I biked to the top of a hill, then pedaled full speed ahead down the other side. Suddenly, something caught my eye in the road. It was a snake! I barely swerved in time to avoid it, and that was a good thing for both of us – this snake was a venomous dugite. There were no cars and few bicycles, so it wasn't a surprise that the reptile could sunbathe without being turned into expensive boots.
The idea of riding a train across Australia might bore some people to tears, but it got me excited. I would have loved to have taken the Indian Pacific train all the way from Sydney to Perth, but with my flight to Cambodia quickly approaching, I didn't have the time. Luckily, I could still do a large portion of that trip. I would catch the train as it passed through Adelaide, and ride it all the way to Perth.
It was time for me to leave Melbourne for good. My flight to Cambodia was coming up, and it left from Perth, on the opposite side of the country. Australia is huge, and there was still a lot for me to see and do. Maybe I'll come back one day and spend a year traveling around the country. But for now, I only had time to travel to Adelaide and figure out how to get to Perth.
I met up with Craig in downtown Melbourne and we headed to the airport to pick up his Korean friend Oksoo. She was visiting Australia for the first time, and Craig had some big plans for her. Instead of taking her on a tour of the city, he drove us a few hours inland, to his family's ranch.
The next day was Australia Day, a holiday that celebrates the arrival of the British in 1788. Louise, Ben and I drove to Torquay to celebrate on the beach, Australia-style. Among the thousands of beach-goers, a huge group was attempting to break a world record: most giant, inflatable thongs (sandals) in the water at once.
When I bought my ticket for MONA, I was given an iPod and a set of headphones. The reason for this quickly became obvious: there were no titles or captions on any of the art. Instead, the iPod had all of the museum's information. This sounded like a cool way to use new technology.
But I quickly grew frustrated.
I took the bus to Deloraine the next morning. Greg, his wife Kate and her daughters Kym and Menon, along with Menon's husband Jason and their children were also there. It was quite a large family gathering. Unfortunately, Menon, Jason and the kids had to fly back to the mainland that afternoon, so we didn't get to talk for long. Before he left, Jason showed me some pictures of him and his son, walking on part of the Overland Track. The photos showcased snowy mountains, dark green forests, wide open grasslands and happy people. It was as if he and I had visited different countries entirely.
At seventeen kilometers, the last section of the Overland Track was one of the longest. It was also one of the easiest sections because it was flat, hugging the shore of Lake Saint Clair. That was a good thing: my right shin was swollen, and the pain had been mounting over the last few days. I figured I had shin splints, the result of carrying a forty-pound backpack that was missing its frame. (My backpack's frame had broken during the flight to Australia.) It was time for me to finish the trek and give my leg some much-needed rest.
This was to be my longest day on the Overland Track. My original plan after reaching the end of the trail was to hitch a ride to Devonport, but after learning that a serial killer named Ivan Milat had single-handedly ruined hitchhiking throughout Australia, I figured a bus would be a safer bet. The next bus to Devonport was due to leave tomorrow afternoon; the next one after that wasn't for several more days. If I wanted to catch tomorrow's bus, I would have to hike two sections today.
An attempt at Mount Ossa would be suicide. The temperature was a few degrees above freezing. Horizontal sleet was pelting me in the face. Whenever the wind gusted, I had to lean into it to avoid getting blown off the trail. My socks and pants were drenched. I had given up on wearing my soaked shirt; instead a waterproof windbreaker was all that covered my torso. Mount Ossa was covered in a fresh coat of snow, and the clouds that swirled around its peak indicated that the wind was fierce. I had a winter hat, but I didn't have gloves. There's a fine line between bringing the correct amount of gear, and being in serious trouble. As I ran downhill, my boots disappearing in a puddle of mud with each step, my white fingers clamped around my backpack's straps, my jacket emitting steam as snow slammed into it and evaporated, I realized that I was dangerously close to crossing that line.