Thursday, September 14, 2017

R U really OK?

Reflecting on ‘R U OK Day.’

I’ve got mixed feelings about this ‘R U OK Day’. Sometimes big campaigns like this only seem to compound the feelings of isolation, but generally it seems like a better idea than some I’ve seen.
Unfortunately the video they've produced leaves quite a few blanks... I don't meant to be hyper critical but prompting a depressed person into unspecified 'action'  seems a bit of a bizarre objective. What kind of action? If a person is hovering over the precipice of deciding whether to end it all or go on living, the 'action' which makes the most sense to them might not be what you were hoping for.

I like that rather than putting the onus on the person suffering depression to reach out to others, they are encouraging friends and colleagues to reach out to people who they think might be at risk. I recall not so long ago there was some campaign or other which suggested that if we’re feeling depressed we should try to talk to someone. Well there’s a recipe for disaster! It’s bad enough to be feeling isolated and unwanted generally, but to expect someone who is already feeling rejected and alone to desert their own defenses and make themselves totally vulnerable to another person, who may respond in a negative way, is surely a recipe for disaster.
I have experienced times when I have been quite ‘Not OK’ and have attempted to find someone to talk to about it. In my experience, unless someone indicates that they genuinely want to know what you’re going through trust your gut! A lot of people Do NOT Want to KNOW! It can be crushing to think of someone as a trusted friend only to find out that the friendship was only superficial. When we are lonely or depressed it can be quite difficult to judge. It’s quite possible that a lot of people don’t actually care that much about you and will treat you differently once you share your situation with them.
I have lost too many friends to suicide. 11 friends have taken their lives. I don’t know where this horrendous tally sits in comparison to other people’s experience. Why would I even keep a tally? Well I guess one day it occurred to me that when it happens, we’re devastated and shocked but our lives go on and (unless it is a very close friend or family member… or we were unfortunate enough to have been present or seen the body) we put it behind us and return to our lives, such as they may be… But the numbers stack up and if I think back on the people I have known I can see that too many could not bear to go on! It is disturbing! I don’t have a lot of friends, 11 is a lot of people from my life! It’s a fucking epidemic! 

Sometimes I wonder how I have managed to remain on this earth myself! I cannot stand back and say 'Oh they were weak', or make comments about how tragic it is that someone has died without feeling some sense of responsibility. No we cannot hold ourselves responsible for the action of another person but, we can take responsibility for letting people know they have value in this world and are loved and wanted, to whatever degree we can say these things honestly. There are very few people I would want to see removed from this earth before their life has run it's natural course.
Do we actually appreciate just how wrong things have become? Is this like the frog in the saucepan scenario? We only deal with these things one at a time and rarely see the big picture. Lots of people are unhappy and are choosing the most drastic and permanent solution to what could have been a temporary problem.
It makes me angry and sad reflecting on how those people, some of them quite close to me had come to a place where they felt so totally alone that they’d rather not be here at all. I have been thinking of them a lot lately and wonder what I could possibly have done to make their lives on this earth a little more bearable. Could I have helped prevent any of those final desperate acts? 

I don’t know what else to say except if you know me, and you are feeling low, isolated and alone, if you need someone to talk to I will not brush you off!

Saturday, September 09, 2017

To the trees

Plenty River

Ancient Red Gum

Twice I managed to visit my favorite spot on the river. 

This time of year is spectacular. The country is so green, the wattles are blooming and the air is fresh! Everything is alive.

A favorite track

On this visit I discovered several wombat dens, interesting sightings included 2 Wombats and 4 Swamp wallabies.

 I was surprised by how silent the wombats were, I saw them but did not hear them.

Highly cropped picture featuring swamp wallaby - bottom left

The Wallabies made loud thumping sounds as they bound away through the bush. Swamp wallabies are quite shy so I couldn't get very close to them but can confirm 4 in a relatively small area.

I went in search of maiden hair fern which used to cover most of the south facing hillside but this habitat has been over taken by weeds. I was fortunate to find a very limited patch which still contained a few plants.

Maiden hair fern, 30 years ago these ferns covered the south facing hillside

Return to roots


At home in Darwin, I don't get much opportunity to walk... there are places I can walk but I never feel inclined and rarely have the time, also it's usually too hot!

