Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mt. Garnet to Cairns

Well, it happens sometimes, that a journey ends and the post tour events tumble in in such rapid succession that one fails to update her blog for some time. That AND it is surprisingly challenging to find a competent internet connection and computer at the same time in far north Queensland.  Needless to say, I did make it to Cairns.  Over a month ago, after a thorough exploration of semi-interior Queensland, the Atherton Tablelands and Cape Tribulation with my French Tandem pals, Stephane and Manue.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Charters Towers to Mt. Garnet

Once upon a time, about eight days ago, three bicycle tourists headed north from Charters Towers into the Queensland bush. They each suffered their own form of fatigue, related in some way to long days on the road in kind of rough conditions.  This being the case, and with water sources every 100k, they broke the next sections into reasonable chunks.  42ks here.  75ks. A 43. One 64. A 40. 47. 58. 66. 
They saw many beautiful things during these days:
Blonde winter paddock grasses
Massive four-legged creatures with floppy ears and broad nostrils   
Red winged parrots and puffy white clouds

 They hauled extra liters of water into their bush camping spots for idyllic showers in the afternoon sun.  They chatted with farmers whose land they stayed on. They laughed heartily along with the calls of crows and antics of apostle birds and sulfur crested cockatoos.  

Their moods went up...into peaks of delirious sillies where they practiced their Australian accents, or played cow patty war.

And their moods went down...retreating to the safety of their tents for entire afternoons. One cried tears for home. Another, perhaps the same one,  had an internal tantrum when her tent tried to blow away during setup, again. Another didn't say anything for what felt like an entire day. 

But even when their muscles said, "please! No more!". Even when their rest spots got filled with dust from a parade of turning road trains. Even when the trees offered fake shadow from the blazing sun and the clouds fake rain, to cool their sweaty skin, they carried on. 

Because, you see, there was one catch. Between where they left and where they were going and the eight days in between, there was only one town: Greenvale. 150 people. "Big town!" They'd heard one traveler say. "BIG! With a big shop, oh yeah, plenty of food."  They weren't sure where he'd been traveling or for how long, but they were sure any food that was there would be expensive. 

In Charters Towers, they had arrived at the BIG shop (truly), one hour before it closed for the evening through the next day, Sunday.  In a bit of a frenzy, they bought food for the next day's rest and the four after that prior to Greenvale.  At the time, they'd cursed going into the shop with empty bellies.  Ravenously filling their carts with noodles and cookies, discount yoghurts, veggies, and kiwis.   And again, two days later, when one's panniers barely shut and things were bungee chored to every available space, she joked, "I think I accidentally bought enough food for the whole eight days!"

But accident... not!  Because that one big shop in Greenvale? That town where they had a gas BBQ at the park, and a swimming pool that was disastrously closed in "Winter." Where they hadn't seen a drop of water in months," yet watered one tree and the street for hours and cleaned the "caniveau" out with a power  hose operated by a man in high work boots and short shorts. Well, that one food shop in this town had boxes of cereal  for $8 and canned corn for $3. The vegetables and bread were due in Monday. And it was Thursday so...
they left with a dozen eggs. 

"I think we have just enough (to get to Mt. Garnet, the next town" ) the two said. 
"Oh, I should have plenty," the third said.  "it'll be a lot of couscous and honey, pasta, and quinoa for the last two days, but I have enough."
Yes, the cookies were all eaten , save for five, carefully and painstakenly , for the final days ride.  The carrots and apples long gone. They fried an egg on the last of their bread on the free BBQ and then continued on into the bush. Honeyed couscous is tasty, problem being it does not last long in ones belly.

They were hungry and dreaming of a real shop with real cookies.  Green vegetables.  Flavorful things.  All wishing they'd been able to hide a hidden treat in some pannier, Some crevice. 

And so, this is where the story truly begins.

The three cyclists sat at the covered picnic area of 40 mile scrub national park.  The sun had gone fishing in big pools of grey and hadn't been seen in a whole two days!  They were cold and still hungry and even found little dead worms floating in their tea water.  Discouraged and down, at least one of them started to slunk around. 
A cruel one joked, "must be time for dessert!"  
The slunked one cast up her heavy eyes for a moment then settled them back to the ground.  She knew she had no dessert.  
"Kelsey," one said, "we actually did hide something to have for just now."
She bolted upright. "What?  Really?! How!!  What is it?"
"Yeah, it's in the bag on the bike still..."
"Which pocket?" She skipped to their long red bike. 
"The main one, you won't miss it."

