Saturday, May 23, 2009

2/25/2009 - Shortcuts Sometimes Take Longer

Up reasonably early with a small "puff" of dust that had collected on my sleeping bag. The one advantage of this Aussie groundcovering is that it is relatively soft, making my repeatedly-flat sleeping pad more comfortable than usual.

Cool wallaby-related note: My mom woke up early in the morning and looked out their tent to see a big wallaby looking back in at her. Probably much creepier in the moonlight than the Disney-esque vibe it first engenders.

This really was the first day that my parentals could truly feel like they were on vacation, I think. The morning came on slowly with coffee and semi-dusty eggs cooked on one of the solid metal outdoor grills. Coffee was downed liberally.

IMG_2068.JPGElectric outdoor barbecue. The trick is avoiding putting your eggs on the parts with the unknown black goo.

IMG_2061.JPG "I sell you towel cheap!"

This leads me to a fun fact about my parents. They do not (and have never) drunk alcohol with any great consistency, have never used drugs of any kind, and gamble $5 max in Las Vegas. Why avoid all of these vices? All of their "vice receptors" have been specially fine-tuned for caffeine - perhaps I should rename it Coffeine. For as long as I can remember, my parents have had to imbibe coffee in the morning. It did not matter where we were - camping in the Aleutians, cycling in England, driving through Kansas (actually, I'm pretty glad they drank coffee on those drives), sheep hunting in Alaska. . . No matter how remote, no matter if the trip had to be so weight-conscious that every other bristle on a toothbrush was clipped off and shoelaces shortened to stubs, filters and fresh coffee and additional water and fuel HAD to be along. God save you if you accidentally brought instant coffee, too - I shiver at the thought. Thinking that age may have tempered their habits, I suggested picking up some nice, light, cheap instant coffee while in Devonport and immediately felt the wrath of the addicted. If the beans weren't specially hand-picked by El Presidente of Ecuador, shipped by air freight overnight, then roasted over the coals of less worthy coffee beans and fresh-ground into hermetically-sealed bags, it might as well be filtered sewage from the local Indian food restaurant.

I may be exaggerating the above, but, trust me, not as much as you think.

This is actually not a complaint. I have developed an enjoyment of a morning cuppa joe as well. The difference is that I will buy a Costco Mega-Tin of ground coffee that lasts me for over a month and be perfectly happy. I can always ferret out the nearby coffee snobs by the inadvertant cringe when they see me pouring Coffeemate and Splenda into my mug of Folgers.

The upshot of all that is we had a very nice hike with our coffee out to the ocean.

IMGP1907.JPGEyes. . . watering. . . sun. . . so. . . bright. . .

IMG_2065.JPGJust Mom and I. The smiles are courtesy of the Jamaican Blue Mountains.

IMGP1910.JPGWallaby tracks (note where the tail drags).

Once again, it took a serious amount of time for everything to be packed up. As a matter of fact, we grabbed a bit of lunch before setting out for the day.

IMG_2071.JPGI have brought out the solar panel again in an attempt at making friends with Al Gore.

As we pored over the map, it became clear that we needn't retrace the 7km back to the main highway - there is a nice road that cuts directly over to the top of the valley. It's only about 25km long. Easy.

Retroactive rule for shortcuts: If the GPS maps around a shortcut despite all efforts to direct the route, be suspicious. Especially if the road doesn't appear on the GPS map at all.

After a comfortable few kilometers, we hit the turnoff. Within 50 yards, it went from pavement to gravel. Hmmm. Oh, well - that should limit the traffic. And, for a gravel road, it's solid.

Unfortunately, this road had a lot in common with a stereotypical "golddigger", i.e. well-maintained at first but develops "potholes" and "riffles" and "sand" from "lazy graders" at about the point you can't easily turn back. On second thought, perhaps I should rethink that simile.

After about 30 minutes of cycling, it became more and more important to treat every downhill with kid gloves given the beating both my bike and myself were taking from the ripples in the road and the potholes. If not noticed in time, I was shaken like an overly-separated can of paint. This would be immediately followed by a quick check of the spokes, which surely had to be broken, and a silent promise to go slower. The Geriatrike fared better with its shorter (and consequently tougher) spokes. I fell behind a little.

That did not last long. The dirt track began to climb. Hmmm, we thought. Interesting. It didn't look like any significant climb on the map.

Soon enough, we had to face facts: This was not going to be a jolly little Sunday pedal by the beach. This was going to be a grinding climb on dirt, soft sand, and frequent irregular holes.

Not only that, but there seemed to be something wrong with the Geriatrike motor. It was working on pavement, but somewhere along the dirt road a quick twist of the throttle resulted in no power whatsoever. This meant winching speed again.

I would bike ahead in small sections of hill and wait to make sure that Mom and Dad made it up. After all, this is a new machine and there were occasional cars along.

IMGP1912.JPGThis was a particularly good stretch of road coming up the hill. Just so you know, this is a picture, not video, though it is difficult to discern the two at the Geriatrike pace.

Finally, after one particularly steep portion, I did not see their bobbing orange flag by the time I should have. Returning down the hill, I found the trike by the side of the road and Mom and Dad out examining it.

IMG_2074.JPGThink fast, Junior Engineers - What is wrong with this picture?

As it turns out, the chain had started slipping due to it being too loose. It took some time, but we were able to tighten things up appropriately.

