Sunday 16 March – So it had come, the day of the final day of riding. We woke up early and packed up camp, and although it was still quite chilly for us up in the Blue Mountains it was a clear day. We had some breakfast and grabbed our last few things out of the fridge minus half a big bar of chocolate which had disappeared. Paul thought he had sussed the culprit, a five year old girl on the next table was looking pretty sheepish. Well we have travelled across half the world and only had a plastic bowl and half a bar of chocolate nicked. Funny no one had listed getting fleeced by sweet toothed little girls as a potential danger when reeling them off before we left.
The ride down the mountains was cold but as soon as we got to lower ground the weather was perfect and we even called at Mcdonald’s for one last soft serve, before we reached the outskirts of the city. As we got closer to Sydney the traffic became heavier and heavier. And to add to the fun there were big black clouds stalking us and moving in quick. There was a nice constant threat of speed cameras and angry drivers ready to make the wrong decisions.
Out of nowhere Sydney City loomed into view. Paul had two goals– ride in over the Harbour Bridge and get a token picture of the bike infront of the opera house with blue skies. Well, we were on a bridge but it was not the Harbour one as we could see that on left. We made our way through the city and crossed the Harbour Bridge back over to the side we didn’t need to be on, just for the fun of it, though it didn’t turn out to be that fun as it had started really pissing it down.
We managed to find the perfect picture spot and a massive thunderstorm broke out. Fail on both counts. But we had made it. Over 20’000 miles since leaving England and nearly four months later than we expected. It’s not our final destination but it is kind of the end of the trip. I think Paul had been picturing this moment for a while and it turned out a bit of a let down because of the weather. We asked a girl of about 13 to take our photo at this momentous moment, stood infront of two of the most iconic structures in the world but somehow she aimed the camera at some none descript buildings on the left, when only a turn of the camera to the right and the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge would have been in view. Paul then tried to do a selfie of us both infront of the Sydney opera house and the bridge which I quote went like this ‘your head is blocking the sights’ he hasn’t honed any skills on how to take a selfie complete with landmarks, creatures or other humans.
It then took us over an hour to get to the place we were staying back over the Harbour Bridge to Bondi Junction. Sometimes, I say right when I mean left. My brain not connecting with what’s coming out of my mouth, but also Paul doesn’t listen to me. This is a very typical conversation on the bike ‘which way?’ ‘straight on’ ‘left or right’ ‘straight on’ ‘no left or right’ ‘straight on’ ‘you can’t go straight on’ ‘oh shit, yea you can’ But we are practically screaming at each other.
We have had an amazing time from beginning to end. It’s really hard to believe its going to be all over in less than a week. No more riding, no more terrible directions, no more moving, no more erecting of the tent and no exploring. The bike has stopped and is getting ready for shipping to its and our new home – Omaha in New Zealand. After living for nearly the past year with three pairs of underwear, 3 t-shirts, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of trousers and two dresses. I will definitely try to ‘have less. do more’
I think some people would despair at spending all their money on a journey like this. But after doing it I cannot actually think of any better way we could have ever spent our money. For less than one of our yearly salaries we have lived a whole year, seeing and doing amazing things. Anyway, its not over yet and the first 5 days in Sydney have been spent organising sending the bike to Auckland. But before that we had a very nice welcome to the city with some friends from the UK.
Way back in Darwin, I got busy on the phone ringing lots of freight companies. Sea and Air. Sea freight is only marginally cheaper, and after waiting two months for the boat in Darwin, it’s not something we would ever really consider unless it was a hell of alot cheaper.
Quantas Freight was by far the easiest option you just show up at their warehouse and it’s done basically as you could leave the petrol in and no crate needed but it was double the cost, so instead we chose the hard option for us but cheaper in the long run – make the bike a non-dangerous goods item and get a crate. This is exactly what we did in Dubai to send to Thailand, except the major difference here is that you can’t get everything done in one place as the cargo company does not have little minions running around who work at the speed of light .
First challenge was to find a crate. There is a company other people use but as they are a BMW dealer they weren’t as helpful to me. Our bike being a Yamaha was less superior, he told me he couldn’t help and I should go to a Yamaha dealer. I called endless dealers only to be told they didn’t have a crate. I found one eventually but they were nearly 50 minutes one way, away from Sydney which posed a logistical nightmare – how would we get the crate to the cargo company. Not only that, for airfreight we had to ‘flush the tank’ which is basically emptying all the petrol and washing with white spirit so it’s no longer dangerous and the battery has to be disconnected – a certificate is needed to prove this has been done so it had to be done at a Garage which would mean we needed to somehow transport the bike from the Garage to the cargo warehouse once this had been done.
