Sunday, 30 October 2011

On the Overland

In the "what a time to be alive department", the old railway station in Bordertown had no people working there, but instead had a sign listing train times and some numbers to call for more information. One of these was that of the train manager to be called while the train was in motion. In order to make the getting Leonardo on the train an easier process for all concerned, I phoned the train manager to let him know that I was bringing a bike and to ask where I should stand on the platform. I am suspicious that I was the only passenger getting on at Bordertown as he asked if I was Mr. Daniel G---, which I was. He told me that the train would first stop to load the bike and then move on for the passengers. He also said the train was about 30 minutes late.

I decided to make use of my Thermarest. I inflated it, and lay down on it in the shade to wait. The station is an attractive building near the center of Bordertown that is currently unused for any function. Were I an enterprising Bordertonian, I would buy it and use it as some sort of business in the restaurant or related line.
As the time for the train drew near, I deflated the Thermarest and began to chat with some locals who were waiting for people on the train. One old woman explained to me how the town used to be junction between rail lines featuring three different gauges! Broad, standard and narrow. I had noticed that the ties were such that they had three points to affix the rails, leading to two options. The woman said that it was only about five years ago that the conversion from broad to standard gauge had happened.

Eventually the train arrived. Unexpectedly, it didn't stop first for the bike, but immediately put down passengers. Leonardo was put in the last passenger car by myself and a railway employee. The last car wasn't being used by passengers, so I think they put it there to save time and hassle, particularly as they were running late. My suspicion is reinforced by the fact they didn't charge me for the bike! A good thing too as the official cost would have been $40 AUD. Incidentally, my fare was $31 AUD with a backpacker discount authorized by my HI card! I called Diane in Adelaide to let her know the train was late.
I settled into a comfy chair in the relatively empty last passenger car in use. After leafing through Southern Rail's on-board magazine, I moseyed forward to the kiosk to get myself a tinny of VB. The broad plains of South Australia zipped by with sheep and the odd kangaroo to remind me of where I was.
Eventually, the landscape became more hilly, before we crossed the Murray River at Murray Bridge. Then the sole locomotive began to have a hard job hauling the relatively long passenger train (by my standards) up through the ranges. The track was about the most winding I have ever been on. At least on a train. The Kettle Valley Railroad and the Columbia and Western trailways come close. There were at least six tunnels between Murray Bridge and Adelaide, and the speed of the train dropped as we wound our way past SA's famous vineyards.
Rob met me at the station. We loaded Leonardo into Diane's old Volvo station wagon. Rob stopped to pick Diane up at work before we got to their house on the edge of the hills surrounding Adelaide.
Over a meal of mushroom soup, veal, beer and South Australian wine, we chatted and gossiped away the evening. Rob is a relatively keen cyclist and had a supply of bike maps. Unfortunately, the most useful one to me was AWOL. He later printed off a copy from the Net. However, as it wasn't particularly readable, I made a point of picking up some more recent maps downtown today and giving them to Rob for his files. Rob told me that bikes sold in Australian are supposed to have their brakes reversed from the "standard" practice. That is the left brake handle controls the rear brake, etc. He wasn't sure why, but we agreed that it was most logically to free the right hand to make hand signals.
Adelaide isn't terribly hard to navigate for the novice except for a few exceptions. I bummed around...
...found some better bike maps of Adelaide before having...
...a meat pie floater for lunch. In the afternoon, I checked out the South Australia Museum.
In the evening, Rob, Diane and I went for supper at a very nice gastro pub where I had kangaroo again. I also paid figuring I owed them. Anyway, I should get going for today. Places to see and all that. Tomorrow, I will be taking the train for Broken Hill.
October 31, 9:00 AM local time.

On Bordertown Friday nights

There are two themes happening. The first is plenty of action at two labyrinthine hotels with annexes full of pokies. The second is a prayer meeting at the ginormous Highway Christian Center.
Bordertown also has an enclosure full of white Western Grey Kangaroos. They are kind of freaky. Then again, the way 'roos bounce is kind of freaky in and of itself.

Friday, 28 October 2011

On a couple of long days

On Thursday morning, I set off from Hall's Gap a little later than I would have but for a conversation with a friendly Aussie at breakfast. Following and sometimes ignoring instructions on a map given to me by a tourist information person, I pedalled along country roads with an assortment of birds as company. In addition to parrots there are herons and ibises. I even saw an emu in the distance.