While visiting family in Melbourne, it's a different story. I walk!

There are so many places I like to visit but this time I only had four days. 

On my first free day I caught the train out to Sandringham and walked the coast to Black Rock/Half Moon Bay. Then doubled back and walked from Brighton to St Kilda 

On the walk from Sandringham to the Black Rock yacht club there is a  picnic table with a view over Half Moon Bay, the Cerberus and the familiar red clay bluff that I love. It used to have an old leather briefcase with a pen and some paper for poets and writers who feel inspired, to share their work... It was gone, I suppose it would end up soaking wet at this time of year anyway. It didn't really matter, this is a personal thing anyway, I'd brought my own pencil and paper. 
Poets table

I sat and wrote a letter of appreciation to the Red Bluff and beach, to the Cerberus and the coast. As a youth this place was my shangri-la, it was my romantic bohemian retreat from Bogania. I wrote my inadequate and poorly written poem/letter, folded and stuffed it into a crack between the boards on the table top then sat for a while in contemplation. I looked across the bay and remembered the dreams I'd had, the excitement I felt escaping the constrictions of my unsatisfying life and considered how little I had changed. From lofty dreams and a wild heart I have progressed no further. OK I managed to evade death by misadventure and alcoholism... but essentially I have not progressed the man very far beyond the state of that fifteen year old boy who first ventured to this place.  

This is the place I will always return to measure my progress... It is my mirror, the hopeful spirit of that boy who dreamed is always here waiting to see what I have made of his life.

Clock Tower @ StKilda

Brighton Baths

It was a cold grey and windy day, perfect for a long walk.
I'd only ever come this way by foot once and on that occasion I was in the familiar state of intoxication which used to demand I set my bare feet to walking. I can vaguely recall trudging without my shoes along the coast, through the sand and across the coastal rocks. Back then I was mesmerized in a romantic spell of myself and the city. My feet hurt but I just walked hoping that something wonderful would jump up and embrace me! 
I had blistered and bruised feet.

This time was different I was sober and a little less desperate. It was an odd experience to move from the familiar environment of the coastal reserve full of trees and shrubs along the coastal path which passed some of Melbourne's most wealthy homes facing the sea. It felt very strange, and overwhelming to see such wealth, I looked to the sea and saw the wind whipping up small waves, wild grey clouds tumbled over each other to spread rain across the coast. I began to feel quite emotional, a sense of dissonance between nature and the exploits of man, the altered coastline and the people. I was among them but not one of them.
The fruits of our endeavors will be consumed by the sea. Isn't it ironic to see these bricks from early Melbourne settlement used to hold back the inevitable.

Dispersed along the coastal path are plaques which describe the lives of the original people of this place and give some explanation of the effect colonization had on their society. I read plaques and looked at the mutated landscape around me. I was the observer and I was connected to the place but not the culture. I felt overcome with compassion for them all and and odd kind of love that just made me smile to myself and the people I passed. I loved them and held them in contempt equally and without conflict. 

It was all too beautiful and terrible at the same time. I still had a few kms to go. I had time to resolve my feelings before arriving at St Kilda. The experience was exquisite and painful full of longing and empty but somehow complete.

The Espy looking a bit worse for wear after decades of iconic service
 Arriving at St Kilda I continued straight to another romantic icon from my past. 'The Espy'. I remember the illusion and excitement, the pretense of rumbling up the gutter with half a dozen mates on our Harleys on a Saturday night. Chests out strutting around like leather clad peacocks trying hard to make an impression, me secretly hoping to blend in but feeling like a fraud. I remember the dark crowded rooms full of noisy and beautifully ostentatious inner city punks an exciting mix of guys and girls and barely a bogan to be seen. Some nights the bar was so full I have no idea how the barmaids managed to keep track of the orders, orders were yelled across the heads of jammed in patrons, a bizarre combination of English, profanity and sign language was used to convey what was wanted and somehow the drinks kept coming and the correct change was always given!
I loved riding my motorbike but part of me just wanted to sink into that old gaffa taped couch and become one of the decadent majority. 
The espy was a great place to visit, thankfully I never did transition from visitor to resident. By 1996 I stopped going to the Espy all together when my attention became more focused on the services of other establishment such as the Galiamble men's recovery centre just around the corner... but that's another walk.

