Australia - Cycling Victoria

2 Dec Tues Merimbula BUS TO Lakes Entrance
Talk about efficiency - or scalability between muscle and motor power. It took all of only 4.5 hours of bus riding - and no pedal-to-the-metal stuff by any means - to cover what might have been three to four days of bicycle riding. Looking out the window throughout, I was happy to see that I didn't miss anything particularly notable, even if it was all pleasant and green - good call! I made ready to pat myself on my back - until I noticed it was resting against a comfortable back cushion. Ah... BUS!

Soon I found myself in Lakes Entrance, where I read the following upon picking up a News-Herald (a Victoria state paper) at my "hostel": the new Melbourne mayor (Doyle) wanted to be rid of the bad buskers. Apparently they were plaguing the poor burg. And here I was coming "Melbun"'s way! What would he do to a vermin like myself?

Numerous op-ed pieces and cartoons ridiculed his priorities - such would be far beyond me, of course. In the meantime I practiced my schtick, in honor of King Doyle: I busked in front of the nearest Safeway, letting that be the first place in Victoria state to be given a whirl of my nonsense. For this I was soon rewarded with a stellar compliment: "Ya got me. Ya ain't bad." I took this to be better than "Ya repulse me. Ya ain't good!"

My first otherwise impressions of Lakes Entrance? Well, to be fair, it was a bit of a bore, a tourist strip and not much else. Even my hostel was really a converted motel room or two in the back of its complex. Not exactly a homey place. I knew I'd leave pronto. A beer with Markus that evening - who was headed in the same direction, and came to the same appraisal - confirmed the futility of trying to gild this wilted rose.

3 Dec Weds Lakes Entrance - Bairnsdale 36km
At least I'd give the Safeway another busk before peeling out at 5km/hr. This time I had a bit of a younger audience, starting with kids pitching chocolate coins into my case. Hmmm, it wasn't even high quality chocolate at that - sniff! Next they asked me to tip them instead, $1 for a bike trick. Uh, no thanks.

Some time after them came a conversation of young woman, probably not long out of high school. She really liked my playing, but wanted to know what I'd do with the money. She hated the idea that buskers probably just turned around and bought booze. I told her that some of the money I made busking bought me a beer here and there. She thought this over for a bit, stewing mightily, then decided to tip me anyway. Whew - such stress!

With that it was time to start riding again. I said goodbye to Markus, who by fortunate coincidence had come to the Safeway to load up for his bus ride. Then I packed up the horn, strapping it onto my unicycle and putting on my wig - I mean bike and helmet, surely - and headed out.

Exiting Lakes Entrance I found easy terrain, mainly pastureland, with early tailwinds shortly becoming mostly headwinds of respectable might. White-tailed bunnies, spoonbills, galahs (the gray parrot-like birds of rose-colored chest) greeted me just like since New South Wales. Now some herons made themselves known, too.

On the second half of the day's ride I picked up a "rail trail" (a rail line converted into a hike/bike trail) to Bairnsdale. From that I got a nice view of farmers' fields without having to deal with any loud cars - sold. I made town right about suppertime, celebrated by busking Cole's (supermarket) on the highwayside in the middle of town. Back at camp, a river ran nearby, pretty enough, but it didn't seem like much would hold me in Bairnsdale despite its country town charm.

4 Dec Thurs Bairnsdale - Eagle Point - Paynesville - Raymond Island 34km (Vic. cum. 70km)

Now in a busking mentality ever since Merimbula, I gave Safeway a shot around lunchtime. It had a somewhat better locale than Cole's, fronting a small plaza. A group of aborigines to one side were getting drunk in the morning, both being supportive of me while a few got in some cracks, too. An audience is an audience, I supposed.

Actually, I did quite well with the busking in Bairnsdale. For example, I both got an offer for a free stay on nearby Raymond Island and a tenner, too - my highest tip to date. No police seemed perturbed with my central stationing for the craft, either. I'd have to fairly say that I found Bairnsdale a pleasant town, what with the short amount of time it took to make connections and conversation with a number of appreciative locals. I only stewed briefly on the Raymond Island offer: koalas in the bush wherever you walked. Sure, why not?

Moving out of B'dale I went south, off of the highway now to Eagle Point, a bluff. From the bluff's base I went out riding on an adjacent silt jetty next, for about 10km. On numerous placards I read that this was the longest silt jetty in the world. Okay, that's cool, but no, I've never heard of any others. I noted that Aussies could be just like Yanks with the promotion of the biggest and longest things found or made. THAT explained all the junkmail in my email inbox, anyway, but I digress.

On the jetty, the flatest of roadpaths, I couldn't stop myself until I made it to the end. What amazing thing would away me jutted so far out into the waters? Well... not much. Running out of road above water, I ending up at a dock. This wasn't a bad place to read a bit, then I ended up talking up a NZ-Perth couple with the same thought for an hour or two.

On to Raymond Island I went next, and on to Peter's crash pad - he of the offer in Bairnsdale. Talking to a couple of locals who ran the ferry over to the island, I was quickly convinced that he wasn't a kook - that seemed like a reasonable thing to check out, no? They gave me the scant directions needed to find his house.

Soon at his door, I found a couple of guys he also had just befriended were leaving his garage/workshop. They had been checking out his massive train set on display there; I, in the meantime, made a future Devonport (Tassie) connection to help me when I arrived there (in a month or so) from the get-go.

Peter, meanwhile, lived with his dog Buddy. They routinely made surveys of the koalas ("grumpy bears", "grumpies") found everywhere on the island, often taking in guests for company since Peter was unemployed - and possibly unemployable by this time. Soon I heard Peter's history, openly including his case of the "wobblies" which took him from Melbourne to Raymond Island.

Essentially retired, he was a train buff par echelon. The train set display merely showed his prodigiously-large, handmade collection of rail station props and trains - quite the installation. He was also a motor and engineering buff, a former trade teacher in the Melbourne school district. Numerous ancient - and working - engines littered the yard outside the house and garage.

A generous spirit, Peter kept a logbook of his past crasher, like me. Quite a few people had come by over the years, diversely representing the planet. He also gave me a bit of history of Raymond Island, including the dish on its famous residents - none of whom I knew of in the slightest.

More to the task at hand, Peter outlined the history of the koalas on the island. Six koala pairs, brought from elsewhere originally, were liberated back in the 50's. Apparently kin to rabbits, they eventually became 900. by the time of my arrival they were at 220, after culling 300-some and transplanting another 300-plus. I decided to not worry about the specific numbers - there were plenty, that's all I knew.

Meanwhile I finally realized that it was eucalyptus oil that I had been smelling, particularly as I rode in through woods for weeks. Peter apprised me of what should have been obvious - perhaps if I was a koala. Eucalyptus was actually the heart of the problem on the island, actually: the overpopulation of koalas had caused a massive denuding of eucalyptus trees from which the island was still recovering. The symbiotic relationship needed was currently out of whack, the results showing in the coats (and genetics) of the little guys.

Another tidbit about koalas soon came my way, too. Koalas, often romanticized as cuddly little teddy bears, are hardly that. For example, the males are territorial. This meant that, when females entered into their areas anywhere near the realm of estrus, they essentially got raped. I didn't know if any koalas were lawyers yet, however.

