Category Archives: Sunny Days

No 48: Malabar – A winter solstice beach (25 June 2017)

In 2014 I heard a story on the radio about ceremonies people create for themselves. A caller described a women’s winter solstice ceremony she had been conducting for years. The Winter Solstice, marking the moment when more light begins to fill your days, is the beginning of a new cycle and a nadir. The caller’s ceremony involved letting go of the past year – which I then sorely needed to do.

I had then run my worst turn around the sun to date and was, finally, starting to recover. I’ve missed marking the solstice in 2015 (I was in the northern hemisphere) and 2016 (I was focussed on other things), but this year I’ve returned to the idea and set off on a glorious winter’s day to beach number 48, Malabar.

I like how the demographics on the bus shift as I travel from home to beach. From the city to the University of New South Wales we are a mixed crowd leaning East Asian, from UNSW to Kensington mostly East Asian, from Kensington to Maroubra moving towards working-class whites and Southern Europeans. Beyond Maroubra – mostly working-class whites with maybe a few Aboriginals as well.

Malabar has a strange not-in-Sydney vibe – it feels like it could be a down the South Coast someplace … a village between the ‘Gong and Kiama. A row of old-school 1950s – 1970s family homes face the rich blue inlet and the undeveloped green headland to the north.

This is an ocean beach but set at the back of Long Bay and the big waves just don’t reach the shore. When the water is clean enough to swim in (which it isn’t always) it’s a great spot for a lazy paddle.

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I’ve come with my pocket datebooks of the last year. On most days, I’ve recorded three short bullet-points – an event, my mood, the weather, a movie I saw or book I finished reading, that sort of thing.

The sea is a saturated indigo, the sky pale cerulean. The park behind the beach is filled with families, the barbeques in high demand. I sit on a bench facing the beach and, accompanied by the metronomic squeak of a child being pushed in a swing, review my year. One day’s snapshot after another. It takes nearly an hour.

Looking up from my task I notice two frolicking naked 3-year old children – a boy and a girl – and think “I love Australia”. Shame about our bodies is a learned thing. And until they learn it and stop wanting to run around naked, let kids be free – it’s lovely that these kids haven’t had embarrassment and fear imposed on them. People see people in public and think what they will think – it does no harm (predators who act do harm). That the parents of these kids are, themselves, unashamed of their naked children and not fearful that someone might be masturbating in the bushes or about to swoop in to snatch their kids, makes me happy.

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I retire to the Malabar Beach Café for the writing of the Lists – one of all the worst things that happened this past year: the disappointment of a thing not working out with a man, the long search for work, the unexplained silence of a friend, the outcome of the US election, boredom & uncertainty. And then a list of all the best things: that I maintained old and developed new friendships, became a baseball fan again and attended games, that I met my birth mother and her family, the excitement and pleasure when I thought the thing with the man might work out, getting involved in the Women’s March in Sydney, and finally landing a job.

All those things – the good and the bad – are done. They are equally behind me – I can let them all slip into the past today and begin afresh.

I walk to the northern end of the beach and prepare to burn the paper – first the bad, then the good. All the best rituals involve fire. But the paper won’t light – it just smoulders and chars. Rather than take this as a bad sign I move to an alternative. I tear them into little pieces and fling them into the sea. (Actually, I discreetly sprinkle them in an area from which I hope they will quickly be washed away from the beach.) Frankly, it’s not as satisfying as fire – I’ll have to prepare better next year.

Ceremony finished, I go for a walk on the Malabar Headland.  I am passed by two teenagers on bicycles. When they get to the sign for the National Park which says “No bicycles” the boy urges the girl to ignore it, “who’s going to be checking? Come on” he pleads. She refuses – nope, not going to do it, it’s not about being caught it’s about the rule. I like the strength of the girl’s refusal to do what the boy wants – I think that bodes well for her.

Not much further along a couple in their 50s or 60s, difficult to say as they have clearly lived hard, pass in the opposite direction talking of the wisdom and regrets of age.

I think about the lifetime of experiences between the rule breaking teenage boy and the craggle-faced man with regrets. I think about how distant the man’s age must seem to the boy and how near the boy’s age may seem to the man. Time is a funny thing.

Malabar and its beach from the National Park
Malabar and its beach from the National Park
Ancient rocks, endless sea
Ancient rocks, endless sea

The last time I did this Solstice ceremony I had feelings of lightness and release, unexpected but real. Today I’m trying to feel those things – and am sort of succeeding: being in the moment, breathing in big lungfuls of clean air, watching the sea. But, it’s not quite as good as the first time. Then I was farewelling a momentously bad year, while this one just past has been … well, just a year really. Better than some, worse than others. Even if the ceremony is about putting things behind and moving fresh into the new year – the reality is life is a continuum and the effects of the last year will continue.

Time, in the end, is like the the sea, it keeps rolling in – today, right now, both are steady and calm.

And that’s okay too – it’s been a gorgeous day and I’ve enjoyed reviewing and letting go.

The wreck of the MV Malabar
The wreck of the MV Malabar

Malabar is not named for the region of India but after a ship, the MV Malabar which shipwrecked on Miranda Point on 2 April 1931. Europeans, since arriving in the area in the 1860s – had called the suburb either Brand or Long Bay, the latter still naming the nearby prison.