Monday, September 04, 2017

What is A Man if not...

I don't know how many times I'd absolutely refused to watch Bicentennial Man with my kids. Finally in a moment of, couldn't be stuffed getting off the couch, weakness I relented.
Yes there's a lot of corny stuff in Bicentennial Man. Yes it's a cliche story about a computer/robot miraculously achieving what we consider an exclusively human phenomenon of 'self awareness'.  

As a member of the human race, who has experienced both the abundance; and absence of interpersonal sensual exchange, I found this description of physical love, 'sex' both gloriously wonderful and, for those of us who long for the experience, shatteringly sad. 
I have heard and read multiple arguments for the celibate life, I understand the theory and the aspirations of those who wish to
transcend human / animal instincts and the drives of our ‘lower nature’. I do not see such a life as virtuous or a particularly effective path toward anything like godliness! On this matter I stand entirely in the corner of the script writers who penned this wonderful description and played by the beautiful and brilliant actor Mr Robin Williams (RIP)


(If you just want to get to Robin Williams killer lines skip to 1:55, I recommend watching it all)

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Angels

There are Angels…

Sometimes everything just glides into place! (sometimes)

Posing with bike beside termite mound at Pine Creek

Old Boiler
Soon after arriving at the Lazy Lizard camp ground, while I was resting on the grass and contemplating my next move a young woman approached me, she was curious about how far I'd ridden with the bike and trailer and wanted to know more about what it's like riding the Stuart Highway. I was groggy from the heat and  depleted of energy, but really enjoyed  being able to discuss the journey. It turned out she was interested in doing a long distance ride herself. Maybe that's how the seed is sown? I've had a few chats with touring cyclists and had often experienced a kind of envy hearing about their travel experience.

We chatted for a while about cycling; the road etc… then she offered me a bottle of coconut water. I've never tasted the stuff and always thought it was a bit of a rort but after one taste I was hooked, when I drank that stuff my whole body reacted! It was amazing! I must have been low on electrolytes, it seemed to deliver what I needed directly into the blood stream! After she left I sculled the remainder of the bottle in one hit!Magic happens!

Hooded Parrot

Juliet's Shed

If you're sitting in the park across from the Lazy Lizard you're likely to notice an interesting looking house on the corner across the road. The house of Ms Juliet Mills. You can't miss it there hare hand painted signs all over the outside fence. Juliet is an artist and a poet,  she sells second hand books and is creating a garden that is becoming a story of it’s own. The garden is a work in progress, gradually growing and gathering artistic curiosities and messages for the inquisitive visitors. If she's in the mood she will invite you in for a yarn. If you're for it, or not, you may soon find yourself drawn into revelations and quizzical exploration, an adventure along a path between safe social convention and risky baiting, inquisitive conversationalists are bound to take the detours into something a little deeper.

At a stage in my journey where I was wondering what would be my next move, meeting Juliet was like stepping into the territory of The Cheshire Cat. At any other time I would have simply enjoyed the banter, but on this occasion it felt like there was a reason and a purpose to the meeting. We discussed books, (how to get them, what people read in what order they are organized on her shelves)  art and people, but for the whole time I felt a sense of something hovering above me reminding me to look around and ask myself… ‘why are you here?’

I wandered out of that yard feeling like I’d crossed an imaginary line! I had been considering taking the Greyhound to Katherine to meet up with some friends but as I crossed the road into the park at Pine Creek I knew immediately that my journey was complete. This is where I needed to be.

The whole next day was spent reading and exploring Pine Creek. Lucky I didn't need to go any further, dehydration or too much sun the day before had put the buz on my brain! Woke in the morning with some weird symptoms. I kept falling to the left as if I was paralytic drunk. It took half a day to fully get my balance.

The latest copy of local paper ‘Up The Creek’ had published one of Juliet's poems. I reckon it would have gone down beautifully if she’d read it at the recent Wild Words in Darwin, the theme this month was Erotica. 