5 Dec Fri Raymond Island
Another day, more tidbits: I learned that the males (still on koalas here) grunt within their territory. They also have fatter heads and flatter noses. They're also well-watched: dog Buddy caused a A$170 fine after treeing one, to Peter's everlasting chagrin. Indeed, Peter's battle with the local "greenies" centered on Buddy - I kept my mouth (wisely) shut on that one.

Also on the island I saw huge wombat holes (though not the miscreants themselves), ant lions (which dig holes, waiting for ants to fall in for dinner), crows, magpies (which I had mistakenly thought were crows - which are only black, as I had originally thought), black swans (overpopulated), and one (horribly lost?) arctic gull. Peter was also a fisheries and wildlife volunteer, so a lot of information came related to those activities.

Peter's island drives - we went on a few - were history lessons, too, often of every house and who had lived there - "she was a lovely lady, she was", etc. These personalized tours included Paynesville, across the water from the island, too. It was an unending (but generally interesting) monologue of relatives, old friends (some gone, none forgotten), etc. Those came along with tales of occasional harsh weather and a lay of the land.

All along and through these conversation/monologues were loads of train and machinery info - an encyclopedia, actually. When not pointing out refuse (interesting to Peter) on the side of the road that could be made to work again, he was doing so himself. For example, he had made a weighted and cushioned pocket door which Buddy knew how to operate. That gave me an idea for a future project, actually. Clever things abounded in the house from the hands of this selfmade handiman, also a bluegrass banjoist. The people you meet on the road, no?

Peter was quite the Aussie quote machine, too: "'ee's bluddy 'ooge!" or "I reckon 'ees a good bloke..." were typical color, usually with emphasis. He also noted to me once that the ferry I crossed in on actually ran on chains. It went out of service one week annually - "the best week of the year!"

We had a number of interesting talks, also, concerning aborigines and programs to help them. Many went awry for a multitude of reasons. He also had another view, not in the current politically correct mainstream by any means, of the Stolen Generations, land and culture grants, Aussie services, even stories of free houses chopped up for firewood. He counted aborigines among his friends over the years, too. He couldn't offer any obvious solutions, of course, but booze was a huge and common thread of the problem.

6 Dec Sat Raymond Island - Bairnsdale - Sale 84km (Vic. cum. 154km)
Finally the time came to move away from the island again, having had my fill of koalas. Peter probably had more information to give, however - he was a veritable treasure trove of information. But I didn't want to push the welcome too much, and I had a date with the end of the Great Ocean Road before Christmas.

I went back to Bairnsdale town to regain the main road. There I busked the street, right on Prince's Highway (the main road) during a market event. Damned if a freaking Xmas choir hadn't taken the good spot I had had by the Safeway! Oh well - after a short busk I hit the road.

This was the day that I got dive-bombed by a magpie. For a second time this was, but repeatedly and with more determination. Hitchcock had some something, but nothing on this! I still wouldn't spike the helmet as others had done, though.

This served to remind me that I had been noticing that there were meaner birds in Gippsland - whither the melodic calls of the bellbirds and the whipbirds? Bird attacks aside, this day it was flat, flat, flat riding, all in favorable light with a cool breeze. It was pleasantly sunny, I had a nice shoulder to ride on, thus I was sufficiently content as I mosied through rangeland and cow pastures. I saw numerous cockatoos hanging out, and one very lonely roadhouse - obviously I wasn't lacking scenery.

Or was I? Eventually I'd see about nothing as storm clouds rolled in a hurry nearing Sale. In fact, for the last 20 minutes of the ride into town, I got positively drenched. Welcome to Sale, the big town of the Gippsland - not the most interesting, though. I was happy to find a reasonably dry campspot for the night on the cheap. The information center in town's center didn't give me reason to want to stick around long, either.

7 Dec Sun Sale - Yarram 73km (Vic. cum. 227km)
Pulling out the horn in the morning, at the main grocery store in town, it was no sale in Sale. What a pathetic busk, both inspirationally and monetarily. I wondered if I could even buy a coffee with the meager offerings.

For all that, though, I had my first wombat sighting later as I left town: a huge, dead and bloody roadkill. Yecch - why were all of my introductions to Aussie fauna rather dead, decomposing at the side of the road? More happily, this day's ensuing march was over flattish terrain. This included a good shoulder until the last 10km or so. Nothing but scrub and cattle ranches, with mostly headwinds. Those would get rather large in the end, as I approached Yarram.

There wasn't much to note on the slog to Yarram, but it wasn't a ride completely devoid of interest. For example, the "famous" SwingBridge was a cool detour, an old-school, visibly historic, and center-swivelled thing. I had timely scavenge #2, too: a heavy duty grocery bag. Just what I had been need to walk into grocery stores with, not wanting to walk away with mountains of plastic. I also met a couple of UK cycle tourers. At 76 & 70 years of age, this couple was on their way to the Snowy Mountains. Good on 'em!

Near Yarram - the day's destination - I also met an intrepid, Ossie (from the former East) German cyclist. He had been about 2.5 years on the road, still going strong, and sleeping nightly in the bush. He had some good stories shared over a half-hour or so, yet I wondered about his ungainly rig ridden with sandals.

Next, finally in town, I had a long conversation with a bored Yarram policeman. He had passed me twice on the day's long, lonely stretch of road. He was eager for any stories I could bring to bear... ANY! That was probably because there wasn't much else to do on Yarram's stately, empty main street.

Indeed, I didn't plan on hanging around town long as I surveyed all the storefronts individually. At least, on the outskirts of town, I got a nice surprise for the night: I'd be charged only A$10 for my campspot without having to bargain. How 'bout dat? I had gotten used to talking A$25-30 down to A$13-A$20 to take the bicycle into account. This was a pleasant change to have it noted up front.

8 Dec Mon Yarram - Port Albert - Foster 63km (Vic. cum. 290km)

On my day's way to Foster now, I detoured to sleepy Port Albert, a formerly bustling port town. Not much going on there, either, but at least it fronted the sea. That always counted for SOMEthing, if only to stop and stare at it... which I did in healthy amounts typically, as I would here.

Apparently Port Albert also harbored a maritime museum of note, so I was happy when the docent walked out its main door to invite me in for free. Soon I was the happy recipient of the cycle-tourer's special: a personal tour of the grounds and displays, then a long conversation about the area, religion, aussies vs kiwis, etc. I noted that it was a very well done museum indeed.

But after that, what? I couldn't find anything else doing in town, especially after I checked out the salt flats and duly serenaded them. Such is the story of a town of historical significance (a main Victoria port back when) sliding into the dusts - or mud - of time. These days the town mostly seemed an expanse of mudflats that came and went with the tide, highlighted by loads of mangroves.

Leaving town, overcast weather now became very sunny. An omen? Nah. The road mostly had no shoulder for the next stretch, but at least there was very light traffic. the headwinds were slightly better than the day before, too, probably more important on a haul of a day on the flats.

Welshpool would be the next stop, no detour at all as it was on the way and its mainstreet was the highway. Well, what was left of it, anyway. There I chatted with the women running the general store. They confirmed that not much went on in Welshpool, like never ever.