Wiki says that the area had been a camping location for the original Indigenous residents. There are said to be carvings on the headland and that a rock overhang on the south side of Long Bay was used as a shelter for Aboriginal people suffering from smallpox in the late 1700s. An English historian wrote in 1882 that Aboriginal people referred to Long Bay as ‘Boora’. Scraps, all we have are tiny scraps from a once thriving culture and the few strong descendants of the survivors of a horrible, horrible injustice trying to hold on to what remains and piece together some of what was lost.

In the 2016 census Malabar was home to 5,420 people of whom 64.8% were male – I’m guessing the prison population is skewing that statistic as the state is only 49.3% male. 359 (6.6%) Malabar residents are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders heritage. 67% were born in Australia with England as the top overseas location with 3.5%. One-third had one or both parents born overseas (England, the top location). 1,925 (35.5%) show their religious affiliation as Not Stated (again, I think that’s the prisoners as state wide it was 9.2% – 1,920 did not state their education level as well – state wide 23%). Catholic came next with 26.5%. The top language, other than English, was Greek for 90 people or 1.7%

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Malabar is 12.3 km (7.6 miles) from home.

Malabar is in the local government area of the City of Randwick, the State Electorate of Maroubra (Labor – Michael Daley), and the Federal division of Kingsford-Smith (Labor, Matt Thistlethwaite) (prior to Matt this was the seat held by Peter Garrett, presently touring the world with Midnight Oil).

Long Time a Coming – Long Reef (No. 47*: 16 April 2017)

You’d almost think I’d grown weary of this project given how slowly I’ve returned to it after my time away, but that’s not it at all. I continue to love the idea but sometimes it just becomes hard to get there.

No 47: Long Reef ... slowly, slowly
No 47: Long Reef … slowly, slowly

While unemployed, my weekends weren’t a break from my labours – I could just as easily search for jobs at the weekend as any other time. Even if I wasn’t looking for work at the weekends I felt the pressure that, perhaps, I could be, I should be.  While unemployed, I was also more conscientious of spending money and felt that if I stayed close to home I’d spend less than if I went to the beach. That may not be true, but that’s how I felt.

So, I’ve been meaning to get to Long Reef for weeks but now that I am again professionally employed in a 9-5, Monday to Friday kind of way – it’s finally time.

It’s Easter Sunday and a cracker of a day: blue sky, light breeze, hot for April but not scorching. Australians being Australians are flocking to their chosen places of worship: the beach, the footy grounds, and other places of recreation and beer. I’m heading for the Manly Ferry – such a perfect day for it.

I walk through the picnickers and off-leash dogs in Hollis Park on my way to Macdonaldtown Station where I join a trainload of Sydney’s diversity for the ride into the city. At Circular Quay, I make my way through the throngs to Wharf 3 – where I find there are enough passengers queued to fill a ferry and a half. I guess I’ll take the bus.

From Wynyard Station I get a limited-stops bus which drops me at Collaroy Beach in about 40 minutes, from there I catch a local bus back two stops and pop into Outpost Espresso for a pick-me up.

It’s nearly 2 pm, and closing time, the only other customers are a salty, sandy, end-of-summer bronzed family of five getting milk shakes and iced lattes.

I find myself in a state of joyful liberation because I am employed and it is Sunday and there’s nothing I must do. I have employment and pay coming around the corner – so, no worries.

With this feeling of lightness, I set off for the walk past the golf club and Fisherman’s Beach (No 27 – visited in April 2013). Around Long Reef Point the footpath is crowded with families and couples. A paraglider is circling on the breeze, casting the occasional shocking shadow – like a giant raptor looking for prey. The sea is an autumn steel blue and crashing into the rocks below. I turn the corner and eye Long Reef Beach from its tucked-in northern end sweeping south and melding into Dee Why Beach (No 21 – visited February 2012).

Looking south from Long Reef point to Long Reef Beach and Dee Why beyond
Looking south from Long Reef point to Long Reef Beach and Dee Why beyond

 

Walking on Long Reef Beach
Walking on Long Reef Beach

I walk up the beach to the flagged area, plant myself near the Surf Lifesavers marquee and survey my fellow beach-goers. They are mostly white, mostly local – I’m guessing. There are a lot of families, a few clusters of teenagers, a smattering of couples. A toddler with caramel skin, curly locks and nothing but her Manly Sea Eagles bottoms on – dashes, laughing, away from her Surf Lifesaver father, who is trying to wrap her in a towel.

The sea is a bit dumpy and the flags are planted narrowly together so it is through a crowd I wade into the surf. The water is cool but I grow used to it, dunking my whole self beneath a folding wave and I’m happy to bob in the power of the ocean for a wee bit while dodging little kids on boogie boards and full-grown men body surfing into shore.

I realise I have not been in the open ocean – not a bay or harbour – since before I left for my Midlife Gap Year. Anywhere. I visited some on my ride home to Sydney from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland but for one reason or another didn’t swim at any of them. Admittedly I’m a bit intimidated by the surf – as a native of the American Midwest I came to ocean swimming late in life and being dependent on glasses to have clear vision – the power and mystery of rips and waves unsettle me. The last ocean beach I visited as part of this project was No. 31 Freshwater back in January 2014 – wow.

