June 30-July 2: Last Explorations

I spent my last few days on Sydney's streets trying to absorb as much of Australia's sights, experiences, and sunlight as possible at the last minute. On the 30th, I biked around the city to some markets in the morning on something of a souvenir scavenger hunt. This led me to a ferry through the bay to Manly, a gorgeous beach town North of Sydney. The ferry ride up was worth the $14 round trip just as a tour boat! It took 30 minutes to cruise past the various bays and ports, including some of the city's best views of the opera house and harbor bridge. Manly itself is on a little strip of land with beaches on both sides only a few blocks from each other. I had great success at its markets and equal amounts avoiding the masses of tourists, nearly crushing only one oblivious toddler (thank you, good brakes)! Manly was certainly worth the day trip and I headed back on the 5:45 ferry.

When I got back, I decided to join up with my new cycling friend Peter, who I'd stayed with the night before and was organizing a ride for the night. I rode to central station took a train out to Campsie to meet the group of 20-25. All were really friendly and we enjoyed a nice night ride following a river into the city from the suburbs, stopping for a picnic about halfway. I was "auctioned off" to my next wonderful host, a woman named Suzanne who turned out to have a great apartment (minus the elevator) east of the city center in Edgecliff. I had great views of the harbor from her 10th floor sofa sleeper and a great night's sleep. This was one of my longest days out on the bike, practically from 8 am to 11 pm, whoa. Feels good!

In the morning (July 1), Suzanne was meeting up with yet ANOTHER cycling group and invited me along, so, of course, I went with. It turned out to be a great decision! Only a small group of 4, we met up in Bondi Junction and followed the lead of an older man who knew every street and shortcut in town. I saw everything from gorgeous sunny beaches at Coogee and Marubra to old, crowded cemeteries, even stopping for tea at a great little cafe at a cemetery! Our three-hour tour was a great way for me to see some of the city's lesser-known sites and meet experienced and informed locals. We got back to Suzanne's place near lunchtime and I packed up,  then got stuck in the elevator for a half hour before hitting the road again. I biked around the botanic gardens and circular quay areas once more, crossing the harbor bridge and back as well, mostly for photographic reasons. I made my way to Balmain, two more bridges away, to a friend's where I'd stayed at the beginning of the whole journey. After more hospitality, takeaway Thai food, and a couple beers, I passed out with the lights on after an exhausting last couple of days. I am glad I gave myself the few extra days at the end as I feel I really squeezed the most out of it!

In the morning, I was fed a great breakfast and packed up my bike and belongings. I took an outrageously priced cab to the airport ($75?! 20km??! I should've walked!) and got all checked in for my 2:45 flight. I'm on the way to San Francisco as I'm writing this. It's 7 pm and I just experienced another first - the pilot cut off all alcoholic beverages for the next two hours because "it's not a flying bar". Clearly, someone has abused the privilege - I swear it wasn't me. Additionally, I think I've got my most difficult challenge of the entire journey (biking included): I have a whole variety 6-pack of Tim Tams, my favorite Australian chocolates, 3 feet above my head for 20-some hours of travel. STAY STRONG, MIKE! THEY ARE NICELY PACKAGED! THEY ARE SOUVENIRS!

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