Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Away from the Red Centre Dream: OZ

Away from the Red Centre Dream: OZ

The Larapinta Wind-down:

Approaching the outskirts of Alice Springs, a multitude of thoughts seeped through the adventurous focused mindset of my brain. My head flooded with logistics and to-do’s that had been dammed up in deep recesses like waterholes tucked away in the red quartz gorges of the West MacDonnell’s. So many items clicked and ticked through my noggin that I couldn’t even stop and ruminate in the moment that I considered somewhat a milestone. The traffic zipped by me and I trained my senses instantly to be on alert. I rode into town and headed straight for McDonald’s, a familiar place I knew where I could get WIFI and I could then get my bearings straightened. 

I scarfed down a meal I had no interest in other than to merely fill the vacant space in my gut. I ate the meal in the play area somewhat hiding in the corner, a place where I could hide from the world and ease into the real world while at the same time keep an eye on my bike. Since Adelaide I had heard rumblings, proclamations, affectations, and opinions that Alice was a harsh and tough town. ‘Watch your bike,’ they said. ‘Watch the kids,’ they harkened. Aboriginal kid gangs had been plaguing the town with thievery and muggings. The town council had limited the sales and places to get alcohol because of the effect liquor had on the Aboriginals. I respected what I had been told and kept my eyes and ears open, but I wouldn’t hold any judgment at all towards anyone. I would see things for myself. But, as with any hinterland adventure, I get shy when visiting a city or big town after some extended time in the boonies. So, I sat in a corner of the play area at the McDonald’s waiting for my social nerve to break. 

I got myself checked in at the hostel, showered, and immediately went in to planning a 6 day trek on the Larapinta Trail. With ample information and a very good logistical map of the trail I didn’t need much time. A backpack I had ordered even showed up to the hostel by post as I was wrapping up my itinerary and obtaining my permit and campsite reservations. I even had a full day off the next day which I was not only using for some rest but utilizing the time to figure out some future logistics spanning the rest of my time in Australia and my plans for the rest of the summer. As much as I had heard Alice was popping off, I had the preoccupation of logistics to keep me safe and out of trouble. So, there will be no commentary of the atmosphere of the social structure and sufferings here in Alice.

I had been dreaming of Alice. Alice was a black dot I had pointed to on the map page in the ratty old atlas I had as a boy. Alice was the center of the universe, in a way, so far away from everything and everyone. I could not have dreamt of a more meaningful spot. I needed to be here. I was drawn to here since a child. In some way, I felt like I had been on a lifelong quest to get here. I wondered why I had chosen this place on the other side of the world. The answer probably lies within that sentence, too. Because it was on the other side of the world, the place on the ratty old map page provided an escape from all the bullshit that was going on with my mom and whoever she was with when I was a boy. That atlas transported me here way back then. Those long drives across the Mojave Desert from Los Angeles to Las Vegas transported me to the empty space of the desert. This is when my wandering began. As an escapism, I found these empty blank places as the gateway to my soul, to introspection and knowledge of just who I am. It is unbelievable to me that I am in Alice. I never felt that way in all the wanderings across all the deserts in the U.S. Those places just felt like home, a familiarity evoked through a sense of place. Alice, well, simply felt like the farthest place I could ever get away from all the bullshit in my life. Being here now, I felt that. And, I was in a somber state. 

I had reached the center of the universe, the summit of the highest mountain, and now I must go through the other side, to descend the peak. I am in my 8th month of travel in this year long adventure. More than halfway in monthly terms, yet this is the halfway point of my intentions, the midway place of my wandering. I strolled over to the supermarket and floated up and down the aisles. Impressed by the myriad options of fresh food and variety, I gravitated between all the colorful fruit and vegetables like a fruit fly. My eyes bulged out of my head pressed out by sensory overloading. At least my mind went blank. Because from that point on until I started the Larapinta Trail, I would be inundated by logistics. I understood deep down I couldn’t wait to walk a long trail to slow down and empty the mind, to simply focus on managing the body and reconnecting my soles with the rocky dirt.

I had, however, despite my present blankness and the recent compulsion to be present in the Red Centre moment, I had planted the seed of planning for the rest of the trip and summer. Reaching Alice not only conjured up a childhood dream and an inner accomplishment, the seed began to sprout sprigs in Alice. I spent my day off mulling over countless scenarios. I had the Australian itinerary adjusted and dialed in. I changed my flight up in Darwin so I would have enough time to hike the Larapinta and still ride the bike on up there. My flight from Darwin to Perth now fit smoothly with a comfortably swift pace to enjoy the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia, the final trip of the Aussie journey. I was pleased with the Aussie itinerary. I would finish up with a slower pace and explore a landscape on foot rather than by bike. I needed and craved this change. These changes didn’t take too long. Where I struggled with was the rest of year long trip, namely summer. As in: what’s next, how to, is it what I truly want, and is it sensible. 

Months ago I began planning a European finish to this year long adventure. In order: an Iceland Traverse, the High Pyrenees Route, and the Gran Traversata de Alpi. I really had everything more or less planned by Melbourne. Plane tickets had been bought, routes sketched and drawn, but I hadn’t the nitty gritty details. When I left the States I made a notated effort that I would need to be as flexible as possible for the duration of the trip. Not only would I need to be flexible for natural changes and things I could not control, I needed to be flexible for personal needs and wants. This would provide me with clear prospective as I traveled. I hope this strategy would provide alignment with what I was experiencing at the time, how I felt emotionally and physically, and what laid ahead of me with the terrain. The Grand Canyon Traverse went smoothly enough even with monumental challenges. New Zealand and the Te Araroa Trail went successfully as planned. The great unknown of this whole trip would be the bikepacking part in Australia. I figured I would explore Australia as best as I could with the bikepacking routes I had in mind and try and fit in what hiking I could, namely the Larapinta and the Bibbulmun Tracks. As I pedaled, I began to fall in love with Australia. The landscape, the people, the bike, just the whole experience out here. I was getting the wear and tear rest I needed while riding the bike yet I began having so much fun riding into these remote places and meeting the locals. I fell for the pub culture and the characters dwelling with those local community havens. I led this trip with my heart and I followed it. 

