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Month November 2014

limping into Rockhampton

Track on previous post

It was the usual miserable highway south from Airlie Beach to the start of a better route we found, we hoped. The interesting section
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A fantastic ride inland from the coast to some hills in the distance
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We parked here to check out the tiny scale railroad lines
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And here’s the train. Looks normal enough
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Beautiful. There’s something really great about locomotives
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The rail width (haven’t looked up the official guage) is a ridiculous 2 feet. And a toy-like switch
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And you can see how small the locomotive is
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Two friendly girls are driving it. I ask for a ride.

These trains (and the entire network of lines) are set up for transporting sugar cane for the huge plantations along the coast. These girls work in the yard organizing the cars at this central yard. Karla is the engineer and she’s a gas
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Here are her controls. No steering wheel obviously. Nice sturdy parts from a wonderful manufacturing era
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Looking forward and we chuff along at about walking speed
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And the view back over the cars full of cane. We moved a load from one line to another then picked up a line of empty cars
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The cars looked bleak empty and terrific full, which is why as kids we had to load stuff onto our train sets
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Then later through the only town on this road
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A typical elevated Aussie house. There are good reasons for elevating them. Snakes, flooding, air currents for cooling, a place to park stuff, looks bigger
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At the end of the valley we rode up the best set of switchbacks we’ve ridden in a long time. So severe that coming into a corner you can see the road going the other way at your shoulder, and incredibly steep. You rounded an impossibly tight hairpin to see the road rising like a wall in front of you. You had to gas it because if you stalled you’d crash. Awesome. Only about 20 corners, rising maybe 1000 feet to a ridge
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At the top stop for a juice at this place decorated with plastic flowers
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Where there was the biggest, most perfect peacock ever
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Over the ridge headed west everything changed. Dry, thinning forest, dirt road, empty
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A lake at the top
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Cattle country again
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Almost perfect riding. In fact not almost, it was perfect. Open spaces, a distant horizon, not a sign of life, on fast gravel. Why we ride
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Through a perfect landscape for 100 miles
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These rider-designed fast sweepers on this narrow track went the whole way across the valley and through low hills. It was lightly corrugated so you skipped along the surface. If you click the pic you’ll see the first series. We laughed
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Eventually onto the paved road into Nebo.

I stopped at the side of the road back at the dirt/paved junction to look at the map and appreciated that in remote areas in Australia the cars stop and check you don’t have a problem. The extreme case of this was Texas. When we were riding the dirt roads in Texas hill country every car truck would stop. And chat. And ask you if wanted anything or if they could get you anything. You had to hide from Texan country generosity or surrender to it. We surrendered and stayed in Junction a week
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Tomorrow we decide to get a small road towards Rockhampton because we have a little problem.

Lucinda has been in need of a major overhaul since South America. We did some of the work in Tauranga, NZ, but the big work has been waiting for a well-known shop in Melbourne here in Australia. She’s not far off 100,000K’s into our trip. About 1/2 way. We don’t want an epic in Asia or further down the track so we’ve been anticipating this for while. We’ve already had parts shipped there and the shop’s waiting for us.

But it looks like we’re not going to make it. We have a problem. We’ve had 4 in two years, 2 here in Australia.

So we bee-line down a great road
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Over croc rivers
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But probably not in this one
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Back over the ridge we crossed a couple of days ago
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Down towards the coast again
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I know blog readers have been suffering termite mound photo deprivation, so here’s an unusual one. In a tree
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A close up of another. It looks like it’s dripping
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Into Rockhampton, busy preparing for Christmas
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We go over Lucinda, think we know what’s going on, and make some calls. It’s serious. No, I can’t happily do it myself: it’s more than parts replacement. We go to the major shop in town (who carries multiple brands) to talk about helping with the fix, and like the KTM dealer in Santiago, Chile, it has strong opinions about BMW’s, broken-down or not, and anyway are intimidated by the issue. So no-go.

We decide to take the highway to Brisbane. But it’s so bad we can’t get out of town. So after thinking through the options we decide on the least dignified: Lucinda’s getting her first ride on a truck.

This is no big deal. Nothing mechanical is. We just fix it, one way or another wherever, however. But the one thing we can’t fix is time. We spent too much time goofing off up north, burning into our contingency, not allowing for this. This is going to take a while, but we have a plan.

to Airlie Beach

Headed south
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For some reason we spent too much time in Cairns. There’s no deadline on this ride, but everytime we think of the bigger picture, when not moving forward quickly, there’s a little internal process of time-not-riding-extrapolation. We ride fast for a couple of months, then ride slower and stay in interesting towns until we feel like leaving them, whether it’s a couple of days or a week. And that’s been the case for the last month or so.

The problem with our having half of our mind on the bigger picture, and budgeting time accordingly, is neglecting to add in a contingency for the unexpected. Because so far, with one exception, it’s been smooth sailing. But now we’re about to hit a problem that has complicated itself into a time monster. The next post explains.

