Day 144: Adelaide, SA to Hamley Bridge, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 17, 2015

Day 144: Adelaide, SA to Hamley Bridge, SA

My string of bad bicycle luck continues this morning. When we walk over to the bike shop where we left our bikes yesterday, Kristen's has been tuned and cleaned and is ready to take on the rest of Australia. Mine is not, because the shifting cable for the rear derailleur has all but snapped. (This would explain the progressively worse shifting over the past few days.) And not only has it split, but it's split inside the housing of the integrated brake lever/shifter, in a place where no amount work by the guys in the shop can get the short end of fraying cable free. It might be possible for them to take the shifter apart, but then there'd be no guarantee they'd be able to piece it back together again. Long story short: the shifter is dead.

But my string of impossibly good bicycle luck continues this morning as well. The luckiest thing is that the cable just happened to break while the bike was in the shop, not fifty miles from the nearest shop, or worse yet in the middle of absolutely nothing at all on the Eyre Highway. Beyond that, the shop also has a single right-side brake lever/shifter in stock, in a newer version of the same model that's already on the bike. This means I only have to buy one, not the matching set. And despite being swamped with higher-paying work servicing the bikes of local roadies and the out-of-towners who are here for the Tour Down Under that starts in a few days, the guys in the shop at Bicycle Express have the replacement installed in less than an hour. It's an incredible series of events that somehow all fall my way, and they leave me shaking my head in amazement whenever I think about how the complexion of our day or week or entire trip could have changed if any of them had ended in some other configuration.

Saved.
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The roadies are out in force late on this Saturday morning as we start our ride out of Adelaide. It's been like this since we dropped into the edge of the suburbs yesterday, all tight clothing and wraparound sunglasses and carbon fiber bicycles. It's like even though they'll never have the chance to ride in the Tour Down Under, they want somehow to be associated with it. Kristen smartly compares it to how people in America tailgate before a football game, and then while the burgers and hot dogs are grilling they spread out and throw the football around for awhile, imagining themselves as quarterbacks and wide receivers. It's this sport they love so much, and it's at the center of this big event that's happening where they live. Coming from all of that there's this excited feeling that vibrates throughout the city, where people are happy and smiling, talking about bikes and cycling, and have the relaxed air of being exactly where they want to be. It's wonderful.

Where we want to be is in front of noodles and fried rice and spring rolls, so we head through beautiful neighborhoods and quiet back roads until we end up on a trendy block that has what we're looking for. It's a good way to drag our feet and avoid the thing we know we have to do but wish we didn't: ride out of Adelaide.

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The city itself is the easy part. In no time at all the bike lanes have us out of town and into the mass of suburbs that stretch another twenty or thirty miles to the north. The first few that we pass through are upscale, with all of the expensive homes, manicured lawns and gardens, tall and opaque fences, security cameras, Range Rovers, and purebred dogs that go along with that. Because it's Saturday, there's a match going on at every cricket oval we pass. As we stop to rest in the shade nearby, we watch old men in circular-brimmed hats and bright white polo shirts walk at a slow and measured pace toward the adjacent lawn bowling pitch, with the wheels of their small rolling gear bags chattering on the gaps between the bricks that make up the sidewalk.

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The farther we go, the smaller the lots become, every house has just a single story, and the fences stand shorter and shorter until they disappear altogether. The yards turn more overgrown, there's garbage in the street gutters, and broken-down cars stack up two and three deep in the driveways.

And then we reach some dividing line where the land gets cheaper. All of a sudden we're in the middle of a master-planned community of office parks, university branch campuses, modern tract housing, rectangular condo buildings completely devoid of style, and of course shopping centers, all of which exist around artificial lakes where nerdy old white men race radio-controlled sailboats and try to catch stocked fish on this placid summer day in the suburbs. Yet somehow, on a beautiful weekend where you'd expect to see people out walking and shopping and running errands, the sidewalks are empty and everyone shuttles from place to place in an air conditioned sedan or SUV. There's no community; it's just a collection of people who happen to live in the same general area.

