A year in people #10 – Paul McDonald

Hot, sweaty and 65km down, I cycled into a campground in Bridport, Tasmania looking for my allocated pitch. Following the instructions, I spotted the clear patch of grass in what was a pretty packed site and pulled up on my bike. It was my first bike trip and I was just getting the hang of it, so I was still a little dazed and confused at the end of each day, amazed with myself that I’d got to where I’d been aiming to go.

I stopped my bike and stood there, hands on handlebars, feet on the ground, taking it all in when I heard a shout. I realised the guy on the pitch next door was talking to me, asking me where I’d biked from and other questions. I got off my bike and went closer, answering his questions until his wife pointed out I hadn’t even took my backpack off and to give me a break. Tassie was having a heatwave, and they were sat, chilled out and having a beer in the shade. I shrugged off the backpack and with delight, took the cold beer that was being handed to me.

They had the most epic trailer tent thing, with all kinds of pull out drawers and I was fascinated. Paul told me all about how he’d cycled round Tasmania some 20 years before, and how he and Debbie were on a road trip from their home in Canberra.

“What are you doing for dinner?” they asked.
“Err, I hadn’t decided yet. I need to get something so will probably head out in a bit.”
“Do you fancy joining us?”
“Ooh yes, that would be fab, thank you!”

Over dinner, I told them all about my travels, why I was in Tasmania and my life back in the UK. They told me about their IT recruitment company, their love of travel, their kids and their home. Discovering we had IT careers in common, we talked shop for a bit. Even though I’d been glad to leave my IT project management job, by this point I’d been travelling for over 7 months and I enjoyed a bit of ‘normal’ conversation.

We drank red wine, and I felt reckless abandon when, after the first bottle, Paul said “shall we get another one?”. Bottles of wine weren’t a regular on my travelling budget but I was having such a good time I said “yes, why the hell not?”. Who DOESN’T love that red-wine-carry-on feeling?

At the end of the evening, Paul told me they’d taken care of the bill. I was gob-smacked, and protested but they weren’t having any of it. My red-wine filled brain tried to work out when; it must have been when I’d gone to the bathroom. I was impressed by the craftiness. Not only that, when we headed back to the campsite we sat and drank more wine; this time one of Debbie’s bottles from a winery they’d visited.

Now if you’re hoping that this story continues into some kind of sordid threesome, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. I woke up the next morning fully dressed, half in my sleeping bag, covered in crumbs (I can only assume I had a little midnight snack) and a thick head in the way only red wine shafts you. Paul and Debbie meanwhile were up, sprightly as anything, packing their trailer tent away ready to head off to wherever they were going next.

Pleased to have caught each other before they left, we exchanged email addresses, with an invite to go visit them in Canberra if I headed up that way. Which I did, later in my trip.

We’ve been in contact ever since, catching up over message every now and then. We’ve not managed to catch up in person since I’ve been over this side of the world, but hopefully it’s just a matter of time. Especially now they’ve sold their business, bought a boat and plan on sailing around the world. Paul keeps threatening to get me on board a small floating thing in the middle of the huge ocean where there are giant creatures; I said I’ll think about it.

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