Nexr up was Toora with its handsome main street, also dead. Well, less dead than Welshpool. Call it zombie-like, maybe. In spite of this great appeal, I decided to stop in for a beer. I spoke with the Irish bartender at the main - practically only bar in town. Certainly it was the only one with something resembling life, sparse as it was. I'm just trying to say that it beat out the moon and mars, marginally.

The Irish bartendress was doing something called "working holiday", together with her two friends. This was a common situation for foreigners under age 30 traveling in Oz. It had the advantage of legally making money, plus allowing for a full year. I had no idea where busking fell into the grand scheme of things.

Still, she had a woeful tale, one of having bought a campervan and having had multiple breakdowns. Hmmm - I had been thinking myself of buying a campervan, or perhaps an old postal motorcycle, after cycling Tassie. It was always good to hear the other side of such intended bliss. I'd hear many similar tales over the months to come.

Concerning the pub, always a concern, just like a good cafe, well - what to say. I noted that I STILL hadn't gotten used to their lack of ambiance in Oz. Sometimes they seemed poor excuses to house greyhound, horse racing betting, or casino machines - not much more. Such was the case here in Toora, too. For good reason the Irish pubs were spreading across the globe relentlessly.

With a couple beers in me belly, I continued on to the YHA in Foster. There I planned to stay for a bit. Apparently the terrain would change there, too - the hills had been steadily closing in from the right side all day as I made my way west. Effectively, the bottom of the New South Wales cliff coast I had travelled moved inland; the Gippsland region is the flatland trapped between it and the sea. The hills and mountains would begin again after Foster.

For me, Foster would be a home base for a bit to check out nearby Wilson's Promontory. I had decided for some days by this point to continue on this rough path, too. I'd hug the south coast to Geelong, skipping Melbourne temporarily. From Geelong I planned to train it over to Warrnambool to begin the Great Ocean Road in reverse, heading back to Melbourne. That route should take advantage of westerlies (winds). So I figured by the time I got to Foster, anyway.

9 Dec Tue Foster (Wilson's Prom(ontory))
Good fortune smiled on me, perfectly timed in Foster - I was offered a ride from the hostel to the promontory with two French guys, Bertrand and Florian. This obviated biking there or figuring out some kind of shuttle system with whatever transport I could otherwise scrounge up. Whew.

This went even better than that, actually, as I ended up hiking the entire day with them. We started at Tidal River, then made out way up to the summit of Mt. Oberon. From there we went down to Oberon Bay, then back to Tidal River via the coast. This added up to about 20k in all: up, then down, then flattish. As the day wore on, the sky steadily worsened. Starting from the hostel to the promontory, a partly cloudy sky became grey became on-off drizzle became steady drizzle. So it goes.

On the hike we went through mostly brushy terrain, often with great evidence of fire, plus random massive boulders. This is the southernmost continental piece of Oz; that added for some drama, too, in its extremity. Not too much could stop harsh weather arriving here - and quickly.

We didn't see too much wildlife at first, but eventually we saw a wombat (finally! - alive!) making its way on the beach, eating. It paid us no mind; I heard they could get nasty if pestered. We were happy to watch and snap photos.

Later, we saw a couple emus on the road back to town. Two new critters added to the Aussie list of new fauna - pretty cool! Also witnessed, gapingly: lush 'n' large ferns, turquoise seas, plus sweeping views - when the mists cleared - atop Mt. Oberon of beaches and islands. A painter's palette of nature, all in a day - yay!

Back at the hostel, it was time make chili for the masses again. I burned a few more mouths for the effort - for this I carry numerous spices! On the evening's bill, beyond my new French benefactors: one Swiss Miss and three Germans. All of us were long-termers, in Oz for 3-12 months on different tracks.

10 Dec Wed Foster (Wilson's Prom(ontory))
For the second day in a row, I lucked out - another day at the Prom with Florian and Bertrand. This time we drove between highlight points, only doing small hikes to beaches and lookouts. This was a very sunny day, in contrast to the previous one, so we relaxed at each location. For each, the two buddies took plenty of photos and "action" videos to complement the zillions of such they'd already taken. Talk about well-documented!

There were random French and English word and phrase exchanges all along, too, a bone thrown to my franco-ability, but we generally stayed in English. Bertrand seemed particularly insistent in staying there, a change from the usual French twist. I decided to not challenge the issue much, being in their car and all. Plus, I imagine he traveled to Oz to practice his English as much as I travel to Québéc or France to French-ify up la langue.

I played the trumpet at numerous spots, too, as they shot away. Not a bad racket, with each of us having no trouble playing to our own devices. Also in accordance with the sunny skies, the bright (sometimes even squeaky) sands and turquoise waters were stellar things to behold. Indeed, this was what cameras were made for.

Later, back at the YHA, it was goodbye to two of the Germans, and hello to two Dutch. Another day at a hostel, in other words. Every day, worldwide, it's another wholesale exchange of personnel at the hostels. On it goes.

11 Dec Thu Foster
Tired of hiking for a bit, on this day I stayed in Foster. Possibly not coincidentally, it was also goodbye to Florian and Bertrand. It was still a good day nonetheless, a "dead" one of drying wash, playing trumpet, drinking coffee, and some cooking. Another day of highlight-less travel, in other words. I uploaded a zillion pics to clear my backlog, quite a laborious chore, but that allowed for chatting for more than a couple of hours simultaneously with niece Madeline. Even from afar, brainwashing needs to continue apace of travel.

Practicing the horn, done in-house for a change, brought in a surprising $7.10. This surprise came after the maid said she didn't like jazz, but adored ragtime - I did my best. Earning $5 from her for my (lack of) troubles, she further gave me the $2.10 she found lying around in cleaning up. A convert!

Trumpeting aside, it just felt good to be off of my feet and bikeseat for a day. A few Irishfolk, then a Spaniard, showed up just around the moment I finally finished hugging/hogging the free computer for the entire day. That was timely, not having to feel guilty as I actually managed to upload all of the pics - amazingly. Whew!

I went on to share dinner with this latest conglomeration of nationalities. The menu was various, but notable for allowing me to sample a tiny skewer of kangaroo. This was much like beef, if more tender and red. For dessert I had my dorm room all to myself - very surprisingly for a hostel. I relaxed in solitude, reading the Henry James short story The Third Person.

12 Dec Fri Foster - Philip Island 120km (Vic. cum. 410km)
Getting up early, I further celebrated my rare dorm solitude in Oz - I read another Henry James short story, The Pupil (quite good). Meanwhile the weather looked dicey, but I wasn't going to let me stop from pushing off on the bike. Indeed, I planned to put in around 70k or so for the day...

...which turned out to be 120km when all was said and done. For my second-longest cycle touring stretch to date, though, I broke (or almost broke) my three post-Québéc cardinal rules on this notable day: no dusk/dark arrivals (which I beat by an hour-plus - no problem), no rain riding (the day ended in steady drizzle for 35km - oops) and staying under 80km for the day (off by 50% - a bigger oops). Well... I made it! Always the thing to say when things go luckily well.

