WALES (CYMRU)

Had another big interview at Bristol passport control. It seems that UK border control staff can’t fathom that someone could get 5 weeks of leave all at once. Plus they must suspect all Australians just want a UK job and then we’ll stay forever. After a few minutes I almost said, “Look, my dad was born here — I could get a UK passport no probs.” But thankfully I kept my mouth shut.

Another big wait for a hire car and it turned out to be a month-old Seat Leon. Great car — except the sat-nav was flaky. (Kept crashing). The guy at Europcar tried to get me to upgrade to an auto for a mere 50 pounds extra a day. “Um. No thanks,” I said. It was such a ridiculous suggestion I almost lol’d.

Next we were slugging it out with the serious traffic that is omnipresent in the UK. It took us an incredible amount of time to get over to Wales. We crossed this massive bridge — possibly the longest bridge I have ever been on. There was a toll at the end — but apparently it is only a one way toll. We made it to the hotel was in the Cardiff bay area.

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TOBY

So the reason for our trip to Cardiff was to meet my cousin Toby for the very first time. We are actually half-cousins — my grandmother had a child (Pam) when she was a teenager and Pam was secretly adopted out. And I say it was a “secret” because my grandmother never mentioned it to us. Grandma got married, had three children (my dad being one of them) and then immigrated to Australia.

Pam managed to locate my grandmother when I was about 10 years old and it was a big commotion. It was like suddenly my dad had another sister and I had this big branch of family in the UK — including a cousin only a year younger than me (Zoe) and another cousin just a baby (that was Toby). It was almost a scandal because my grandma is such a ridiculously uptight and authoritarian. She seemed affronted by all this information and behaved appallingly.

But during all that drama Zoe and I exchanged a few letters and then again as adults — but we only met for the first time on my very first trip to the UK in 2007. But by that time Toby had grown up and was living in Birmingham so I didn’t get to meet him. Later during the hey-day of Facebook Toby and I bonded over music and it was just a given that I would track him down this trip.

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By this time he was married to Emma.

So we arranged to meet Toby at a multi-story pub/restaurant called Mt Stuart and that was awesome. Emma came a bit later as she was still working. (ASIDE: Emma was already a celebrity to me because she knows the amazing Cate Le Bon personally.) We all had a great time and Emma and Toby announced one of them was “preggaz”. I am pretty sure they used that exact term/phrasing. Totally!

The next day we went over to Toby and Emma’s place and then drove up to the Brecon Beacons for a hike. It was so fucking beautiful and because the landscape was so devoid of trees — there were impressive views almost 100% of the time. The UK is a pretty flat place — especially at this latitude — so it was incredibly refreshing to see so much landscape in all directions. I think the term”rolling hills” was coined up here.

Later we went to central Cardiff where the Roald Dahl festival was going off. There were giant peaches, big chairs, snow-sledding, frogs, fantastic foxes etc. I was such a big fan of Roald as a kid, and am so glad kids still see how amazing he is/was. He was so irreverent. My favourite book was Danny the Champion of the World. But there didn’t seem to be any monuments to that.

Then we had food and beer at this food stall section in the park. Then we were joined by Toby and Emma’s amazing friend Lowri — which is “Laura” in Welsh. Moved on to a quaint pub, then a small bar where we got to see the fireworks. Brilliant day!

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PHOTOS OF BRECON BEACONS

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OTHER BITS: in dot-point:

• Roald Dahl was born here.
• There is a Dr Who museum.
• The road signs are in English and Welsh
• People get dressed up in costume (hen’s nights etc) and climb the Brecons
• There was a massive, but very polite, queue just to get a photo at the summit marker (see below)
• There were a bunch of military doing training up there. Guns, backpacks, camo, the works. As one of them ran by us he joked, “We’re looking for a lost sheep.” Everyone LOL’d.

BONUS PICS

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Iceland

We woke up super-early ’cause our flight was at 6:45am. Marku generously drove us to the 2 hours to the airport in Helsinki. Our Icelander Air flight featured these shimmering “Northern Lights” in the area above the overhead luggage — a funny touch. We were smashed a bit by the cold as we took the bus to pick up our hire car — but it was truly beautiful to be cold again. The wait for the car wasn’t so beautiful. Epic queues at car hire places is a thing you just have to get used to. If you pick up a car at the airport in Europe be prepared to wait in line for about 30-45 minutes.

Keflavik Airport is a long way out of town. Originally it was an airforce base established back in WW11 when Britain (and then the US) decided to occupy Iceland. (It was almost an invasion — the justification being, “before the Germans did it.”) But the long drive gave me a chance to get used to the right-hand drive, plus changing gears with my right hand. Iceland has a LOT of roundabouts too — very tricky.

As you drive into town you pass this vast desert of rocks sometimes spattered with grass. No houses, no trees — just rocks. “Why didn’t they build the airport here?” I wondered. Later I learnt that particular area was still geologically active. Riiight! I get it.

Eventually we arrived in town and our hotel was on a street that was closed to car traffic for most of the day so we had a terrible time working out where to park. Google maps was thoroughly unhelpful in this situation constantly telling us to turn where we simple couldn’t. Eventually we just parked at a public carpark and it took me ages to work out the machine which had only limited English instructions. Arriving at our hotel room — which was on the top floor — we were a bit “over it”. But it was a nice space and had pretty spectacular views of that big church.

IMG_1121.JPGIMG_1122.JPGThis is our little hire-car (white) in the hotel’s tiny carpark

IMG_1127.JPGSelf portrait

FARTS

What they don’t tell you about Iceland in the guidebooks is that the shower smells like farts. I think Dee even tried to blame me. But it’s the high sulphur content in the water — it’s especially apparent when their water is heated. But it’s not a big deal — at least I didn’t think so.

Next we had Vietnamese for lunch then we got some groceries at this el cheapo supermarket chain featuring a very wasted-looking pig called Bonus. (see below.) Much like Franklins or Bi-Lo back here. That night we had dinner at a place called the Public House — just a beer and burger thing. Iceland is pretty expensive it should be said. A bit “eye-wateringly” so at some points. Expect to pay about double what you’d spend in London. (HORROR STORY: we paid A$12 for 4 pappadams the next night).

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THE “TRIANGLE”

The next day we headed north towards Gullfoss (golden falls) and Geysir (which does not need a translation). Almost immediately out of town the scenery was truly fucked-up. Like nothing I’d ever witnessed before. It was just a mixture of bizarre and magical no matter where you looked. (And you could see as forever as your eyes would allow because trees were a bit of a novelty.)

You really cannot describe it adequately, not just because it was so alien, but also because there was always too much to look at. Too much to process. I have talked to people who have been to Iceland — mainly Laura Morrissey — and we agree you just can’t explain how different everything is. (And I’ve been to a bunch of places at the “end of the world” — namely Tasmania and New Zealand and Norway.)

But the super vulcanism really makes this place special. I’ve seen it described as “lunar” or “jurassic”. And that relates to the rocks and sometimes the sparseness of vegetation. Maybe also weird stuff like black sand and all kinds of alpine moss. And sometimes of course because every once in a while you see steam literally pouring out of the ground! (No wonder Iceland is literally powered by geo-thermal electricity).

Another crucial aspect to this vibe is because Iceland is so bloody diverse and you can never get used to one particular vista. Everything changes just a few more minutes down the road or even if you turn your head around. I really struggle to articulate the experience. And pictures do not help. The limitations of photography to do justice to a landscape was never more apparent than on this trip. It was almost heartbreaking. (But I got over it.)

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We stopped the car a few times for photos (never as grand as what I hoped) and at one place the wind was so bad I thought it was dangerous — like it would blow the door off the car as I opened it. We saw some poor touring riders on fully-laden bikes just swimming across the road because they couldn’t stay straight and travelling less than walking speed. They were hardcore.

The geyser at Geysir was interesting and worth the stop — but after one eruption we were like, “OK — been there, done that.” There were lots of gooby tourists around with super-amazing cameras trying to get a shot/video that had been taken a billion times before. Good luck with that.

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So the geyser spews-up every 8ish minutes. As we arrived in the car we saw the geyser go off in the distance. Then we parked, and it took us about 3 minutes to walk up to the spot and we spent exactly 1 minute waiting, and then we promptly left. Express tourism. It may or may not have been a bit like our trip to the Louvre where we just went straight for the Mona Lisa (which took about 4 minutes) and then  we were like, “What now?”.

At Gullfoss we parked for free again and followed the columns of tourists towards the falls. From the top it looks super boring, almost like — are we in the right place? But then you get past the tourist office and suddenly the canyon becomes apparent and you get a few choices . You can stay up on the ridge or dive down to get super close. We went down and later I realised this was the farthest northerly point on Earth I had ever been — previously it had been in the fjords of Norway.

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IMG_0969.JPGThe farthest north I have ever been, and may ever go.

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IMPULSE

At dinner that night I managed to convince Dee to do something YOLO. Being a GEN-Y/ millennial I think she was particularly susceptible to that word being barked at her at any protestation she tried to throw back at me. Eventually she caved and agreed to booking a ~$500 snowmobiling adventure on some glacier a few hours east at 12:30pm the next day.

See on the plane over I had seen a tourist video of Iceland where they showed snowmobiling and it looked easy and apparently, “JUST LIKE RIDING A BIKE!” I can ride a bike, I thought. And I figured that we should see some “ICE” in “ICELAND” — right?

NORTHERN LIGHTS

That afternoon the sky was super clear. I found this local website that extrapolated the cloud data and predicted if a clear night was ahead and it gave a pretty good forecast. So I set my alarm for 2:50am. There was no real science to that except I just betted that time there would be the least light pollution. Instead I accidentally woke at 2am and went onto the balcony. The night was indeed pretty much clear, but as I looked these strange clouds swirled about towards the west and they moved faster than normal clouds — and up and down unlike any normal cloud. My heart started racing. I dove back inside and grabbed my camera which has a “stars” setting. Just holding the camera steady with my hands — not even leaning against a wall — I took a shot and there it was. It looks far more impressive in the photo, but it was still an amazing feeling knowing they were up there — dancing about. I woke Dee and she came out for a look and did her best to be impressed.

I then got dressed and smashed down to the harbour which the inter-webs told me was the best place for viewing in the city. By the time I had got there the lights had virtually stopped and that was a tad disappointing — but I had to try. In fact, by now it was 3am and if I had woken at 2:50 like I originally planned — I would probably have missed them.

