Monday, March 31, 2014

A Little White Lie Never Hurts Anyone…….

“So you’re Delta, what level Delta?” The man at the bag drop-off asked me as I put my Buxum bike box on the belt.

I'm getting to be a pro at dismounting the bike and building it up again.

I was totally caught off guard, but I needed to think fast.  Here I had jotted down my American Airlines Frequent Flyer number on my hand thinking Virgin Australia was part of their flying allegiance and I would need my number to get credit for my miles.  But Virgin was Delta and I had already entered my Skymile number when I made the reservation online.

What level was I?  What was Delta’s system anyway,….Gold, silver, and bronze, or was it the premium, elite, medallion sort of titles.  I couldn’t remember.  All I knew is that I’ve never had a high ranking status in any airline mileage program, except for with United, the year I flew back and forth between Spain and the states about 5 times the same year.  But, if I said I was “gold,” status, I would get both bags checked for free, even the bike!  Quickly I answered “gold”, I didn’t say it with much confidence obviously because the attendant behind the counter quickly responded, “Are you sure you’re gold?”  So this time I was much more confident and said “Yes,…I get my bags checked for free, right?”  “Yeah,” he answered, without thinking twice. To look like I really knew what I was talking about I said, “So do you have a lounge here?”  “Yep, right before the security check-in!” he replied once again. With a big smile on my face I walked my bike in it’s nice shiny Buxum bike box case over to the oversize luggage check-in belt and was on my way.

Luggage, which cost me 60 dollars each to check in on the last flight I made with Virgin Australia, went free this time! Unfortunately, I had purchased my ticket on Priceline rather than their homepage directly and I didn’t read the disclaimer that the luggage wasn’t included in that really low fare.  Therefore, I got slapped with a hefty extra luggage fee when I got to the baggage drop-off counter in Wellington, when I flew into Melbourne the first time. Just to remind you, 120 dollars is about a week’s budget on my trip. This time at the airport, I was prepared to suck up the cost.  I had There was no one in line at the domestic counter at the Virgin Australia check-in desk and I had my choice of being attended by a man  or a woman attendant.  I chose the man, following the theory that has proven to be true down under….that these Aussie men are genuine gentlemen and have take extra good care of me!  Mr. Gogos, whose name I quickly tried to pick-up after he checked the bags through as a Delta Gold Skymile customer had just made me one ecstatic frequent flyer.  It never occurred to me to tell a little white lie, but he’d set me up perfectly.  Was it really going to hurt anyone? After all, it is Qantas that is struggling here in Australia, not Virgin!  I knew I was going to have a good trip over to Tasmania after my check-in experience at the airport.  

Mikey, Melissa, Marcos, and Jamie at Lupino in Melbourne
The last time I saw Marcos the chef, he was trying to warm up after a brutally cold climb in the Pyrenees

Actually, my streak of good luck all started before I arrived at the Melbourne airport.   Earlier that day, I found out I had been accepted into the 2014 New York City Marathon on November 2nd. It had been a dream of mine since I qualified a few years back in Paris and it was also the perfect way to finish off my trip and see my friends and family out east in the States.  Just after that news, a Thomson Bike Tour client had taken me to a neat old cafe in North Melbourne and then dropped me off at the airport, making the logistics of traveling with a bike much easier.  And the night before that, I had the opportunity to meet up with some other Thomson Bike Tour clients, who were on the same trip as Stu and Spud who I'd also managed to see in Australia.  Marcos was an Italian Aussie who had told me all about his restaurant Lupino in Melbourne and I finally got to eat there 2 years later with Mikey and Jamie, clients from the same group as well!

Jesse, Nerida, and two of their boys with a Tapas dinner awaiting. I love when my hosts let me take over their kitchen 
By the time I arrived in Hobart that evening, I was already on cloud nine!  And the good times continued to roll as I met a high school friend, Jesse Warburg, who I hadn’t seen for a good 15 years.  Since then, he’d married an Australian, Nerida, settled down in Hobart, and they'd just just had his third child.  His kids are the age of my sister's children, so I felt quite comfortable and familiar around them. His life and mine was radically different from the last time we’d seen each other, but it seemed as though we’d never lost contact.  Again, having a wonderful guide in a city makes a huge difference, and I once again found myself saying, “I could easily live here!”  Jesse and Nerida live with their 3 boys about 2,5 kilometers from the city center.  I hesitate to say city because although Hobart is a capital city, there are only about 200,000 inhabitants. Life in Hobart is peaceful!  There is a great public transportation system and cycle paths all throughout town.  The city is clean and lively, has a farmers market on the weekend, and rush hour traffic is pretty much non-existent.  They ride their bikes everywhere around town, including to school in the morning. In fact, they have an electric bike because they live a few kilometers up Mt. Wellington, the largest peak in the area.  From the front windows of their house you can see heaps of cyclists climbing and descending the mountain, out for a good ride.  If I lived here, I’d be doing that ride a handful of times a week!  From what I've seen so far, I don't think I'll have many flat stretches of road in Tasmania.....who told me this country was flat?!?

The Warburgs are a cycling family
In my two days here we’ve been to the farmer’s market, explored downtown, made an attempt to climb Mt. Wellington, which isn’t easy with a kid bike trailer on the back of a bike, even if it is an electric bike!  I visited Eamon’s primary school, their eldest son’s school, and gotten some useful riding information from Thomson Bike Tour clients who are natives to the area.  You could argue that Karma would eventually catch-up with me for lying, but it already did day 2 in Hobart.  While cycling with Jesse and the boys, one lost control on their bike and I went tumbling over them with my camera in my hand and it broke completely.  Luckily, I had a complete warranty, and the following day I had a new camera, the newer model in fact, in my hand.  Let's hope that was my only payback for the little white lie.

Eamon with his special guest Ms. Melissa at South Hobart Primary School

Down the road from the Warburg's, a famous brewery...can't wait for my post-ride beers
Tomorrow I set off on my tour of Tas, heading west first through the desolate and remote wilderness. I’ve got a week of riding before I make it up north to a more populated area.  I cycle across the north and then down the east coast and back into Hobart towards the end of the month.  Tasmania was the one Australian destination I wanted to cycle.  In fact, at one point in my route planning, it was the only place I was going to stop in this enormous continent.  Obviously those plans changed, and as I’ve stated before, without even stepping foot on Tasmania, I already love this vast and diverse country.  I have high expectations for Tasmania, and I know I won’t be disappointed, although my legs might get tired from all the climbing.  So here I go, let the good times roll!