With the heart leading the way I was more open to changes within my route and my time here in Australia. This meant constant adaptations and changes throughout the journey. This meant I spent more of the budget I had planned for this long leg. This time here in Australia, my experience here, is one of my most rewarding and memorable experiences yet. Who cares that I spent more money. I had the best time I could possibly have while in this country. I wouldn’t have it any other way, that’s for damn sure. Plus, I’ll even have the opportunity to hike the hikes I wanted to hike. Yet, in Alice I needed to seriously contemplate two things: getting the bike home and what will the summer look like. 

First off, I had to figure out the shipping of my bike. I got that more or less figured out quickly. Second off, I had to narrow down the logistics of Europe. I was completely unmotivated and, quite frankly, overwhelmed by the latter. I had maneuvered, adapted, changed, and kept fluid with my Australian itinerary that now I understood my need for simplicity. What I was afraid of was that my Europe plans would become very complicated with logistics and all the moving parts. I knew that would mean too much money would be spent. I also knew that that would limit my experience out there. I didn’t want to get so bombarded with the tons of logistics and un-familiarities of a few countries that having a good time would take a back seat. Easy explanation here, an easy need: I want to walk with uncomplicated logistics for an extended period of time

So, I looked into the feasibility of changing and adjusting my European trip. It seemed easy enough. I would just need to change my flights to a year later. That’s it. I could then spend significant time planning that trip over the next Winter. Now, with my Australian budget going over, this meant I needed to think about working again. I reached out to a buddy (boss) at work. I could go back to work the same weekend I left last year, exactly one year apart and return exactly for the big event I helped run. This lined up fittingly. Now, and finally, what to do with the time I would have left, roughly 75 days between July and mid September. With a rough idea, I decided to push the puzzle pieces, scenarios, budget concerns, and wants and needs aside for the rest of the off day. I didn’t need to make a decision right then and there. So, I put my mind adrift into hiking the Larapinta Trail. I submerged my inner dialogue and mental needling deep into a peaceful waterhole. I could just float into the meditation and musing a cool crisp Autumn hike in the Outback for 6 dull days. I could clear the head and reset the body. I could not think about anything for the first time in a very long while.

Within the first few steps along the hardscrabble trail, the pointy blades of spinifex grass jabbed into my shins, a newfound and rekindled sensation all rolled into one. I reached down with my calloused hands to rub the pokes, the discoloration of my gloveless hands and fingers a striking contrast to my dark tanned forearms and legs. I wanted to feel my legs feeling the pokes, to verify that the sensation was real. I flirted with the notion that I wasn’t on my bike with a smile and a snort. I bent back up and looked all around me. Red rock in every direction. And mountains. Finally up close and personal with mountains after nearly 2,500 miles of utter flatness. I skittered off down the winding trail and up the scrappy pathway that led to Mt. Sonder, the lofty summit that is the western terminus of the Larapinta.

A couple hours later I stood on Mt. Sonder. I hovered above the valley floors below me. I marveled at the undulating texture of long and thin ridges, folds of rock resembling an imaginary reptilian spine. Huge flat pans spread out beneath the ridges, the Outback proper. If one looked carefully one could see the meandering vein of the main drainage within the enormous flat pan. Taller and bushier gum trees lined the ribbon. I traced these water passageways trying to discern the contours of a flat landscape. Abruptly the serpentine waterway appeared to slam into an escarpment and explode right through it. In a curved archway the rock spilled into a cut recess. Within the narrow cut a gorge formed. I tried to envision a flood of water splicing through the rock and dirt. I tried to imagine the flat and immense pan flooded with water. I turned in every direction doing the same tracing. After an hour on the summit, I turned to hike back across the knobby ridgecrest and back to the junction that would lead me east along the Larapinta Trail and towards Alice Springs some 140 miles away.

I picked up fairly quickly the change in sensation from riding a bike to hiking. My breathing shifted. Slower and purposeful, I controlled the sifting of air with my strides, my breath no longer under the bane of revolutions. On the land, each step connecting with the dirt for a spell, I am a part of the desert. I am not passing through it with the propulsion of the bike. I walked under ochre cliffs, the flaky and glimmering quartz noticeably detailed at my walking pace. I followed the meander of an undulating trail weaving through the mulga grasslands, the crunch under each footstep in unison with my breath. In this sense, the world breathes as I breathe. Each step I feel the heaving of the earth bounce back. I am meant to travel this way. I am tied together with all natural things. I saw the warm morning light rise upon the landscape. The purple plum dawn light arced and framed in a blazing orange in the planetary way that I understood my place, my actual location. Fire orange emblazoned the tiger stripes on the horizon, a golden yellow came from the honey hue, a citrine glow stacked atop the yellow layers. A receding darkness curved above the cheeriness that broke and refracted. Cyan blue, indigo, pierced upwards into the curling purple sky, dawn lifting the veil over lilac-blue eyes. The western walls of the gorge revealed a grainy texture showing that a wall is simply just not a wall but a fortification of layers compacted together, squeezed and pressed into a crumbling fate. Water has broken through here dramatically, violently, slowly. 

