Archive for December, 2006

Crickey!!! from Brisbane - Oh Yeah and Merry Christmas apparently

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

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Hey Shelias and Bruces,

Well I’m in my first city since Singapore which in all honesty feels like a lifetime ago. I’d forgotten how unwelcoming and difficult city riding is for a guy on a 50kg bike. I’d been in Brisbane maybe 30 min before someone told me to “f**k off and ride on the pavement”. It’s strange but you can sense when you approach a city. You go from being the all conquering hero of the outback into an obstacle costing people their precious 30 seconds. Suddenly signs start appearing telling you when and where you can’t ride but they offer no alternatives. Just “NO CYCLISTS” plastered everywhere. People stop talking to you and questioning where you’ve been. Ah well, quick internet break and I’m out of here.

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What’s happened since I left Mackay? Surprisingly little. As the population density increases so the opportunities to meet people seem to decrease. One of the great mysteries of modern life. More people, less contact. The day I left Mackay the weather took a turn for the worse and so after 50 miles of riding I decided to find cover and rest for the night. I found the only dry spot for miles under a bridge. People ask me how I can sleep under a road bridge with the cars and trucks passing overhead but I guess the sounds of trucks and cars are pretty much a constant in my life now.

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3 days riding got me to the town of Rockhampton, back over the Tropic of Capricorn and into the sub-tropics. It was a tough ride as I had my usual South Easter blowing 30 knots right in my face. I did some calculations the other day and since I left Cape Tribulation 21 days ago I’ve had a headwind everyday except for a 4 hour break I got a few days ago. It’s my fault as I’d checked the prevailing wind directions before I cycled Oz but then changed my route and didn’t recheck. I should have headed down to Adelaide from Alice Springs and then headed North up the East Coast. A positive was when I met a Swiss professional cyclist coming the other way and he said he doubted he’d have the motivation to face that wind everyday. I felt pretty honoured to be complimented on my motivation by a guy who cycles for a living.

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From Rockhampton I headed to Bundaberg. I decided to take a different route and leave the highway as I knew the route would have more hills and when I’m getting hammered by a headwind I find the hills tend to negate the effect to some degree. I pulled off for the night into a small town called Rosedale looking for some water and a place to camp for the night. While there I got talking to the a couple of locals. A bloke on a motorbike explained he had 100 acres of land just a few kms out of town and I was welcome to set up camp there. He introduced himself as Bill and I followed him out of town and onto his land. He’d bought 100 acres of bush land with no buildings and lived there on his own in an assortment of shacks and caravans. After cooking me a much welcomed meal we sat talking over a bottle of wine and his story was one that’s become a familiar one to me now and always seems to start with a woman. If I had a fiver for every eccentric who’s story starts with a woman I’d be able to cycle round the world indefinitely. Why is it that women just get some crisps, dips, a bottle of wine and hire out Bridgette Jones yet men feel the need to withdraw from society or get pulled round Oz by a pair of camels? Actually I think I know that answer to that question.

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I headed south out of Bundaberg and got my 4 hours of tailwind. I’d forgotten what tailwind felt and how much of an impact it has on my mood. Sometimes when I’ve been up against a headwind for a few hours I’ll turn back on myself and cycle the other way just to feel a tailwind for a few metres. Sad I know. I guess every silver lining has a cloud though and in this particular case it was literal. As I climbed up a hill towards the town of Tiaro I noticed what looked to be some pretty ominous dark clouds ahead. I figured that with the wind behind me I’d be able to stay in front of the storm but man was I wrong. As you enter Tiaro from the north there’s a sizeable mountain beyond the town and in the space of a few seconds the mountain just disappeared and I was looking at storm clouds which normally appear in Hollywood blockbuster movies. I took shelter in a servo and a few minutes later the storm hit town and after taking out the power managed to provide one of natures more awesome displays. I haven’t seen anything like it since I lived in South Africa and it was pretty exciting with winds that took trees down and hailstones the size of golf balls. Of course all the Aussies told me that was NOTHING and normally they have hailstones the size of New York but I was impressed. I left town after the storm had cleared only to get 20 kms before getting hammered by another storm. I’ve never cycled in anything like it and the weather was severe enough that I had people stopping and offering help. Luckily I knew there was a rest area a few kms up the road so I battled through and arrived at the rest stop to a rousing cheer from the people who’d gathered in their cars for protection from the storm.