If you’re ever in Pine Creek you should drop in for a chat… but make sure you read the sign to check when she’s is available. Be warned though, Juliet likes her privacy so choose your time carefully and don’t get annoyed if she’s not available, she’s not running a business just offering an opportunity for a unique opportunity to meet a special person who may tell you what you want or don’t want to hear, depending…

Oh yeah and don’t forget to bring a few books to donate and some gold coins for the tales. 
Something had happened to me over the past two days, I had begun to feel completely at home at Pine Creek. I had a good book, food and enough money for camping in town for a week if I chose to but the time had come to turn around and head back home where my family were patiently waiting. 

I had finally grown very comfortable with Pushmi-Pullyu, and dreaded having to dump her. Of course the whole rig was way to cumbersome for the Stuart Highway but in Pine Creek she was perfect for getting about town and along the dirt tracks. I didn’t want to just leave her lying around. I gave myself a day to find a solution and then went back to checking out ‘Up The Creek’. Too lazy to read I flicked through the pages and something caught my eye. It was an add toward the back with an image of a bicycle on it. Wow up…. I went back to the page and that’s where I found Shayne’s add.

Shayne works for the VictoriaDaly Night Patrol in Pine Creek. He’s running a bit of a bike fixing program with the local kids and placed an add in Up The Creek looking for donated bikes for the project. Brilliant! This was exactly what I was looking for. I gave Shayne a call and we met up at his place, a few minutes later (literally across the road from where Pine Creek isn’t a big town) 

We had a great chat and Shayne showed me some of his projects and inventions. I was really pleased to be leaving my bike with a guy who was so enthusiastic about working with young people, (And Bikes!) I really wanted to hang around and lend a hand but knew it was not to be, this time. On the day I left Shayne took me for a drive around some of the back roads, including the lookout, which I have to admit I had no intention of trying to ride up. The lookout could actually be one of the highest road in the NT. Meeting these people was the highlight of my trip, it filled me with a greater sense of purpose in what I was doing and connection to a place I haven’t really spent much time in before.
Since I got back to Darwin I’ve been thinking of ways to support Shayne and the kids at Pine Creek. Maybe collect a trailer load of bikes and take them down as a donation. 

There’s a lot more that I’d like to say and ideas I could explore but the inspiration to write is losing it’s momentum and I’m not sure I could convey exactly what it is that’s on my mind or stirring in my soul. 
This has been a solo journey (as all good ones should be) but on reflection it seems clear that being 'alone' can sometimes position us for special encounters. Opportunities can present rewarding and sometimes mystical experiences, and encounters with others. Angels appear through the dust, demons may also await unwary travelers. 

On this journey I was blessed. The spirit of the road succeeded in shifting something within, my thoughts have become much clearer and self-doubt confronted and sent packing! A direction for life, not so much in terms of what I should be doing but how I should approach it is revealing itself through the haze. 

The means that lead me to what my Yolngu friends call the dhukarr (The path, The way) the end remains a mystery. 
I am most grateful for - Fresh water, a little shade and the the kindness of  strangers 
(Amended 03/9/17)
PS - It's peculiar, my time at Pine Creek was most significant but I found it very difficult to write. I  can see my own laziness and frustrating lack of talent with words prevents me from conveying the message. When I read back over it I know I shouldn't have published. The shame of poor writing motivates me to go back and rewrite, where if it were only on paper I'd probably not bother. (I think this breaks some kind of rule of etiquette, it definitely ignores the need to entertain or show respect to the reader, I apologize for that, but for now will continue to write badly, amend and republish... I am sure my readership numbers will continue to reflect the results of such tardy practice.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Riding the August Moon - The Roses

The agenda was escape and discovery, a loose plan to travel by bike, tow a trailer, and remove myself from the mundane that had shackled and contained me. Dedicate the precious time I’d gleaned to observing places, people, elements and to reflect on my part in it all…. 
Kind of loosely that was the plan.

Essentially I managed to do that and was able to let go of some of my original goals as time and the road played their part. The experience had a purifying effect and helped to defragment my frenetic and frantically grasping mind long enough to allow a minor transcendence. What does that mean? The occupation of basic living made it possible for me to forget myself for a brief moment. I could smell the proverbial roses and experience the world around me without my mental interference. (there were no actual roses, in fact the only noticeable scent was the odd rotting carcass by the side of the road, regardless the experience of taking time to notice made it all like roses to me)

On the road my interactions with other people were reduced to about two or three significant moments each day. This effectively reduced the number of times I had to engage with other people by a factor of 10 or maybe 20, while doubling and occasionally trebling the potential for a decent interaction in a day! Seriously! 

