!
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Only a couple of miles out of town a ute rolls past me, then turns into the gravel shoulder a few hundred feet ahead. A young guy and an older woman hop out and start waking back toward where I stand over the bike taking a picture. The guy's name is Sven, and he comes from Germany. He tells me that only two months ago rode out of Perth, headed east, and made it exactly as far as the house we passed only thirty seconds earlier, where he's doing farm work for the rest of the summer.

Mostly he talks about crossing the vast middle area of Australia, on the Eyre Highway and the Nullarbor Plain. He tells us which roadhouses are open or closed, which ones have salty water, how much it costs to take a shower, and how you'll get into trouble if you try to do your laundry in the sink. He knows about the last one because Sven was in fact banned from the roadhouse in Mundrabilla for life for doing his laundry in the sink. He also rode through headwinds so strong that he covered just twenty-five miles in eight hours of riding, experienced a 130-degree day, and twice camped in farm fields in Western Australia where he and his buddies were woken by a visit from a farmer with a shotgun.

He explains all of this with the kind of wonderful, reckless optimism you'd expect from an eighteen-year-old German kid just out of high school who decides to ride across Australia on a bicycle and who plans to cycle all over Europe following his first year at university next summer. As he does, I can't help but smile as I think about how unlikely it is to not only happen upon someone who cycled across the Nullarbor just a few months ago, but to happen upon that person in the middle of a quiet country road running between two equally quiet country towns where touring cyclists rarely travel.

Exactly no one gives a shit about appearing in this picture.
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We're also offered a place to stay for the night. And under just about any other circumstance we'd take it. But back in town we found a shop in Adelaide willing to work on the bikes on short notice, and we prepaid for a room in a backpackers as well, so we need to keep moving. We continue on the quiet road, where we get a wave from the driver of every car that passes going the other way. But we make it all of nine miles before we take another extended break, because we find a store in the middle of the nowhere that against all odds makes gourmet pizzas, and it might be an entire twenty-four hours before we see that sort of thing again.

In the end, the pizza's as wonderful as we imagined it would be. We eat it with broad smiles on our faces as children scream with joy while playing on the nearby jungle gym and slide, and as friendly farm dogs wander through the outdoor seating area, looking for scraps of food that have fallen to the floor.

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"If your plan was to get me full on pizza so that I'd ride slower," I say to Kristen as we approach a highway just ten minutes after we stopped eating, "It was a great success."

With a ball of grease and cheese working its way through our innards we pedal slow with weak legs and queasy stomachs over the little rolling hills that will soon turn into the bigger rolling hills that stand between us and the southern suburbs of Adelaide.

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Soon we turn away from the headwind, and at about the same time the clouds move back in and help shield us from the sun so that the day stays cool. We make our way into the hills along the subtle valley formed by a creek, where we ride among deep, healthy shades of green complemented by sparse patches of yellow. Varied contours and texture all of a sudden appear within the landscape, and we begin to hear magpie birds calling out unseen from the thickets of trees that follow the curves of the creeks.

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Then we trade sealed roads for gravel and start to head through areas of native forest so dense and lush that even when a kangaroo jumps into them fifty feet in front of us, by the time we reach the point where he entered the woods it's impossible to find his path. We also pick up a series of at least a dozen short but impossibly steep hills that come at us one after the next with no break in between. It's murder on the legs and the knees and the psyche, even after 4,500 miles of cycling.

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We're worn out by the time we pull off the back road and set up camp near a little used trailhead. But the fatigue soon fades into the background as we sit back and stare off into a forest of gum trees, where kangaroos and wallabies and who knows what else cause the fallen branches and leaves to crack and crinkle and echo through air so still that we can hear the flap and swoosh of a lone bird's wings with digital clarity as it passes overhead.

Soon after sunset the kookaburras begin their nightly ritual of hooting and hollering. As they call out one after the next, both nearby and far off in the distance, we realize that we haven't heard from them in almost a week, because we've been close to the ocean and the lakes all that time, far from any forest. We both agree we've been away too long, that the forest is the place we're always most satisfied to end up, and that on the heels of a day that was wonderful and fulfilling from start to finish it's exactly where we should be.

Today's ride: 42 miles (68 km)
Total: 4,567 miles (7,350 km)

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