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Miracle in Murwillumbah: Oceania Odyssey Week 19

 

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JOCELYN HAS BEEN FEATURED ON:

Miracle in Murwillumbah: Oceania Odyssey Week 19
Evans Head to Grady’s Creek, 312 km (total cycled to date: 5,044 km)

Ed’s old Boy Scout leader (aka his Dad) would be proud: we are exceptionally well prepared for just about any bicycle breakdown. Patch kit for flat tires, several extra tubes and a spare tire, new spokes and cables of all lengths, obscure tools for all occasions, plenty of duct tape and even a spare derailleur.

Over the last five months we have resourcefully dealt with all sorts of gear breakdowns – Joce has repaired tent flys shredded by parrots with a ragtag collection of seam sealer, crazy glue and thermarest patches; ailing bike shoes with dollar-store Velcro and sunglass lanyards; and pretty much all of our clothes with a needle and thread. When we doused (and thereby flooded) our exploding cookstove to prevent a forest fire, we rebuilt the stove from scratch on the sidewalk when we realized the last town before three days in the wilderness had no viable replacement. When Ed’s handlebar bag flew off we strapped it back with a bungee until we found a farmer who could give us some fencing wire to MacGyver it together. Jocelyn even tried to fix her cracked helmet… to which Heron responded, with a sage hand placed on her arm “spend the money on your brain, mom” (so she bought a new one instead).

However, when the two bolts holding your baggage rack snap off at the head, you’re essentially hooped.

And so there we were on the roadside, with 90 minutes of biking to go and 90 minutes of daylight left, and all our gear in a pile next to an upturned tandem.

Backtrack a few days, and you’d hear Joce gleefully taunting Ed to the tune of “Cups” that he’d better enjoy this ultra-fit moment in life while he still has the appetite to consume endless loads of food. “We’re gonna miss this metabolism when it’s gone, when we’re full after just one plate, oh we’re going to miss it when it’s gone, when it’s go-one, we’re going to miss it when it’s gone. We’re gonna miss these bodies when they’re gone, when we’re puffing up hills in New West, on just a 5k ride, oh we’re going to miss these bodies when they are gone!”

Somehow, Ed took this playful teasing as a challenge to up the ante and took on the bike binge to end all bike binges, including seven large pizzas, two bags of chips, and a package of Aussie’s famous TimTams… to cumulatively disastrous effect.

“I didn’t drink any beer,” he complained silently to his rebelling belly after one such especially indulgent evening. “Why do I feel like it’s a Sunday in undergrad?”

imageUnwilling to admit to his embarrassing junk-food hangover, Ed gamely participated in dozens of tummy-churning waterslide races with his sons before finally confessing his condition at a gorgeous clifftop picnic spot, where he tried in vain to nap it off while everyone else watched for whales.

Unfortunately for our hero, we’re just two weeks from our final Australian destination, with a tight schedule to keep. So we all pressed on for the next few hours of luxuriously (and mercifully) flat cycling, when two sudden snaps and a loud dragging sound interrupted our mission to beat the setting sun to Murwillumbah.

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A key to success in cycle touring is to time your bum luck just perfectly. In our case, a blown-out rack made further travel implausible (the two shattered bolts remained, headless, inside the bike frame – so we couldn’t just screw in our spare bolts on the roadside). We would need a bike mechanic with just the right tools, parts and ingenuity to restore our rack to its former glory. We’d need him or her to still be open, have time and be willing to give it a go if we wanted to stick to schedule and keep pedalling tomorrow. And above all, as the setting sun taunted us, we’d need a ride.

But tonight was a Warmshowers night: we were expected at the home of the wonderful Margie, who in addition to offering a comfy bed was willing to whisk over to our rescue. Within a half-hour she had picked up our gear, broken rack and our kids, and whipped 10k to Jim’s Cycles to convince the owner to make room in his schedule for our arrival as we parents cycled our sad-looking childless tandems into town. What’s even more impressive is that Margie isn’t even the family cyclist – it was her daughter Jess who’d signed up for Warmshowers and forgot to change her profile when she moved to Melbourne.

Jim Higgins, meanwhile, is a biker’s gem. In his seventies, he’s holding on to his shop until he can find the right buyer. There’s a black-and-white photo on the wall of Jim in his twenties on a bike at the local railway station, and his cycling enthusiasm hasn’t waned a bit. He heard our plight and replied, “You got too much shit on the rack, then,” before beaming a warm smile and diving into the challenge. By divine providence his buddy Kevin, a water treatment worker for the local shire, was hanging out in the shop and pitched in (even driving home to get a special tool that was the difference maker). Jim’s wonderful wife of 53 years, Clair, was the highlight of the whole experience, though. “Can you fix it, Jimmy?” she inquired repeatedly with a spirited optimism that made us believe that Jimmy could do anything. “Have you done it, Jimmy?” she’d ask until, at last, he’d done it.

imageWith some coaxing, one of the bolts came out and the second required a new hold to be drilled into the frame. Joce couldn’t bear to watch for fear that the shaking drill would cause irreparable damage to our bike, forever weakening the frame or worse, and the boys were astoundingly patient throughout the surgery. Two hours later, the rack was better than new (with Jim’s special extra-strong bolts), and Jim promised to tune up the bikes for us when we returned in the morning to pick them up.

