It did not take us long to get back into the Sydney working lifestyle. Karen began commuting into the city everyday, driving her Coca-Cola company car to her reserved car space at the Opera House carpark just as she had been doing almost a year and a half earlier. Shortly after I returned to Roche, the guy who I had trained to replace me gave notice, and before too long I was back in my old office doing my old job and again starting to train my replacement. Karen and I were a little spooked by the whole situation. Eighteen months had passed and we were both back doing exactly the same work for the same companies at the same places. It almost seemed like we had never left!
Unlike Karen who actually liked the work she was doing, I soon redeveloped my customary loathing for my job. I was walking home after my second day of work, shaking my head and silently asking myself the question - "Is this the way people are supposed to live?"
Only three factors made work bearable for me. The first was the people with whom I worked, who were all terrific, especially Louise, my other boss (after Karen). The second factor was the money. Both Karen and myself were on contract rates and now receiving more money than we had been getting when we had left. When combined with our frugal spending habits and the benefit of living with Karen's parents, the money we received inflated our bank balance enormously. It did not take long for the lure of the cash to disappear. The third and most important factor, however, was time. Our contracts were for a few months only, so there was a constant light at the end of the tunnel. We were not looking at another twenty or thirty years of mind-numbing toil. Work could be looked upon as an interesting diversion, or as a refreshing reminder of the life we had chosen to avoid, or even as a holiday.
We used our time back in Sydney to catch up with old friends and family, and to recharge our batteries for the next part of our cycle tour. Where that would be, we had still not decided. Elle and Mel were sitting in the corner of an office in Darwin, idling away the tropical Wet season and awaiting our return. They had just as much idea about where they would be going next as we did.
The three months of work that Karen had been promised soon became four, dragging on into the new year. When it finally came to an end, we found ourselves in the middle of a Sydney summer with plenty of time and money on our hands and not too much motivation to leave right away. Returning to Darwin to resume cycling was really not an option - from Karen's point of view - because the only avenue left for us to travel was down the much-feared west coast. Four months had done little to motivate Karen into reconsidering the west coast option. Obviously, a bit more time and another change of scene was needed, so we decided to go to Tasmania.
Karen and I had been to Tasmania before, spending three weeks there in the late eighties. Two of these three weeks involved a self-drive tour of the island in a rented, fully-equipped campervan. This was more than enough time to see all of the main tourist spots, with no place in Tasmania more than a day's drive from any other. Because of this earlier trip, a cycle tour of the island had never been part of our thinking when we originally decided to tour Australia.
The third week of our prior trip to Tasmania had been spent hiking the Overland Track, a rugged walking trail about eighty kilometres in length which stretches from Cradle Mountain to Lake St. Clair and takes in some of the most spectacular scenery that Australia has to offer. We had started the hike in the rain, climbing up into cloud as we tracked along the side of a completely invisible Cradle Mountain. We had eventually seen the mountain a day later, its distinctive shape a silhouette on the distant horizon behind us. One day - we promised ourselves - we would return to the Cradle Mountain area and spend a week or so exploring its many attractions.
One other major reason why Karen and I wanted to visit Tasmania was its birds. Many species exist no place else on earth, even on mainland Australia. Even a casual visit to the island would result in a few good ticks on the old birdlist. A more intense birdwatching effort would bump up our total of Australian species significantly.
Despite its lack of size, Tasmania packs more scenery, national parks, walking tracks, history, flora, fauna, and sheer natural beauty within its borders than any other state in Australia. Karen and I hoped to see as much of its wilderness areas as we could while we were there. Because we would be spending most of our time camped out in remote areas of national parks, far from the nearest road, we reasoned that the expense of a hire car would be wasted, and decided instead to travel the state by bus. The most economical deal we could find involved a forty day bus pass which combined normal highway routes with special wilderness drop-offs.
In total, we would spend six weeks in Tasmania.