Thursday, August 17, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Intermission

Adelaide River
Rest… sweet rest. 

So, having composed myself after the exhausting ride, I booked in at the Roadhouse caravan park. $18 got me a patch of grass in a shady corner next to another cyclist. Considering the amount of time I’d spent on the road, dehydration and exhaustion, I was feeling pretty good actually. Legs were tired but not too stiff, no headaches, no injuries. I had a shower to freshen up then set up my humle camp which consisted of a mozzie dome, sleeping mat and a very thin supermarket grade sleeping bag. Rolling up my towel for a pillow I lay back and looked up at the palm trees above me. Bliss!

After the somewhat harrowing and slow ride I decided instantly upon arriving in Adelaide River that I would leave my bike and trailer where they lay and get on the next bus back to Darwin. I felt demoralized and very pessimistic about being able to continue. Looking back I’m sure this was a combination of good sense, fear and poor character. The trailer made my trip quite unmanageable with so much traffic around. It made good sense not to continue along the highway considering the risk. On Monday afternoon I thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t been killed and committed to going no further on this absurd odyssey!

As the evening rolled on I began to feel much better, I chatted with a my camp buddy, a guy who’d come from the UK to cycle from Alice Springs to Darwin, at 72 he was going strong! I relaxed into the night comfortable knowing that I didn’t have to go on. I might as well enjoy my visit to Adelaide River, relax and settle in for a day of rest and leisure but as my nerves settled I began to feel a sense of communion with the road and the guild of bicycle tourers...  maybe it's not too late to snatch the towel back.  

At a time when I was feeling unsure of what to do next I received a very welcome text from my wife encouraging me to put off any major decisions until I had rested. My constant desire to be on the road has put our marriage under a fair bit of pressure, I didn't expect an encouraging message. This one bit of encouragement was enough to change my whole attitude toward the ride. Forgoing a decision till the morning, I lay down and returned to the book I’d been reading. Christ Moon’s ‘One Step Beyond’. 

Although Chris Moon’s book was not my inspiration for setting out on this bike ride by Tuesday morning it had impacted my psyche enough to change my attitude toward quitting! I woke with a new sense of enthusiasm. I felt light and free and as if I had actually achieved something by getting to Adelaide River. The stresses I had been under, particularly with work, seemed to be a 1,000 miles away! 

As I write this I can see how affected I am by the encouragement or discouragement of others. I reflect on the quote by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
"The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone." 
I have battled with concepts of being an outcast and struggled to fully participate in society under the rules and conventions set by others... My wife would refer to that quote as something that sustained her in her teenage years, I rejected it for some time as an assertion that men can function entirely in isolation from their society. Now I move back to the concept that the man/woman must develop their character fully as an individual rather than fall obediently into conformity with the whims of the croud. We must nurture and develop that inner resource which commands life over death.

While I sat at the Last Tucker cafe reading and sipping my morning coffee I kept an eye on the road. Would today be as busy as yesterday? Could I actually be thinking about continuing? 

Still undecided about what to do I checked into the Adelaide River Show Society (ARSS) caravan park, where they only charged $10 per night and set up camp. I joined my cycling buddy at a nice shady spot under a tree. There I spend the morning reading and tinkering with the bike. By now I could feel that I had shed a lot of the tensions I’d pedaled hours to escape. 
At about midday I wandered back to The Last Tucker coffee shop where, as the signs proclaim, they make 'real coffee'. The owner is a passionate campaigner for the Anti Fracking movement. I’d been carrying about 50 Frack Free NT triangle posters in the bowels of my cavernous trailer to share with interested people. After a coffee and a chat I rolled away from Adelaide River’s only ‘Real Coffee’ shop a dozen triangles lighter. 

Finally I can use first gear!