I deviated from the instructions by taking the short cut offered by some unsealed (I.e. dirt) roads. This experience rather confirmed the wisdom of my route change as the original plan could have seen ride over a hundred klicks on a dirt road. I found the dirt road mentally demanding as I always had to concentrate on avoiding the soft bits.
I joined the Western Highway near Dadswell Bridge and it's giant koala statue. It was as tacky as it sounds!

I got to Horsham in time for lunch and some Internet activity. From there it was a tedious slog against the wind to Dimboola which was a relief as it is pronounced as it is spelt! I made a very judicious choice of accommodation, much more than I realized at the time. Australia has any number of hotels, however the meaning of the word hotel in Australia is often better translated as "pub". However many pub/hotels offer cheap rooms.
As the only other option in Dimboola was a roadside motel, I decided that the Victoria Hotel, located just off the main drag was a likely a better place than the other hotel was located on the main street. This was a great place as my room was very reasonable at $45, a minimal breakfast included. Of course the bathroom was across the hall, but the high ceilings, wood paneling and many other elegant architectural features made it a wonderful throwback. The one off-note was the restaurant's food which was greasy.

I had noticed that my back tire was slowly losing air. In Dimboola, I removed it to see if I could find and remove the cause. I found a bit of wire protruding on the inside of my Continental tire but not where it had entered the tire. I was unable to extract the bit of wire, so I covered it with a tire boot and put in a new inner tube.
As I was leaving Dimboola, I found out just how judicious I had been in my choice of accommodation the day before: the other hotel was closed owing to major fire a some point in the past. Also, my odometer went over 9999.9 km and reset back to zero.
There was generally a nice wide hard shoulder on the A8 in Victoria (or Western Highway) but once I crossed into South Australia (or Dukes Hwy) this ended leaving me to hover at the edge of traffic. I am kind of glad to be off it.

There are a lot of signs and facilities along the A8 that show the Australian road ministries are quite concerned about driver fatigue. Near Dimboola there was even a roadside place manned by volunteers that handed out free coffee or tea. This is a bit worrisome as it represents a response to a real problem.
A little after Kaniva, I changed into my Gore-Tex socks. This turned out to be a mistake as because I wasn't wearing rain pants, the rain ran down my leg into the socks where it accumulated. When took then off at border of South Australia, there was something like half a pint of water in each one!

I looked into getting a room at the Bordertown Hotel. After being warned it was DJ night and that my room would above the bar, I decided to look elsewhere. In the process of finding a motel, I found out that Bordertown is Bob Hawke's birthplace.
Bob Hawke is a former Australian Prime Minister who also held the Guinness world record for downing two and a half pints of beer in the least amount of time.
Oh, and the public toilet in Bordertown is in an old gaol.

On the net, back

I now in Bordertown after a hard and later wet slog over the last day and a half. From Horsham, where I had lunch yesterday, to Kaniva this afternoon, I faced frustrating headwinds winds that reduced what should have been some great riding to a snail's paced grind. In Princetown, I happened to explain to the ex-Amsterdam hostel keeper that if I could keep above 20 kph, I was generally happy. He was overly impressed with my off-hand remark. Today, I reflected, the reverse is that when I can't do 20 on the flat, I get unhappy! As I left Kaniva, it began to rain. This had the salutary effect of reducing the headwind to a negligible level making for better time to South Australia. I have already mentioned to two people that I preferred the rain to the wind!
More later, time for a pre-supper doze.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

On a good day

I surprised myself on Wednesday by chilling. I started by badly cooking up some bacon and eggs on what turned out to be the worst stove in the hostel. I then climbed up to Chatauqua Peak where I stopped to chill at a couple of cliff tops where I could see both the valley in Grampians peaks and the hazy level plain stretching off into nothingness.
I moseyed back into town for a light lunch lunch followed by some hokey pokey ice cream, not unlike dulce de leche as to taste. After getting some stamps at the post office counter of an outdoors equipment store(!) I returned to the hostel but not before photographing an echidna opposite it. I then washed some socks and underwear before finding a lounge chair on which I read my book whilst listening to Midnight Oil on the iPhone.
Jason, one half of the staff at the hostel and a Peter Jackson look alike, not only recognized my Moosehead T-shirt for what it was but also commented favourably on the beer. Apparently, a few years back, he and friend had been touring in the U.S. where they found the beer to be like making love in a canoe. They went to a bottle shop (to use the Australianism) and looked around to find something more drinkable. Moosehead proved to be the winner. Since then he has a favourable memory of St-John, New Brunswick's finest brew.

Earlier in the day, I bought a packet of Tim-Tams which proved sinful as advertised.

