Countdown to Arrival: 2 Days
Time to psych myself up for another day of flying. Another day of hoping the plane goes up and down where it’s supposed to and when it’s supposed to and most definitely does not come down at any time or place that is not scheduled!
We made it through check-in at KL airport, although this time not so lucky with the excess baggage. I think our check-in man at Heathrow took pity on us, with the added weight of the bikes and didn’t charge us, but our nice girl at KL was a trainee, so obviously wanted to do things by the book. Oh well, our finances were certainly lighter after paying the excess baggage charge! Security was no drama and we were through, then we boarded and we were on our way. Despite having no leg room this time, leaving Steve pretty scrunched, it was a smooth, uneventful flight. There were no fire extinguishers, or cabin crew running hither and thither and a perfect landing was executed by our Irish captain, who brought the great metal bird down to kiss the ground lightly and bring us to a smooth and gentle standstill at our gate in the wee small hours of the morning. Melbourne. Australia. We were back in Oz.
Now we just had to get through the formalities, hope all the luggage arrived and then roll into bed to try and snatch a few hours sleep. First stop – Immigration…breezed through! Next stop – baggage collection…bikes arrived…bag one plonked onto the conveyor belt…bag two plonked on behind and hallelujah, everything that should be with us, was with us. Last stop – Customs…couldn’t have been easier, no questions, no checks, just straight on through. Then we emerged into the Australian morn, a balmy 23C at 2:30am, found our airport hotel, checked in and then hit the hay for some much needed shut eye, before we would need to check out again in a few short hours.
Countdown to Arrival: 1 Day
Those hours were few and short, but up we leapt, organised ourselves and returned to the airport for a bite to eat and to find a spot to put the bikes back together. We found a nook down the end of the terminal and Steve put his Lego and Meccano skills into action and began piecing together the bikes.
While Steve turned this, twisted that and reconnected those, I set about trying to get our phones to work so we could be back in touch with folk in Tassie. No luck. Something that should be as simple as putting our Australian SIM cards back in our phones, did not prove simple at all. Even the purchase of a new SIM card didn’t work. I tried, Steve tried, Steve got cranky, I caught the phone before it could be hurled by said cranky person and we resigned ourselves to owning phones that were having a problem reacclimatising to being back in Australia. The good news was, the bikes were successfully assembled and we were ready to ride the 35km into the city.
When we walked outside, two things struck me. The first was the heat! It was 39C and windy, that sort of dry heat that burns your nose when you breathe. The second thing was having to use a classic Australian gesture that I hadn’t had to use for a year…the Great Australian Salute. I was swatting my hand this way and that to flick away those pesky flies. Flies! I haven’t had to deal with flies for a year! Welcome home! We swung our legs onto our trusty steeds and we were off to make the ride from Tullamarine into St. KIlda.
The first thing we did, on our first ride at the beginning of this trip, in Portugal, was…to get lost. The first thing we did, on our first ride back in Australia, was…to get lost! We knew there was a bike route that would take us into the city, it was just a matter of finding how to get to it. With phones not working though, we couldn’t access maps, so we set off flying a little blind. We knew we couldn’t go on the freeway and we knew there were back roads to take us to the route we needed, but could we find the route? Nooooo! We went down a road, turned around and went back, u-turned, then u-turned again and basically faffed about for half an hour in the blazing heat, without actually making any progress. In the end, we sat on the side of the road, managed to get an iPad working and found a map to help us. Off we went in the direction the map told us to go. Down a road, underneath the freeway, along the road marked on the map to find…a gate…with a sign…PRIVATE PROPERTY. TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. Man-o-man, this is feeling so familiar! Haven’t we been here before!? Haven’t we become the grand masters of blocked roads, wrong ways and go back signs! This is becoming a perfect bookend to this trip! We were just wondering what to do, when a fella in an airport security car drove past and we asked him how we might get to the city. He hopped out of the car and began pointing and giving instructions with a smile and once again, it was a helpful, friendly person who had come to our aid.
We set off once again, having not yet actually left the airport precinct and followed our friendly man’s suggestions and lo and behold, we were on the right road! We pedalled along, with a bike path some of the way and eventually found ourselves on the original bike route that we’d been trying to find. Yay! We weren’t lost anymore, we were on track! We were actually literally on track, because it turned out we had a designated bike path all the rest of the way, all the way into the city and all the way to the ferry terminal. We rode beside the river and through bush and passed heaps of other cyclists.
We were both feeling the scorching heat, not being used to riding in an oven. Then something happened, something we probably should have foreseen…our superpowers kicked in and…it rained! Actually, it poured! It poured big, fat, pelting storm type rain that Melbourne does so well!