I had reached a turning point. One day of exercise and rest had transformed my whole outlook. In the afternoon I borrowed some pliers and wrangled first gear back into place! Having kept a pretty close eye on the road all day, I was confident the traffic wouldn't be a problem. Dorat Rd was quiet. It was clear that I could actually continue! I felt like I no longer needed to linger here and planned to get back on the road early in the afternoon! 

This sudden change of heart was a significant moment for me. With some solitude and time I was able to reflect on my state of mind. Yesterday I was absolutely sure that I could not go on. I had valid reasons that totally justified my decision to quit. Today I feel like I can do this! After a day of rest, comfort and contemplation and a bit of character building reading material I was pumped and couldn’t wait to get back on the road for the next leg of my journey….

(To be continued…. The Ride Day 2)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Day 1

Day 1 Monday August 8th
Darwin - Adelaide River

Moon pre-dawn Monday 8th August

Ride Commences:
At 4:30am by the silver light of a full August moon I set out on my old classic cruiser pulling behind me a virtually untested and heavily loaded trailer. As I pushed off I felt the tow bar sag and the reluctant behemoth luggage compartment lumbering dutifully behind! ‘Wow! This thing is heavy!’ Although heavy the trailer was quite manageable. As I peddled the familiar rout along the bike path from my home to Palmerston I began to feel more comfortable with the load, I learned quickly to adjust my pace to keep the whole thing moving smoothly. 

More space more gear! Chuck it in there's heaps of room!
The light of the moon was ample but I chose to use a set of two headlights to compensate for loss of night vision due to the continual glare I encountered as the McMillans Rd path twisted and turned before lights of oncoming traffic.

Twin USB charged headlights. - Off road tyres a must
In preparation I imagined the ride would be divided into sections consisting of the distance I hoped to travel per day, and smaller segments based on rest stops or supply points.

The plan for the daily travel was:

Day 1. Leanyer – Adelaide River  (110 km)
Day 2. Adelaide River – Pine Cree (113 km)
Day 3. Pine Creek – Katherine (92 km)
Day 4. Katherine – Rest stop 20 km north of Mataranka (80 km)
Day 5. 20km ride to Mataranka
(The actual ride did not follow this plan)

I soon realized that I wouldn't be able to adhere to my ambitious time frame. Towing the trailer slowed the trip down considerably. Chance of reaching Noonamah before day break was nil. I knew I would have to adjust and take it easy. At Coolalinga I rested a few minutes and enjoyed a hot coffee from the service station before heading back onto the highway.
Coolalinga: As far as rural boom towns goes, Coolalinga is a fine example of town planning gone to the dogs! With all we know about access and amenity, road safety etc... and this dump is what they come up with! I don’t mean to offend local residents but surely they must feel the pinch? The roadway at Coolalinga makes no allowance for pedestrians or cyclists. The infrastructure could be described as completely car centric except for the fact that it’s a frigging nightmare for drivers as well! The main intersection on the Stuart Highway has seen more than it’s share of devastating collisions, one of which my work mate Ben and I witnessed firsthand! When a fully loaded multi trailer truck drove straight through a red light running over a ute and killing its driver before mounting the water pipe in the centre of the road and sending an ochre plume of red dirt high into the air like an explosion from the core of the earth!
I was happy to put Coolalinga and the mad semi urban traffic behind me. Next stop Noonamah… As the saying goes, ‘Where the Hell is Noonamah?’ Not too far actually but it’s a good place to stop for breakfast and I should be there just on sunrise. 

Dawn one km before Noonamah

At Noonamah The sun was already over the horizon as I rolled past a solitary Harley leaning on its stand, while the owner sat slumped over crossed tattooed arms at the bench outside the Noonamah Tavern. I nodded g’day while the highway filled with wage slaves migrating diligently North in the smoky haze of dawn. No matter what time of day you go past that joint there’s always at least one Harley and one lone rebel dutifully standing sentry. I wondered if he’d been placed there as a decoy like a duck on a lake… Odd time to be trying to draw in the punters, but still the thought did occur to me. Alas I will never know, the road doesth beckon.
By now I’d begun to realize that the extra weight and width of the trailer was going to have a real impact on my ability to travel the distances I had planned.
Next stage… Acacia. These minor stages aren’t exactly a plotted course, just speculation and an attempt to set small achievable goals with a rewarding drink or food for incentive. I have ridden as far as Lake Bennet before, I know Acacia has a roadhouse, I figure that’s a reasonable place to stop… beyond there it’s all on an as needs basis. 

