Day 155: Elliston, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

January 28, 2015

Day 155: Elliston, SA

In the morning we get ready to ride over to the school where Dianne works as a librarian. Over dinner the night before, she asked if we'd be willing to speak to some of the older kids about our trip. Because they live in such a remote rural area, the amount of interaction that they have with the rest of Australia is limited. When it comes to the world beyond their own country, that interaction comes almost entirely from television and movies. International travelers don't often come through Elliston and people from the Elliston area don't really travel farther away from home than Adelaide. There's very little outside influence to be found at school either: it serves grades one through ten but has just sixty-nine students. This year the graduating class includes exactly four people.

And so at 8:30 we pack up the bikes and pedal eight or nine blocks to the edge of town where the school stands along the highway. Kristen is excited; when she worked as a children's librarian, outreach was one of the best parts of her job. She loves talking to groups, and especially to groups of kids. She's prepared with an outline of what she wants to talk about, and finds herself imagining all of the possible questions that the kids might ask. I'm the total opposite. Left to my own choices I'd probably be in front of a sausage roll or still dead asleep in bed. Even as I wheel my loaded bike into the small multimedia room where around forty students between the ages of eight and fifteen sit waiting, I find myself half wishing I was somewhere else.

But in the end it's wonderful. Kristen stands at the front of the room and does most of the talking, while I sit in front of a laptop, switch between the maps of Australia and New Zealand and the United States projected onto the big screen next to her, and chime in every couple of minutes to make a dumb comment about Tim Tams or emus or pooping in the bush. We pass around one of our bright-colored rain jackets, a helmet mirror, and our solar charger. We show them our tent, our sleeping bag, and the tiny stove we use for cooking. We have them try to guess what the weather's like in America, and why it's so different from Australia right now. As all of this goes on, an energetic third-grade boy named Tyrese who sits next to me explains to me stream-of-consciousness-style various facts about Australia, about all of the American coins he has in his coin collection, how John Cena is his favorite professional wrestler, and how a wombat's pouch faces backward so that its babies don't get dirty when it walks.

The kids then ask us about where we sleep, what we eat, if we've seen any kangaroos, what made us want to take this kind of trip, and if we like American football. They're amazed when I explain how my high school had 1,500 students, but a few mouths literally drop wide open when Kristen follows up by saying that more than 3,500 kids went to her high school near Los Angeles. It's the exact reaction you'd expect, because they live in a district council that covers more than 2,500 square miles but has just 1,200 residents. Out of the group of forty, a little more than half of them have been to Adelaide, but only seven or eight have been to Sydney, just one or two have traveled to New Zealand, and not one has had the chance to visit America. It's an entirely different frame of reference.

As I'm thinking about all of this, I realize that our forty-five minutes have flown past and it's time to leave. We then find ourselves in the mad rush of saying goodbye to the kids, packing up our gear, and accepting an invitation for dinner at the headmistress's house the following evening. I can't help but smile a little on the ride back to the house, because we've done it again. We've managed to find ourselves in yet another place we never expected we'd be, but where we somehow end up walking away from the experience feeling like our adventure would now feel incomplete without it.

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In the afternoon I call the guy in Adelaide who was supposed to build a new rear wheel for me and find out that he's not, in fact, building a new rear wheel for me. His phone connection is so bad that it's hard to make out what he's saying, but from what I can tell, not only is he not putting together the wheel, none of the three wheel builders he recommended yesterday are doing it either. It's now in the hands of some unknown company that he claims is going to do a great job, but when I ask for details on who they are and what I'm getting he can't offer any firm answers. The only things he's adamant about are that it's going to work out great and that it's going to be a lot easier for me this way, both of which are said with the kind of upbeat inflection that leads me to believe neither of those things are true.

In the middle of the conversation his connection drops away. He never calls back. I don't call him back either, because there's no point. And there's no point because I'm stuck. The shop in Port Lincoln only has cheap wheels and Elliston has no wheels at all. The only things I can do are sit around, wait, and hope that the new wheel that may or may not be headed my way at some point in the next week is good enough to get us back on the road.

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And so we try to make the best of our time away from pedaling. Ian and Dianne offer to take us on a driving tour around the area before dinner and we accept. At the edge of town we see what they describe as Elliston's new suburbs, which include all of three houses. From there we head onto a series of dirt and gravel roads that take us along the shores of Waterloo Bay and up toward the edge of cliffs that charge almost straight up from the rolling and crashing and receding of the Southern Ocean. As we're blasted by sand and dirt blown by wind so strong that it's tough to walk for more than five seconds without stumbling, Ian explains that we're at the far eastern end of the Great Australian Bight, which stretches another 700 miles to the north and the west.

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But the most striking part of the drive isn't the wind or the color of the water or the texture of the cliffs, but the fact that we don't make it even ten minutes down the road before a Savage Garden song starts to play on the radio. It's now clear that we could head off into the bush, walk for ten days without stopping, and even though we'd be in the middle of a desert without food or water or shelter, somehow we'd still come across a rusted old speaker pumping out one of the same four terrible Savage Garden love songs released between the years 1998 and 2000. They're as inseparable a part of Australia as kangaroos, Victoria Bitter, and that giant hole in the ozone layer that forever leaves us twenty minutes away from the most painful sunburn we've ever known.

Today's ride: 4 miles (6 km)
Total: 5,121 miles (8,241 km)

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