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I arrived in Brisbane last night and camped in a place called Nudgee Beach just to the NE of the city. My intention now is to leave the city and begin the 1000kms or so south to Sydney. Based on my average mileage I should hit Sydney around the 29th/30th December. I have no idea where this puts me for Christmas day but I’m not sure how relevant it is. I have a feeling this will be the time of my journey when being alone has the most impact on me. Christmas is a time for family and friends and so I reckon my chances of meeting people are seriously reduced and with this in mind it’s probably better that I spend the time on the bike. It’s not a big deal as I knew this would be the case and it’s a fair trade for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had so far. On a positive note I expect to be exactly half way round the world on Christmas day. I’m quite curious how it’ll feel as from that moment I’m technically on my way home.

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For New Year I may spend a few days in Sydney and check out their world famous celebrations. It depends on the time really. My visa runs out January 13th and I plan to fly from Melbourne which is another 1000kms from Sydney. This equates to about 10 days riding time so I’d need to leave Sydney pretty much on New Years Day or maybe the day after. I’m now flying to Christchurch instead of Auckland as these were the only flights I could get. Not sure what this does to my route plans but it won’t be the first time my route plans have changed nor the last I suspect.

I’m expecting to spend 3 months in NZ but as with everything so far, we’ll have to see. I’m going to see if I can take a little of the pressure off myself in NZ. I set myself a pretty difficult target for Oz of 5000 miles and based on my current progress, my round the world would take just over 10 months. Since I started I’ve wanted to do it in less than a year. Round the world on a bike in under a year has a nice ring to it don’t you think? This means I could take longer on the second half of my journey and still make it under a year. I don’t know. Sometimes I think I just love to keep moving and so I’ll keep this pace going. If I get home and I want to start moving again then I know the answer.

Anyways guys and gals best go and see if I can get the hell out of this city. If I don’t get to fire off another email before Christmas have yourselves a merry one and have a few drinks for me.

Lot of love as always,

Craig.

XXX

Bonza from Mackay - Part II - Townsville to Cape Tribulation to Mackay

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Hey peeps,

btw I haven’t mentioned donations and the like since I’ve started but if any of you know of anyone who’s enjoying the emails or even anyone who’s interested in donating but just hasn’t got round to it, I’d appreciate it if you’d give them a gentle nudge. If anyone is doubting the difficulty of what I’m doing, send them a map of Central Australia and a weather report of the temperatures out there. Plus it’s Christmas time. Cheers guys.

www.justgiving.com/CraigFoster

The bus journey across from TC was pretty eventful as far as these things go. I sat in a seat second from the back and there was a bloke on one side and a girl on the other. They started talking and after sharing a couple of rum and cokes decided that having sex on the back seat would be a good idea. I haven’t got a problem with people indulging their exhibitionist tendencies but buses just aren’t designed for this type of thing due to space constraints and with the two of them being 20st a piece it just made matters worse. I’m not fattist are anything but I really needed to get some sleep so moved a few seats forward. What was even stranger was that they completely ignored each other after that.

I got to Townsville pretty much wiped out. Coaches are never easy to sleep on so I headed for the nearest backpacker hostel and crashed for the night. In the morning I set off for the 500km ride north to Cape Tribulation. First off I had a bit of a tailwind which was a joy after the constant headwind I’d battled with in the Outback. You may detect a slight obsession developing with the wind. I’m at the point now where I’ll be sitting with people having an in depth conversation and if I detect the wind has changed direction I jump up and stand in the middle of the road, holding a wet finger up to check if it’s changed. It really makes such a difference to your life. Tailwind comes and I’m dancing on the pedals making beautiful plans for the future.