The best thing about Warmshowers is the feeling of having an instant friend in a strange place. Margie not only hooked us up with Jim and Clair, but she brought us home for a marvellous meal with her husband Ken, insisted on doing our laundry (and folding it!) and making us waffles in the morning. We were positively spoiled at the exact moment we really needed it – and we were back on the road without skipping a beat the next day. We only hope that we can provide the same warmth and trip-saving hospitality to someone else someday.

imageAround this miracle in Murwillumbah was a pretty fabulous week. We rode along the ocean and saw humpback whales and dolphins leaping out of the waves, watched paragliders take off right next to our lunch spot and dash about in the mighty coastal wind, and set a new family frisbee record at 17 catches in a row (a pretty impressive feat given that Sitka insists on catching the frisbee with his eyes shut). We ducked inside for a few days at Byron Bay to escape another wicked rainstorm, but not before sneaking in an incredible hike up to the lighthouse on a huge cliff (the most easterly point on Australia). Our day off was Father’s Day and Ed surprised even himself with realizing there was nothing he wanted to spoil himself with, as he has been on vacation already for five months. So we braved the rain to bring the boys to the indoor kid heaven “Circus Arts” where the kids played for hours and we read our books in the café – how very urbanite.

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imageAnd we treated the boys to a “Big 4” holiday park in Hastings Point, with an elaborate indoor playspace and those outdoor waterslides that eventually made Ed lose his breakfast.

The park also had a Seascape Leisure Centre that was adults-only. This seemed a tad rude at first, but when Joce took an hour to herself in the lap pool and luxurious spa, she immediately understood its merits and is actively in search of others en route.

imageWe also headed inland this week for another shot at the mountain adventure that got re-routed in Gloucester a few weeks back. We absolutely loved the coastal NSW route, but were feeling ready for the challenge of circling the border ranges between NSW and Queensland, starting at Nimbin – the country’s “alternative capital” with rainbow signs of peace and love, a sweet smell hanging in the air and more gluten-free vegan bakeries than anywhere we’ve ever seen. The boys ignored the mostly dazed residents at our campground, in favour of the super-friendly dogs and badminton net.

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imageFurther inland, we reached our 5,000 km milestone in Cawongla, conveniently next to an ice cream shop at the bottom of a massive hill (the third of the day) that took an hour to climb. We will be tapping our cycling muscles to their max over the next few days on these mountains – but we were rewarded on day two on the ranges with a flabbergasting quadruple rainbow in the dusk sky, so we know there’s something special to come.

Hopefully, it doesn’t involve any loud snaps.

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imageHeron’s Week 19 summary: “We hiked and biked to so many beautiful lookouts this week. I especially loved Byron Bay! The Big4 was so awesome – Neptune’s Castle was so cool and I loved seeing the water dragon!”
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imageSitka’s Week 19 summary: “I really liked Circus Arts and when we had to pedal so fast to get away from the East Coast Low! I think I will want to hang glide some day – but you would have to be really strong! It is really hard to bike up mountains but there are really beautiful views.”

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8 Comments

  1. Cheryl says:

    Love the “advice from a tree”!
    Miss you guys tons!

  2. Lindsey Munson says:

    glad to read you news. Look forward to having you home too.

    All four of you are amazing

  3. Sara Viale says:

    Oh we Knight-Viale’s really wish we were with you! Such lovely readin, WHAT an adventure, I am so pleased I bumped into you and that you wanted to stay at our house. Continue having fun. Alexander is off to NZ with school for loads of saxaphoning and fun on Sunday.

    Much love Sara, Greg , Alexander and of course Milo the Budgie. xxxx

  4. Jazz says:

    We wish we could be with you too! Sitka I can totally imagine you hang gliding one day…and Heron I love water dragons too. Enjoy the hinterland of Qld and may your legs and knees be strong. We have just had our first big dump of snow in the mountains near Canberra….so beautiful.

  5. Peggy Land says:

    I continue to eagerly look forward to your weekly blogs, they always make me smile and it’s a wonderful thing to see you all looking so fit and healthy, remarkably clean and unbattered, (as far as I can see) despite reports of inevitable mishaps dear road, warriors! What wonderful hospitality you have encountered, so inspiring. May you continue to have safe and happy trails, much love from Gamma.

  6. Margie says:

    Great to hear you are enjoying traversing the wonderful hills on you way to Queensland, hope the legs hold out.Heron you have made the 5000 milestone great work. Sitka you will be in Noosa before you know it. Lovely to meet you all,safe travels, look forward to reading your next blog.

  7. Ty Cooke says:

    Ed, Joss and the boys….I have been reading these posts each week and I truly cannot believe the adventure you are on. Congratulations, Felicitations and enjoy the final chapter of your adventure.

    I can only dream of having the free-spirit, will and energy to attempt something like this!

  8. Mark Thomson says:

    Ha ha – No sympathy Ed… Carbcoma!! See I told you that you’d become kiwi’s, #8 wire repairs… Aren’t water dragons cool? I liked them and any day you see a paraglider is a good day!! Look forward to the next install.

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