Autumn, Sydney-style.
Autumn, Sydney-style.

Wet and sea-salty I take up a position on the beach in the sun and enjoy the warmth of the autumn sun – generally more pleasant than Sydney’s often bitingly hot summer sun. It’s already late afternoon and I don’t stay long – but it’s been a lovely day for it and I’m glad I got to Long Reef before the beach season ends.

Long Reef was part of the homeland of the Dharug people, probably, before European invasion of Australia. The commonly used name, by Europeans, for the people who had been living in this area is Guringai, however, it now seems this is not what the people who lived here called themselves. Some rock engravings done by these people remain in the area.

European settlement began in 1815 when William Cossar (a master shipbuilder) was granted some 500+ acres (200+ hectares) including Long Reef. By 1825 it was in the hands of James Jenkins, a former convict who had been transported in 1802 for stealing sheep. His eldest child, Elizabeth, had inherited land in North Narrabeen in 1821 and with the 1825 acquisition, the Jenkins family owned all of the foreshore form Mona Vale to Dee Why. At the extent of their holdings they had 1800 acres (728 hectares).

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 Long Reef is 24 kilometres (15 miles) from home.

For census purposes it’s in Collaroy, which was, in 2011 home to 14,388 people of whom 50, or 0.4%, identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Conversely, 110 residents listed the United States as their country of birth. So there are more than twice as many Americans in Collaroy as there are Indigenous Australians.

It’s in the Northern Beaches Council local government area, the state electorate of Wakehurst (Liberal – Brad Hazzard), and federal division of Mackellar (Liberal – Jason Falinski).

*The next beach in the alphabetical list is actually Little Patonga – another Pittwater beach needing a boat. Four of those have now been set aside to be visited in one weekend out on the water, eventually: Gunyah (Brooklyn) No 35, Hallets No 37, Hungry No 39, and Little Patonga No 46.

The Last Beach Before My Travel Began, No 43: Lady Martin’s – 17 May 2015

Is this a bit of a cheat?

I visited Lady Martin’s on 17 May 2015 – one week before I departed for my midlife gap year – but never posted about it.

I don’t want to visit it again so I’m going back to my diary from the day to write it up now.

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Lady Martin’s is a wee crescent of beach at the bottom of Point Piper. I suspect in any other country it would be privately held and divvied up among the millionaires whose mansions hover nearby. These include the current Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull. Of course, when I visited back in 2015 he was fuming on the back benches as Tony Abbott went about his business of losing popularity.

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Sneaky access: the pathway next to the Prince Edward Yacht Club.

Here’s what I wrote then:

There’s real and lovely warmth in the sun – which burns bright when not obscured by clouds. The light shimmers blindingly on the weak harbour waves as they flush ashore with a rhythmic, sleep-encouraging hush.

A flotilla or racing yachts rush past out on the harbour.

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There is a party – a birthday party  perhaps – at the Prince Edward Yacht Club. A one-man-band plays groovy guitar jazz.

Among the party guests are many multicultural, multilingual families – a wee girl speaks French, English, and Russian. But mostly people seem to be speaking French. Which seems appropriate as I realised earlier today that I really will need to learn some of that language.

Had I come at high tide I expect there’d have been little beach to visit as the sand is wet right up to the retaining wall. As it is, there’s maybe five meters of beach running 100 meters or fewer and bisected by the yacht club’s pier.

The beach is Sydney-sandstone golden and surrounded by about a billion dollars’ worth of residential property. It’s a place to really celebrate the decision, early in Australia’s story, to keep beaches, all of them, even little ones like this – public.

It’s lovely. I’m so glad I came.

Next Sunday … will I have time for a beach before my flight?

The following … a river ride and the Giro d’Italia?

Close enough to a swim for May.
Close enough to a swim for May.

Lady Martin’s Beach is in the Municipality of Woollhara, the State Electorate of Vaucluse (Gabrielle Upton, Liberal) and Federal Division of Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull, Liberal).

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Back On My Bicycle in France – Riding from Cherbourg to Jonville

Bonjour (again) France
Sunday 23 August (Day 91 of my midlife gap-year)
11:35 am , Cherbourg YHA: 

I woke to the ferry-wide announcement that we were soon arriving in Cherbourg. It was raining;  perhaps I wouldn’t start riding straight away after all.

A view of a rainy morning at sea taken from a cabin window.
Hmmm … rain again

Waiting for my passport to be stamped and returned to me, the driver of a car – also awaiting their passport – sought my attention. “Excuse me!” he said, “Yes?” I replied. “Are you from Australia?” The guy waiting for his passport was also Australian and as a huge Oils fan, noticed and loved the Head Injuries t-shirt I was wearing.

Pedalling off in the now heavy rain, my face was soon streaming with it but I spotted and was able to follow street signs to the local hostel.

Of course, now that I’m all settled in here, the weather has cleared so I best go have a look at Cherbourg.

1:00 pm – I’ve Been Attacked by A Giant Hungry Seagull

It’s Sunday and most shops are closed. I found an open bakery and got a Croque Monsieur which I was eating as I walked towards the city centre. I just sensed an approaching mass in my peripheral vision when – swoop, snap, flap-flap to land, and there, a few metres ahead of me, was an enormous seagull gulping down my sandwich. All I could do was laugh.

