Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

104. Last Days

We left Adelaide in mid afternoon. Renmark was dinner. Mildura was dusk. Karate Kid Two was the night. I cannot sleep on buses, so long distance bus travel is not much fun for me. While Karen slept, the bus rolled on, the kilometres clicking over as I nodded off and immediately woke up, and nodded off and immediately woke up...

At 8:30am we arrived in Canberra, as far as our bus passes would carry us. Karen rang Kevin, telling him that we were in Adelaide and that we were just about to head off for Melbourne via an inland route, after which we would follow the coast road through eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales, probably arriving back in Sydney sometime in February. The white lie set up our surprise early return perfectly. In the middle of the conversation Karen casually asked where Kevin and Barbara would be spending Xmas.

Karen and I re-assembled Elle and Mel and all our panniers in a corner of the bus terminal, afterwards wiping our hands clean on our threadbare, see-through bath towels which were then unceremoniously dumped in the nearest bin. We dropped into a handy McDonalds for a shot of caffeine to keep us awake, then cycled down to the bike paths around Lake Burley Griffin and headed for Parliament House.

I took a photo of Karen riding past the circular pool in the Parliament House forecourt, the Aussie flag flying proudly atop the massive flagpole in the background. Also in the background is the tiny figure of a man speaking into a walkie-talkie. Less than a minute after the photo was taken, a car-load of security guards screeched to a halt right next to us and ordered us off the pathway and back onto the roadway. Karen and I were obviously a threat to national security, possibly terrorists on a suicide mission, our panniers filled with high explosives, about to ride up the steps of Parliament House and wipe out the Legislative Assembly.

Karen and Parliament House

We rode past the Lodge, but did not drop in to say hi to Mr Howard. A combination of bike paths, roads, good luck and good management eventually took us to Suzanne and Todd's place in the outlying suburb of Gordon. Todd met us at the front door, and we quickly caught up with each other's news. After dinner and a few drinks, Suzanne arrived home from work, but the lack of sleep the night before soon caught up with me and I don't remember too much after that.

I surfaced at 11:15am to find Karen and Suzanne away shopping at the local markets. After a shave, a shower and a shampoo I was ready to face the world again. Jamie, Suzanne and Todd's six year old son, showed me how to load and access computer CDs, and the rest of the day was devoted to television sport. In the evening Sue, Jamie, Karen and I drove to the northern suburbs for a family barbecue, with Todd arriving directly from work soon after we had arrived. I was glad to have caught up on my sleep, because the party went until well after midnight.

When it was time to go, I went with Suzanne to keep her awake and under the speed limit, while Karen and Jamie went with Todd. After Suzanne and I arrived home, we expected Todd's car to pull up soon after, but there was no sign of him. He eventually arrived about half an hour later, having stopped at the scene of a two-car accident which must have occurred only seconds after Sue and I had passed the same location. Todd is a paramedic, and he quickly assessed the situation, phoned the relevant authorities and rendered assistance until the ambulance and paramedics arrived. One woman had been trapped in the wreckage and had to be cut free. While all of this was happening, Karen had been sitting in Todd's car trying not to look at anything just in case she saw blood, passed out and made the situation worse.

Suzanne, Todd and Jamie

Todd, Suzanne and Jamie were spending Xmas with Todd's parents in Moss Vale, about one hundred and sixty kilometres up the Hume Highway. Because Suzanne was due to leave for Moss Vale the next day, and because she would be taking Jamie's toy Jeep and Todd's Xmas present in a box trailer with plenty of extra room, she offered to give us a lift as well. Normally, Karen and I would have refused the offer, not wanting to break the cycling circuit around Australia, but as this circuit now included over three thousand kilometres of Landcruiser travel and thirteen hundred kilometres of bus travel, we figured one hundred and sixty extra kilometres of car travel would not be significant. We accepted the offer.

Suzanne dropped us in Moss Vale, and we were soon riding again. After only a few kilometres on the Illawarra Highway we turned off for Fitzroy Falls and carried on down into Kangaroo Valley. Although the day was fine and sunny, Karen and I barely noticed the heat as most of our riding was downhill, but by the time we reached the famous Hampden Bridge the heat of the day could not be denied. It was at least thirty five degrees, and probably hotter. Just as we had done in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley, Karen and I removed our shirts and saturated them under a tap before starting the long, hot climb out of Kangaroo Valley up to the top of Cambewarra Mountain.

Hampden Bridge in Kangaroo Valley

It took us one hour and ten minutes to climb out of the Valley. Shortly after the start of the climb, as soon as the going got tough, Karen stopped riding and started pushing Mel up the hill. I was still able to ride, and thinking that Karen would be able to continue riding if her load was lighter, I transferred some of her weightier items to my panniers. It certainly made a big difference - now both of us had to push our bikes. The road up Cambewarra is dangerous. It is narrow, with lots of curves and hardly any shoulder at all. At one point Karen propped Mel against the safety barrier and lay down on the side of the road, gasping for breath. Why did we have to hit the longest, steepest hill we had ever ridden on the hottest day we had ever experienced?

Karen pushing Mel up Cambewarra Mountain

We had filled all of our frame-mounted water-bottles in Kangaroo Valley, but by the time we arrived at the top of Cambewarra Mountain all four and a half litres were gone. Karen was a bit distressed by this stage - and dis-dressed as well. She had taken her shirt off and was only wearing a thin sports bra that was wet with sweat which rendered it almost completely see-through. Even though the village of Cambewarra was only fifteen minutes of downhill coasting away, but both of us needed water immediately, so Karen scrounged some from a guy in the house at the top of the climb, and I'm sure he thought that all of his birthdays had come at once when Karen and her see-through bra rocked up on his doorstep.

Karen returning with water

The ride down the hill was not enjoyable. The air rushing past us was so hot, it felt like someone had opened an oven door in front of us. We turned off to Cambewarra at the bottom of the descent and headed straight for a shop where we bought and rapidly consumed two large bottles of soft drink. Somewhat re-hydrated, we rode a short distance to the home of Jenny and Greg who had agreed to put us up for the night. After a pizza dinner, Karen and I just drank and drank, consuming any liquid we could get our hands on - Coca-Cola, lemonade, beer and even water! Later that evening we watched the flames of a bushfire at Yalwal play on the horizon before they died down to a steady glow. We slept naked on an airbed in a spare room, a hot breeze wafting through the window and blowing the curtains about. When the next day dawned, after the hottest night we had slept through during our travels, we were still naked, and the air was still hot.

Jenny, Scott and Greg

We quickly packed, breakfasted, thanked our hosts and hit the road for the last time, quickly reaching some very familiar territory. Our old friend Highway One met us at Bomaderry and took us across the Shoalhaven River, through Nowra and on past HMAS Albatross, Falls Creek, and the turn-offs to Jervis Bay and Tomerong. We left the highway and made our way into St Georges Basin. A short time later we rolled into the front yard of the holiday house in Deane Street.

Suddenly, our three years on the road were over.

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