NEW BLOG: Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers

Ulrike's bicycle on a dirt path next to the Canal du Midi, France.

Go to Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers

Hey hi! Check out my newest stories—a bike adventure along a historic canal that runs 500 kilometres across the south of France. The canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s called Le Canal des Deux Mers—the canal of two seas.

I solo cycle-camped the Canal de Garonne, the Canal du Midi, a section of Mediterranean coastline including the Carmargue, and a bit of the Rhône River.

I drank wine, ate cassoulet, mingled with riverrains, joined some pagans, and slept with four Frenchmen on their canal boat—it’s a story.

To join the ride go to the Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers photo-travelogue. And if you’re keen, listen to a conversation about my journey on the Adventure Bike Touring Why I Bike podcast (45 minutes).

See you there!

Ulrike

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Watch a cat, bunny and kangaroo

Kangaroo in Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park in South Australia.

I’ve been cat- and bunny-sitting for Melissa, a friend of Jared’s, for the last four days. This has been the view from her front door:

Hart Road Wetlands in Aldinga, South Australia. (photo: ulrike.ca)
The Hart Road Wetlands in Aldinga, South Australia.

I’ve also been watching kangaroos. Every day at dusk, I could see them hop in the grasses in the Hart Road Wetland.

Today I took a walk through the adjacent Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park and took a few photos.

I found myself following kangaroo trails instead of park trails (which were grown-over and unmarked anyways). I could quietly stand and watch a kangaroo mum massage her pouch where a young joey might hide.

According to the Friends of Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park page,

“The Aldinga Scrub is one of the few remaining patches of native vegetation characterising the pre-settlement coastal scrubland in the vicinity of what is now greater Adelaide. It is of rare significance and is noted for its unusual association of plants including species characteristic of sclerophyll forest, mallee scrub and coastal sands.”

Stump at Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park in South Australia.
Gum tree stump at Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park in South Australia.
Lichen Coral trail in Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park in South Australia.
Lichen Coral trail in Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park in South Australia.

For me as a visitor, it was a nice contrast to the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden which I’d visited with Jared and his family the previous day.

Picture frame in Mount Lofty Botanic Garden near Adelaide, Australia.
Picture frame in Mount Lofty Botanic Garden near Adelaide, Australia.

Walk the Heysen Trail

Boardwalk on Heysen Trail near Newland Head Conservation Park in South Australia.

“Let’s go for a walk,” announced Jared on Boxing Day morning. “I want to show you one of the most beautiful coastlines in South Australia.”

I’ve been in Australia for six weeks and in that time my host has shown me plenty of gorgeous coastlines. I had no doubt this would be another.

We stopped for a savoury pie and ice coffee in Victor Harbour and then followed the twists and turns of Highway B37 into Newland Head Conservation Park. Jared steered the Toyota hatchback onto Waitpinga Road and then into a campground.

The Heysen walking trail

At 1,200 kilometres, the Heysen Trail is Australia’s longest walking trail. It starts in Cape Jervis (the ferry pier for Kangaroo Island) and stretches east and then north towards the Flinders Ranges, ending in the Parachilna Gorge east of Lake Torrens. It’s named after Hans Heysen, a German-born Australian artist.

(Here’s a map of the Heysen Trail on Google Maps.)

Jared led me onto a boardwalk trail over sand dunes. We walked and talked about how plants and traditions were both different and similar in Canada’s and Australia’s indigenous cultures.

At the crest of a hill, we paused and looked out. The sea sparkled and the rounded slopes of the land seemed to melt into the blue. The edge of the Great Australian Bight began just west of where we stood.

According to The Wilderness Society, the Bight is threatened by BP (British Petroleum). The multi-national wants to drill for oil and gas in these waters as they did in the Gulf of Mexico. That installation in the southern USA caused a devastating oil spill disaster in 2010.

“C’mon,” Jared beckoned. “I want to you show you another section of the trail in Deep Creek, a bit further to the west.”

Later that day, the Toyota wagon would lead us to more of an adventure than we anticipated.

Heysen Trail near Deep Creek Conservation Park in South Australia.
Heysen Trail in Deep Creek Conservation Park in South Australia.

 

Pee with the surf girls

Detail of women's public toilets show a female with surfboard at Middleton Beach in South Australia.

Middleton Beach in South Australia has many attractions: surfing waves, hooded plovers, brown balls, and the women’s toilets.

When you arrive, just park off Esplanade. Use the concrete-mounted binoculars to watch the surfers out on the breaks. Follow the stone steps down to the change room kiosk. Wash off your feet if they’re sandy. Pour some water for your dog.  It’s all here.

You’ve got to, you know, go?

Turn around and check out the mural. A white figure of a woman on a surfboard points you to the female toilets and change room. How fun is that?

If you need an all-access space, wheel your chair right in. There’s a surfboard for you too.

Here at Middleton, even if you’re not surfing, you can pee like a surfer—on dry land, anyways.

Women's public toilets show a female with surfboard at Middleton Beach in South Australia.
Women’s and all-access public toilets at Middleton Beach in South Australia.

Survive a blue Christmas

I feel lucky to have met a kindred spirit. We, like many others, must live through a blue Christmas.

S. lives in Adelaide. Her 31-year-old son died in October.

I’d never met her before, but when I saw on Facebook that she would be in the area with a bicycle, I offered to pedal the nearby Shiraz Trail cycling path with her.

It’s an old railway bed that’s been converted into a paved bike and walking trail. There are many wineries nearby. Unfortunately and as I’ve found in the past, the winery we aimed for was closed and two others were about to close.

No worries. We aimed for a café in McLaren Vale town, ordered pizza and wine, and shared our sentiments about Christmas.

S. has the support of her family and spirit community and so she seems to be doing okay. She has a lot of wisdom and is taking things moment-by-moment, day-by-day.

“You are free”

Me, it’s been thirteen years since my boyfriend P.H. chose to kill himself. His birthday was December 23 and he started feeling low around this time of the year. Like S., I had to learn how to live again, minute by minute. I had to tolerate the months, weeks, days leading up to Christmas.

The dead joy of Christmas.

To survive, I learned that I can mostly escape it by flying to foreign countries. It started with Baja, Mexico, then led to winters in India, France, and this year—Australia.

Being a writer and blogger, I also shared my story in a blog called You Are Free – your suicide, my story, in 20 parts. It felt right, and I wanted other people to know that they’re not alone when they, we, feel sad with the world.

S. and I talked about all this openly and honestly, and it felt like a blessing.

I had planned to attend the Willunga Uniting Church‘s Blue Christmas service on December 21. But having met S. I feel the peace and companionship I might have found at that gathering. Nonetheless, I feel grateful that this little village church would do such a kind thing as to call a service for those of us who face a blue Christmas.

Wild flowers and thistles at the side of the Shiraz bike trail in South Australia.
Wild flowers and thistles at the side of the Shiraz bike trail. You don’t have to believe in God to see the tiny bits of beauty all around.