Resourceful Eric
Acacia: Somewhere on the road between Noonamah and Acacia as the sun was beginning to sting, I caught sight of a solitary cyclist ambling in the rough verge between the road and the trees. Gaining on the figure quite quickly I wondered what he was up to, he saw me coming and I was glad to find he was up for a chat. Eric has been riding this stretch of road for several years, it has become particularly lucrative for him since the container deposit scheme was introduced. He described his weekly routine of trudging the highway and gleaning small bounty from the verge. His regular scavenging trips have earned him quite a bit of loot and contributed greatly to the purchase of a motorhome! What a legend!  I have no idea how long we talked, it was more than half an hour. I could have hung out longer but knew I would be struggling to reach my destination so we said farewell. 

When I finally made it to Acacia I, sculled a litre of water then hoed into a banana sandwich and a couple of muesli bars. The road had become really busy, it was getting hot and the traffic was far more of a problem than I’d anticipated due to it being a Public Holiday! (Doh!)

Somewhere along the way I'd completely lost access to first gear! Either the gear cable was stretched or I knocked it out of alignment on one of the 100 times I dropped the bike! This made everything far more difficult than it needed to be, A lot of energy was wasted just trying to get the rig moving and keep it moving. The road leading into and out of Acacia had a grid of solid bumps stuck to the white line to prevent drivers from falling asleep and running off the road, these made it impossible for me to hold any road while traffic passed. I was continually forced  into the dirt! 

The trip from Acacia to Adelaide River got progressively more difficult. A slight head wind had developed, I was pedaling uphill a lot of the time and the road was absolutely full of traffic heading in both directions. A single lane Highway with barely a foot of paved shoulder is not a great place to spend your day. Hours of perpetually dragging the trailer off the jagged edge of the bitumen eventually took their toll. The left side trailer wheel had been dinged from so many rough excursions causing the tyre to blow out the side of the rim, I had to stop and refit the tyre a few times and noticed some nasty gashes had started to appear on the side walls. 

Coomalie creek: Exhaustion had taken a hold of me by the time I reached Coomalie, I pulled up at the creek side rest area and had a half hour kip on the concrete picnic table. The noise of the busy Highway constantly droning in my ears, a reminder of the torture that awaited me. Already I’d had several close calls with oncoming traffic overtaking when there was no room to move and ignoring my presence on the road completely! (To travel on this road a cyclist must be acutely aware of their surroundings and prepared to take evasive action at any given moment! It was at Coomalie Creek that I realized just how beneficial a decent mirror would have been!)
My back was aching, my leg muscles were weak and my energy was spent. By now I had been on the road for about seven hours. I decided I must press on and so left a perfectly good camp site for another 30km on the road, at a pathetic10kmh that meant three more hours! 

At some time just after 3pm I staggered into Adelaide River. I made a B line for the general store, purchased an Iced coffee and downed it within a few minutes. I then proceeded to the nearest park bench and lay myself down to rest... (or die) Miraculously I rose after half an hour, and managed to summon enough energy to check in to the roadhouse camp site.

(More story next post)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Riding the August Moon

Preparing for the ride
Early this month I took a week off work so that I could make a long distance ride from Darwin to Mataranka. Following the wisdom of seasoned world traveler Kris Larsen, the ride was timed to coincide with the full moon, the incentive was to ride in the cool of night by the light of the moon.

