Geoff Mack has nothing on me. In the past weeks I really have been everywhere, man.
I’ve been to Nannup, Kirup, Palgarup, Guilderton,
Mumballup, Balingup, Dininup, Picton,
Yanamah, Dongara, Mandurah, Eaton,
Donnybrook, Eastbrook, Boyup Brook, Lancelin,
Dean Mill, Sussex Mill, Waterloo, Wanneroo,
Watheroo, Wooroloo, and the beach of Seabird too.
These days I find myself in the southwest corner of Australia, an area proudly described by locals as the most beautiful in the world. My eyes can’t help but agree.
On country tracks I pedal between towering jarrahs. Their canopy stretches like a gilded dome over my world of morning mist and hidden song. I see more kangaroos than cars, though neither seems to be in much of a hurry.
The land is anything but flat. I clatter across narrow bridges and climb, lungs and wheels plodding as one. Vegetation rises as a wall from the forest floor. It guards the winding road so closely there is no horizon, no up or down, beginning or end. The sensation comforts me.
Only gravity tells me I’ve reached the top. I tighten my grip and lean into the corners that come faster and faster still, twisting and turning until I’m flung into a valley so green it almost shines.
Sheep lie like boulders on the rolling paddocks. Dairy cows raise their heads and stare at me blankly, grass still hanging from the corners of their mouths.
People buy jigsaw puzzles for scenery like this, and the picture before me would be just as perfect were it not for two missing pieces – time and temperature.
My current visa is a testament to short-sighted bureaucracy. The stamp is valid for a year but it requires me to leave the country every three months – July 8 in this case. It’s kind of like being invited for dinner and kicked out for dessert. Thanks for nothing.
Options are limited. I could become a cycling outlaw, surviving on grubs and sock water in the hills above Perth, or I could apply for a different and vastly more expensive visa. I’m still not certain I chose correctly.
I had to undergo a full medical as part of my new visa application. According to the parchment on the wall, my doctor earned his stethoscope with the class of ’63. As he shuffled to his office, all liver spots and palsy, I almost turned back to check the century.
In an accent made thick by jowls and mother England, he swung without warning between kindly country doctor and impatient drill sergeant.
“Indeed, I . . . [unintelligible] . . . Vietnam in 1967 . . . [murmur] . . . arm . . . ”
“GIVE ME YOUR ARM!”
My right hand shot forward while the left gripped my seat. I sat wide-eyed as he took my pulse.
“Three, four . . . [mumble] . . . Saigon airport . . . [something-something] . . . ”
I leaned closer, squinting to hear.
“TOUCH YOUR TOES!”
If there is a world record for toe touching I smashed it that day. Nor has anyone ever peed in a cup or turned and coughed with greater haste. When it was finally over I was pronounced “extremely normal” except for a predictably elevated heart rate.
Safely outside I was confronted by my second dilemma – the weather. Granted this is easily the mildest winter I have experienced on a bike. My fingers haven’t turned orange (France) and I haven’t yet asked God to hit me with a truck (China). Around here it’s just rainy and cold.
Thankfully I have the right clothes for Mother Nature’s catwalk. I’m particularly proud of my latest wet weather collection, which features high-visibility pants and a sophisticated neon yellow jacket. The ensemble is completed with ladies rubber boots sold exclusively in the discount bin at Target.
This winter I’ve also decided to accessorize. To accentuate my steely gaze I purchased a Thermos and have resolved to start drinking coffee.
The only hiccup in the plan is that my body thinks caffeine is a party drug. Right now my teeth are clenched and when I stop pacing in circles I swear I can hear my hair grow. One more cup and I’ll be hitting the clubs in a glow-stick necklace.
These moments of chemical enhancement seem a good time to make a promise. With one eye twitching, I look out across the hills, past the places I’ve been, and decide this winter will be different from all the others. This time I’m here to enjoy it.
Now pass the cream and sugar.