Story telling from Australia
If New Year’s Day is anything to go by I’m in for a roller coaster ride in 2015.
In a bid to escape the sweaty heat of Sydney on New Year’s Day I had suggested (no one to blame but me) a ferry ride upriver to Parramatta with our bicycles. What better way to start the New Year than with a regime of fresh air and outdoor activity? And what better place to visit than Parramatta Park? We’d never been there before and a newspaper article said it was worth seeing.
Of course, being New Year’s Day the ferry services were limited so we faced a journey of two hours from Balmain with a change at Cockatoo Island. No matter, the final ferry stopped right in the heart of Parramatta, less than a kilometre away from the park. What fun.
The last minute decision to unearth bicycles from their resting place in the garage (where mine in particular had spent many happy months undisturbed) meant a hurried departure. No time for ginger beer and sandwiches, just a bottle of water each and a furious peddle to catch the ferry. But so what? We were heading for a park with outdoor cafes and after a gentle cycle through the trees I pictured us lying on the grass eating ice cream.
‘Nah, this ferry won’t go to Parramatta.’ The friendly deck hand smiled as we pulled away from Cockatoo Island. ‘We only go as far as Rydalmere then there’s a bus service.’
There was no point suggesting we put the bicycles on the bus. Why have a bicycle if you’re not going to use it?
‘No problem, we’ll cycle,’ I said, gamely.
My enthusiasm for the adventure began to wane as the heat and humidity rose on that long journey upriver. By the time we reached Rydalmere the midday sun was blazing down and the temperature had risen to thirty-five degrees.
‘I reckon the cycle track might go all the way to Parramatta now,’ said the friendly deck hand as she wiped sweat from her brow. We wheeled our bicycles off the ferry and watched our fellow passengers climb aboard a fleet of air-conditioned buses.
Six kilometres along a cycle track by the river should have been easy; it might have been if I’d been wearing anything remotely suitable for a serious cycle in the height of summer. Clyde was sensibly clad of course – padded cycling shorts beneath a second pair of lightweight shorts – but I was wearing skin-tight drainpipe jeans, already stretched beyond all limits of endurance by weeks of snacking in front of the computer followed by a Christmas of over indulgence. It’s fair to say every stitch was doing its duty.
The cycle path ran out after a kilometre, forcing a detour through a deserted industrial estate where waves of heat bounced off the bitumen as we veered around empty warehouses. One of them smelt like the aftermath of an office Christmas party gone badly wrong, the clean up postponed until after the holidays, and my swollen legs began to feel shrink-wrapped. The thought of an ice cream at the end of the journey spurred me on and I mentally added a bag of hot chips and an iced coffee to the list, never mind how fat my legs felt.
There was no wind (which in cycling terms meant of course there was and it was at our backs) and after several stops to check the map and drain our water bottles we re-joined the cycle path, finally arriving at the Parramatta ferry terminal half an hour later. I assumed the people waiting there would be catching a shuttle bus back to Rydalmere.
The park, when we found it, was deserted. A lone park ranger shook his head when we asked about cafes serving ice cream.
‘Doubt if you’ll find anything open today.’
‘Not even in the town centre?’
‘What sort of thing are you after?’
I revised the list. ‘Coffee.’
He gave the question serious consideration then shook his head. ‘Nope.’
Why would there be? This was New Year’s Day. Any sensible person was lying by the beach or in bed nursing a hangover.
With rest stops and detours to find the park the six-kilometre journey from Rydalmere to Parramatta had taken forty minutes. It seemed pointless to stay in Parramatta with nothing open, especially when there was a ferry back to Sydney from Rydalmere in half an hour. Miss that one and there’d be an hour’s wait for the next one. We found somewhere to buy water, grabbed the bicycles and cycled hard into a hot headwind.
Whizzing past Parramatta terminal on our way back to Rydalmere I couldn’t help noticing the large number of people waiting. I briefly wondered why they weren’t waiting on the road for the fleet of air-conditioned buses that must surely have been on its way to pick them up but my mind was on other things. I wanted hot chips, ice cream and coffee. Most of all, I wanted to get home.
You might be surprised to learn that we made it to Rydalmere with several minutes to spare (I certainly was). Exhaustion kicked in as I dropped onto the grass under a tree, panting, moaning and complaining about the heat, wobbling legs now twice their normal size. Even so, I couldn’t help feeling a smidgeon of self-satisfaction. While others had been lazing around on New Year’s Day we’d challenged ourselves, we’d pushed beyond the boundaries and we’d done it! We’d made it to Rydalmere in time for the ferry.
Did that achievement outweigh other considerations? Did we forget what we were doing there and why we’d cycled so hard? Or did the lack of any buses fool us into thinking the ferry had been delayed?
Who knows? What I do know (now) is that while we’d been cycling like furies to and from Parramatta the tide had turned, allowing ferries to sail unimpeded all the way up to Parramatta. There were no buses because people could catch the ferry at Parramatta, just like we could have done if only we’d known.
As we lay under a tree congratulating ourselves on our magnificent achievement the ferry to Sydney chugged quietly towards us. Naturally enough, since no one was actually waiting on the pontoon (as opposed to resting smugly under a tree) it didn’t stop. By the time we realised what was happening the ferry had sailed past. We were left stranded at Rydalmere.
The next ferry to arrive was heading back to Parramatta but we got on it anyway and we stayed on it until it turned around, sailed back past Rydalmere and dropped us at Cockatoo Island two hours later.
‘At least we can get a coffee.’
We cycled up to the small snack bar on Cockatoo Island just as the shutters came down, heralding another caffeine-free forty-minute wait for the ferry to Balmain. It was seven o’clock at night by the time we got home.
It was a random start to the year, muddling along with no clear plan fuelled by good intentions that went laughably awry, and if it’s a taste of things to come I’m worried.
Whatever happens I won’t be wearing drainpipe jeans any time soon.