IMG_2078.JPGEnded up moving this gear forward just a smidge to tighten things up. It was not as complicated as my confused expression seems to indicate.

At last, the slow progression began again. The weather cooperated, giving some sunshine and a good temp around 75 degrees that was very welcome.

At last, I reached the top. Based on my recent experience, I felt that I had time to take a little hike (like, for example, a retrace of the Lewis and Clark expedition) before worrying about the Geriatrike's arrival.

IMGP1915.JPGA happy little pathway, one of many alongside the road, surely hiding the many Australian poisonous snakes and spiders.

IMGP1916.JPGThe view out of the trees from the top of the climb, over 1,000 feet up. It's an interesting mix of mostly temperate trees with just a hint of the tropics. If you look closely, you can pick out the steam released by my parents as they sweated up the hill.

IMGP1918.JPGNational Geographic probably is not looking to hire me based on this picture. Trust me, though - there just was not a good spot to shoot a picture out toward the mountains.

Eventually, the Geriatrike crawled its way to the top. I need to give some credit where it's due. Despite the long and slow ascent without any motorized assistance, neither Mom nor Dad had anything but smiles at the top. Not once was there a word of complaint. This would be tested further by the end of the day.

Down the other side we went. With gravity now firmly in control, the Geriatrike became the Charging Yellow Locomotive of Doom. They were able to go much faster than I yet again thanks to the roughness of the road. Both of us actually stopped several times to let the brakes cool down. I timed it by the brake smell.

Things started becoming easier as the descent continued, and I was able to be close behind them. It was around that time that I noticed the Geriatrike's trailer slamming its front onto the ground every time they hit a reasonable bump.

Soon enough, Dad pulled over for another reason. There was a new funny noise, and the geriatrike had become very difficult to pedal suddenly.

The culprit was found to be a bolt holding on a gear used to redirect the drive chain. With a bit of ingenious bolt rotation 180 degrees (which moved the gear away from the bar it was actively chewing into) and switching the arm of the trailer to the other side, about an hour passed.

IMG_2086.JPGThis is like a rehash of the first half of my trip as I was slowly bulletproofing my bike.

If you are keeping score at this stage, you will realize that we are now getting into the late afternoon after all of the repairs and the grueling hill climb. We were able to get back on the road at about 5PM. We decided to revise our plans and head for Beaconsville, which has a backpacker's hostel.

IMGP1921.JPGBack on the road again. My forward scouting position allowed me to get this shot of the Geriatrike crawling to the top of yet another hill. That blob ahead of them is either the reflection of the sun or the poltergeist of broken bikes that has apparently moved from my bike to theirs.

When we suddenly hit the pavement again, it was like an opening of blue sky on a rainy day. The stars aligned, and, most of all, there were no more riffles. If those vibration-based weight loss machines of the 1950s actually worked, I estimate that I would have lost about 5 pounds from our little dirt road jaunt.

With darkness closing in behind us and the promise of a cooling beverage ahead, the pace quickened.

IMGP1922.JPGToday's attempt at an Ansel Adams-esque shot, though I don't think he did many pictures from the road using a point-and-shoot camera. Amateur.

The last of the sun's rays captured our exhausted but delighted (and dusty) faces as Beaconsville loomed. Soon enough, we had pulled up to stately old building with a pub in the bottom and the hotel on top. I paid for the rooms and we were able to fit both my bike and the Geriatrike in a stairwell inside the hotel, which satisfied my dad's somewhat paranoid concerns that someone was going to take off with the Geriatrike and sell it. This concern survived the entire trip despite the fact that even if two thieves pedaled as fast as they could all night and we didn't discover that it was gone until morning, they would broken down within about a 5km radius and in a giant, yellow tricycle with a solar panel on the roof which does not offer the kind of black market anonymnity as, for instance, the Space Shuttle.

We headed up to our large, 3 bed room that was quite comfortable. Everything was clean and the bathrooms had very nice showers. Beer on tap was made available as we unloaded, and down we headed to catch the end of dinner.

Interestingly, in the small hall downstairs, there were ballroom dance lessons going on. As soon as I walked through the door, I apparently became very much a wanted man. As seems to be usual with dance lessons, there was a paucity of male volunteers, and the friendly (and unabashed) lady leading the lessons was VERY excited. Did I dance? she asked. Before I could respond, mom began to highlight my ballroom dancing skills in an enthusiastic manner. I could see "Jackpot" appearing in the dance instructor's eyes in a comical Looney Tunes manner. She would not be put off despite dinner coming soon.

"Come in! We need another guy!"

In reality, I had done some ballroom dancing in college, but have not for years. At this point, a truly astute partner would dress for an evening on the dance floor in much the same manner as a police dog trainer, only with more toe protection and maybe lighter colors.

Nonetheless, I agreed.

IMG_2088.JPGThe look on my partner's face really demonstrates well what children with a broken toe exhibit as they walk in the ER. The look on my face mostly reflects that my dance step recall is now limited to the Electric Slide.

To my immense relief, I was catching the end of the class and so was only needed for 15 minutes. Actually, it was quite fun as everyone was extremely nice.

Dinner came about around the time the class ended. This really was what we needed, and we had the dining room to ourselves.

IMG_2092.JPGA high-class evening out in Beaconsville, where steak is topped with shrimp!

At last, bedtime. There would be no problems sleeping tonight. Tomorrow the plan is Launceston on one of the nicest cycling days of the trip.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.