“Please step aside. We need more information about your visit.”
The request was pleasant enough, but I was still worried. Nobody likes to be stopped at immigration.
“Have you been to Australia before?” “Yes, for three months back in 2012,” I replied, trying to sound cool and casual.
“Are you working in Australia? “No, of course not. Just cycling. It’s a big country. We went down the west coast, now we’re going back up the east coast–heading to Cairns, then on to Japan.”
“I see. I’ll let you in this time, but remember this is a tourist visa. You’re not meant to be entering and exiting Australia on multiple trips. An there’s absolutely No working.”
One hurdle down. Now we just had to clear customs. The Australians, like the New Zealanders, have strict rules about what can be brought into their country. They’ve got a reputation for being strict on cyclists. Any signs of dirt on the bikes and they’re sent for thorough inspection.
“Are those mountain bikes?”
“No, they’re touring bikes.”
“Any dirt, soil or plant products?”
“They’re clean, sir, very clean. We know the rules.”
“Alright, go on through,” and with that we were set free in Australia, without even a cursory inspection of the bikes.
It was late and I’m married to a cheapskate. And you know what that means. We spent the night at the airport.
Lucky for us, we’d discovered sleepinginairports.net. Apparently there are thousands of freeloaders like us worldwide. People who don’t want to pay for a taxi or a hotel room and prefer to sleep at the airport. The site is chock full of reviews of the best nooks and crannies to curl up in to catch a little shut eye.
We found a 4 star review by Annabella Rose suggesting we head to the Virgin domestic terminal and down the escalator to the Krispy Kreme outlet. We were promised a relatively quiet spot with no announcements and a long comfortable couch seating three.
When we arrived, there were easily 50 people snoozing in the environs. Obviously, we were not the only ones to consult the sleepinginairports.net site. Within minutes, we had the mattresses set up and make shift tarp draped over the bike boxes. It was actually kind of cosy.
By 5 AM workers in smart uniforms were trudging down the corridor. Under his breath one of them muttered, “These goddamn backpackers are going too far, they’ve set up a bloody tent.” We quickly broke camp and shuffled outside to assemble the bikes and ride into Melbourne. Glenroy, actually. A nondescript suburb.
Life on the road wears you down. It’s not so much the physical aspect of cranking the pedals–that you learn to deal with fairly quickly. What’s exhausting is the constant change of people and scenery.
In my perfect world, I’d cycle nine months a year, and take three off. I know, that probably sounds self-indulgent. Perhaps even lazy.
But that’s the truth. You need time off the bikes to rekindle a love of touring. Otherwise it can become monotony and routine.
Glenroy turned out to be a good spot for some down time. It’s boring, which suited us perfectly. Our Warm Showers hosts couldn’t have been better. Peter and Maggie are laidback and easy going. They didn’t mind that I made a massive mess in the kitchen. (As long as something tasty came of it!) We could be just who we are, no need to impress or share tales of adventure. Best of all, there was Zeus, the family bulldog. Zeus and I went walking every evening. Life felt pretty normal. The routine was comforting.
The End of Ease
We might have stayed longer (Peter and Maggie permitting), but Cairns was calling. We’d booked a flight to Japan in June and there were still many kilometers to cover up the east coast to Queensland. To be honest, it was tough to get back on the bikes. We even had a false start. We set off one morning, biked about 5 kilometers and came back. Peter and Maggie didn’t mind. I baked a loaf of bread , took Zeus out for a walk, fixed some enchiladas and we said goodbye again the following day. That time we really left.
There are several hundred hills separating Melbourne from Sydney. After New Zealand, you’d have thought we’d be used to climbs. Not so. I doubt I’ll ever embrace the lung-bursting, thigh-burning pain and suffering of successive hills. Give me a nice 4,000 meter pass to conquer! Now, that’s fun.
There was one fairly flat stretch out of the last 800 kilometers: The East Gippsland Rail Trail! That was fun. Rolling through the red gum forest we trundled across timber bridges as we made our way across the Snowy River floodplain. Late in the evening we even caught sight of some wallabies (or were they kangaroos?) hopping across the trail. Even though it was Easter weekend, the trail was blessedly deserted.
The camping couldn’t have been better. We set up the tent in a wide clearing and settled in for the night as the chirping of the birds morphed into the screeching of insects. Pure bliss. If only the rail trail stretched all the way to Sydney and we didn’t have to veer back on to the Princess Highway.
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