In the depths of the gorge, I reached my hand out for my palm to caress the smooth white bark of a river gum tree. The stripes, striations, and splotches of tans and browns broke the white trunk into a static marbled lava lamp. The morning sun rays emitted a warmth to the woody mass, my palm feeling the cold on the shadow side, the warmth of the sun on the exposed side. I felt the smoothness, the porcelain coolness and smoothness. I looked up into the sprawling canopy, a madness of hidden breath, of a long slumber in a mangled bed. The long and slender leaves glimmered in the daybreak. The oval arc of one side of a leaf resembled the elliptical arc of the rising sun and the diminishing darkness. In each leaf within the entanglement of the canopy and branches, a million sunrises reflected in the rising light. The leaves shimmered and crackled as if aflame. With each flicker the scintillating leaves unfurled from a cold underbelly and cast a reflection of a new and impending day. In essence, with the quaking leaves I could hear the sun rising. The light shone jumbled in the shadows sun-flecked like freckles on skin. Odd when a panel of something so pale gets diminished by something so bright that the brightness is the shadow. Is this a sort of eclipse we can witness everyday if we pay attention?

My skin tingled with the wind. My pores unlatched from my protective biology. My pores yearned to be free. My skin tingled with the wind. My forearms pricked up like the morning chirps of a songbird. I felt the wind pass within me swallowed up by my open pores. I closed my eyes and guzzled the wind like a cold beer. Thank fucking god I wasn’t riding my bike into it headlong. I felt my knuckles creak with the dryness, the sting of the wonderful wind permeating my aged hands. I clasped my hands together and popped my knuckles. What I would give to have my hands cold and dry every morning. I absorbed the wind. Because I didn’t have to battle the wind, I absorb the entity into my body. Suddenly, I felt as connected to the wind as I had been to anything, any place, or anyone in so damn long. I embraced the wind back. I sought the puzzle of the wind in that moment. I wanted to fit. 

The day passed. At first I scaled a ridge, a short climb into desert oblivion, the feeling of emptiness overwhelming me as if I blacked out. I won’t have to search hard here for the word. You know it. I know it. Intoxicating. There, I said it. Nevertheless, I absorbed so much wind I became drunk. I teetered about the ridgecrest that tilted among other curving escapements. Then, I tumbled down the ridge playfully like a scamp at a bar wiggling through the dance floor. I sobered up within rolling low lying hills. My feet became sore, hungover. My shins ached. As if I hadn’t expressed any love, my lower extremities needed some cuddling. My feet and lower shins simply hadn’t been used, or loved, in over 4,000 miles of pedaling. 

I scrambled up a steep and craggy abutment, a staircase of switchbacks rising into the heavens. The climbing eased the pressure off the drubbings of my soles. I utilized my quads like jackhammers, what they had been trained to do while in the saddle. I elevated to the top, then snaked my way on a cobblestone path, irascible with loose rock. The afternoon subsided and evening approached. I hiked eastward as the sun dipped westward. The blazing orb fell behind the spines of isolated ranges far, far away from me. I hiked my way through the hopscotched rubble, yet my neck remained craned towards my rear view. The magic of alpenglow began. I stopped dead still. I had two miles to camp way down below, but I stopped dead still. I wasn’t about to miss the sunset. The sprawling ranges, ridges, and escarpments oozed into that purple hue the sunsets infect the land with here in the Outback. As if a needle injected blood into a lifeless body, the land bruised as purple as a plum. 

Convening with the red quartz and the cleverly constructed trail, I spiraled my way down a plunging pathway, darkness enveloping and tucking into the narrow ravines of pinched canyons. I led my feet by feel. I let the rocky pathway navigate my landings. Oh, what glee I felt. I sank as the sun sunk. In the canyon bottom I flicked on my headlamp. I hopped atop boulders lined chaotically from terrible times of floods. The moon rose early over the sharp ridge, the moonlight filtering through the river gums. I felt the coolness of the night press against my skin. I found the waterfall waterhole. I lumbered over to the lip of the water, the soles of my feet planted on the smooth rock. I knelt down and felt my knee and quads fill with blood, a long day of hiking that scabbed over my joints like fresh wounds. I knelt there at the cusp of the waterhole and closed my eyes. Shit. I probably could have knelt that way for an hour. I opened my eyes and spied the water spiders wading through the pool. Almost comically, the spry little buggers goofily pilfered through the still water like a couple of oats. Life never stops, I thought. So, I stood up and broke my way through an overgrown trail hanging with brush. At a low pass, I could discern the emptiness of the canyon floor, a pan shaped hollow that swallowed sound, noise, and air. I understood camp was below. I marched on and ran into a full camp, the Aussies completely shell shocked at a nightwalker. Their silence erupted in confusion with them thinking I needed help. I merely needed a flat spot, and I wasn’t stopping until I found one. I did, a fumbling barefoot Aussie in tow dodging the spinifex trying to give his bravest assistance. I settled down for the night in earnest, the moon brighter than anything I could imagine at that moment. My eyes stung from the darkness, the gleam of the day enduring. The moon was the hair of the dog, as if I felt around in the dark for a warm beer as the bright mid morning sun punctured through a slit in the curtains.

I left camp before anyone had stirred about. A silvery sheen wrapped around the lily pads in the sky. I thought I was gazing up from the bottom of a pond. I gingerly hopped, slowly hopped for that matter, onto the cobbly path angled towards a low pass between strafed and pointed hogbacks. I could envision the cleaving of this valley over time with torrential downpours. My feet took a few minutes to get un-achy. In my mind’s eye I pictured the sole of my foot, the contact with each pebble through my cushioned shoe. I followed the soreness through an imagined neural highway running the length of my body from synapse to synapse, the telephone game in the body. The electric feel terminated in my brain. I could see the pain. The electricity passed through my brain to my mouth. I uttered: C’mon, you lazy bastard. 

Occasional gusts careened down valley a cold wind. I stayed layered up and cinched off my hoodie. My senses piqued. The biting wind nibbled at my nose, gnawed at my fingers. My legs ached and I replayed the neural highway road trip. Then, I stole away from everything. I understood I was walking, but I forgot. Everything became second nature. I observed the movement of the patchwork of clouds, the swirling sky current pushing the puffy white fortresses across the sky. I fell into a trance. I just watched the patchwork morph with each tile as the whole pyramid resembled a puffy quilt. The cirrostrati layer slowly inched across the sky as a whole, yet each tile shifted and morphed as if some invisible old crony knitted a giant quilt in the sky. 

The whole morning went by this way. The next patchwork round sifted through, the invisible hands continued to knit the puffy tiles. For a moment, I walked with my hands in my pockets and my chin tucked in. Nevertheless, I continued glancing above as if what was upward led the way. Finally, in a red gorge, the wind broke still and the morning stillness in the mangled chasm felt so audibly loud compared to how silent the arena actually was, like how water temperature feels when plunging back into hot or cold water from hot or cold water. Everything felt heightened and quiet at the same time. I took a second and plopped down on my rear end on a cold tawny quartz tiled shelf. I sensed the cold through my buttocks shoot up through my torso, down my arms, and out through my fingertips. I pressed my palms to the tiled shelf and gave the cold back. ‘Here,’ I thought. I stood up and scrambled down ledges, hopped over boulders, and slogged through sandy bottoms down the short chasm until I reached the mulga scrubland. 

The next couple days, I rose predawn under moonlit skies. A dry cold swam over the big red desert. A pesky wind continued to throttle and whip across the Outback. I particularly enjoyed the cold and brisk mornings. It would be quiet, wonderfully lonesome, and I would hear the desert crack alive slowly with the warming sun rays. The myriad of birds would chirp flittingly signaling the hustle and bustle of their activity. I weaved between craggy ridge lines, fissures of long and undulating spines extending in an east-west line. At a break in an escarpment, I would enter a gorge, a portal to the other side. Here, in these gorges, dark glassy waterholes existed, life sources so important to the people and animals of the area. Some of the waterholes are nestled in a sacred stance. I treated each one as such. I have always found it hard to swim in a place of water if that water is an important source for people and animals, the dwellers and survivors of the desert. Each time I passed through a gorge I recognized my insignificance in such a place being a visitor who is merely passing through. The chasms and gorges stood like cathedrals, or places of worship, altars within a harsh landscape. I sat by the waterholes for a few minutes and listened and stared into shimmering glassy waters. I listened to the river gums flickering leaves casting 'sunflections.' I gazed into the reflection of the river gums in the glassy waters. I meditated then, yet at the same time I sat politely as if I was in somebody else’s house absorbing the art on the wall. That’s all I could do. All I wanted to do. All that I understood to be right. I respected too much what water had built, what nature provided, and who sustained and worshipped a life over these waterholes. 

The weaving between the craggy ridges ensued, labyrinthine corridors with narrow choked valleys and wide pan-shaped amphitheaters. On a clear paths, I watched every step to avoid loose rock. Marble sized, baseball sized, pea sized, whatever sized, I stayed diligent. The red quartz rock had crumbly characteristics. Chossy slopes piled beneath scraped bluffs. Pockets of quartzite and mica twinkled on red slabs and chunky boulders from a sun-stanced distance. On overgrown paths, I had to duck to avoid the golden orb weavers’ webs, the giant spiders omnipresent smack dab in the middle of giant webs stretching tautly between tall shrubs and mulga. The wind would catch the web and press through it and bulge the web outward as the spindly limbs bent in pressure, the web anchored with an incredible strength showing the tethering relationship of connectivity. A gleam of sunlight would cast a sheen onto the web at an exact angle and twinkle like sparking jewelry. 

Nonetheless, mostly I hiked unimpeded. I simply had to manage my body. I drank what I needed. I massaged my lower shins every couple hours. I plopped on my back and finger-four leg-locked myself to stretch my hamstrings. I rubbed the bottoms of my feet. I ate. I continued to drink. I continued to hydrate my ligaments, tendons, and muscles. I know the body engine better than anything when I am walking, especially more in harsh desert environs. My soreness equated a better connection to the ground beneath my feet. On the bike, I push through the landscape like being pushed by an invisible shoulder heaving me forward and away from an area faster than I can realize, similar to the weather front pushing the fortresses of clouds through an atmosphere. On foot, I am latched to the earth, connected to the ground. I feel I am moving with everything around me and not the other way around. The ground nestled back against my tender feet and I, in turn, pressed down on the ground. The relationship is completely reciprocal. The ground provides me with a tenderness only the ground can give me. I can give it continuity through endurance, and endurance of mind, body and time, something ancient within from long, long ago. 

The nights got colder, remaining still and bright with the moonlight shock. The wind would cease as soon as the sun set. Then, the moon would rise unto the land like the sun and illuminate the same land as if with the same light. Enamored with the distortion, I had to shield both my eyes with my fleece so I could sleep. The nights were long and the moon roved slowly across the sky like a meandering wide estuary river across a flat spit of land. The moon blurred solid land from a land infiltrated by melting light. My dreams remained empty and barren then, too blurry to decipher. I only had room for the moonlight, like the expansive red land. Other than the Waterfall Gorge campsite, I had every other camp towards Alice to myself. I timed my pace and my soreness to arrive at camp a half hour or so before the sun set. I would then stretch, guzzle water, and cook. I would eat my dinner as the sun sank and the cold sunk even deeper. I didn’t think on anything, or contemplate much else other than my body and the land. That’s all I had space for. There is a depth beyond an horizon when that depth is internal. The wind would die peacefully like the old age of day. Every night felt like the blues would be playing on as an ebbing day fell and the journey into the night began. The nights were like novels, long and deep. Then, on the second to last night, I had the dream.

I startled to early in the predawn. I couldn’t even see any vestiges of pink nor any remnants of the moon glow. Still enveloped in the cold dark, I stared up at the apex of my pyramid tarp. Clearly I had felt something. I couldn’t shake whatever it was. I couldn’t quite comprehend why I was staring up at the tucked pyramid point pocket. I couldn’t fall back asleep at all, let alone close my eyes back in that slumbering way. Suddenly, my mind felt emphatically clear. I realized a dream had spurred me awake. I understood I knew what I wanted, a feeling warmed over me like I had pissed myself. I sourced out the feeling with my clear head. I retraced my dream, too blurry to describe poignant details. It worked that way for me too. Dreams work that way, we all know that. Too blurry. Yet, I followed scene to scene and tiptoed invisibly through the crowd. I brushed shoulders of faces I haven’t seen in ages. I passed faces I instinctively repulsed, like I knew them for advantageous reasons but still sought their approval. These flashes felt fake. I relived that feeling deep in my gut and I felt my eyes slink away from that tucked pyramid point pocket. ‘That’s not it,’ I muttered softly.

Transported back to the scenes, I ascertained my connection to those faces through the places and the languages each person spoke. The faces spoke languages they did not know. Or, at least languages I did not understand. Why did I feel I needed their approval? I felt gut-wrenched, more repulsed by my own passing by than anything else. This wasn’t it. 

Then, I was in an empty room, an empty room in a forest. The walls were clear, see-through. I recognized the walls had been erected by me in the forest. I saw myself laying there, no one else around. Tall trees stood straight up, grey and brown barked, some smooth, some gnarled. I visually inspected the scene. I was looking for a break in the walls, a break in the emotional framework. I know it sounds silly, but I was breaking down the dream construction. My mind still felt emphatically clear. My eyes closed again and I went back to the forest room. I saw myself in the middle of a forest room. I opened back up my eyes. I saw peace in that room solely emanating from the belly. I had broken the emotional framework of the dream. I stared back at the tucked pyramid point pocket, my eyes wide open.

I was in my tarp in the red desert, my room. A beam of purple light smeared across my tarp, the day slowly beginning to rise. I knew right then and there what I needed to do. I knew what I wanted to do, more than anything. I felt as clear and lucid as the crisp morning desert air. So relaxed and content, I stretched fully my legs as one compacted spasm. That morning stretch that gets the heart to beat loud, I sat up and let the air out of my mattress. I packed up, exited my room and broke down the walls. 

My feet guided my being down the cobbly pathway atop the compacted banks of a very wide wash. I intermingled between fanned out mulga reaching out my fingers to brush against the long fingered sprigs. Spinifex brushed and poked my shins. In the cold morning air, the pricks felt as refreshing as a cold splash of water. Revived with a tingle, my legs no longer felt sore. I put my hands in my pocket and traipsed within a shivering cold. With my eyes I scammed the terrain and traced the trail meandering up the rocky scrubland slopes. The trail twisted and swirled clearly up on a charred slope and spun its way to a saddle flanked by huge deep red bluffs and a domed ridge.

Atop the razorback, I saw each bluff as congruous as if the land had been filleted by a giant cleaver. I teetered in balance along a precipice of blatant sharp rock. I churned my way with a momentum leaning to keep my balance forward. All around me I envisioned the ridges, escarpments, and fissures as hieroglyphics, as if a being carved symbols into the barren red rock. This land meant something powerfully. Shit, I dove into my dream again while hovering above the valleys tiptoeing on a desert high wire. I fell into a morning ponder. I dove into the dream, conjuring up the dream of me interacting within the dream and finding me in the forest dreaming. Could I break down the meaning? Most likely not. Yet I could possibly taste the dream like the meat on a baby back rib. The meat needs to be cooked correctly, perfectly. Too much sauce and it doesn’t matter how good the meat is cooked, the succulence is gone. I fell into my dream long and slow, like those ribs being smoked. I scanned the gnarled razorback, the abrupt craggy bluffs, the serrated turrets of limestone, and I marveled at the ingenuity of trail construction within such harshness. Within a formidable landscape a trail can be created. Within emotional turmoil a dream can be meaningful. I pushed on with perfect balance, flowing with blood flooding my legs, feet and toes. I hiked on a weaving trail flowing with the precision of a heart pumping blood. On full cylinders, my mind went blank, perfectly blank.

Plans change, I’ll simply say that. I set off nearly 8 months ago on this year of adventure and challenges, of what and where this would lead to for the next chapter of my life. When I departed Colorado I already had the Grand Canyon Traverse planned, the Te Araroa Trail too. For Australia, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted but I left my aim open for the wants and needs of a bikepacking adventure, as well as just exploring thoroughly a completely new country to me where I would have to create my route. I kept this Australian part, in particular, open for changes, adaptations, and personal needs. I knew that I would need to pace out the rigors of the whole year. I had learned the strategy associated with a big year in ‘16 where I had hiked the Sky Island Traverse, the PCT, and the CDT. I had plateaued that year while southbound in New Mexico on the CDT. My body became stiff, tired, and sore. My mental state became exhausted, spent, and weary. Both the physical and the mental exasperated more because of a food poisoning bout in Grants, NM. This illness led to a severe dehydration in which I developed kidney stones. I passed the stones on the porch of Nita’s Toaster House in Pietown on a pitch black night in the throes of pain. I endured it all and pushed on to the border even though I had lost a costly 2 weeks in taking time off, healing, and recuperating. 

I learned from that miserable time. I still had a hike planned for that year that I had to cancel. The bouts with food poisoning and the kidney stones just pushed me over an unhealthy ledge. I had to lay up. Yet, I learned strategy, pace, and more flexibility with the unseen. Over that winter, I developed a severe plantar fasciitis that lasted nearly 9 months. My body seemed broken from the previous year. Had I gone too hard? What did I do incorrectly? What would I have changed? So many questions bogged me down while occupying a positive space in my head. I wanted more and I knew it despite how it ended. 

What got me out of that long lasting painful injury and that mental bog was the bikepacking trip of ‘17. That year I rode a 5500 mile loop from Mexico to Canada and back via a route I put together across the Arizona Trail, Utah, Nevada, Idaho and Montana. For my southerly return, I utilized the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. I learned from that miserable time prior to the bike trip. I’ll say that doubly so. I also learned a lot from the bike trip, in general. I learned I needed to be flexible more than anything. There is a constant education in flexibility with myself. The more I learn and grow the more I need to be flexible to learn and grow. I also saw the distinction between traveling the land by foot and by bike. I could see that some areas of the world or particular areas of countries could be best explored by either foot or bike. Why not connect the two, I thought. This would make a lifelong dream of traveling the world come true. I could explore remote areas and traverse countries and continents with this double-bubble method. 

Why am I saying this? This year in its totality is part of a bigger project. Australia would be better explored and continentally crossed by a bike. One of the most important reasons to have this bikepacking trip in the middle of the year would be to spell the body, that riding in the saddle would limit wear and tear on an aging body where I’ve put over 50,000 miles on foot over the past 12-15 years. Again, it’s the strategy to tackle something this big from my first attempt in ‘16 at a huge year. 

I have kept my eyesight and vision on this whole thing both long and short term. Other than the Grand Canyon Traverse where I spent nearly 2 years extensively planning, I could hike the TA and bike Australia incrementally. The TA was very straightforward. Other than some minor planning details, like purchasing a hut permit, scheduling a ferry ride, and booking a couple flights, everything about that trail was simple enough. I just had to hike it. While on the South Island of the TA I began looking long term towards the summer. I had gathered so much intel and researched thoroughly potential routes that I settled on 3 routes: an Iceland Traverse, the High Pyrenees Route, and finally the Gran Traversata di Alpi. I purchased a round trip plane ticket with the remaining timeframe I would have left. This felt right at the time and I was eager and excited for the European adventure. I traveled for nearly 4 months with the expectation that that was what I wanted. But, the Australia bikepacking journey changed all that. I didn’t expect my Australia to change as much as it did. Be that as it may, I adapted instinctively so to enhance my enjoyment of the whole bikepacking trip. The other thing that factored in—I fell in love with Australia. I was having the best time I could possibly imagine. And, there was no way I was scimping out on a trip I was thoroughly enjoying. However, the penalty meant I would have to alter the rest of my summer plans. I knew there was a give and take, a consequence of being present in the moment. I simply was okay with that. 

So many changes in logistics ran up my budget. Plus, so many logistics just got me mentally tired, in particular as I began to look ahead. Looking ahead took me away from the present time that I was having such a good time in. The future logistics were large enough that I knew I couldn’t just tuck them away and figure them out as I went along. With these concerns, as I rolled into Alice Springs, I started to see the writing on the wall and the need for change. Plans change, I’ll simply say that again. I hadn’t planned on hiking the Larapinta. As I rode through the Red Centre I craved to be wandering out in the middle of the red desert landscape. I couldn’t just pass up the Larapinta Trail now, could I? No way, no how, I thought. Thus the changes had begun. It turned out that not only would the hike slow me down mentally and physically, it was a chance to reconnect slowly with nature, the desert, and myself. I understood I had a need for simplicity. Part of attempting something so big is to employ ‘the feel’ of something, to harness self-awareness, to be in tune with what’s around you, to be in touch with what you truly want. Such a tricky idea to employ, the tinge of flexibility coloring the decision making as evident as can be.

Eights months into this year long adventure, I stand having accomplished what I have set out to do. I am nearly done with the bikepacking part of Australia, and I know I need to get my summer plans dialed in. The dream I had on the Larapinta brought out some intimate internal communication with my wants and needs. The dream provided me with clarity and calmness, dialed into my gut. I knew what I wanted to do then as if I had planned the whole time. I would forego the Europe trip. I knew the trip would be bombarded with just as many logistics as Australia and would be very costly. I decided to reconvene with those plans over the winter. 

To reiterate, I craved simplicity. Simple logistics, simple planning, and to be simply hiking a long trail for nearly 3 months. The Appalachian Trail had seeped into my mind in the forests of New Zealand. I just never thought me hiking that trail would occur anytime soon. Yet, forest walking felt pretty soothing and very, very new, so opposite of what I prefer in and of the desert. I hadn’t thought about the AT notion until Adelaide. Then and there it crept in. It crept and crept in as the thoughts of even more logistics receded away. Then, with everything I had done up to the point in Alice Springs, I had thought about the AT as an even deeper reality. The idea itself wore me down in a different way. Europe illustrated stress. The AT illustrated a long walk. It just made sense and lined up with everything. The bike had gotten me stronger, even rested in some ways. The trail would be long and continuous which means simple logistics. The timeframe to finish the hike lines up with a return to work exactly one year from when I left. Adding up all the mileage the AT would put me over 10,000 human powered miles in one full year. Finally, completing the AT would give me the Triple Crown, something I have scoffed at but deep down inside means a lot to me. The AT feels personal to me, important to me and me only. Not only would it cap off my US hiking, completing the AT sets me off on my global project properly, fully. After all, this year long adventure is just the beginning of my lifelong obsession to see and explore the world by foot and now by bike. 

Leaving Alice:

Life goes on
Sometimes like the long road, life feels straight
No junctions, just a long straight road
Sometimes the road behind you is dead and gone
Leaving something behind for good

An accidental poem feels like the like we live. Why do we end up anywhere is anybody’s guess. And, that’s just it—life feels like a guess. I could easily envision myself forging my way through an unknown area as an explorer back in old times. Not in a colonization type way. Just in what the pure essence of human exploration represents. The lines of roads, boundaries, territories, cities, whatever we draw on a map is a social construct. These lines, in truth, do not define the world, rather the lines only make interpretation of the world around us confusing. Nature inherently knows no lines drawn. As I explored maps as a kid, I tried to look passed the lines humans created for their own use. I followed rivers, mountain ranges, coastlines, deserts. This was the language I wanted to hear, this interpretation of the actual world within nature. Yet, as an adult, all these natural lines blended in with human lines to the point sometimes I couldn’t tell what is made up or natural. I am influenced by my experiences, my dreams, my human brain. I am influenced by places, by nature. How can I blend the two? I am not from a tribe of people. I am a citizen of a capitalist country. The only way I ever thought to learn about the world would be to rebel against the capitalist country’s themes and just walk the world. To navigate this world I needed a deep communication with the land, a sense of place. I also needed maps.

My dreams are maps. My human memory is my internal world drawn with dreamlines across that map. Sometimes those dreamlines intersect, branch off, or remain long and straight. Utilizing my internal map of my world with the map of the real world I can travel through places across wide expanses amongst different types of people. I feel connected that way, interwoven within the latticework.

We are all just wavelengths anyway. I must confess that notion is a romantic idea I have of traveling. I don’t want to believe what I have left behind me is long and straight. I want what I leave behind enriches with intersections, encounters, junctions. My dreamlines seem to expand through time. I feel something deep enough that I understand it to be a very old thought or feeling. My experience doesn’t come from ‘right now.’ My experience feels as if it’s a human memory passed through time immemorial. If all that is true, or I believe that to be true, then at present moment I am living a dream. I am following a map.

I left on the year long adventure with some very personal goals, or to say some very personal intentions. I needed to know if my culminating travels would end or would I want to continue. I realized this particular question with months after my partner left. I wanted a family with her, a home. And, that vanished. I was willing to sacrifice extensive traveling and a dream of walking the world for the love I had found with her. Again, that vanished. So, I was left with my dreamlines, yet the map was blurry. What would I do next in life? Do I choose to try and fulfill my dreams? I’m at middle age and my body is aging. What can I do in this body still that is aging? How long? Do I still want a home with a partner? This means love. If I chose the former, could I ever have love? As much as I was driven by the hikes and the bikepacking trip for the year I had taken off, these questions were the real reason I was out here. 

Certainly, I want all that shit. Soon enough, in New Zealand I had an epiphany. My mom and my brother, that’s my family. They’ve been there the whole damn time and I was the one who never fully embraced them for who they are and the unconditional love they had given me. I see this in how my mom and brother interact with me and my brother’s son Cru, my nephew. He’s growing up so quickly and he knows me as me. My mom and brother ensure that. The realized that my family had accepted me for who I am and what I do. I wasn’t judged for it. Suddenly, I felt so enriched with love. This enlightened moment brought me to the next moment. A home. My family and I have begun talking about that in earnest. Shortly after those epiphanies, I had another one. I want to continue to try and live out my dreams of walking the world. I want to be the vivid embodiment of the life long dream of my human memory. I want to explore the world. I can do that especially with a family and a home to go back to.

I left Alice in a good headspace. For once in a very long time I felt happy. At the moment I cranked my first pedal out of Alice, I loved myself. Whatever I thought this journey would be I just had taken a big guess, a big leap of faith. I just knew that if I followed my heart I would at least know that I tried, that I gave my dream a shot. I pedaled out of Alice unapologetically me, unbroken. I took a look back over my shoulder. Obviously Alice was right there in front of me, yet in my mind’s eye I saw Uluru, the heart of the red land. I saw myself touching the rock with both hands and praying. That was the first time I felt that I could live with the heartbreak I had experienced. I understood it would never go away and that I could live my life with it. Yes, the road ahead was long and straight. But it was anything but linear. That’s not how life works. It’s just one big giant guess.

The miles flew on by. The further I got from the Red Centre the more healed I felt. I felt…real. I felt like I could live with it, with pain, with happiness, with love, with my dreams, with myself. I passed roadhouse after roadhouse. All on bitumen now, the route felt uneventful. The scenery changed daily. The trees got bushier, taller, thicker. I rode in a narrow corridor with an immensely flat landscape. The road stayed straight, sometimes it curved and bender, but it mostly stayed straight. I did drift into thoughts of other bikepacking routes I had to push aside because of the lack of time. I imagined riding the Tanami and the Canning Stock Tracks. I imagined the isolation, the beautiful loneliness, empty skies, the red sand dunes, the grind. Nevertheless, I stayed engaged and motivated because I knew the ending of this bikepacking trip would soon be over. I needed to end this thing one way or another. 

At Renner Springs, I sidled in around dusk. Before I could even stroll inside to the pub, a few people had intercepted me to ask me some questions. I got the usual list of questions: where’d you come from, were you going, for yourself or a charity, why? Most of these conversations feel trivial like ‘nice day today, mate. How’s the weather?’ I remain polite and carry on the conversations as a brief matter. There’s nothing deep in them. I believe these folks are curious in nature but it’s more of the ilk of rubbernecking and not of a genuine exploratory or connective nature. Yet, as I got within 20 feet of the pub doors a gentleman poked on over. He had just come out of the pub, so he hadn’t beelined to me like the others had. We sort of ran into each other. The usual drivel ensued, however, he was the one to trim the fat on the conversation. 

‘Have you had this dream since you were a boy? Or is this for something bigger? Or is it mid-life?’ 

My politeness turned serious. I could see he was asking me a genuine question. I was still flummoxed by it, too. I was on guard a bit. Where was this going? How far do I want this conversation to go. Nonetheless, I answered immediately.

‘Seeing Australia has been a dream of mine since I was a boy.’

‘Wow. Good on ya, mate.’ He shook my hand. ‘Safe travels, mate.’ And, that was it. Finally I felt represented wholly for the person standing in front of another person. I felt real, a physical representation in the real world spawning from my dreamscape. He saw it. And, I felt honored by his encounter.

The resort had a relaxing atmosphere. The place reminded me of those rundown places we now see driving to Las Vegas from Los Angeles deep in the heart of the Mojave Desert that used to be thriving oases back in the 70’s and 80’s. I for sure transported back in time, like being at Stateline 30 years ago, the place between heaven and hell in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the desert where anything can happen, an outlier amongst nothing, a strange yet heavenly place, where nothing matters actually mean nothing matters. It felt good to be there. 

Four beers in and the sun widely set, casting a gleam on an unforeseen era. I looked around at the cast of characters. A thin man in a suit sat in the corner by a window that looked out into the patio. A handful of grey nomads lurked in the patio sitting at long wooden tables waiting for the lounge music. The bartender, gruffly told told stories sarcastically. His jaw undercut is nose and he just appeared like a cartoon character to me. This made him look friendly, even cheery. He was utterly wacky, so eccentric through his wit and barbs that if I combined all his physical traits he was effusive enough to be liked. He spoke of his cars, his white wine collection, and the new Indian owners who give him an open check book to renovate the roadhouse. He went about gesticulating like mad. The galahs started to roost outside. In their giant flock the galahs flew into a couple giant eucalyptus, the cacophony of the galah in direct opposition to the enveloping blackness. I wandered outside to catch the last flint of Outback light. I stood stock still for five minutes before turning back around and headed back inside. I needed another beer. 

As I turned I spotted the man on the flyer that hung around the pub. His likeness to Tom Jones was uncanny other than just being short. His fake tan glowed like a brand new basketball. His black coat shimmered with a twinkling spectrum of bedazzlement. He floated about the patio area with an aura of importance. His hair boofed up with a rollover wave as hard as a statue. He was so animated he appeared like claymation. Out of place, he fit in. The Outback is full of characters. I thought for a second I was propelled back to cheesy old middle America cruising along Route 66.

The twang of the speakers squealed throughout the patio. He gave a guttural clearing of the throat. The music began. And, he started crooning. The grey nomads murmured loudly to hush things up abs began to sway. I ventured back inside to get that beer I needed from the slack-jawed quirky bartender. On the television Seinfeld was on. I plopped down on a stool and slurped my can of beer and watched Seinfeld as the croaks of the Tom Jones singer bellowed away.

I wobbled back to my shelter not long after. I was tired, sleepy from a long day in the sun, sleepy from the few beers. I peered over my shoulder at the patio performance. The cheesiness brought a big smile to my face. A Las Vegas performance in the dusty roadhouse in the middle of the Outback. Sigh, I felt sleepy because I knew my eyes would shut soon. That the journey was nearly over. That my time in the Outback was gone. Somehow I felt the need to say goodbye, somehow. I could feel this was the right moment. This moment had all the right quirks, the remoteness, the oddities, the beauty—-the complete definition of the Outback. I walked from the shimmering patio lights to the dark campground. Above the trees a light penetrated from the top of the pub. A windmill shone emblematically the representation of the Outback. I hobbled over to the shrine, the giant blades refulgent with the roof light backdropped by the immense darkness of the night. The pixelated stars hovered like fireflies on an active night. Orion laid really low on the western horizon, enormous, booming, heavy. The amphitheater was set. I heard over the scuttle of the wind blowing through the trees, the lounge singer belting out Crazy by Patsy Cline. My heart melted despite how ridiculous I thought the lounge singer was. I gazed up at the blades of the windmill. The blades turned softly with a whimpered squeak and in timing with the song. The song echoed lowly across the emptiness, a beautifully echoing ballad lulling the desert to sleep. I adjusted my eyes back to the patio. Tom Jones swayed and crooned to an audience of a handful of retired grey nomads. Two couples hugged and leaned into each other. Bah, fuck me, I tested up. I laid down in my glowing shelter from the sterile lot orange light, the crooning fading to a rebuffed silence. I said goodbye to the Outback in this strangely beautiful setting. 

Now, I trace my index finger over the map, the same way I did as a boy. I see that I am near the Bay of Carpenteria, so far north on Australia. I trace my finger over the map and see that Darwin is a mere three days away. In my rear view, Alice was long gone, Uluru even further away, and now the Outback began to diminish. I rode into the tropics. Kangaroos popped up again. The bird life became insane with the different types. Saltwater crocodile billboards began to pop up, corny tourism back in my periphery. I pushed on somewhat blinded to all the silliness. I needed an end point after all. And, I could feel the end in Darwin super present on my mind. I was ready.

I rode into Darwin thinking of the next couple hikes, the Bibbulmun Track and the Appalachian Trail. I thought of future dreams and the organization of those dreams so I could fulfill them. I thought of my family a bunch. I thought of living in Colorado with them. I also thought of rest, doing absolutely nothing for the next couple days. Plain simple rest for a week spell. I rode into Darwin thinking of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, and Adelaide—major places I had broken up the entire trip with. I filtered through memories and emotions. I focused on the present. I felt happy. I felt pretty content in that moment of wandering around Darwin not knowing where the hell I was at. I felt diminished, small, yet I felt determined, driven. I felt glazed over by my dreams. I felt empowered by my dreams. It all felt just like a dream.

I rode around Darwin not knowing where to signify the end of the bikepacking trip. After an hour or so, I found it on a bluff overlooking the bay, the cerulean blue waters a sight to behold. I kept my hand on my bike for a bit, such a part of me over the 10 weeks in riding neatly 4800 miles from Sydney across the Australian continent. I asked a nice lady to take my picture. 

‘Can I ask you for a favor?’

‘Why of course.’

‘Can you take a pic of me? I know it’s weird, I just rode from Sydney.’

She smilies timidly and with her kind eyes she said, ‘Congratulations.’

Hunkered in the shadow of a giant fig tree and leaning against the WWII memorial plaques backdropped against a beautiful sky blue palette, I stood out of place—-grimy and dirty, salty, my beard and hair thick and wild, my bike looking too big to be here in this city. She fiddled with my phone. I held my smile for a second, then released it.

‘You got it?’

‘Well…just one problem…your face.’

I chuckled. I thought to myself this is the perfect way. A dream can exist in the shadows. One must look deeply inside to find it. I assured her the picture was okay. After all, just look at my face. I thanked her quietly while smiling. She continued on her walk. I pushed my bike across the grass towards the downtown. 

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