Day 159: Near Streaky Bay, SA to Ceduna, SA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

February 1, 2015

Day 159: Near Streaky Bay, SA to Ceduna, SA

Late last night, just before going to bed, on the heels of everything else that happened in the previous fourteen hours, I received a troubling email message from back home. It was about my dog, Walter, and the long list of problems he's either suffering from or causing in his temporary home. I find out for the first time that several months ago he injured one of his hind legs and has been hobbling around on the other three legs ever since. Even though the injury seems severe, two veterinarians have examined him and taken x-rays of his leg and haven't found the cause. The only thing they've been able to do is put him on pain medication. Beyond this, he's taken up the habit of barking at every stranger and every dog that comes near him, whether he's walking on a leash or running free in the backyard of the house where he lives. Because of his caretaker's living situation, he's also ending up in a dog daycare facility a couple of days a week and spending an unknown amount of time during the rest of the week stuck by himself in a small crate. And I'm actually lucky that he's still alive in the first place. Back when we were working on the goat farm in New Zealand I got a call from a stranger who happened to take Walter and one of his dogmates in when she found the two of them wandering the streets of North Seattle, just a block or two from the busiest highway in the area.

The long and short of the email is that I need to either take Walter back or give him up forever. Of all the issues I've had to deal with or thought I might have to deal with out there, this wasn't one of them. I'm at the same time stunned and heartbroken. All dogs need structure, human attention, and a good leader in order to feel happy and healthy, but it sounds like Walter hasn't had much of any of those things for the last five months. Over and over again I imagine him sitting in a crate, alone, with no one to talk to him or rub his little head, with a back leg always causing him pain, while feeling stressed and concerned because there's no one to help show him right from wrong. The amount of guilt I feel for having been the one to drop him into a situation like this is staggering. My heart pounds, my head aches, and I keep staring off into the bush, as if the right answer lies somewhere out among the gum trees.

But I already know the answer: I have to get Walter out of that place, and I have to do it right now. And so I call the person most likely to be ready, willing, and able to help. I call my dad.

It's the afternoon in Washington, which means he's awake and able to answer on the third ring. I explain the situation to him in about a minute, and then I lay it all out there. I've never asked him for all that much as an adult, I tell him, but right now I need his help in a big way. I need him to drive the half hour down to Seattle, pick up Walter, and take him in for the next four or five weeks until we're able to leave Australia and I can come home and take Walter back.

I might be sad and stressed and worried about all of the possible outcomes of this conversation, but my dad is still my dad. He says that of course he'll help, that he's happy to help, that this is the kind of thing he's around for. There are logistical issues to deal with, but he'll deal with them. He's so ready to help, in fact, that he's going to put the rescue mission into action as soon as he gets off the phone with me.

And just like that, Walter is saved.

Kristen and I find ourselves staring out through the mesh of the tent after the call ends, trying to figure out what it all means for this part of our adventure, for our return to America in March, and for all of the traveling that was supposed to come after. But there's still a lot of time and a lot of miles between here and there. Eventually we agree that there's nothing else we can do right now except pack up the tent, load up the bikes, and get back to riding.

I still hear that clicking sound when we start riding again, despite changing the tube that went flat moments after I first heard the noise yesterday evening. And so I stop, get off the bike, check for broken spokes, and feel nothing. Then I roll the bike forward slowly, waiting to hear the sound make itself known and try to figure out where it's coming from. It only takes a few revolutions to find the source: there's a gash in the sidewall, and the pressure from the tube is causing the split rubber to push out far enough that it's brushing against the brake pad every time the bulge passes over it. It's a surprising failure for a tire that hasn't seen more than about a thousand miles of riding, and almost always on paved roads.

Busted.
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It's surprising and also aggravating, because the mechanical issues continue to mount as we head farther and farther away from the places where there's any hope of fixing them. I'm so fed up with all of it that I curse a little, let out a heavy sigh, and then decide to disconnect the back brakes to widen the gap between the pads and the rim. I figure that will let me continue the last few miles into town, where I can deal with the problem on a well-watered patch of grass instead of in the dirt and rocks ten feet off the highway.

This tactic works for exactly three miles before the bulge grows to the point that it's smacking against the brakes, even though they're wide open and almost half an inch away from the sidewall. It's a credit to the series of patches I applied to the tube last night that it didn't blow out completely and leave the bike dead where it stands.

We pull off into the rest area that happens to exist right next to where I stopped, take everything off the bike, stack it on a picnic table, and get to work installing the replacement folding tire I picked up in Adelaide. It was intended as insurance against a sidewall blowout on the Nullarbor many hundreds of miles down the road, but we're at the point now where everything's getting cashed in because we have no other options. When Kristen unfolds the tire, the thing that the flopping, shapeless mass of rubber looks less like than almost anything else in the world is a bicycle tire. This makes an already tense situation seem even worse, and the feeling doesn't get any better when I try to mount it myself and can't do it. But I'm fortunate not to be alone, and with Kristen's help we manage to keep the bead from jumping over the lip of the rim and somehow wrangle the thing into place without pinching the tube that sits inside.

