Archive for January, 2007

Yo peeps and peepettes

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Well I managed to get out of Oz. Left Andy’s house after a great 3 days chilling and doing normal stuff like eating take-aways and going to the cinema. Andy was a great host although she was a bit shocked to hear Morgan had only known me for a few days. She was under the impression that we’d been mates in SA. She handled this new found knowledge with aplomb though and didn’t throw me out which was a bonus.

I had a bit of a hiccup at the airport as it turns out you need a flight out of NZ before they’ll let you in. I found this out at the check in desk so I had 15 minutes to decide when I’m leaving NZ, where I’m flying from and then buy a ticket to America. After a quick rush round to the Travel Agent, which is no easy feat when you have a bike balanced on a trolley, I managed to get myself a ticket from Auckland to LA for March 31st. This gives me around 75 days in NZ.

Each section of my journey I seem to have a theme. The theme for NZ is going to be meandering and taking it easy. The theme in Oz was meeting great people and making sure I did enough miles so that cycling round the world in under a year was attainable. With that pretty much done I can now meander and take it easy so I’ve given myself a target of 3000 miles to be cycled in 75 days.

I arrived in Christchurch (ChCh) at 1am on January 14th. Rowena and Morgan had arranged a place for me to stay in ChCh with Rowena’s sister, Ange and her husband, Ives. Ange had offered to pick me up from the airport but, in true cycling round the world fashion, I declined and decided to ride the 20 miles or so from the airport to the suburb of Sumner. Probably not one of my brighter ideas as I was cycling through the city at closing time for the clubs so took a mixture of abuse and well wishes from the drunkards staggering home. I also happened to get my most random bit of abuse ever when I guy shouted at me “You look like a terrorist mate” which got me wondering what terrorists look like in NZ and made my instantly suspicious of anybody on a bike with panniers.

Additional excitement was provided once I got to Sumner and attempted to find Ange’s house. Ange had said she’d leave the key outside in a shoe. In NZ a lot of the houses are sub-divisions so 2/15 means the second house of number 15. Morgan had just written down the number 2 and I didn’t know about the whole sub division thing so went looking for the first house with a 2 on the outside. I found some shoes outside number 2 but no keys. After searching for a while I figured I best knock on the door and after some serious knocking an old lady answered the door and I figured this wasn’t the right house. Luckily she was the old lady of the confident and sprightly sort rather than the panicky call the police sort and wasn’t vaguely worried about inviting a stranger into her house at 4am. I had a phone number and a surname so she went through the phone book and found me the correct address I was looking for. 100 metres more pedaling and I was at the right place and into a welcome bed.

Next afternoon I woke up and met my hosts Ange and Ives. Like her sister Rowena, Ange is one of those people where nothing is too much trouble. I thought it was pretty revealing when I noticed a book on her shelf called “How to Say No More”. If you’ve met someone who everyone thinks needs to say no more then you’ve usually met a great person. I recommended she read Danny Wallace’s “Yes Man” in an effort to counteract the negative effects of the other book. Ives is one of the most active people I’ve ever met. One day while I was lying around reading he went rock climbing, surfing and mountain biking. In a way he reminded me of one of those religious people except his religion is fun. If they weren’t out doing something fun and active then they were planning something fun and active.

On about my third day there, I had the option of mountain biking with the guys or a road ride with the girls. I’d been out with Ives for a quick jaunt on the MTB the day before and apart from being beasted up a hill, I realised my MTBing skills were even more appalling than when I was in England. I had zero balance. Maybe if someone had chucked on 35kgs of panniers I’d have been better but that didn’t seem in the spirit. So I decided to go out riding with the girls hopeful I’d get a bit of an easier ride. I’d like to say that my decision was in no way influenced by the idea of cycling with 5 lycra clad women before anybody says anything.

