Day 147: Watervale, SA to Bundaleer Forest Reserve - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 20, 2015

Day 147: Watervale, SA to Bundaleer Forest Reserve

After a delicious breakfast, heartfelt goodbyes, and the exchange of email addresses, we leave Kerstin and Louise and Tash behind. As much as we'd like to hang around longer and enjoy the country life in Watervale, the western half of a continent lies in wait.

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Only a mile down the trail I see a pair of somethings coming toward us.

"Are those loaded touring bicycles?" I ask Kristen, not believing what I'm seeing.

But as rare as it is to see cycle tourists in Australia in the middle of the summer, that's exactly what we find.

They are Alice and Willem, and their deep tans, large plastic water jugs, and patch-marked panniers tell us straight off that they've come a hell of a long way.

"We are riding from the Netherlands to Melbourne, so we are almost there," Alice tells us. "We've been on the road since June 2013. We lost our jobs back home because of the financial crisis, and we looked at our savings and thought, 'Well, if we keep a good budget, I think we can make it work.'"

And they have. Since leaving home they've cycled almost 20,000 miles, through the Stans and China, Southeast Asia, and all the way from Darwin at the tip of Northern Australia, down the west coast past Perth, and across the Nullarbor. They camp all the time, they cook for themselves, and after more than a year and a half on the road that has seen them travel through many remote and demanding stretches they still have the smiles and laughter and joy of someone who's only just started.

"Are you going home after you reach Melbourne?" I ask.

"Hmm, not quite," Alice says. "We only live about forty k's from the airport in Amsterdam. It would be too sudden to get there and stop riding, so we're flying to Paris in April and then cycling home from there."

It's all very impressive. Willem also mentions that we're the first touring cyclists they've seen since Western Australia. That's where they met a Swiss couple with a year-and-half-old child who had been on the road for four years. And yes, the math is correct; their child was born while they were on the road, and they continued on with the baby in tow. It's once again a reminder that however extreme or adventurous you think your travels are, you'll never fail to meet someone else undertaking a trip where the scope of it makes you shake your head in amazement.

But what really stands out to us is how Alice and Willem and Louise and Kerstin remind us of the importance of living a passionate life. All of them made the choice to leave behind the path that so many people in the modern world follow, and to instead embrace a spirit of adventure and the high level uncertainty that goes hand in hand with that. By doing so, they had the chance to live out experiences that meant so much to them, that helped them feel healthy and alive in the moment, and allowed them to feel excited for the future. And although they may not have a strong sense of what's coming next in that future, they're not worried; they know they'll be able deal with that stuff as it comes. It's a perspective for which both of us have a tremendous amount of respect, and one that we hope we can continue to learn from in the months and years ahead.

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We ride among the 400-year-old gum trees and vineyards and wheat fields that we saw when we passed through this area two days ago, back when we were blissfully unaware that we'd be riding by it again so soon. At the end of the trail we pass through Clare, a thriving small town of 3,300 where the streets and shops are filled with parents, children, retired people, construction workers, bank managers, and a mail carrier pushing a three-wheeled cart with Schwalbe Marathon tires. Then it's onto the highway, due north, past so many wineries standing right next to each other that each blends seamlessly into the one that follows.

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We can tell which cars and utes are driven by locals and which are carrying travelers, because without fail the locals wave. Sometimes it's an open hand with a turn of the wrist, and others it's only the lift of a finger or two, but they always wave as if to say hello or be safe or good on ya. It's a welcome distraction from the headwind that continues to grow in strength, to the point that it shoves us hard to the right and starts blowing loose soil across that surface of the highway in sheets and waves.

As we rise out of the Clare Valley we leave the vineyards behind and return to a landscape of subtle hills over which wheat fields rise and fall for as far as we're able to see. The yellow warning signs next to the road clatter as the wind whips them back and forth along the axis formed by a pair of loose bolts. Dust coats my handlebars and I feel grit in between my teeth whenever I clench my jaw. And every so often a little kangaroo head pops up from the tall grass that runs along a creek when the clunk of a gear change catches their attention. All of it passes at six miles per hour to the thundering of wind over our ears and knees that ache from pushing hard.

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The rural highway leads us to Spalding, where the general store has a sign on the door that reads, "A shirt is required for service," where a nine-year-old boy stocks the shelves, and where farm dogs jump from the bed of a ute that stops in front, pissing on the nearby garbage can and laying on the pavement beneath the cab until their owner walks back out.

It's also a place where I make a peanut butter and jelly wrap for lunch, and talk to Kristen as I eat it. At a certain point I say the word too, and I must really mean it, because of chunk of half-chewed tortilla flies off the tip of my tongue toward Kristen's face. In that instant the world starts to move in slow motion. I watch the pale white spitball-sized glob fly through the five feet of air that separates us and then land softly on the highest point of Kristen's left cheekbone. My eyes turn big; she recoils in low-level shock. And two seconds later we break down and laugh uncontrollably, to the point we can hardly speak. This is our glamorous life.

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After we clean up and try to move past what's just happened, we head back to the road. In the hour and a half we spent dicking around in town, the winds have shifted and now push us hard from the side and a little from the back. They make a moaning kind of sound as they pass through the grass and around the telephone poles and over the above-ground pipeline that runs along the fence line to our left. Together with the cloud cover that never burns off, it means another day of cool, pleasant riding in what's normally the hottest part of the year around here. For all of the tough weather luck we had in New Zealand, we're making up for it now. We're also making up for all of the impersonal tourist towns we passed through back then. Everyone we pass in the afternoon waves at us, and I wave back to them. It's just awesome.

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When we reach a block of state forest land, we head past the picnic tables and historical placards and bathrooms near the road and walk down a side trail, beyond the ruins of a long-abandoned sandstone building, and set up the tent with gum trees and native bush surrounding us on all sides. There we sit back and watch the evening pass in peace among the screeching of the galahs, the whoops of the kookaburras, and the occasional rhythmic crunch of kangaroo feet on fallen branches and dried leaves. This is our home.

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By the time the last of the light is fading from the sky, a chill starts to fall over the countryside. It causes goosebumps to form on our arms whenever the breeze breaks through the barrier of trees around us and reaches the tent. And so I crawl outside and put on the rain fly, not for protection from what might fall from the sky, but as a way to insulate ourselves from the cold. It's something we never expected would happen in Australia. But then there are so many things we've experienced here that we never expected would happen, and much to our delight it doesn't seem like the trend will stop any time soon.

Today's ride: 52 miles (84 km)
Total: 4,770 miles (7,677 km)

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