Karen and I bought a house in Queensland during our first fortnight on the road! The purchase was not totally unexpected, as we had inspected the house, made an offer, and had the offer accepted prior to leaving Sydney. We had also received approval for a small loan to help finance the purchase. When we began our travels, however, nothing had been finalised, but we had decided to go ahead with the trip anyway. With Kevin acting as our agent in Sydney, and with the wonders of modern communication, we figured that the purchase could happen while we travelled.
Earlier in the year we had realised that we would not be able to afford the premiums for our investment life insurance policies once we left our jobs, so we were forced to cash them in. Together with the termination payouts we received covering holiday pay, long service leave, paid untaken sick leave and lump sum superannuation, and with our normal day to day bank accounts, we suddenly found ourselves with lots of cash. We had contemplated some form of interest bearing deposit to help finance our travels but had been given another option by our insurance agent, who would no longer be receiving his commission on our deposits every month. As well as being an insurance agent, he also happened to be a property investment adviser.
He showed us a scheme which involved buying a unit somewhere on the Gold Coast, renting it out, depreciating everything, claiming lots of travel expenses, and negative gearing the income and the interest on the mortgage repayments against our income tax. He arranged a weekend trip to the Gold Coast for us, tax deductible of course, where we met his partner who showed us a selection of desirable properties. The next day Karen and I also inspected a number of other properties with Karen's second cousin, Neil, a Gold Coast real estate agent. We also had a look at a house for sale in Southport, owned by a friend of Karen's mother. We quickly realised that the figures quoted by our investment adviser were not applicable to us, as we would be in receipt of very little income, and therefore paying very little income tax to make claims against. After a bit of discussion, Karen and I had decided to buy the Southport house.
During our first fortnight on the road we maintained almost daily contact with Kevin back in Sydney. He was looking after all of our financial affairs. When we rang him from Stockton, he told us we needed a 'Certificate of Currency' to enable the house purchase to proceed. Apparently this meant that we had to insure the house before we actually owned it. Newcastle was the nearest major business centre, so a ride back over the Stockton Bridge seemed imminent and unavoidable. The caravan park manager then suggested we take a ferry across the Hunter. We took a short walk to the jetty, soon boarded the ferry, and arrived in Newcastle after a voyage which totalled three and a half minutes! If we had known about the ferry a day earlier we could have avoided our near-death experience on the bloody Stockton Bridge!
With certificate in hand, we returned to our bikes and left the caravan park shortly before eleven, our hopes for an early start completely shot. Not long after, I went within inches of death when I pulled out of a side-street into the path of a speeding car. Luckily, it swerved to avoid me, and so I was left to contemplate what might have been. I had completely misjudged the time it would take me to cross the road from a standing start. The weight of the bike made acceleration non-existent. It had almost made me non-existent as well.
We made good time on flat roads to Williamtown, where we witnessed a spectacular display by four jets as they circled and landed at the Airforce base. Shortly afterwards we arrived in Salt Ash where we made a really bad decision. Although it was lunch time, our destination for the day was only an hour away so we decided to push on. The final twenty kilometres for the day took us almost two hours! A combination of headwinds, bumpy road surfaces, my first flat tyre and flagging energy levels battled us all the way to Shoal Bay. We should have learned from this experience that lunch should never be delayed, but it would be another three months before a much worse day would really drive the lesson home. More about that later.
The biggest problem we were to face was the security of our bikes and gear. At campgrounds and caravan parks we tried to keep the bikes within sight as much as we could, but there were times when this was obviously impossible. The first time we left our bikes unattended was at Shoal Bay when we walked into neighbouring Nelson Bay for a dinner of fish and chips, washed down with cheap spumante quaffed from plastic cups. We leaned Elle and Mel against each other in the caravan park, bound together by a security chain and covered with a groundsheet tied between the spokes of each wheel. Cameras, binoculars and wallets went into the day-packs we carried with us, but there were still thousands of dollars worth of camping equipment, clothes and tools left behind, ripe for the plucking. Rather than worry about what was happening to our gear while we were away, we soon adopted a Zen-like approach of going with the flow. If theft happened, it happened, and it was meant to happen. Fortunately, it never did.
In Nelson Bay we checked our bank balance and found that the money from our recently cashed-in insurance policies had been deposited. We rang Kevin to tell him the good news, and to give him the insurance policy number for the Southport house. He told us that he was expecting the contracts to arrive for signatures at any time, and that he would forward them on to the Bulahdelah Post Office by the following Monday.
Next morning we caught a ferry across Port Stephens from Shoal Bay to Tea Gardens, shocked by the exorbitant ticket price of seven dollars per person. We were even more shocked to discover that it would cost us seven dollars per bike as well! Twenty eight dollars put a hell of dent into our thirty dollar a day budget. We may not have been robbed in the caravan park last night, but we were sure robbed on the ferry this morning!
At Tea Gardens I looked up the address of an old work buddy who had retired to nearby Hawk's Nest. We gave him a call and he invited us to stay the night. Our total riding distance for the day was five kilometres. Apart from rest days, this would be the shortest day of riding during our entire travels. Bob and Sue were wonderful. They fed us well, took us on a four wheel drive tour up the beach to the Little Gibber, dropped us at the start of a walk to the top of Yacaaba Mountain, and cooked us breakfast and lunch the next day as well. We reluctantly gave up their hospitality in mid afternoon for another short day's ride to the campground at Mungo Brush.
Karen at Mungo Brush
After setting up camp, I repaired the two punctured tubes and put them back onto the bikes. This meant we still carried two virtually brand new tubes as spares, and also gave us instant feedback about the success of the repairs. The night at Mungo was the first of the trip spent at a remote camp site, away from the comfort and safety of a caravan park or the homes of friends. We were alone at the site, and totally vulnerable to crazies and hooligans, but only one memorable incident occurred during the night. At dinner, on a table and seats under a brilliant, starry sky which filtered through the sheltering trees, a possum shat on us!
Perhaps it was an omen, because next morning when Karen and I cycled the six kilometres from Mungo Brush to Bombah Point, caught the punt across the river to Legges Camp, and travelled inland over the first dirt road of the trip, to the post office at Bulahdelah, we found no contracts waiting for us. We rang Kevin and received news of a change of plan. The contracts would be in Taree by Wednesday.