When we arrived in Sydney we called into procycles [the BMW dealer] and they agreed that they would actually help us now, and they could get a crate for us but it was too short notice for them to deliver the bike to the cargo warehouse. So we still needed to transport the bike and the crate but at least it was all in the city. Calling around for a man with a van was tiring. The reasons why they couldn’t put it in their van were debilitating ‘we won’t be covered if anything happens for a bike, we don’t have a ramp blah blah blah’. I remember back to Morocco when we broke down in the middle of the desert, we flagged a man down in his pick up and we manually lifted the bike into the back and he drove around police blockades to get us to a garage and the driver would not accept a penny for this. Try that in Australia. I couldn’t find anyone to do the job for less than $100. Pick it up and then take it 15 minutes down the road was all we needed. It took me two hours of calling to find someone.
We spent the next few days preparing, the Carnet needed to be stamped which was ridiculously easy. Customs didn’t even look it was the correct bike. Then the more daunting task loomed of cleaning the bike again for quarantine inspection in New Zealand. We quickly realised the job we [I] did in East Timor was bloody good. Yea there was dirt and lots of sand from Fraser Island but it was not going to need anywhere near the time we spent in East Timor. A good job really as the busy body residents of Sydney took issue with us cleaning the bike on the street. ‘Clean up your mess, don’t get oil on the grass’ We’re staying in a flat we found on GumTree for a week rather than a hostel as it’s a lot cheaper.
Paul absent mindly put some fuel in so we had to siphon some out before taking it to the garage. We tried and failed to give away the siphoned petrol. The people looked at us, fearful and disgusted. Free petrol? Who wants that shit, I can go pay for mine. Well bugger em. Paul can stress out about the fumes slowly killing us and give me a headache instead. His friend came round in the end and put it in his car.
Our planning all came together the next day. 7am we dropped the bike at Procycles which came in $10 less than expected, 10am the man from Hire 4 U turned up which also came in $40 less than expected, 11am we were at Matzen Cargo and by 15pm the bike was crated and the bill came in $250 less than expected. A good day and now we are free to explore the city for the last 4 days of the trip.
It may be a little cliché what I’m about to write, and maybe if I was sat at home reading it I’d probably think ‘oh here we go, every bloody backpacker comes back with some jumped up hippy voodoo new age thinking shit’ but it’s a bit of a reflection and a conclusion of how I, and I think Paul, feel after this trip.
I never thought I’d feel any sort of profound change in myself when we were planning to leave, I just couldn’t wait to escape the daily grind and have fun in lots of amazing places. But it really has changed me and my perspective on life. It has undeniably changed who I want to be, its changed how I see and interact with nearly every aspect of what’s around me; family, career, our relationship etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to deny I love a good splash on a shopping trip and I’d love to be the real life devil wears prada but I will no longer sacrifice what I love most, my family, Paul and having a life, to have a life that revolves around what money I earn.
Whilst in Sydney and with friends, the questions I would want to know have been asked but it’s so hard to elaborate on what we have seen and how we feel as each memory is so personal. The top question being ‘whats the hightlight’ my brain instantly blanks, I feel panicked…surely after 11 months I have something intelligent to say. But no, more often than not I don’t, and come up with something that suffices, usually a story I’ve already told that rarely encapsulates the highs and lows. Like the moment we saw the Himalayas and I cried for no reason, other than I was just so happy to see them after hours of constant mist, mud and cloud. No one can really understand that emotion, not even me. It’s even a little surreal, like we have not just done what we have. When people congratulate us, it feels unjust because it’s just been so much fun, and we feel so lucky to have done it. You only really start realising what you have done and seen when you stop, as riding through new places and not having anywhere to be, became our normal lives. It is complete freedom, whatever you do each day is up to you, you can stay in a place for a night or stay for two weeks and then just decide in the morning which way you go.