The view from Mt. Wellington, Hobart and the bay

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Never Say Never

Pebbly Beach, New South Wales

Between my first and second year in college I went with my Mom to visit my sister in Barcelona, who was studying abroad. It was my first trip overseas and I loved it. The three of us traveled around Spain, France, Italy, and Switzerland for a little over a month. I vividly remember being on the tourist bus with my Mom in Barcelona close to the main drag Avenida Diagonal with Muntaner Street saying, I could never live in Barcelona. It seemed like too big of a city for me,…too many people, and too much stimulation. Never say never because 4 years later, ironically on August 23, 2002, I went to Barcelona on a year scholarship and never returned home! Ironically that very area where I was on the bus became my new neighborhood. I spent 10 years in Barcelona, a place that I said I would never live.

This memory came to my mind today as I had another wonderful day cycling in Australia. I can’t seem to get enough of this country. Although the terrain is challenging and the roads aren’t ideal for cycling (ie awful drivers), there is plenty about this country that has won me over, and yet, this was the one destination that I wasn’t too incredibly excited about when planning my trip. I threw Australia into my route because it’s New Zealand’s neighbor, plus I had friends I wanted to visit down under. After all, you can’t travel to New Zealand and not go to Australia, especially after making it halfway around the world on bike. But Australia, in my mind, was flat and dry, filled with tumbleweed-like thorn bushes with kangaroos jumping around and snakes slithering on the plains.
Watson Bay, Sydney
I don’t know where I came up with my mental image of Australia, but for a country I had little or no prior expectations, it has blown me away! First of all, the landscapes are diverse and stunning and I’ve only begun to skim the surface. Yes, The Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles were remarkable, but the Victorian Alps were pretty incredible peaks as well at the Blue Mountains. They aren’t the type of mountains you find in Europe or Oregon, with snow-capped peaks all year round, but they are tall enough to make for picturesque scenery and challenging to ride. Then there are the Australian beaches, again, a landscape that completely took me by surprise! In Catalunya they have a “Costa Brava” or a “Wild Coast,” but that is nothing in comparison to Australia’s coastline. There is cove after cove and inlets galore here, making for a surfer’s paradise, and all sorts of peninsulas perfect for sea kayaking. The ocean is crystal clear turquoise in many places and the sand varies from white to golden orange, but the surf here is powerful and truly wild.

Cows, cows, and more cows!

Australia also has plenty of countryside and that is my favorite scenery. It is vast, rolling, and peaceful. I’ve been lucky to see it after the first rain of the season and the colors are lush and alive, a contrast with the bright blue sky above filled with puffy brilliantly white clouds. A few Aussies warned me that the last 300 to 400 kilometers along the Princes Highway heading towards Melbourne has “nothing”. However, their definition of “nothing” is definitely something for me! I drool over this scenery! It gives me a sense of tranquility and contentment I haven’t found elsewhere.

New South Wales countryside

Overlooking the Geerigong Bay, New South Wales

Like I said, my mental image of this country was flat, flat, flat. I blame the Thomson Bike Tour clients for that prejudice. They are always looking for sympathy when they come to Europe and let us know that they haven’t been able to properly train for our tours because they don’t have any worthwhile climbs in Australia. I won’t believe their sob stories anymore; I have found nothing but hills over here from little 4% gradients to huge 18% that make riding tough! Ever since I arrived down under, my GPS on average hits over 1,400 meters of climbing every day, some days have reached as high as 2,000. I didn’t have this many consecutive days of climbing since Northern Vietnam and Laos, not even in New Zealand. I’m hoping after all the hills I’ve had on the coast, Tasmania, will feel flat (although I’m sure that is wishful thinking on my part).
Graham posing for the photo at the rest area
The people I’ve encountered also make this place special. How can you not have a good day when everyone calls you “Luv”. “G’Day, Luv!” “You’re looking good Luv” “No worries, Luv!” They even have this odd custom of telling you a price and what you owe at a checkout stand and add a “thank you” to it before you even hand them the money. But since they stick Luv on the end of it, it makes me smile. People have gone out of their way to take care of me, treat me, and make sure that I am happy. In fact, I went for about 3 weeks here in Australia, without spending more than 20 dollars because everyone was so kind and generous and wanted to treat me. That, or I must have looked like a pretty sorry story on my bike! For instance, when I was out with Clint, he asked me what I wanted for dinner, anything!!….Any craving I had to start my big ride the next day and he was treating (for the second day in a row)! The Faulkners never once let me get out my wallet, nor did their friends, and my hosts have been absolutely phenomenal!

Which brings me to another thing I like here….The Aussie men! Wow, wow, and wow!!! I’ve never met such sincere, friendly gentlemen. From young to old, the men here are delightful! Kersti and Stu’s sons were so well mannered and polite, helping me with my bike and treating me like a nice young lady. A few days ago I met Graham, the caretaker at a rest area. He had a great sense of humor for a 68-year-old man. We got to talking and before I knew it an hour had gone by, Here, I had only needed to make a quick bathroom stop. In the end he told me he needed to run because his wife was at home and was waiting for him for mad sex. What a laugh! I insisted on taking his picture, which is when he told me “You’ll steal my soul, Melissa!” The guys I encountered in SE Asia were bold, blunt, and relentless. After asking if I was alone, married or with kids, they basically asked me to stay with them. Indeed it was flattering and quite comical, but here, the Aussies I have met that are my age, are much more subtle in their ways; true gentlemen and ever so enjoyable to get to know. My most recent dating experience comes from Catalan men, who for some reason are scared by such an active and self-sufficient woman, or at least that is my theory. But the Australian men seem to welcome with open arms a lady who is outdoorsy, active, and can stand on her own, not needy of a man. Finally, finally finally!!!

Lastly, a country doesn’t make top on my list of places to cycle if the food isn’t up to par, but again, Australian cuisine has surpassed my expectations. Australia is the land of “foodies”, especially in the big cities like Melbourne and Sydney. I thought I was back in SE Asia in Melbourne when I visited a night market with my hosts in Melbourne. There was everything from Spanish Paella, Chinese dim sum, to curries, and laksa. The ethnic cuisine, because of the cultural diversity here, is unbelievable! In Sydney you can find any sort of Asian food you can imagine in Chinatown, not to mention Australia is filled with a huge Greek and Italian population and likewise their restaurants. I’ve even tried Australian beef and kangaroo meat, which is really quite flavorful! I’ve tried the Australian pies, which are ok, but their sweet treats are to die for, as well as the coffee! It took me about a week to sample all the different types of coffee and the way of preparing it until I finally settled on my preferred coffee drink. The seasonal fruit has again become my “go-to snack on the road and grapes are becoming my new obsession, similar to jackfruit in SE Asia!

Here I am forming my opinion about Australia before I even set off to Tasmania which is suppose to be the gem of Australia. I think so highly of this country beforehand, I can’t imagine how I’ll feel at the end of my three weeks over there. So you see, you should never say never, because you just don’t know how that is going to come back to get you.

