Day 152: Near Cowell, SA to 20 miles west of Rudall, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 25, 2015

Day 152: Near Cowell, SA to 20 miles west of Rudall, SA

It will take an incredible amount of incompetence or bad luck for us to happen upon a fatal car crash this morning because the rural highway on which we ride is all but empty. It takes us up over one gentle hill, down to the narrow creek at bottom of the valley beyond, and then we repeat the process over and over again.

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We're in wheat country, where every flat or near-flat spot of ground is close-cut and shines pale yellow or green in the mid-morning light. We see only a handful of homes, and each one has a nearby barn where harvesting machines and utes and double-axle truck trailers stand idle. It's the kind of subtle landscape where crossing the invisible line between district councils counts as an exciting event and where wind turbines turn silently on the tops of the tallest hills in the distance. It's also a place that once again challenges our perceptions of what rural Australia looks like and once again leaves us happy to be riding exactly here.

Except for the flies. Those little pieces of shit are everywhere.

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We yell out for joy when we find the gas station in Cleve open and selling delicious things like pies, fish and chips, and family-size boxes of Tim Tams. With our bikes leaned against the front wall, below the ads for milkshakes and soft serve ice cream and soda, we watch a pair of 60s-era Land Rovers painted in camouflage colors pull into the parking lot, kill the engine, and coast to a stop with old brake pads squeaking. They're soon followed by the young skinny guy in a black t-shirt and shades who rolls up to the gas pump in an old Ford sedan blasting classic rock, and then fills the tank with the windows down and Foghat spilling out of every rolled-down window. This is the extent of the action in Cleve in the middle of this holiday weekend.

The metropolis of Cleve.
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Beyond town the landscape begins to look like something out of the American Midwest. Gum trees still line both sides of the road but the hills turn smaller, the fields bigger and emptier, and the horizon starts to stretch farther and farther away from us. Large one-story farmhouses with red roofs and wraparound covered porches look out on all of it from well-treed plots set more than a mile back from the highway. With the flat roads, next to no traffic, the temperature in the upper seventies, and a cool breeze blowing up from the gulf and sea to the south, it's another wonderful day to be cycling across this charming corner of Australia.

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Massive mounds of fertilizer and two bright white sets of grain elevators that shine like beacons of the prairie signal that we've reached Rudall. It's a town with no grocery store, no churches, and no police station. From the look of the place there's a good chance it's never had any of those things. What it does have is a cricket and rugby oval and a collection of tennis courts that have all been built and maintained with incredible care. The courts have perfect surfaces and fresh-painted lines, and the locker room and lounge areas for the pitch are new and sprawling. Under the cover of the outdoor seating area a seventy-inch flat screen TV hangs on the wall behind a protective plastic case. The mounds of empty beer bottles and cans in the garbage bins tell us that the locals make the most of all of it.

For a place with a population of just 130 people, with barren wheat fields extending in all directions, it seems just about the unlikeliest thing we could have found. But it does exist, and somehow we found it, so we decide to make the most of our good luck. We hang out in the shade for hours, call friends back home, stuff our faces with cookies and potato chips, drink water until the point where we start pissing like farm animals, and continue to embrace what's been a real lazy-assed day.

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Our reward for the laziness is a good tailwind as we head west from Rudall. We ride side by side on a highway that's now so empty we aren't passed by a car for almost an hour. The next one doesn't show up for an hour after that, and when it does the driver stops, rolls down his window, and checks to make sure that we have everything we need and that nothing on the bikes has broken down. Soon we come to a weird little park that stretches back a few hundred feet from the highway. The lazy part of us wants to stop there, end the day early, and rest up for the long road ahead. And on most days that part would win. But we know that tomorrow is Australia Day — which is kind of like Independence Day back home in the States — and that changes things.

For the last few weeks, every small town we've passed through has had a flyer posted to the local bulletin board announcing the details of its Australia Day celebration. It's almost always a morning event held in the park, where they raise the flag, sing the national anthem, listen to a person of questionable notoriety read a speech, and then everyone sits down together to eat breakfast. That last part is the key. Sometimes the breakfast is cheap, and sometimes it's even free, but always there's a breakfast involved. Given our dire-looking food situation and the fact that every store and cafe is likely to be closed tomorrow for the holiday, that breakfast looms large in our minds.

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We know there's going to be an Australia Day thing happening in the morning in the town of Lock, thirty miles up the road, so we decide to keep going and get close enough to town to ride there before the food runs out. With the tailwind continuing to pick up strength it's a situation where we can still be kind of lazy and also have a shot at a free breakfast. It honestly doesn't get much better than that.

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In what may be a constant for the next month we find ourselves riding toward the setting sun with no place to stay and a fence line running thirty feet away from other side of the road. But as with last night, we keep an eye on the path of the barbed wire and within a few miles of when we start looking we find a long stretch of bush with no fences, no farms, and no sign of having ever been touched. It also puts us about thirteen miles away from the town of Lock and the chance for a decent breakfast. It's perfect.

Reading Lord of the Rings in the bush.
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And so we once again walk into the woods and settle in for a peaceful night spent all alone, undisturbed, where no one would ever bother to look. There we eat dinner, kill the three flies that managed to follow us inside the tent, and revel in the fact that we've now pedaled more than 5,000 miles since we first pushed away from the curb in front of Kristen's old house in Portland. As the last of the color drains from the sky a few hours later and the crickets start to make themselves known, we stare up into eucalyptus branches as they bend and creak on the wind and let the thoughts of five months of improbable and unforgettable adventures send us off to sleep.

Today's ride: 53 miles (85 km)
Total: 5,042 miles (8,114 km)

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