29 June 2022
13,000 kms or so
The climb out of town was steep at first before moderating. The dam wall, the sparkling waters of the dam, and the snow-capped peaks of the ranges around Mt Bogong far behind the dam were perfectly framed. You could make postcards out of scenes like that. And after the longest stretch of cold, grey and wet days to start winter that I’ve ever experienced in Oz, a sunny, cool day with gorgeous views was much appreciated.
The effort in the climb for me was nil. I was on a SAAB turbo prop plane heading northeast out of Albury. Being in a plane again felt novel. I enjoyed the views of the landscape from above, tracing out all the roads I’ve ridden and thinking about how that crumpled tablecloth topography looks so different from above than from the road.
We flew over a lot of the Green Valley and Dunn’s Road 2019-20 fire area (which burnt more than 600,000 hectares). The severely burnt areas looked like rough grey smudges among greener forested areas. All those trees were killed outright. From the air, you could also see how Tumbrumba was so lucky to escape that inferno when it made its big, fast run to the southeast, since Tumba sits right between the northwest-southeast trending ridges. You could also see how Batlow and Talbingo Reservoir were right in the firing line with some of the orchard netting at one farm (Batlow is famous for apples) still collapsed and singed. Recovery in those areas will be a long time coming.
The highest peaks in Oz, the Main Range and Mt Kosciuszko, are really an eroded plateau. For that to be the highest part of the continent, it’s a rather low-lying and unimpressive swath of topography. From the plane view, the snow on the peaks made it look more like an area of low, white sand dunes than mountainous peaks in winter.
The guys and I made the most of being horizontal and stretched out at the hotel in Sydney before our flights on Air New Zealand to Auckland and Los Angeles the next morning. I was not sure about how the heating and cooling worked, so I kept my mask on all evening and slept in it, too.
I have not flown out of Sydney in quite a long time. Melbourne is usually more convenient. But I figured one hour of potential covid exposure on the plane to Sydney was much better than 5 hours on the train to Melbourne.
It was school holidays, so there were lots of people flying. It wasn’t chaotic, but it was busy. The security lines were long but moved steadily.
I set off the metal scanner three times, with and without shoes on, and walking through at various speeds as directed. So that got me a security pat down by a very gruff and no-nonsense woman. I could only figure that maybe the clamp on my gallbladder fundus is metal? Or they left a scalpel inside last November, lol.
Then I got selected for the explosives test. Which I failed. Just after setting off the metal detector three times. If you fail the explosive test, you have to go to a different reader and get swabbed (arms, legs, and shoes) two more times. Best out of three I guess. Thankfully, I won the series 2-1. But my poor teddy bear and Verne got swabbed a few times since they swab inside your bags, too. I do not think the guys were too impressed by that indignity. (And please note, I also got pulled aside for the explosives test at the transit security screening and at the gate security screening in Auckland, too. I passed those tests though on the first go. Quite remarkable to get ‘randomly’ chosen at every possible security point in Oz and NZ for the explosives test).
Thankfully, AIr New Zealand still has a mask mandate on their flights, and the staff do go around and tell people to wear them correctly if they are not. And thankfully Aussies and Kiwis are very compliant and 98 percent of people on the full flight were doing the right thing the whole time. It made feel a bit safer. The couple people I saw being told to pull their masks over their noses while waiting in line at the toilet had American accents. The one woman told the flight attendant, “but I’ve already had Covid.” The flight attendant just said flatly, “And you could get it again, please wear your mask correctly.”
However, Air NZ no longer provide a pillow for the flight, just a blanket. And I desperately need that pillow to be comfortable even when I’m a normal weight. My spine sticks out so much. I am down on weight, so it’s even worse. I had to wad up the blanket to try to be somewhat comfortable. My back was still rubbed raw by the time I got to LAX though.
LAX is a hole. It has always been. The international terminal is nice, but the rest…not so much. At least the Southwest terminal was not all that busy and I did not have any security scanner dramas. The flight was late leaving as the full flight was overweight and they had to keep shifting stuff. Then, at Denver, it took a full hour before the first bags came down the claim chute. This meant I missed the last hotel shuttle for the night and had to spend $35 on a taxi. However, I had a nice chat with the Ethiopian taxi driver on the way. Ex-pats, regardless of where you are from and what country you’ve adopted, have some commonalities that lend to easy discussion and camaraderie.
So I still had to get to Ft Collins. The next day was a walk to the train station at 61st and Pena Blvd, train to Union Station and then bus to Ft Collins. It was just more time waiting, sitting and experiencing the culture shock you always get when you’ve been away for awhile. But finally, after a 10 minute walk from the transit centre, I was finally to my accommodation for the next 11 days.
From door to door, the trip took 63 hours. That is long no matter how you cut it. And very expensive this year. All of the flights, motels, various modes of transport, travel insurance, etc cost almost $6000 to get here and have 11 days of accommodation up front. Thank goodness I went back to work in January to pad out my savings – that same amount of money could fund six months of bike travel!
So, thankfully, it was not an explosive trip. Travel is still not all that easy at the moment and there are plenty of horror stories of delayed and cancelled flights and permanently lost luggage. Everything went quite smooth for me except for the American bits, but even that just required patience and forking over some extra money.
I’ve been here six days now and did my first of two RATs today. It came back negative. Just one more to do tomorrow (as you have to do two if you are not symptomatic). Then I will feel confident in seeing my parents and not being the one to give them Covid. They are in the age range where death is still a possibility, and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I had inadvertently been the cause of it.
All the mask-wearing, socially distancing where possible, all the vaccines (I got the flu vax this year, too) and boosters, and all the handwashing, hand sanitising and vigilance meant I got away without contracting anything in 63 hours of being in public spaces. Woo-hoo!
(The feature photo is me with my crew and gear ready to start the 63 hours. Nigel took me to the airport in his 82 LTD. He’s going to sell it while I am away, so that was my final cruisy ride in the old girl).