Australia is a place I was never really was dying to explore, yet it has captured my heart and soul (like Graham stated). I can only imagine that if I spent 10 years in Barcelona after saying I would NEVER

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Even if I went up the wrong hill, the sunset at the top was well worth the wrong turn.....
“So if I don’t make it to your place in like an hour, Sam, send the cops out.” I said laughing as I rolled away.  I had just met Sam at McDonalds having a quick snack in Merimula.  My intention was to make a quick stop at “Macca’s” as the Aussies say, check my email, while enjoying a 30 cent ice cream cone and then head on my way to a campsite on the beach 5 kilometers south.  Wouldn’t you know the ice cream machine was broken, so I settled for a small fry, the second cheapest item on the menu, and sat down outside trying to log on to the free wifi hotspot.  I was trying to get the wireless connection to work when Sam, sitting at the table across from me asked if I was looking for the youth hostel in town.  I told him I was planning on camping just south at Pambula beach.  He invited himself over to my table to finish his meal and we got talking.  I told him the usual, where I was from, where I was going, what I thought of Australia,…the roads, and I asked him the typical question, “So what do you do around here?”

He prefaced his answer by asking if I was some sort of naturalist….I told him no, curious to see what he proceeded to tell me.  “I’m a whale boner!” he stated.  Now that was something I had never heard of and naturally I wanted to know more.  He started explaining to me what a whale boner does and how they go about getting rid of dead whales.  I was fascinated and he could see my eyes getting bigger and bigger.  He told me there were only 6 of them in the whole world, which made me feel pretty special!  Here I was at McDonalds in Merimbula having fries with one of the six whale boners in the whole world, boy was I special!  Just when he reached the climax of the explanation he could see I was hooked, and said “I’m no good at this lying thing!  I can’t do it anymore, you are really falling for it!” 

Ha! As most of you know, I’m the most gullible person out there and I had completely fallen for his story.  Truth is, there are only about 6 in the whole world, but Sam was a mechanical engineer, an ex-pro Australian Football player and now lived in Pembula, close to where he was born and raised.  He’d just been out running up a huge hill that I had also cycled and was stopping for some “power food” as he called it.  He followed his crazy story, with a “crazy invitation” as he put it.  But as you all know, nothing now is really crazy, I’ve heard it all by now on my trip.  He offered me a place to sleep for the night at his house, so I accepted.  Ironically I had already turned down another invitation to camp at a stranger’s house just 15 kilometers earlier, but I wanted to make it to the beach. Sam seemed like a nice enough guy, carefree, talkative, a knowledgeable local,….so of course, I took him up on him offer. 
You don't see this street name every day, another reason to stop on my way to Sam's house

Sam drew me a little map to his house and I got on my way.  He lived about 8 kilometers away, 20 minutes top on bike, that is why I sarcastically said if I’m not there in an hour send the cops. I’d come to a round-about, then a junction, make a right and just when I was out of breathe and dying up a climb, I’d see his street.  First I came to the roundabout in Pambula, made a right and started climbing up a steep hill.  I stopped, to take a picture on my way up, coming across  an “Oregon Street” on the right and a beautiful sunset in the distance.  Then I continued to climb.  It was a tough hill.  I saw a few streets on the right, but not his.  At the top, there was another, but it was on the left.  Hhhmmmm, no Mt. Durragh Street.  So I went down the hill a bit,… street!  I turned around and went back up at which point I got out my GPS.  I don’t know if it was because I was tired, weary, or just plain dumb, but I located his street on the GPS, but couldn’t figure out how to get there.  I pulled off on the first street I came to and knocked at a house.  By now it had gotten dark, sound familiar? An hour had easily passed and I was getting worried that Sam would be worried.  The people who lived there were having a grand old evening drinking wine and dining, and I felt awful interrupting.  However, they steered me in the right direction and had a good laugh at my random pop-in.

I set off again, cycling back the way I had come to the intersection I had missed and up another big hill.  This is when I saw Sam again, who had set off to look for me in his car.  Here it was, an hour later and I finally arrived.  What a laugh we had had.  I got settled, took a shower, met his roommate, and finished eating the rest of my dinner I had bought previously at the super market.  I asked Sam about the kangaroos down on Pambula beach I had heard about and he said, “Let’s go, we’ll go find them!”

Kangaroos galore!

Sam had a small red sports car. I reckon it’s the first time I’ve been in a sports car before, I felt like pretty hot stuff, even though I was sporting my same old cycling attire!  On our way to the beach we came across heaps of kangaroos.  Like dear in North America, they are out grazing on people’s lawns at night.  People in the area never have to mow their lawns Sam stated because of the kangaroos.  They are so tame, they usually don’t move when a car comes near which explains the multitude of kangaroo road kill that I have been seeing alongside the road.  Before tonight, I could say I had seen more dead kangaroos than live, but after my VIP kangaroo tour with Sam, that all changed.  After the kangaroos, we made our way down to the beach.  And although I had been ohhhing and awwing galore with the kangaroos, Sam told me I was about to see the coolest thing I’d ever witnessed in my life.  What could it be?  Clint had just brought me to see the moonrise the other night and Sydney’s bays at night, I had seen kangaroos feeding on a beach a few days after, and I’ve been to far off exotic places in this world.  What could be more fascinating that that?

Magic, it looks like total blackness, but I promise it was spectacular, click here to listen to the video.....

We walked down to the beach where a river met the ocean and went inland.  We walked along the shore of the river and all of a sudden Sam started running and in the sand his feet lit up.  He splashed the water and millions of little lights were in each splash.  There were fish in the water and he’d kick up the water and scare them and all the little lights would flicker.  Your feet imprints stayed illuminated as you stepped in the sand, even the curl of the mini waves would light up.  It was fascinating.  There were tiny little phosphorus microbes in the water, millions of them everywhere.  Some inside fish, others just in the water, glowing and sparkling like magic.  I was blown away!  We walked further along the shore playing in the water with out feet, over rocks and upstream.  All of a sudden we heard a blowing sound, like water out a spout, and sure enough we could just make out the outline of a dolphin arcing out of the water, swimming up stream to feed.  The dolphin scared all the fish, so they jumped and scurried out of the way, again completely lit up, enhancing this phenomenon I was experiencing.  Granted it was completely black and the phosphorus was glowing bright light, I took picture after picture, trying all the different settings on my camera, but not a single one of them turned out.  I even shot videos, and the only thing you can see or hear is our conversation and us laughing.  Sam has got a great sense of humor and is a wonderful story teller.  He kept me laughing and smiling the whole night, taking advantage of the fact I fell for almost anything he said- yes, I’m that gullible!

The only evidence I have we were actually on the beach!