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IMG_1174.JPGEarlier that night

WHITE OUT AND WONDERING HOW MANY WAYS WE COULD DIE (or “Our visit to Mýrdalsjökull”)

The next day I was still convinced my impulsive decision was on point. Dee was incredulous. She was convinced I would be a mess once this whole malarkey was acute. After 2.5 hours of driving we turned up to this very remote looking outpost. No one seemed to be around. We went up to a door that looked like it was where we needed to be. But in a massive fail we tried to pull the door — where it was a push-vibe. Another entry in our FAIL-LIST. We hurried back to the car — thinking the door was locked because we were too early. After hiding in the car for about 20 minutes other prospective adventurers started arriving and we saw them gain access and realised our fuck-up.

IMG_1197.JPGWe stopped at this waterfall on the way

So we slunk back and signed huge waivers and got fitted up in this gear. Like a full body suit. Big fat shoes. Gloves and a balaclava. Then a massive helmet. All of which was either too big or too small but we didn’t have the heart to complain or fuss. Once kitted up — shit was about to get real.

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We awkwardly trudged over to this rusty truck with massive tyres. With the help of a small step ladder we were on board and so began the bumpiest journey I have ever experienced. It was so bumpy it was just plain fun. You just couldn’t help but LOL. Meanwhile Dee was beginning to fret.

So now I will turn over to Dee for her thoughts:

“I was bloody loving it, but also really thought that Davey was going to throw up. He is a terrible with motion sickness and the ‘super-jeep’ ride was like serious turbulence to the nth degree. And also he was already nervous about the whole thing, so I spent the journey up to the glacier worried that he was going to vom. But if I didn’t have that to worry about, that would have probably been the most fun part of the whole thing. It really did feel as if we were going on a lunar journey – the landscape became increasingly grey and rocky; all of our fellow astronauts kept their helmets on and really seemed to be contemplating the seriousness of our mission. Dunno what we would be doing on that lunar mission (colonising? snowmobiling the hell out of some alien life-forms?) but everyone seemed to be feeling the same. Anyway, I kept on turning to Davey to offer him encouraging, “isn’t this fun!” looks that usually coincided with us being unable to get up a particularly steep incline or bracing to drive over a glacier.”

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(I also worried about the truck tipping over, the truck breaking down [it sounded very sick and took a few go’s to get started], frost bite on my fingers, and how I would pay for clean-up if I vomited into my helmet — the place I felt would be the most appropriate.)

Once we were snowmobiling I thought how bloody impossible this situation would have seemed to me just a few days ago — or a few hours even. “I am on a fucking glacier, in the middle of Iceland, which is on top of a volcano, driving a bloody snowmobile. What the fuck?” A few seconds after we started off into the icey-snowy oblivion I forced myself to make a note of this. And underline it.

But the higher we got, the colder it got. And the whiter. Pretty soon we couldn’t see more than 50 metres.

I was pretty worried most of the time — not shit-scared it should be said — I  spent a bunch of the time up there just processing all the ways things could go wrong. But despite that — I had an incredible time. I knew this was well above my comfort level and I would appreciate it forever (obviously once we were safely down). It was absolutely insane being so close to a crevasse (having studied all those mountain books once upon a time) and being in a total white-out was just like being in the Empire Strikes Back on Hoth where Luke is visited by ghost Obi-Wan. I had no faith that Han Solo would rescue us should things go pear-shaped.

The most horrible of thoughts in my head was that in this white out we had no idea of navigation — and this is one on my most evil fears. If our guide was somehow compromised by a sudden crevasse or a roll-over or worse — our group would have little to no idea how to get home.

IMG_1205.JPGThe briefing

At the start we had this briefing — but it was so windy, and my head was inside a helmet an astronaut would be jealous of, and thus I missed crucial points about the artificial heaters inside the handlebar grips. Consequently after the first leg my fingers were so cold I had to unzip my jacket and press them against my raw skin to heat them up again. And then Dee was like, “Why aren’t you using the heaters — ya dig-head.” Pretty much verbatim.

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At this first stop we huddled around the guide who drew us a snow-map of the region on the ground. Then he proceeded to point out that we were standing directly on top of a massive volcano called Katla which hasn’t erupted for 98 years — yet it usually erupts every 13-95 years. In other words — it was well overdue. And tremors were detected just the month before. (And it seems there was one as recently as  September 11, 2016). And then he said if it blew it would probably flood the town he lived in (Vik) and there was a pretty good chance the next eruption (when it comes) will ground flights world-wide for maybe 120 days. Freaky. We just might have secretly hoped it blew while we were in Europe and we were stranded. That would be terrible!

Next stop was at a crevasse and that was fucking insane. I stood well back. Like I have read Inter Thin Air and seen that Touching the Void documentary. Crevasses are very, very dangerous places.

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RANT

But then this American dude wandered off up along the edge of the crack. I was so concerned that he was getting too close that I pointed him out to the guide. The guide started shouting at him to come back but he couldn’t hear. Then the guy suddenly pulled out his wang and started pissing into the crevasse. I was appalled. I am a pretty sure his partner overheard me saying to Dee, “That is so fucking rude.” Apart from the brazen crassness, I bet the glacier fed some local water supply. And the dickhead had taken a piss just a hour before at the little hut where we all got geared up. Sheesh!

LAST DAY

Our last day was meant to be at the Blue Lagoon — but, HOT TIP,  you need to book well in advance so there were no suitable times. It was raining and a bit chilly so we bummed around the sights within walking distance. It was a mercifully “nothing” kinda day. A rest day. See our flight was at 6:45am the next day and we had to be out of bed at like 2:30am. Even then we only just made it. For a tiny airport it was ridiculously busy. And there were so many security/passport/checking-in/bus-to-the-airplane hoops we had to go through. Insane.

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BONUS PICS

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IMG_1184.JPGMorning on day 3

FINLAND

(FINLAND DAYS 1-2 HELSINKI) BLOG IS HERE!

Here is our trip a bit deeper (mostly east) into Finland proper.

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IMG_0902.JPG(terrible photo of Dee, but this was the traditional pastry breakfast in Finland – I think called korvapuusti.)

IMMINENT VOMIT

So (Dee’s great-uncle) Marku picked us up (at Helsinki Station) and he immediately drove us over to this coffee place on this lake which was a venue for the winter olympics way back then. We had some traditional pastries as well and then headed for Porvoo which is one of only 6 medieval towns in Finland. It dates back to the 14th century and is a big deal over here. There was even a large group of Russian tourists on some bus tour. (I had to ask what language they were speaking). Lots of wooden houses painted in bright colours. Very tiny streets.

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Next we headed out towards the country. Finland has a lot of trees and lots of winding roads (probably cause they are all dodging the millions of lakes.) Very, very soon I got super car-sick. I was in the back seat and we got lost at one point and I just forced up the courage to beg our very generous host to stop the car because I didn’t want to vomit everywhere. It was evil. I spent about 5 minutes in this beautiful forest trying to compose myself. It was so hard. I hadn’t felt that degree of travel sickness since I was a kid. Another 2 stops later and I just put my head between my knees and a plastic bag underneath that fully expecting to blow some serious chunks at any second. For whatever reason — I managed to hold on to the contents of my stomach for the next 100ks.

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KOTKA

Kotka is where Marku lived. But he had organised for us to stay in this river/sea-side villa of one of his mates. His name was Pekka. And Pekka was an absolute legend. His daughter Emma was turning 21 that night and it was apparent everyone was coming over for a party. “Awesome,” I thought.

While Marku went to fetch his boat, Dee and I went “Roaming”. Over in Europe there are laws variously translated as “Freedom to Roam” or “ Every man’s right”. In Finland (and heaps of other places in Europe) that means you can literally go on private land to pick berries — as long as you are a reasonable distance from private houses and yards. Unfortunately the berries we saw were pretty much in people’s front yards. But it was fun just considering the notion. Berries and fruit were everywhere.

Back at the house Marku arrived with his boat and took Dee for a trip while I had a nap cause I was still a very bit fragile having spent 2 hours being so violently nauseous. A few hours later, I started to recover and by that stage Pekka’s family came over in little spurts. First was Pekka, then Emma’s BF (Arho) and her younger sister (Maija). Then Pekka’s wife who had to rush off to do hospital duty (she was a doctor).

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IMG_0987.JPGMarku’s boat arriving

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SATURDAY SAUNA

Before we knew it Pekka was (wood) firing up the hot tub (see below) and we were having a wild time translating the handwritten notes on the back of Dee’s grandad’s old photos. They were a bit racey (for the time).

Everyone spoke excellent English and we all got on famously and it was genuinely incredibly fun. I was super excited. So excited that when the sauna was announced — boys always go first — I was like, “Hell Yeah!” And sauna (pronounced “sour-nah”) is a big deal over in Finland. According to Wikipedia, there is an average of one sauna per household in Finland. It is seen as a necessity — not an extravagance like it might be viewed over here. And Saturday is the traditional day to take one. So Pekka, Arho and me all had a shower and I was last in line, showering in my improvised swimmers. Suddenly the other two were completely naked and I just dug deep and got the last of my kit off. Like I have not been naked in front of other males since school (apart from one medical exception — don’t ask). The only comparable occasion was in Japan when I went into the Onsen in Kyoto and I went so late at night no other blokes were around.

But being all naked in a steamy room with beer and stories and laughs — it was so great. An entirely refreshing naked experience! It just felt normal.

I am a hyper-sweater. I know that from bike riding. I sweat about twice as badly as my mates. And so I was a mess in there – just melting faster than the wicked witch in Wizard of Oz. But it was still kinda interesting. After about half an hour (I could have spent longer) we all went out and did a running jump off the jetty into the river. It was so amazing. The buzz of being so hot and then so cold all of a sudden is like a hit of drugs — not that I know what a hit of drugs feels like. Really. That river freezes over in winter and they have to cut a hole in the ice to do that sauna-to-water trick we had just done. Incredible.

For dinner we had this big plate of salmon and veges — served traditional Finnish style — and it was amazing. This night was without too much exaggeration — one of the best nights of my life. Thanks everyone over there! Rock on. (We also had homemade pizza at their place on Sunday night too — love you guys!)

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IMG_0910.JPGThis is Arho about to dive in!

IMG_0911.JPGAnd me…. 

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HAMINA

The next day Marku took us to the old fortress town of Hamina — where Dee’s grandfather came from before he immigrated to Australia in the 1960s. The town is designed in concentric circles — just like a fort. Indeed there are fortifications and moats everywhere that have been re-purposed as schools or sports fields. Or just dog/walk parks. Next we headed to the Virolahti bunker only a few kilometres from the Russian border. On the way I had dreams of seeing Russia, maybe just like Sarah Palin. But Finland is so flat, and so forested too. You rarely see views more than a few hundred metres unless water is involved. And despite the fact we were in spitting distance of Russia, there was no hope of seeing it unless you literally drove up to the border.

