Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kangaroos and wombats and brumbies, oh my!

I have no intention of leaving Tarago soon. Our host is making fresh coffee in a press pot. I intend to stick around until it's ready.

In this country instant coffee rules, for some reason. It's a total mystery. It's primitive. It has a polarizing effect on people. Some just surrender to the instant stuff, where others seem to come alive only in the presence of the real, brewed product.

Mark, of Seattle Randonneurs, interrogates the barista as to the origin of the coffee beans, their flavor profile, and the darkness of the roast. The provenance is verified. There is a grinder on site. The result will be acceptable. Coffee on!

As if real coffee were not enough to be giddy about, much of the food at this control is gluten-free. Pumpkin and red lentil soup! Grilled ham and cheese on gluten-free bread! Rice pudding! Fruit cocktail! I'm in some kind of a trance… which is dangerous at a control. Very dangerous. Makes you want to sit down and stay put. Today I've probably taken in more calories than I've managed to burn.

(Well, that little hill and the headwind coming into the control incinerated an extra kilojoule or two.)

Sensing the danger, the control worker launches into a detailed, public briefing on what's coming up. The town of Bungendore is just down the road. It's on the left but nothing will be open except the pub. At the roundabout we want to go right. We'll climb the 'one real hill' of the day. After the top, it's basically downhill to Canberra. A slight exaggeration but not much.

Real coffee, hip to gluten-free, a press conference with details. Love this guy. Seventy kilometers, how hard can it be?

Then he warns us to be extra careful on the next stretch. Approaching cars will basically have the sun in their eyes, poor visibility. Got it. And we'll be passing through kangaroo and wombat territory. They're nocturnal, so this is their time of day. And yes, they will run right into us on the road.

Wait a second. That last bit, what exactly are we doing with that? I didn't hear any corrective action. Dusk is coming on fast, with darkness on its heels. We're passing through the habitat of large marsupials. We're looking out for kangaroos and wombats, the color of dust and dirt, respectively. They are ancient creatures, no slouches when it comes to moving quickly, but not yet evolved to share the road with passing cyclists (or cars). And if we see one heading right toward us, we're going to… we're going to…

Well I do leave Tarago. Chasing Rick and Mark, who employ a secret nonverbal language for getting out of controls. By the time my rear blinkie is blinking those two are almost out of sight.

Yesterday at bike check there was another version of this story, a warning about a big descent at night with brumbies (wild horses) and kangaroos. Dangerous. Coming out of the Snowy Mountains, which is tomorrow. The Aussies seem to relish and almost take pride in the wild unpredictability of the bush. They're trying to look out for us as well. With no way to head off disaster, the story gets more disturbing each time it's told.

So I'm monitoring the shadows along the road using my peripheral vision. Looking for movement. How effective this is, who knows? But at least I'm awake. There are a number of roadkills, which tells us the information at the briefing was good. I choose to focus on the cartoon wombat on the official road sign, rather than the disastrous results when they try to cross.

Watching for disaster is how I come to notice the moon rising behind us. Spreading a soft light over the rolling hills and a silent, irregular sequence of randonneurs, each one blinking red. A string of lights marking the way to Canberra. Will we have a moon tonight for company? It looks full, or close to it.

There are still good surprises left in this world.

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