Even with the tailwind I didn’t make much progress the first day. I think I was still exhausted after my 3 day, 320 mile race to TC. 20 miles out of Townsville I was stopped by the police for not wearing my cycling helmet. Seems bizarre that in the state of Queensland, ex-home of Steve Irwin and general shenanigans involving shoving your thumb up the bottom’s of wild man-eating beasts, they won’t let you pedal a bicycle at 12 miles an hour without a piece of plastic on your head. I was going to get into an in depth discussion with the police about the relative merits of helmet usage but he just wound the window down and told me to put it on or he’d fine me so I did as I was told.

I found a free campsite in a small town called Rollingstone about 40 miles north of Townsville and made camp for the night. I’m back in the tropics now and north of Townsville is wet tropics so putting a tarpaulin down and kipping for the night isn’t as much of an option as the chances of rain are much higher than in the Outback. The problem is that my tent just isn’t designed for the tropics so it’s usually just a night spent in a sauna.

The two nights after that I found some rest areas to sleep in with undercover protection meaning I didn’t need the tent. Only problem then is the mosquitoes. I usually just use my mosquito net as a kind of blanket but one night they were so numerous and determined that I had use my ear plugs because of the insistent racket they were making as they tried to get at me through the net. To be fair the rest area was just north of Mosquito Creek and I’ve noticed Aussies are pretty literal with their naming of creeks. I was cycling the other day and looked around me and thought man, that’s some long wavy green grass and then a few seconds later came across Long Wavy Green Grass Creek. I had to laugh when I came across Crocodile Creek and then they’d still bothered to put up a crocodile warning sign.

I was sitting at a servo just south of Cairns when a load of Aussie lads pulled up in a van and asked me where I’d cycled from. I explained the whole trip to them and they were impressed enough to invite me to a barbie and offered me a place to stay for the night. If I don’t make my target of 5000 miles in Oz, it’s the hospitality of the Aussies that’s to blame. They really are just fantastically hospitable people. I cycled over to their place and after a much appreciated meal they asked me when was the last time I’d been out drinking. I had to wrack my brains a bit and when I said I hadn’t been out on the lash since Thailand, a night out was organised.

It was Saturday night so we headed for Cairns. While we were queuing for a bar I realised I didn’t have any money so headed for the cash machine. Unfortunately the cash machine wouldn’t give me any cash from my account so I had to embarrassingly tell the lads that there was a problem and I’d get a taxi back to the house. They wouldn’t hear of it and just kept on saying how paying for a night out was the least they could do after what I was doing for charity. Just another example of great Aussie hospitality. By midnight two of the lads were hammered and had to go home and that left three of us, me Jay and Snipes. We headed for a club.

We got to the club and I couldn’t figure out if it was a club or the venue for the North Queensland gurning championship. Maybe the lads were using it as a pick up line but every women we came across they’d tell them what about how I was cycling round the world for charity. I’d be standing there and they’d drag the women’s finalist of the gurning competition over and tell her she just had to talk to me because of what I was doing. As a rule of thumb people on drugs just don’t really care about this type of thing. The sequence was that they’d drag a girl over, she’d looked bored and I’d look embarrassed. They dragged one bored girl over and she drawled at me that my mates had said I was doing something or another round the world for something or another. I’d gotten tired of explaining the story to bored people so for a laugh I told her I was doing a 16,000 mile line of coke around the round and it was the first spark of interest I’d seen the whole night. I felt bad though and told her I was just joking and you could just see the interest disappear as she wandered off to find that elusive man who really was doing a 16,000 mile line of coke round the world.

We left the club at about 6 in the morning. The lads were of the mold were going home while there was still a phone box open somewhere was sacrilege. I’d been up for 25 hours at this point and cycled 90 miles in between. Man I felt my age. We were sitting in the taxi on the way home when Jay turned to Snipes and said “dude, didn’t you feel old in there?”. They were both 25. It appears that for all the things I’ve experienced on my travels my lack of interest in clubbing has survived completely intact.