When Thoreau said “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” he penned an archetype prophecy that rose from the page and consumed fellas like me for breakfast. Countless days filled with unsatisfying human interactions are not how I thought I’d be living when I dropped out of school! In fact that was my reason for leaving… This leads me to recall another famous saying: “No matter where you go, There you are.” (Pig Killer – Mad Max 3 – And possibly Confucius but I liked the way Pig Killer said it) And so I was... There... Where I was at... flesh and mind fairly closely aligned for a change.

You don’t have to admit to it, but if you’re having a peculiarly disjointed, spiritually absent (bad) decade it’s possible your life has become a little bit like mine. Maybe in the process of making ‘ends meet’ or getting by, you conceded defeat of the spirit, you compromised a little too much and traded your dreams away. But to break out of that role, to defy sensibility and take a peek behind the moldy shower curtain where dreams were ignored and cloistered  would require an act of madness. The price you pay when all that you are is invested in what you are not!

Passion you convinced yourself must be suppressed, years pass, but some part remains, maybe you see it. You catch a glimpse of the shadow man. The true man, the one you’ve been struggling against for so long steps forward from some obscure unnoticed place and declares: While there is breath, muscle on bone or blood in the veins I will be here and I will take what is mine! (OK it’s a bit much I know, it all depends on how much of yourself you’ve denied… In my case a bloody lot! OK I know I'm working on it!)

Back to the ride!

Traveling by bicycle alone pretty much removes most of the physical barriers between ourselves and… well everything. The elements, potential dangers, people, animals, earth and plants. A cyclist is exposed to everything that humans, who encase themselves in the metal shell of a motor vehicle, are insulated from. Being a solo cyclist also removes another layer of insulation from the human, the illusion of being part of a group. The lone tourer experiences everything directly, as the road delivers it. 

Being a tourist can generally feel a bit surreal, and essentially pointless; bicycle touring helps keep things real. You begin to understand the worth of fuel, weight, sleep, shade. The capacity of our physical being becomes a known quantity. 

To experience the landscape rolling by, intention must be transferred from the immaterial (thought) into something that will affect the material world. Kinetic energy must be released from the fibres of the rider’s leg in order to generate forward motion of the machine. The rider is not ‘on a journey’ the rider becomes in essence both materially and metaphysically ‘The Journey’. In response to Yoda’s famous quote (Star Wars) You are exactly ‘where you are at!’

The people…

On the road, who do we meet? The experience of an essentially lone journey is often accentuated or defined by the encounters we  have along the way? The people are all out there doing their own thing so it’s not infeasible that we will cross paths with other entities* but what is it that draws two bodies together? How do  complete strangers become temporary dance partners?

A metaphysical intersection of beings occurs as we perceive each other, the existence of one comes into view of the other. Are we destined to collide or is life just a string of random chance encounters with no purpose or meaning? I ask myself (You don’t have to answer this riddle for me… in fact you cannot.) There are so many people we could 'bump into' but we certainly don’t find ourselves standing face to face with them all…

On the first day I met Eric, Stan and Joe. Each at a different stage of my journey. The first two meetings took place by the side of the road as traffic thundered by. All three were men in their 70s. (I don't know why but most of the people I find myself talking to are in this age bracket.) I met Eric as I had previously discussed, by the side of the road picking up cans. We had a fairly long meeting of the minds and shifted from small talk and practical advice to deeper matters quickly, then parted knowing each other a little and recognizing each other as sharing several common values. 

Stan was headed North, he saw me struggling with second gear as I left a roadside rest stop and crossed the road to wait for me to approach. Stan had the confident air of a man who was well practiced at roadside encounters; he spoke in a familiar and respectful way. We exchanged details of the road, potential rest stops and a little of our experiences, then parted loosely as friends of the road. 

Joe I met when I arrived in Adelaide River. We were headed in opposite directions, he’d been there a little longer than I and had set up his tent and was resting. We greeted each other in a casual way and over the course of the following day swapped a few stories and shared info about the road ahead. We crossed paths several times and greeted each other in a filial way as we each did our own thing around town. When it was time to continue my journey we parted company gladly as the spirit moved us.

