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Where did the winter go?!!

After visiting my daughter, Sam, in Australia for Christmas 2014, it had been nearly three years before I got the chance to visit her again, that being Christmas 2017. Working factory-based in Formula One, the whole year is busy, but it’s particularly busy in the off-season, so having any time off over the UK winter period just isn’t possible. My daughter also works in motorsport, and her best chance of taking time off work is in December and January. And that is why the Christmas period is the perfect time for me to visit. A conumdrum for sure!

Working at Manor GP since returning from my 2014 trip, until it folded in January 2016, wasn’t the greatest experience ever! And I felt a great deal of frustration that although it was going bust in November, instead of going through the motions of working long hours on the 2017 car build, that I could have been visiting my daughter. And this frustration and overwhelming need to see Sam stayed with me throughout 2017.

After losing that job I took a short-term contract at Honda F1 from March until the end of November 2017, booking my flight to Australia for the 4th of December, purposely early to make sure I got to see Sam that Christmas, and that I couldn't be persuaded to stay at Honda. I was asked to extend my contract, and felt quite mean to decline, as my boss, Taniguchi-san was such a lovely guy.

I fully engaged in the project I was hired to work on at Honda, and also took on another project, processing the 2018 Energy Store design, that kept me busy! I’m not really sure what the Japanese Honda folk made of me, the older I get the battier I become!! Unexpectedly I was very sad to leave their employ when the time came at the end of November, for the first time ever I was very upset at leaving a job, which speaks volumes of the people at Honda. I hadn’t realised that we had started to gel as a team. I often wonder where I’d be if I’d not had the flight booked!

My flight from Heathrow to Sydney was uneventful except for the £800 excess baggage I got stung for. Clearly I had brain fade and packed incorrectly as it should have cost nothing, damn it! That was a big part of my spending money gone before I even got there, what a nincompoop!

Getting from the international to domestic terminal, with only an hour between flights was a bit tricky with the bike bag and luggage. Why I chose to go up the escalator and not use the lift I don’t know. I very nearly had to let go of the bike, yelling down to people below to watch out! I just managed to hold on to it, falling off the top of the escalator in a heap, jeez it was close! I was getting quite flustered by now, luckily an airport worker saw I was struggling, he helped me up and took my bike to the domestic terminal for me, big thanks to him, what a star.

The flight to Albury, NSW took around an hour, with Sam picking me up at the airport around 10am.

Seeing her, for real, after such a long time was pretty emotional, especially having had a cancer scare in October 2016, I had thought I’d never see her again. And it was those events that had driven my desperation and near obsession to see her for the past year. The moment I held her in my arms, all those fears melted away.

We spent two weeks working on Sam’s garden which was mostly a weed patch. She’d had a house built, but couldn’t afford the landscaping so had been doing a little now and then when she could afford to.

I’d forgotten just how hot it is in Albury, in December it was around 35°C, I over-did it a bit in the first week, for an old bird, and had to take it easier the second week but was struggling to recover and find energy….I forget I can’t physically work as hard as I used to, especially in the ridiculous heat. Not just the ambient heat, also the relentless sun rays blazing down on you from 8am.

I’d been planning a holiday within my holiday, for months. Two weeks away over Christmas and New Year, so Sam got a proper holiday too. With accommodation booked way back in September, we set off on the 19th of December for the first leg of a two week tour, a week in a Ski-lodge in the Thredbo ski resort, over Christmas. After a week in the mountains we headed for the coast, I’d booked a beach-house in Bundeena, where we had five days of relaxation. The period over New Year was planned for Bondi, this time a hotel right opposite Bondi Beach.

I have separate blogs on each of our holiday stays that can be found in the blog menu; Thredbo, Bundeena and Bondi, for our Christmas and New Year's vacation.

After our two week holiday we returned to Lavington, Sam returned to work the following Monday. I was lucky enough for my main concern to be what I was going to do for the next few months. I can only stay in Australia for 3 months at a time, I had wanted to join a trek to Everest North Col Base Camp on the 25th March, so that would mean getting out of Australia on the 4th March and taking a ‘short’ break somewhere. I didn’t want a short break, especially with the cost of flights, so I decided upon a month in Waikiki, after two months in Australia, then returning for three more weeks, which would give me enough time to make my plans and purchases for my Nepal trip.

