Sunshine and early starts are a characteristic of life on the road. Maybe its the early nights as the chill
sets in and the stars lull you into your warm bed or maybe its the fresh air and exercise, but being in bed by half past nine each night means that eight hours puts you in fighting form once the sun rises.
Blue skies and 22C today were enough encouragement for the deadly treadlies to come off the rack at the back of the Cruiser and after a few chain adjustments and a dust down (remarkably little despite the dust all over the van), we were off along the bike tracks which are so well laid out in Yamba that you rarely intersect with vehicle traffic.
Peddling along the small Yamba Bay is a very pleasant experience. It makes up the original marina in the north east corner where steamers used to tie up at the dock and disgorge their Sydney passengers - ladies in fine dresses and gentlemen with waistcoats and dapper ties hanging from stiff collars - where Harbour Street now runs. There are the usual walkers and couples with prams to ding with your bell and greet as you share the concrete pathway. Pelicans float along in groups with their long beaks occasionally dipping into the water as if they were rinsing their mouths out of nothing more than boredom. Silver gulls cover the pontoons and posts with themselves and yesterdays meals and the white paint everywhere provides evidence of clever thinking by those who decorate these public spaces. Bronze statues in cities around the world must read of such things and ponder what could have been.
It didn't take long to reach the southern break wall and shorter still to work our way as far along as the increasingly rough surface would allow without risking damage to either bike or pilot. A south easterly had sprung to life out here, away from the protection of the raised cliffs that make up the seaward approach to Yamba. A dolphin surfaced beside us and then moved on into the river, while on the other side the breakers rolled in on their timeless journey to Turners Beach.
We've never seen Yamba at this time of year, normally visiting for a few weeks in winter when the air is crisp at night but the days hardly cooler than the spring. People are everywhere. A surfboard riding school was operating in the beach breakers at Turners Beach, where many years ago we watched a stranded fishing boat of the Yamba fleet being broken up after being stranded in a storm. Toddlers and cool teens all looked the same, the latter's cool reduced to infancy as the first white water washed their crotch and screams broke the air.
Main Beach was much the same. The cafe was open. The flags were out and announcements on swimming safety were being made from the public address system at the Surf Life Saving Club which is the second oldest in Australia. First bikinis were adjusted and fillings longed for as boys with surf washed blond hair rekindled the Aussie dream of carefree days in the sun when zinc cream spread on the nose was all the protection one needed. Oh for the indestructible days of our youth when slouch hats and woolly sheep gave us a self belief we thought would last forever.
A scene all so quintessentially Australian but one I wasn't raised to. I hate the beach and only go there because my wife was a nipperette, here, on Main Beach, Yamba. That and for weddings and stories and poems. I don't swim, preferring to leave the sharks to find the food they were intended to eat, ever concerned in an ecological way to not feed the wild animals. Its not that I'm scared. It's not that I was bullied on Cronulla beaches and never wanted to go back either. It's just that I prefer mountains and creeks and lakes. I like to have a fighting chance of seeing dangers before they see or sample me.
We went to the beach when I was a kid. I lost my favourite toy there, a big plastic punt loaded with matchbox cars that was taken from me as a larger wave receded and took it off to New Zealand. I cried for hours. I shared days there with a foster kid called Darren whose life had been so hard my Dad always blamed me for the fights he picked with me. Uncharitable of me to think he should hurry on back to "the home" - a place without the luxury of parents or brothers or sisters - but I was just a kid and wanted all of my Dad's attention. It was enough I had to share it with siblings. Harsh the conclusions we make as children but only to be condemned if we don't outgrow them.
We climbed a steep hill, Sue pushing her bike and me pumping up in the lowest gear combination possible. At the top, my breathing was more erratic than hers and took longer to recover but as any man would know, that's not the point. Down into the village - for despite its call on being cosmo and hip, that's all Yamba really is. A Byron lite. Old salts ignore the trendy, even when they pose with them for shots with smart phones but the people in the shops are friendly and the coffee is good and the sunshine beats down as you smile at your wife and realise how much you love her as though it was a new revelation.
The day proceeded much along these same lines.
Late in the afternoon, the lack of mains pressure water in our van was diagnosed as a stuck water pressure limiter which will require replacing. After an engagement in Warialda on Monday night, we will make a direction change, south to the central coast of NSW to have warranty repairs done. Unfortunate but days on the road never quite go to plan. What we lose on the swings etc. It should only cost us a day or maybe two.
The evening was spent with Sue's family. Names were recalled of teachers, good and bad. Memories were synced but not without negotiation and laughter: always the laughter. Tears are for lonely times and points of bitterness of what might have been and must now be used to rebuild. They are about construction. Laughter is about the freedom to abandon our constructed lives and realise how much joy can be in our would if we are only brave enough to trust it will deliver on its promise.
I have time to ponder these things ... at the back of the beach ... whilst my wife tempts fate with the sharks.