Day 188: North Beach, WA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

March 2, 2015

Day 188: North Beach, WA

While Kristen goes with Ruth and Tia to swim and snorkel in the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean among stingrays and great white sharks, Victor and I stay at the house and talk bicycles: handlebar setups, our ideal touring frames, what types of tires work best when you're traveling around the world, the merits of internally geared hubs, and on and on it goes. It doesn't matter if you haven't toured in a year, or in a decade, or even if you just finished a six-month trip two days ago, when you happen upon someone who has the same kind of passion for long-distance bike travel it's impossible to keep your inner touring nerd from bursting out.

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In the afternoon, the five us of come together and head into Perth to get dim sum. This might be the most un-Australian thing to do in Perth. With two dozen Chinese families all around us and the roar of conversation just below the level of a commuter aircraft taking off, we gorge ourselves on dumplings stuffed with pork, deep-fried prawns, deep-fried squid tentacles, pastries filled with egg custard, brown jello-like squares with water chestnuts suspended within them, and chicken feet. Yes, chicken feet. I've never tried them before, nor wanted to try them, nor even considered for two seconds the idea of trying them. But when given the option today I decide, Hey, why the hell not?

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If you've never had chicken feet, here's everything you need to know about chicken feet: they're fucking terrible. They're forty-seven percent bones, forty-seven percent rubbery skin, and about six percent disgusting meat. I would sooner eat cauliflower.

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The short dip in morale caused by the chicken feet fades soon after as we speed off to Kings Park. Perched on a hill overlooking Perth, there we walk through lush gardens and walkways suspended in the trees, with the warm afternoon sun shining down on us at gentle angles and the fresh smell of the evening sea breeze filling our heads. We pass families enjoying the Labor Day holiday by having picnics and barbecues, playing cricket, kicking around soccer balls, and chasing after toddlers intent on making a break for it.

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After finding an open patch of grass we spread out a large blanket and set up a picnic of our own. There we're joined by Victor and Ruth's other daugther, Shasta. Over sandwiches and Tim Tams we look out on the skyline of downtown Perth, where tall buildings with the names of multinational resource extraction companies in big block letters attached to the top of them dominate the view. Beyond them, powerboats motor up and down the wide bends of the Swan River, and the outskirts of the city stretch into the line of hills that we crossed over two days ago to reach the coast.

Proper picnic food.
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Then it's back north toward home, where we return to beach again, just in time to stare into the deep orange glow from the sun that set only moments before. The brightest stars start to appear in the sky, the wind hangs in that vague place between cool and cold, and we stand above the sand and the rocks with the surf crashing below in a final goodbye to the ocean that we traveled so far to reach.

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Kristen and I have talked a lot in the last week about how different it feels to be invited into someone's home for a night or two versus asking to drop in on them by way of a service like Warm Showers or Couch Surfing. When we started this trip we used those kinds of websites a few times, mostly as a way to get to know local people when traveling through larger cities or suburbs. But as time has gone on and more strangers have welcomed us in, we've come to realize that the gap between being offered a place to stay versus asking for one is far wider than we would have expected. It's hard to put into words, but there's something about inviting ourselves in that feels that forced and unnatural. Even though we've always had a great time with people who have hosted us, the fact that we've placed ourselves in that position has a subtle effect on the character of how everyone interacts with each other. Those feelings don't exist at all when people reach out to us. In those cases we're always in their home because they want us to be there, because they've specifically asked us to be there, because it's important to them. Somehow that makes all the difference.

It's the reason that we go to bed with calves sore from walking, stomachs stretched from eating, and bodies tired from the movement of going from one activity to the next and the next and the next. It's also the reason that as we head off toward our last night's sleep in Australia we look back on the last few days with nothing but fond memories. There lies within us the feeling that we're not just travelers passing through strangers' homes halfway around the world, but a meaningful part of this positive, supportive, healthy bicycle touring community that has helped shape the path of our lives in such a dramatic and fulfilling way.

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