Adelaide was meant to be a couple of weeks organising the Next Bit, catching up with Stuart and Fiona and chilling out a bit. Stuart and I go back to the very early 80s. Literally the last ‘Australian’ – since originally he’s from New Zealand – friend from ‘before’ I am still in touch with.
Yes, well, the best laid plans of mice and men …
Stuart mets me at the buss station and gives me the ground rules on the ride to his place. Seven years ago when I visited for a week and met Fiona for the first time I clearly did not make a good impression. Since Fiona works from home, the opportunity to improve my reputation is much higher than should she work in an office someplace. It also means I can dig my little pit quite a bit bigger too, if I am not careful. It sets the scene and sets me on edge.
There’s something about modern life in high-income OECD countries which put people on edge. High stress levels but it is not clear watching this as a passer-byer whether the rewards are worth the stress.
I truly underestimated the amount of time it would take to organise what I thought was simple things.
Let’s take Telstra as an example. My Euro-phones only work in large urban conurbations. It’s a frequency thing. I need a new telephone. Ideally a smart phone.
The ride across the Nullarbor with Rob demonstrated just how useful a smart phone with a ‘Blue Tick’ is, which is Telstra code for having the right frequencies. It would vastly improve my keep-in-touch-with-the-rest-of-the-world efforts, as well as provide vital intel about campsites, the weather and, you know, gossip.
So I NEED a phone.
A Telstra sales rep in Esperence explained that the cheapest nastiest very non-smart ultra-basic device has a sales price of 100$. To unlock it after say four or six month may cost an additional 200$. And I still won’t be able to check the weather, plan routes, tether my tablet, or any other internet things. A similar device costs 30€ in Europe and is already SIM unlocked.
I couldn’t arrange one in the few days I was in Esperence, which is but a small town. So, let’s get one in Adelaide. How hard can it be?
A new, SIM-locked smart phone start at 55$ per month for 1 GB. And go up. Per month. For a minimum of 24 months. Err … I probably only need such a device for like 4 months. At the end of my trip I’ll not only have 20 more months of payments but I’ll have a phone I can’t use in Europe coz it’s SIM locked to Telstra.
Solution? A second hand smart phone.
Plan … get a second hand smart phone, check out Telstra for which bundle or contract-type I need and Wa La … done. How hard can it be?
Day 1. Cashconverters, a pawnbroker, has a range of them. So, which one has the (in)famous Blue Tick? The sales rep has not one clue what I’m talking about. Being a nice person she goes on line to check it out. The phone, a Samsung Galaxy Young, seems to be OK. Just to be sure she advises I go to Telstra and confirm.
Day 2. Telstra’s flagship shop on Rundal Mall. “How would I confirm whether a phone I have or want to buy has a Blue Tick?” “Don’t know, go online”. No matter how I try to engage the man I am referred to “online’. “As a tourist in remote Australia (and assuming my phone has a Blue Tick) what would be the best bundle?” I am handed pieces of paper, photocopies of some kind of information, non of which makes any sense to me. When I push I am referred back to “online”. Finally I point out to him that as a tourist in Australia with a phone that does not work I don’t have access to “online”. His response … “Well, 95% of our customers have access to the internet”. And since I’m in that annoying 5% bracket I can quietly go and f***-off.
Day 3. Fiona suggests I don’t internalise the sales rep’s attitude and instead try another Telstra shop 5 or 6 kilometres in the other direction. First though, I need to gamble. I return to Cash Converters, buy the phone then head to the other Telstra shop waaay over on the other side of town. There the sales rep is really helpful but he too cannot answer my question as to whether my phone, or any phone, has a Blue Tick or not. “It should have” he says. Considering I’m going into some pretty isolated and remote areas and a phone with a Blue Tick may actually be a life saver, “should have” and “maybe” is a tad risky coz the only way I’ll ever find out is when I’m well away from any major urban area. “What about what bundle would be best?” He takes my phone finds out I have ‘Simplicity’ and recommends I change to ‘Freedom Plus’. Which he does in about 30 seconds. He restored my faith in Telstra’s sales-reps after the debacle of the first one.
Three days and 60-odd kilometres of riding just to get a phone. Then there’s the Australian summer sleeping bag, a cooler bag, telescopic tent poles so I can make a shelter, a whole new kitchen concept, a Personal Location Beacon for emergencies, tent-pole-holders so I can erect the Soulo without the fly, information and maps of the Mawson Trail, information and maps for when the Mawson Trail ends and the rest begins, a new bike computer (Garmin), cycling shoes (didn’t buy), new tire for the trailer (had to order, Schwalbe Marathon, of course), a new handlebar bag mount to replace the one that’s simply not survived all the bouncing and vibrations (had to buy a whole new bag just to get the mount), and so on. Each one is a tale in its own right. First to find the shops (well spread out), then to get there (riding & I frequently found myself going exactly the wrong way. It’s a sun thing). Then to check out other options at other shops. And so on.