Post Script: The ride did take place, neither bike nor rider arrived in Mataranka, the journey was an utter success, reaching the geographic destination was not the objective! 

I set out on this trip with a desire to re-connect with myself and find some sense of purpose, or at least respite from the growling Black Dog which had been nipping at my heals over the past year(s). 
As long distance rides go this was no great feat. Every day there are cyclists out there touring the world, they travel thousands of miles unreported and without fanfare or celebration. The purpose of writing about this relatively short trip is part of a process I am hoping to continue. To recount an experience, to examine the thoughts and motivations of the author (ego, self, I), develop and practice the act of writing, to journal evidence of life outside of the mundane and to contribute something to this blog space which has remained quite blank for some time. 

This will be the first post in a series, it is an introduction.


The rolling gear for this trip included an old 5 speed cruiser sourced from the local tip and a semi dilapidated dog trailer found during cyclone cleanup, both had been lying around the yard for several years. I always liked the bike but it never really got the use it deserved, when I dragged it out from behind the shed I found that sun and unrelenting humidity had taken their toll. The head stem bearings had completely seized, pedals were stuck, chain stiff as a board and the bottom bracket bearings had become quite rigid. I did what I could to resurrect the bike, replacing bearings oiling and greasing everything I could, but was unable to access the main bearings in the bottom bracket, the primary power delivery for the whole drive train! I figured I’d take a chance on the state of the bearings and just loosened it up as much as I could by riding the bike around until the oxidized (rusty) bearings release their grip. Orders from the home office were to get rid of bikes and junk from the yard... Or else!  The writing was on the wall, this would be a one way trip for my recently revitalized outfit.

More of an odyssey of the spirit than a mere bike ride, I took inspiration from the following books: 

The Bicycle and the Bush by Jim Fitzpatrick

A comprehensive account of the revolutionary impact of bicycles on rural mobility across Australia during the 1860s. Fitzpatrick’s book draws together accounts of cyclists covering huge distances on the predecessors of the modern bicycle. In the late 1800s bicycles were the fastest form of personal transport on earth. This book inspired me to take an attitude that with the aid of a relatively simple bicycle a person can travel independently across all kinds of terrain. A simple machine and a bit of resourcefulness give wings to a restless spirit! 

Bicycle Dreaming by Kris Larsen

I met Kris somewhere around Darwin several years ago, I’d seen his unusual recumbent bike around town a few times and was compelled to hunt him down. When I finally met the guy I was blown away to discover the depth of his knowledge and experience in all things mystical and practical! Kris has written books about his experiences sailing, living with his equally talented mermaid (Local Artist Natalie) on a beach in the Philippines, escaping Eastern Europe and of course cycling. He is a self published author who even physically makes his own books! If you haven’t heard of him please check out Kris's web site HERE and order a book! You won’t regret it! 
Kris describes beautifully in his book(s) a philosophy which matches many of my own thoughts and musings but refined and tested on the anvil of experience and constant revision. His description and general rejection of peculiar social conventions and mainstream cultural norms really hit a chord with me. As I read Kris's description of experiences on the road I felt compelled to step free of the persona I had adopted for the sake of social conformity. I realized the price I’d paid for social respectability had crippled my spirit from it’s true vagabond nature. A longing was aroused in me which I am constantly reminded waits to be satisfied. It’s not specific to riding a bicycle but the bike does provide a convenient and practical vehicle for liberation!

In Bicycle Dreaming Kris presents a good argument for riding at night. Benefits include: Less heat and less cars. It was a while ago that I last read the book but I think he also advocated night cycling because of the serenity and beauty of traveling through the land at night. Another big plus when traveling South on the Stuart Highway during the dry season is the absence of the Southerly wind at night. The top end gets it’s dry season primarily due to cool wind blowing from the south, it literally blows the humidity away. As a cyclist riding South these winds spell one thing…. Head wind! To an exhausted cyclist a strong head wind can be a show stopper!  