Anyway, the first day out of Cairns down the coast road was dull. The road is inland of the coast and there’s little to see. But we detour once or twice to see what the coastline looks like
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The view of close-in Pacific islands from the only ridge we cross
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A great river
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Our water spots are more civilized now we’re on the coast and not as much fun. This could be anywhere
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Kids playing cricket
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And into Airlie Beach
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Which is a tourist town
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There’s a small dinghy club. I wonder what happens when the kids capsize. They must be wearing gloves and complete covering because of the jellyfish. I guess the sharks and crocs are just a risk they take. Poor mites
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A deadly jellyfish warning sign. As you can see this is the bad season. Click to read
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Airlie Beach. Deserted despite the town being full because it’s early in the morning and the town’s inhabitants this week are all kids
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It’s high school grad week and the kids come here to party. They’re called ‘schoolies’. The next age group up are here to sell them booze and drugs and generally prey on them. They’re age 18 to 25 I’m guessing and are called ‘toolies’.
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The whole town is ready for it. There are strict designated places for activities and hundreds of uniformed adult supervisors. It looks totally no fun. I feel sorry for the kids who deserve a week of crazed anarchy, not this
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Here’s a major institution: a ‘postie’. The mailmen all get this standard moto and uniform and you see them everywhere. A guy tried to do a RTW on a postie bike just for laughs. Aussie obviously
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out of the outback and into Cairns

The final track into Cairns
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The forest starts suddenly. It’s dry though. It’s been 8 months seen the last rainy season. We haven’t seen a drop in 3
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Water still flowing from somewhere. We wonder how this is possible
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We’d taken a detour off our route out to see the waterfall followed by a short walk. On our way back to the bike the forest had filled with a mist of sweet-smelling smoke
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No more than 5 minutes down the road we came to the problem
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It looked like it had just started. Fire’s always mesmerizing so we stopped to look before it got going
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Then it exploded around us. Really bad timing. Spectacular though
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This is the 4th fire of the trip. Here was the 1st: picking up the bike in Kelowna before our starting point in Vancouver. In the hills above Summerland September 2012
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We gassed it before being any more stupid than we had been stopping for pics. The next day we read it had unfortunately burned into a town
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We were headed for the Gillies Road, were the sportbikes from Cairns come to ride the twists. Windmills on our way. They were old and relatively small
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We got excited when we saw an old but immaculate Bimmer parked in front of a bike shop
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It was a restorer
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Seating valves
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Later we stopped in Yungabarra. There’s an animal here we want to see. I’d got all the beta for finding it. The best time is at dawn
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A short walk out-of-town to cross a small bridge
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To a creek. Nothing like any of the creeks we’d seen so far. Almost still, muddy and buzzing with insects
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And this is what we’d been told to look out for. Bubbles and concentric circles on the surface. We were pretty excited at this point because we’d been walking the creek for an hour looking for this
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Then, bingo! A platypus! He floated around, dove to the bottom where he’s dig for bugs in the muddy bottom (hence the bubbles) and would come up for air after about 5 minutes. Lousy photo, but the rest are worse
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Then back on the road to see another giant strangler fig we’d heard about
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This one was about 100 feet and imposing. I heard a story about how the hippies  (the Aussies call them ferals) like to fire up a bowl and climb them, falling out once in a while hopefully
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Onto the Gillies Road. the most twisties we’ve done since NZ. Good but not great. The guard rails were everywhere and obscured the view of the road ahead
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This looks great on the GPS track
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Then down to a new world. The green was shocking. We’ve seen nothing like it in many months: it was winter in NZ and South America was, well, South America
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We couldn’t believe our eyes
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Beautiful
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Then down into Cairns
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The Google map tells the story. And also that about 40% of the rain forest has been logged out
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Vancouver’s weather stats off Wiki. Look at the precipitation total: about 1200mm’s
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Here’s Cairns: about 2000mm’s. In fact it rains as much January through March as it does in a year back home so no more complaining
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Which is why this downtown street has mangrove trees in it
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The waterfront is immaculate. The Australian flags are strong and beautiful
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Many WW2 stories from Cairns. Elite commandos were trained here. Aussies are proud of their role in the Pacific
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This cannon was a work of art. I wanted it
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The esplanade separates the sea (crocs, sharks, box jellyfish, etc) from a huge public pool
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The left hand side had a sand beach and BBQ’s, which were free, gas-powered and cleaned each morning by the town
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And bats at night, like Darwin
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The bats in town are Spectacled Flying Foxes.

