Saturday, April 25, 2015

Invisible Oceans: Part I

Interestingly enough, the bicycle I mentioned in my previous post was actually not the first one I purchased in Australia. I bought a very cheap one when I first arrived, but sold it in favor of the much nicer one. Usually when I go an adventure, I do so with via my bike. However, the story I'm outlining today occurred during my first few days in Adelaide, a day in which obtaining the bike was the adventure itself.

I found a suitable match on Australia's version of craigslist, The seller lives in Athelstone, a northeastern suburb of Adelaide, which meant I had to take the bus there, and ride the 25 kilometers or so back.

While on the way to Athelstone, I met an older woman on the bus from Los Angeles. We talked about my aviation ambitions briefly, and how she has lived in various Australian cities during the past 15 or so years, but she kept going back to talking about how handsome I (allegedly) am. That's another thing. What is it with older women (over 55) and being so confident with telling me how much they like the way I look? I'm sure it's not just to me, either - it seems to be a common occurrence. I suppose people like her are not intimidated by the notion of saying it aloud, speaking in a matter-of-fact-like tone, and, due to her age (at least 70, I presume), impossible to be perceived as flirtatious.

After awhile, she pressed the button that alerts the driver to pull over at the next stop. She had two larger bags that she needed for her house cleaning job, so I helped her carry it down the step and out of the bus. Unfortunately, when I say "out of the bus" I too, went out of the bus, and stayed there. All despite the fact that I was about 5 or 6 stops short of where I needed to be. A little embarrassed, I told the lady it was coincidentally my stop as well and that it was nice talking with her. As I turned to walk the other direction she told me goodbye and that she would one day "see me in heaven". Perhaps when we meet in the afterlife we'll both be young again.

I told the man I would be at his house at 10:30 which was in 15 minutes. I didn't know exactly where it was, so I had to follow the bus stops to get to the one I should have gotten off on. The problem was that it was 2 or 3 kilometers away and the day was hot and sunny. So then, I began to jog. Oddly, I wasn't irritated about my predicament. In fact, the whole time I imagined how funny it would be for someone watching me in the neighborhood to know my actual reason for running. To them, I must have looked like an unfamiliar Australian going on a jog with no resemblance of any type of workout clothes on and a baseball hat strewn very far backwards on his head. When really, I was a dehydrated American thousands of miles away from everything he's ever known, jogging in a neighborhood he's never been, wearing his hat differently to prevent sunburn, literally lost in the grandest sense of the word, all for the sake of meeting a complete stranger for the purpose of purchasing a $15 bicycle.

To explore and cycle under the sun or stars is quite possibly what I love to do most. So yes, this is what I do for love.

I found his house with a bit of luck, but also because one of my greatest talents is situational awareness and spatial retention. The closest thing I've ever had to photographic memory is being able to trace back and memorize the exact routes I've taken places, via bike, car, feet and rollerblades. At this point I've even developed the skill to assist while I pilot airplanes, so it has proven quite useful thus far.

The garage door opened and here was this man standing at about 5' 5" right in front of me. And yes, the bicycle he was selling was fit for him. After a bit of minor maintenance such as raising the seat, I was off, bound to find my way back in this foreign land along the Torrens river.

Making my way down the windy river path, I realized how lucky it was for the man's house to be next to a trail leading right back into the city. Since I live in downtown Adelaide, this was one of my first experiences getting up close and personal with Australian nature, and the contrast it has with Minnesota's nature is particularly eerie. Sometimes, I can even trick myself into thinking I'm in downtown Minneapolis in the summer. It's not until I venture out into the surrounding neighborhoods that something doesn't seem to fit quite right. The trees are different, the grass is different, the animals are different, even the calm is different. None of it is inherently bad, just unsettling.

The most disturbing difference, I found, is the way the birds sound. In Minnesota, songbirds may gently sing us to sleep during an afternoon nap on a summer's day. I'll never forget the tune the birds sing near my house in St. Paul. And yet, the birds in Australia don't sing at all. They laugh. In fact, they were mocking me. "You'll never find your way." the birds were whispering to me "Who do you think you are, trying to survive on your own here, with no water or means of communication? And they weren't wrong, either. Here I was, riding a dodgy bike down a path I had never been and with no cell phone, all while battling dehydration. I didn't have any doubts about my situation before, but now the reality of it all started to sink in...

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