I had only intended half the distance to Philip Island, but the rain forecast for the next several days was the clincher as I got going and made good headway. I decided to ride as long as conditions were favorable, then hole up as necessary. Then, after I started getting wet, a hostel bed and being dry trumped the other idea, of sleeping in a tent quite easily. There weren't too many options between here and there, either, so my "tent" was to be on Phipip Island, I decided, in the end - in a room!

There were light winds and hills only for the first 20k, fortunately. Then things turned flat and muggy, as the skies steadily went toward the gray. The flat part helped, anyway. I picked up a small bit of rail trail, after Fish Creek town, but otherwise almost all of the section to Inverloch had no shoulder. Fortunately it hosted only light traffic.

From the tourist town of Inverloch I took the Bunurong Coast next, to Cape Patterson. That was a pretty coast, indeed, obviously a coveted place for Melbournites to place a vacation home. I hadn't too much interest in considering that for long, though: the drops were starting to fall. It was at this point that I kinda decided to go for it, all the way to Philip Island. Commensurably, the pace picked up considerably.

At Wonthaggi I again found a railtrail, this time to Kilkunga and Anderson beyond, followed by a well-shouldered last 25km. That would get me to Cowes town on Philip Island. This lengthy railtrail, through pastures and cattle country, made for good iPod territory - I stayed with that until the end. Hmmm, this would be a habit I'd finally get into - the kilometers really could fly with good music! I hadn't really been thinking of using the iPod to date for safety concerns, but that might have to change.

In any event, canned music wasn't the day's highlight. That would be an echidna padding across the path in front of me, completely unaware. I couldn't get enough of that silly critter, the favorite of my trip. Seriously - he (she?) was Mr. McGoo. For the younger ones, look him up! When the creature stirred his head to make out what he couldn't see, I could hear Jim Backus's voice like it was yesterday. Make that today.

Finally getting onto the island, and an hour after, when I reached the Philip Island hostel, the rain really picked up severely. I had made the right call after all, and barely in time. Thinking ahead, after the upcoming rain-forced rest, a similar push should put me about near Geelong, I figured. The only question was whether I should train it on from Geelong to Warrnambool to do the Great Ocean Road in reverse for winds.

In any event, I planned to reach Geelong in two rides. I wasn't ready for another 120km (or similar) spell quite yet. The direction in which to take the Great Ocean Road was a plus/minus situation, one of winds vs. views. Eastward should have tailwinds, but it'd be further from the shoreside with lesser views. Westward would be the opposite. Supposedly. I stewed on.

13 Dec Sat Cowes, Phillip Island - Major rain and wind day!
This was a good day to be in the hostel: it rained all day heavily, with winds gusting to 45kph. Soooo glad I was not on the bike. Trumpet, yoga, reading DH Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (just okay fare, but at least an interesting time capsule)... much better than being wet, for sure.

Coffee and the bigggg Saturday paper (as opposed to Sundays for some reason) was the day's highlight. I noted that Melbourne's better daily was The Age by far, like Sydney's Morning Herald. The Daily Telegraph (NSW) rag's regional counterpart was now The Herald-Sun, a similar tome of sensational crap. Of course, those were far more available, and left more often lying around the coffee shops. Sigh.

Speaking of highlights, Philip Island's was apparently watching a bunch of penguins (fairy) come out of the sea each night. That only sounded interesting momentarily - I decided to skip on the famous Penguin Parade with the nasty wind and rain. Besides, it had all the makings of a gawking tourist trap, anyway. I imagined the poor penguins leaving the sea to an array of klieg lights - apparently that was the case for those that approached (I shit you not) the viewing stand. At least the viewers were not allowed to otherwise shine flashlights at them. Some compensation.

Instead of freezing and pointing at birds in tuxedos I went out with some of the hostel guys. We'd drink beer in exchange, making something of the night and weather. The locals' bar, though, a place we rather unwittingly chose, was a scene waiting for a fight to break out. Hoo boy. We managed to avoid the mayhem before it could cut loose. The beer (and other spirits) was flowing a-heavily.

Back at the hostel, I spoke with the owner for a bit. What was it like, running a hostel? I always seemed to get interesting stories of how to make it a go, most recently with the owners of the hostels in Merimbula and Foster. They always spoke with some amount of resignation, reservation ebbing away rather quickly on the topic.

This guy wouldn't rent to Aussies as a rule, something I hadn't heard before precisely. As he saw it, the guys inevitably got pissed (drunk) and mucked it up; the girls attracted the guys in the first place. Well, fair enough, but a little too blanket a rule, I thought, too.

On this evening I also met a Spaniard, Gonzalo from Andalusia. This seemed like a potential stroke of good luck as he both had a car and had similar travel plans as I come March or so. We might share his car through some portion of Western Australia; who knew? Meanwhile I schemed on how I could learn how to make tapas, with information coming from someone who lived in the heart of the tapas' capitol. I wasn't one to pass up such a golden opportunity.

14 Dec Sun Cowes, Phillip Island (15km) (Vic. cum. 425km)

Supposed rain for the day didn't materialize, but I stayed in town just in case. As it was, it was VERY breezy and sunny instead. I did manage to do a little riding, though, a 15km jaunt in some reserve areas near Rhyll. Storm damage from the previous day was everywhere, but there were no massive downed trees - just many small ones. Wreckage aside, there were loads of birds: oyster catchers, crows, mynas, ibises, ducks, hawks, geese, spoonbills, plovers, red parrots, seagulls, arctic gulls, pigeons, magpies... I probably missed a number, too.

Later I tried a little busking in town (Cowes), but in doing so I chose a non-prime spot (as I tended to do). I figured it was more import to avoid the nasty, cool wind. Some laughable bogan kids, with characteristic WAY-oversized shades, made for interesting racist conversation and antics. Questioning their reasoning made for confused looks, but I doubted they even got the point I was trying to make. Subtly was completely lost on them.

Meanwhile I was still debating my future Great Ocean Road road direction. It wasn't that much further ahead. Hmmm. Ruminating, then tiring of it, I had random discussions with a Pakistani-Finn-Aussie dude (!) and a Dutch girl at the hostel. That seemed a better way to otherwise pass the time. Through them I soon met Uri, from Israel, someone who only recently had picked up a saxophone. He had many music questions for me; I was happy to oblige, even if the odds of him sticking with it beyond a month or two were probably quite low.

Somehow Uri and I soon got into a long discussion, re:Jerusalem and the mess of religion and fanatics in particular. He wished Israel had been formed in Uganda instead of Palestine, for one thing. Apparently this had actually once been a possibility which I never had previously heard of. Given the current reality, however, he surmised that, even if Jerusalem were leveled, the nutjobs would still fight over the rubble. A like-minded person to me concerning religion, Uri. What a mess; one couldn't only sigh. Sigh.

15 Dec Mon Cowes, Phillip Island - Sorrento 80km (Vic. cum. 515km)
The weather finally looking better, I took the morning ferry under very gray skies to Stony Point. This put me back on the mainland. I intended to make Queenscliff my goal for the day, achievable by later taking a second ferry from the other side of the Mornington Peninsula. That'd be a bit from where Stony Point sits, but so be it. I tend to lump ferries into a single day to minimize the constraints they otherwise put on travel freedom.

Now on the Mornington Peninsula, I decided to take the quieter way to Sorrento already enroute to Flinders. Meanwhile, traffic had picked up and there wasn't a shoulder. Crap. At least there were signs of trains - the reach of Melbourne was now being felt distinctly.

Zigzagging in this wine country, I by chance tumbled onto the Ashecombe maze. The what? Apparently this was the maze "biggest in southern hemisphere", a common distinction I'd been noticing for things in Australia. With so little competition in the Southern Hemisphere, however, this hardly seemed fair. Mainly there was Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand to contend with. No slouchers, but Australia was miles ahead economically with regard to all but the last, which was much smaller.

I was game to stop and momentarily gander, anyway. I'd grab a coffee - that'd give an overlook of the maze. I wasn't overly tempted to part with all of $6 for what was otherwise just a very pretty garden. The pictures found in the cafe told the story enough for my curiousity, but with respect to them I agreed with the many parents I soon saw with kids in tow. It unquestionably made for a nice outing for the kids, each loaded with a treasure map.

The Mornington Peninsula, that jutting of land which I hoped to cross in a mere day, was mostly notable for being wine (Pinot Noir) country. About 60 wineries could be found in the compact area of consisting otherwise of hills, strawberry farms, and (stud) horses. I stopped at two cellars, Montalto and Red Hill Estate, eager to my part of sampling the wares because - well, because.

Inside each bodega, though, I had to keep from laughing while overhearing conversations. There apparently was no shortage in Australia (as in the U.S.) of wannabe connoisseurs, a number of which waxed whimsically over "notes, tones, bouquets, and hints of". What a crock of shit, but certainly grand testimony to marketing. Not that I didn't think there was plonk versus good and better wines, but spare me the pretentiousness.

Accordingly, with these attestations to class, the vineyards were far from humble but rather swank estates trying hard to look the part of 'wine class'. This struck me as a buncha Melbourne millionaires with time and money to spare, trying to buy some class and a way out of boredom in a pretty setting. That the Mornington Peninsula was and, to be fair, the wine was good. For my part, though, I was happier to find a nice reserve to play horn in, watch red parrots, and hear the random bellbird again (YAY!). Some hilarious kookaburras accompanied me raucously, too: super!

Back on the road, slowly the sun returned. Sweeping views throughout the ride of hills revealed islands off to the east, plus more hedge mazes, more stud farms (each advertised proudly), hay fields, and sculpture gardens. In what shouldn't have been an odd note, I got bitten by some yellow-green thing. This happened after I shook it off from crawling up my ankle, while stopping to admire one particularly interesting hedge. Ouch! It was like a bee sting, swelling a bit immediately, but that was it. If this was the Amazon I'd be a bit more worried. Wait a sec - this was Australia, the Deadliest Continent. Oh well.

Making my way back to the coast after wine and stud country, I soon stopped at a non-blowing (tidal?) blowhole at a cliff's edge. There I launched into an interesting exchange with Tom, a glass-blowing artist in Melbourne. He was very curious about cycle touring, playing the trumpet (he had played some back in the day, with great frustration) and such. I was happy to oblige as I could.

This good conversation would've probably continued indefinitely except for an odd detail. His soon-to-be ex-GF, somewhere off in the distance ostensibly doing her own thing at first, jumped into their car. She proceeded to peal out of the parking lot, obviously pissed off waiting for him to rejoin her. She took off for a bit - hell hath no fury... until she returned some time later. I took my cue.

Later on, rolling again, things got quite hilly. This eventually forced a water stop at some rich guy's ranch house on a cliff. Quite a little pleasure palace - a boy was out front, whacking golf balls into the trees, in an odd scene perhaps out of aristocratic England. Hmmm - this seemed to only further confirm the Mornington's predilection with activities linked with the concept of class.

Whatever - I soon had an interesting discussion with the wife of the house, re:global warming. She chalked it up to cyclical change mostly, an easy-to-use and common refrain I had been noticing in the sticks, unfortunately. Didn't anyone want to believe the vast majority of scientists in thinking on the side of precaution based on the evidence known?

There seemed to be no shortage of people who just seemed to (want to) innately believe that man couldn't really alter the planet that much. Therefore scientists must generally talk out of their asses. There appeared to be a thread of anger against people that they considered acting smarter-than-thou, or some other such inferiority complex stuff. But they'd happily use all of the technology that science otherwise has brought about: the convenient stuff.

This interesting phenomenon, of willing disbelief without specific knowledge, struck me as best matched by the leap of faith on which religion relies. It's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind way to comfortably create a myopic world and live life, I supposed, but it wasn't very searching. In the end it seemed ultimately selfish in allowing disregard to the possibilites toward fellow man and future generations.

Leaving such dark musings behind, I wheeled out to nearby Cape Schank - thankfully a relatively flat spur from the main road I was now following. I was always glad not to lose elevation on a spur, which made that aspect of the detour a relief. What'd I find? Nothin', spare a nice lookout and a lighthouse. Well, maybe that was somethin', just nothing earth-shaking for my interest.

From there I headed to Rosebud, quickly dropping out of the hills in a (happily) uniform descent onto an almost level area for the rest. Back roads next got me to Sorrento, a wealthy planned town with a fausse authenticité, but a pretty place nonetheless. Pulling up to its port, however, I found that I had missed the last ferry to Queenscliff by almost two hours - oops. Fortunately there was a YHA in Sorrento (as there was in Queenscliff, where I had planned to spend the night); I spent the evening chatting with two Dutch girls in English and an española (Barcelona) in Spanish. Not bad compensation - Queenscliff was filled with grubby, smelly male backpackers, no doubt.

16 Dec Tue Sorrento - Queenscliff - Torquay - Lorne 100km (Vic. cum. 615km) On to the Great Ocean Road! Before leaving Sorrento, though, I wisely arranged to possibly meet up with Cristina (Barcelona) in Melbourne over the holidays. Why not? In the meantime I had a ferry to catch, though, and get going. The day's low dark clouds were ominous, I felt, soon with good reason.

Getting off in Queenscliff, I saw another cycle tourist, waiting to get on ferry - this would be the only one I wouldn't get a chance to speak with. Forever a mystery, a story untold! Damnation! But I had other problems to attend to. For example, a steady light rain was beginning to pick up in handsome Queenscliff, a very Brit-seeming spot. I'd only observe that passing, though, even if the wetness felt nice for the time being. It'd be just 25k of flat roads to Barwon Heads via Ocean Grove. Who knew?

At Ocean Grove the rain stopped, giving way to strong headwinds for the next (also flat) section of 25k to Torquay. This marked the "official" beginning point of the Great Ocean Road, which seemed like an obvious rest stop for me. Such a thought shortly found me sitting at a great cafe near some cliffs.

Belly sufficiently loaded, and mind more-than-sufficiently caffeinated, it was only about 2:30pm when I headed out again. Immediately I saw four riders coming in the other direction, finishing up their tour of (only) the Great Ocean Road. We had just the briefest of conversations; they were one man and three women in college (all Aussie, all young), not particularly friendly. Where'd the bonhomie spirit go, fellow cycle-kin?

Having turned toward Torquay instead of Geelong, right after arriving in Queenscliff, I was now committed to doing the Great Ocean Road via the supposed hard way. This would be into likely headwinds, yes, but it'd mostly be done for the views that would always be just a foot away to my left. I figured that I had a major rest stop ahead, in Melbourne, awaiting anyway. Might as well do this right.

Winds are notoriously fickle, never offering promises, so I mentally prepared myself for hell. Thus it should all go roses, no? YES! The winds would certainly prove cooperative this first day on the Road. Angelsea, next up after Torquay, would be the deciding point for the day's distance. Would I stop there? With winds firmly in mind, I now strove for a more aerodynamic profile. I looked over my rig with an eye to such for the first time, also intending to work on using up food stock to lighten my load ASAP. Overkill? Underkill? Kill Bill? Yes, eventually...

Torquay-Angelsea turned out to be a straightforward 17km. Then it was 8km more to Aerey Cliff, where I stopped to peek at the lighthouse and bluffs. Apparently I had decided without deciding on making it all the way to Lorne after all. The last 25km to Lorne proved a snap, too, with slowly lessening winds as cliff walls offered some protection. The on-and-off driving rains cleared as well.

When I finally got to Lorne I realized that 100km had been accomplished for the day. Oh. Huh. Whatever - I got my bunk, stored my cycle, then had some chitchat with the largely young hostel crowd. I wasn't the lone cyclist I soon found out - two more uni(versity) guys had cycled out to Lorne just for the night, too.

So far, not encountering winds of note, I was glad to have chosen to do the Great Ocean Road in this direction after all. The Road had nice shoulders with reasonable traffic so far, too. Excellent views were as prescribed. All systems... go!

17 Dec Wed Lorne - Apollo Bay 50km (Vic. cum. 665km)
Before leaving Lorne in the morning, I sat in front of a clothes shop for a little busking horn. THAT surprised some locals, but it seemed not untowardly so. Then it was off to Apollo Bay under gray skies. I immediately enjoyed superb coastal views, but I'd seen so much coast by this time that I was primarily enjoying the ride instead of pondering walks/hikes.

The Great Ocean Road reminded me of a very small version of the California Drive, actually its inspiration (as mentioned on some historical markers). It also was a public works project, for returning WWI vets. There's the history lesson for ya.

Meanwhile, I'd seen other cyclists on this section, but no 'tourers. Where were they - wasn't this the premier cycler touring spot in Oz? Regarding the other cyclists, I merely mumbled hi as they infrequently passed me by. Woe to the one that I actually passed by, loaded down. Us long haul cyclists didn't stop for each other if we didn't notice both horses loaded down with panniers. No luggage means ya ain't part of the club. Gotta hold the nose high - maybe I should have taken some lessons on faking class at the wineries, after all!

Such jabbering reminds me that there WAS an Ossie Deutsch (former East German) at the hostel, met in the morning before leaving. He used to train with Jan Ulrich and even raced with T-Mobile; this made for some interesting conversation. He was currently in a car, touring Oz, but more importantly scouting future rides for a someday return. He looked at us current tourers with envy (and probably disgust, too - I was a mangy beast), temporarily impotent cycle-wise.

Back on the road, I headed from Lorne to Wye River, where I had a coffee stop. That completed a leg of 15km, consisting entirely of drizzle yet with excellent temperatures. No real hills to cry about, something that would continue to Apollo Bay (the night's destination). I could have used windshield wipers at times, yes, but after Wye River the drizzle finally cut out. One of the best rolls I've ever had ensued, putting the Great finally into Ocean Road.

The dreaded westerlies and the whipping s'easterly eddies still didn't materialize as advertised, that helped for starters. Instead, I was treated to a magic carpet ride on the drops, with a crashing sea playing both soundtrack and background film running nonstop. I verily floated on air into Apollo Bay. And, in a rare stroke of genius, I had the iPod going again: Kill Bill v.1 was my onboard flight entertainment/cycle-treat, my own dog biscuit dipped in catnip. Yum.

Apollo Beach, however, was just another beach town like Lorne. It was busy, filling up with holidayers, a minor horde arriving in slight advance of the season. For myself, showing up in the very early afternoon, I had to wait for the YHA to open for the day. So... what else? I sat in front of the FoodWorks, busking for a bit to pass the time. Timing and location are huge with busking, of course, but it's also true that any pay earned for practice, or a chat with an aspiring, cute violinist for that matter, is good.

Late into the busk I also met Hannes, a jazz sax player from Hamburg currently living in Melbourne. He had heard me in the distance, surprised that someone - and a trumpeter, no less - would be busking in Apollo Bay. Thus, it was later, when the YHA turned out to be full (here was the beginnings of the holiday crush I was anticipating), I went over to the backpackers hostel that Hannes had recommended, the Surfside. He was already staying there; I'd by chance be placed into his room.

The Surfside was the surfer dump, actually, but it'd be okay. I'd be able to put up with whatever for a night in a sloppy room with sand all over the floor. Hannes and I picked up a few beers soon after I had dumped my gear in the room; we soon found a few wandering German girls to join us in gathering a party at the bonfire outside of the hostel.

All told there were about 25 of us. Hannes and I, plus two marginally capable guitarists, jammed (sort of, anyway) to provide some entertainment, such as it was. I figured more optimistically that I'd play with greater satisfaction ahead in Melbourne with Hannes. He was ensconced there in a flat there already, practicing jazz a lot.

As expected, the Backpacker's-affiliated hostel was rowdier AND filthier than the YHA, yes. BUT it was fun for the night, with its communal areas open later for conversation and whatnot. In the afternoon I had even played a first game of chess in a couple of years, battling back to win after blundering away my queen. Who'lda thought?

Much later, though, after the shenanigans of the bonfire, a crappy soft bed made for a lousy sleep. Apparently even that was good enough: I somehow missed the groans and grumbles of fights that I heard came to pass, all in the drunken hours around the bonfire through the remainder of the night. Sure would make for a quiet morning.

18 Dec Thu Apollo Bay - Laver's Hill 50km (Vic. cum. 715km)
In the morning it was bye until later to Hannes, followed by trying two busking spots in the commercial area with vastly different results. Timing is all! And location. And playing well. And playing the right stuff. And... ah, so much to learn!

Soon it was back to biking, though. It would only stand to reason, though, being on a beach and going to a location with "hill" in its name (Laver's Hill), PLUS being inland on a coast known for bluffs... it would be a hilly 50km for the day. So it was, sur-PRISE!, but, with the exception of a flat 10km before Glenaire in an open valley - where my face was apparently THE windcatcher for the entire Southern Ocean - I escaped the vaunted westerlies again. Instead it was chiefly windless climbing often in forests, accompanied by the random sweeping view toward the coasts, with nobody around nor any real towns. Worked fine.

I bumped into one lone cyclist, an older German; we held a convo in (my mostly slaughtered) German. Expect hills, he advised me. Well, sure (but duh!). Anyway, upon bidding adieu, and at 20km or so on the day, I took a break in the hillfest to go on a nice rainforest walk. This was done, appropriately enough, at Mait's Rest Stop. There I found more of those giant ferns that really are like small trees (manferns). An appropriately calming and gorgeous respite from riding.