“Do you want to put on waterproofs or just ride?” asked Steve.
“Just ride,” I said. It was quite nice to feel the cool rain, after riding in the heat.
In a twinkling though, the temperature plummeted from 39C to 22C! If Melbourne had been wanting rain and a cool change, they had only to wait for our arrival! Those superpowers of ours and the effect we have on weather, had gone into action! We took our bows and our encores. No need to thank us Melbourne, no need for applause, it’s what superheroes are supposed to do, we’re just doing our job.
We continued on along the path, arriving at Station Pier in time to board the ferry. As we waited in line with the other vehicles, the bikes worked their magic again and people came up to talk to us. We met Nicki and Rob from South West Queensland who were moving to Tasmania to live. They were lovely and friendly and we chatted to them for quite some time. Then just as we were about to move along the line, another man stopped to ask us about the bikes and the trip, then when we were waiting to go on board, another touring cyclist joined us and we chatted to Judi about her travels so far and future travels through Tassie, New Zealand and Asia and we were reminded of what a splendid drawcard the bikes are, for meeting people. It’s the friendliest way to travel!
We finally made it on board, found our cabin, settled in and prepared to get some rest, ready for the final ride, the final leg, that will be the pedal home.
The Spirit of Tasmania surged and rocked and rolled its way across Bass Strait and brought us into dock in Devonport for our first landing on Tasmanian soil in almost a year. The bikes were ready and we wheeled our steeds off the ship, through the terminal and out into the glorious clear sky and SUNSHINE!!!! of a summer’s morn in Tassie. What a glorious day for a homecoming. The morning got better, because no sooner had we emerged from the ferry terminal, than someone I hadn’t seen for a year, appeared in front of us, beaming a smile and with arms outstretched…I looked and looked again…”I can’t believe you’re here!” I shouted and ran towards my friend Annette and we grabbed each other in a year’s worth of hug. She had been on her way to Launceston and called into the ferry in Devonport on her way and there we were! It was a most wonderful surprise and a very special welcome home. We did as much catching up as we could in the short time we had and then we were on our way.
Oh how the sun shone! The sky was clear and blue and we pedalled out on to the country roads heading for home. Tassie may not be known for its heat, but today was a hot one and we pedalled along thinking we were getting the weather we’d been hoping for, right as we were about to finish the trip! Home had given us the weather we’d been dreaming of! We could look across at the fields and the ocean and the blue hills and we were almost there. We had some hills to climb, but that just made a nice bookend to the trip that saw us climb many a hill and mountain in countries here and there!
We rounded the corner of our road, dry, sun baked earth and brown brittle grass surrounding us, but the tall, green eucalyptus still gave us an avenue to lead us home. We looked down our road and there, up ahead was our welcoming committee. My mum and dad and Steve’s parents too, standing in the road, waving flags, so we honked our horns and pedalled towards them.
The entrance to our driveway was complete with bunting and a ‘Welcome Home’ banner and the Aussie flag, all greeting us not just back home to Tassie, but back to our own little part of our island. We hit the brakes and then the hugs and reunions began in earnest. We had seen Steve’s mum and dad a few times on our trip, but I hadn’t seen my parents for the whole time we were away, so here we finally were, together again, plus our little dog Rosie and WE HAD MADE IT! After 7,125km of pedalling, up hills, along roads, down tracks, up mountains, through mud, in wind and rain, through storms and at times, every now and again, in sunshine…we had made it home again!
It must be time for a cup of tea! We sat outside in that beautiful blazing sun, talking about the last leg of our journey, chatting about this experience and that, catching up on local news and then, eventually, just being…just being together in each other’s company, home again, with family again. A magic day.
We took our time just getting reacquainted with our home surroundings, visiting our local area to see if things had changed (some things had) and then a wonderful surprise when my friend Louise rang me and it was so good to hear her voice and I could talk to her again, with my feet planted not so far from hers this time. We’ve been friends for more than 25 years, Lou and I, and have been through many momentous life experiences together, so to speak to her on my arrival home was another very special moment.
We spent the evening with our parents, sitting outside in the balmy night air, watching our local wallabies and potoroos, hop up to the grass in front of us, not a care that we were there. We listened to the kookaburras calling and laughing in their familiar voice and it all told us loudly and clearly…we were home.
Steve and I have had the most amazing, life changing, incredible, memorable, special, unbelievable adventure across Europe and now we were back home again, with the people we love and hold dear. Our bikes had pedalled us thousands of kilometres away and brought us home again. I’m so happy we did it. I’m happy we cycled over 7000km without illness or injury, and there was not a single day we couldn’t get up and ride to our next destination. I’m happy our bikes didn’t once let us down and always took us to where we needed to go, whatever the weather and whatever the terrain. I’m just so happy and grateful for this truly amazing experience. There have been too many highlights to name, most of them have been mentioned on this blog at one time or another, but I have learnt things, I’m always learning and this grand tour has given me a great many lessons. What have I learned…?