Sam, was a sweetheart.  At the end of our little expedition in the friendliest and funniest voice, he stopped, put out his cheek and asked for a kiss, telling me that seeing the phosphorus wasn’t free! Had these words come from some other guy trying to pull a fast one, he wouldn’t have been so lucky.  But hey, Sam was worthy of a little kiss on the cheek! He made me laugh.  What a memorable quote at the end of a totally magical (and definitely random) night.  I don't have any photos to show for it, nothing but what is in my head, a wonderful memory for a special evening! You see, tonight, or today rather, is a very special day for me on my trip.  The 23rd of March marks the halfway point on my loong way home.  Seven month ago today, I left Barcelona heading to Eugene, Oregon.  I wanted to do something special to celebrate, in fact, I wanted to make it down to the beach to write in the sand to document this day, but as this trip has showed me, sometimes you never know what is up just ahead of you or in store for your on the road.  The life of a tour cyclist is always filed with surprises!  Just shy of 7 months from now, if all goes as planned (ie. I don’t meet anymore Sam’s who sweep me off my feet with phosphorus microbes) I will roll up to 2460 Pioneer Pike in Eugene, Oregon on my 35th birthday.  I can’t even begin to fathom the experiences that lie ahead of me between here, Pambula, and Eugene, Oregon

Here's my official treat for the 7 month anniversary! Last cafe for the next 110 km.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A String of Delightful Company

We made it! A long hard climb up the Stelvio with Frank Gamboso in September 2013

“Awwww!!! Oooohhhh!!! Ahhhhh!!!  Oh my gosh!!!”

“Mel, I’m going to have a hard time explaining to my wife who this young lady is, riding next to me in all my videos!  It doesn’t look good, especially with all your sound effects.” Frank admitted politely as we were climbing up the Stelvio pass. This was the last of our grueling climbs on the Thomson Bike Tour Trans-Dolomite trip back in September.  The climb started about 15 kilometers into the route and involved pedaling up some 48 switchbacks, gaining almost 2000 meters.  With snow flurries in the air, we were sweating heavily and cranking on the pedals, lucky to hit 8 kph.  It took us close to 3 hours to do the climb.  When we arrived, we did a quick photo at the top in the frigid air, celebrating our arrival, and entered the bar immediately for our well deserved hot chocolate and apple strudel (make that plural)! 

Frank was one of the many crazy clients on the Trans Dolomite trip, who come to "suffer" and experience some of Europe's finest mountains in northern Italy.  For me, it was the last of the ride leading I did for my Thomson Bike Tour trips during the 2013 season.  I had cycled from Barcelona to Venice, where I met the crew.  We spent a week climbing all the major mountain passes in the Dolomites from the Stelvio to Gavia and Motirolo.  It’s hard to believe, but you get to know people pretty well when you spend all day with them on the road, riding.  

6 months later, we meet again in Australia to ride from Wollongong to Gerrigong
Today, six months later after the ohhing and awing in Italy, we ment again in Wollongong and he and Toni were my ride leaders for the first 50 kilometers of my route. Frank had been following my trip and contacted me to meet up upon arriving to the Sydney area.   Frank and Toni are just some of the many delightful people I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying during my last three weeks in Australia.

In fact, ever since I arrived in Australia, I’ve been accompanied.  People have come and gone from my travels and it’s made for a lot of memorable moments in this immense country that I’ve become quite fond of.  First I had my parent’s company, which fulfilled a long time dream of theirs to travel to Australia and New Zealand once they retired.  After they left me off in Melbourne, I stayed with a young Australian tour cycling couple I had met randomly on the road in Albania.  Just outside of Shkodër, Albania after a rainstorm had passed early in the morning, Matt and Kate were headed off to Montenegro, exactly where I had come from the day before.  They were making their way to Morocco, so I gave them a few pointers from my route and set them up with some contacts in Barcelona.  They invited me to Melbourne, which at that moment felt like a far off destination on my itinerary.  But sure enough, four months later I arrived to their city. They’d finished their tour around Christmas time and it seemed hard to believe that they were settled back in their normal life.  Here I was still pedaling on my route, only 12,000 kilometers later.  Matt and Kate are an incredibly active and fun couple, so I felt right at home.  They took me up to Northern Victoria and spent the weekend cycling while I did the big bike race with my friends.  I said good-bye to them and headed up to Mudgee with Stu, Kersti, and family. 

As you know by now, I had met Stu on a Thomson Bike Tour, another memorable client.  We’d developed quite a good relationship in our week of riding with The Tour de France and it was neat to be able to see his “normal” life and spend time with his family. Although I live on my own abroad, I’m a big family girl and appreciate being “apoted” by other families once in awhile.  I had a lot of deja veux moments with their kids playing games outside and always being active.  It reminded me so of my upbringing with my 4 siblings, always outside playing until we were forced to go inside and eat dinner.  I joined in the Faulkner’s daily routines: cooking, working on the farm, and running errands- A delightful visit! 

The "Get Belted" team departing Pepper Tree Farm

From the Faulkner’s I headed off to Sydney and pedaled to a little town of Wallerawang, the first night.  I had two warm showers hosts awaiting me, Bike Friday enthusiasts.  Bike Friday is an unusual small foldable bike that is designed and made in Eugene, Oregon, my hometown.  Therefore, I had an automatic connection with Bronwyn and Dave, who had me at their house for the night.  The next morning Bronwyn’s parents, who are in their late seventies, accompanied me for a good 30 kilometers along my route to Sydney to show me the back roads, something I would have never managed on my own.  For my lunch stop, I ran into a Uruguayan Australian who invited me to coffee and I had a nice conversation with him in Spanish.

When I grow up I want to be like Gerry and Clyve, still tour cycling strong in their 70's

I continued pedaling on to Castle Hill, a suburb of Sydney.  I had a long day with a thunderstorm chasing me the entire way.  Although the majority of the ride was downhill, I cycled 90 kilometers without stopping trying to avoid the rain.  Needless to say, I was famished when I arrived at Gary’s house, my next Warm Shower host. Gary is deserving of the  title “The Smoothie and Sushi King”.  He made me a delicious watermelon juice when I arrived and a fruit one the next morning.  That evening we went out for sushi- I LOVE SUSHI, but obviously, it doesn’t really enter in my trip budget, so this and the ice cream dessert was a cherished treat. 

The next morning I set off to meet Hugh, a friend of Stu’s who had been with us for the 3 Peak race.  Hugh was Stu’s old neighbor in Avalon, a small town north of Sydney on the peninsula, a gorgeous area.  He designed a route that took me through Bobbin Head National Park where we had lunch and then caught a ferry to Palm Beach on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.  We rode along the coast down to Avalon, a short hilly ride with stunning ocean cliff views.  That night I stayed with Hugh’s family and it just so happened that Hugh, an Englishman living with his British wife and kids in Australia, was an expert Paella chef. I was right at home.  Oddly enough, Hugh’s brother has a Masia, an old Catalan Villa, on the outskirts of Barcelona that I have cycled past a million times.

Approaching Avalon with Hugh

The next morning Hugh rode with me down to Manly, where I caught the ferry across to Sydney, a “must-do” picturesque arrival to the big city.  Luckily it was a Sunday and the streets of Sydney were empty except for the people out at the St. Patrick’s Day festival.  I made my way to Lou’s house, an old colleague of some teachers I worked with in Barcelona.  I had a delightful restful visit at her place in an eastern neighborhood of Sydney.  In fact, I was even able to sleep in the three mornings I was there! 