The easier ride didn’t quite materialise as I expected. The ride was short but involved a 6 km climb straight from the off. The girls were all pretty fit and we set a decent pace going up the hill. I had the excuse that I was on an unloaded Bessie, with her big racks and wide tires, and they were all on light road bikes but it’s just that, an excuse. It was a great ride though and riding without panniers felt like heaven. I pushed the pedals and the bike actually responded. I was climbing with the speedo showing double figures instead of the usual 4 miles an hour. The weather was also great and the views of ChCh and the surrounding bays were awesome. It was just an added bonus that I was cycling with 5 women and got big smiles of “lucky bastard” from the blokes we’d pass going the opposite way. That’s what amazed me about ChCh. At any given time the ratio of male to female cyclists was pretty much equal. In England most cycling clubs are pretty much all male and it’s a shame these divisions exist as it’s great that weekends and activities can be planned where everyone can take part fully.

By Thursday I’d run out of excuses to hang around Ange and Ives’ place. Bessie was fully serviced and with a new chain, rear cassette and front rings, we were ready for the hills of NZ. I’d had a great time and, once again, I was completely in awe of the kindness of strangers. Every time I start a new section of my journey is feels daunting for some reason. Like it did the day I left home. The feeling goes after a few days but that first day is a bit of a “first day at school” moment and I have no idea what to expect. “Will I be able to find places to sleep?”, “Will I be able to find Stagg Chili?” and “Are the cows as friendly in NZ?” are just some of the questions troubling me. Yes, with great difficultly and no are the answers in case you were wondering.

Luckily I was ready for the hills as within 2 minutes of leaving it was climb time. Evan’s Pass was first on the agenda, a little 3km, 250 metre climb to let the legs know they ain’t in Oz no more. This was following by Gebble’s Pass, similar to Evans and then 20 miles of flat before my main course of a 6 km, 450 m climb over to the French town of Akaroa. None of the climbs were that steep, just long and constant. Having said that I had the reward of the great descents and as with pretty much every descent in NZ, I was accompanied by great scenery to take the pain out of the climbs and add even more pleasure on the way down. That night, I arrived in Akaroa and set up camp next to the lake.

In the morning I headed into the small French town of Akaroa. It was founded by a group of French settlers in 19th century and has tried to retain some of it’s French charm so you cycle down Rue Lavaud, turn left into Rue Benoit while passing all the shops with cheesy French names. While there I was asked by a old lady if I’d take part in a questionnaire. I say old lady but now I realise she was actually the devil in old lady form. After helping her with the questionnaire she suggested an alternative route back out of Akaroa that, while a bit steeper than the way I’d come in, would mean I wouldn’t lose any height once I’d done the climb. One half of her advice was an outrageous understatement and the other half was an outright lie. The road she sent me up was a 4 km, 650 m world of pain. It works out to an average gradient of around 1 in 6 but this only tells half the story as the first 2 km aren’t that bad, maybe 1 in 8 before you get to the last 2 kms of 1 in 4. You know things aren’t looking good when the cars go past in 1st gear with the passengers looking at you sympathetically. At the top I started pedaling along what’s the lip of an old volcano. This would be the section where I don’t lose or gain any height that Beelzebub had been referring to but which turned out to be a sequence of steep down hills followed by steeper up hills. I eventually dragged myself into Little River, having taken 5 hours to cycle 30 miles, set up camp and passed out.

After Little River I headed inland, avoiding the main highways, heading for the quieter, more scenic regions along the Southern Alps that run down the spine of the South Island. My intention was to head south and then kick further inland again towards the Lakes region before coming back out to the coast again along the Otago Rail Trail.

My route took me over Burke’s Pass which was my first climb since Akaroa. It was 750m and after my pasting at the hands of the 650 m climb out of Akaroa, I approached it with some trepidation. I got to the town of Burke’s Pass which is at the foot of the climb and, engaging in some top class procrastination, I got talking to some locals. First question I asked was how high was the climb and I was told it was 750 m which I already knew. Next question was the important one, how long was the climb? 2 kms I was told. I did some calculations and worked out I was looking at a 1 in 3 climb. Luckily the women I’d asked saw my look of horror and explained that I was already at 550 m and had been climbing unnoticed for the last 40 kms so I now had a nice little saunter of 1 in 10 for the remainder. One thing I’ve learnt about NZ is that it isn’t the mountain passes you need to worry about. They’re usually gradual and the biggest test is of your patience as you twiddle up them for hours on end. It’s the rolling hills that’ll hurt you as you constantly lose and gain height over a very short space of time.

