By Frosty Wooldridge:
“Let’s cage ourselves and let the animals run free.
Let’s find new stars and new songs to follow.
Let’s build some foundations under our dreams.
For if we have the prowess to destroy the earth,
then we can surely save it.” — Steve Van Matre
Bicycling north of Perth, Australia proves sweaty work.
Temperatures quickly rise every morning over the rolling sands to top 110 degrees F daily. It’s a lonely road with minimal traffic. All a touring bicycle rider can do—sing songs and count white lines that slip by too slowly. Port Hedland is a dot on the map, too far away to imagine for weeks. The highway winds along the Indian Ocean coastline, but a rider never sees the water.
Of the few attractions in the guidebook, I wanted to see the Pinnacles of Cervantes. I turned west off the highway, but faced a 26-kilometer sandy road that wound along the coast. A dense growth of thicket grew beside the primitive trail. It took me the rest of the day to push, pull and pedal my bike to the Pinnacles. My vitriolic mouth surprised me. Nothing is more anger-provoking than when I can’t get my bike rolling. I became angry especially when I dumped it in the soft sand. I knew I would have to exit the same way I came in, which put me in a repugnant mood.
Although Australia enjoys an expansive continent, its population numbers only 30,000,000. The West Coast shows scarce population. North of Perth, it’s a no-man’s land. I spent half the day getting to the attraction with no one passing me. Loneliness swept over my spirit.
Even with my best efforts, darkness fell upon me before I reached my destination. It couldn’t be more than a kilometer, so I decided to awaken before sunrise and shoot some pictures. The best photographic shooting is before eight in the morning, and after five when shadows enhance images.
Before falling asleep, I heard kangaroos foraging in the bush. In seconds, I fell asleep, too exhausted to even give myself a sponge bath.
Birds start chirping before dawn everywhere in the world. A flock of gulls provided my alarm clock in the morning. They fought over something on the beach a hundred meters away. A rush of wings flew over my tent.
In minutes, I packed and pedaled. A large, thicket-covered sand dune lay ahead of me. The road angled toward it and cut a switchback from right to left and up over the top. A golden sunrise sprayed light over the top of the dune. I sweated and cursed the thick sand as I stood on the pedals for the 4 percent grade. At the point where the road began climbing, I heard a crash in the brush. Above me, a Gray Kangaroo bounded out of thicket and along the ridge. I had startled it. Another crashing sound….a second roo, a female, bounded after the first.
The kangaroos caught lots of air as they escaped. Right on their tails, a baby roo hopped like a pogo stick…boing, boing, boing, boing trying to catch up. In a split second, they sped in full flight, their dark silhouettes bounding along the ridge with their tails trailing behind, like the mice in Disney’s movie “Fantasia.” I grabbed my camera, but the scene ended in seconds. The kangaroo family vanished over the ridge.
At the top of the dune, the sun blazed purple/gold over the horizon like the crown on the head of the Statue of Liberty. Below me an entire city of nature’s skyscrapers–the Pinnacles of Cervantes. Nature had carved sandstone into five-meter high towers that dotted the land. Various shapes, both bulbous and skinny stood silently in the sand. Long shadows swept across the red/orange grounds. As I stood there, two large heads, 40 meters away, broke the stillness and looked back at me, their ears perked for any sounds. Out of the thicket, a tiny head popped up–the baby roo.
On the ridge, I walked among the pinnacles for an hour. Wind and rain had carved them into this silent city, where few pedestrians tread, save kangaroos and gulls.
The ride back to the main highway took me the better part of the day. Amazingly enough, I didn’t curse or get upset. Everything I saw that morning made the struggle of the previous day worthwhile, even the return. I pedaled up the road.
I’ll admit it, being on a bicycle adventure by myself proved lonely business.
I rode along with no one for conversation. I camped night after solitary night with the gut ache of loneliness. I talked to myself. My journal filled with self-doubt. Why pedal around Australia?
My friends worked their jobs daily and came home to their families. They lived normal lives. They looked at me with wonder thinking I’ve got it made traveling around the world. They didn’t understand the tradeoffs to my choices. If they want lots of free time, they have less financial abilities. With a heavy work schedule or family, they must give up free time.
We have choices on how we live our lives. Once we make a choice, I think each person must pursue it vigorously, and if he or she becomes unhappy, it’s time to change life directions. The key: the courage to act. In the action comes an opening opportunity. At my lowest emotional points, even when I’m hanging on by my fingernails, I expect the positive, maybe not at that point, but in time I’ll get there.
To think any other way creates depression, and certain destruction of myself. The one thing I’ve learned along the world’s highways: no guarantees. No one can coast downhill all the time. No perfection for humanity exists in this world. No security from pain or death. Anything good or bad can strike at any hour. It’s what I make of a situation that counts. That’s what happened on this ride, when I felt so low that when I looked up, all I could see was the bottom. Loneliness does that to a man or woman. It sucks the energy out of my body. My body felt weak, unable or unwilling to go forward. But I push it toward tomorrow. I will climb out of this valley of loneliness. I know I will.
Late in the afternoon, I thought of pulling off the road at the next turnoff to take a swim in the ocean. I soaked myself in sweat. Time to pitch camp. Where was that road? The one thing about being so far away from civilization: no reference points exist. In the USA, you can’t get away from Wendy’s, MacDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. In Australia’s Outback, it’s so vast that I lost confidence that other humanity even existed.
A road with “Shark’s Bay” on the signpost came into view. I turned toward the ocean. In the parking lot off the beach were a couple of cars. I could tell West Australia cars by their license plates. When I stopped, a man stood by his car with a curious look on his face.
“G’day mate,” he said. “How ya’ goin’ on that push-bike?”
“Pretty good,” I said. “But I’m ready for a bath. It’s been a couple of days so don’t get too close to me.”
“No worries,” he said. “Here, take a bit of sardines and go feed my friends.”
“What friends?” I asked.
“In the water,” he said.
Beyond the waves, in waist deep shallows, two men and a woman stood among four large gray dorsal fins that ripped through the water.
Whatever they were, they were big fish. I looked back at the man.
“Have a go at it, mate,” he said. “They’re friendly.”
Two minutes later, I was in the middle of four 300-pound dolphins swimming around me on Monkey Mia Beach. They popped out of the water in front of me and squawked into my face. One of them swam between my legs. I hung onto one of his dorsal fins for a wild ride in the surf. When I dropped off, the dolphin swam right under me, nearly flipping me out of the water like a beach ball. I stood right in the middle of some of the smartest, friendliest creatures on the face of the earth. Their rubbery skin slid by my legs and under my hands. These frolicsome mammals sent a shiver through my body. They expressed energy and playfulness. There I stood, right in the middle of them, having the time of my life. From loneliness to sheer elation!
In my journal that night, I wrote about dolphins dancing in the water. They splashed me. I tugged on their fins and they pulled me around the water. They looked me in the eye and I looked back, one sentient being to another. In an instant, they vanished.
The experience reminded me of my fading youth when I used to watch fireflies at night. I sat in the darkness and suddenly a firefly appeared–cavorting about, flashing its light, on and off. Hiding in long grasses, appearing, vanishing, and appearing again. Then gone! For good! I stood up, with the exuberance of a child that made room–oh so gradually and a little painfully–for the depth and wisdom of the man. I stood between two worlds belonging to neither, partaking of both, knowing the moment, so fragile, so fleeting, is all there is.
Six Continent world bicycle traveler
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