Smiling white people; it must be great!
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Then we cross some invisible dividing line on the other side and spend an hour heading past factories making milk or travel trailers, a Bridgestone tire warehouse, the Coca-Cola bottling center for South Australia, car repair shops, and furniture distributors. We rumble over the same set of railroad tracks half a dozen times, then take a bike path through land that used to house a military base, where the old brick barracks still stand. After that we're dropped into dull and depressing exurbs where it's all sheet metals fences, where people yell at us from passing cars, where people drive only a few feet off my back tire as we lean through a roundabout, and where more than half of the residents we see walking on the streets are headed back home with a case of alcohol wedged beneath their armpit.

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Beyond this point it looks like we're about to return to fields of yellow grass, hay lofts, horse barns, and old men driving pickups at fifteen miles per hour below the speed limit. What we find instead are brand-new neighborhoods that have been engineered into existence. We ride down wide boulevards that are empty because they haven't yet been opened to traffic, and past a massive grocery store and library that are both nearing completion, even though almost no one lives out here yet. At the core of it all are countless small one-story houses of stucco or light-colored brick, all in one of four designs, all with exactly eight feet separating them.

"It's like we're on a movie set," Kristen says. "Those hills back there aren't really hills; it's just a backdrop."

It's hard to believe it's real. There's no soul, nor any place for one to exist even if it wanted to.

By some unusual definition of alive.
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But the riding itself leaves little to complain about. Cycling out of a major city is always stressful, but the trek away from the Adelaide area gives us bike lanes almost every mile, pathways through parks, and bike-specific signals at many intersections. The temperature never pushes past seventy-five degrees, there's always a cooling breeze, and it never blows in our faces. It's the best we could have hoped for, and it's easily the simplest escape from a major city I've experienced by bicycle.

Somewhere north of Gawler we leave the cities and highways and train track crossings behind and slip back into rural Australia. The future suburbs and graffiti and day drunks fade into nothing in our rear view mirrors, and in their place it's fresh cut hay, bleating sheep, the top of a grain silo poking up over the horizon. We cruise down a quiet country road with the wind at our backs, ride side by side while having conversations about unimportant things, with the sun setting off to our left, unsure of where we're going to sleep. Our world is just as it should be once again

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All demonstrating the proper posture for riding a miniature steam train.
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Except for the hunger that creaks and moans in our stomachs. We planned to stock up on food for tonight and tomorrow back in Gawler, but somehow we managed to find the one 20,000-person city in Australia where all three grocery stores close at 5:00 in the evening on a Saturday. That's why even though it doesn't seem likely it will be open, when we see a sign for a general store in the town of Wasleys, population 372, we hang a right and take a look.

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"Is that woman holding a pizza?!" I say to Kristen with pure excitement as we approach the store.

She is. Against all reasonable odds, she is.

The kitchen closes in five minutes, but it doesn't matter. We made it; we're saved by pizza.

I'm beside myself with joy.

Love.
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But there's still the matter of where we're going to sleep. The light begins to fade as the sun sets, but with a tailwind still alive we decide to push on toward the next town and see what reveals itself. We bob and weave on potholed roads without so much as a pair of headlights in sight, among fields of wheat grass where the tracks of the tractor are still visible, where the world is quiet except for the sound of the wind over our ears. At one point we startle a couple of kangaroos, who hop alongside of us for thirty seconds as they try to find a gap in the fence that will let them shoot out into the fields beyond.

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It's dark enough that our headlights and tail lights glow at their brightest settings by the time we drop down into a valley, pass over a river, and roll into Hamley Bridge. On tired legs we crank through town, alongside the cricket oval near the far edge of it, and then set up the tent behind a sheet metal shed where the lawn mowing equipment is stored. With every dog in town barking to each other at the same time and the siding of the shed creaking and popping as the heat of the day leaks out into the night, we crawl inside and fall to sleep straight off.

Today's ride: 57 miles (92 km)
Total: 4,670 miles (7,516 km)

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