How do we meet? I think the meetings we welcome come from yearning. Like finds Like! Magnetic attraction. I have passed cyclists many times around town and they barely raise their head or see you there. They have no immediate need for companionship or camaraderie they are busy or self-satisfied. The attitude of a journeyman (or woman) has in some way been altered. In a chance encounter there is an opportunity to match pieces of the mystical puzzle we are all a part of. When we’re connected we follow the current which directs us to add ourselves to the broader image. We hum, sing or whistle our few bars of the song we know instinctively that we are a part of and approach fellow travelers with a sense of curios optimism or, dread.

The encounter is going to happen, it won’t necessarily be a friendly one, there are no guarantees. It might be an overtaking vehicle bearing down upon us or a butterfly landing on our shoulder. It could be a tourist bringing sweets, a drunk standing on the corner of the next town you stop in or as Clinton Pryor experienced; a wild donkey that wanders out of the scrub and follows you for miles for no apparent reason. When the course is set we do not have the power to choose, which encounters we will have we can only experience and find our place as two fields converge. 

I have already described the welcome I received at Hayes Creek. That simple encounter energized me far more than I could have imagined. This was cause for some reflection. On one hand I could see how the human spirit (well my spirit anyway) could be elevated by the warmth, acceptance and encouragement of another human being (An oddly unfamiliar experience for me… I’ll have to look into that some day). On the other hand I could see just how emotionally vulnerable I am to the approval of other, how weak and malleable that makes me! I felt drawn to stay an extra day to experience more, and so knew I must leave early in the morning to avoid the trap my desire for acceptance had set for me. 

Ironically after leaving Hayes Creek I ended up at Emerald Springs where I inadvertently walked across the owner’s garden bed without realizing he’d been watching me and was really pissed. My first experience after entering the roadhouse store was a big angry man threatening to ‘give me a belting’.
Let that be a lesson to ME!

(Writing about Pine Creek may recommence after I get this existential dribble off my chest.... or not)

(The foolishness of posting this self indulgent existential blathering is undeniable as a friend recently advised me, If you're not writing for the audience but just to satisfy your selfish interest in seeing your own words in print, then you should probably not publish. This is very good advise and has helped me to look more closely at what I write. Thankfully I am confident that this will not be read by anyone outside of my most intimate circle of one and therefor does not qualify as publishing )

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Day 3

Hayes Creek – Pine Creek

When I arrived at Hayes Creek I was stuffed, my spirits were in much better shape than the previous ride from Darwin to Adelaide River but I had depleted most of my energy. I thought I’d need a day to recover. Oddly, after having a good feed and a pretty reasonable sleep I was up and about bright and early on Wednesday morning. By 7am I had decided that if I started early enough I’d make it to Pine Creek easily. 

Hayes creek is situated at the beginning of quite a rise from the relatively low lying Adelaide River flats. After breaking camp I was immediately confronted possibly the steepest incline on the Stuart Highway until you reach the MacDonnell Ranges, although by world standards that’s not really saying much. 

The country along the Stuart Highway between Hayes Creek and Pine Creek is really quite pretty. You have to be traveling slow enough to appreciate it, and I was. There were several fresh water streams trickling down from escarpments and the geology and plant life was considerably different to most of what I’d seen so far.

Traffic on this leg was moderate and the road was a lot more manageable than my previous experience on the Highway. Although I needed to adjust to leaving the road a lot more often I had made a conscious decision to take my time, stopping to look around and to rest and drink plenty of water. 

Apparently the brolga against sunset image has been on this rock since the 1980's It was part of a well known tourism NT promotion and is easily identified as an NT icon... The words 'C-U in the N-T' are a recent addition gleaned from a 'guerilla tourism advertising campaign'

For the first time on my journey drivers started waving to me and I had a far greater sense of mastery of the road. With less traffic and a couple of days solid riding experience I felt I could anticipate bottlenecks in the traffic and get out of the way more effectively. Truck drivers gave me a wide birth and I always made sure I was off the road well before they were upon me. About half way I stopped at the Emerald Springs Road House and relaxed on their veranda for about an hour, coffee and scones with jam! Yum!