The bunker was incredible. These massive square rocks four deep that stretched for hundreds of kilometres. (Designed to stymie Russian tanks). It was a proper Marginot Line — but actually finished (no pun intended). Trenches and bunkers too. The line is now a popular multi-day hike.

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IMG_1081.JPGHamina!

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Hamming with forts all around.

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IMG_0937.JPGTaking pics of the homemade pizzas!

IMG_0940.JPGSaying goodbye to our Finnish puppy besties!

BONUS PICS!

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Amsterdam – days 11-13.

We arrived in Amsterdam on my very first birthday overseas. And of course it didn’t quite feel like the kinda birthday you get back home where I buy myself a lego set and eat sticky-date pudding for desert and relax on the couch all evening. No — it was just another intense-day where we had to get somewhere and once that done — maybe I could relax and maybe be interested in celebrating. I think I might have got to that point at about 5pm.

But backtracking: we got an uneventful train from Breda and then found a cab rank at the back of Amsterdam station and I swear we got ripped off. I couldn’t see any meter running but I thought that was just cause I didn’t know where to look. And cause we were doing two drops, one for us and one for Jess, I thought that might have something to do with it.

I thought I had learnt this scam (from this time in Atlanta where the driver locked our luggage in the boot until we paid whatever he had previously “quoted”.) The scam is where the taxi driver just “quotes” you a figure at the start of the journey and you accidentally “accept” and so the meter isn’t running the whole time and later you don’t have much choice but accepting. It was a bit more acute cause Jess had to pay the final bill (cause we got dropped off first). So not a great start. And taxi drivers wonder why they have such a bad rep and why everyone seems to embracing Uber.

Our hotel was a little on the edge of town. But close to all the museums and the park and of course there were canals everywhere.

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BIKES

It really was the most bikes I have seen in one place. It was a little funny though because ALL the bikes were using the bike lanes or the side streets — never the road proper. I looked on and thought, “OMG, I could smash so much faster using the car part of the road.” And I saw the occasional “roadie” and they were using the bike lanes too — which were vastly more congested. I guess that was the vibe. For me personally I like to mix it up with cars and smash it. To make sure my Garmin stats are the best they can be.

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THE HOTEL

It was a nice place where we were staying. All this cool furniture and Art in the common areas, plus a market virtually next door which had a food hall, cinema and cool shops.

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That night we had dinner at a Japanese place and then had some fun — just quietly.

The next day we realised another TRAVEL FAIL: you could only buy tickets to the Anne Frank museum online and our window was virtually frozen out. I had even read Anne’s Diary as prep, but I figured just standing outside was enough. It had been such a harrowing experience just reading her words and then stumbling around the streets where she lived, walked, and where she rode her bicycle — before it was banned. Then looking at her prison before a proper-prison was sad enough. Her ghost was everywhere — indeed she was almost a ghost when she wrote those words, and walked these streets and cowered at the back of that factory.

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Later that day we had lunch in a rooftop restaurant which had one of those  glass elevators. I am all a bit tragic in these situations. I don’t like heights, and I don’t like elevators. But I love views. Work that one out Freud.

And then we went to the Van Gogh Museum and used one of those audio-tour things. They are so good. I am so dumb when it comes to Art. I barely even know what I like — mostly just knowing what I hate. And the stuff in the middle — the stuff I am indifferent to is more a mystery than true indifference. So it is so refreshing having stuff explained to me. I LOVED that nun (Sister Wendy) who explained paintings in the most incredible way imaginable. So much weirder (and less pompous) than Robert Hughes, but conversely so much more natural. I saw it on some obscure timeslot on the ABC when I was a kid. Even as a kid I thought she rocked. CHECK THIS OUT I BLOODY DARE YOU — OMG! Or this which is super-trendy ATM. (Watch vs Hannah Gadsby’s review of the same painting.)

Anyway — I did my best not to get all teary – but it was super-hard. He was a redhead too. Bloody hell.

The next day we did that Ryks Museum and that was OK. Like it was at least an hour of entertainment before you were over it. We stretched it out to 1.5 hours. OMG — art galleries just get so samey. Call me a philistine — but that is the truth.

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SUMMARY

At the time, and a bit since I really don’t think I got into Amsterdam that much. I think I need to go back one day and maybe that will change. I mean Paris was a bit like that. London possibly too.

BONUS PICS

IMG_0805.JPGGratuitous red-light district shot — it was pretty tame really.

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These signs were everywhere. We had to google them later because I thought it was highly weird. It turns out that it is an anti-theft device where if you steal something you just might get sprayed by a DNA code that will mark you and basically connect you to the crime. Unless you have like a billion showers in the space of a week. Or burn all your skin off. Or confess. Up to you.

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GUEST BLOG – Jess writes about the Redhead Festival

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My take on Redhead Days is a little different to Davey’s… While I fully sympathise with the plight of the downtrodden gingers, wept for the guy in the Being Ginger Netflix documentary, and would argue strongly that the lack of ginger emojis is a mild form of racism… I myself never endured any ginger torment as a child.

Sure, there were what Dee would call my “terminally ill years” between the age of ten and 15, before braces and eyebrow tinting, but even through those awkward teenage times, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked, “Is that your natural hair colour?” I’d have enough money to hit up every ginger festival in every country every year.

I know this makes me (even more of) a minority, and I consider myself lucky for never having been made to feel embarrassed about my hair colour. (Except maybe for the time I dated a guy who turned out to be obsessed with Annie, and I only found out when he introduced me to his grandmother, who said, “Oh, she does look like Annie!” That was awkward.) My ginger pride stems from my upbringing, and the strong female gingers I had as role models – my beautiful mum, who I watched being constantly adored by my dad, and my fiery aunty, a total knockout loved by everyone. I don’t even know if you could call it “ginger pride”… Our hair colour, while acknowledged and celebrated, was just a small part of who we are. It was a non-issue, so I never had to overthink it, and I just kinda liked my hair colour. Even appreciated that it made me a little different.

So for me, Redhead Days seemed like a bit of fun. Something that would make a cool story… “Yeah, so I’m traveling through Europe for six months, and my first stop is a little town in the Netherlands for a three-day celebration of gingers.” Why not?!

But then I arrived in Breda, and my little ginger bubble burst. For the first time in my life, I actually felt self-conscious about my hair colour. While there was a strong sense of solidarity amongst the gingers, it was the non-ginger ginger enthusiasts that really made me uneasy. All of a sudden I was on display, and I didn’t like it one bit.

Standing in the town square, men with cameras would swarm and take photos of me like I was an animal in the zoo. One guy got so close I had to give him an “I can see you” eyebrow raise so that he’d back off.

Probably the most unsettling encounter was with a (non-ginger) guy from Vienna who claimed to be a journalist. He approached Dee & me in the park one afternoon looking for a story, with a bottle of coke and pack of cigarettes his only tools of trade. Within five minutes of awkwardly sleazy chitchat, he was convinced he and I were “the perfect pair” and suggested we be Facebook friends. Feeling a little flirty (in hindsight, foolish!) from the wine, I said that if he could find me at the pub crawl later that night, we could make that happen. He did find me. Twice. At two different pubs, among hundreds of gingers. In the dark of night in a foreign town, he seemed even more creepy than during the day, forcing me to make a French exit and go home to bed.

The official group photo was the last straw. Being herded into the photo location space, and then separated by a barrier from the non-gingers while the photographers snapped at us from the top of a cherry picker, just felt a little too much.

So while Redhead Days was an interesting experience, I was relieved when the weekend came to an end, and I could just throw my hair up in a ponytail and move on. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d washed and blow dried my hair three days in a row. Because hey, if I’m going to be photographed unknowingly, I want to be looking my best. 💁 (Blonde emoji used for lack of a ginger one.)

And here’s Jess’s blog: The End of August

GINGER FESTIVAL – BREDA

DAYS 8-10

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It’s been a bit of a life-dream going to The Ginger Festival. There are others apparently — but the one in Breda is the biggest and I think the very first. But despite being desperate to go, I was still quite a bit intimidated by the experience. I treat my gingerness as politics. It’s incredibly important to me. I know I harp on about this all the time, so just skip the next two paragrapha if you’ve heard this all before.

I am what I can only describe as a “Militant-Ginger”. I genuinely believe we have a case for ethnicity. Not just for our physiognomy, but because we are genuinely persecuted. And I know you are thinking, “What’s a few harmless jibes? Get over it Coppertop.” But it’s really tough growing up the only redhead in your class. You feel so different at a time when you just want to be so, so the same. But I never had it as bad as the woman I saw on TV describe how her (male) classmates ripped down her dress to see if her pubic hair was red too. And when that South Park episode came out I wept for my little ginger comrades still at school that had another set of bullshit to deal with. I constantly feel like telling little ginger-kids, “Don’t worry — it gets better.”

There is also another case for our ethnicity — the fact we evolved to be genetically adapted to the highest latitudes — where the sunlight was weak or only available for the shortest periods. Our pale skins could soak up the limited sunlight more effectively so we didn’t have any vitamin D issues. Anyway. I identify as a ginger and it shits me so much when we are dismissed as just a minority hair-colour. We are all so much, much more that that.

I CAN”T HELP NOTICING EVERY SINGLE GINGER

When I see a random ginger I cannot help but pausing for that milli-second to process that meeting. I feel we have a tiny recognition moment similar to what the movie “Fight Club” popularised. We don’t say or do anything, (or even nod or maintain any length of eye-contact) — but it’s just an instant affinity. Maybe it is even mutual. So of course SPOLIER ALERT: this will become a bit of sensory overload very soon. More on that later.

So back to BREDA. When I announced we were going to the festival, Jess — a fellow ginger from Brisbane— said she would come too. I spent ages at Antwerp Station lining up to buy our train tickets (cause the machines refused to work). The woman at the counter was a ginger and for the 20-odd minutes I waited in line I worked up the courage to say that I was buying tickets to go to the Ginger festival — imagining all the while she would be pleased or at the very least — interested. It turned out she was mystified at best. Maybe it was my terrible attempt at translating the concept, but she had no idea about the festival, didn’t care about my trip and maybe even didn’t identify as ginger. Not a great start.

We arrived at Breda station around lunch time and when we walked out into the light we stopped because we weren’t entirely orientated. But then suddenly a woman came up to us with a brochure and I thought, “Ugh, somebody selling something.” I did my least enthusiastic “hi” and was even about to decline what she was offering. But then she asked if we were here for the Festival. Instantly I was gobsmacked. Though not a ginger, she was an official spruiker of the Festival. She handed us these booklets and gave us directions — all in English. It was incredible. We felt special. We had arrived. We just might be home.