Clint, my wonderful Sydney tour guide
In Sydney I met up with another familiar face from my trip.   Do you remember the guy from the supermarket in Hokitika, New Zealand?  Clint and I met outside the New World and he’d nicely escorted me up to my host’s house that evening.  He gave me an all day VIP bike tour of Sydney, the perfect way to see so many sights, from Centennial park and Chinatown, to Harbor Bridge, the Opera House and botanical gardens.  In fact, we saw so much that day on bike, I spent my last day in Sydney just relaxing and wandering a few neighborhoods on foot.  That evening I got another VIP tour during the evening, visiting several little coves and beaches to see the sunset and moonrise over the bay.  He made sure I was well nourished for my ride the next morning and took me to a delicious burger joint on Bondi Beach, followed of course by ice cream.  Clint is an avid outdoors man who has done a ton of tour cycling himself and gave me some great travel trips for the rest of my trip.  It had been a long time since I had connected with someone my age who shares a lot of my same passions in life.  Nothing compares to a local guide who also tour cycles.  They know exactly where to take you and the conversations are endless.

TBT Ride leaders Toni and Melissa take on Australia's coast
Departing Sydney on bike could have been a disaster, but Toni from Thomson Bike Tours, cycled with me from Sydney to Wollongong to start my route back down to Melbourne.  Toni, who used to live in Sitges with his family recently moved to Australia, where his wife grew up.  Chattering in Catalan the entire 70 kilometers made the ride go by quickly, not to mention the gorgeous scenery through the Royal National Park.  Speaking a foreign language is a big part of my identity and I don’t get enough opportunities to speak Catalan on my trip.  After my visit with Toni and the Folque family, I got my fill of Catalan! 

The Folqué family.....wherever you go there is always a Catalan, even in Wolongong, Australia

It’s no wonder I’ve fallen in love with Australia! Not only have I seen some incredible landscapes, but people have treated me like a VIC, a very important cyclist. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t looking forward to Australia as much as New Zealand.  For me, New Zealand was the country that was going to capture my heart: the mountains, lush forests, and crystal clear blue water.  From a previous post, it was obviously that I thoroughly enjoyed cycling in New Zealand.  No matter where I was on the south island, the scenery was breathtaking! Therefore, I didn’t think Australia could even come close, or win my heart.  But I was wrong, I’ve fallen in love with Australia.  The combination of the vast and diverse scenery caught me by surprise.  The cities I’ve visited so far are livable, lively, and outdoor friendly.  The small towns in the outlying areas, quaint and pleasant, perfect for day trips.

Alone? Am I really traveling solo on this loong journey? I’ve had heaps of fabulous company recently and although I don’t have any more planned meet-ups with friends until I arrive in Melbourne again, something tells me I’ll be pleasantly surprised and equally entertained during the next week. As always,…..let the adventures continue!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Home Sweet Home on the Faulkner Family Farm

Faulkner Family Farm
I’ve made this “list” during my trip, a list of places where I could see myself living after I complete
The Loong Way Home.  Without disclosing all the places, I will say that every single location is a hustling and bustling city with the outdoors close by.  They are great bases for exploring the surrounding region, rather than places I would settle down permanently.  Up until now, I’ve been so driven, determined, and motivated pedaling, wrapped up in my travels, I didn’t really see myself settling down in the near future.  There are too many places to cycle and explore in this world that have captivated my attention! That is the mentality I’ve had for the first 6 months of my trip, until now, when suddenly that has all changed.

Recently I reached the Australian countryside, visited some friends on a farm, and I’m overcome with unexpected nostalgia.  I feel as though I’m home, when in fact I’m about 15,000 kilometers from a place that I call home.  Perhaps it is because I’ve had about 10 rest days in the last two weeks, which is the most “settled” I’ve felt during my entire trip. I didn’t realize how much I needed some time off the bike until I came to Mudgee.  Now I have to hop on the saddle again and for the first time I have a lump in my throat, the kind you have when you are on the verge of tears.  I’m sad and upset that I have to leave.  On the farm yesterday morning I was surprised to hear my own words out of my mouth.  “Stu, I could do this; I could settle down and live on a farm and take care of the cows and animals and be the happiest wife, mom, and/or farm girl in the world”.  Usually I’m so overwhelmed by all the place I want to travel and cycle that I can’t sit still.  But here I was on a beautiful farm in Southeast Australia, outside a town called Mudgee, completely content and ready to settle down.  On my first morning, I woke up to gorgeous lush farm fields with cows grazing, the sound of crickets chirping, and the smell of crisp fresh air.  I had no desire to do anything other than just relax and enjoy my surroundings and the Faulkner family.

Always a good laught wtih Stu and Spud in the Pyrenees on the TBT Tour de France trip
Our little reunion, all dressed up!

Mudgee wasn’t even on my itinerary, but a Thomson Bike Tour client of mine from 2011 wouldn’t stop pestering me on Facebook if I didn’t work his little town into my tour of Australia.  It’s a quaint little town of 10,000 people, three and a half hours northwest of Sydney.  The Faulkner family moved here four years ago when they decided to leave Avalon, an northern upscale beach suburb of Sydney.  Tending to a farm was a totally foreign idea to Stu who used to be a stockbroker, but he and Kersti, decided to leave the city life to settle in Australian’s countryside and raise their family of four.  Just shy of a week’s visit with the Faulkner’s in both the Victorian Alps and back home in Mudgee, I feel like I had become part of their family.  There is definitely something magical about Mudgee and being on a farm that feels so peaceful and appealing to me. They have 250 acres of land with chickens, cattle, cabins, and a lake.  Their house is extremely calm and peaceful, even with four active kids.

Taking the 4x4 for a test drive
Their unique belted boutique cows

After returning from our big bike race in the Victorian Alps, I spent my first day at the Faulkner’s completely relaxing.  I was craving some down time.   I didn’t move from their kitchen counter all day, catching up on emails, route planning, and talking with Kersti as she worked around the house. There was familiar feel to their house that reminded me of my childhood.  As kids, we spent the majority of our time after school outside playing in the yard.  After school and homework, Stu and Kersti’s kids were jumping on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, playing catch in the yard, and running around the hills. Stu came home that afternoon and brought me out on the tractor to see the land and his cattle.  His cows are a special “belted” variety called, hence the saying on the bike kit that he made for us makes sense, “Get Belted”, Peppertree Farm, Mudgee, Australia.   Just as much as I enjoyed my tour of the farm, I appreciated our talks.  Stu and I had a bit of history from our riding in the Pyrenees, which made for some great conversations about life in general.  Lots of times on my trip, the conversation revolves around my biking, and although I like to share my experiences, it is great to have “normal” conversations.  It gave me the opportunity to reflect and realize that my outlook on life has changed recently due to my travels.  