It’s weird, but good, being surrounded by French and being back in my monolinguist cone of silence. I feel like a traveller again. And, ah, yes, back in a land still full of smokers, sigh. But there is almost acceptable coffee available everywhere, so that’s good.

4:40 pm, in a Parc: From Here …. To a Liberated Europe

This morning’s rain has given way to warm, bright, sunshine and a cloudless blue sky.

It would have been a beautiful day for riding – but I’m glad I stayed. I’ve gotten useful information from the tourist office and visited the Liberation Museum. I hadn’t known that the choice of the D-Day beaches was driven by the desire to capture Cherbourg. The Allies needed a port, a good one. The Germans, of course, destroyed the port facilities and the Allies had to put an insane effort in to clear it and get it operational again. But when they did, it became a busier port than New York – then the busiest in the world. The liberation of Europe – on the Western Front, anyway, began right here with the troops and materials delivered through the Port of Cherbourg.

I am struck by the idea that it was from here – this secured port and the materials it could deliver to the front lines – that the beginning of the end of the Holocaust originated and that soon those who could hold out until the troops got to them would be, forever more, Survivors.

11:30 pm YHA Cherbourg: First day back in France Counts as a Good One

Middle aged, short-haired, glasses-wearing woman against a blue sky and the French flag.
Vive la France

It’s funny how a person can get in your head and settle in there. I’m reading Robert Pinsky’s Selected Poems and I’m having a conversation with him, in my head, which he doesn’t know about. I guess that sort of happens whenever you read a book but, in this case, it’s made a bit more peculiar because I am having an email conversation with him. A chat, an email chat, not so much really a conversation.

I think it’s been a good day. I’m back on the Continent, and back – sort of – on the bike. Someone liked my Oils shirt, I had that weird seagull incident, and the weather cleared. Cherbourg is lovely. I learned stuff about WWII which I hadn’t known before. I didn’t spend much money and I fed myself dinner, and oh – got good info at the tourist office (Do you have … bicycle tour? Oh, of course, yes.) And this is the second night in a row where I expected to share a room but haven’t had to, which is nice.

Tomorrow: I RIDE AGAIN!

Stone French three-story house with flower boxes and a sign for Rue Grande Rue
Old Cherbourg, Rue Grande Rue
Modern apartment blocks with multi-coloured window dressings.
New Cherbourg – I liked how colourful the window dressings are.

2:00 am – Thoughts in a Wakeful Night

I can’t sleep. I don’t know if it was the tea with dinner, the excitement of riding again, or the little nap at 6:00 pm.

There are eucalyptus trees by the waterfront here. I plucked and crushed a leaf – the scent so strong. Home.

I’ve finished reading Jane Smiley’s Some Luck – which I enjoyed – but an e-book doesn’t give the satisfaction of closing the back cover.

It’s raining again – off and on.

In the parc this arvo there was a drug-fucked but friendly enough (not too friendly) French guy – who wanted me to take his photo (I didn’t) and later asked about my writing. I said I write about … stuff. Which is true. I wonder how these notebooks will read later.

They Sent Boys Such as This
Monday 24 August (Day 92)
8:25 am , Cherbourg YHA: 

I’ve just met young Quinn of Utah – recently studying in England. An email from Dad provided the details of Grandad’s service – he landed at Omaha Beach – so he’s come to look.

Grandad was probably no older (probably younger even) than Quinn when he landed on D-Day. Quinn chose the Coco Pops for breakfast and dipped his baguette in the left-over chocolate milk. Soft-spoken, soft-eyes, wheaten hair. It’s hard to imagine such a boy, such boys, retaking Europe from Hitler.

But they did.

1:10 pm – Le Vast: Feeling the Joy of Bicycle Touring (Again)

Sigh, it’s so good to be riding again! To feel my legs turning, hear the wheels on the road, smell the salt in the air.

I’m toying with writing a poem about reading Robert’s poetry. Why not? I mean what’s the point of being out here doing this if I don’t follow some random ideas.

I’m only about half way through Selected Poems but I have some ideas already.

Where I’ve Read Your Poetry

[First line of the first poem in the book]

Keeping one eye on the changing colours of Mount Leinster as the sun set on my last day in Ireland

On board the Oscar Wilde sailing from Rosslare to France and wondering ‘does he have a tattoo on his right shoulder?’

In Parc E. Linis after a drug-fucked and bruised, but happy, young man interrupted to ask what I was writing about. I said ‘stuff’

When I meant – Cherbourg, D-Day, the first day, finally, counting toward the day when the survivors would be freed to tell the truth of the horrors visited upon them (again)

In La Vast – at picnic, beside the river Saire, under menacing clouds. Riding again – joyous (or joyful). Poem with Refrains – dog eared as a favourite.

Heavy grey clouds blot the sky, but a small river courses through a sunlit green landscape.
The view from my picnic spot beside the River Saire

4:45 pm – Camping Municipal de Jonville: It’s Raining in Normandy (Of Course It Is)

My new tent is being put to a test straight away – it’s windy and raining off and on. It started showering with intent just as I got everything into the tent. So far so good – I’m dry and it hasn’t blown away but this being the first use I am a bit nervous.