Tuesday, the very first day in Adelaide, I took Dreamer to BMCR – https://bmcr.com.au/ – to mount the Edelux light only to find out an international biathalon was in town and they are flat out with Team Canada and can only work on it the following Tuesday. I take Ziflex with its brand new front end, sent by Cyklorama from Sweden, to Simex – http://www.simaxengineering.com.au/ – to discuss how to strengthen the down-tube which failed so spectacularly. Their first suggestion? “Well, you know it takes 3000 km for it to fail. Can’t you arrange for a front end to be waiting for you every 3000 km?” No denying his ingenuity but not particularly practical. We discuss options and Simon will see what he can come up with in a day or so.
Over a week passes before I get Ziflex back too.
All the fiddly little things I need both the bike and the trailer to play around with and test now have to be done in the last three days before my planned departure.
Consequently I spent every day busy with something. All day. Evenings were spent with Stuart talking beer and drinking bullshit. As for my chillout time before the next bit of my Epic? Didn’t happen.
Back in late 80s as I prepared to leave Australia for a six month contract in Papua New Guinea Warrick a mutual friend of Stuart and I agreed to store my stuff. This was in Perth. Well, I never returned to Australia. Warrick moved first to Adelaide, then to Tanzania before returning to Adelaide. By this time I was well ensconced in northern and eastern Europe and we gradually lost touch.
Warrick is still in Adelaide and still a friend of Stuart. And he actually still has my stuff! 30 years after I left, waiting for me are a pile of boxes full of stuff I deemed important enough to store back in the 80s.
Amazing to go through my own personal time-capsule. Including a bottle of Cointreau and Chivas Regal. Given the Chivas is a 12 year old blend, add 30 years and it’s now a 40 year old vintage. Tasted great.
So what was important to me 30 years ago? Lots of information on environmental rehabilitation of devastated lands, namely mines.
High-end hi-fi, like Stax electrostatic SR-X/MK-3 PRO Bias Electrostatic Earspeakers which cost a kool 1000$ back in the 80s. Naim speaker cable to go with the Rogers Studio Ones and A&R Cambridge pre- and power-amplifiers Stuart’s enjoyed since I left (I consider them his now), as well as various vinyl care stuff. And a brand new box of 12 TKD SA-X 90 chrome cassettes unopened. Remember them?
Lots of cycling gear including what must have been some of the earliest panniers Wilderness Equipment, based in Freemantle, Western Australia, produced, in excellent condition. Wilderness Equipment is now marketed under the Sea to Summit brand.
A collection of two boning and one skinning knife from perhaps the most important job I ever really did in terms of influencing my choices in life … working in an abattoir killing animals. I thought I’d lost them years ago.
Kitchen stuff. Totally normal kitchen stuff! No idea why I stored it but I assume it was coz I assumed I’d be gone for six months.
Fishing gear. Quite a nice collection in truth. Am sure most of it’s still useful but it looks pretty alien to me now.
Pottery handmade by my pop during his pottery period. Beautiful and priceless.
And some mementoes stretching back to visits to Scotland in the mid-60s before I even migrated to Australia. This was the stuff I was really hoping to find. Again priceless.
Some things I think I stored do not seemed to have survived. Notably photo-albums. Warrick is not sure they are not somewhere in his house. Given what has survived I will not lament what was not preserved.
I kept the mementoes. I contacted Wilderness Equipment to ask if they wanted an historic set of cycling panniers for their archives. They actually said yes! A courier came to pick them up. I was sad to see them go but there’s no way for me to keep them personally. And by now they are somewhat dated. The rest of the stuff is earmarked for a second-hand shop and hopefully a future through someone else.
What do you give to someone with who you lost touch with well over a decade ago and yet they kept stuff stored lifetimes and lifestyles ago? I chose to give him my favourite bottle of whiskey: The Balvenie, double-barrelled 12-year old single malt Speyside. He really enjoyed it. Or is still enjoying it.
I cleaned all my gear, the tent, the sleeping bag, the panniers, all my clothes, everything. Washed all the dust off before I get them all dusty again.
Stuart, being a shooter, took me to the range, gave me a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun, some instructions, detailed safety rules and I shot away. Did pretty well on the target shooting and was lousy with the clay-pigeons.
As Warrick drove me carefully through the narrow windy suburban streets in the Adelaide hills leading to his house with its impressive view he suddenly goes “There’s a koala”. He does this several times. I think he’s taking the piss out of me, coz I can’t see them. Then finally, a 100 m from his house I see one. Then another. In fact they seem to be pretty much everywhere. And they do make a funny grunting noise.
Eventually though everything was arranged and bought and organised and cleaned and packed. Time to roll. Am sure it’ll be more relaxing on the road, or the trail …
Adelaide, 25 October 2015