My second day at the Faulkner’s was totally different. At 7 am that morning, with a coffee in his hand, Stu woke me up. There was no time to rest and relax, as there was lots of work to be done and little did I know, I was a crucial part of tackling it all!  I thought he joking thinking he was pestering me with his normal humor.  Foolishly I took a shower to freshen up and put on one of my two outfits I have and went to have breakfast with the family.  Rather than good morning, Stu looked at me and said, “Mel, we are going to have to give you some old clothes, if those cows charge you or get any of this medicine on you, it will ruin those clothes.” I tried not to look surprised, but inside I was petrified. Was he seriously going to have me help me round the cows to give them an injection? I know nothing about cows and don’t think I’ve ever touched one in real life. Yesterday we talked to the livestock vet when he visited, and I knew he had some calves with an eye infection, but I didn’t think that I was going to be involved in treating them!  Not having any “old clothes” wasn’t a good enough excuse to get me out of the work.  Kersti lent me some old clothes and with another coffee in a travel mug, Stu and I set off on the tractor with a bunch of vitamin injections and tubes.

Not one, but three different injections
He showed me how to drive the 4x4 cart, so I went up ahead and shut off the gates so the cows wouldn’t escape to an outlying paddock (a pasture in American English).  There was a group of about 15 young calves who had an eye infection and needed some vitamin injections. We had to herd them into a special area and one by one close them in a mechanical head lock to give them an injection and put ointment in their eyes.  Stu gave me a quick demo making it look so easy and then it was my turn.  I’m a pretty big wimp when it comes to caring for animals.  Maybe if I were a mom I would be a bit tougher and have more experience with things like shots, but I don’t like to cause any harm or pain to others.  I felt bad for the cows getting them in a headlock position let alone giving them 3 injections.  If I didn’t put the headlock down correctly they’d run through and join the other cows and we’d have to start all over again.  If the headlock was too high they start frothing at the mouth, too low and I can’t reach them for a shot.  This was hard work!  In order to inject them right you had to pull out their skin and get the needle running parallel to their collarbone.  Their skin was so think it was hard to get the needle to penetrate and Stu laugh as my style looked like I was aggressively stabbing them.  I talked to the poor little guys the entire time I was with them and apologized for my actions, but to tell you the truth, they didn’t seem as disturbed as I was distraught by the whole experience. 

In the end I got pretty good and I whipped through the last 5 cows like it was nobody’s business, but I do have to admit that I’m much better in the kitchen than I am out in the field, although I enjoyed being out there. There’s something about the wide open space and the peaceful stillness on a farm that it is calming.  It’s like time has stopped out here, and the chaos and commotion of a big city so far removed.  You get completely wrapped up and absorbed in life’s simplicity on a farm. Not to mention, Kersti and Stu took really good care of me, so I felt like I was right at home. 

My school visit, even Stu and little Eaddie joined us

That afternoon I had a really nice visit at the kid’s local school.  Three of their four children go to the same primary school in town, so we combined their classes and I talked with them.  In the evenings, Spud came over for dinner and we had a lot of good laughs telling stories from the weekend and the Pyrenees bike tour.  The following morning sadly, it was time for me to leave.  With the kids in school, both Kersti and Stu were able to ride with me for the first 50 kilometers of my trip to Sydney.  I was reluctant to say goodbye, it had been such a great visit and so refreshing and different from my normal routine on my bike.  I had been Stu’s ride leader for one week in the Pyrenees, and granted you get to know someone really well when you spend 6 to 8 hours with them on the bike and your evenings back at the hotel wining and dining, but I never would have thought that such a strong relationship would have developed from our time together with Thomson Bike Tour.  I hope they take me up on my offer to come back and baby-sit for their kids while they go off on holiday, I’d love any reason to go back and be on their farm again in the future!

My escorts for the first 50 to Sydney

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Sandal Girl

Getting ready for the race at 4:30 am

I’m a rarity in a lot of the bike races in Catalunya because aren’t a lot of female competitors, especially ones with a bloonde pony tail who like to talk as they ride and climb with a funny Catalan accent.  I didn’t think I was going to draw much attention over in Australia in a bike race because the American accent isn't that different, but I guess it is a unusual to see someone participate in a long distance bike race on a touring bike.  I thought I fit right in with the other riders.  My friends Stu and Kersti Faulkner had gifted me a kit they designed for all their friends participating in the infamous 3 Peak Challenge Gran Fondo in Victoria this past weekend.  I looked pretty professional if you ask me, all the way down to my ankles…..and then there were the sandals.  You don’t get many, rather any, serious road cyclist riding in Keen sandals and that is why I became known as “The Sandal Girl”.

By now you know me nad you probably don't even wonder why I would I be compelled to do a Gran Fondo race on my touring bike, especially the infamous 3 Peaks: a grueling 235-kilometer bike ride that has three major climbs with a total altitude gain of 4,400m in one day?  However, that was the million-dollar question last Sunday in the race, as cyclist passed me and I managed to pass some too!  

Stu and I at the race check-in
You see, I met Stu Faulkner back in the Pyrenees in 2012 on a Tour de France trip. It was my second TBT trip and I hadn’t had many Aussie clients before them.  I didn’t really know what people from Australia were like, at least not the cyclist.  It took me about half a day to formulate my opinion, as the clients on this trip were almost all Australian.  Aussies are fun,…fun,….and let’s see,…even MORE fun!

I led Stu's group, the B group, as I usually do.  The guys I lead love to ride, but they also look forward to a nice coffee break a delicious croissant and lunch at a local café, even if it means arriving an hour later than the others.  We do the same distance as the fast guys, but suffering is relative because we entertain each other so much on the climbs telling stories and laughing past road experiences.  We’d arrive back to the hotel and before I could ask for my key to my room, there was a beer at the bar waiting for me, followed by another, and then another.

A few days after I told the Aussie clients about my plans to come to Australia and tour cycle I had an email from Stu with an elaborate itinerary of all the places in Australia that I needed to see.  Granted, it was about a three-month visit, which included a Bruce Springstein concert, riding the 3 Peak Gran Fondo Challenge, and an invitation to his house to stay with his family in Mudgee.  As you can see, Stu is another cyclist, like myself with the same amount of energy and passion to live. Not to mention he is the most entertaining storyteller I’ve ever met, so you spend all your time laughing in his presence.  In the end, I couldn’t swing the Springstein concert, but the dates of the 3 Peaks race worked out perfectly. I was in, and boy was I in for it!

Notice there are more than just 3 peaks.....