And behold:

Writing prompt: "Luxury beach resort."

That's what all the signs said. Back when I traveled on a busier road. Back where the water was turquoise, clear, or blue.  Something real and swimmable.  Not something only kept in tanks.  Kept locked away in pipes with spickets near signs of: NON POTABLE WATER DO NOT DRINK.
 "Do not drink."  "Do not drink."  

I took a wrong turn or a right one, if you don't believe in wrong. The water hadn't fed the grasses so they weren't turning green. The other people I saw had tans across their faces like the worn leather of their pickup truck seats.  No, there are no bikinis out here.  Just a two lane highway called "the great inland way."  Kangaroo limbs all splayed or mashed or pecked, now resting in some black kite or crow's belly.  Yes, kangaroo limbs instead of beach towels. Road trains instead of surf boards. No houses with sea-view balconies along the road.  No children with ice cream smeared on their faces.  People say "there's nothing out there!" Or "that's sure a long, empty stretch of road."  They are so right.  They are so wrong. Because in nothing is everything. A dozen feathers caught in snags of bristly grasses. Near a million red ants in a patch of red soil. More like sand.  So fine it flies like some sort of signal when you hold up your fingers, rub them together, and watch the dust fade off to another piece of land. 

Because in nothing is everything. The sound of ones own breathing.  Horizon far far, too many kilometers to take in with one seeing.  "Luxury beach resort."  With their food and their special holiday packages.  With their blondes and their jellyfish nets.  With their promises of relaxation and splendor. Well, I am blonde too and the great inland way beat life into me. Cry close to everyday with fatigue, but how can you really explain...
Eagle eyes locked on yours
The empty grace of a repetitive prayer
How can you really explain ...
I don't want no stinkin luxury beach resort. 
Even with the folded white towels. 
Even with the free buffet downstairs. 
I'll take the low groan of cows
And the hiss of a camping stove
And solitude, solitude
Prayer to be saved from, to be returned to, to be saved from, to be returned to
The gift of sweet, sufferable solitude. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Charters Towers, QLD


I saw a woman on a bicycle today with yellow panniers
and I thought it was you.
When I remembered you
aren't here,
I cried.

Miss you.

For Anni.

My panniers aren't yellow here. 
Borrowed, they are grey and made of fabric. Ripped in one place, duct taped for repair. 
My panniers aren't yellow here. Borrowed, they are tearing at the seams.  Stuffed full of food for four days into Queensland's unpopulated and unknown. 
A food list too long to list. But Nutella. Peanut butter. Quinoa. Store brand chocolate chip cookies. Bread, cheese. 
No, no bright yellow panniers here. 
Grey ones, not waterproofed.  Lined with grey trash bags and filled with all my things. As if it was going to rain out here. 

You asked how I was.  Anni, I am borrowed panniers, bursting at the seams.  2500+ kilometers cycled.  Two months and one day.  500 in the last six days. With two Frenchies, Stephane and Manue, on a tandem recumbent. Kilometers rolled by. In grasses and rivers, all dry. In black cockatoos, tails bright blood red.  In bush flies swatted, swarming in the morning. In sun rising, riding on my own, first to leave camp. In sun setting,  laughter of friends made over a stretch of road with 7 curves and 100 times as much straight away. 

Anni.  Bursting. My muscles are exhausted from Bike heavy: 4 days of food and ten liters of water for every two days.  The first three I was all exhilaration. Energy. Manue joked, "you were so fast on those hills.  This is you on Nutella!" But yesterday: 105 km of no motivation. Little rhythm.  That I found was hard to come by. But still going. This I love.  Terrain changed. Greener. Tree-ee-er. The battling voices, "oh, I am so tired. I can barely move. I hate this. Agh." And ,"but look, kels, it is so pretty here!  Look at the trees, the dark clouds! It could rain.  Look at the green, the beauty!" And,  "I know, it is so pretty but I'm too worn out and grumpy to even take it in." Yes, This I love.  When I've arrived in Charters Towers, at the end of it. Perseverance, I love.   Accomplishment, I love.  Doing what I once thought scary to do.

Carried. Bird calls whistled back to the parrots, the magpie larks, the brolgas flown in flocks, grey wings out across the infinite blue sky. 
I am borrowed.  Another eucalyptus tree.  A heart.  A monster.  A landscape.  Land. Trees and sought after shade patches and yesterday I was so tired I thought, 'hmm, what if I try resting my eyes for just a bit.'  And I could still ride straight!  Well, mostly. A swerve to stay on the road and 'maybe that isn't the best idea.'  Four days of quiet road.  Red backed fairy wrens. One broken spoke. Solitude. And company. 

