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Australia Part One

Preparation would have to be one of the most important virtues one needs on a grand adventure. I could tell you about the intricacies of applying for visas in Central Asia, or perhaps the variety of vaccinations one has to receive in order to stay healthy. But on Sunday evening, merely 12 hours before heading off to cycle around the World, I was violently vomiting into a bucket. A slight fear washed over me, with complacency setting in, as I doubted how I can survive in the big world out there without even having the preparation (or self restraint) to keep my body in check. Apparently “last drinks with the boys” the night before got the better of me. Sitting there, on that Sunday evening, there was no way I was making an early start the next morning. I’m sure Shackleton or Hillary had the same issues too?

Monday morning arrived with my sponsor, Kingston Estate Wines, greeting me at home with the anticipation that their meticulous, responsible and fully fit cyclist would be starting his grand journey. At risk of looking unprofessional and perhaps facing the embarrassment of succumbing to a vicious hangover, I needed to at least pretend to start. After convincing Mum to assist with some crocodile tears, I said a few goodbyes and rode around the block; plunking myself on the nearest bench. After everyone had left I’d arrived back home and curled into bed. “Right, I’ll leave tomorrow for sure”, I thought.

After the false start the day before, it was time to say goodbye for real and begin this expedition one day at a time. I headed north through the city, cycling along the Torrens River Linear Trail. It was quite a nostalgic moment being back on the bicycle since my last tour. Memories, idiosyncrasies and all the little knacks started flooding back. No sooner than 20km from the CBD, I was at the start of the Mawson Trail. The Mawson Trail traverses 900km from Adelaide to Blinman and is primarily designed for mountain biking. The main draw card for me, apart from the scenery, is that the Mawson Trail veers away from the main highways. That first day out, on an overcast Tuesday, I really was wondering what I’d gotten myself into as I was struggling to push my bicycle up steep fire tracks and farm roads. It was the sobering moment that jolted me back to reality. Adding insult to injury, the last few days of rain had turned the trail into a muddy quagmire; mud clung to all parts of the bike, allowing little movement.

Through the Adelaide Hills

After a few days heading north, I made the decision to follow RM Williams Way. Following this road turned out to be a wise move as the road was quiet and passed through some beautiful country, with canola crops becoming the norm. The only drawbacks were swooping magpies and a persistent headwind that provided me with great frustration. Alas, taking my time and chipping away, I eventually made it to Hawker ‘the hub of the Flinders’. I’d arranged to stay with Rachel, a friend who lives on quite a large sheep and cattle station. The next two days off the bike were spent working in the sheep yards helping out wherever I could. It was a welcome change from cycling.

A Spot of Lunch

​Surrounding Hawker is the Flinders Ranges, which holds the distinguishing title of being the largest mountain range in South Australia. Unfortunately for some (me), the Flinders Ranges is also a makeshift Mecca for Grey Nomads – older people in caravans. The pilgrimage for these nomads meant that I was living my life one passing caravan at a time, as well as receiving looks of distain for my scruffy appearance and lack of a helmet. One older driver even had the nerve to slow down to my speed to yell out, “you should be wearing hi-vis vest!” to only then speed away. Fortunately, the surrounding environment was enough to distract me. The Flinders Ranges would have to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. 4WD tracks would wind their way through steep gorges and past jagged mountains with my neck became sore just from looking up. I’d forgotten just how beautiful South Australia was.

Flinders Ranges

My intended route wasn’t necessarily the easiest or straightest. Most cyclists traversing the common Adelaide to Darwin route head straight up the Stuart Highway. Having grown up in Australia, the majestic allure of the outback wouldn’t quite be the same for me as it is for your average international tourists. Cycling past overpriced roadhouses and dodging road trains wasn’t how I’d find the pure solitude I was after. I decided to venture North-East with the ultimate goal of cycling the Birdsville Track – one of the more remote “roads” of Australia.

The track itself is 523Km in length and trisects three deserts – Sturt Stony, Tiari and Strzelecki. Therefore it was no surprise that this part of Australia is one of the driest, receiving less that 100mm of rain annually. Within these 523km there is one pub, The Mungerannie Hotel, which provides bare essentials. As my ride started gaining momentum, I wanted to have the opportunity to have some absolute solitude. I was hoping for a clean break from friends, family and technology to make a transitional change to a new life and I was hoping the track would facilitate this shift. It would only be six days, but six days is a long time for someone who is constantly connected to the outside world.

