The infamous family two rooms down were pretty noisy and I was woken at 6 am. They were like the Joad family in the Grapes of Wrath, travelling a great distance in a beat up jalopy, with their worldly possessions precariously tied to the roof. Mr Joad said he was waiting on a mechanic and he was contemplating breaking a window as the keys were locked inside. He also told me of his pre-fatherhood cycling days - in velodromes and he'd completed the same journey as me. The speed and slang of his speech had an hillbilly quality to it and I couldn't get a word in edgeways. His mute wife, bore a Depression era, Time Magazine quality, looked haggard and drawn, framed in the doorway of their room, sitting on the bed. With so much open space to run about, their three tousled-blond tykes were having the time of their lives, chasing each other, knocking on everyone's doors and asking me loads of questions (which the younger two would repeat). Young boys look up to older boys and men with bikes as if they're superheros. It doesn't matter how a rider looks or how old they are; they worship anyone with a big bicycle who has the freedom to go further than them. I don't think the motel's 'Gem Restaurant' was an intentional play on words and was an honest nod to the area's abundance of precious stones (a big photo of an open cast mine took pride of place behind the counter). It took 20 minutes to rustle up a cooked breakfast, because the kitchen was about to close at 8 am. It had been open since 4.30, as this was when many of its customers (miners) started their day.
Took advantage of another 'driver reviver' stop, where, travelling with a family, a beautiful grey cat on a lead was mad keen on making a dash for freedom, much to the local bird population's anguish. Numerous signs along the highway asking trivial knowledge questions and mimicking kids on long-distance journeys : "Are we nearly there Dad?", etc. This is all about the Roads Department trying to keep drivers awake by entertaining them. The signs that told you to take a break if you felt sleepy might be counter productive by association though, or at least they seemed to have a soporific effect on me. There may well be a high incidence of crashes because people drive too far without stopping, as there are no towns for a long way, but the surroundings stimulated me at least. Again the views were good and, anyway, barren places are good places for thinking about stuff. Also, instead of spending money on signs and generally bending over backwards to be nice to motorists, how about attempting to tax them out of existence even further instead? The billions in revenue could be used to strengthen bus, train, tram, pedestrian and cycle transport instead - which in turn might shoehorn a few of the few remaining fatties out of their sardine tins. And how about this? Implanting motorists with pedometers so that they have to walk a certain distance for every litre of petrol they purchase.
I'm sure the monk would have agreed with me. Yes, I encountered a barefoot, Buddhist monk called Jason! His only travelling companions were a brown robe, a shoulder bag and a bottle of water. I couldn't help myself and had to pull over for a chat.
"Where are you going?"
"Townsville. And you?"
"Cairns. Where have you come from?"
"You beat me every time."
"Why are you doing it?"
"I'm homeless; I'm a traditional Buddhist."
"Don't your feet hurt?"
"Yes, but we have to overcome hardship in this life."
"Can I take your photo?"
"Are you going to put it on Facebook?"
"I don't have Facebook."
"Then you show some wisdom."
Somewhat crassly, I told him of my own monkly status when he asked why I was journeying by bike. I am on a sort of anti-car crusade and, ever so slightly, I also renounce worldly values - as long as I don't have to give up chocolate, sweets, alcohol, caffeine, sex, TV, internet... I would have prefered to have happened upon him on the Gold Coast, surrounded by those shrines to mammon.
The Bruce Highway joined the coast at Clearview. Admittedly it was drizzly and the tide was out, but I couldn't work out why hundreds of people chose to live/holiday here. The houses were lined up close together, there were no amenities and the beach shelved so gently that you couldn't see the ocean and swimming would require a mile walk. There had also been a plethora of signs for the 30 kms leading to an ice cream shop. When travelling two hundred miles by bicycle between McDonalds', how could my taste buds resist such a build up? I was given a taste of the blue one and it wasn't up to much; but why oh why did I then opt for two scoops (strawberry/lychee & ginger) without sampling them? The teenage girl who served me was ripe for exploitation and would have let me try the lot! The $6 ice cream was watery and flavourless. It's just another hardship to overcome I guess. The even younger girls in the jewellery shop next door, as sparkly and captivating as the crystals on show, were a joy to engage with. "How was your Easter?" was their opening gambit, but that was out of sheer friendliness rather than a sales pitch. They answered all my questions about opals, even though they knew I wasn't going to buy any.
As dusk approached, the scent of cloves wafted on the drizzly breeze and, as is the case when the sun goes down, insects took to the air. At this time I ride with head down, mouth shut and continue to wear sunglasses for as long as it's safe to do so. They still bombard me, buzz in my earholes and wriggle in my sweat, but reduce when it's properly dark. I could do with a pair of goggles or even a motorbike helmet for this period. Being a monk, I try not to kill any on purpose. At least I don't murder anything larger, like kangaroos, of which I saw many corpses today. One freshly deceased adult lay at the edge of the road with its forearms still cutely perpendicular from the body and taloned fingers hanging down, as they are in life. Droves of flies buzzed about the open, festering wound where the head used to be. Now you may find my description gratuitously sick, but I say it is not as sick as the vehicle that murdered it, which was probably, like all the others, travelling at 60, 70, 80 mph. If I had my way no one would be allowed to drive at such speeds. With today's technology it would be possible to electronically impede traffic so that, for example, 20 mph would be the upper limit in urban areas and 40 elsewhere. It is my belief that across the globe, hundreds of thousands of human lives, as well as animals, would be saved every year. But who gives a damn? As Jeremy Clarkson might say.
I should have kept to my original plan of stopping in Carmila. I'd done 80 miles, yet I felt fresh as a daisy and it was only 4.30. There was no wi fi to be had at the pub or motel either, so I continued north (bypassing Ilbilbie, which housed a motel not worth the $120 tarrif a man who cleaned it told me) to Sarina, a real town, albeit a horrible one. Still no internet at any of its accommodation (one place charged $140!) but it was 7.45, raining and I'd ridden 121 miles. The cheapest room (that wasn't above a pub) cost $95 for grey-painted bricks and no decor. I could have stayed in Carmila for $30, or I could have had dinner here and then cycled the remaining 20 miles to Mackay, where I'm sure the host there wouldn't have minded my arriving a day early. I found a couple of good films on TV - A Day in the Life of Joe Egg and a Marty Feldman one from the 70s.
Today being the longest ride, here's a list of what I ate :
Approx. 6 rashers bacon
2 slices toast
4 large tomatoes
2 large bananas
Approx. 150g chocolate
Approx. 150g sweets
Large chicken, salad, mayo roll
1 medium size pizza (cheese, tomato, chicken, anchovy. onion, capsicum - pepper)
And I'm still losing weight!