I haven't had a hug since Biloela. I wake most days by five. I have a weird collection of tan lines.  And this morning I get to share breakfast with the two French cyclists, and a Belgian one too, Ludo, who has ridden for the last three years.  In this town, where we will all take a rest before the next long, 'empty' stretch. 

How am I doing?  Well, in other words, I am doing quite well.  I love you.  And how are you?

Stephane and Manue

30 ks northeast of Capella

three people, two bikes, a lot of stuff

the flies were kinda intense this morning

100 ks out of Charters Towers

Ludo takes a picture of the frogs/ see below

frogs in a drain

Mr. Sheep and Blue study the way north

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gayndah to Biloela

1044pm.  Past my cycling bedtime by any means.  But i had an afternoon nap so deep that I woke thinking it was morning.  
Biloela means sulfur crested cockatoo.  Sulfur crested cockatoo in the language of the people who once lived here.  Before the land was cleared. People I rarely see. My favorite Australian bird from my first trip here. Still a favorite.  White under belly. Loud screech. A reminder, always, of the light. 

Be, my beloved friend and outback cycle touring superstar, says what someone once said to her,  "when you're  at your end, ready to give up, so over it, that's when you know the adventure's just getting started. "

John, my best bellingham botanist friend, writes and says of solo, adventure travel, "There are those days when you say to yourself, "What am I doing this for?  Why am making myself suffer like this?"  But then the next day or perhaps even not until the next week a stranger will show you such wonderful kindness and love.  Or you experience an amazing adventure that you couldn't even have contemplated in more comfortable environs. And you'll say to yourself, "Perhaps this is why." "

Back track four days ago and I was ready to chuck my bike on the train. Say this is too crazy. No thank you. Remote Queensland go away. 

But in comes the botanist with his encouraging email at just the right time.  In roll two French cyclists on a tandem recumbent bicycle who pull up next to me at a picnic bench.  Eating multiple sandwiches, we go over and over the roads on the maps. "There is no good way to go!" We all exclaim, laughing.  And, "no wonder we see no other bicycle tourists in this part of Queensland."  

I ask Be how much water she carried for 250km stretches with no towns, running rivers, or homes. 

And in come Rick and Linda.  At a rest stop I'm camped at and they are only stopping for a cup of cocoa on their way home. Would I like one?  Yes!  They live in Biloela, the next town, would I like to stay with them when I pass through? Yes!  Two people. Quiet over cocoa, opening their home and hearts to me over two days. Two days full of rest and "can I help with dinner?" "No, you just sit down, let yourself be pampered for once, Kelsey."  Two days full of local coal mine tours and views, an eisteddfod, soup sandwiches porridge.  Two days of laughter and stories and an ease of us all doing our own thing.  "Perhaps this is why." 

Yes. However far I've ridden. However many bush flies I've swatted at and cursed.  All the fears risen for close looking at.  All the pulling in and hiding inside myself from people I love most.  All the quiet nights tucked in my tent beneath stars and sky. This is one why. Because of the love people pour into my heart by sharing their most beautiful, ordinary lives.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

From Ipswich to Gayndah, Queensland

Friendly homes to stay in.  Rail trails.  Paddock trails.  Solo camps.  Bug bites.  More friendly caravaners.  Ducks in trees.  Forest living.  An old friend, a new friend, and a campfire.  Outdoor bathtub.  A labyrinth, prayers, and courage.  One too many fear mongerers, strangers met upon the road, full of condescending tones.  Moon setting, rising full.  Horse hooves.   And rainbow bee-eaters swooping over the pond.