I had some very good Indian food for supper before heading off to bed. That was a pretty good day.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

On getting cornered by emus

On Sunday, I took a time-consuming, but well-thought out side trip to the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve or some such park. Tower Hill is a volcano that last erupted some 30,000 years ago, burying some Indigenous Australian artifacts in the process! No mention of whether any Indigenous Australians were also buried in the process. The crater is almost something out of a children's drawing of an extinct(?) volcano, with water filling the bottom except for a central craggy blob in the middle. As it was so dramatic (and, says the cynic, piss-poor for farming) it was turned into a nature park.
I am not sure about the exact timing of events, but some elements of native fauna, such as wallabies, took to the place. (Incidentally, I was surprised and overtaken by a black wallaby last night on a bike path next to downtown Warrnambool! A staff member at the hostel told me there was a group of 4-5 of them living in a park.) At a later time other native fauna, such as koalas, were introduce into the park. Again, the cynic suspects the koalas were to pull in the punters.

Anyway, the place is home to koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, emus and God knows what else. The emus surprised me with their size, presence and in-your-face attitude. Those birds are bloody big and it seems clear they know it. The big wallabies and kangaroos I have seen tend to look at you vacantly then bugger off. Not so the emus. To me, it was clear that "Should I kick him to death?" was an option going through their minds. This became a distinct factor when I took a walk in the park along some boardwalks through a marsh to a small island. I was absent-mindedly looking up in the trees looking for koalas (more on them later) when I suddenly noticed what I took to be a mother emu and a passel of chicks in my way. Talking quietly, I waited until they, most importantly the mama, wandered off into the undergrowth. I moseyed on a very short distance which got me on a narrow strip (3-4 m) land that led back to the mainland. When I got part of the way across, I saw another family group of emus, this one led by a male(?). I turned to head back the way I had come, only to find the "mama" emu blocking my path!
I inched forwards quietly asking the male to move so I could get past him. Incidentally, I would have been happier if my digital camera battery hadn't died at that point! After several minutes of cautious stand-off, I managed to get past the male and the four chicks accompanying him. I later found out that the male emus do most of the rearing, so the presence of the female was something I will have to double check. The one I thought was a male had strong black and white markings on its head while the female didn't.
Emus appear to have their ears towards the back of their heads with very visible openings. I wonder if this is deliberate, so as to deceive predators into thinking they are being watched. They also have powerful legs with joints and muscles that move strangely as they stride.

As I got back to the visitors' center, I saw a small group of people pointing at some up in the trees. Putting two and together, I rushed back to the bike to get some charged batteries and then went to photograph the koala. The presence of the furball so near the visitor center causes the cynic in me to wonder if the park doesn't keep a koala or two handy! Koala wrangler makes a nice job description. This koala didn't seem to care in the slightest about the people. I wondered aloud about that this was likely a well-photographed koala!
After a light lunch in Koroit, I pedaled North. At first, I flew along but then the wind veered to come from the North so much of the afternoon was a hot and sweaty trial. I was about to stop to photograph the one live lizard I had seen when I caught sight of a large tractor bearing down. I pulled over onto grass verge to let it pass by. Australian drivers are very courteous as a rule but as this was a very wide tractor, I thought it best and courteous to give it lots of room. While Aussie tractors travel faster than Scottish ones, the lizard had buggered off by the time I was ready to photograph it.
The B&B I had earmarked for the night (not booked) wasn't answering the phone so I called the tourism office in Dunkeld, my intended destination. They suggested I phone Southern Grampians Cottages. When I spoke to Carolyn on the phone, the quote was slightly too high but she indicated that we could talk it down when I got there. When I did, I dealt with her husband George who put me in their one special, motel-like, "guest room" which was much closer to my needs as to space, facilities and price. Carolyn was slightly miffed that George had sold me the cheaper room.
The room was very nice with a few chooks peering now and again. So that's a shout out to Southern Grampians Cottages of Dunkeld, Victoria, Australia.