During the final leg to Pine Creek I actually felt I had found my rhythm. (The fact that I only had to ride 60km in the whole day and there was a coffee and scone break right in the middle may have had something to do with my confidence) About 15 km out of Pine Creek the pedals seized! I thought I’d thrown the chain but looked down and found it was sitting snugly on its cogs! Oh no! From the time I set out I feared this happening! I was unable to grease the bottom bracket bearings before I left home, I knew they weren’t in good shape having sat through a few wet seasons and they had been making a dry squeaky scratchy sound for most of the trip… Yes! Low and behold. The crank had seized!

A good traveler does not neglect his machine! (but I did)

After a bit of physical manipulation I managed to get the crank to turn, it was a bit wobbly but it made several rotations without jamming again. There was an ominous grinding feeling and the sound of metal scratching and bending. I figured I must have shattered the bearing casing. On these old one piece crank sets the bearings are contained in a thin metal casing, I reckon if that had dried out or become rusty, the constant revolutions of the crank would eventually chew the metal out and it would start to come apart. The bearings are much tougher and would continue to roll but the whole fit would be looser and would meet with resistance whenever a scrap of metal got caught between the bearings… That is my theory of what happened to my bike.

I was able to continue riding into Pine Creek but knew that unless I could find a replacement*, that’s as far as we’d be traveling together. Within myself I knew this was the end of the line. Rolling up to the shady park in the middle of town I put the bike down on it’s stand and raided my food supplies. Time to hit those treats I’d been saving for a desperate day in the future.

After a decent break in the shade I checked into the Lazy Lizard camp site, made a few half arsed attempts to source an old bike with a one piece crank, then decided it was no longer necessary and officially declared the ride over. There was little likelihood of fixing the bike well enough to travel another 200km and I felt like I had already taken too much time away from my family. The urge to go on was strong though! After only three days of cycling I felt an incredible magnetism to life on the road. A compulsion to go on, a singleness of purpose which revolved around, eating, drinking, sleeping and pedaling. It is pure  and uncomplicated and a treacherous temptation to the breakout man trapped within.

*(Not as unlikely as you may think. One piece cranks were the standard for ultra-low price department store bikes for about 30 years. There are likely to be 100's of thousands of them scattered all over the country, probably in prime condition considering the average punter will quit the cycling fad after the first puncture and push their bike up against a wall, where it will sit until door to door scrap metal collection ever becomes a thing again.)

(More on Pine Creek next post)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Riding the August Moon - Day 2

I like the idea of giving my bikes a name. Sometimes they are quite unimaginative. After my first day on the road I found the more energy I put into going forward the more I felt myself being dragged backwards. I soon arrived at an appropriate name for this particular rig. Henceforth the bike/trailer combo was known as  'Pushmi-Pullyu'. Thanks to 'Dr Do Little' movie.

47 YO child's impression of the pushmi-pullyu rig in full costume dress....  
(artistic critiques will be summarily rejected/deleted)

The ride continues!

I figured about 3:30pm would be a good time to re-commence my journey.  The Gods smiled upon me, with a glint in their eye and a half cough of a chuckle and at 3:30 pm exactly I had my kit packed and bike adjusted perfectly. Wind and sun were losing their sting, the rider was on his way.

Uphill grade, quiet rode, good conditions, approximately 5.5 hours duration

The planned distance for this ride according to Google maps was 67km. Google's estimated time for travel 3 hours and 27 minutes. I have found that with my load and allowing for rest and repair stops my average speed has been reduced to just over 10kmh, I have to double the estimated time. It was going to take me about 6-7 hours. The Sun would set at 6:40pm giving me about 3 hours cycling on a remote* road by the light of the moon. This is the reason I timed my trip to coincide with the full moon, this is the ride I've been looking forward to!

Starting out

I felt an amazing sense of freedom and power to be continuing my journey only 24 hours after I thought I'd decided to quit. Pacing myself I settled into the slow ride around Dorat Rd. (Which apparently is an acronym for Darwin Overland Road Authorities Transport department. Road.)