And sometimes it looks like this:

"I hate this right now," she said.
"You hate this right now," he said.
"What do you hate?" he asked.
"I hate that I am so tired.  That I can't take a shower.  That I can't fully relax.  I hate the loneliness that's here and the flies and the gusts of wind.  I hate the hot and that stupid look I get sometimes.  The one that comes with a tilt and a shake of the head.  From people in their cars or workers on the street.  The look that seems to say, 'you bloody idiot...'"
"What else?" he asked.
"The sound of the trucks.  The brakes.  Them speeding up.  The halting gush of wind when they're coming from the opposing direction.  I hate doing this alone.  Right now.  Right now, I hate being alone.  I hate that I'm out of chocolate.  I hate that there is no easy way to get from here to Cairns.  I hate that a part of me wants to give up.  I hate the smell of the cattle trucks.  That cattle have to be jam packed into and zoomed around in huge trucks.  I hate that I'm fucking writing a conversation like this as if its a suitable substitute for real company."
"Is there anything you don't hate right now?" he asked.  "It's okay if there isn't, some moments are like that."
"Well.  I don't hate the birds calling.  Don't hate that I have a skirt to wear.  Don't hate that there are other campers at this rest stop.  That I bought ingredients for a fun dinner tonight that doesn't involve lentils, rice, or quinoa.  Don't hate those tiny yellow butterflies that were flying all along the highway today.  Don't hate any of the butterflies, actually.  Don't hate the friendly road construction workers.  Don't hate my bike.  Can't hate my bike.  Because it's carrying me so far.  Same for my body.  Can't hate my body.  Don't hate the view to my right.  The grassland and the gum trees.  Don't hate knowing that I'll see my friends again.  That this bike trip isn't going to go on forever.  Don't hate this bike trip most of the time, you know?" she said.
"I know," he said.
"Don't hate you," she said.
"I don't hate you either," he said.
"I feel a tiny bit better," she said.
"See, its as good as having a friend right there!" he laughed.
"Pff..." she said, rolling her eyes and giving him a 1/4 smile.

And sometimes the world of bicycle touring looks completely different after a solid cry and a restful afternoon writing, watching birds, and having a positive chat with the neighboring caravaners.  And the next day, I land in the home of a friend's sister where I get to take a shower and wash off three days of biking/camping grime and then play stuffed animal catch with a three year old.  Sun setting over the flowering grasses and cattle fields.   

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dear Queensland. Letter One.

Dear Queensland,

I know I've only known you for 2 days, but I have quite a serious crush on you.  Yes, I know my affections on this bike tour have proven fickle, thus I will wait a few more days before calling it L.O.V.E.  But upon our first meeting, you offered me a 20k downhill on a road with hardly any traffic (and zero trucks!).  Through magnificent rainforest.  With bell miner birds sounding off the entire way.  Then you rolled me through green farmland with a gentle tailwind.  Then up over Mt. Barney View Road, which was rather steep, mind you, but empty!  Well, save for the construction crew all along it, but they were mightily friendly: cracking jokes about me not being up to the speed limit, topping up my water, and all smiles, waves and encouragement.  And even when traffic picked up just slightly on the road to Boonah, your motorists seem all too pleased to oblige by the new traffic law of giving cyclists 1-1.5m of space.  What a delight!

And then!  Today!  I rode from Boonah up some rolling hills and was feeling rather week.  Dizzy, even.  "What's wrong with me?" I thought.  "Must be tired from the 105k yesterday.  All those hills.  And it is rather hot though only 930 in the morning..."  I wasn't feeling very fit at all.  So to pass the time until the next little town, I started playing a game.  A game I used to play with Adam when we were within an hour or so of the end of any big hiking trip.  Simply explained, the game is this:  "If you could eat ANYTHING when we get out of this wilderness, what would you eat?" 

Yes, I played this game with the upcoming "town" of Kalbar.  A risk, as I knew not what Kalbar might have on offer.  Could be as little as a small, overpriced convenience store.  or as big as a bakery making all of its own goods.  A bit wishful in my thinking because, you see, in my survey of Australian bakeries on this bike tour, I have noticed that your country is having nothing short of a bakery crisis!  Too many times to count, I walk in and there they are:  shelves filled with the exact same items as the last bakery:
-sagging vanilla slices
-cakes with smurf blue icing
-big loaves of bread unwrapped on the back shelf as if hot from the oven.  But no!  Not hot!
All these items were made in a factory.  Somewhere.  All the same.  All characterless.

You can be sure that once I caught on to this calamity (I admit, it took a 1-2 disappointing buys to realize what was going on!),  I do not donate my dollars to such places.
Where have all the true bakeries gone, Queensland?
"A dying breed..." so say the BAKERS OF KALBAR!
Queensland!  Exactly what I wished for in my game appeared!  Big, warm, freshly made muffin!  Veggie sandwich!  A bakery with life!  See, you are only getting me to like you more.

You've put your best foot forward.  I know you are probably as complicated and moody as me and there is no telling how I will feel about you in 3 or 5 or 20 days time.  But for now, I love you so.


more photos added on to this album here: