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Farthest South: On from Sydney, holiday in New York, unexpected illness

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

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Current Location: Hamilton (a country town between Melbourne and Adelaide)
Nights spent in hospital in Melbourne: 3

_Australian camping.jpg

“I told him where I was staying and he asked after Tim. I said I thought Tim was a man who had reached his limit and needed a rest. ‘Ah’, he replied solemnly, as if I had hit on a notion of key importance. Then he lit a cigarette, and a coil of smoke spiralled upwards before his face. ‘If a man does not reach his limit,’ he pronounced, a flicker of enquiry surfacing into his eyes as if released from great depth, ‘how can he discover the way to go beyond it?’ “-Jason Elliott, An Unexpected Light

“… who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” - Jesus

In May, I hurried on south to Sydney, pedalling the hours away, often from dawn until darkness. I had prior arrangements to visit schools along the way (to give assemblies about the expedition) though I came to realise that I had often been wildly over-optimistic in estimating how long it would take me to get from one appointment to the next, resulting in some very late night rides under the moon, and all too brief slumbers in my tent. Pressing on through sheep filled valleys and deeply wooded hillsides, I was at last sucked down a speedy motorway to the Sydney Harbour waterfront. The white floodlit shells of the Opera House gaped towards the sky, the water rippled affection and confidence to the night, and the bridge towered majestic and crownlike above us. Arrival in iconic cities by bicycle (after many months of sweating and trouble) is always a surreal yet satisfying moment – I briefly enjoy the wonder of seeing a famed landmark under its own stars, and breathe a sigh of relief at having got this little bit further on down the road.

I had been looking forward to Sydney as a symbolic half way point for the trip, though it turned out there was little time for thinking and reflection. Each day I bustled around the city – speaking at schools and rotary clubs to earn money for the ride home or raise funds for Viva Network, and I felt priveleged to meet or stay with a great variety of inspiring people (including old school friend, Nige Swain, who I had not seen for almost 10 years).

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From Sydney, I also took a complete break from the expedition. Not to go home (as this would have disrupted my momentum to the extent that I think the cycling could not have continued), but rather to fly to Manhattan. Christine (the beautiful girl who I had met a year previously in Hong Kong) was now working there as a corporate lawyer, and she had already come to see me twice (in the Philippines, then Brisbane), so I decided that taking a holiday to see her in the Big Apple made a lot of sense at this point. It was great to see Christine again (and in such an extraordinary place as New York) but after 3 weeks, as she flew back to London to resume work there, I was flying back to Sydney and preparing for the next stage of “Cycling Home From Siberia”… (Just for the record, I AM still trying to complete my route overland/without flying the route itself… this plane journey was a holiday away from the expedition, not a part of it!)

A few days later I left Sydney in the rain and cycled initially towards the Great Dividing Range and the little-known capital of Australia. Canberra seemed a very serene and sensible sort of place with wide roads, noble buildings and sculpted stretches of water – all nestled within a cluster of scrubby hills. A brief rest and stay with some kind hosts there and I was off again, hammering the wheels through icey winds, rolling forests and coastal valleys – steering for Melbourne and another busy schedule of schools.

Shortly after arrival, however, I was to have an unexpected experience whilst in this atmospheric and likeable city. During my first week in Melbourne I started to develop a bit of a headache. Being the sort of person who normally shrugs off most kinds of illnesses by just ignoring them, I just pressed on with my speaking engagements, hoping it woud go away. After a few more days the headache was getting worse and I was feeling a bit fluey. Then came the day that I had to run to a school as I was late, and I arrived there feeling very strange, but still started to give my presentation … however, with a few minutes left of the assembly, I had to bolt out of the room to be sick! I realised that it was time to take to bed and try and shake this illness off (whatever it was). But then things got worse… a cycle of fevers ranging from violent frozen shivering (despite manifold duvets) to ridiculously sweaty. I staggered down the road to the local GP, who confidently told me it was the flu, and that I should just stay in bed. Then, thanks to some excellent advice from a doctor friend in Hong Kong (Aric) I was persuaded to go to hospital for a tropical diseases checkup. After a blood test in the nearest casualty ward, I was told it was actually malaria – apparently hiding in my liver since Papua New Guinea, where I had been bitten by lots of mosquitoes. Three days in hospital with a drip in my arm, and an assortment of pills, and I was on the road to health. However, because of all this, I was not strong enough to cycle for a while (I had lost 8% of my body weight) and so had to cancel my intended ride around Tasmania (how our well laid plans can crumble into dust!). I spent a week recuperating in Melbourne, and then took another holiday, leaving the bike in Australia and flying over to see old school friend, Jim Dick the carpenter, in New Zealand. Back in Melbourne, and feeling much better, I was then ready to set off on the bike again.