It was here that I also figured out why Kiwis are the leaders in the world of extreme sports. I reckon they suffer from danger envy. Kiwis have been hearing Aussies go on and on about how dangerous Oz is and how they have 9 out 10 of the most dangerous snakes and how “YOU’RE GONNA DIE” if you do anything, that the Kiwis had to even things up by doing bungee jumping, cave rafting, river sledging and anything else you can think of that’ll kill you.

After Burke’s Pass I headed to the stunning Lake Tekapo. The lakes in this region have been given the most vivid hue of blue from fine rock left behind when they were created by the encroaching glaciers. If you get there on a clear day, the shade of blue is enhanced by the reflection from the sky and even more special. It was 30C when I arrived and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so I sat and had a nice long lunch by the lake before setting off for Lake Pukaki with it’s much vaunted views of Mt Cook. Since I’d come over Burke’s Pass I’d had majestic views of the Southern Alps. It makes putting in the miles so much easier when you have such amazing scenery around you.

I arrived at Lake Pukaki and noticed a spot by the lake with a few tents already erected. I headed over that way and pitched my tent. I was dying for a cup of tea but didn’t have any milk so asked one of my fellow campers if I could borrow some milk. She looked at me a bit funny, said yes, so I wandered back to my camp and brought my cup over. We got talking and I asked if they wanted some books as I had some I’d finished and I know it can be difficult to find decent books to which they said yes. After I came over with the books they invited me to join them They introduced themselves as Nikki and Heather, two Northern English girls from over the Lakes way. They’d been traveling round India and Sri Lanka before coming to NZ and after talking to them, India and Sri Lanka are now on my agenda. We had a fair bit in common as Heather worked in a bike shop when she wasn’t at uni and had been to a talk given by Alastair Humphreys, a guy who’s the round the world cyclist of round the world cyclists and someone I’d gotten some advice from in the past. We lit a fire and Nikki pointed out one of the most awesome comets I’ve ever seen which easily took up a third of the sky.

Nikki also explained why she’d looked at me funny when I asked for milk. A guy had asked them for milk the night before and they’d said yes. In the morning, they’d left their tents and gone for a walk and the guy had gone into their tents and covered the inside of the tent with honey which was one of the more random acts of tent vandalism I’d heard of. Hopefully I left them with a more positive impression of milk borrowers. Great thing that came out of our meeting was that I think I convinced them to cycle the Bangkok to Singapore route as their next place to go. They left their email addresses so I can send details when I get back and I can also answer any questions they may have. The more long distance cyclists the better.

The next morning I headed for the fearsome Mt Cook which just a few days before had claimed the lives of some Japanese climbers. The road hugs Lake Pukaki for the 55kms from the turn off and so you’ve got the majestic Mt Cook in front of you and the distinctive blue of the lake to your right. A truly awesome ride. I camped in the DOC park for the night and set off again in the morning. Along the way I noticed a bloke riding an Orbit bike which are made in Sheffield so I figured he’d be a northerner. Turns out he was from Seacroft in Leeds just across from where I used to live in East End Park. He’d cycled across America twice in both directions so I got some advice from him with regards to my route. Seems everyone I meet has an influence on where I’m heading.

I left Paul in the small town of Twizel and headed for the town of Omarama where I found another great spot to camp next to the river. Seems I find a great spot to camp every night in NZ and they’ve all been free which increases the pleasure. In the morning I left Omarama and headed over Lindis Pass which is a 1000 m climb but one of those long gradual climbs with an even better long gradual descent on the other side. Think I measured that I didn’t have to pedal for 10 kms on the other side. I also met a great looking Chilean girl called Claudia in the tiny town of Tarras. Her English wasn’t that great and she was trying to explain to me that she’d seen some guys cycling the South Island on unicycles. This involved a game of charades with her trying to describe their seats to me which looked more like she was telling me she’d met some guys with massive erections. I was going to say fair enough but eventually I figured out the unicycle thing. She was amazed that South America wasn’t on my itinerary and set about selling the place to me which wasn’t too difficult. Further down the road I stopped to help a young guy who was having problems with his bike. After we had it sorted, we cycled along together. He asked me how old I was and when I told him he said it was great that someone my age was cycling round the world. The highs of Claudia to the lows of some 14 year old kid making me feel my age in the space of 15 miles.