The essay - Nature by Ralph Waldo Emmerson 

Sketch by Ralph Waldo Emerson - Transparent Eyeball (Nature)

Life changing, transcendental work of magic and art! I found a book of collected works by Ralph Waldo Emerson among a pile of books at an opp shop somewhere and I snatched it up immediately. I knew his name after reading Thoreau but until last week I had never read a word of Emerson! At 47 years old I have missed one of the most important authors of my life! Reading Nature to me was nothing short of a spiritual experience! He puts into language concepts I have only felt in moments of complete commune with God and Nature! The only experience I can compare it to is a moment in my past when all was revealed while I lay beneath a tree in a forest in central Victoria experiencing unity and dining on a lightly steamed rainbow of mushrooms.

On this ride a perfect combination of physical exertion, exhaustion, solitude, quiet, the company of creation and the guiding influence of the books mentioned above, delivered to me an awakening… or maybe just an experience of the absence of self! Halleluja! 

Plan: Cycle to Mataranka during the week of the full moon in August. Ride at night if possible. Breathe deeply, drink the water as it is available, and observe the connection between the people on the land and the water we use. Discuss with people I meet, where possible, how they perceive the potential development of coal seam gas wells across the NT, the impact this will have on the water and their relationship to it. Hang or hand out anti fracking signs where possible, requested or wanted.

Purpose: Escape the humdrum; engage the body and soul, re-connect with life force, eliminate the negative forces which have been eroding my crumbling psychic integrity… Escape toxic work environment get a fresh outlook on life, contribute to the well-being of all, find peace! 

Leading up to the ride I had very little time to prepare the bike or trailer. I had managed to gather some essentials, a tyre, some tubes puncture repair kit… not much else. I found an old bit of canvas from a camp cot and secured it as walls on the trailer with cable ties. Having so much space in the trailer I packed everything I could think of and some things twice! By 7pm on Sunday night the trailer was loosely loaded and ready to go. At 9pm I kissed my wife and children goodnight and farewell as they went to bed at a reasonable hour… Stupidly I stayed up till midnight browsing the internet, listening to music and basically denying my body the rest it needed before commencing a grueling 100km ride toting a heavy load.

Next morning I would rise early and begin my journey. 

(Edited 20:10 15/08/17)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Wilip-gin Birrarung murron

 Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017.
 Moved 22nd June 2017

When thinking of the protection of our fresh water streams and rivers nothing expresses the connection some of us feel to these places quite like the words of the people whose ancestors lived in intimate connection with that place since the beginning. 

From the Parliament of Victoria facebook page:
"On an historic day in the Victorian Parliament, Aboriginal elders have addressed the Legislative Assembly in English and Woi-wurrung language to explain their connection with the Yarra River and the importance of protecting the river for generations to come. The elders’ statements were made prior to the introduction of the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017."
Listening carefully to the Elder's Statement you can hear the painful story of colonization and disregard for the original people and the land. There is no escaping this fact, however maybe with the introduction of this bill in a way that acknowledges the Warunjeri people we might  be making a step in the right direction.

The longer I am away from it the stronger the need to be at Birrarung (Yarra River) and it's tributary creeks and streams. The Plenty River is a tributary of the Birrarung. This is Wurunjeri land, the people are regaining their Woiwurrung language, their connection to the land has endured despite all that has been done to them. 

Environmental Justice Australia Document 
One step closer to a Yarra River (Birrarung) Protection Act HERE

The Bill Can be found HERE!OpenDocument

Will insert Hansard when I have access

Monday, June 05, 2017

Get your filthy hands off our land

I've been dreaming about the logic of soulless minds
The rational coercion through manipulated reason
the wearing away of integrity over time
The power of money over love
The face of evil and the greed
The brutal simplicity of binary minds...

When it all boils down the equation is simple.