I have to pee and I’d like to shower – so I’m hoping it will lessen soon. That’s how it seems to go here.

It’s a joy to be riding again. The day was mostly lovely – a little rain, a few hills, a bit more than a little unpaved and muddy/wet road. I rode through what strikes me as a very French landscape – familiar, perhaps, from war movies?

A white-stone French chateau reflected in a pond.
It could only be France, non?

It’s been exactly a month since my last riding day. On 24 July I rode 28.74 km from Laugharne to Tenby (Wales). Today it was 49.65 km and they felt pretty easy.

Where I read

Huddled, hunched and happy

In my new tent as wind shimmys the nylon

And Atlantic rain tap-dances (Jonville)

(Welcome back to riding: Tent cramp – right thigh, ow, fucking ow)

9:15 pm – A Sky of Fuchsia, A Navy Blue Horizon, a Dark Sapphire Sea

The rain has stopped. I went to the toilet, and on the western horizon below the clouds a burst of pink as close to the colour of my jacket, thongs (flip flops), and computer as I’ve seen – brilliant – a reminder that the sun is out there. I climbed a dune to get a better look at the sunset and at the sea as well. Heavy charcoal clouds remain, dropped to the sea. A smudge of navy-blue eyeliner marks the horizon – while the sea … what is that colour of blue? Dark sapphire perhaps.

Rain heavy sky over a deep green to dark blue sea.
The Atlantic Ocean from Camping Municipal de Jonville

Beautiful.

But hard not to think of Nazi German patrols and boys like Quinn’s grandfather coming to take it away from them.

12:40 am

Not only has the rain stopped and the wind relented but the sky is mostly clear. The Big Dipper – big and bold (it’s a plough in Ireland). And Orion – standing tall. I think we can see him in Australia – but he’s upside down.

Right now, I want the riding part of this journey to never end. To ride and camp or stay wherever day after day without destination or deadline. I feel like I’ve just kind of come to terms with a good pace and mindset. No worries about distance. Just ride. Of course, that’s especially easy on a well-marked route.

A fully-loaded touring bicycle leans against an age-wearied memorial cross in a small French village cross-roads, a signe reads: Village de la Croix Perrinot
A photo of near perfect happiness.

Such a pleasant and full day: Saturday 1 August 2015 (Day 69)

Saturday 1 August

I worry I’m not paying enough attention to the details lately and will have less to say, in the blog, in the book, when I get here. I fear that I’m not engaging as much as I was at the beginning of my journey.

Today I went for a bicycle ride with Jerry (whom I recently met at the shop with the door to the pub ) – he’s Scottish and married to Helena, an architect and friend/colleague of Cornelia. The day was dry but chilly and the ride was lovely. The roads are unmarked and it would have been super confusing without a local – a discovery which made me happy not have not yet set off to ride Ireland.

We rode for an hour talking of cycling and family and travel. They have three girls – one a bit older than Matthew, one a bit younger than Isabel – or about the same, and a younger one.

In the afternoon the sun shone gloriously. Glenn (Cornelia’s husband) and I went off of a bit of a photo safari. We also stopped for a coffee. It was nice getting a bit of time to have a good chat with him – such a lovely guy. He’s something of a rock star of the wood turning world and a superb hobby photographer to boot.

Playing with the filters on my camera on our photo safari.
Playing with the filters on my camera on our photo safari.
Ran into Muhammed Ali on our photo safari.
Ran into Muhammed Ali on our photo safari.

In the evening, we had dinner at Jerry and Helena’s – which was nice.

While we were there Matthew finally solved the Rubik’s Cube. He’d been working away at it for quite a while and was so pleased to have gotten it.*

Finally did it!
Finally did it!

I keep saying ‘yes’ to things which means I’m not getting as much work done as I’d like. This coming day and a half, until I go to Dublin, need to be productive. I need to do some research about my onward journey, make some plans, book things.

The weather this evening is shocking: heavy rain and wind. Everyone keeps telling me how magnificent last summer was.

Dublin beckons.

*He would go on, over the course of the summer, to really master it, at speed. The distinctive clackity sound of the cube being worked became a soundtrack to day time in the house.

A Final Welsh Day: Saturday 25 July 2015 (Day 62)

Saturday 25 July 12:20 pm – Hendy-gwyn/ Whitland Train Station

It storms – wet and windy – overnight. As I lay in the dry comfort of my hotel bed I think of my French cycling companions and hope they’ve found a good camping spot for the night and are comfortable despite the weather.

I wake around six to sunshine and clear skies.

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Tenby, Wales in the morning sunshine.

A warm golden light falls on pastel coloured buildings and shimmers off the sea. An arch of golden sand awaits visitors.

Wales has been a hard place but I like it. I’m thinking of circling back this way. I could visit Dublin, Derry and Belfast (by means other than cycling) then take the train to Cork to ride the south coast back to Rosslare and then ferry back to Wales?

I cannot fathom what full potential awaits me if I learn Welsh.
I cannot fathom what full potential awaits me if I learn Welsh.