The next day I joined the famous Otago Central Rail Trail (OCRT) which is 150 kms of disused Railway Track that the DOC have converted into a trail for cyclists and walkers. It took me in the direction of Dunedin which I was headed for as I’d ran out of books a few days before. Running out of books is fatal to my attempts to take things easy as I start increasing my mileage in an effort to get to a bookshop. The OCRT is brilliant with no steep hills, unbelievable scenery and most of the time it’s just you out there on your own. With it’s tunnels and viaducts you really get a sense of traveling the gold fields of the past. The track is a bit rough in places but Bessie handled it all with her 2 inch wide MTB-style tires. It made a welcome change from pounding the roads. As a bonus there’s a sequence of huts along the way and I spent the night in one of the better ones and had a great sleep. People ask me if I ever get lonely when I’m out there on my own but the time I most wish I was with someone is when there’s something positive to share. The tough times I get through on my own and the monotony of endless miles I can cope with. It’s those moments when you see something amazing or find that great place to sleep for the night that you kind of wish there was someone there. I guess more so that you’d have someone to reminisce with when it’s finished.

As I said earlier, my theme for NZ would be meandering and taking it easy. I’d decided to go for an average mileage of around 40 miles a day, a lot less than the 60 miles a day I’d been aiming for in Oz. I wanted to see more of NZ and I’d figured reducing my mileage and meandering more would help. So far I’ve succeeded only in the meandering aspect of my aim and I’m still averaging similar miles to Oz. I just seems that’s the mileage I feel comfortable doing. I’ve done 700 miles since I left ChCh and a direct route would have been 200 miles. This may mean I leave NZ with more miles than my target which will have an impact on my route through North America. After talking to Paul I’m considering another route which wouldn’t involve Canada and, weather-wise, would be a better option. I don’t have to decide for another month or so but I need to buy a ticket to the UK to fulfill my visa requirements before I leave NZ.

Anyways best go. Apologies that it’s another long one and well done to anyone who makes it to the end of this email. The South Island is low on internet cafes but high on great things to write about.

Later,

Lots of Love,

Craig. XXX

Fair Dinkum from Melbourne!!! - Sydney to Melbourne and the end of my Oz journey

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

G’day Cobbers,

Man how to start this email eh? First off I’d like to say a few thanks to the people that have tried to keep the fund raising ticking along of late. I know a few of you in particular have tried to raise awareness by hassling family and friends as well as by posting links to the websites in various places on the internet and by also trying to contact a few newspapers. We’ve gotten some donations using these channels and as the cliché goes, every little helps. On top of that, even if these channels don’t bring donations, we’re still raising awareness for Macmillan Cancer Relief. I’d also like to thank the Brighouse Echo for running the story in their Christmas edition with plenty of mentions of the website and how to donate.

Well I’ve finished Australia. I arrived in Melbourne yesterday evening on the 10th January 2007 after what was, by my usual standards, a fairly sedate 13 day, 1050 km meander round the SE coast of Australia.

My original plan was to do a 10 day ride to Melbourne and then spend a few days in Tasmania before flying to Christchurch on the 13th January 2007. This was probably unrealistic and foolhardy for a number of reasons. The first reason is that I hadn’t had a day off the bike since Mackay which was on the 8th December 2006 and close to 2000 miles ago. I’d averaged around 70 miles a day since, day in, day out without a rest. The second reason is that it wouldn’t have allowed for a rest period between Australia and starting New Zealand. I think a bit of contemplation about where I’m going and where I’ve been is vital so I binned the idea of Tasi and decided on a more sedate ride down to Melbourne.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

When I left Sydney I reckon I may have been suffering from a degree of physical exhaustion. It’s sometimes difficult to measure whether the aches and pains are real because I’ve noticed that when the end of a continent is in sight, I start noticing physical problems that I’ve been ignoring for the last few thousand miles. I try and tell myself that if I’ve gotten this far without noticing these things then I should be able to continue doing so but to no avail. The legs start feeling stiffer in the mornings, the lactic acid burns more when I’m tackling hills, the skin on my hands and feet starts cracking and bleeding from the hours spent putting oressure on them and I seem to have developed a problem where my right shoulder goes numb after a few hours riding.