My hosts from Melbourne who were keen on going up to the mountains in Victoria for a long weekend and took me with them.  We met Stu and the crew on Saturday afternoon at the start line.  They had a good laugh when they all say my bike. I was lazy and didn’t want to take off my racks, but my friends insisted.  Everything went except for the back kickstand which came in handy since all the other riders had to look for a space for their bike on the racks at each of the rest stops. I could park mine just about anywhere since it was freestanding!

The race started at 6:30am and the weather forecast was perfect: sunny skies and an average temperature of 20 to 25.  This was Stu’s second race with his friends because three years ago when they attempted, the weather got nasty and two thirds of the participants pulled out due to hypothermia as the heavens opened and the temperatures dropped drastically.  This year he was back on a mission to tackle the 3 peaks!  I was intimidated and nervous to say the least.  I didn’t think I had it in me to go fast and turn on my competitive switch in order to compete and complete the challenging 235 kilometer race over 3 huge mountains with a total ascent of 4,400 meters. It wasn’t the longest distance I’d done on my bike, but I just didn’t know if I had the mind set to be able to complete the race.  There was a 13-hour cut off and I refused to get in the sweeper van!  I started the race without ever looking at the race’s profile and route map, I didn’t want to scare myself before even starting.

I wanted to start with Stu, but I couldn’t find him amongst the 2,000 riders at the start line.  I took a bit longer to head over because I had to find some sort of way to keep myself warm on the first 30 ks which were all downhill. My pockets were stuffed with food and an extra tube; I didn’t have much room to keep a jacket so I wore plastic bags on my feet under my sandals and stuck some newspaper under my bib.

From the start of the race, I got plenty of stares. I quickly realized this was going to be a loong day filled loads of explaining as people passed and surprisingly I passed them! The most common comments and questions included “Never seen that set-up on a bike before.” “Now that’s a different kind of bike!”,  “Do those sandals clip in?”, “Feet cold yet?”.  Some people even offered to switch bikes as they saw my legs moving so quickly on the steepest climbs, thanks to my triple chain ring and the 32 on the back. 

My favorite comments included  “The sandal girl again…..”, “Hats off to you girl!”  “You are unreal!” and my all time favorite, “Bloody hell, you’re a f#*#% machine!!!” So I have to admit, I am a bit unreal.  It’s not ideal to do a long distance race on such a heavy bike, but it just goes to show you that you don’t really need a fancy lightweight bike.  At the end of the day, you’ve got to be in shape and able to pedal and that is just what I do best!  My legs kept spinning up one peak after the next, and the next.  I climbed the first rather effortlessly, never going down to my small chain ring.  At the top I found Stu and gang, filled my bottles and tried to keep up with them on the descent.  Although I reached 66 kph at one point, I couldn’t hold on and unfortunately I never found them again!  I did  find my own little pack to ride with and participated in my first pace line on the left hand side of the road, which made me nervous, but managed to keep me focused.  I would have loved to witness this pace line as an outsider,….. all these riders in stylish kits on their fancy light weight bikes and then me, moving my way up to the front of the line on my beast.  I should have rung my bell to let them know I was approaching; they would have been humiliated! 

Panoramic view, Falls Creek
The second climb was more difficult, but I found a nice guy from Hong Kong and we rode up most of the way talking.  Others were suffering and gave us some nasty stares, but we felt pretty good.  Heaps of cyclists were walking their bikes up the steep bits and one man looked like he was in pretty bad shape.  I pulled over to offer food, but he’d run out of water.  Luckily I was carrying my 1,5L bottle, which was still full, so I filled his bottle and relieved myself of some extra weight and carried on.  I thought I was going to find Stu up top at the lunch stop, but somehow I had missed him. I ate quickly and got back on my beast.  This is how I made up time in the race.  While everyone else took long stops, I only spent half an hour total at the various rest areas.  If I would have waited around any longer I don’t think I would have made it back on my bike. This is why I kept seeing a lot of the same racers.  They passed me before the rest area, I took a quick break, and started before them, and then they eventually caught up.  It was quite entertaining!

I managed to stay ahead of the cut off times the entire day and the sweeper van was never a threat.  The scenery was unbelievable as we went up several different ski slopes and passed through countless forests, undulating farmland, and saw desolate plains.  I regret not taking any pictures, but that would have definitely slowed me down too much.  Riding without weight took some getting used to.  I spent a lot of time out of my saddle as usual, but wobbled back and worth initially, since I’m used to overcompensating my pedal motion with the extra weight. Although I think a lot of riders took pity on me, it is all relative.  I as heavy compared to them, but light compared to a normal touring day.  I felt naked after shedding the 30 kilos from my panniers.   

That's higher than I lift it with panniers

The third and final climb was torturous; the steepest of all and it lasted a long 10 kilometers.  By this time my legs were tired and I was ready to be done!  It is hard to keep riding when you see the majority of the cyclists off their bikes walking.  I have a rule against walking, but many of the cyclists who did walk, later passed me when they hopped back on.  My slowest time never got below 7 kph hour, which is fast for me, considering I drop to 4,5 with all my bags on steep hills.  I made a quick pit stop at the top of the last climb and then descended 15 kilometers to the finish line. Eleven hours and fifty-two minutes later, I was finished. I got a lot of offers from people who wanted to buy me drinks at the end, but I just wanted to go home with the gang to celebrate, although we basically just crashed.  Kersti, and her friend Rach were waiting for me at the finish line and cheered for me upon arrival.  Kersti had given me her entry number, as she only really wanted to ride the first two climbs, so really I should have been called Kersti, The Sandal Girl.

Celebrating with Cava and all!

Back at the house we managed to toast to the occasion with some Catalan Cava and Australian wine.  Having slept very little the previous night after our car travels we were all exhausted.  Participating in a Gran Fondo bike race with an unbearably heavy bike is once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can’t thank Kersti and Stu enough for inviting me. I don’t think you’ll find many other cyclists who would want to have a similar experience.  I had to use two hands to life my bike up at the finish line for a photo, others raise theirs with one finger.  If there is one thing I learned (and proved to the road cycling community) this weekend, it would be that the weight of your bike doesn’t make you go faster, it just makes you fast, but the weight of your bike is all relative.  I also learned that Australia does have climbs, and tough one. Don’t expect me to take pity on any more of the Australian TBT clients who say it’s hard to properly train for European cycling because they don’t have any hills down under…..Aussies, there’s no excuse, I’ve found plenty of mountains here! The alpine region in Northern Victorian is gorgeous and I’m about to climb over another hilly region, The Blue Mountains, as I make my way from Mudgee down to Sydney.  Australia; this country keeps getting better and better, one climb at a time!
Congratulations Kersti


Monday, March 10, 2014

And Just Like That They're Gone!

Visiting The Catlins down south on the South Island, New Zealand 
My parent’s visit almost feels surreal now. They’ve come and gone and it feels’d like we never had been apart nor skipped a beat.  From the start of my trip planning, I was hoping my parents would visit me at some point along my route.  Ever since I can remember them talking about their retirement years, they wanted to visit New Zealand and Australia.  Therefore, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to have them come while I was riding the south island of New Zealand and through parts of Australia.