In the morning everyone just sat around recovering from the night before. We got a rubbish DVD and some takeaway and it made me a little homesick for those Sunday evenings we used to spend at 369, hung over watching some garbage Pete or Alex had chosen. On the Monday I said my byes to the lads and headed off north to Cairns. These blokes had just met me in a petrol station and then pretty much paid for my entire weekend without even questioning it. It just amazes me the constant warmth and generosity you get from Aussie people and how easy it comes to them. When I headed for the East Coast I was worried that I wouldn’t experience the same kindness I’d come across in the Outback but my fears turned out to be completely unfounded.

I made it to a place just north of Port Douglas called Newell Beach and it looked like it was going to rain so I decided to pay for a campsite. I found a nice little place for $5. I was making camp when I met Peter and his family. In true Aussie fashion they wandered over, introduced themselves and invited me for dinner. Peter worked as a nurse in the Aboriginal communities around Cape York which is basically as far north as you can get in Queensland. The tarmac road ends at Cape Tribulation and then you get another 1000kms of dirt road that takes you north until you can’t go any further. It was good to talk to Peter because I’d struggled to get any positive views on Aboriginals when I was in the Outback. In a way Peter was just repeating what Melissa had told me in Tennant Creek but, as a nurse working in the community, he was able to give me a better understanding of how the loss of culture and land had effecting people due to the sheer alien nature of Western culture.

After a breakfast supplied by Peter I set off for the last part of my journey north to Cape Tribulation. I was in true tropical rainforest country now. The contrast to my time in the Outback was just immense. I had massive rain forest covered hills to my left and the ocean just to my right. It really is a beautiful part of the world. The road hugs the ocean for most of the journey and you’re cycling along just looking out over the Great Barrier Reef. I’d been told that the road was fantastic but as usual it was from a car driver and they’d neglected to mention that it involved some serious hill climbing. I don’t mind hills and prefer them to headwinds but climbing through rain forest just reduces you to a puddle of sweat in a matter of seconds. The climb was worth it through as there’s some fantastic lookouts at the top of the hills with panoramic views of the landscape and the reef.

I rolled down the other side of the hill enjoying the cooling breeze and stopped at the bottom when I noticed a bar. I was just sitting there when an Aussie wandered over, asked me what I was up to and if I fancied going down the beach for a beer. I left the bike at the bar, climbed into his ute and we headed to his place to get some beers and to say hi to his wife. Being an Aussie she was completely nonplused by her husband turning up with a random round the world cyclist. We headed down to Cow Bay, an idyllic stretch of beach completely unspoilt with no one in sight. After our beers we headed back to the bar and I headed off again. That’s the other thing is that things like this are just the norm. It’s no big deal, no swapping of email addresses, just two blokes having a chat, a few beers and then going their separate ways.

I arrived at Cape Tribulation and made for the campsite there. The campsite owners were sitting around having a few beers and asked me where I’d ridden from and why and after I told them they let me stay in the campsite for free and gave me some beers. To be honest heading for Cape Tribulation was similar to heading for Ayer’s Rock. Yeah I did the jungle walks but really I went there for the people I’d meet along the way. Traveling by bike really is about the journey. The end point just isn’t as important as it is for people traveling by bus or car.

It was time to head south again. I’d arranged to meet some old friends from South Africa who I haven’t seen in about 7 years and who now live in Mackay. This would be the first time since the start of my journey I’d be getting to see someone who I’d already met before and I was looking forward to it. It’s a 900km ride to Mackay from Cape Tribulation and as 500kms of it would be retracing my steps I did my usual and did some big miles.

Strange enough I was in a servo just south of Cairns when I got talking to a girl who’d met Klaus the camel guy just a few days earlier in the Outback. She’d mentioned she was going to the East Coast and he’d mentioned she may come across me. Pretty amazing coincidence considering I’d seen him about 5000kms and 25 days ago. That whole big country, small world thing cropping up again.

Just south of Ayr my back tire finally gave up the ghost. It did it in spectacular style and just disintegrated. It’d gotten me close to half way through my journey so it’s done well all things considered. I quick tire change and I was back on the road again. I’ll pick up a new tire in Brisbane as I still have some pretty big gaps ahead of me and while there shouldn’t be any problems, it’s best to be prepared.

