Day 189: North Beach, WA to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

March 3, 2015

Day 189: North Beach, WA to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

We're on the road at 4:45, heading to the airport with Victor and talking with the deep-sounding voice you get when you've woken up two hours before the sun crosses over the horizon. We reflect on the last two and a half months in Australia, where the days have passed with the kind of speed that made them feel only half as long. Although mental, physical, and mechanical challenges have fallen in front of us time and again throughout our time in the country, we both agree that they've done nothing to diminish our love for Australia. We can't wait to come back when the right combination of time, adventure, and lack of man-eating saltwater crocodiles allow.

One seriously good dude. And me.
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One of the things that's still hard to wrap our heads around is the scale at which mining happens in this part of the world. And so it goes this morning where we soon realize that every other passenger at the airport wears the familiar orange or yellow work shirt that calls them out as mine workers. Victor tells us that they're called fly-in-fly-outs. They catch a flight out to some far-off operation at the start of the week, work in the mines for four or five days, return at the end of the week, and then repeat the process for months on end. They're all between twenty and about forty-five years old, ninety-five percent of them are men, and they all seem to talk about one of three things: mining, how they spent the money they made from mining, and how much they drank over the weekend.

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On the flight from Perth to Sydney the only thing I want to do is lean back in my seat, either with my eyes closed or staring out the window, and nothing else. In the last seven months not a single day passed where I wasn't riding a bicycle, fixing a bicycle, packing a bicycle, packing up everything I own, working on websites, working on a farm, writing, taking pictures, being shown around a city, or sitting down to a meal with one of the countless Aussies and Kiwis and Yanks who were so willing to invite us into their homes. And although I have a deep appreciation for how fortunate I am to have experienced all of it in good health and alongside the world's greatest traveling partner, that's still more than 200 days in a row without what I'd consider a day off. Never in my life have I worked so hard and for so long on anything.

I think about this as Esperance, the Great Australian Bight, the Eyre Peninsula, Adelaide, Lake Alexandrina, the Murray River, and the wide open countryside of Victoria and New South Wales move past in silence below us through layers of cloud that grow thicker and thicker. And that's when I decide I need to stop. The thousands of photos yet to be processed, the stack of journal entries that still need so much writing and editing, the code and emails and spreadsheets that need my attention — all of these things can wait for awhile. It's time to take a break.

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Australia remains interesting and enjoyable until the very end. In the newspaper we learn that we rode across the country during what was the fifth-hottest summer on record. We delight in the fact that when the captain comes on over the intercom and says schedule it sounds like shedyule. When we pass through security to reach the international terminal in Sydney, an agent with a heavy Russian accent looks at my passport, notices that it says United States, and then goes on a five-minute diatribe about how it's a good thing I'm not from Texas, because George W. Bush is from Texas and George W. Bush is an embarrassment both to America and the world. We also have what could only be described as the perfect last meal in Australia: a sausage roll and a Victoria Bitter stubby and chunks of a Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bar. They're so compelling that the apple I bought for Kristen the Former Vegan goes uneaten. As we eat, we watch middle-aged people wearing fanny packs without a hint of irony waddle past.

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You'll be missed.
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We trade our last thirty Australian dollars for a thin stack of American dollars tax at some terrible exchange rate, and then sit at a table near the food court, smell the bills, and start laughing like a couple of fools. It seems ridiculous how something so small and insignificant can bring such comfort and stir up so many good feelings after five months away from home, but that's exactly what it does. As we wait in line to board our flight to Los Angeles, we notice a passenger ahead of us who wears pajamas while carrying both a full-sized pillow and a large pizza. She is, of course, American. So too are the guy in the Texas Rangers baseball jersey, the guy in the black t-shirt with a Harley-Davidson logo spread wide across the front, and the young dads with terrible hipster beards. In true American fashion, every conversation is twice as loud as it needs to be, to the point that no one can hear the boarding announcements.

Goodbye Australia.
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I'm too tired to read, there isn't any in-flight internet, and I've never been able to sleep on airplanes, so I pass the next thirteen hours of my life perched on the edge of boredom. I watch Road, one of the Lord of the Rings movies, Pulp Fiction, Dallas Buyers Club, and Lost in Translation. That's a greater number of movies viewed in one sitting than I've seen in the last year and a half combined. Whenever I look up I see hundreds of faces lit by the glow of their seat-back screens, meaning that most everyone else passes the time in the exact same way. In between I feel my mouth and nose and eyeballs grow drier with each passing minute. I fart with no sound or facial expression and hope like hell that no one around me is awake enough to notice. I try to figure out why Qantas thinks it's a good idea to serve hot dogs at 2 a.m. I applaud the drive of the pregnant women who raid the snacks left out near the bathrooms at the back of the plane without a hint of shame. I feel embarrassed at the amount of garbage that the other passengers pile up around their feet and ankles, also without a hint of shame. I try to figure out how the last two hours of the flight can feel like six.

Hello America.
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After taking an hour to pass through about fifteen levels of Homeland Security and track down our bike boxes, we emerge from a tunnel that a crowd of people waiting for loved ones look down into with great interest. It might be the closest we'll ever get to feeling like celebrities. We search the faces for the only one that matters to us. Within twenty seconds we find it: Kristen's mom, smiling, waving, happy beyond all words that her oldest daughter has returned home safe after five months spent on the other side of the world.

And with that Kristen is home.

I still have three steps to go.

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