The day after saw me in wet weather gear as I rode to Hall's Gap through the Grampians National Park. There were lovely trees to compensate for the low clouds that largely hid the peaks.
The trees showed signs of a brushfire several years ago. There were also signs of some serious floods that had washed out some parts of the road, but which had since been repaired.
Near the end of the ride, I stopped by a lake to take a picture of some cliffs. There were some little corellas (white cockatoos) in the trees, squawking loudly. A feather from one of them was in a bush. As I went to pick it up I was surrounded by some crimson rosellas. One of them clearly thought I should feed it!
Then a beautiful sulfur-crested cockatoo landed on a branch in perfect photo range and displayed its crest!
Then a whole flock of white cockatoos flew by in a gaggle.
Coming into Hall's Gap, my tourist map had red markings on the road I had planned to take out of it along with a note about roads being closed due to flood damage. At the tourist info office, I was told that the roads in question were indeed still closed.
The detour seemed very significant. This was the element that caused a dam against various worries to give way and led me to the change of plans already discussed.
The grey kangaroos lounging about failed to raise my spirits.
Nor did the kangaroo I had for supper last night (in a restaurant: it is generally considered bad form in these parts to kill and eat the wildlife in the National Parks unless you are an Indigenous Australian. ;-) ). The kangaroo meat was ethereally tasty. However, it wasn't cheap. I could have got it cheaper at a shop that advertised kangaroo souvlaki(!) but I was leery of getting there for epicurean reasons.

On a new plan

I have spent much of the day sorting out where I go from here. I think I now have a workable plan. I will spend an extra day here in Hall's Gap to get in a hike and have a relatively chill day. (Which is probably wishful thinking, given my highly strung nature.) I will spend the next two days riding West to Border Town in South Australia, where I will catch the train to Adelaide. In Adelaide, I will spend a few days with Diane and her husband Rob. Diane is an old friend of Margo. She has a strong place in family lore as the original owner of Tenzing the Cat, who was also part of family lore.
I would like send a big thank you to Margo for having rapidly given me the intro to Diane and Rob whom I would also like to thank. Simon, my roommate, last night was also very helpful with background information about this large country.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

On a hitch in my plans

Sorry if I haven't posted in a while but yesterday had me away from wi-fi. I have a partially written blog entry about yesterday, but it will wait.

My plan had been to head out of Hall's Gap to Horsham on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the road I was going to use was washed out a while back and still isn't repaired. There is a possible detour but it it would add something like half a day. I am not sure if I am up to it. The biking hasn't been feeling natural or easy, though I have had relatively poor luck with the wind, especially the stiff North wind yesterday. In a word, I think I have had to push myself too hard to do what I planned.

Part of me would like to catch a train to Adelaide from a nearby town and then the Indian Pacific to Broken Hill. Or some variation thereof. Then again, I am cold and damp right now in the Livefast Lifestyle Cafe waiting for the Hostel to open.

Why am I not happy looking at the white parrots outside?

Other considerations include the longer distances I will have face in desert with relatively little water. At a certain level, the desert scares me.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

On schedule, back

Hindsight being 20/20, I now know I should have pushed on to Princetown. I must stop doubting myself.

It was a fast, twisting downhill run to a river crossing, where I got on the Old Great Ocean Road. This unsealed portion ran dead flat on a flood plain to Princetown. I could easily have made it on the 20th.
There was a stop at the Melba Gully rainforest walk which was very interesting. Massive trees and ferns. Getting back to the road involved a bit of a climb which was welcome as the morning was quite wet and cold (full rain gear and merino jersey). The effort was warming.
I stopped in Princetown for elevenses where I chatted with an adult family unit led by an older Aussie who had run a hostel in Amsterdam.
The next section of Great Ocean Road was the one I had been waiting for. It features sheer cliffs, stacks and plenty of shipwrecks. Pappy would like it. I stopped at a number of outlooks to admire the view. In doing so, I kept meeting the same bunch of people including the family from Princetown. They were impressed I was more or less keeping pace with them. The wind was favourable.
After lunch in Port Campbell, the landscape changed into dairy farms spread over very gently rolling terrain. After two days of hilly terrain and the good wind, I flew along only stopping to photograph some white parrots, before getting to Cheese World in Allansford.It had an agricultural museum, fine cheese and wine store and a restaurant which Lonely Planet said had good milkshakes. I had been looking forwards to one of these. Regrettably, the restaurant had just closed for the day. As I left, a couple said they had been seeing me now and again all day and were impressed at how fast I was covering ground.

I rolled tired but determined into Warrnambool (Warnerbol) where I got a bed at the hostel in a dorm with an expatriate Irishman from Limmerick.

Today I went to a beach side cafe called Simon's for a second breakfast. The man running the place was very friendly. As I was finishing, he came by to offer me a free cup of coffee and a homemade yo-yo. The latter is something like a large melting moment.
Afterwards, I braved the cold water and big waves (by my standards) to get a brief swim in the Ocean.
In the afternoon I visited the Flagstaff Hill maritime village museum. It was some amusing hokum but it had some fascinating stories of the local trading ketches. They seem to have sailed into the 1960s!