As I thought about it during my recovery, the malaria episode was perhaps not such a bad thing. It forced me to stop and reassess my goals and priorities and reflect on what I am hoping to get from the homeward leg of the journey. I have battled several times with the idea of whether I should keep going on this ride (there is after all, still a long way home), but I have concluded that the road that remains has many lessons left to teach. “Missing home” is not a good reason to quit, and I know that it is when the going gets tough, that continuing is more worthwhile than ever. I was alarmed the other day to realise how much of my time of late has been spent feeling “worried, flurried and hurried”, so I am making a conscious effort to stop worrying and just accept things as they happen. Recently, reading some extraordinary travel books about war weary refugees in Afghanistan and desperate early settlers in Australia, I feel pangs of perspective as to how privileged I actually am.

It is time to start feeling excited about the ride again – I have turned a corner on the map, and finally, genuinely, I am heading for home – something I am reminded of each evening as I now ride west and into the setting sun. A couple of days ago, on ‘The Great Ocean Road’ of Victoria, I also reached the most southerly point of the journey, went for a quick swim in the cold, clean sea, and then turned the bike northwards for Adelaide.

I am not sure what will happen along the way in the remainder of this journey, but I believe that this final year (or so) of the trip is surely worthwhile. I have earnt enough money to complete the ride, I am still young enough to enjoy the adventure, and opportunities like this do not come along very often… as Kent Nerbur advised his son: “Live, if only for a short time, the life of a traveller. You will meet people you could not invent, you will see things you could not imagine”.

Once again, many thanks for your emails, prayers and kind donations to the work of Viva Network and their work with over 1.2 million children at risk in 48 countries around the world.

Please stay in touch, God bless,

(To support Viva Network and their heroic work for children at risk around the world, please visit – THANKYOU!)

And finally… 2 great quotes:

(this one is an interesting comment by Steinbeck about Americans):
“We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colours and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed ? selected out by accident. And so we’re over brave and over fearful ? we’re kind and cruel as children. We’re overfriendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re over sentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic ? and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old land they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key to the language of our culture? That’s what we are, Cal ? all of us. You aren’t very different.”
- John Steinbeck, East of Eden

(this one, a traveller’s reflections in Afghanistan):
“And there it was again, that feeling that the journey was becoming more than the sum of its parts, more like a clandestine sculpting at work within me, which in the visible world I was merely acting out, to reveal – what? The shape of a character I knew only dimly from a life whose roots were growing more tenuous by the minute. How precious and remote the world of home now seemed! In ordinary life you know yourself from your surroundings, which become the measure and the mirror of your thoughts and actions. Remove the familiar and you are left with a stranger, the disembodied voice of one’s own self which, robbed of its usual habits, seems barely recognisable. It is all the stronger in an alien culture, and more so when the destination is uncertain. At first this process brings with it a kind of exhilaration, a feeling of liberty at having broken from the enclosures of everyday constraints and conventions: this is the obvious if unconcious lure of travel. But once it has run its early course a deeper feeling more like anguish begins to surface, until the foreigness of your surroundings becomes too much to bear. I had never felt it so strongly before, and wondered: when does it start, this divorce from oneself, and what is its remedy?”
-Jason Elliott, An Unexpected Light