They live downtown here. This tree below has been hacked back by the town which is why it looks ugly. They’re trying to get the colony of 15,000 bats to move elsewhere. They’re worried about the negative effect on tourism. We thought it would be the opposite.
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Up close they’re all hanging like this
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They look like foxes, and not much smaller. In fact they’re huge. They make a screeching sound all day and only go quiet when they fly at dusk
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A German girl I met recommends a guide to take us into a locked reserve in the rain forest
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We climbed through a rocky forest to a place he thought we’d find the next thing I wanted to see
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He it is. An amethystine python
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Up close
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This was bizarre. It’s the world’s biggest bird’s nest. The strangely named orange-footed scrubfowl, about the size of a chicken, and not very exciting looking, builds this mound about 20′ across and 5′ high. She lays the eggs in a circle in the walls and the male uncovers them or digs them deeper them according to their temperature
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Time for a swim
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Not cold enough. In fact lukewarm
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So we look for fish. Here are a few
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And in case that wasn’t proof enough, a better one
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We hiked up to a peak called God’s Rock for the view of the rain forest
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Then back to Cairns
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Now we have a route problem. The bulk of Australia’s population lies immediately below us. We have a commitment for Lucinda in Melbourne, we ‘have’ to see Sydney and there are some good short routes mixed in there somewhere. But despite asking around there doesn’t seem to be an elegant way through without either following the coast or taking a long straight inland route. We’ll see.

to Mount Garnet for the Melbourne Cup

The long track from the Gulf to the east coast. The #1’s on the map would indicate something major but the road name is the Gulf Development Road and it’s a crumbly and fun single-laner
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We spent about 10 days in Karumba. There were some late season people hanging around and we made a few friends. But still no riders.

We weren’t in a hurry to leave this part of Australia and being on the ocean, specially this ocean, is good. But as usual we felt guilty stopping for so long.

We went fishing out on the Gulf on this boat, the only guide boat left this late in the season
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Here’s the guide holding a fish
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We caught lots
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And again I realized I’m just not into it anymore, despite years fly fishing. I just lost interest one particular day, for one particular reason and had forgotten how strong the feelings at the time were.

There were some good birds out
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Another fish boat behind an Aussie ‘ute’, as they call 4X4’s
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The interesting thing is there’s a consensus about what the ‘right’ ute looks like, and how to modify it for the outback.

Here are some more. Bullbars, snorkel, radios, fog lights, utility deck, all more-or-less set up the same way. They’re the basic vehicle up here. These are pretty new and fancy. Mostly they’re near-wrecks and more fun
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There were good sunsets in Karumba
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And good places to ride
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The heat when we left was getting extreme. It was getting humid and the shade didn’t provide much relief.

This day to Croyden was the hottest yet at 43C/109F. We stopped for a water break at this old railway station. No one around
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The old water tank
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Detail
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We crossed a low range with the densest trees we’ve seen since close to Darwin
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And in the trees at one point there was the most incredible thing: termite mounds in perfect spires
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Towards Croydon the landscape went back to its usual self
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I’ll never forget stopping here. Man it was hot
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Here’s the strangest termite mound: a smear up a rock. I thought I should buy an egg in Croydon and come back, fry it on the rock and take a picture
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But it was beautiful
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Up over another low range the next day on our way to Mount Garnet. The yellow and green, man…
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Another great gas station in a town of 50
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The mounds here were different again. They looked like they had been poured or had melted
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The same type a little further ahead, but red
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This one had grown around a fallen branch
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And into Mount Garnet. Where we decided to stay a couple of days to watch the Australian event of the year. The Melbourne Cup, a horse race. At home they may not believe this, but 90% of all Australians watch this race. This is good news because I love the horse races and take my daughters once every year to Hastings Park. So I’m happy this is happening but homesick about it
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The roadhouse here is the BP station and since the cabins are brand new, it’s a good time to introduce them in detail. Here’s Lucinda parked in front of our front door
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Inside, a bit less than 2 meters by 4
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With an immaculate loo. Pretty fancy. These are all pre-fab and are just delivered to the gas station as a big unit of between 5 and 10
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To the pub to get ready for the cup. People are betting here
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I need to get up to speed and the newspaper has more than enough info to help me make a wild guess. 24 horses
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This is the one. Not the favorite by a long way but I like him. Protectionist and a Kraut horse. It’s an international race
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I also bet on Who Shot the Barman because of the cool name but made a mess of how I bet him on the ticket, I was to find out later. And another horse who looked suspiciously fast on paper

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The aborginals were pretty intense about it too
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Race time
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We get ready
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They’re off! Shivers up my spine. Nothing better
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Into the first corner
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A lap and a half later, they’re tight
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It’s Protectionist! He wins! No way!
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He paid off $56 on a $10 bet and my 20 year annual off-and-on-winning-streak continues. Taking a shotgun approach to it helps.

And as luck would have it, the next day we see the most famous bird in Australia. Certainly the noisiest. A Kookaburra. The song is like someone being murdered, but louder
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Close up. He’s a large bulky bird

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