PAYMENT DRAMA

There was a bit of drama getting this apartment — despite the fact I booked it first and three whole months before we were due to arrive. (The whole reason for the trip was based around getting to Breda). Eventually Laura in the UK had to pay for it because I couldn’t pay by credit card and paypal would only pay in Australian dollars (which the owner refused). And that was a highly convoluted process and took ages and all the while I seriously wondered if we were being scammed.

So when we arrived at the address and it was just a vacant shop I was horrified. “I had a bad feeling about this,” I said. We looked around the back and were met by a security gate with no intercom. Dee was calm. Jess was calm — but I was mortified. I dove into my pack and brought out the confirmation print out. There was a phone number listed. So after a few fails at  getting the area code, I got through to the owner and he was like, “You’re early! I’ll be there in 10 minutes”. Saved! I can’t imagine what we would have done had we not got SIM cards. Anyway. Crisis over.

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This is my review of the apartment if I could be bothered: only one bedroom, but there was plenty of space. Noisy at night — made good use of ear plugs. No hair dryer. No air-con (just a very ordinary ceiling fan in bedroom). The three flights of metal stairs were treacherous after rain. Complicated key system. Wifi was a bit flaky. Don’t forget (like we did) to bring 300 euros in cash for safety deposit.

Exploring Breda we saw all the sights despite only officially simply trying to find a supermarket. Then we realised we needed that hairdryer so Dee and Jess went off hunting that while i lugged all our groceries home. Jess and Dee made a frittata for dinner and we ate on our balcony which had a decent view. Then we all got showered, made-up and blow-dryed (me included) and made our way to the nightclub which was the first event on the Festival schedule.

FIRST GINGER PARTY — AND I AM WORRIED. “IS THIS A TOTAL DISAPPOINTMENT?”

As we got closer I got both nervous and excited. Not being totally confident in google maps I wasn’t even sure we were in the right place, but then we turned a corner and there were some gingers hanging about outside. I instantly said hello to everyone. But I got some push-back. I got the intense feeling they were not used to being greeted so warmly by a stranger — even a fellow ginger. I think that is a European thing. (My friend Cass moved to Norway and said to me that if he greets a random in the street, like just being polite, they cannot comprehend it. They assume you are an acquaintance they have forgotten. It is inconceivable to them that a stranger would want to simply say “hello”.) I worried that this whole event would be a bit wooden. Just a photo-op. A total disappointment.

But of course I was determined to make the best of this. Inside, as the beverages kept flowing, everyone seemed to loosen up a bit and realise there was an affinity. Eventually you could just go up to anyone and say, “Hi”. We met a bunch of gingers including Ireland’s Ginger King. (He had a crown to prove it). And then we were all corralled into a group photo. At that point knew this event was important. The Ginger-Fest hadn’t officially started but there was at least 200 gingers here ready to stand up and be counted (and party.)

IMG_0687.JPGHere’s the Irish King!

I got in there for the photo and then dived upstairs while the MC was still talking to get a shot of the crowd below. I posted that shot to Instagram as something like: “There are 100% gingers in this shot. True Story” It was profound. I know I use that word a lot — but it was so meaningful. I was with my brothers and sisters. I was with people who knew what I had gone through and I knew what they had gone through (and would go through, potentially, for the rest of their lives.)

My ginger friend Nicci commented on that post saying, “I can’t imagine what that would feel like.” And as I woke up the next day and saw that — I realised it was a truly momental occasion.

NICCI: “You’re so used to being an oddball that you don’t even think about it anymore, until someone mentions they were in a room full of people similar to you, and you get an odd sense of belonging for the first time that you didn’t know could exist.”

GINGER SATURDAY

The next day Jess and I were all trying to look our best. I have never had the need to shampoo my hair twice in one day — but that happened. As I ventured out that morning I felt   quite consciously that I was being “looked at”. I felt like everyone knew why I was here. But combatting that hyper-self-consciousness was the fact I felt like I wasn’t the only one. All us gingers were almost celebrities. Indeed Jess will later tell you stories about how she was shot by all these ginger-paparazzi. (Stay tuned)

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That morning we got our country stickers. We seemed to be the only Australians there — but later we found at least two other gingers form Australia. But most of the gingers were from Europe. One from Iraq. For the first time ever I have worn our flag with pride. Not pride in the flag, just pride in the fact we had come a long way and there were many, many gingers in Australia that I had promised to represent. And I thought of EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU. (Even though I forgot to tag the awesome Shelley in my Insti post. Still sorry about that Shell. Forgive me!)

PUB CRAWL

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On this night Dee chose to stay home. She could have come, but in her mind that would have been awkward. I understood her decision. So it was just Jess and me who got assigned to different “teams” for this event. They had to divide us all up into groups of about 12 so we didn’t overwhelm any single venue. My group had two guides and then we hit about 8 pubs and nightclubs before a big meet-up at some massive nightclub. Of course – I had a great time. That was a given. I was a bit dusty the next day it should be said.

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PHOTO DAY

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OFFICIAL PHOTOS (we are actually in these – just saying)

So a Sunday emerged and we all met in the Square and again it was too many gingers to process. It was obscene. Ginger-kids too. About ten of them were planted on this stage looking out over all of us. (They were so well behaved it should be said). After a big speech by the mayor we all walked about a kilometre to the train station for a group photo. At that point Dee got excluded. There were bouncers that literally said, “Gingers THIS WAY, you people go over there.”

Dee was a bit nonplussed already. Obviously I felt sorry for her, but then I didn’t. SOZ BEB.

The Sun had now come out and it shone down on us just like the deadshit it is. We all realise it is the reason life exists and the reason we all still exist, but to us, it is still pretty bullshit.

We all stood there in that SHINE for about 30 minutes trying to look our best “GINGER” and always looking straight ahead while these goobs tried to get the perfect shot on-top of these cherry pickers which were constantly going up and down. All the while we were melting, squinting and possibly developing (or nurturing) various skin cancers. UGH! This terrible MC was running around interviewing gingers on the loud speakers and it was cringe-worthy at best. I didn’t really expect anything better — but this was billed as the pinnacle of the whole event. And it was pretty ordinary. They really need to make that bit slightly less contrived. Like we are herded. Or a spectacle. Just saying.

BONUS SHOTS

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EUROPE TRIP (Day 1-4)

IMG_0663.JPGDee was hoping to buy Albo’s new book at the airport — but instead just had to download it to the Kindle.IMG_0672.JPG

AN INTRODUCTION

This is the story of our 40 day trip to Europe. It was a “busy” trip. It made my head spin when the reality of it all hit the night before we left. I was a mess of nerves and I genuinely believe I was more anxious than I had been on the eve of our first time to Europe almost 10 years ago. This time we were jumping about Europe like iced-up-maniacs on pogo-sticks. By our standards it was an unprecedentedly hectic schedule. We weren’t stopping for very long in any one place — apart from the 6 days in a row at London right at the very end. (Which was essentially a reward for all our previous express-tourism). We had three separate car hires, one of which was that right-hand drive bullshit with a manual — meaning I not only had to get my shit together to drive on the opposite side of the road, but had to change gears with my right hand.

There were a bunch of intra-Europe flights on airline carriers we had never heard of and all the transfers that necessitated. There were a bunch of extremely early flights. And we were yet to book a bunch stuff — particularly in Ireland.

LONDON

The last time we arrived in London it was at 6am. (This was back in 2011). And thus we made it to our hotel in record time. Probably just before 9. Naturally the hotel room wasn’t ready so we were forced to wander around a bleak, grey city like zombies for hours and hours until we could check in at 3pm. Lesson-learnt, this time we booked an airport day room. It was so tiny and super hi-tech it was like living on the International Space Station. There were buttons everywhere for lights and the TV but crucially a button that would un-furl the bed. (It was like a massive robotic Jason-Recliner). That done the entire room was filled up. Once you were done napping you literally had to collapse the bed so you could move about the place again. We only got about 1.5 hours sleep but it was enough to feel a tiny bit fresh for the trip from Heathrow into the city proper.

We took the express train to Paddington, then got some brand new Oyster cards and planted 20 pounds on each. At Liverpool Station we took a quaint black cab and the (equally-quaint) driver was the most ENGLISH person you could imagine. I actually think he called me “Gov” or “Governor”.

So we were staying in Hackney. About halfway down Hackney Road in a spot I would describe as “authentic” London. On the “dodgy-scale” I would rate it at about 15%. Like there was perhaps a 15% chance anytime you ventured out there that something uncomfortable would occur. Within a stone’s throw there was a Chippy, three off-licenses, a Tesco and some weird proliferation of bag merchants.

ON THE BUSES

We soon learnt our road had three great services (the 26, 48 & 55) that would certainly get us moving in the general direction we needed to be — if not taking us almost exactly where we wanted to go. So we didn’t use much of the Tube. It is only a pound per journey on the bus — no matter how far you travel (as long as you stay on that particular bus). As opposed to the Tube which is almost 4 quid minimum a trip. It was now all about the buses. We would always ride up top to get the views and to be guaranteed a seat and jut for the novelty. Plenty of people also took dogs on the bus — Dee would rate that as another bonus.

FIRST NIGHT

Our date with Laura K and Laura Morrissey was in Shoreditch at the Owl and Pussycat. We walked over and, being inherently super-punctual — we got there early and I was faced with my first cultural malaise. I was ordering our drinks and I had been prepared for Dee’s wine but my beer proved a complication. I successfully ordered the wine, but as I looked down at the beer-taps I couldn’t recognise any brand — or any variety. As far as I could tell there was not even a Guinness or Kronenberg option. Whatever I stumbled into ordering was barely OK. I think I even ordered it again just cause I couldn’t bear the roulette of trying something else which might have been worse. It was a bit of a wake up call. I was now on the other side of the planet and I had to get my shit together.

It was so great to see the Lauras and epic good times were had. PizzaEast for dinner.

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I CAUSE AN INCIDENT

We were back at the hotel by 10 and we crashed into bed. Asleep almost immediately. But at about 3:30am we both woke up and I decided to use the facilities. The room was unfamiliar and completely dark and I was searching for the bathroom light. “Where the fuck is the bathroom light?, “ I said to Dee. I had completely forgotten that bathrooms in the UK have the light switch on the outside. It is absolute stupidity — but that is how they do things over there. I was stumbling around and Dee was giving me some suggestions. Eventually I found this cord and I think I said, “Hey maybe this cord is it.” Dee literally screamed, “NO DON’T!” But it was too late.

I yanked this cord and suddenly all these alarms went off. I literally thought I had set of the Hotel’s fire alarm. Dee sprung out of bed in a panic and was like, “That’s the panic cord.”

“WHAT?!!”