Arriving in Fishguard, I ride up the inevitable hill into town to find my hostel. I lunch at the Gourmet Pig and linger over the newspaper. I don’t remember when last I did this – just sit, quietly, no need or desire to get anywhere. Nowhere to be, nothing to do, no closing time to beat or X number of kilometres to ride.

It’s really nice.

I walk to Lower Fishguard – the old fishing port . It’s full of narrow winding streets lined with cottages whose kitchen windows overlook the road.

I visit an ancient little pub. Once this would have been filled with fishermen. It’s a bit quiet this afternoon. A few locals come and go, taking the piss out of one another and the bar keep. I don’t understand much of what is said, given their Welsh accents, but they are definitely taking the piss.

In Fishguard, Wales
In Fishguard, Wales

And now I’m waiting for the showing of Mr Holmes to start in this small, volunteer run theatre, Theatr Gwaun. The popcorn is slightly sweet – which is weird, but that’s travel for you. There are pictures of what’s-his-name, the actor on Brothers and Sisters, the Welsh one, on the lobby walls. (That’d be Matthew Rhys – probably better known, now, from The Americans.)

By this time tomorrow I’ll be at Cornelia’s. From Rosslare I’ve booked the train to … someplace … where she’s meeting me with the van.

Sigh.

Good sigh.

The Rhine Delta and Konstanz to Flaach- 26th & 27th June 2015 (Days 33 &34)

Friday 26 June 2015: The Rhine Delta to Konstanz

The day is stunning and summery as I ride along the Rhine Delta toward Lake Constance (or the Bodensee as it’s called locally).

I turn onto a small road marked by a sign promising Erdbeere and soon find myself resting on a bench, a diminishing punnet of perfect June strawberries resting on my knee. They are all I could want: firm, full, juicy, sweet but with a fresh bit of tang as well. As I sit,eating one after another, the farmer drives past – his tractor loaded with trays of berries just picked. And in the distance the farm workers are coming in from the field for their lunch break.

Here in the delta, with the mountains fading behind me, hawks circle, circle, circle on warm currents above the fields. I shield my eyes to watch as one dives for a bit of prey then climbs again into a pale summer-blue sky scored with jet-trails. Far far up, at cruising altitude, are tiny aeroplanes. I think of my flight from London to Milan, of my looking out the window at the Alps – one of those wee planes may well be today’s BA 576.

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Jet trails over the Rhine Delta.

The Swiss border is signaled by a supermarket, cafe and post office in a spot which is, otherwise, the middle of nowhere. The Swiss cross to Austria for lower prices. My crossing is made at a bridge over a wee creek where the style of the bicycle signage changes and I spy a Swiss flag dancing languidly.

I meet the pale blue, almost aquamarine Lake and follow it the rest of the day. I pass through towns, industrial areas and holiday communities. At my lunch stop in Romanshorn I meet a mature-aged group of men on a weekend cycle. I exchange a few words with the English speakers and they smile approvingly of my coffee making.

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The Bodensee

My destination is Konstanz – a lovely German university town thumping with summer visitors. So close is Konstanz to Switzerland, and otherwise surrounded by water, that the city left its lights on during World War II. Allied bombers, not wanting to risk attacking the neutral Swiss, spared the city. At the border I am greeted by a faded Bundesrepublik Deutschland sign and a pair of seemingly-abandoned guardhouses. And, just like that, I am in Germany.

I am staying with Sara – a WarmShowers host, artist and art therapy teacher who lives on the top-floor of a narrow old apartment building near the city centre. We sit on her deck having elderflower cordial and apricots while overlooking a spreading oval of similar buildings with similar decks and, down below, a shared patch of green.

In the evening we meet up with some friends of her’s for dinner at the African Festival on the main square in the old town and later walk to the lake to listen to an Afro-Cuban jazz band playing in a park as the setting sun leaves the mountains ethereal in the distance.

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Was this what I expected from Germany? I wasn’t surprised but, no, probably not.

Outside Sara’s place I saw my first Stolperstein (literally “stumbling stone”) –a cobblestone-sized brass plate set in the footpath informing me that a Jehovah’s Witness who had resided here before World War II, had been detained by the state and then murdered. That was more of what I expected, really.

Saturday 27 June: Konstanz to Flaach

I make a leisurely start of it today, lingering over coffee and chatting with Sara. I stop to collect supplies from the Saturday-busy local supermarket and then pedal from town and back into Switzerland.

The day’s riding is a mix of on-road and off, pavement and gravel, through towns, villages and farms, along the river and away from it, in the forest. The route weaves back and forth over borders and I often have no idea which country I am in.

Stein am Rhine is a surprising delight because I had no foreknowledge. I knew the route went though the town but I had no idea what to expect so when I roll into the medieval town square I giggle with delight. I’m not entirely sure which country I’m in until I choose a postcard to buy and everything in the shop is Swiss.

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Stein am Rhine

Not far beyond Stein am Rhine I am rolling past meadows full of wild flowers and then climbing a gravel road into the Black Forest. At a bend I find an ambulance, a group of cyclists standing aside and the paramedics tending to an older rider who has come off his bicycle. It doesn’t look good but nor does it look terrible. It is a reminder to be cautious.Stein am Rhine

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Swiss Wild Flowers (or are they German?)

