So on the 26th September 2014, I began the first of many pedal strokes on my long journey home, starting in Melbourne Australia and hopefully finishing up in England! Having spent the last year out here in Australia working as a Ski Instructor at Mount Buller, controlling traffic in Sydney (less formally known as lollipop lady-ing), picking strawberries in Queensland and building burgers in Cape Tribulation, its finally time to begin my two wheeled adventure back to the UK.
An idea that began as an irrational moment of ‘what if?’ has rapidly become a reality. Before I knew it, I had my bicycle, complete with cycling kit, on a ship heading this way and had found myself on an intense pedal companion recruitment process! Fortunately, a poor, vulnerable soul under the name of Peter Kopp somehow agreed to take on Australia alongside me. With a background in climbing, ski instructing, and a stint in the armed forces, he was just the company I needed on such an adventure! Several persuasive conversations later and the deal was done. I had bagged him for 5 weeks pedalling ‘down under’.
We began our ride from St Kilda Pier in Melbourne with the hope of cycling along the Great Ocean Road towards Adelaide before heading up the centre to finish the Australian leg in Darwin.
The bikes were loaded, we were ready; we had spent months tirelessly testing out kit, awaking early to put in those training miles and had mapped out a detailed day by day route itinerary, complete with colour coding, excessive use of highlighters and an array or assorted post it notes (why we weren't getting Staples to sponsor the entire event is quite frankly an opportunity missed). Oh no, hang on, come to think of it, we didn't achieve any of that! In fact, prior to our first pedal, I had notched up a healthy 0.6km ride (a casual commute to and from liquorland!) and Pete was pretty much still in the early stages of learning how to ride a bike (I insisted that stabilisers just weren't appropriate on a trip like this). We loaded our bikes with all our kit for the first time on the very morning of our trip start, carefully strapping our tent, panniers and sleeping mats to the back of the bikes, being sure to identify to Pete the use of bungee chord; a practical, stretchy piece of rope, ideal for holding kit in place not to be used for choking cycling companions upon realising what a ridiculous endurance event you had just agreed to take on! As for health and fitness, well having both just spent a season in Mount Buller working as ski instructors, I'm pretty sure that puts us firmly into the profession bracket of ‘finely tuned athletes’? Possibly not. And finally, as for the route, well we knew there was enough tarmac to follow between Melbourne and Darwin, it was simply a case of just finding the right stretch!
So over the last 9 days, our route has pretty much hugged the coastline between Melbourne and Adelaide. We have cycled along the rugged cliffs of the Great Ocean Road, alongside vast saltwater wetlands , through sun drenched vineyards and across Adelaide’s rural, hilly exterior until we made it to the city itself which completes the first leg of Australian adventure.
Pedalling along the Great Ocean Road certainly remains a trip highlight for us both. In fact I would go so far as to confirm that it did indeed live up to its overly pompous title. Should our good friend Tony the Tiger (#FrostiesReference) ever find himself out of work, he’d make the ideal candidate to market this stretch of Aussie tarmac. It was an absolute joy to pedal alongside the ocean, stopping by the 12 Apostles, camping only a stones throw away from those crashing waves!
In terms of weather (keeping it British), we have encountered some strong headwinds inevitably making life tough on the bikes, heavy rain but most recently a bout of warm sunshine, at last !
We’re gradually getting fitter and our poor bottoms are slowly adjusting to life in the saddle. Slowly; Imagine the pace of a narcoleptic snail……
We’re settling into a comfortable daily routine with the 11am tea and cake break becoming a staple in our day. In fact, for Pete, an avid supporter of the Early Grey (borderline addict seeking a tea bag support group) the bicycle has merely become a functional vehicle to transport him from one mug of the good stuff to the next.
And as for life in the tent, well its becoming more and more bearable. We spent one particular night camping alongside a stunning saltwater wetland (The Coorong), complete with epic birdlife. Sadly though, our vision of spending the evening out in the moonlight air, refining our twitching skills was quickly abandoned upon realising 5.8million mosquitoes had come to join us. To say we were eaten alive that night, would be an understatement- I'm pretty sure we were heavily in need of a blood transfusion the following morning….!
We have just enjoyed our first day off, in Adelaide, where we had hoped to tick off all those ‘must buy’, ‘must do’ chores (none of which we achieved of course, instead opting for excessive levels of sleep). We were kindly invited to stay at the home of a colleague of ours from Mount Buller (Shout out to Brodie!). Brodie kindly offered us food, shelter, a cracking night out in Adelaide, oh, and the option of a camping trip for which we showed marginally less enthusiasm for…..!
So, following our day off, our bottoms are sat firmly back in the saddle as we begin our ride north in search of the Aussie Outback (via the Flinders Ranges)! Pete and I aren’t overly sure what to expect, if anything (I have heard there isn't an awful lot out there) but as with our approach to most of the trip so far, despite having little to no idea about the road ahead we regularly refer back to our trip motto; ‘Ya know, I think it’ll be alright’.
Yesterday brought about real change in terms of scenery. Since leaving Adelaide, we took the less direct route up to Port Augusta via the Flinders Ranges, through the Wirrabara Forest Reserve and onwards over the Mount Remarkable National Park. This region of Australia welcomed us with further idyllic country towns, luring us in with their freshly cooked scones, cream teas and shaded garden rooms (did I mention we’re really roughing it?!), however as we made it over the Horrocks Pass, it became very apparent that life was about to take a slightly different turn. Having climbed up and over the luscious green rolling hills away from the farming town of Melrose, we enjoyed a rapid descent towards the desert town of Port Augusta. Before reaching Port Augusta, we stopped briefly; looking out at the vast expanse of dusty, barren, sun baked desert before us, it began to dawn on us both what an intense few weeks we had ahead. I couldn't help but clutch the factor 50. We were going to be needing that…..
So our ride across Australia’s outback has begun. Having arrived in Port Augusta, we were faced with just the two route options leading out of the town, ‘West to western Australia’ or ‘North to Darwin’- naturally we referred back to our inner orienteer; The maps were out. A 4000km round trip to Perth simply wasn't on the cards. Darwin was our destination and the Stuart Highway would be our guide!