I arrived in Mackay two days ago after putting in some big miles. I still want to get down to Adelaide before my visa runs out on Jan 13th so any rest days need to be earned. I’ll probably set off again tomorrow morning after spending a great few days with Linda and her family. I’ve known Linda since I was a kid so we’ve just sat around reminiscing. People usually think I need to be entertained when I’m on my days off but we know each other well enough that she understands I just want to sit and do nothing. We even went bowling yesterday although she did kick my arse all over the place but such is life.

Anyways I’m off to bed. I’ll try and post some new pictures tomorrow but if you follow the link I gave last time you’ll see some new pictures under the Australian section. I’ve split it up by state for ease of use.

Lots of love as always,

Craig.

XXX

Struth from Mackay - Part I - Alice Springs to Tennant Creek

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Big truck - little bike

Hey you guys,

Yeah well I’m going to write this update in two parts. Mainly because I consider my time in the Outback to be pretty distinctive and also because it’s been a while since my last update.

After my last email I met up with Damien, an Aussie bloke I’d met in Ayer’s Rock. He had some family in Alice Springs and organised us a place to stay for a few days. We sat around the pool for three days doing nothing. Sometimes we’d manage to go the few hundred metres to the servo (Aussies take pretty much every word and add either “o” or “ie” to the end. Think pokie, saltie, freshie, schoolie, smoko, bowled waaaarniiiie etc). After spending 3 days lazing around the pool I decided it was time to get moving again. I think the moment came when I was sitting having a beer with Damien and he said “man, it’s rubbish when you can’t see forever”. I agreed and started getting ready to go back where I could see forever.

I set off back up north to TC (Tennant Creek) on the Friday night. My intention was get the 320 miles to TC on the Tuesday, bus it across to Mount Isa and continue on to the East Coast. It never quite worked out that way though. The first day I cycled 126 miles up to a roadhouse called Ti Tree. I don’t normally do days like this and when I do, it normally means I want to be somewhere else. This was the first sign I’d been in the Outback for long enough.

At the start of the next day I noticed a twinge in my left knee. Nothing serious but I knew it was there but I knew I wanted to get to TC as fast as I could so I pressed on regardless. Unfortunately for me this was the day the wind decided to pick up full in my face. It was more of a head hurricane than a headwind and it beat me mercilessly. It’s difficult to express to a non-cyclist the sheer damage a good headwind wreaks on you both physically and mentally. The fact you’re in the Outback just makes the situation much worse. In most places you have the comparative luxury of choice where you can either sit out the wind or you can make short leaps from place to place resting in between. In the Outback you don’t have that option. You have to make those miles to your next water stop and your next water stop can be well over 100 kilometres away. Try and sit it out and you could just end up running out of water.

On top of the physical realities you have the psychological impact. You start the day and you have 60 miles to do. So you start cycling and you’re trundling along at 10 miles an hour so you figure you have 6 hours riding ahead. An hour later you have 50 miles to do but the wind has taken so much out of you that you’re down to 8 miles an hour. You do the math and you now have more than 6 hours riding ahead of you. You’ve ridden for an hour, you’re exhausted and you’ve actually lost time on your initial calculations. Over the next hour the wind picks up a bit more and you’re down to 6 miles an hour and you’ve got 42 miles to go, so you’re now looking at 7 hours riding. You’ve been riding for two hours and yet somehow your riding time just keeps going up. It’s only when you’ve reached pretty much your lowest possible speed and your lowest physical point that you can make an estimate of your riding time. This seriously messes with your head and Mother Nature and I have had some choice words about her chosen method of torture on many a day.