The forest is dark, beautiful and full of birdsong. That I am in the Black Forest also makes me chuckle – it’s a name I would use as a generic place I might be when talking of this trip before coming away. Like, “I’ll look forward to using my e-reader while camped in the Black Forest.” So it was funny to actually be here. And it is beautiful. And the birds are amazing.

Just as I stop for a late lunch in a swimming park next to the river the sky darkens and rain hammers down accompanied by thunder and lightning. Parents scoop wee children and run them to cover. Teenagers linger in the rain until lifeguards, dressed in familiar yellow and red uniforms, hustle them out of the water. An eave of the ablution block offers me all the shelter I need – I lunch, make a coffee and watch the rain fall. It doesn’t last long and soon I am packing up and the swimmers are back in the river.

Fearing the rumours I’d long heard of the expense of Switzerland I am hoping to avoid spending money there as much as possible, and when I do, to limit the damage. Somewhere in the afternoon I miss my chance to cross back into Germany. The route on the Swiss side is longer and come 6 pm I am nearing 80 kilometres on the day when I spot a campground on my map. Whatever the cost it will have to do. I passed some places I might have wild camped but I lack the confidence to do that – at least on my own and in a place where I don’t speak the language.

The cost of my patch of grass, access to the ablution block, use of a small campers’ kitchen and a swimming pool: 24f or about A$35* – the most expensive camping pitch I’ve ever used. I think about getting food in their restaurant but cheapest main was 18f and a bowl of chips was 9f (A$17.30 and A$8.66). So I cook up some pasta with reluctant acceptance that it is what it is – I’ve ended up in Switzerland on a night I’d hoped not to and paid the price.

I have 90km to cover tomorrow to get to Basel where I’ve a booking at a hostel. Ninety kilometres is a big day for me under any circumstances – that I am anticipating 90km means there’s a good chance it will be closer to 100 km. All I can do is try.

I do something very unusual for me on this trip – I set an alarm for 6 am in hopes of getting away early enough to give me every chance of getting to Basel.

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In the Black Forest – How’s the serenity?

*24 Swiss Francs or about 35 Australian dollars.

Only 7 km to a Vanilla Slice: Urunga to Scotts Head (Day 10: Wednesday 29 April)

It rained overnight but the sun shone warmly again in the morning as I packed the tent away and loaded up my bicycle. I’d been an object of some interest around the campground the night before and this continued in the morning until I finished packing and rode away around 10 am. (I’m still struggling to master this early start thing.)

Back up the hill I’d climbed yesterday afternoon to Hungry Head but, this time, stopping to take in the view – the first of the Pacific I’d enjoyed on this ride. The north looked sunny and beautiful; the south – where I was heading – overcast.

The trouble with these blog posts is there’s actually not a lot of ways to talk of roads, views, and riding that doesn’t vary that much: undulating country roads and highway verges – there’s just not much to say about them.

There’s also not a huge amount to say about what I was thinking about – what was I thinking about? Well, the thing with riding – for me anyway – is I tend to do it from a fairly deeply mindful and present place. I’m looking at the road ahead, listening for the traffic coming from behind, noticing the smells and feeling the direction of the wind.

My mind wanders to contemplate various things … I’ve been thinking about Trust – and may write something separate about that – and on this day I was thinking rather a bit about Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, Australians who had been executed by the State of Indonesia while I slept in my tent in Urunga.

The two issues relate, of course, trust and the executions – the betrayal of the trust that the system will recognize reform and reward it with life. A betrayal of trust not dissimilar to that suffered by young black Americans who – while I slept and Indonesia was executing – were rebelling in Baltimore.

Life should simply be fairer and more just for more people – we should recognise that we are all in this together and that we all benefit when more of our fellow human beings are thriving than are suffering.

Anyway … when I’m not watching for twigs or cringing in the turbulence of a Double-B, this is the stuff I’m thinking about. That and what I’ll eat next.

I left the highway at Nambucca Heads and took the backroads to Macksville. Seven kilometres out of town it was clear I’d just missed a rain shower: there were wet patches on the road and that fantastic rain-on-hot-bitumen smell. As I passed the showgrounds the heavens opened, seemingly from nowhere, and hammered me for just long enough for me to get wet, get my jacket out, put it on and ride on. Then it stopped.

Nambucca River at Macksville

I had set my mind on a vanilla slice from just before the rain and I was on the hunt for a bakery as soon as I hit town. Quickly found one, and my vanilla slice, then a café for a matching pot of tea. Such civilised bicycle touring!

The highway from Macksville to the Scotts Head turn-off is shit – busy and with a narrow verge – but it was only a few kilometres. Then I was back onto rolling country blacktop again for the final hour or so into Scotts Head. A bit of a brutal climb greeted my arrival into the town but the top rewarded me with a stunning view of the ocean, headlands rolling north, and orangey cloud diffused sunlight illuminating the whole of it.

My Warm Showers hosts for the night, Jacky and Stephen, are recently retired and tour locally mostly but have made a couple of jaunts to Europe and other, non-bicycle, travel in Asia and South America. They were hosting me in Jacky’s mum’s house – she has passed away and now it’s shared as a holiday/beach house amongst Jacky, her siblings and all their kids.