It seems like a much-needed mechanical victory, but then I find that simply opening the cantilever brakes has thrown them entirely out of alignment, such that the left-side pad sits flush against the rim. When I pick up the bike and move the cranks, the pad stops the wheel dead before it turns even once. If it was possible to punch a cantilever brake in the face, this is the point where I'd do that. It's one more setback in what's turning into a sea of them. It's hard to believe that this trip was so wonderful for so long, but that now so many things are literally falling apart that the dream of reaching Perth is starting to crack.

On the plus side, the last two miles into the town of Streaky Bay pass without a broken spoke or punctured tire or inadvertently cycling over the edge of a cliff, although a late-model sedan decides to shoot by about two feet from our right-side panniers on the road that leads from the highway, so it's not without a short round of intense swearing. By the time we park the bikes in front of the grocery store I already feel like I've pedaled seventy-five miles.

Along the shores of Streaky Bay.
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But we have almost that much ground to cover to reach Ceduna today, so despite a headache and fatigue that feels like it's pushing every part of me backward, we press on. As the grain elevators and horse racing track of Streaky Bay fade into the background, the sailboats and white caps and posh cafes are replaced by the dust devils and windmills and endless fields of wheat that have dominated the landscape since the moment we rode out of Cowell eight days ago.

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We've been on the Eyre Peninsula long enough that now I reflexively wave to every driver that passes in the opposite direction, by way of raising two or three or four fingers of my right hand from off the top or the side of my handlebars. I can't explain it; there's something about it that just feels welcoming and good. And it comes with one added and unexpected benefit: by initiating the wave, I force the approaching driver to wave back, or else they'll feel like a jerk for not returning the gesture. There's nothing welcoming or good about that of course, but I love it all the same.

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Farther on we drop into a valley where the gum trees and native bush blot out the man-made fields and grow uninterrupted for miles. The combination of elements laid out in front of us — the bright blue of the sky, the vibrant green of the trees, the little rounded puffs of leaves on the top of them, and the impossibly beautiful shades of the water that falls into the coastline beyond — seems almost otherworldly in certain moments, to the point that Kristen compares it to cycling through something out of a Dr. Seuss book. And we're able to appreciate all of it because the traffic remains so sparse that we ride close to one another and sometimes side by side for hours. We talk about our memories of riding in Oregon and California, about how we can't remember how long it's been since we had a really hot day of riding, about the songs we have stuck in our heads ("Macarena" for Kristen, an Iron and Wine song for me), and about how we probably won't ride on another highway this empty anywhere else in Australia. We do our best to take in and savor the isolation, the quiet, and the total lack of murderous road trains.

Looking back at the mouth of Streaky Bay.
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It's often hard to tell by sight if we're approaching the sea, because the trees and bush and hills hide the horizon by view. But we know it's close by feel, when we turn a corner and all of a sudden the breeze shifts from heavy and warm to heavy and cool. That's about the greatest cycle-touring insight I can come up with today, because I spend so much of the time looking inward, thinking about my dog and wondering what mechanical problem will reveal itself next.

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My heart hurts when I think about how Walter's been in pain for so long. I feel a profound sense of sadness in knowing that he hasn't had the guidance and structure he needs to be content and happy. And in the end I'm disappointed with myself for thinking that the situation would have ended any other way. In between all of this, I find myself envisioning spokes breaking by the dozen, the front derailleur cable fraying, or the rear derailleur spring snapping. I think about every part older than two months and try to peg the odds that it will make it across the expanse of the Nullarbor, because I've been churning through components at an alarming rate in the last six or seven weeks, and that rate seems to be increasing. At a stop alongside the road in the late afternoon, Kristen tells me that her grandmother back in Iowa is praying for us and our mechanical problems, so at least we've got that going for us.

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I run all of this through my mind over and over and over again, and so the many hours and miles that stand between us and Ceduna pass, with a massive tailwind pushing us on at an easy fifteen miles per hour most of the way.

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Perth, here we come. (I hope.)
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Seventy-five miles of cranking lead us to the last town with more than a hundred people that we'll see for the next week and a half. We celebrate our achievement in high luxury, in the way that only Team Hawthorne can. We check into a cheap motel room, then eat a dinner that includes a sandwich packed in a plastic clamshell box and a sad-looking bowl of pasta, both from the food counter attached to the truck stop that stands like a throbbing boil at the edge of town. When we return to the motel room we take showers and then collapse into bed. There's so much to do before we head out onto one of the most remote paved stretches of road in the world, but those are all matters for tomorrow.

Today's ride: 75 miles (121 km)
Total: 5,273 miles (8,486 km)

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