See we were in one of those “ambulent rooms”. Designed for people with disabilities. That panic-cord was super-effective. It not only made unspecified people in the hotel (or else) in panic-mode – but I too was now also quite a bit PANICKED. I dived upon the room’s telephone and was immediately in touch with someone in Reception. In hindsight I realised I had picked up the receiver just at that instant after Reception had dialled our room number to check on us.

“Oh My God, “ I said as calmly as I could muster. “I didn’t mean to do that.” She started telling me how to cancel/reset the alarm but her instructions weren’t quite specific enough. (I guess because all rooms are subtly different she was telling me to find this switch at a place it definitely was not.) Another panicked minute or two ensued before I found that cancel button — on the ceiling of all places. I leapt on a chair and the CRISIS was averted. But all that adrenaline was still swimming about our super-wired bodies and as we slumped back into bed it took us a bunch more time to get back to sleep. After that I started making a list of all the FAILS! we had done so far.

Examples:

1) I said “G’Day” at least twice within hours of arriving.
2) I said, “Can I chuck that on my card?” — which would have been equally a highly mystifying and creepy thing to say now I realise it.|
3) Dee accidentally locked her suitcase after accidentally spinning the combination locks.
4) (In Brussels) Buying the cheapest/dodgiest wine available but when we realised it required a corkscrew, we realised we were in such a super-expensive hotel and asking the concierge to uncork it. So much AWKWARD.

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The next day, a Friday, we went into the city to get UK phone cards and have a wander around. Went to the British Museum and it was “Saturday” chaotic. So much more security since last we visited. Not much else to report about that day except the epic stairs at the Russell Square Tube station.

BRISBANE IN LDN

That night we caught the bus up to one of most favourite places in London — Stoke Newington — initially to meet Laura K. But then a bunch of other Brisbane ex-pats were on our agenda. Sonya and Brad, Mark and Katie. We all piled into this tiny backroom section of an awesome vegetarian Indian restaurant (RASA) and shared stories of living in London and me and Dee got excited. Then LK and Dee and me headed to Camden (EDIT: Actually Dalston — thanks LK) to see Susan’s band. Laura Morrissey was there too and then suddenly Mitch appeared. So many Brisbane friends! But jet-lag was creeping up and I was mostly to blame for us leaving just before midnight. Moments before I made the call I had accidentally gone to the women’s toilet and it was horrifying. “OMG! I am just a tourist! I am a Deadshit! I am so sorry!” That was literally what I said when I emerged from the cubicle and when the realisation punched me in the face. The two women there were luckily very understanding.

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SUNDAY

The weather had turned a little. It was periodically drizzly but our tiny umbrella seemed to keep us dry as we walked over to the Columbia Road Flower Market. It’s a thing in London to buy flowers. It’s a bland and dreary existence here (nature-wise) and I guess you don’t get to see much natural colour and so people go a bit nuts for flowers to spice up their apartments. It was super-crowded and we slow-mo’d our way through the throng to find a quaint bagel place and dove out to the back for a bit of peace and to scoff some rather excellent bagels down. Then Dee and LK went off while we made own ways independently towards the War Cabinet Rooms over near Westminster. I made it most of the way just walking only having to get a four stop/one change tube ride to meet the deadline. The tube service was advising that patrons should take water to stave off the heat down there. It was good advice. The tube was disgustingly hot. You’d think being so deep underground it would be sufficiently insulated — but the air is so blisteringly stuffy. The atmosphere seems to be enriched by human body heat and having just walked up top for an hour meant my core temperature was already elevated. There was a spot at the end of the carriage where you could stand next to a tiny open window which provided some relief — but only while the train was moving.

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The line-up for the War Rooms was epic, but after a quick stop at a Pret-a-Manger for a coffee we got hit by a sudden downpour. It was sufficiently severe to decimate the line-up and we made it down with only the briefest of waits. SCORE!

After learning quite a bit more about than I really needed to know about Churchill (but achingly little about his wife Clementine) we came up into the light again and realised we hadn’t seen a single window for hours. LK came back with us to our hotel room for drinks. Then collectively we did a poke-hunt in Haggerston Park and then at Bethnal Green we caught our first Mr. Mime — a Europe-only Pokemon. We were all so excited we did this big group hug. Embarrassing, but it felt good at the time.

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IMG_0436.JPG(August 2016)

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MONDAY — BANK HOLIDAY

It was a slow start, but after wandering around the area we made it to a cafe attached to a recording studio called “The Premises”. It was one of those places with signed pictures in frames all over the walls. Jarvis Cocker, Little Boots, Lily Allen etc. A group of four fat Council workers had the table next to us and were so deplorably inappropriate they made Trump seem like an angel. The runt of the group was a guy called “Fat Paul” who copped most of the vile. And he wasn’t that fat. Poor bastard. Even the waitress was insulted — “You’re not as fat as Fat Paul,” one of them said. Literally.

Anyway. It was mostly a quiet day that ended with dinner in a section of Hackney that I can only describe as Little Vietnam. Tomorrow we had to negotiate THE CONTINENT. (More on that later.)

ASIDE: This was my favourite ad on UK TV. So good. (and the way the dog jumps up in the very last second is equal genius and magical.)

BONUS PICS:

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IMG_0710.JPG(Drinking in a park with a squirrel)

Killarney Overnightah — NIGHT 1, DAY 2

A Thing From DAY 1 (see it here) I Forgot To Mention:

At maybe the 4th or 5th Condamine river crossing we see this 4WD waiting for us to finish crossing. It’s completely stopped at the other side. In no time we get out of the river and then the car sets off and just starts gunning it across the river as fast as it could go — so unnecessarily. It was bouncing all over the place and making such a racket. We all just lol’d. That’s not how you do it. Duggie said (like he was talking to the driver), “Dude, the river isn’t that deep. If I dipped my dick in the water I wouldn’t even get my balls wet.” TRUE STORY. 

THE PUB

So it was about 3:30pm when we got to the pub. Killarney Hotel is definitely a country pub. Lining up at the bar was a genuine cowgirl in boots with spurs. Later Scott was like, “I only thought that stuff existed in old movies.” Dan went inside to sort out the rooms but then he was back saying they didn’t have my booking for the motel section. Argh! But they did have a room upstairs and so I took that. We all paid upfront and I was desperate to get outta my kit so I raced upstairs with my bike. Then I hear this, “Excuse me love…” And it was one of the hotel workers telling me to put my bike in the shed out the back. “Is it secure?” I said and she said it would get locked later. Last time we were here we got to put our bikes in our rooms. Oh well.

After I had changed Scott and I went out to the shed to check it out. There were kegs and cartons of beer and hay bails so we figured there’d be no way they’d leave it unlocked overnight.

20160521_193556_zpstmd9tqs0Later in the night Dan took this shot. Someone had hidden or secured or just dumped some hay in front of our rigs. Hmm

INDIGESTION

Just after we had arrived in town we had convened at the local Foodworks and I had scoffed down 2 of their rather dated-looking sausage rolls (plus an ice-coffee and a coke) and then after my first beer once we got to the pub it all felt super-tight in my stomach and I had to go for a bit of a walk to get things loosened up again. So I was a couple of beers behind when I got back. We were all camped out in the smokers section on the front deck.

I went inside and found a spare form-guide and stuffed my Condamine-soaked-through shoes with the scrunched up paper. Later I found more newspaper and did the same to everyone else’s shoes. They would thank me later for that bit of genius.

Some locals started talking to us — a little patronisingly it should be said. But we didn’t care. We were on our best behaviour and having a good time. There was a lot of hi-fiving and back slapping and talk of how tough the day had been. I asked Duggie if he would have included that first detour loop if he knew how epic the ride would be and he said, “No…I wouldn’t…but I’m glad we did it. You know?” And I totally understood what he meant and agreed. It hurt, but it really gave the ride something special.

IMG_0003Here’s Scott getting acquainted with the pub-dog.

FOOD

After a tag-team system we were soon all showered and changed and the pub was now getting pretty busy. Lots of guys in cowboy hats. Lots of kids in cowboy hats. Heaps of people wearing sleeveless puffy jackets. To order food you lined up at a section of the bar. We let the line-up get a little shorter and then jumped on it. Most of us ordered this steak sandwich and James Squire combo deal for $15. Bargain. But the barman looked a bit perplexed at this fancy city-beer and had a bit of trouble finding them.

After hoofing down all our meals and sides (I think Scott had two mains) Duggie then spied the jukebox and as we all had unwanted coins weighing down our kit we all pooled our resources. And Duggie set about queuing up the next 50 or so songs. (Only a slight exaggeration). He said there was a LOT of Pantera. Thankfully he didn’t select any of those tracks.

FRIENDS

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20160521_213222_zpssog75ay6Photos by Dan!

Suddenly we were back in the smoker’s lounge opposite a group of three women. Gradually we all got talking. I think the two pub puppies facilitated things. (They belonged to the pub but the two cats were strays they said). We were all having a good time but it seems there was some politics going on that we weren’t aware of. Suddenly that famed “country hospitality” wasn’t as forthcoming. Some of the staff seemed to be a little upset. Agitated even. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn’t get to witness much of this as I crashed into bed at 9:30 well before stuff escalated. So what follows is sometimes what I remember, and sometimes what I was told the next day.

I’m gonna try and be impartial here. So I will just point out the case against us and you can decide.

1) We drank everyone under the table. I certainly thought I might get refused service when I started buying rumbos. Scott said exactly the same thing.

2) We were eating some snackfood (like nuts and chips) from the Foodworks. And I guess that is a bit uncool seeing as they were selling that sort of stuff too.

3) I bet the tracks Duggie picked on the jukebox hadn’t been ever, ever been played in that place.

4) We were just being friendly with some local ladies and how were we to know their facebook status might have been set to “It’s Complicated”.

5) And I guess we were charming and funny and super cool. I can understand our awesomeness was a bit confronting.

6) We were a pack of blow-ins on push bikes for Christ sake. How offensive can you get?

7) And yes, we did stay up a bit late… More on that later.

According to Scott the staff suddenly called last drinks just before 11pm while there was still 20 people about. The 4 crew remaining went upstairs to the back balcony with some takeaways. Some of you may have seen *that* Instagram pic of Duggie. Here it is in case you missed it:

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I think Dan wandered off to bed next. Then Duggie. But Scott and Wookie were still socialising.

1:30AM

At about 1:30am I drifted out of sleep. My room was at the farthest end of the hall — next to the bathroom. All of us had been put in the southern wing of the hotel in rooms 1 to 5. I think I heard the lady that organised our rooms saying that she had put us all together and kinda implied that we were away from other guests.

IMG_0005This was my bed BTW. My feet went way over the end.

And by the sound coming from across the hall I just prayed that was the case. By “sound” I mean a woman giggling and then a voice I kinda recognised as maybe Scott delivering another zinger — then more giggling. The walls of this place were paper thin. Ancient VJs. And Scott seemed to have a lot of zingers up his sleeve. Far more than Bill Shorten.