None of this was helped by the terrain when I left Sydney. I had a choice of routes to get me to Melbourne being the scenic Princes Highway or the monotony of the Hume Highway which crosses the Great Divide and then ploughs through barren Outback for 750 kms. I obviously chose the more scenic 1050 km but as always on a bike, you have to pay for the views.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

An interesting development is how my perception of distance has changed. I was discussing the impending leg from Sydney to Melbourne with a guy I’d met and realised the idea of cycling 1000 kms didn’t seem remotely daunting. When I entered Germany I remember looking at the map, measuring out the 1000 kms and just feeling awed by the miles ahead. I think there’s a number of reasons for this, the first obvious one is that Australia has readjusted my definition of distances. It does that to you. “Down the road” can be two months cycling. The second and most important reason is that every distance in the future is a proportion of what’s gone in the past. 1000 kms in Germany was 60% of what I’d ridden up until that point. Now, 1000 kms is around 7% my total distance. This means that each time I contemplate a distance in the future it becomes less daunting. Unfortunately this doesn’t work for individual days as the physical reality of sitting on a bike for 6 hours still over rides everything.

The physical reality of the Princes Highway is a lot of very real hills. You climb constantly from Sydney in NSW to Orbest in Victoria which is around 600 kms of climbing and descending. Forget your image of Australia being flat and barren. After 8 days of climbing I know I had. The hills are very similar to those I found in central Germany. Short and sharp so you climb for long periods before a quick sharp descent then it’s back to climbing again. None of this is helped by my bike which is now in desperate need of a new chain so I only have about 5 gears out of the 27 which don’t slip every time I put some pressure through the pedals. Choice of gears now limited to what’s available rather than what’s needed.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t really mind hills and prefer them to flat terrain with a headwind. The downside of hills south of Sydney is that they involve a reaquaintance with my old friend the fly. I’m pretty sure that at the bottom of each hill there’s a little fly bus stop. Millions of the little bastards wait for some poor unsuspecting long distance cyclist to go trundling past and then they hop on the back of the bike and get a free lift up the hill. I wouldn’t mind if they were well behaved and just sat on the bike but they have to swarm around and pester the driver. This involves making darting dives at my eyeballs, trying to get up my nose or in my mouth. Obviously I’m climbing out of the saddle most of the time so need both hands to stop me from falling off the bike so the flies have carte blanche to torture me as and when they wish. I use the fly net for the big hills but I try and wear it as little as possible as it makes me look like spiderman in the descents and acts as a kind of cheese grater on my nose.

I continued south down the coast line for a couple of days before I reached the small town of Kiama. I found what I thought to be a beauty little spot but which turned out to be some Wetlands. Lesson number 459 of cycling round the world is never attempt to sleep near any Wetlands. The grass is always too long to get any tent pegs in and mosquitoes just love Wetland so you’ll be mozzie fodder as soon as the sun goes down. Finding places to camp has been tougher of late, mainly because I made the conscious decision to always put my tent up. This decision was very much influenced by the last few times I’d looked up at the sky and thought “no way, I mean no way is it going to rain tonight. Tonight I sleep under the stars” only to wake up at 4 in the morning in a tropical storm. I was considering getting a tattoo at some point and I’d been trying to think of something relevant to my journey but “PUT YOUR F***ING TENT UP” across the back of my hands seems the most fitting.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I gave up on the Wetlands and headed into town to see if I could find anything. I was standing in the middle of a field trying to look like I wasn’t looking for a place to sleep (difficult with a fully loaded bike) when I met an Aussie couple out walking their dogs. With them being Aussie, we got chatting, they introduced themselves as Mart and Julie and after I’d told them I was looking for somewhere to make camp for the night, they offered me a bed back at their place. I think it was that maternal thing again which seems to have saved me on numerous occasions during my journey. Women with children of their own, look at this daft bastard wandering around a field and think that could be their son. Their offer came at a very opportune moment for me. I don’t think I’d had a shower in about 10 days, I was seriously struggling for clean clothes and everything I had that required power needed charging. On top of that a night in a bed and a chance to eat something other than packet noodle or tinned food is always appreciated.

