Of all my short trips and long wanderings, Australia has remained my favourite. It has opened my eyes to the essence of travel, the kindness of people but most especially to the wonders of nature. Not being the one to spend days on the beach, I spent my time visiting places, hiking in Ranges, going on safaris and exploring areas by bike. Coming from the European flatlands, you learn to cycle immediately once you know how to walk. Cycling is in our system and although many dislike it in that particular stage of adolescence (rain=wet clothes; wind=hair messed up), the majority turns to love it later when sometimes only the wind can take care of those gathered cobwebs of responsibility. When there is no wind, with cycling you can always create your own.
I cycled in Melbourne along the Yarra river, in Hahndorf to discover the vineyards, cris-cross through the city of Perth, in the Barossa Valley through the vines again and even in 38 degrees scorched Alice Springs. The last trip sounds ludicrous to do in such temperatures. It might be but as you have functioning alcoholics there are also functioning nut-cases; we are quite harmless. I saw dusty, hot and deserted Alice Springs on a bike and it was not only enjoyable, I also survived perfectly. However the trip on a bike that has stayed with me the most, was the Riesling Trail in Clare.
Almost at the end of my first journey to Australia, I decided on the spur of the moment to spend my last days in Clare click. The lovely wine area in South Australia was on the way coming back from the Flinders Ranges and I already knew that I didn’t want to spend the end of my long wandering in a city; I was not ready for noisy civilisation yet, so Clare it was.
By then I had become completely used to the fact that I did not have to worry about accommodation. There was always a place somewhere in this vast country and with all my stuff in my little 4WD with the license plate that made me realise every time I was really here, I needed almost nothing.
Driving into Clare, I considered a cottage. Although I didn’t want to acknowledge it just yet, I had to get organised and transform myself back to someone sort of respectable. I found an owner who had two small detached cottages with a courtyard in the middle and a nice garden to use as you pleased. I could also take one of the bikes that came with it. He told me I had the place to myself as nobody was there. That settled it; the bike was a welcome convenience I had not thought about.
The first day I tinkered and spent time to rummage through Clare. I entertained myself at the various wineries and stocked up for the last time in the supermarket. The evening I spent on the large terrace that connected the two cottages, overlooking the well-kept garden with the vineyards in the background. I wrote: just an endless number of pages in my, by that time battered Moleskine book. I had tons of experiences and images to catch up on after the Flinders Ranges and before I knew it the sun had set. My eyes fell on the mountain bike, standing silently in a corner of the terrace. I looked up Clare in my guidebooks and found the Riesling Trail.
“Cyclists are taken off on a quiet ride meandering through the valley. It takes you through the farmlands and vineyards of the Clare region with plenty of opportunities to sample its Riesling specialty. The trail follows the old railway alignment between Auburn and Clare and includes three loops to detour and visit wineries and sights (Lonely Planet)”.
The trail was well cultivated and mostly flat. I calculated that the round trip would be around 45 km so absolutely suitable for a short, easygoing trip.
The next morning I set off after informing the owner. This journey had learned me that you always inform somebody of your comings and goings. Starting out in Australia I was pleasantly surprised about this custom of self-registration. In my country nobody gives a toss where you are going and if you get stuck, bad luck: call somebody. However, the small size of my country might have something to do with this, Australia is just too vast not to have such a system. I have signed numerous logs entering natural parcs or setting off and coming back from one of my hikes. Respecting the custom, I informed the owner that I was cycling the Riesling Trail.
Getting to Auburn I turned without stopping. I did not stay or detour. I had turned full circle inward and did not need the, most likely pleasant company of people on a terrace of a restaurant or café. Knowing my self by now, I had expected this and had a lunch packed in my small bag. I had spotted a large picnic table located halfway back to Clare. It lacked any means of shadow from the scorching sun but had a stunning view of the vineyards, fields and mountains in the distance. It fitted my mood and that was where I was heading.
Sitting on top of that picnic table, I enjoyed my self made sandwich and a small bottle of bubbly. I was celebrating my successful journey, both the inside as well as the outside wandering, and regretted having to go back within 24 hours. After two weeks the days had just faded one into the other, giving my soul the space it needed to breath and forgetting about watches and timetables. My timetable had tuned into rising and setting suns with the road deciding where it would take me next. I pondered all the places I had seen and realised that travel is indeed composed of moments suspended in time; moments you will always remember as they are etched on your retina. I knew I was slowly saying goodbye.
Returning from my cycling trip I was taken aback by the fact that there were people in the other cottage. I had already gotten so used to having the place to myself, that I was a bit annoyed at first. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise: They were wonderful people, Ozzies with yet another European background who invited me to their BBQ. Chatting comfortably about anything that came along, it was the perfect transitional evening to prepare me for returning to the real world. The day after would be focused on retracing my steps to civilisation: getting my boarding pass, rearranging my backpack which had turned into quite the mess, and then off to visit my friends in Hong Kong for a short stop-over. HK is the New York of Asia for me; a city that is bustling with people and cultures, awake 24/7 and always on the move; quite the opposite of my past two months.
I had packed a dress but had not seen it for eight weeks. It had probably slowly but gradually reached the bottom of my backpack. I had to dig it up that night to see if it was still at least a bit respectable.
The next morning I was woken up by nature itself. I had left the window open to let the night breeze cool down the cottage and the large tree in the garden was occupied by colourful rose breasted cockatoo’s. I had seen them often on my journey and I enjoyed my espresso in the company of these boisterous, cackling bird.
I saw the sun rise rapidly over the vineyards to create another sunny day with the clearest of skies. It was time to get reconnected again but I knew I would be back.