Eventually I drifted back to sleep praying we wouldn’t get in trouble. Then at approximately 2:15am I woke up busting for a pee. Just as I stood up out of bed I hear this BANG and then a bit of muffled commotion, the toilet being used (rather noisily) and definitely no more zingers. Then silence. But by then I had dived back into bed and folded my legs together and willed myself back into slumber. At dawn I was woken by cows bleating and then bizarrely a voice coming from a loud speaker quite a long distance away. The Country is weird.

I went to the bathroom and then as I came out this random guy was coming in through the still dark hall and I said, “G’Day” but he just kinda gruffed at me.

“Oh man.” I thought. He must hate me (us). I looked up the hall and the only open door was only metres away from what I assumed was the centre of all that partying just 4 hours ago.

By 6:30 I was downstairs and made myself a coffee (I didn’t realise they still sold International Roast) and read the paper — which incredibly was the Sunday edition: pretty civilised for the Country. Then that guy from before was there. I said hello again as warmly as I could manage expecting some more grief, but he must have mellowed after his shower and he said “Hi”. I waited a minute then asked him what he was up to today. He was doing the 10k fun-run up to Queen Mary Falls which started at 7:15. Right! Duggie had warned me about this. One of his mates was doing it too. We caught up with her later.

It took quite a while for anyone else to join me. Eventually Wookie was down and I set about getting the bikes out of the shed. The air was pretty crisp but it wasn’t brutally cold. I was comfortable in my kicks with arm and leg warmers to cover almost every other bit of my appendages. I guessed it was just above 10 degrees. (No where near as cold as last time we were here).

Soon Duggie was down and then Dan looking far more rested than anyone. When I brought up the delicate details of what happened last night it seemed Dan was even more oblivious than me – having slept like a log the whole night through. Jelly.

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COMMOTION? (OR WOOKIE TAKES A STAND)

So then I quizzed Wookie and Duggie about just what had gone down last night. And we all had to be very quiet cause it was so early and we had some controversial subjects to discuss. But I slowly pieced together what that commotion just after 2PM was all about. I can’t really explain it, but all I can say is that Wookie had had enough and banged on Scott’s door demanding the partying ended and that led to some guests leaving and the hotel being dead-quiet again. As far as I know everyone got home safely.

WAKE UP SCOTTY (part 2)

So for the second time in two days I was the designated “get Scott outta bed” guy. My first strategy was creeping up the creaky stairs and quietly knocking on his door. Unfortunately no one knew the exact number of his room. So I ended up knocking on this door and an old guy emerged looking entirely mystified. At least he was dressed I thought.

I apologised as profusely (and as silently) as I could manage and then knocked on the door next. No answer. Not even any stirring.

Back downstairs we collectively decided I should try calling him. Ring. Ring. And then, “…Hello.” Thankfully he sounded quite composed. “Time to get up Scotty,” I said. “Ok.” he replied. And though it took him a lot longer to get ready this time, he was downstairs and eating breakfast and looking quite decent. I gave him the sliver of Panadol I had left after me and Duggie had got stuck into it. He was very excited about that.

The dude who I had just met upstairs (and his mate) were now downstairs in the backyard area with us having a durrie. They didn’t seem to have noticed (or cared) about all that nocturnal partying.

IMG_0292Scott eating his breakfast at the kids table. Deservedly it should be said.

DAY 2

So that part of the adventure over and we were rolling again. About 7ks in and we were starting that climb up to Queen Mary Falls. Immediately we saw the straggling runners on the road from that running thing. I felt I needed to say hi to all of them I was passing but after about 50 I just kept rolling and minded my own business. Most of them looked like they were cooked and didn’t really mind having to make an extra effort of saying “Hi” back at me.

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20160522_0821010_zpsalrhfkzrThis was a thing. At least twice up the climb. (photo by Dan)

20160522_081427_zpscvxm9dtfThe runner’s sag-wagon. (Photo by Dan)

We stripped off all our extra layers only about 600m into the climb. Just above where this Dan’s pic was taken. It was getting warm. Duggie got to say HI to his pal and at the top it was madness with runners and buses and cars everywhere. But the climb wasn’t over and we headed up to the Carr’s lookout about 15ks from the bottom.

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A quick stop at the lookout and we were into that first crazy downhill. (3km of nuts-berg) I warned everyone as much as I could about how steep it was and how it had this left-hand hairpin which had almost been my undoing last time I was here.

We made it down safely and the cows on the verge at the plateau didn’t mind us (unlike last time). I forgot to tell you that on Saturday we had to deal this massive cow chewing the grass on the verge half on the road and seemingly oblivious to us. I was leading and came to a complete stop about 30 metres away. Despite it being midway through a downhill section I signalled to everyone to stop and while everyone skidded to a halt Scotty did a big “WHOOP!” and the cow freaked out and charged away — we resumed rolling.

The next descent was steeper and longer and there were bunches of motorbikes coming up at the same time. When I saw the first bunch I was so freaked out I did a few skids in my attempt to lock-off some speed. (Last time we had this road to ourselves cause of that fallen tree blocking all traffic right at the bottom.) So I was at least 200 metres behind everyone else. The disc brakes on this rigs were now whining and sounded like they were rubbing the pads. Scott explained that when they get that cooked they can get warped by the heat.

WINDMILLS

So I had missed this IN-JOKE about spotting windmills that Duggie and Wookie had designed. Anytime you called out a windmill you got a point. So at the end of this ride the stakes were high. Everyone except me and Scott were on almost equal points — at about 4 each. So there was a bit of competition happening. Anytime a ridge was looming it was best to be in front just in case you got the first to spot one. And Scott was now in on it too after getting a single point on the board and thinking with just 20ks to go he was still a chance. It took a bit of getting used to when someone would SCREAM and POINT and I thought the world was coming to an end — but it was just another one calling out a windmill.

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Naturally Scott the most enthusiastic. I tried to get on board but the only contribution I made it was a tie with Duggie. Oh well. At a few points right in the death the crew was swaggering all over the road not concentrating at all on the conditions desperately looking at the country on either side like a new-age Don Quixote. At a few points I almost ran up the back of someone who just decided to stall while they scanned the horizon or wondered if a car smashing over a crest would wipe someone out because they were drunkenly taking up all sides of the bitumen.

So the tally was:

DUGGIE, WOOKIE and DAN — 6

SCOTT — 4

ME — (1)

image1Photo by Wookie

HURTING

I was really suffering in the last bit. It was hot and I wasn’t getting enough food or water in me. My kit had that halo of extreme salt-sweat. I had really underestimated how brutal this section was. Exposed to the sun and a lot of shitty little climbs right at the end. I had no chance of spotting windmills let alone keeping my shit together. Thankfully Wookie got a flat (sorry Brad) and I got a decent rest and a chance to stock up on fluids and food.

But then we were back at Mt Alford and the windmill prize was divided equally. Thankfully the cars were just as we had left them. The pub was open and we packed up our gear and I was first to stumble inside — I was so cooked. I started looking around a little bleary from all that previous effort. The place looked kinda nice. I found my way to a menu sitting on the bar with a sign saying “Order All Food Here”. And then I hear this rather annoyed voice saying, “Kitchen doesn’t open until 12”. It came from a woman sitting at a table all by herself who just might have looked related to that grumpy staffer back at Killarney. “What time is it?” I ask. No answer.

I ask Scott who has just joined me. It was 11:20. We can get lunch at Boonah I say. Scott agrees but then looks like he is on a mission. He disappears deeper into the bar. I walk outside into the hot glare and heat and break the news to the rest. Everyone agrees at my suggestion to go to the cafe at Boonah — the one from the Boonah breakfast. “But do they have beer?” everyone asks. “Yes they do. Totally.” I say. I was only about 50% sure I remembered that. But thankfully I was right.

Then I was in the car cranking the aircon and Scott eventually emerges carrying a 6-pack of VB. Oh right — that’s what he was doing.

On the way to Boonah Dan was pointing out windmills from his car. Unfortunately they didn’t count. Soz.

At Boonah most of us got chicken burgers and then it was another all-over-hi-five and we were separately heading home — adventure done!

There was talk of a new one on July 9. JUST SAYING.

BONUS PICS:

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IMG_0311 Another one of those 12% bullshit signs. UGH!

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Boonah Overnightah — DAY TWO

DAY 2

After getting up way, way too early I killed some time by walking up to the lookout. Boonah was covered in thick mist and looked spectacular.

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Next I dragged Scott outta bed, ate one of his bananas and we headed over to the camp grounds. Everyone was taking their time packing up, but the café didn’t open until 7 so that was cool.

Then Bennett was doing a test of his rig when he was like, “Oh shit”. His rear tyre was flat. “At least that will take the heat off me when I start multi-flatting,” I thought. It had been a minor miracle that my tubes weren’t compromised over the 80ks of day 1 but I knew that my luck just had to run out — right?

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There’s good and bad things about having three mechanics in your crew. Any issues beyond a busted tube or a broken spoke just might be fixable. And they will be experts at helping you repair even those things. You can learn a lot.

But then again — it can be a little intimidating — something I am sure Bennett felt. Ha! And I am pretty used to the fact that I was reminded by these experts every now and again how shit I am at looking after my bike. My motto is simply this: the sooner you ride the bike into the ground the sooner you can justify a brand new one.

Soon we were all munching on stuff at the café and I got a bit of grief for ordering a can of soft drink with my breakfast. Agreed. It’s not very grown up.

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“Puttin’ some gravel in our travel” — Wise words.

BATTERY LIFE

There was an epic side-drama to this trip. Battery or lack thereof. I really don’t know how these guys could chew through so much batt. Everyone was complaining about their percentages. Ryan had bought (and brought) one of those portable phone chargers just for this trip. So he was sorted. But Scott was on Tinder so much his poor phone was literally dead by the end of Saturday night. Bennett was all about the instagram. I had wisely brought an iPhone charger and though I gave it some extra juice while I napped at the motel — I didn’t even need it. My phone never dipped below 85%. I even brought a cable to charge the Garmin but that went unused.

So at the cafe everyone was scrambling to use this spare powerpoint they had sussed out while all the staff weren’t looking. Because I was the only one who had brought one of those little bricks that convert the AC powerpoint to the end of a USB cable they all had to share — so it got a bit “suspicious” around this tiny power outlet.

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IMG_0270.JPGI had this idea to document everyone’s rig in profile but I only got around to doing my own. Soz.

Eventually everyone was satisfied they had enough charge (and a few had done a sneaky number two) and we got rolling. Finally!