0$0$00$$ 0$$0$$$$ 0$$$0$0$ 0$$0$$00 0$$0$$00 0$$00$0$ 0$$$00$$ 0$$$00$$ 00$00000 0$00$$0$ 0$$0$$$$ 0$$0$$$0 0$$00$0$ 0$$$$00$ 00$00000 0$000$$$ 0$$$00$0 0$$$0$0$ 0$$000$0 0$$$00$$ 

God Bless what remains when the figures have been crunched! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sweet Spot

Rolling into the dry season of 2017 the drive train on my long bike is entering the twilight of it's life. It's an curious thing to reflect on. The chain and chainring are intimately linked. For a comfortable and efficient pedaling experience the chain must glide smoothly across the teeth of the chainring and then fit snugly into the cogs of the gears on the rear wheel. If these are not suitably matched there will be much grinding and jumping of the chain resulting in a most unsatisfactory pedaling experience. When changing gears the chain is also expected to move freely across the cogs at the rear and front of the drive train. When a bike is new and all components are suitably matched it is expected the bike will function this way. However with a bike like mine that has been dragged together from salvaged parts at the tip shop, coupled with new chains linked together to bridge the unusual distance between chainring and the cogs of the rear cassette harmony is not always achieved.

This most recent chainring/chain combination has been on my bike for the past three years. In that time my front gear shifter has seized and so the bike has only functioned on the middle chainring (most people's preferred option anyway). 

As I recall I had to replace the whole kit and caboodle about three years ago after a loose chain jumped off the rear cogs, tangled in my back wheel and tore off the rear deraileur. 

After replacing the rear wheel, deraileur, chain, front and rear cogs (FYI the chainring is the word they use for the front cog/s) it was like riding a new bike but there was a definite lumpiness rising through the peddles. 

Now, about three years and a few thousand km later the bike is feeling remarkably smooth to peddle! Like there's no resistance at all between the chain and the cogs. That's because friction has done it's work on both and they have now well and truly found their groove. It's all feeling wonderfully in sink, like I've found the bike's sweet spot... Ironically there is a very fine line between 'Worn in' and 'Worn OUT'. Realistically when the teeth on a chainring become as worn as mine are there comes quite a bit of free play between chain and the teeth of the cogs which drive it. Likewise the constant grinding of steel on steel with a paste of greasy grit rubbing between them has caused the chain to stretch and warp to the point where the combination of both can lead to the chain jumping off the cogs and causing a very inconvenient and inefficient malfunction in the forward motion of the bicycle. 
At this moment though, I am in that very pleasant in between place, where all I feel is the smooth effortless sensation of a temporary illusion of equilibrium. (A bit like my life when I think I've had a good day...)

I am calling this moment the sweet spot. Be it ever so transient there's no place like the illusion a finely tuned machine (similar to the car that purrs like a kitten just before it runs out of oil!) 
That beautiful time in the twilight of the life of a much used machine when it all seems to be working beautifully, powered by karma and hopeful vibes of the rider. I have no idea how long this will last, I'm guessing another 1/2 year, maybe a 1,000 or so more kms before I have to find a new set of running gear to keep my beloved long bike on the road.

Oh another important element in the drive train is the peddles and crank.
I mostly ride in thongs so have maintained a rather old set of nylon peddles that don't have any teeth for gripping into the hard sole of a shoe. They have been very comfortable but finally split down the middle while I was on my last trip around the harbor. So I actually went to the bike shop and purchased a set of really lovely alloy flat decked peddles to replace them.

The bike was creaking a fair bit recently so I installed my new peddles, diligently tightened the crank (3/4s of a turn, that's a lot of play in a crank bolt!) and adjusted and tightened the saddle for good measure. 

The result was a smooth silent and sturdy ride that made the bike feel almost new again! 
Of course as my major transportation I know I will have to do this all again when time and wear take their toll, and somewhere in the middle I will be enjoying that magical space hovering in two wheeled bliss before everything is bust!