- Assumptions should be banished, abandoned and ignored forthwith. With the advice and opinions of others, or information we had read, floating in our heads, we sometimes went to places with an idea in mind of what we might experience or what a place might be like. Close to 100% of the time we were WRONG! Do not pre-judge a place. Do not take the experiences of others to be the experiences of all, or the one, true reality. There were some places we came close to skipping, but in the end we didn’t and we were so glad we didn’t because we loved them. The places that we hadn’t had any intention of spending time in, like The Netherlands, became our favourite place. We assumed, given its somewhat low profile, compared to other European countries, that there might not be much to see and do. WRONG! It was fantastic and a place to which we will definitely return. There were also places that we travelled to, expecting fabulous things and glorious sights and found ourselves very underwhelmed. We found the “celebrity” cities or locations often didn’t live up to the hype and we found the little, unheralded, tucked away locations often delivered so much more. The lesson…travel with an open mind, open eyes and open heart and abandon all preconceived notions and assumptions, they matter not a wit and are not even a teensy bit helpful. Build opinions and thoughts about places from the ground up, not on a foundation of the thoughts or opinions of others, even if those “others” have written travel guides and books!
- Just when you think “I can’t”, you manage to find a reserve of “I can” hidden away there in mind and body. Sometimes we continue on, with nothing but willpower to drive us and fuel our legs, lungs and spirit, but willpower can be an amazing energy source when those last reserves are tapped into.
- Hills can be hard. Hills can be tough, but it’s only riding up hills that gives us the spectacular views from the top. Hills are like a metaphor for the challenges of life. They’re hard, they can appear at a time when things already feel tough, they can take a long time to conquer, but it’s facing the challenge, keeping on going and overcoming that obstacle, that brings the greatest feeling of reward. If everything was easy, there wouldn’t be the reward. If all we did was ride along on flat paths every day, we’d never see the sweeping views, the rolling countryside, the beautiful valleys and dotted cottages, towns and villages nestled amongst the green hills below. If all we did in life was take the easy road, avoid the challenges, never try the hard stuff, we’d never get the prize. We’d never experience the things that can only come on the end of a tough challenge. Life’s gonna have hills. Power up them.
- Sometimes deviating from plans, and embracing the unexpected, is what gives us the best experiences. If we hadn’t said ‘yes’, to some unexpected events, we would never have experienced things like brunch on a houseboat on the Seine in Paris, all because a kind stranger invited us home to her boat. That’s how we met Laure. If we hadn’t deviated from our plans, we would never have discovered our favourite place on the trip, by riding around The Netherlands. Sometimes just winging it, is the best plan. Deviating from plans has been a big learning experience for me and full-immersion therapy. I like plans, I find comfort in plans. Plans, timetables, schedules and lists are my anxiety relievers and it’s the security of knowing what’s going to happen and when, that helps put a lid on my natural instinct towards worry and anxiety. Taking the plunge and stepping into the unknown, time and time again on this trip, has taught me that a change of plan or an adjustment to a schedule, can result in amazing things and fabulous experiences.
- Comfort zones are there to be stretched. My comfort zone has been stretched in so many ways (see above!) but from this, I’ve learnt, I can endure! I can suppress my germaphobic tendencies when confronted with spending time at Camp Dodgy and Camp Feral and various other less than optimal hygienic environments. I may squirm, I may pull faces, I may blow the budget on bulk supplies of antibacterial hand gel, but in the end, I will endure. I will cope. I can cope.
- Plants are the perfect food, the perfect fuel, to give us all the nutrients and energy we need for exercise and endurance. Plants are not deficient, they are not restrictive, there need be no concerns about “Where do you get your protein!?” Plant power fuelled us for thousands of kilometres
- Sometimes vegans can’t avoid eating an animal, when that animal is a bug travelling at high speed into an open cyclist’s mouth who is also travelling at speed! Offer a belated apology to the bug and move on.
…so much learned! So much still to learn…bring it on!
To all those who have been reading this blog and following our journey, I thank you sincerely for taking the trip with us, pedalling alongside us and being part of this adventure. It was always wonderful to know you were there, on the other side of these words, following along beside us.
I hope your own life’s journey is full of adventure, new experiences and amazing people. Embrace the unexpected…seek the unknown…and wherever your journey may take you, just remember to always…always…LOVE IT!