Cold beer and crocodiles: a bicycle journey into Australia
Adventure Press, National Geographic Society
, Sep 1, 2000
- 284 pages
The born wayfarer takes his time, stays close to the land, and lives by its rhythms, always ready when a friendly nod turns into a dinner invitation but just as happy to camp alone under the Southern Cross. He's a free spirit, following the road map of his own adventurous imagination. When he happens to be a keen observer and a vivid writer as well, the result is a classic travel book. American Roff Smith had been living in Australia for 15 years when he quit his job, pared his life to what could be carried in the panniers of his bicycle, and pedaled off on a 10,000-mile circuit of the continent. By the time he coasted back into Sydney nine months later, he had discovered an Australia that eludes the casual traveler; Cold Beer and Crocodiles is his evocative, eventful report from the highways and byways of Oz, an affectionate portrait of his adopted country and its colorful people. It's a tale worthy of the bold explorers who lived -- and sometimes died -- to open up this vast, isolated, beautiful world, from chilly Tasmania to the arid, blistering outback, where temperatures soar to 140 degrees in the midday sun. On a good day, 100 miles or more might unreel smoothly beneath Smith's tires; on a bad day, he often staggered into a desert roadhouse, exhausted, out of water, and all but dead. There are narrow escapes, wild tropical storms, a grisly crash, and a wonderful variety of unexpected scenes that capture the many faces of Australia and the men and women who call it home. We meet rancher Rob Macintosh and his family, who offer Smith a warm welcome and a job on a working sheep station, and a quartet of matey diggers who whisk him off to a lush canyon oasis hidden between the folds of an apocalyptic landscape. We meet soft-spoken Aborigines of unfailing courtesy and generosity, as well as drifters and tourists, craftsmen and farmers, roadhouse keepers and their trademark customers -- the fabled long-distance drivers who barrel across the empty sands in the cab of a road train as long as a football field. Though there's a wealth of good company here, this is a book that savors solitude, too, the quietly stunning moments that reward the self-sufficient traveler -- a black-velvet sky studded with stars, the green flash at the instant of sunset in the old pearling port of Broome, restless swells that sweep in from the South Pole to crash against breathtaking cliffs at the desolate edge of the world. With a sure sense of place and an engaging, entertaining, and above all honest voice, Roff Smith interweaves the history and lore of Australia with his own hard-won journey of discovery -- the kind of revelation that rewards those who travel not through a country but into it.