My Sweetie Writes
Anecdotal Evidence Chapter 7
More in Oz
Your father and I learned many things about one another through traveling together that we would otherwise not have discovered for years.
For one thing, I did not know your father has a very thin upper lip. It surprised me that this mattered, but it did. Having matured early, he had worn a moustache since the tender age of fourteen, so I had never seen him without, either in person or in a photo post-puberty. He never made any mention of shaving it off, then one morning he returned from the campground bathhouse shorn of his moustache. He wore his hair in a stylish red mullet at the time. At first I did not pick up on what was different, but then...... he looked so mischievous without any facial hair! Like he was gonna play pranks from morning til night, and me his only companion! Given his penchant for twisted humor and repetitive jokes, it was an unsettling combination. I ungraciously said something unsupportive, and..... he never has shaved his moustache since. Never.
I, like many young women, had some strange dietary issues stemming from body image difficulties. I was bulimic in college, and had only recently learned to eat til full rather than overeating regularly. My issues led to some conflict for us, and to one of our best early compromises, a win-win solution that was the hallmark of most of our years together. I knew if I did not eat for a few hours I would feel faint and crabby. If I grazed all day, this difficulty was averted. Each night your father, ever the good cook, cheerfully made a three-course meal on a single burner, impressive and delicious, with prep time never less than an hour. My job was to set up camp, which took me 15 minutes max. So here we were, cycling for hours all day, and at the end I felt crazy with hunger. Ravenous, I knew that all I needed to do was eat to feel better.
Meanwhile your father was working his culinary magic. I did not want to "ruin my appetite." I wanted to show your father I appreciated his efforts, although I would have been happier gnawing on raw bones than smelling the impending delicacies unfed. Also, I did not want your father to know how much I ate, in fear that he might think I was fat, which at 150 pounds I was not. After a few evenings where I was less than civil, where I understood the term 'biting someone's head off' literally, your father tendered this diplomatic and delicious suggestion: we should try a chocolate bar every day while we were touring, and we could share it before dinner. There were many times I was glad your father was raised in a household of women, and I think this was the first. He often had a deeper understanding of my concerns and more options for solutions than I did in those early years. His kindness at the times when I felt really unlovable impressed me in a fundamental way. Even a decade later, if ever I became irritable, he would gently say, "Honey, do you need to eat something?" Almost always he was right.
Cycling was an unusual way to tour, especially in such a large, motorcentric country. Along the way we met other cyclists, one of whom was cycling the desert, where some signs of civilization were few and far between. We met other cyclists wearing cleats in a shop and agreed they sounded ridiculous. I thought their shoes so impractical as they were board-stiff and hard-plastic- slick, even though cleats made every pedal stroke more efficient. I was happy with my unplanned choice of high tops. Every day your father or I acquired a greasy chain ring mark on our right calf; we joked that we needed to get this tattooed on and save ourselves the trouble of daily application. In a day we could comfortably go the distance of whatever the highway signs recommended for the hourly speed. If it was 110 kph (70mph), that was a good distance, or if it was 50 kph (35mph) because of mountainous terrain, that was a reasonable day. Always your father could have gone farther, and sometimes we did, but I found it not so enjoyable.
Strangely, despite exercising for hours every day, I did not lose weight, only toned up a bit. This was a good thing to observe, as I was on chronic starvation diets during high school. Apparently I was destined to weigh 150 pounds, and I felt happy about my weight for the first time in my life. Feeling fit helped, too.
Your father and I settled into a rhythm. Every other night we stayed in a campground to access showers, and on the intervening nights we found various free spots: a sandy tropical beach with sunrise was one especially picturesque site. One night we happily bedded down in a banana plantation, which seemed romantic until the farmer shooed us off in the morning. We got a really early start that day. After a week exploring the jungle, we gained elevation from the coasts up to the Tablelands, an inland plateau where we cycled south for days. As we climbed I noted a major difference in our styles. Your father enjoyed the feeling of exertion; the more extreme, the better he felt. He challenged himself physically by standing on the pedals and pumping his bike uphill in midrange gears. I, on the other hand, felt that hills were why low gear was invented. Initially I thought walking the bike uphill might be easier. After a few experiments, I realized that lowest gear was actually less effort than walking a loaded bike up a hill. At the top of long hills, I preferred to relax and have a reward snack, savoring the fact that it was over for a while. Of course your father needed no rest, so exhilarated was he at the top, he was raring to go So, your father got a rest he did not want, and I got.... none because he had always been waiting too long.