When I finally got up atop lonely Laver's Hill, the temperature had really dropped. Cold! Next a hard, quick rain hit just when I was ready to pitch tent. Boy, did I ever dodge that bullet! Still, for A$5 and an end to climbing, I didn't really care if Noah was setting to work on an ark. I finished pitching my tent behind an unused building, in a similarly less-used campground (I was IT), before heading in to the bar (where I had negotiated my campspot in the first place).

Immediately upon entering, I bumped into a woman. She had seen me play in the morning at Apollo Bay; she sang my praises to all within earshot. Good to have a fan! Still, after a nice pasta dinner at the resto, I was done for. I turned in early at 8p.m. - fully clothed and rapidly buried in my sleeping bag. Eventually the frigid cold of the tent gave way to the furnace I generated, thankfully. I thus slept well - as one always does after a good day of exertion.

19 Dec Fri Laver's Hill - Port Campbell 50km (Vic. cum. 765km)
I got up at 6a.m., packing up under a very cold wind - probably with a temperature in the mid-40Fs. Brrrr! All dressed up and nowhere to go, though - yet, anyway - I waited for one of the three establishments to open for a brekkie. Nothing else existed in Laver's Hill to otherwise wait in. So, while needing to kill an hour before getting some warm food, I surveyed the great views in all directions out to the coasts. They were indeed as great as advertised, from quite a perch.

A little conversation later, with the Lebanese dude who opened up first, was interesting. Those words mostly concerned the Lebanese in Oz, and related to food more than not. A random place, a random encounter. The Lebanese in Oz - of which there are a significant number - probably mostly came over during the Lebanese Civil War, of course.

My belly reasonably full after the cultural exchange and carbo load-up, I layered up before heading out. I mentally and textile-y prepared myself for the big drop back down to the coast. Descending from a cold place is... particularly cold. I couldn't get downhill fast enough, soon flying down the drops and eventually taking the entire road into my sweeping racetrack. No one would be passing me once I got my rhythm established. A wreck woulda been ugly, though.

After 20-25km of continuous downhill-riding, with the exception of one 20-minute climb, the rest of the way for the day was quite level. I caught some stiff headwinds during the drop, which I didn't mind much with gravity in my favor, but for the rest of the way - to Port Campbell - they crossed rather nicely from the side and even provided some push.

Shedding gear, mostly by continually eating through my stock, my cycle rig was gaining a sleeker profile with each passing day. So I deluded myself into believing, anyway. Likely it barely changed at all, but it WAS lighter. That probably didn't hurt, either.

Reachieving the coast again, I next stopped at the most famous of the Great Ocean Road attractions: the Twelve Apostles (now more like seven thanks to erosion), Lord Ard Gorge, etc. It was a very sunny day, and with such a subject to visually take in, I quickly decided to stop with taking the pictures not long after I started. It was just too easy to shoot away. Not that I didn't have a pile shot within moments, anyway.

Enjoying the views, being "in the moment" as they say, it was definitely nice to be the lone bike punching out to all of the lookouts. The walking time to get out to each one would have been considerable, but I was flying about, leisurely and enjoyably taking in all of the different vantages.

After an hour of such visuals, I actually had my fill. Nice, nice stuff. Not unique by a long shot, but impressively dramatic. By early afternoon, though, I rolled into Port Campbell - a smaller version of Lorne or Apollo Bay. I double-checked my map: yep, I now was only a day away from the mainland's termination point of the riding! As quick as things were going now, too, the pace was feeling right... even if I was looking forward to a break from it all in Melbourne.

A leisurely lunch and a hostel called next, then a half hour later I found myself busking. Thinking myself if in the groove with busking beast, this was nevertheless a complete bust. Poor foot traffic, sure, but people didn't even turn their heads in Port Campbell. Sniff. Literally, did I smell bad?!?

A guy came by, noting my futile occupation. He said it wasn't me, but my placement instead. Well... thanks! He said I should go back to the Twelve Apostles - there I'd clean up. Sounded fine, but that wasn't likely, either. I wasn't big on re-covering 10km of already-finished touring. Certainly not this close to the finish line! The butt wanted a break from the saddle.

Back at the hostel I had a long convo with the manager. Being the first guest of the day, he could afford this to be mostly gossip about the competing hostel. Later some hordes came to completely fill the place up, quite a sudden change. For all this, and less, I decided Port Campbell didn't warrant an extra day. I was now mentally ready for that last continental leg, to Warrnambool (and thus Melbourne). I smelled a barn, and some hay.

20 Dec Sat Port Campbell - Warrnambool 65km (Vic. cum. 830km) CONTINENTAL LEG COMPLETE
In the morning I had another convo with the manager, more yapping about the hostel and town. Then I had yet another gab, with a guy while practicing my horn by the beach. That was, more interestingly, about global warming, the U.S., and Aussie politics. He sided in sync with me, a surprise to him but not to be. So many misconceptions about Americans being a uniform block of people, so frustrating. Didn't anyone stop to think about the number 300 million (people)?

Next it was back to the riding: I only 65km of very flat, open terrain to go! The first 15km, though, had some more (many) overlooks of arches and stacks. These included the well known (London Bridge, The Arch, The Grotto), plus many less so (whom of I've forgotten the names of, appropriately enough). I pulled over for all of them, regardless of fame - I was in no hurry, an equal-opportunity gawker.

The most important thing at this time was that I had decided on a leisurely last day of riding. After this initial viewpoints, however, the remaining 40-50km didn't warrant stopping much anyway. It was just ranch after ranch after ranch, or feedlot after feedlot after feedlot, on long straight stretches of open road. Zzzzzz.

Now the earth turned absolutely as flat as a pancake; still I was spared the westerlies (and the blazing heat for that matter). What luck! I had escaped the Great Ocean Road almost completely unscathed by weather, always the HUGE X factor in extreme-weathered Australia. There was not even a dot of wind on this day - amazing.

Soon I bumped into my last cycle-tourer on the Victoria stretch, another German. Could he have been of any other nationality? Of course not. He was shocked at my computerless rig, my 80km self-imposed daily max, etc. What, no measurements? Why wasn't I out trying to prove something, or punish myself? Good question. (Because I could care less? No - that wouldn't go over well.)

Indeed, each day it didn't matter to me how fast or far I went. I only guestimated distance and such from maps. I'd survive... somehow, pitifully unmeasured! And, true to form, all I knew on this particular day was that I hauled ass when I wanted to. Sometimes I really wanted to, as it turned out: I topped out on my highest gear for long stretches. In fact, excepting a final coffee stop at a roadhouse, I just plowed my way at a clip on the home stretch. Warrnambool, Warrnambool, Warrnambool!

Kill Bill v.2 made for a final accompaniment as I wrapped Victoria up in a bow on the last 10km. Finally I rejoined the Princes Highway into Warrnambool, a suitably noisy and trafficked run to end the whole thing. In town, soon only a beach run to the hostel was left... and then I was done. Yay - I kicked the bike into sea. Oops - not yet! There was still Tasmania! Shit - who was going to wash off all that salt? Huh?