Eventually I staggered into Barrow Creek. I was exhausted but irony of irony is that there was a couple there who’d passed me earlier and marveled at how quickly I’d made it. I didn’t have enough energy to prevent an incredulous look leaping on to my face before I collapsed on the bar mumbling for a carton of cold milk. The people at Barrow Creek were pretty kind though and kept on giving me free things. I asked for a bowl of Weetabix and when the bloke asked how many, I said as many as you can fit into the bowl. He did a top job and managed to cram 10 Weetabix in to a single bowl. Never ask a RTW cyclist how much food or drink he wants.

In my last email I mentioned Daisuke, the crazy Japanese cyclist I’d met who’d had his bike stolen in Alice Springs. I was sitting in the roadhouse at Barrow Creek when I picked up the Alice Springs Times (I may have made the name up) and noticed my insane red-haired friend on page 5 holding up a brand new bike. An Aussie bloke had heard about his plight and felt bad he’d be leaving Oz with a bad impression so had bought him a new bike, fully kitted out with all touring extras. That’s the type of kindness you run into in the Outback and it’s probably one of the few places in the world where something like this would happen. I had to laugh as the article contains the following quote from Daisuke, “I’m happy because I would have had to walk around Australia”. That’s madness. As a side note, a few other people had obviously read the story and kept stopping in their cars and asking me if I was the Japanese dude in the paper and even though it was pretty obvious I wasn’t, they’d still manage a look of disappointment. It’s pretty crushing when you’re cycling through the Outback in 43C heat and people still find you a disappointment.

Happy Jappy

From Barrow Creek I got it into my head to try and get to TC a day early. This would involve doing the full 320 miles in 3 days, an average of over 100 miles a day. As I said earlier, when this starts to happen, I know it’s time for a change. I’d spent over a month in the Outback and while I’d gone from hating it to loving it, I’d kind of gotten the point. 2000 miles with what amounts to about 25 places containing any humanity with the rest made up of a lot of desert and heat has a finite level of interest. I also noticed I’d stopped looking for that special contact with people. I was content to just sit in the roadhouse with a book until it was time to hit the road again. As another side note a highly recommended book is “Dispatches” by Michael Herr. Brilliant book, a kind of Fear and Loathing for Vietnam.

I nailed it all the way back to TC. Unfortunately, Melissa, the girl who’d given me a place to stay last time I was in TC, was away in SE Asia so there was even less reason to hang around. I made it to the bus station with 30 minutes to spare. Damien turned up to see me off after he’d driven up from Alice Springs having spent a few days waiting for spares for his motorbike. We’d joked that I’d beat him back to TC but the bastard overtook me with 12 miles to go. I had the intention of getting the bus over to Mount Isa and then cycling to Townsville but I’d had enough of the Outback and it was time for some ocean and some greenery. 320 miles in three days had finished me and I was exhausted, dirty and ready to get out of there. I made the decision to bus it all the way over to Townsville. I’d also done some calculations and I had a number of choices. If I cycled Mount Isa to Townsville I wouldn’t have the time to cycle Townsville to Cape Tribulation as it’s a 1000 kms round trip. Cape Tribulation had been recommended to me as destination and the ride had been mentioned as being scenic with some great ocean views so Townsville it was.

I was sad to see the end of my Outback adventure. I’d met some fantastic people and had experiences that could only happen in the Outback and only if I was on a bicycle. People always ask me the same question, “don’t you get lonely out there?”. Strange enough it was probably the place I’ve been the least lonely during my travels. People are just too curious about what type of person is stupid enough to cycle through the Outback during the summer. I’d also seen beautiful sunsets and fallen asleep to the stillness of the desert under skies that we just don’t get in Europe. I’d also learnt a lot about myself and how far I was prepared to go to finish this challenge. The days after I left Darwin I was honestly concerned both for my health and my chances of cycling round Australia. Every person I’d met had told me I was crazy to be cycling central Australia at this time of year. Cycling central Australia really is a different world. You can’t make any mistakes. You have to be organised and know what resources are available as well as how much you’ll consume. This only comes about through experience and you just have to hope you get the experience fast enough.

So I got on the bus and headed East. Unsure I was making the right choice in sacrificing time in the Outback for time on the East Coast. Only time will tell I guess.

Later dudes and lots of love as always,

Craig.

XXX