They were fantastically kind people. You can always tell good people by how much they consider what a guy who spends his entire life outside on a bicycle needs. Julie was always weighing up what she thought I needed and getting it spot on pretty much every time. People forget that just being indoors is novel for me and when I get the chance I just want to stay out of the elements for a few hours and relax. Julie and Mart thought of all this. I left them the next day with half of Julie’s Christmas leftovers on my bike. I think there’s an opportunity being missed there as all over the world, there are people who have Christmas leftovers and starving round the world cyclists just passing by. Put them together and everyone’s happy.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I continued on my way, forever climbing and descending but energised by the kindness I’d been shown. I was sitting in a rest area when I saw a fellow long distance cyclist going the same way so after downing my free cup of tea I headed out after him for a bit of a chat. His climbing wasn’t too hot so after a couple of hills I managed to catch up with him. His name was Koen, a Dutch cyclist who’d just set off from Sydney and was heading out to Perth across the feared Nullabor. He suggested we ride together and has I hadn’t ridden with anybody since Thailand I figured sure, why not.

Now I don’t know if I’ve changed but I seem to have lost the ability to cycle tour with others. The guy just started annoying me after our first break. He was wearing full lycra and those cycling shoes which make you prance everywhere. Oz is a bit of a man’s type of country and if there’s one thing I can recommend to anyone thinking of touring Oz is DO NOT wear full lycra and racing cycling shoes. If you decide to ignore this advice then don’t blame me when the good ol’ boys in the outback consider you a welcome change from the cows. The other thing is that people tour differently. I’ve become a point-to-point cyclist trying to spend as little cash as possible. This creates it’s own routine and ways of doing things. I cook my own food, I’m always on the look out for that perfect wild camping spot where no one can see me and having a 6 ft 5″ Dutchman dressed in a fluorescent yellow lycra cat suit with shoes that you can hear from 5 miles away kind of puts paid to any attempts at remaining hidden for longer than 2 seconds.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I really wanted to cycle alone. You know, give him the old “listen Koen, it isn’t you. it’s me man, I’ve changed and well I think it’s better we go our separate ways”. We headed for a campsite which really didn’t make me happy. I’ve grown to pretty much detest campsites. The idea of paying for $20 for a piece of grass in a country the size of Oz with a third of the population of the UK offends me. To make matters worse it was New Years Eve and all the normal rules were abandoned for the night so I had to pay for the privilege of listening to banging house music till two in the morning instead of being asleep in a beautiful bit of forest somewhere. I woke up the next morning in the foulest of moods, trying to come up with ways of getting rid of this guy. We cycled on for 10 miles when I was saved by my drunken friends phoning me to wish me Happy New Year. I told Koen not to wait for me and I’d catch him up later. I sat talking on the phone for a few while and then when I set off, found the first turn off and went the long way round. In fact Koen did me a favour because for the next few days I went on a bit of a go-slow for fear of catching him again and got the much needed rest I needed. I did sequential 40 mile days, finishing early both days and although it wasn’t a day off the bike, the short days helped me recover slightly.

It was on one of these short days that I met Andrew and his pregnant wife Kate in a rest area. They lived out of a campervan and were traveling the East Coast until Kate was due. Andrew was a great bloke and we hit it off immediately. Think John Peel but alive and without the ability for discovering fantastic music. Andrew appeared to be putting all his talents into living a life doing pretty much what he wanted. Maybe you won’t understand this and it probably won’t come across in print but he had a bit of a thing about stealing particular signs and then modifying them and putting them back again. In Oz there’s a bit of a thing going on where they keep making the rest areas no camping areas and obviously there’s a counter-movement that fights this. Coincidently it’s the caravan parks that want the rest areas closed to camping so we have to pay their scandalous prices for a bit of grass. Andrew’s thing was to travel around modifying the signs to say “YES CAMPING.” Yeah I know it sounds juvenile but, I don’t know, it’s a harmless form of protest I like. We stayed the night at the rest area and Andrew had some New Years JD so we sat up talking rubbish, looking at the stars and trying to come up with ways to modify Australia’s army of DO NOT signs. We said our byes the next morning and it was back to the hills again. We met up a few more times as they’d pass me on the road and stop and give me something bizarre like some corn on the cob they’d just picked.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