The logistics of meeting up were a bit complicated and caused for some headaches.  It is hard to plan a detailed itinerary and solidify specific dates when you travel by bike. I had a rough idea where I would be at different times of the year, but in order to meet them it meant sticking to a specific route, specific day and place to find each other.  It just so happened that Cromwell, New Zealand was where we met up after not seeing each other for a year.  That morning, I left a message with the receptionist at the hotel we reserved for them to come and find me on route 8 heading south towards Cromwell. I knew they were in a gray Toyota Corolla, but the rental cars in New Zealand are either Toyota Corolla’s or Rav 4s.  In the early afternoon, between a long sparse stretch of road, I heard a honk from an oncoming car.  This car continued to honk and soon there was a hand waving profusely out the window.  Ta Dah! Magically they had found me!

Part of the perk of having Mom and Dad along was that they could relieve me of some extra weight 

We spent the next 5 days together exploring the far south of the south island by car rather than bike.  For me, it was a nice break from riding, and a true delight to have some familiar company.  It’s one thing to visit family and friends on familiar territory, but it’s a completely different story for both of us to be out of familiar territory traveling.  My parents have done a fair bit of traveling prior to kids, and as a family we did a lot of road trips on the west coast of the United States.  They were abroad a few times to visit some of us who decided to study abroad in college and then most recently, they traveled to Barcelona a couple of times while I was living there.  This trip however, marked a new type of travel for my parents due to the unique nature of accompanying someone traveling on bike.  For my dad, who likes to have everything planned, it was difficult to fathom not pre-booking hotels and flights or having a day-by-day itinerary.   Six months into my trip, this style of traveling has become my reality, but I had to change my mindset slightly when I was with them. 

They deserve an award for being such flexible travelers and coming all the way from Oregon to find me on my bike

From New Zealand to The Great Ocean Road, we covered a lot of territory together

It seemed that almost anywhere we went in New Zealand there was some holiday, event, festival, or race, which made finding a hotel challenging.  Traveling with a tent you rarely think about fully booked accommodation.  Thankfully we never failed to find a hotel which always seemed luxurious to me!  In fact, I was able to restock my supply of tea, coffee, and toiletries!  We ate at small cafes for lunch and usually tried the local ice cream for a mid-afternoon snack and dined in nice restaurants during the evening.  The meals were a nice change from my supermarket picnics and basic cooked dinners at the campgrounds.  The sounds of snores replaced the melody of nighttime bugs and small rodents so I felt right at home.

Queenstown, New Zealand
When we said good-bye to each other in Queenstown, New Zealand, I went on my way to a school visit then up and over to the west coast, completing my loop of the south.  They drove off through the interior and around to the northeast to complete their figure eight itinerary.  My parents flew over to Melbourne about a week before I did and had some time to explore the area.  Upon my arrival we started the Great Ocean Road, only this time I was on my bike and not a passenger in their car.  Of course it took me much longer to cycle the distance to the hotel than them, but we had designated lunch and rest stops to meet up and they found me several times along the road and cheered me on from the car.  I even cheated for those days and rode with 2 bags rather than 5! It is hard for me to ride without any weight because I wobble all over the place and feel naked!

It’s funny how time apart makes you reflect more on the things you observe.  In my “normal” life, I see my family twice a year and talk weekly on Skype, but a year had passed since I saw them last. With so many hours on the bike, I’m know myself better as a person than ever before. When they arrived, all of a sudden I could see certain traits and quarks of my own personality in each of them.

Pops and me,...two lively souls
There’s no question about it, I’m full of energy.  Intense, determined, or stubborn some might say. This comes my Dad.  At 72, he’s got the energy of a 30 year old!  During our time together, he was always the first one up, dressed, and ready-to-go.  He’d eaten, loaded the car, and studied the itinerary while my mom and I were still in our pajamas making coffee.  Back in Barcelona I was just like him.  By 9am I’ve gone for an hour swim or run, was at work, reviewed my lessons for the day, sent emails, and ready for my kids to walk in still half asleep.  We’ve got constant energy that keeps us on the go.  We are task-oriented and can accomplish anything we put our minds to because of our determination.  My dad and I also have the same exact taste buds and appetite.  Without consulting one another, we can study a menu and out of all the dishes, we order the exact same item. Usually there are two or three options that sound appealing and since my mom is so easy going, she agrees to share with us.  I don’t advise sharing with my dad or myself since we always have a huge appetite, we are “territorial” when it comes to sharing a meal. My dad and I eat almost half of each of the dishes ourselves and my poor mom goes with the flow and gets whatever is left!  And our sweet tooth is incredible….makes for lots of great ice cream stops along the road. 

Hair salon "Pritchard Ladies"....we did a pretty good job!

By no means is my mom lacking energy, after all, she was a full time “stay-at-home” mom of 5 extremely active kids.  However, she is more laid back and believe it or not, some of this has been passed down to me!  When you take me out of my normal daily routine, I can tone down the intensity and relax (promise)!  In fact, sometimes I disconnect and my mind wanders so much that I might get a bit spacey, i.e. missing road turns on my route and leave my passport.  For us, nothing is ever a huge problem. We can go with the flow and believe that things will just work out in the end.  This has been a saving grace on my trip, combined with my relentless energy.  From my mom, I also get my passion to create, use my hands artistically, and make things, from sewing, cooking, jewelry, and ceramics.  Before this trip, I never would have attempted to cut my hair myself, nor would I let my mom touch it.  Yet, together we figured out how to do it and she helped me out with my third hair cut, all done resourcefully with the mini scissors in my pocketknife and the utensils found in our hotel’s kitchenette.

Nothing beats a familiar home cooked meal

What I appreciate most from my parents in the simple values they instilled in me as I was growing up, which I also noticed on our trip.  There were some days where a trip to the supermarket for bread and cheese became a delicious picnic and when we cooked in our apartment, craving a familiar recipe from home.  Growing up in the Pritchard family we never had anything fancy or a need to consume and fall into the materialism trap.  The Pritchard kids found joy and pleasure in the basic things in life from home-cooked family meals, endless hours of entertainment outside in the yard playing together, and family holidays in the car to a lot of National Parks, monuments and regional sights.  I am forever grateful for these values because even on a bike with 3 bags of possessions and pedaling 100 km a day, I am the happiest young lady in the world!

My parents were real “troopers”, to make the effort to come all the way to the other side of the world to visit me.  They had to be completely flexible with their itinerary in order to accommodate my mode of transportation but ended up turning their trip into a 6-week holiday, doing the Australia and New Zealand trip I had heard about for years!  I have a few other visits along my route in Australia with friends, which I’m looking forward to.  It’s great to be able to meet up with people I haven’t seen for a while, a definite perk to traveling around the world especially with my global network of friends!