Australia Daze

Hardly having recovered from a great four days of riding the Geyserland Gravel Grind, on came the sudden but ultimately unsurprising news of the passing of my last surviving grandparent. Thus set in progress a few weeks of excessive traveling (compared to my now low level), tiredness and turmoil that I’ve not recovered from yet. My grandfather had emigrated to Sydney in 1964 with his family (that being my mother’s family) and never left. So a whirlwind trip ensued with late-flight bookings, all a week before I was due to go to Victoria for a week of visiting best-friends-from-Canada – who were back all too briefly.

So we Pheasants from NZ congregated at the family home, of over fifty years, near Parramatta with my uncle and aunt and prepared for the funeral. It was very hot, as it usually was when visiting my grandparents. There were plenty of photos to go through and stories to share. Somehow I’d been nominated as Pheasant speaker, so I really had to sort out my memories and impressions of a man I didn’t really spend that much time with – having grown up so far away. But I managed and the cycling connection & inspiration were particularly meaningful to me. Friday was hot again and we Kiwis wilted; however, the funeral went as well as could be expected and I managed to deliver my speech more fluently than writing and practicing it.

Suddenly, I was back in NZ – overnighting in Auckland at dear friends’ house again – and home to get through a week of work. It was a tough week and I was in no mood to drive to Wellington and fly to Melbourne very early Saturday morning. I don’t remember much of that week and within an hour of starting the drive I had to pull over for a micro-nap. All was well after that and I was well looked after, slept deeply and then got up at 3.30 am for the early morning flight.

Reunited with best-sister at Melbourne airport, we loaded all our gear (my bike and Adele’s climbing gear – heavier than my bike bag!) into the rental car (brand new – ten kilometres on the odometer) and headed west. Tired and hungry, we stopped in Ballarat for an early pancake lunch – yum! Although the extravagant amounts of whipped butter were disturbing. Some time mid-afternoon we arrived at the Arapiles – I’m told the best place for trad. rock-climbing in Australia and a small mecca for climbers the world over. When Adele found out, eventually – communication and knowledge of my exact plans were not strong – that I was coming here for a week, there was no way she was missing out. We met her friends Claire & Reg at the campground. They went for a little climb, I slept in the tent.

Rocks – a little part of Mt Arapiles (it’s more of a hill) rising out of the surrounding plains.

Sunday was a miserable day of weather, some time was spent in the shelter avoiding the rain and mist – I assembled my bike for something to do, and it needed doing of course. We popped into the closest town, Natimuk, for something else to do. We wandered, there was a fair bit of the town’s history displayed on signs around the place – so that was interesting.

A rather burnt out, roofless old shop.

Ready for launch. Oh, about thirty years ago.

Things cleared a little by Monday morning, although it was very windy overnight – or just seemed that way in the tent. The others climbed and Reg left to return to NZ. I’d heard of the Arapiles Big Sky Trail, so set out to explore that. I had a pretty easy run into town, mostly downhill and then flat past plenty of fields.

I eventually found the house where Megan, Alex & Finn were staying. Reunited finally after over three and a half years – excitement! Finn was an awful lot bigger, not unexpected, and had developed quite a Canadian accent; Megan & Alex didn’t seem to have grown much or changed their accents. Making plans for a bit of climbing in the afternoon, I left too soon and headed back on the trail to camp for lunch. The northern side of the loop was much less well-maintained and I slowed. Recent rain had both damaged the surface and really got the grass growing.

Watch for snakes. Yeah right, I could hardly even see the trail – let alone a snake.

Mt Arapiles off over the fields.

The trail actually went up a little hill. There is Mitre Lake – with water in it, a most unusual sight I’m told. The trail around the edge of the lake was extremely muddy and I struggled to push my bike through it as my shoes picked up a thick layer of mud, as did my tyres – so much so that the wheels would not turn.

I rode past Mitre Rock and back to camp. The “Canadians” turned up and we all went back to Mitre Rock to join Lincoln & Al (they’d arrived from Canberra, very excited they have an international airport now #canberrainternational; they’d also stayed for six-ish weeks in the house I was living in in Canada in 2011 – so good to see them again) for some easy climbing.