A couple of days later I made it across the border and headed for Genoa, the first town you come to in Victoria. Like any other country, the inhabitants of each state/county have disparaging stereotypes about the other states/counties. I’d been told in NSW that Victorians were considered simple country folk and I think I know what they problem is. Genoa is the first town over the border and I reckon people come from NSW, stop in Genoa for a drink, shit themselves and head back to NSW again. Honestly the place is Hicksville with all manner of interbred people staffing the one hotel and one shop. A barman with a face like he’s looking down a gun barrel, an old lady in the shop who treats your request for a Coke like you’ve walked in and took a dump on her counter. I half expected to find the cycling equivalent of the banjo playing kid from Deliverance. I’d leave on my bike and he’d cycle along and I’d speed up and he’d keep pace and no matter how fast I went he’d be keeping pace without breaking a sweat. Eventually I’d be unable to keep up and he’d prove how even with all my fancy city ways sometimes, simple animal instinct conquers all. Later on his uncles would find me in the forest and it’d be squeal piggy time. Luckily none of this happened and I managed to escape unscathed and back to the hills. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

More hills saw me to the small town of Cann River for some much needed milk and chocolate. I was sitting outside the general store next to a woman when a South African guy, sitting opposite, piped up “so chocolate and milk is what gets you round Oz then?”. We got chatting and I went into my usual song and dance about what I’m doing and why. Turned out the woman sitting next to me was his wife and after spending a while chatting away to the two of them she disappeared into the shop and came out with their address and directions with an offer of a place to stay about 270 kms down the road. They introduced themselves as Morgan, Rowena and the two little girls they were trying to keep control of were Emily and Olivia. The condition of my stay was that I’d have to baby-sit joked Morgan. I asked Morgan about the terrain that lay ahead and he told me it was pretty much flat from here which was great to hear.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Eventually two other long distance cyclists wandered up asking me about the terrain that lay ahead and Morgan and Rowena headed to the pub for a beer. I sat talking to the cyclists for a while, scaring them about how much climbing they had to do before they arrived at Sydney. It’s quite interesting how a hierarchy of cyclists exists and with more miles I move up the ladder. I remember being in awe of the people I’d meet who’d done big miles and almost apologising for my measly few thousand miles or so. Now it’s me that people talk to in an apologetic manner because they’re staying in campsites or only doing a 1000 kms. I certainly don’t feel any better than these guys and cycling 1000 kms is still an immense achievement that most of the population would never dream of doing but you still notice that hierarchy. I find it makes me always try and play down what I’m doing which when you’re trying to raise money for a charity probably isn’t the best thing. 15,000 kms? Outback? 45C heat? Easy dude oh and will you donate to my charity for this feat of easiness I’m undertaking?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I headed out from Cann River, looking forward to this flat run that Morgan had mentioned. First thing out of Cann River I found a perfect little camping spot and called it a day. In the morning I started off cycling again and the first thing I did was start climbing. 8 kms later I was till climbing and starting to doubt Morgan’s word about it being flat from here. Maybe it’s after this hill I thought. 100 kms later and I was still climbing and descending. I reminded myself to have a word with Morgan when we met again.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Eventually the road flattened out near Orbest. I put in a couple of easy days again as I didn’t want to arrive at Morgan and Rowena’s place on a Saturday night as I assumed they’d be out or busy. I’d left myself about 40 miles from where they lived, the town of Sale, so I’d arrive at their place early afternoon. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as I cycled my way into a front that was producing 40-50 knot side winds. It’s probably the strongest wind I’ve ever cycled in. Much stronger than the winds I’d encountered in the Outback. The only saving grace was that the wind was blowing from my right so I was getting blown off the road rather than into the traffic. I was blown off the road maybe 10 times and to the car drivers I must have either looked drunk or like it was my first day out of stablilisers. I turned into Sale which then gave me a headwind for the last 2 miles to the house. I reckon it took me 30 minutes to cycle that 2 miles and when I arrived I was pretty goosed and covered in a thick layer of Victoria’s finest soil. The drought down here is severe and when the wind kicks up the dry soil gets everywhere.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Upon arrival I was handed a towel and bundled towards the shower. Luckily I’m not a sensitive guy as this seems to happen to me an awful lot. It turned out they weren’t joking about the babysitting and after a few hours chatting they headed out for a short while, leaving me with some phone numbers and a baby asleep in the bedroom. Now you may think this was pretty trusting but it turns out Morgan and Rowena had done their homework and checked out my website with all my musings. I guess the advantage/disadvantage about having your soul bared on the internet is that people have a distinct advantage in as much as they can get a handle on your personality before you’ve even met them. Sometimes I’ll be sitting chatting to people and I get the impression they know the answers to the questions they’re asking me. It’s slightly unnerving because you’re not sure if someone is being incredibly insightful or if it’s just that they’ve read your writing. I asked Morgan about the hills and he laughed and said it was to keep my hopes up. Rowena reckons it’s because, being a pilot, everything looks flat to him. I reckon it was a bit of cruel South African humour.