I had been advised by friends not to ride this way, it is notorious for being a narrow goat track, which should be re-classified as a one way road. I have driven it in my car and found it bumpy, with potential for the car to bottom out in low areas where the road crosses creeks and streams, there are also a few blind corners and crests which leave drivers vulnerable to head on collisions. Mining trucks, and tourist vehicles have been known to appear as if from nowhere at the worst possible time. However, on a bicycle this road is quite a different experience. The slower pace reduces the risk of all these hazards, vehicles can be heard from a distance and there's enough room to get off the road if necessary. The bitumen merges with the dirt in a gentle grade, no drop off, there is infinitely less traffic and cyclists have access to the full road most of the time. In my experience, on this particular day, Dorat Rd is an excellent road for cycling!

George Creek, crystal clear pools
  After about an hour on the road I arrived at Robin Falls. Took a break and cooled off in the crystal clear water of George creek. As the saying goes, Water Is Life! Prior to this ride I had attended and made a submission to the NT fracking Inquiry, my argument was in defence of fresh water. One incentive for this road trip was to experience a conscious dependence on water, to observe water sources along the way and to pay attention to people's relationship to water. George creek was a welcome rest stop featuring a glorious example of a top end fresh water stream. At the slow pace of a bicycle I was able to observe several streams along Dorat Rd, most of them had clear fresh water flowing though them.

Had to get off and walk a couple of these
From here on the riding got serious, a mostly uphill grade, blind corners, crests... the lot! What I hadn't counted on was the exhilaration of actually getting to coast down a few hills.

Coasting downhill toward another stream

Along Dorat Rd there are several properties, I was surprised to see that most gates displayed Yellow Anti Fracking posters, some were quite  faded so I left some shiny new replacements by the gates of those I thought would use them.

Buckled rim prevented the bead of tyre from holding. I encountered several of these blow outs but managed to sort it out by releasing some tyre pressure. This situation caused some delay.

Great views along Dorat road.
After three hours of steady cycling (and a few unscheduled stops to re-fit the trailer tyre which managed to blow out twice in half an hour!) the Daly River turn off appeared. By now shadows were stretching long across the road and the sky had taken an orange tinge... soon it would be getting dark. A lot of wallabies had  begun to venture out of the scrub, but I sensed danger when some wild pigs and a feral dog scamper off in the dusk. Of course they were running away from me but I've had very little experience with these animals and didn't want to take any unnecessary risks so rather than stop there for my break I kept on rolling on. There was also quite a lot of Brahman cattle grazing in un-fenced land beside the road. I hadn't counted on a potential confrontation with a bull! They all held their ground as I cruised past thankfully I  wasn't deemed a threat to the herd!

With a half hour gap between sunset and moon rise there was a magical period of twilight and darkness fell for the briefest moment before a brilliant enormous and silver moon breached the cloak of the horizon! It's hard to describe the feeling of being alone on a fairly remote road at night, there were moments when I felt a bit jittery, but mostly a sense of freedom and belonging! As I became accustomed to the night, my whole sense of progress changed, I  felt a new energy and rhythm had developed with the rising of the moon. The cool air that sits in dips along creeks and gullies invigorated me, my pace started to increase and the whole experience changed! 

Only a couple of cars passed me after dark on Dorat Rd, I sensed them coming well in advance and simply stopped by the side of the road, averting my eyes as they passed so I could retain my night vision.  I had flashing lights on the rear of the trailer so I could be seen, I made it look as obvious as possible that I didn't require any help. Nobody stopped and I was left to continue my ride in peace!

By the end of Dorat Rd my bike computer indicated that I'd done about 80km. Further than I expected but I did make a few little detours along the way and I suppose they add up. It was a great ride but it was time for a rest. Not long after rejoining the Stuart Highway, the lights of Hayes Creek tavern appeared. I'd made it!

I rolled into Hayes Creek at about 9pm expecting the place to be closed, but was greeted by the exuberant owner who welcomed me warmly and set me up with a delicious meal of a home baked pie (re-heated due to the lateness of the hour), chips and salad. When I'd eaten she directed me to the camp ground, where I set my camp and drifted peacefully off to sleep. What an awesome way to end the day!

 * Official definition of 'remote' for the purposes of this blog post = No street lights, no milk bar, no toasted cheese with ham and tomato for at least 50km.

(Sorry no photos during the dusk and night hours)
(Story will continue with Day three... Hayes Creek to Pine Creek)

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. 

Relaxing in the shade at the Last Tucker cafe Adelaide River
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)