It was now 8am and I did the maths and we had plenty of time to make the 11:05am train from Rosewood back to Brisbane. If we missed that train it was another hour to wait for the next, and then another hour for the one after that.

After a slight route-fail we realised the way home led straight up that 20% hill to the lookout. Again, I chose to walk the bike when it got nuts rather than cook my legs so early in the day. I had no trouble keeping up with Scott.

IMG_0271.JPGThis picture does no justice to the extreme gradient ahead.

The sign at the bottom had said “No Through Road” and I was starting to get a bad feeling when the road ahead really did just end at some bushes and what looked like a fence. There seemed to be no way through. But then a gate became clear and the terrain beyond it was long, dewy grass and a stupid snake-ish semi-path down losing all that altitude we had just battled to attain. I knew it would be suicidal for me to attempt this riding so I jogged the bike down only arriving at the bottom just a few seconds behind. Now the path looked more legit but it was so overgrown that the big rocks were virtually invisible. I somehow managed a few pics, but then tucked the camera away knowing that would only end in tears.

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Here’s Scott starting that decent. Ryan just ahead. I h=was completely stationary — ready to run down after this bullshit was documented.

CRACK

Meanwhile, despite the very audible rumble of jumping up and down this path, I heard and felt this creak, which was more like a “CRACK” and I knew this was my seat-tube topper slipping again. I forgot to tell you all in the Day 1 section that that had happened three times that day while tackling the more crazy terrain. But on inspection the saddle didn’t seem to have moved so I just crossed my fingers and ignored it. Again I had to just plow on. I didn’t think a roadside tightening of the bolts with a dodgy multi-tool would be wise.

Ahead all these dogs started barking. Like maybe 20 or so and on the left it was apparent we had stumbled on some puppy farm. But this was Boonah — so maybe these all belonged to one crazy dog person. Who knows. I heard a woman’s voice trying to calm everything down but 5 bike riders crunching past must be a novelty to these animals.

IMG_0273.JPGAll those dogs were just beyond this mesh. I could not help but think they were all so nuts just one might just need to get out and attack us. But I worry a lot.

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IMG_0279.JPGHands were shaking/jumping-around too much to get this shot in focus

IMG_0276.JPGGlad of the gate so I could catch-up.

IMG_0281.JPGHere’s Bennett taking a photo of me taking a photo of him

IMG_0283.JPGRyan smashing it

After two gates — like the gates on the Brisbane Valley rail trail — (see above) we were uphill on brown dirt and then on bitumen up the Hoya climb — the longest climb of the day. Halfway up Bennett signalled that his rear tyre was flat again and we stopped in the shade in someone’s driveway. After changing the tube and zapping it with CO2 it immediately went down again. The mechanics all chimed in. “Take the tyre off and check the inside.”

Sure enough there was a bit of the wire bead that was loose and once that was removed another CO2 zap and then bang. It went down again. Now the mechanics were like, “Just use a hand pump.” And that got the tyre to a pretty decent stiffness. Thinking the drama was over Scott and I pushed on and at the top turned around and Bennett and Gypsy and Ryan were no where to be seen. We waited in the shade and about 5 minutes later they came through. It seems Bennett had tried to put a bit more CO2 in and that had failed.  Oh dear.

IMG_0285.JPGA three person effort just to get this tube change under control

Having spent about 30 minutes now on repairs that 11:05 train looked impossible. Ryan joked that the 1:05 was looking more realistic.

But the next 10ks were on rolling bitumen and our average speed improved. Which wasn’t hard. After 10ks I looked down and the Garmin said our average was just over 12ks/hr. Ha! Smashing it!

IMG_0289.JPGThat’s Bennett well ahead of me smashing these rollers. 

So we’d go down this long straight stretch and then only have to really push once we were fairly high up the next hill. A bit more gravel heading west and then more rolling gravel heading north again. In this section there was one climb (on gravel) that got quite steep and we had a 1 minute rest at the top. More calculations were done and we started to think we were back on track. It would be tight but.

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Here’s Bennet and his stupidly excessive, or stupidly inspired rear cassette. Wow. Meanwhile my camera had got this bit of dirt right in the middle of the lens. Sorry about that.

Gypsy had forgotten to fill up his water bottles so we had to detour to a park in Harrisville to fill them up.

IMG_0295.JPGSpot the super-smudge on the lens. (HINT: it’s not Scott’s filthy second-day shirt.)

IMG_0297.JPGDid I tell you that Dan/Gypsy didn’t wear a helmet the entire trip? With his washing-basket at the front and his ghetto-rig underneath he looked like a homeless person we had picked up on the way.

And Gypsy-Dan did look just a bit like Dicky-Knee. See if you can tell the difference:

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Just saying. 🙂

IMG_0301.JPGHere’s where my camera succumbed to sweat and all the road-grime. I was trying to get one of those LOL pics. oh well. FAIL!

LAST LEG

And then it was a short 1km smash along the Cunningham highway (thankfully only one big truck whooshed past giving us plenty of room).

Then we had one final section of gravel. At this gully and dry creek crossing the road became a rocky sandpit and I emergency unclipped and went, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” as I desperately tried to stop as the bike got dangerously close to washing out. But I made it and then walked a bit to avoid all that rubbish. Back on bitumen and the sun was really baking us now. I could tell the humidity was far worse than on Saturday cause I was super drenched in sweat. I could feel all this chafing in my thighs too. Yuck.

This section was turning out to be the toughest. I’d take a drink but the feeling of dryness in my mouth just wouldn’t go away.

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THE TRAIN, THE TRAIN!

So I thought everyone was on-board with the plan to smash it a bit at the end if we had a chance of getting that 11:05. See I was keen to get home cause I had so much work to do to get the blog sorted — it takes hours and hours. But everyone else (except for my co-conspirator Gypsy/Dan) were keen to take it easy. And I secretly thought that this would make a great end to the blog story. Maybe like this:

We were all super-suffering, the heat was intense, the weight of not just our bikes but the whole two-day-adventure suddenly became oppressive. But we dug deep. The passion flowed and we pulled out all stops just to make it to Rosewood in time. And we had exactly seven minutes before it left. Just enough time to grab supplies at the IGA and bolt back into the carriage just as the doors were finally closing. (Like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy scrambles under the stone door.)

And it did go almost exactly like that — except that wasn’t the vibe of the trip. Not in tune with the slow and easy and “take it all in”. This wasn’t a credit-card-tour. Those guys had stupidly heavy bikes and were too polite to call me out on my shit.

I get it now, but at the time I just got a bit excited. A bit selfish. I am so sorry guys.

IMG_0307.JPGThis is where Ryan and Bennett are “Lathering up” with moisturiser just to soothe their epic skin damage. It was only about -10% sexual. 

IMG_0308.JPGRyan’s “speed-sleeve” now matched his skin. Kudos. 

THE BESTEST

Sometimes you can ride in a way to appease the fact it will be a tiny bit “public” — whether it be by Strava or Instagram or by a blog like this. And that’s rather than just ride naturally and anonymously and savour these bestest times with a bunch of the bestest people who will only know the detail and the minutiae and the very authenticity of this true story. This is a story only we will remember and we will remember it well into our old age — but everyone else who wasn’t there will have long forgotten.

I asked everyone to tell me their highs and lows and everyone was too excited about the adventure to really pin down any specific low. Ryan said it best when he said he thought the whole deal was a highlight and I agree. There was this article by Andy White in RIDE MAGAZINE just last month or two and his riding partner said something like, “A ride doesn’t need to be fun to BE FUN.” And I think what that means is that all the challenges, all the suffering, and all the unexpected, and even all the absolute bullshit, just makes it so perfect. I reckon if everything went to exactly to plan I would be super-disappointed. And you know what — so would our ghost-rider Brad! Hi Brad!

FINAL THOUGHTS: “ON TOUGHNESS”

So at work today I was asked about the toughness of this ride — mostly cause I had to remind everyone I had just survived this Boonah adventure. And everyone pretended to remember what this was all about. All Friday I was fretting so much making sure everyone knew how EPIC I thought this weekend would be. Ugh.

Well personally this ride was easier than I thought in some aspects, but tougher in others.

1) I certainly expected to get at least one puncture. I certainly have super-faith in the Maxxis-Re-Fuse. It seems to be a very, very tough tyre. I put those two bad-boys through hell.

2) I didn’t anticipate the agony in my hands. And I underestimated how the gravel could tire you out and be so evil, but be so fucking beautiful at the same time. That 6.8k stretch was actually so painful but so amazing in exactly equal parts.

3) But then on even the shittest bitumen I could recover. At least give my brain a break from super-concentrating on the terrain. (I cannot tell you how bullshit it is evaluating and judging every single metre of the road ahead). And I have crashed about a dozen times on a bike and I don’t want to do it again.

THE REST OF THE CREW

I cannot really speak for everyone but I will just try to assume:

The guys with panniers found climbing when out of the saddle impossible (for Scott) and super-challenging (for Ryan and Bennett). Ryan said he had perfected this technique which involved a “straightness” when out of the saddle. You can’t throw the bike from side to side. You gotta be aware exactly where the weight is distributed. But if Scott left the saddle the entire backwheel would lose traction.

They obviously found smashing in a paceline ridiculous. See above.

And I would imagine any hills would have been rubbish with all that extra weight. I have never ridden a bike so laden with stuff so I wouldn’t know — but I can imagine it meant a lot more planning when a hill came up. A lot more dedication to the momentum you get from a downhill when you are faced with a serious uphill on the other side.

BALLAST

And you know what? I bet the balance of the bike would have taken some getting used to. It would be like getting used to a wheelchair for the first time.

BONUS PICS (courtesy of Ryan)

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Tasmania Pt 2

LINK TO PART 1

We pick up the story on a very wet day’s drive to Stanley virtually on the north-west tip of the island. The world at 5:30am all started out quite rich in colours and views. Lots of reds and pinks, which as the sun rose higher, gave way to golds and the inevitable super-green of the cultivated fields and also the wilderness.

But by 9am, as the weather deteriorated, the rain obviously spoiled a great many views, but at the same time it made some other stuff a bit more spooky and perhaps a bit more awesome. Queenstown is definitely complimented by rain.

But back between 5:30 and 8am we kept wanting to stop for breakfast but nothing was open. We passed a quaint place called Hamilton and then Ouze (which naturally necessitated a bunch of gags) and then at Derwent Bridge it still wasn’t even 8am (when stuff was meant to open).

So no shop or skerrick of business that might serve food was apparent. We did pass a totally self-service automated petrol station. Bizarre.

The west of Tasmania is pretty undeveloped (apart from the north). At Derwent Bridge, we pressed on despite a sign saying 86km to the next petrol opportunity – which also meant a chance at getting food. We had about 1/3 of a tank left, but only about 5% in our bellies. But we had no choice food-wise and I figured the Micra could smash that distance and you’d barely notice the gauge moving.