It was another enjoyable Warm Showers evening: eating, drinking and socialising. I slept in a single bed in a room decorated with an old wall map of Australia showing a circuit journey around the continent. One of many such road-trips Jacky’s parents had enjoyed making.

Again … Google won’t let me embed a map with my changes (if anyone knows how to do that, let me know) I rode from Urunga to Hungry Head, Nambucca Heads then the backroads to Macksville before rejoining the highway to the Scotts Head turnoff.

A Truly Lovely Day for a Ride: Bellingen to Urunga (Day 9: Tuesday 28 April)

It’s not that I dawdled but I had some stuff to get done and I decided to do it at Ian’s and in Bellingen on Tuesday morning: the bicycle needed some looking after, I needed to catch up on some writing and posting, and I wanted to post some things home. It was nearly noon when, full of coffee & cake, I pedalled out of town on the North Arm Road bound for the coast.

It was warm, hot even, the sky a boundless blue bowl, the breeze negligible. I was whistling a bicycle tourist’s happy tune as I rode up and rolled down the undulating road past farm houses and paddocks full of milking cows. There was the smell of wood-smoke mingled with cow dung and the river glistened off my right shoulder.

Approaching Raleigh I paused for a heard of milkers crossing the road to be relieved of their dairy-goodness. They lumbered slowly and heavily toward the milking shed.

I turned south and joined the Pacific Highway for the first time for the run to the Urunga turn-off. It wasn’t far and it wasn’t bad – about the same as the New England but with, perhaps, more tucks and, of course, lots of construction zones.

I had only meant to stop for lunch in Urunga but when I pedalled away it was nearly 3 pm already. I got a few kilometres down the road to Hungry Head and realising I’d have at least another 12 kilometres of highway riding to the next town and caravan park so I decided to turn back and make my home in Urunga for the night.

The caravan park there is modern and well-appointed with free WiFi and a good camper’s kitchen – a win all around.

I actually took the North Bank Road route via Raleigh – but can’t get Google to let me embed that map.

Wintery Weather, Bus Rides East and – finally – a Great Riding Day: Uralla to Bellingen (Days 7 & 8: Sunday 26 April and Monday 27 April)

When I awoke on Sunday the weather was bleak. A heavy wet grey blanket of cloud had descended on Uralla. It was just about 10*C and the Bureau of Meteorology was telling me that the high in Armidale (my intended destination for the day) was set to be 14*C with wind gusts of up to 44 kph. Um, no. Just no. If I hadn’t been so tested already, maybe, but – why? This is meant to be fun not sadistic.

New England Coaches run from Tamworth to Coffs Harbour and having texted the managers on the Sunday after ANZAC Day I learned that, yes, they would carry me and my bicycle down off the plateau the following morning – $70 for me and $10 for my bicycle. I booked my seat and spent the rest of the day hanging out at Trina’s Café.

Pear and walnut cake … yum.

Conditions were slightly improved by Monday morning but I was glad to be skipping ahead. I had booked to Bellingen where my next Warm Showers host had agreed to have me a few days earlier than planned. The driver, however, convinced me to get off in Dorrigo and ride down from there. The sun was shining, I knew the area was meant to be quite pretty and the road mainly downhill – so I took his advice and had the best ride of the trip so far.

The weather was a complete contrast from the day before – big blue sky, really warm in the sun, just fabulous. A few kilometres out of town I took the turn-off for Dorrigo National Park which protects some of the remaining ancient rainforest in this area – which is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

I didn’t feel I could afford the time to do the whole 6.5 km waterfall walk – which is a pity – but I did walk for about an hour thorough lush, green, intensely diverse, deeply shaded rainforest and it was spectacular. The forest air itself is rich and full – not to mention clean.

Not long after re-joining the highway the exhilarating descent of Dorrigo Mountain began – steep, winding, sweeping bends, flashing shadows, keeping an ear for cars approaching from behind, nearly catching up with the cars ahead. It was fantastic and more than a little scary – but in a good way.

The road whipped past a couple of waterfalls and several times I had to stop to let my wheel-rims cool down as I’d been riding the brakes.

It really was magical – I had to keep from grinning for fear of getting bugs in my teeth but it was a stupendous, if mad, run.

Arriving in the Bellingen Valley the highway flattened out but didn’t gain any shoulder. It was getting on after-school time and the beginning of peak hour, such as it is, and the last 7 km into town were kind of unpleasant but I got there.

Arriving I was greeted by Bellingen Gelato. “Uh huh – yup,” said I – time for the first of many, many ice creams I will have on this trip. I asked the woman behind the counter which flavour was her favourite. She apologised for being boring in her love of the chocolate.  I had that and the roasted almond & coffee. Ah-mazing, the both of them.

This was more of what I had in mind … riding in warm sunshine through picturesque countryside to welcoming small towns and enjoying locally produced food. More of this please.

In Bellingen I was staying with Ian, who lives on the edge of town up a big hill … push, push, push. He and his partner Kerrie have built a beautiful house set in the bush with a bit of a view and surrounded by bird calls. Kerrie was away on business but there in spirit in the chicken curry she’d made and Ian re-heated for our dinner.

We had a nice evening – a few beers on the veranda before the sun set; talking touring, travel and family over dinner; watching Ian’s recording of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race from the night before; and looking at maps to plan my onward journey.