(Eventually we solved this style difference, but not during the Oz trip. Years later we bought a racing tandem bicycle. I, always focused on equality, was initially frustrated trying to match your father's energetic input while cycling. After a while it dawned on me-- with your father’s peppy captaining, the pedals went round anyway, whether I pushed on them or not I discovered that I could put in only as much effort as I wanted to contribute, and after that I was a better travel companion. If he minded my lesser contribution, he graciously never said so. Another thing about riding tandem: it exaggerates a couple's communication style, for better and worse. As the stoker, the one in back, I had to hang in zero gravity as your father would not tell me which way to lean when we came upon a steering choice- this side of the post or that, for example. I had to have total trust, and was unable to assist with the steering. This was difficult for me, but it grew on me like a zen koan. Zero G!)
We pedaled past gigantic termite mounds, which seemed misplaced, right out of Africa. This was especially surreal as there had been a recent fire, so fresh we could smell it. Scorched earth and blackened trees silently surrounded these monolithic structures. Later we saw flocks of parakeets that maneuvered in unison, moving together as a responsive unit in flight when disturbed from a tree, expanding and contracting like an immense green and yellow amoeba. We saw magnificent sulfur crested cockatoos that the locals shot as nuisances, and gray-bodied rose-headed galahs, small cockatoos of indescribable beauty which seemed worth smuggling home. Your father and I discussed several plans but never attempted it.
On one steep incline, your father was frightened when an older car veered extremely close. I witnessed a hand reach out to him, pressing him closer to the steep drop-off on the far side. In the hand was a cold beer, freshly opened for easy access. Thankfully, your father stayed on the road as he politely declined the beer.
Midday on our last day on the Tablelands, we passed a logged stump impressively huge and red, set on earth that was a strikingly similar hue, and not unlike your father's ginger coloring. We snapped a photo. As we pressed on, the road got worse: packed red dirt instead of pavement, dusty. We, too, were dusted red, after a while. As we pedaled, heavy clouds gathered overhead. We were nowhere, so when the rain began we kept going. The road became muddy, and then slippery. It was a wonder neither of us went down. Your father, ever more intrepid than me, went ahead and out of sight on this dangerous surface. I went more slowly, grimly determined to keep my heavily laden bike upright. The slant of the road tipped more acutely downhill yet I got to trusting it more. I wanted to catch up with your father. I was a bit worried at being left behind in this dicey part of the journey. I felt a little miffed as well. I started going faster, though it rattled my nerves and I was cold and wet. Eventually my innate sense of amusement won out when the rain let up. I was sprayed with red mud, solid, an odd sensation. When I caught up with your father at the bottom, he was laughing at me only because he could not see himself. His front side was colored red excepting around his eyes, like the offensive blackface makeup of old, except in living rusty hue. We were so dirty, it was not possible to be any dirtier! The bottom of this miles-long hill found us at green fields at the sign announcing the name of the town; we could not go in looking like we did. We found a nearby stream and washed off enough to get to the park bathroom, changing our clothes so we were barely presentable. We soon found a bakery where we lacked for nothing. The fresh cinnamon rolls with hot tea could not have tasted better.
We cycled into Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane, where we caught an air-conditioned tour bus to the Center, loading our bikes into recycled heavy canvas mailbags we brought for this purpose. These bags doubled as padding under our tent every night. Our bikes safely stowed in the bus cargo hold, we headed overnight into the desert.
In the morning we awoke in a different bioregion, the terrain of an old favorite movie, Mad Max. There were road trains - huge semi-trucks three trailers long, with kangaroo/ cattle guards on the front like a locomotive. We saw colorful strip mines, dry river beds, and the very rare town. The main attraction of the Center is Ayers Rock, famous as a symbol of Australia. It rises red from the flat desert floor in a magical formation important to the Aboriginies. We were able to get to the less touristed Olgas, too, because we rented a 4-wheel drive rig. Your father was taken with the idea of seeing cycads, a type of fern-tree common when dinosaurs roamed, but now rare in the world. There was a stand of them not far from Ayers Rock. The ancient cycads were dramatic and foreign. Since we had the car for 24 hours, we stayed to watch the sunset from the rocky formation surrounding the grove. We saw the usual desert animals: lizards, snakes, spiders and insects. There were wallabies about, such cute animals. And as the sun went down, how well I recall an awe-inspiring moment of quiet desert beauty, a large kangaroo bounding around us.
We were surprisingly cold in the Center, the desert nights proving my homemade fleece blankets too thin, even for summer. Despite your father being a class-A snuggler, it was not enough. We purchased cheap wool blankets at a jumble shop the next day.
Your father and I caught a bus from the Center to South Australia. In Adelaide I experienced a proper "high tea," with clotted cream, delicate matching china, hot buttered scones and several kinds of jam. With your father off exploring, I was alone with my journal, in heaven. I vowed to find clotted cream when I returned to Seattle.