Our “Mighty” Micra has been through a bit. It got smashed by falling branches and wood stuck under its undercarriage, plus massive potholes that sounded like oblivion when we hit them. All on gravel and sandy roads which we weren’t insured for. Then at Mt Field we felt the bottom of the car scrape the dirt below a few times. Not a very inspiring sound. The car looked pretty wild by the end of day 3.

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The Micra had other surprises. For the first four days we didn’t realise it didn’t have central-locking. So effectively the car was abandoned with every door except the driver’s unlocked a big bunch of times with all our stuff in it.

But this rain gave the car a super wash and it looked decent again.

After a reasonably fair breakfast at Queenstown — a place which I can’t work out is horribly ugly or kinda beautiful in it’s own little way — we headed for another old mining town called Zeehan. Zeehan rivalled Hobart and Launceston in size at one point and once had 20 pubs on its main street. And somehow I think Mark Twain visited here on his 150 date Australian tour.

But then disaster struck. We took a wrong turn and drove for ages on a road that was heading north — the direction we needed to travel — but it lacked any semblance of civilization attached. We saw no other cars, no houses, just a deserted factory. Eventually the road ended at a lake and in front of us was this dam wall – about 100ms long – with a tiny single lane road across it. A sign said we were now entering “private property” and to drive on this crossing was “at our own risk”. We were instantly freaked out and did a hasty u-turn and headed back the 36ks to Zeehan. Again we saw no other cars. It was so eerie.

Thankfully back at Zeehan, Dee and I swapped driving duties. It was all rain and winding roads for the next 30ks and then after that — a pretty bland highway all the way up to the top coast. When we suddenly got some views of the Bass Strait it was particularly arresting. We had been driving now for almost 6 hours and it had been about 7 hours since we had set out.  Soon “The Nut” – a massive volcanic plug rising almost 150m mostly surrounded by ocean was visible in the distance.

Here it is pictured the next day, a hell of a lot closer, and when things cleared up.

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It still looked pretty cool from 40ks away. Dark and crazy.

Our next B&B was actually quite awesome. We had the upstairs pad — all to ourselves — and the wind and rain were still Nuts (pun intended). This made us quite a bit scared to go outside so we waited and soon there was a break and we scrambled up the track to the summit. Of course it was stupidly steep, and we were dressed for dinner, but there was a  handrail and the weather was kind and soon we were back down and at the pub waiting for our 6pm slot for meals.

When we got home later that evening we were told there were ACTUAL PENGUINS sleeping in the backyard. Slightly incredulous we stumbled down the back stairs and into the darkness of the garden. We each lit up our iPhone torch light and suddenly they were everywhere. So freakishly cute. I tried my hardest to take a pic but failed. I was also a bit conscious not to freak them out so we left as soon as we could.

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SNOW & WOMBAT DAY

The next morning I took the opportunity of this super fine day. While Dee was finishing breakfast, and generally getting ready, I did a quick smash up The Nut. I did the 2km circuit and the epic views over the indian ocean were appreciated.

Dee picked me up at the base and we drove over to Wynyard for supplies and fuel. Of note, we stopped at this little service station and drove over one of those cords that ring a bell. OMG – a “Full Service” petrol station. These bad-boys still exist! Just as I got out of the car a dude was ready to help. It was a tiny bit weird but we had a conversation about where we were headed etc. The dude pretty much convinced me to take the safe route to Cradle. We then ventured into the IGA and felt like lepers. Dee commented that no matter how dressed-down she was, she still looked like a foreigner.

About 50ks down the road our tiny Micra was smashing up a hill and had to overtake a truck. Just after that we noticed a mountain over to the left had snow on it’s summit. “Cool!” we thought.

A bit further down the road I commented to Dee. “Um, is that snow on the side of the road?” And she looked over and although it took a while, we collectively decided it was indeed snow. We were suddenly ecstatic. Buzzing. And to our surprise the snow got incredibly more prolific the deeper we drove on.

Another 20ks later when we turned left towards Cradle we were catagorically in a winter wonderland. We stopped at the 930m “summit” of the Cradle Mountain Development Road. Despite just being in t-shirts and light clothes we then jumped around in the freezing snow like crazed maniacs. Our feet got wet through our shoes (despite me double-socking) but we didn’t care.

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A bit further down we made it to our place — our own “spa-cabin” at the Wilderness Village. On the drive-in Dee was like, “I want to see a wombat. I REALLY want to see a wombat. I really don’t care about anything else.” Immediately I felt a bit under pressure. So I made it a bit of a mission to ask the lady at the counter where we could possibly see one and she was saying about 4:30pm was the start of the best time and at a place called Ronny Creek.

A quick change of clothes to more appropriately deal with these conditions ensued. Neither of us had any idea snow was on the agenda — in October for fuck’s sake!

So I mounted a fresh set of socks, triple-sock-style and Dee did her best. She was pretty much under-prepared. It was super hard to put on my shoes, but it turned out to be solid on the super-wet Dove Lake walk where the track resembled a creek on most occasions as the snow-fall of this morning rapidly melted.

We headed around the lake but about 2kms-in when the weather took to being shit – we turned back. I had forgot the other wet-weather jacket (for Dee) so it was turn back or potentially suffer absolute misery.

And then something amazing happened. Almost at the Dove Lake carpark I was (as usual) about 20 paces ahead and I saw these Asian tourists stopped and as I stepped around them I froze. There, right on the track, was a wombat. A fucking WOMBAT! It was as big (or bigger) than Fatso from A Country Practice.

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I turned back around to find Dee in my eyeline and motioned as best as I could to quietly demonstrate the gravity.

And now we had this horribly placid furry-marsupial-cute-monster at our feet and it just wandered about and then while everyone was gushing it started eating the jeans of this small female Chinese tourist. (See pic above) Her partner freaked out a bit and stomped on the ground to frighten it. I was a bit horrified. In my head I thought, “If if wants to eat your jeans, well, let it and get new jeans.”

All I could say was, “It’s cool. It’s a vegetarian.”

Anyway, it wasn’t scared of the stomping nor me labelling it a vegetarian and just casually wandered off into the bush towards the lake. It was truly magical.

We just couldn’t believe our luck. Just like Dee I have never seen a wombat in the wild. It was in her absolute wish-list on this trip to Tasmania. You get to see all these “look out for wombats” signs, but not much of the real thing – unless it is roadkill.

But just when we were just recovering from all this awesomeness and when you thought it couldn’t get more amazing, then it started snowing. I shit you not, it was like a Disney movie. We were just dizzy with wonder.

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The next day was started raining and most of the snow quickly disappeared. We had to do something so we decided to get wet and ventured up to Crater Lake. Dee looked a bit like a cone-head in the process unfortunately.

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After that we had soup at the Cradle Mountain Lodge and saw another wombat.

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The next day I saw the forecast was for good weather. So I went to bed early and begged Dee to let me make an attempt on the summit. The plan was she would drive me down to the trailhead, drop me off, then drive back to our hut and get ready and eat breakfast and check out etc — then come back down to pick me up about 2 or 3 hours later.

So I set off much like these Overland Track hikers did. (I took this pick a bit later when I had come back down)

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DSCF6284If you look hard enough you can see a helicopter in the shot above.

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DSCF6300This little tarn had its surface frozen.

But there were complications which I had only started to think about when I was halfway up the mountain. The Cradle National Park has a strict quota of vehicles, not including shuttle buses. So there’s this boomgate thing where you get let in if there ain’t too many cars down there — but at busy times the boom gates make you wait until enough cars have left before you get your turn.

And I to back down from my little adventure about 20mins ahead of schedule. I expected Dee to be there as I trudged into the carpark — but the little Micra was absent. I waited and waited having stripped off to t-shirt level with all that effort climbing to 1250m. And as my body got colder after all that body heat disappeared I had to put all my layers back on. About 40mins later Dee arrived and I instantly new she had been caught at the boomgates. Oh well. At least it wasn’t a total disaster.

But on the way Dee got to see an echidna. This officially meant all our wildlife wishes have come true. Apart from a platypus, which I am guessing is near impossible to see, we have thoroughly got our monies worth and can die knowing we have some affinity with our wild cousins living here on this massive continent.

WILDLIFE SPOTTING: (in alphabetical order)

Echidna (1 – just dee)
Hawk (1)
Mountain Goat (2)
Pademelon (hundreds)
Penguin (at least a dozen)
Snakes [black?] (2)
Spotted Quoll (1)
Tasmanian Devil (quite a few, all deceased)
Thylacine (stuffed) (1)
Wombat (over a dozen)

DSCF6310Oatlands on the way to Hoby

HOBART

After a crazy night in Hobart were we sampled a few bars and had a decent pizza at a place called Amici we woke up early for our date with Immy and an amazing breakfast at a place called Berta at North Hobart. As well as Imogen we also were introduced to Cath and Lauren. I had a potato rosti with Bruny Island free-range bacon and Dee had corn fritters. It was all stupidly yum.

We then walked into town looking a shops then bought a paper and relaxed a bit until about 2:30 when we went to the Cascade Brewery for one of their taster paddles. At 3:30 we picked up Immy and pointed the Micra in the direction of the Huon Valley and the Willie Smith Appleshed. We sat on a rug on the grass smashing our ciders down because a wedding had booked the place for 5pm.

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IMG_5503All the Apple varieties grown here

Cath and Lauren and Earnest the dog (kelpie cross) soon joined us. Then we headed back to Hobart bound for Ethos — apparently the most classy and cool drinking/eating venue in Hobart — and a place where Dee and I had been barred from the night before (because they were too busy). This is Dee’s reaction that night:

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Here is Cath and Earnest:

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IMG_5468A wall of plastic milk-bottles at a place called the Westend Pumphouse.

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The stairs down to the bar section of Ethos

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GORMAN

Back-tracking a bit, Immy had this fabulous jacket with all this hyper-coloured fruit. It was functional as well as garishly awesome Imogen attested. “It’s so warm!”

I could not resist but try it on. It was indeed freakishly warm.

Then later back in Hobart as we staggered down Macquarie Street a car suddenly pulled up beside us and the passenger side window spun down and a woman was soon begging Immy to tell her where this jacket came from. “It’s a Gorman,” she replied like she had to do this all the time and was actually articulating a URL link in that phrase at the same time. TRUE STORY.

Here is a pic of me in THE JACKET:

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More massive party times happened later and we went to the Winston and saw a guy called Sam play and these kids get chucked out and we had a cheeseburger and lots of chips and more and more beer. And Cath and Lauren are such epic value. Yes! Can’t wait to party with them again!

GOOD TIMES