Adele was pleased to lead me up an easy route.

It was enjoyable, until I subluxed my shoulder (the one that hasn’t had surgery). In some discomfort, I did somehow get to the top of the first pitch without popping it completely. Claire followed me up.

You can just see Natimuk in this picture. I rested my shoulder a bit, swore off rock-climbing for ever (not much of a hardship for me) and we decided I’d abseil down using my good arm.

I was a bit glum and sore from almost wrecking my other shoulder, so returned to camp. The discomfort took a few days to disappear, but all is well now.

Some of the locals hopped through camp.

Tuesday morning was miserable again, so we headed into the larger town of Horsham to resupply and swim & shower. It cleared markedly in the afternoon. Megan was excited to get her hands on a bike, so we headed up the summit road to check out the view of the surrounds.

Past not completely harvested fields….

Up the hill; staged shot you say? Nonsense.

At the top, I looked at things.

This is one of the things I saw, damn Mitre Lake and all its mud again. Not to mention Mitre Rock in front of it, that almost ruined my shoulder. Not bitter at all.

After so long, there was some catching-up to be done – especially after Grandad’s passing (Megan & I only know each other because our grandparents were great friends, having been in the same cycling club in London in the 1940s). So the summit was a good spot for that, it was mostly free of the flies & mosquitoes lower down at the campground.

A perfect little ride down – interesting scenery, warmth but not the heat that was to come, no wind, no traffic…

We rejoined the others climbing at a smaller crag partway down the road.

Alex found a rather placid stumpy-tailed lizard; Finn was keen to take it back to Canada as a pet. Consensus was it wouldn’t survive the winters.

Wednesday I got up as the sun rose on the rock; I had a grand adventure in the Grampians. A hundred kilometre gravel ride, during which I didn’t see a soul for four or five hours.

Thursday morning Alex borrowed my bike; in exchange I was schooled in the ways of Pokemon-something. But there were other rewards, the best/only strong cup of tea I had all week for one.

Adele & Claire kept climbing things.

Spot the climber/sister – it gets progressively more difficult.

Thursday was the hottest day of the week, 34ºC, so we Kiwis went into Horsham again for respite in the afternoon.

I remembered the concept of sundowners from being on safari. I stashed a large bottle of stout in my frame bag and it was back up to the summit again – I almost expired in the heat. There were a lot of clouds, and possibly even more mosquitoes – I was eaten, some of the bites still show. So memorable for reasons unexpected. A kangaroo leapt right in front of me as I rode back to camp in the dark – quite a fright, especially after the deer the previous day.

Friday the weather was a bit pants again. After mooching around in the local cafe – we took a drive out to Little Desert National Park to have a look. We did some sort of nature walk looking at varieties of eucalypts. There were a lot of trees for a desert, in fact it wasn’t very deserty at all. #rubbishdesert

Now that the cafe was finally open (short week – Friday, Saturday & Sunday) there was a bit of a crowd of extended friends for dinner.

Adele & Claire climbed more things – I think they had a good week! Which was just as well, I was poor climbing company – no surprises there though.

Then Saturday came around, there were too-rushed goodbyes, promises of further bike adventures, the long drive back to Melbourne and arriving back in Wellington in the early hours of Sunday morning. Thankfully, good friends Elizabeth & Nigel had a spare comfy bed for me – I was over sleeping in a cold, and later hot, tent with all the wind. Big cooked breakfast too – thanks guys.

Sunday I took a detour via Martinborough for the Toast festival – a good excuse to spend excellent time with Pheasant family, eat plenty of interesting food, drink some local wine & enjoy the atmosphere.

Eventually, I made it home – rather pleased that all that travel was over. It turned out to be a physically and emotionally draining month. Great to see so much of family and dear friends, but tiring and left feeling that the distance to loved ones is still too great. I’m surprised to still be discovering just how strong my grandfather’s legacy is in my life and how that’s still influencing me now.
I was so over the travel, I’d have been quite happy not to go back to Australia for quite some time. But as it happens, first day back at work rather put the kibosh on that. Now I’m coming around to the idea, I hear one can fly Wellington direct to Canberra now.

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