On a sunny Monday morning I headed out from Marree, nervous in anticipation as to how difficult cycling the track would be. Many cars can do the trip in one big day, chancing their tires with each bump they speed over. I knew the bicycle would be a different, more laborious story. I’d loaded up with 6 days worth of pasta packets, tuna, oats and muesli bars- hoping energy and weight would make up for the lack of variety. I’d chosen to carry 15L of water (enough for 3 days) for if things took a turn for the worse. My bicycle was so heavy that I couldn't even lift it off the ground. Water precautions were artesian bores drilled along the way, but they spill out water with high sulphur levels at nearly boiling point with a rotten egg taste - an absolute last resort. That first day I managed to push out 140km thanks to a generous tail wind. A false sense of security was achieved as I climbed into my sleeping bag on that first night feeling eased. Things got progressively worse each day.

The smooth rock-hard clay finished and I was now really earning every kilometre cycled. For the next 4 days I was continually harassed by the many elements that make outback cycling horrid. The road was more corrugated than anything I’d seen before; jarring my wrists and elbows at every opportunity. The large rocks stuck out of the ground like small icebergs waiting to puncture a tire. Wind was never below 20-30kmph making each peddle stroke that little bit harder, whilst constantly driving sand into my face. Flies followed me as a phalanx, attracted no doubt to my horrendous smell; they grew even stronger when I tried to make a meal. And finally the sand, the mountains of sand that I had to peddle and push through, draining any energy I had left. From sunrise to sunset, these elements worked in combination to push me- both physically and mentally – to my absolute limits. Luckily no one was around to hear my swearing.

Growing up in Australia, I always knew the outback was a tough place to live. But I could never really appreciate all that it encompassed by sitting in a 4WD - the Australian outback is truly unrelenting. You can never really have all factors culminating into a perfect day. For example, a swift tailwind not only intensifies the heat, but it also allows the flies to keep up. A headwind negates the flies, but makes you work that extra bit harder. Just when everything is perfect, sand dunes will appear, making you lose all momentum and force you to push the bike for kilometres.

If it weren’t for the generosity of strangers also traversing the track, things would have been a lot harder. I was constantly offered water, was given a dehydrated meal and cans of coke. I was even offered a beer in the middle of the midday heat in one of the driest parts of Australia. Only an Australian would offer a beer to a sweaty cyclist. Only an Australian would gladly accept it. The generosity of strangers never ceases to amaze me. With a growing sense of confidence, I also managed to cycle the inside track; a more adventurous route. The inside track hasn’t really been opened since 2010, due to the track being in such a dilapidated state. I was fortunate enough to cycle the track and I’m not really sure if anyone has done it solo and self supported on a bicycle.

There was a little sense of pride as I rode my bicycle into Birdsville. The town has a population of 100 for most of the year, with numbers swelling to 10,000 for the famous Birdsville races. I went to the pub to have a token beer after putting in a hard weeks work. After unsuccessfully trying to charm the young barmaid with my tale of adventure - the first person under the age of 60 I’d seen in over a week - I went to the bathroom and looked into a mirror for the first time since leaving Marree. A think layer of dust was caked all through my beard, moustache and eyebrows. My face looked genuinely gaunt and my cycling shirt was crusted over with salt stains. I toyed with the proposition of paying $30 for an unpowered campsite to simply have a shower. But I rode to the outskirts of town and pitched my tent. Only one more week till Mt. Isa – my first shower in 16 days.

The road north became mainly smooth with intermittent gravel. The first few days cycling were quite enjoyable as circumstances became a lot easier. I’d have to cycle a minimum of 120km per day (about seven hours cycling) in order to reach Mount Isa in time to watch the AFL Grand Final. But as time perspired, the cycling became extremely boring. There was no change in scenery and I found very few rewards for cycling all day. Music became my salvation. I’d pulled into Mount Isa and was reinvigorated with a warm shower and meal. It was good timing as my body needed the break. In just under a month of cycling I’d had two days off. Saddle sores and general tiredness were starting to really dictate terms. After a few days off, I’ll start to make my way to Darwin -1,600km of more lackluster highway. I’ve probably got another month in this great country of mine before I head abode and I can’t wait!

A deflated cyclist

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