Day 146: Watervale, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 19, 2015

Day 146: Watervale, SA

Last night we were offered the chance to spend another day in Watervale with Louise and Kerstin. At first I declined, because although Kristen and I both still felt tired after our hard push into Adelaide a few days ago, I knew we had more than 2,000 miles of riding ahead of us in order to reach the west coast of Australia and a flight out of Perth that's just six weeks away. If we run into a heat wave and have to sit out a few days along the way it could make for a last-minute rush to the finish, and that's something we really want to avoid. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a mistake it would be to push on in the morning. Although we've met so many wonderful people on this adventure, Louise and Kerstin are a rare find, for their kindness, their generosity, and their refreshing outlook on life. It's also so unlikely that we ended up with the opportunity to reconnect with them here in Australia in the first place that heading back to the road after just one evening together would be something we'd regret for a long time.

And so we stay.

I finally wake up from deep sleep a few minutes before the clock rolls over to 10:00. I haven't slept so late, or woken up so rested and refreshed, since back in Los Angeles some time in September.

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While Kristen and Kirsten head off to run errands and take part in wine tastings at a few of the local vineyards, and Louise is off at her job as a nurse, I spend the afternoon working and also researching the route that will take us to the eastern end of the Eyre Highway and the wide-open stretch of 750 miles that stands between there and the heart of Western Australia. When I take a break, I decide to walk a few blocks over to the general store. Watervale's side streets have no sidewalks, so I walk on the road. But this is just a formality because there's no traffic anywhere. I pet the dogs that greet me at the fence line in front of the houses along the way, then sit in front of the store and watch life in the small town go by in front of me. On this lazy Monday afternoon that means not much more than a few passing cars, kids on BMX bikes buying sodas, and the delivery guy dropping off a few cartons worth of milk.

So close.
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As this happens, Kristen's Clare Valley adventures continues. She writes:

We turn off onto a gravel road that leads up to a wonderful view of the rolling green vineyards and islands of gum trees and other native vegetation that make up the valley. I’m kicking myself for not bringing the camera.
"Jeff is probably just taking a picture of a can of coke," I think to myself. 
[Editor's note: Hey!]
But unlike most of my time riding and staring at beautiful scenery, this time I have a tour guide to provide some background and context. Kerstin talks to me about the history of the valley, why the soil is good for certain kinds of grapes, and a bit about the wine industry in the area.
Then it is on to the wine! We go to Shut the Gate, a newer addition to the valley housed in one of its oldest buildings. As we sip on fantastic Rieslings we pet Matilda, a twenty-year-old cat who is in charge of the place. Next we visit another historical treasure, a Jesuit church turned winery called Sevenhill Cellars, which is the valley's oldest. Here I have my first Tokay, take pictures of their selection of alter wines on my phone, and wander around a cellar that was dug into the ground over a hundred years ago.

The gist of my wine tasting experience with Kerstin goes like this:

Me: "This is good!"

Kerstin: "Oh yes. It’s a very sophisticated Riesling; much more like a European Riesling and I mean that in the best way. I love the nodes of apricot and slate on the palate."

Me: "Yeah!"

Before visiting Pike, the final winery, we go into the small city of Clare, bustling with residents and tourists. It is here that I have the pleasure of visiting an establishment that has "Australia’s Best Sausage" and a logo of a smiling sausage wearing an apron and golden crown. You would think that we visit the Sausage King for, well, sausage. But no. As part of her job, Louise has to run a training session to teach people at the hospital where she works how to do injections where the needle goes into the bone instead of through the skin. Doing this requires a bone to practice on. This is where Kerstin comes in.

Her request to the serious looking man behind the counter is modest.

“Can I have a leg bone that is as close in size to a human leg as possible?” she asks.

Without a flinch, without the slightest change to his serious gaze, the man suggests a calf bone.

"Would you like that cut at the joint?” he asks.

Then the man seriously walks into the back room, before seriously returning and handing us a large package where the end of a white bone and some reddish tissue hanging off is visible. And so this prize, along with many bottles of wine, beer, and ingredients for a Mexican dinner involving kangaroo meat head toward home in the back seat of the car.

It was a wonderful day, and if I had to pick any spot in Australia to spend a day not cycle touring it would have been this place and with this tour guide.

The four of us come together over dinner, which features tacos made with that kangaroo meat, and beer and wine each created within ten miles of where we're eating. We talk about a lot of things, like how Louise sometimes does bicycle repairs for people who live nearby and gets paid for the work in wine; the insanity of the American healthcare system; and the spectacle of Eurovision, which neither Kristen or I have ever heard of. But the most inspiring thing we learn is how Kerstin and Louise are in the process of building a small house of less than 500 square feet on a piece of land just down the street from where they live now. It takes a lot of the concepts that make bicycle touring so satisfying — living in a space most people would consider far too modest and confining, getting rid of objects that aren't essential to your life, prioritizing what's most important to you — and applies them to a more permanent living setup. We're once again impressed, and once again a little jealous.

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When the mozzies become too much we head inside to the living room. We watch the Australian Open on TV, drink tea and eat ginger-flavored biscuits, hear the crickets chirping outside through open windows, and smile at the lazy old greyhound who wedges her narrow body into a square-shaped dog bed that leaves the ends of her long and skinny legs draped over the edges. It marks the end of a wonderful day spent with two wonderful people. With half a world separating us, the chance of meeting up with Louise and Kerstin for a third time at some point down the road on bicycles or any other kind of vehicle is admittedly small, but Kristen and I both go to bed hoping that the numbers are on our side.

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