Even now I’m writing this I’m struggling to articulate how I feel. I definitely feel more grateful for everything and everyone in my life. I have more perspective on what I think is important and what should take a priority. Some people will take that as I have no ambition, but its not true I have just have a different ambition now. I refuse to be driven to try and be better than other people by comparing what wage I’m on, the company I work for or the possessions I have. It is so not important anymore and more often than not it just brings out the worst in people anyway. I still don’t like an argument and I will never force more thoughts onto people, unless its Paul being a dick. I feel we are two very very lucky people. A family on both sides that could not be more loving or supportive, and an amazing trip that some people will only ever get to dream of, a new future awaiting us in New Zealand and a love for each I other I have certainly come to appreciate a lot more.
Paul will hate this, but it’s totally just and sums up how I feel exactly at this moment.
Saturday 22 March 2014 – The day after we shipped the bike we spent the day going round Bondi Junction shopping centre on a supermarket sweep style spree, well it was modest but we allowed ourselves a few new things as the rips in our clothes are now beyond what could be perceived as fashionable, we are border line tramps.
We each had a set amount to spend and a meet up time – 12 at McDonalds. The pressure was on, the decisions crucial, I started to panic when it hit half 11 and I still had $40 in my pocket. Spend it on crap or keep it for another day? Back to first world problems.
We went out with friends that evening decked out in all our new gear, we looked fresh. The next day we all headed out to Manly beach and the boys all went surfing.
We had to move out of the place we were staying so Paul arranged for us to sleep on our friends floor or so I thought. Seen as the panniers go with the bike we packed all our stuff in a cheap laundry bag. When we woke the next morning, he kept telling me different times to go around his friends. Then when it got to the time he told me he’d arranged us a hotel to go instead which was a really nice treat but my first thought was ‘shit, how the hell are we going to carry the huge laundry bag, plus helmets, plus boots, plus normal bag’ Well, we struggled along on the bus into the city centre, then a got a taxi for less than a kilometre when we got off the bus.
It was the perfect place to be for the last two days of our trip. Right in the city centre. That day Paul had been unusually interested in what I was planning on wearing and suggested I wear my new shoes instead of flip flops. Our plan was to walk around the city through the botanical gardens, have a picnic and take all the token tourist pictures of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. On route we stopped off so I could spend the last of my money and Paul was being extra nice, saying I could have over my allowance if I saw anything, even let me buy a cd from some buskers. When we reached the gardens, it was pretty sunny so everyone was seeking the shade. I went towards a spot in the shade. Though Paul was oddly making a fuss of wanting to go in the sun, he was acting weird today. Unknown to me Paul wanted a quiet spot with no-on around, whilst I kept heading for the shade with a view – which is where everyone was.
Just as we were finishing eating we were talking about general things, talking about children is not really unusual for me and we were on the topic. Then Paul said something like ‘well, you need to be married for that, do you want to then?’ laughed and pulled a black box out of his pocket. AFTER 11, YEARS HE PROPOSED. It couldn’t have been more perfect or more Paul. I knew if the moment ever came, after 11 years you do kind of think its never going to happen, it would be exactly suited to us. Not big and in your face, just intimate and between us two. It was a very emotional moment after that, which must have looked a bit strange for the other people in the park. Paul had also arranged for our friends to be waiting nearby for a mini celebration, that was a surprise too but he told me before we went. He’d had enough of keeping things a secret. He carried the ring from England.
I had secretly suspected he had something in his money belt as he’d got so precious about. I even copped a feel in Thailand as curiosity got the better of me but it definitely didn’t feel like a ring so I was convinced it was Christmas present. I even treated the wallet badly chucking it around sometimes to see if he reacted, which he did almost every time. The ring had been wrapped up in toilet roll in a zipped pocket of the wallet, the box had been kept in a spare oil filter box, knowing I wouldn’t go looking in there.
I’m glad he did, it’s a beautiful ring, one he searched high and low for I’m told. So since that day we have been in a bit of engagement daze and just thoroughly enjoying the last few days in Sydney with friends. The last night we made the walk over the Harbour Bridge to enjoy the lit up view and fittingly dined out at McDonalds, the only thing we could afford in the whole of Australia.
The last journey unfortunately was to be by plane over to Auckland, we had previously briefly considered flying us and the bike down to Christchurch on the South Island so we could ride the final leg up to Auckland, but we were too keen to see everyone and get there.
We flew into Auckland and were greeted by Paul’s family at the airport, after the relatively short drive north, we were back a little over a year since we’d been here the first time and made the decision to ride here. It is just as amazing as we remember and Paul’s Dad had laid on a big barbeque. The next few days were spent eating and drinking mostly and feeling even luckier that we get to live in this amazing place.
We are so thankful we made the decision and took a risk.