Blunders Downunder



[Author’s note: I’m cycling in Australia for two months, I think. With the heat of the first two days of riding, a certain reframing of the trip may ensue. Let us begin…]




On the way to the airport…

The car slewed definitely-lost-control right then definitely-lost-winter-tire-of-the-year left on the sorta-see-it single blizzardy lane of the 401 as we approached Bowmanville. With graceful movement and an economy of motion consistent with a frugal and righteous lifestyle, I righted the sliding ship of Subaru and carried on. My friends will tell you that at these moments of crisis I am at my best – no facial tics, no Tourette yelps, no tweets, no sudden fouling of a dubiously-chosen, speedo-style undergarment, only an outward calm so detached that a dullard observer might assume unawareness – dullards are asses.


At Toronto Pearson International Airport…

Pulled a facial muscle 30 minutes into my interactions with People in Authority during the ticket/bag/customs check-in process. The expression that finally did the damage was that one blending quiet deference without quite reaching obsequiousness, a gentle but intelligent bonhomie hinting at the warmth, wonder, and oneness of all Mankind, and a you-do-such-good-work-thank-you-for-your-service message achieved by pulling back and dropping the left side of the face while simultaneously arching the right eyebrow. When I heard the pop, I knew the season was over.


Five-hour layover in Dallas…

 One of My Important Questions: If you’re not leaving the terminal in Dallas and you’ve got 5 hours and half a Super Bowl to watch, how much US cash do you need (don’t talk to me about plastic, just don’t)? I had $70 in Trump funds but that had to cover the layover at both ends of the trip so I really only had $35 TF. Will I be sitting in a restaurant/bar, knocking back moonshine and talking trash with the secretary on her way to a cabinet meeting, screaming at the game and buying rounds for the house? Will $35 cover that? I wasn’t sure, so I secured another $80 from a CPF (Close Personal Friend, duh…). Best to be safe.

Answer to the Important Question: $3.23 US. Turns out, two McDoubles burgers with cheese from the Value Menu (in Australia, it’s called the Loose Change Menu) and refilling your cycling water bottle from the hork-filled fountain while watching the game from one of fifteen hundred big screen TV’s spread across the waiting lounges, only half listening to the guy beside you apparently divorcing his wife over the phone, will really stretch that travel dollar.


17 Hours Non-Stop to Sydney…

 Long, but not in a good way.




Sydney, where they do really good Australian accents…

 Customs Agent: Any mud, soil, or organic debris on your bike?

Fastidious-to-a-fault Canadian Cyclist: No, sir. We cleaned it at the shop.

Customs Agent: It’s a real problem introducing non-native organic contaminants in Australia.

FTAFCC: Yes, sir.

Customs Agent: Next!

In the moment, you can feel like you’re not really lying. You’re pretty sure you’re not lying and even if you are lying it’s only a little bit and what harm could it do? Well, when I unpacked the bike preparatory to assembly, a clod of dirt dislodged from the frame and cracked a tile. I may have broken Australia.

My sister-in-law Kathy has an old Aussie friend, Maxine, who visited Montreal 20 years ago and lodged, with her brother, for a few weeks at said s-i-l’s house (Kathy is technically married to Brother Geoff). Maxine has been anxious to wipe the hospitality slate clean for many, many years. I am the debris on that slate.

Maxine lives 25 km south of Sydney airport in Bundeena, a profoundly funky, waterfront village abutting Royal National Park, but works 10 km north of the airport at some place called the Sydney Opera House. Upon arrival, I was to decide whether to cycle north to her work or south to her house, dependent upon my ability to mix stimuli and sleep deprivation in a prudent manner. If I chose her work, where she’s a Fire & Safety specialist, she was on til 5 and could drive me and my bike home in her Outback (of course). She might also, y’know, show me around backstage where they’re currently performing Carmen, the only opera I actually know and, in my damaged way, love.


So the plane landed at 6 am local time. By the time Humpty Bike was put together, new sim cards purchased and activated, floor tile discreetly repaired, and the purchase of my first flat white rejected in a bid to show those doubting pricks at home that I can, in fact, live on $20/day, it was 10:30 am. What to do…

A little Bizet whispered in my ear. Decision made. I would cycle north to Maxine’s work (she said to just come to the stage door and ask for Maxine – WHAAATTTT???? THEATRE NERD ALERT!!!), say hi, go for a tour, nonchalantly take in the extraordinary architecture and ambience and then, because I’m strong and powerful and stupid, say to Maxine  “See you back at your place” and leisurely cruise the moderate 38 kms back.

Never listen to a little Bizet. By the time I got halfway to the opera house my sleep check light had come on and new plans were formulating at a rapid pace: “Maxine, is there a couch in the green room that I could lay out on for a few hours?” “Maxine, is there an in-house masseuse available to 3 degrees of separation slatepests?”

By the time I arrived at the, frankly, awesome-looking world icon that you may or may not be familiar with, I had decided that I’d probably done enough cycling for that day. I was hot, but it was a good hot. I was tired, but it was a good tired. The stage door entrance met all my celebrity-culture dreams. I walked my bike through the sliding glass doors and leaned it against the wall like I owned the place – a hazy fantasy of the world-famous, attractively-eccentric, Canadian tenor arriving for his gig on a fully-laden touring bike tripped through my head as I asked the receptionist for Maxine.

“Is she expecting you?”

“I believe so. I’m something in the way of an unpaid debt.”

“May I ask who you are?”

“Such a funny girl…” #tenorfantasy

The receptionist called Maxine. Maxine didn’t answer. The receptionist called someone else. “Oh,” she said, swivelling to me. “Maxine had to cancel her shift today because of a bushfire. She apparently left you a message.”

“Oh,” I said, starting to feel the beginnings of a little bushfire of my own somewhere in the frontal lobe region, “I should have checked my phone before I left the airport.” “A shame.” said the receptionist. “Yes.” said the Canadian #tenorfuckwit.


South to Bundeena…

 The last few hours of that ride/day are a little hazy, the way air can get a little hazy during the most humid month of the year in a country that does heat well. Among a series of hindsight poor choices, I took a different Google Maps Bicycle route south, a route presumably created by Google at a time of notoriously lax hiring practices. At one point, I seemed to be the only cyclist on the Sydney equivalent of the Gardiner Expressway. “But Officer, Google Maps says…” There were a lot of cars. They drove really fast on the wrong side of the road. I pedalled really slowly on the wrong side of the road. The shoulder wasn’t wide. It was a little scary. Had I not lost my last wit several kilometres earlier, it would have been a lot scary. Welcome to Australia.


Spoiler alert, I made it to Bundeena. A lowlight included, in an effort to escape the hellish non-Gardiner, circling an additional 10 km up and around the airport and actually passing the point where I’d assembled the bike that morning/two hundred years ago. Bill Murray posters advertising Koala Day were plastered over my broken tile. Crocodile Dundee appeared in front of me “That’s not a biiiiike…”

I looked it up on the Interweb later, and discovered that I’d taken a 15 km bike path around Botany Bay – THE Botany Bay.  Heatstroke Tunnel Vision (HTV) allowed me to appreciate 6.48% of the glorious seascape. Dagnabbit. On the other hand, the last three kilometres to Bundeena were via a very cute, very teeny ferry that auditioned for Thomas the Tank Engine but didn’t get a callback (“Not what we were looking for…” As if.)

Maxine has been an amazing hostess. Bundeena is beautiful. Everything off the bike in Australia is fabulous. Mental illness takes many forms. Stay tuned for developments…