Australia and Tasmania: The Boat Across

I woke up after uneven intervals of sleep, packed up pretty efficiently, and was off by about 7:10am. I was worried I might be late, but I drafted just behind a large bicyclist, while a third cyclist drafted behind me, tucking me into a cushion of roiling air that greatly reduced my energy expenditure. I covered four quick miles this way, and gave a friendly nod to the cyclists as I turned off their route at a stoplight.

From there it was only a couple more miles to the terminal, where I took an elevator to the second floor and bought a last-minute ticket. My eyes felt strangely sore and tired, so I changed shirts and washed up in the nearby bathroom. The car exhaust perhaps? Pollen?

To board, I rode around in a loop through the end of the pier and back, past a long line of cars.

I left my bike just inside the gate.

Away we go!!!

Onboard the ferry, I went through the cafeteria line and bought a fountain soda, since in Australia they are all flavored with cane sugar. This makes them a unique treat for an American, for whom all sodas, canned or otherwise, are made with high-fructose corn syrup. Corn isn’t heavily subsidized elsewhere in the world, so it’s just as economical to use cane sugar here. Hooray!

Of course, a few sips in, and I began to get that vague fuzzy-headed glycemic reaction I always get from soda nowadays. … So most of it went into the trash can.

What shall I rap about to-day? Ah yes, the lovely ocean-going experience aboard the Spirit of Tasmania! Thank you, rap angel!

Nobby’s Nuts. How cheeky. The second I saw this I thought of Lt. Cprl. J.W. “Nobby” DeNobbes Esq. I hear the advertising used to contain the phrase “Nibble Nobby’s nuts!”

Nothing to do on board except write, think, read, nap, and walk around. On, and shop. In the boat gift shop I bought myself a Tasmania hat, to compliment my Alaska hat.

Watching the people walk around, I have some bizarre thoughts. Many of them would be impolite if I voiced them.

For example, on the enclosed landing between two decks, I noticed a large plastic sign standing upright against the far wall. At the base of the sign was a gap, through which the floor was visible. In this narrow stretch of floor between the sign and the wall, a man had laid down beneath a sleeping bag. He was tall, dressed in cheap rugged clothing, tanned, and in good shape, and appeared to be in his mid-30’s. He also clearly had not bathed for a while. Curled across him, also beneath the sleeping bag, was a young woman, in her mid 20’s, dressed the same way and looking just as unkempt. Her head was on his chest and she had one leg thrown over his. The man and the women were both attempting to sleep.

Watching them, my mind went in many directions at once.

“They must be on a low-cost adventure. I wonder how many countries they’ve been through?”

“Why are they asleep? It’s ten in the morning on a Friday.”

“Wow, it appears their only footwear is flip-flops.”

“They must not be from around here – they’re actually embracing. So far Australian society has shown to be unapproving of public affection. I bet Kashy is right. I bet the San Francisco Bay Area is the most touch-friendly English-speaking region on Earth.”

“I bet the woman is deeply attached to the man, and sees him as a free spirit and a rebel and a protector all at once. I wonder if she’ll still be with him in five years, when he’s exactly the same as he is now but 40 years old, and she’s still in her 20’s and evolved into someone else? Probably not. Funny how from the outside, it seems like many relationships appear to just be temporary mutual exploitation. I’m sure these two people are a lot of things to each other but primarily, the woman gets a tourguide, and the man gets a sex partner. I’m not condemning it, exactly. I’m just observing it.”

“I wonder if they are bothered by being that dirty, or if they’re just used to it by now.”

“I wonder if they paid to board.”

This all took about 15 seconds to think as I stared at them from the foot of the stairs to the next floor. Probably the only thought I could speak aloud and not be stared at for is the first one.

Other thoughts:

I should have brought a kilt. That would be amusing to ride around on a bike with, as well as amusing to lounge around on this ferry boat with.

My laptop is one of about fifty opened on this deck alone. Most of the other laptops are dinky little netbooks, and are being used to play movies. I’ve seen two iPads so far. The prized spots around the ship are the tables next to electrical sockets. There are no “official” charging stations so you need to wander around until you spot a free socket. Almost all of these are manned by serious-looking geeks, hacking and occasionally looking up like meerkats on alert.

I have three days in Tasmania, and I really wish I had my camping gear and my recumbent so I had enough room to carry it. Or perhaps better, a local friend I could share residency with. I got very lucky meeting Celia … she saved me a huge amount of money, and eliminated a massive amount of confusion. Just picking me up at the airport she saved me a sixty-dollar cab ride.

And then, on an upper deck, staring out to sea, getting way cerebral:

Here’s a question you can learn something by asking yourself. What does it profit you to be who you are?

Literature is full of stories about passionate heroes who are driven to accomplish glorious feats, or die in a blaze of defiance. People love to hear about these characters, sure, but I wonder how many of these tales exist because writers like to write about them. Put another way, I wonder how much of history is preserved simply because it impresses writers, and how much is lost and plowed under and untold because no writer saw a personal profit to it.

If the answer is “a lot”, then what should one do with that information? Add more skepticism to history? Live to impress writers?

I say: Look for an alternate way to define your life, as an adult. Step out of the frameworks offered by stories, and out of the hamster wheel of ever-increasing qualifications and wants and cut a middle path. Because life will definitely end up either too short, or too long, to neatly encapsulate your goals.

Wise-sounding people all around you will proclaim that “the journey is the reward,” and quietly believe that the lesson of their advice is to trick yourself into enjoying the same work you would otherwise pursue in misery. They see it as self-deception.

I think a better way of phrasing that advice is, “find a journey that is rewarding.” Or as Chairman Mao put it: “Work hard; make progress every day.”

Boy, it sure is true what my sister said. Wherever I go, I bring myself along with me.

Here’s a trip. You are looking at this picture on your computer. The picture was sent to you from a repository somewhere in a midwestern data center. The picture was taken by my digital camera on a ferry boat between Tasmania and Australia. In the picture is a television receiving a satellite feed. The feed is of a local news channel, which is currently showing a weather report. The graphic in the weather report was given to the news channel by a weather station, which generated it on a computer. The computer used data gathered from thousands of instruments and probes all over the continent of Australia, as well as at least one satellite in space. I typed this caption about half an hour after I took the picture, on the upper deck of the ferry boat. Hours after that I, I combined the caption and the photo in Aperture and then sent it to Flickr via the internet connection at my hotel room in Tasmania. And here it is. Just think of all the hundreds of details and steps I left out!

A first view of Tasmania from the deck. Or, as the little kid standing next to me said, “Look mummy! Is Taz Main Nun Nan! Taz Main Nun Nan Nan Nan Num Naaan!”

The coastal town of Devonport.

One of the crew, guiding the boat up the river delta.

From the port it was only a short ride over the river to my motel.

45 bucks a night, at the Formby Hotel. Spartan but serviceable. And so, the adventure continues!!

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