Australia is vast, everything is bigger than in the UK, including the distances between towns……which they call ciddies (cities). I didn’t have transport, only my bike, which is worth too much to leave anywhere whilst shopping etc. My daughter offered her car, if I dropped her at work, I did that a couple of times, but with the combination of it being an automatic, me not knowing my way around and knowing if I dinged it I’d be in real trouble! I found it too stressful. So being transportless, and on a tight budget, once back in Lavington, I needed to make the best of what was available locally.

My days were spent cleaning Sam’s house and garden, updating my blog, YouTube or social media, recovering from the day before’s activity or I’d be on a local mini-adventure. As I said, here in Lavington the heat is relentless, especially in January where it is 40+ degrees C nearly every day, dry hot sunshine mainly, but occassionally humid before a rain storm. So with this heat, which seems to affect my energy levels immensely, I had to plan carefully……alas I didn’t want to get up early, so that made it a little more difficult!

I’d walk into the shops in Lavington and explore the local parks. I’d love to just meander and look at the tropical front gardens on my way. A couple of times I’d stopped to chat to an old man, Bill, who was sitting on his veranda, my attention attracted by his yapping minature terrier Princess! He was a typical, old school aussie, always had a story about a useless pom!

Sometimes I’d catch the bus into Albury, which is the next town and is bigger than Lavington. I’d just wander around looking at the ‘civilisation’ that is small town Australia. It’s a wonderful place, it has everything you could want, except for being near the ocean! I loved to just wander around the streets looking at the old buildings, all very colonial. A great deal of Australians seem to drive SUVs, but there would often be a fantastic old classic V8 burbling around town!

The bus service is very good, in a limited sort of way, and by that I mean the buses go to the ‘normal’ places, but not the places I wanted to go, like Mount Buller or Falls Creek or Bright to ride the downhill trails!! There is a beautiful old colonial style train station in Albury too, but again the trains don’t go to the mountain bike trails! Come on public transport of Albury, get your shit together!!

I really regretted not hiring a car, so I could take day trips to the mountains, most of the good downhill riding spots are only between an hour and two hours away, by car. I really had to draw limits on my expenditure, it would have been easy to go wild and hire a car, but I knew in the long run for short-term gain, that I’d regret it. Next time I visit, I will buy a car, definitely! As it is niggling me that I haven’t had some epic decents with a motorised uplift!! After my trip to Hawaii, and starting surfing lessons, I’d also hankered after getting to the coast.

Riding the trails was limited to Nailcan Hill and Hunchback hill, the former being around 7km away, the latter 22kms away. So by the time I’d ridden to the venue, in the sweltering heat, I’d be pretty knackered! But still I had some fab rides and some fab failures!

From Sam’s house you can see a hill, known locally as Tower Hill. It’s actually private land, and closed off, that means climbing over a gate to access its slopes, rather naughty but I just had to get to the top of it!

I spent the month of February in Hawaii, again without a car, everything had to be by bus, foot or bike, so it was pretty much the same as in Australia, except it was cooler, most of the time, so that much easier to have mini-adventures. You can see my many Hawaii blogs on this site.

As in Hawaii, back in Australia, being on a tight budget, I didn’t often eat out or buy a coffee. Which is a shame as there are some fantastic cafes in Albury, serving just what I like! Healthy, plant-based fayre.

I’d cycled out to Lake Hume, to take a look at the dam and for a swim in the warm waters of the 20000 hectare reservoir. Also taking rides out to swim in the lifeblood of the region, that is the Murray River at Noreuil Park in Albury.

On my return to Australia after Hawaii, my daughter had gained a lodger, a 19 year old university student, Laura, and her pretty puss-cat Jasmin! It was lovely to get to know them both and spend time with them. I’m so out of touch with the younger generation!

As I write this I only have one more day in Australia, early morning, the day after tomorrow, I fly to Nepal. I’m slightly scared, with thoughts of plane crashes which are reasonably frequent there, avalances and earthquakes, but pretty excited about seeing Mount Everest. I only hope I don’t have any medical emergencies that prevent me seeing the mountain, or it being poor visibility due to the weather!

So with one day left here, I’m rather sad that this trip is over, and that I won’t see Sam for quite some time again. I’m also sad that I am having to leave my mountain bike Stumpy here, as I can’t afford the additional baggage charges to get him to Nepal then back to the UK. I only have a 30kg baggage allowance, and need to take all my treking gear, that I bought here, along with all my mountain bike gear and normal clothes. Tomorrow will be spent trying to get my baggage down to that limit!

So-long to endless blue skies and sunshine, cold and snow here I come. Onwards to new adventures!

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