Soon I was ensconced in the friendly confines of my hostel, immediately befriending some French dudes outta Bayonne. Us three would spend the rest of the night escaping from the wacko Aussie who shared our room, a tattoed and edgy man constantly muttering to himself. It's good to have a mission, anyway. The wacko provided a good excuse to watch a movie, too, Tropic Thunder (on the hostel's DVD). I only called it a night after treating myself to a nice seafood meal at a somewhat posh place nearby. I had to congratulate myself somehow - that did the trick admirably well. Burp... lights out.

21 Dec Sun Warrnambool
The bike far from mind, I spent this day walking around town for a bit, then I ate and busked rather unsuccessfully for a few hours. Or I should say that I practiced instead - the lines blurred quite often as I'd realize within 20-30 minutes whether a spot worked or not. Having already started, I'd often just stay my ground when no money found its way to me. I'd say to hell with it - I'd still get a good practice in. Why move?

A city councilman stopped by me for a chat, late into my day's playing. No, he wasn't concerned if I had a license. Instead he wanted to invite me to play at a nice Italian resto nearby. By then, however, my lip was shot for the day. We chatted on. He had grand hopes of Warrnambool building streetlife, and here I was - a rarity busking the main drag. But... oh well. I was tired! Good luck with that... I had a train to catch.

22 Dec Mon Warrnambool - Melbourne by train
Fortunately the train let me take my bike onboard. Apparently bikes being allowed on board trains and buses, without hermetically-sealed packing, was getting tougher in Australia (just like in the U.S.). No problem on the V-Train, though: finally I found myself in Melbourne.

Quickly I met up with Hannes again; he was already in the downtown area with his sax in tow. We had a coffee in one of Melbourne's noted alleys, by Flinders station. There we met the iconic busker pianist of Melbourne, Natalie. Talk about coincidence, or providence. Hers was indeed a Shine story, complete with the childhood scholarship to the Royal Conservatory in London she couldn't afford to take advantage of. The scene in the alley boded well - I might like this town! In any event, for the meantime night would find me in oneof Melbourne's several YHA hostels, the Oasis.

23 Dec Tue
Wandering the downtown the next day, I busked by the Flinders train station, then under a bridge a bit. I was soon approached by a city official when busking Flinders, but I apparently made the cut when he didn't pursue the matter further (I had no permit). In the evening I met and caught up with Cristina (from Barcelona, met in Sorrento). Many roads apparently DID lead to Melbourne.

24 Dec Wed
In the morning, I next met Peter. He was the Swede I had met all the way back in Ulladulla; we had stayed in some communication about his wanting to ride Tassie with me. Back in Melbourne just in passing (on his way to Tassie already with a tour), this was a good opportunity to discuss our planned Tasmania cycling. We didn't resolve much out of connecting in Devonport, however.

Later I busked with Hannes, then I tried it alone as well. We saw Natalie again, too, this time while she was busking (she played classical music that she created on the fly, impressively so). We met her son, too, who loaded up and placed her electric piano on the streets each day.

Later in the evening, I went to a Christmas Eve party of a different, international sort: tacos at Hannes's house. This was accomplished along with his flatmates, a nice crew of 3 Colombians, 1 Chilean, 1 Aussie, 1 Japanese, 1 German, and 1 American - me). This didn't explain the tacos, perhaps, but it probably sufficiently made a Christmas goose unlikely.

25 Dec Thu Melbourne - Geelong by train
Christmas Day? THAT felt weird under the sun, but I had lived in Hawai'i and Florida before, hadn't I? For this tradition-laden event I'd be spending time with an old friend met back when I went to Hood River (Oregon) a number of times. The only trick was that Andrew's family lived out past Geelong. Fortunately the V-trains were free on XMas day, even if packed. To the ranch!

What followed was a family Xmas with the greater B family. There was Andrew, of course, but also his wife Lucy, daughters Charlotte and Pippa, then a sizeable chunk of the B clan. What a lucky and hospitable invite; a nice time on the veranda, and a traditional Aussie Xmas, was had.

26 Dec Fri Geelong - Melbourne by train
In the morning I trained back to Melbourne, right away busking the Boxing Day crowds for a spell. Talk about some major shopping going on! I also managed to get some of my own XMas greetings in as well, belatedly calling sibs Joe and Mary from a pay phone.

27 Dec Sat
Taking Hannes up on an offer, I couch-surfed a night at Hannes's house. We both busked a little downtown, then went to Half Moon Bay beach area with flatmates Lesly and Mariann for the day. It was more than a bit cold for beaching, but we really tried. Otherwise we poked about an area a ways out of downtown Melbourne that was long on beach while short on interest.

28 Dec Sun
The time had come: I bought my Tassie ferry ticket. Finally I was setting a date for moving on, earlier than had been my plan, but with the jacked prices I was seeing for January it made the most sense to take the New Year's Eve boat. That accomplished, I practiced on the river in a couple of places - better enjoy Melbourne while I can for the moment, I thought.

That was done in anticipation of biking over to my friend Marcela's friends' house. A much older couple than I, Will (originally from the Czech Republic when it was Czechoslovakia) and Gwen graciously offered to house me for a few days as I saw fit. Fortunately I'd happily see fit - with Will and Gwen I enjoyed a long evening conversation about too many subjects to list.

29 Dec Mon
The next day I spent the entire day hanging out with Will and Gwen: more storytime. Such nice folks. Later in the day we had a phone call with Marcela and Kerry back in Seattle, too. And loads of tea. It's always teatime in Oz! (And coffeetime, too.)

30 Dec Tue
After a morning "storytime" with Will and Gwen, it was to be goodbye until February - I headed back to the House of Hannes. Back at the ranch, I found that Hannes had in the meantime been busted by the "busker police" - he'd be required to get a license if he didn't want to be fined or at least hassled. Beyond that, and worse, he couldn't even get the license until the city councilpeople came back in early January. Bummer - but nothing a beer or two can't solve. We took to watched a DVD of the movie The Bank Job, a true story of robbery with royal intrigue. A good flick, by the way.

31 Dec Wed
For a last morning (for now) in Victoria, I hung out over breakfast at the House of Hannes before heading into the city to busk. Taking advantage of having time to kill - the ferry left in the evening - I walked/biked all of the lanes (alleys) for which Melbourne was so well known. That was a bit of a bust, though, as only a few were of real interest.

More interestingly, I was now also getting near the end of my latest Theroux book, The Old Patagonian Express. Excellent stuff, as usual, from the travel-writing master! Now only hours away from boarding the ferry, I'd received a phone call surprise, too: Peter cancelled out of cycling in Tassie. He hadn't found a bike, nor had he been impressed with the landscape he had been seeing on his quickie bus tour of the island. Moreover he found it too cold, too.

Well... crap! Oh well, too late: it would still be the New Year´s eve ferry to Tasmania for me, an overnight passage. I had paid $160 for an "ocean recliner" seat - fair enough for 8-10 hours of seafaring, I supposed. Still, if it wasn't for the bike, I could have probably have flown for $30. On to Tassie, hell or high water! Fortunately, neither much of each would come my way.

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