I spent two days with Morgan and Rowena and they really are two of the warmest, most open people I’ve ever met and great parents as well. It was interesting for me just spending time around a young family and watching the complexity of dealing with two young children. Makes you realise that sometimes, those of us who think we’re out being adventurous and daring in the world are taking the easy path. Morgan and Rowena couldn’t do enough for me. Nothing was a problem. I’d wake up in the morning and Morgan had been getting maps for me to get to Melbourne via the back roads or putting my photos onto CD. Rowena made sure I had the meals she knew I couldn’t get on the road and this was after a day working as a doctor in the hospital. We’d have great conversations about the world till late in the evening even though she had work the next day. I told them about my planned motorcycle journey through South America and a CD of Che Chevara’s Motorcycle Diaries appeared one night.

I left their house after they’d organised me a place to stay in Melbourne and in Christchurch. I’m not sure my writing can do justice to how grateful I am. I’m also not sure if my writing can do justice to how kindness like that affects you when you’re on the road. One of my reasons for starting this journey was to test my faith in humanity. I was a theoretical believer in humanity before I left England and this journey has been about putting that to the test. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had bad things happen and I’m not naive enough to believe bad things aren’t going to happen. That isn’t the point though. The problem is that when you sit at home in a world of comfort you think you negate the effects of the world’s negativity but you don’t as it’s drip fed into you through numerous channels. All you do is cut yourself off from the positives, the day-to-day human kindness that exists. Kindness that humbles you and gives you the confidence to be kind and open.

I headed for Melbourne with a monster tailwind pushing me for the first day and made 70 miles with half a days riding. I found a fantastic camping spot just south of Drouin. It was on one of the back roads Morgan had written out for me. The next morning I made contact with Andy, a friend of Rowena and Morgan who lives in Melbourne City Centre and I arrived here last night. It’s the perfect place just to gather everything I need before my flight to NZ on the 13th and also to rest and relax. I’ve made contact with the people I’ll be staying with in Christchurch. Turns out there’s a mountain bike I can use so I’m going to check out some of the famous NZ single track. Should be amusing just to see what riding a fully loaded 50kg bike for half a year has done to my balance. I remember taking the panniers off somewhere in Germany and heading for the shops and being unable to ride the bike because I was so used to accounting for the weight distribution.

Well now I’m finished Australia. Jesus it’s been an epic journey. 5000 miles through some of the most unforgiving parts of the world as well as some of the most beautiful. I’ve met the most wonderful and interesting people you could wish to meet. Amazing to think that when I was in Malaysia it was Australia I feared more than any other part of the journey. Amazing to think that for the first three days on the stretch from Darwin to Katherine I didn’t think I could do it yet I adapted and even learned to love it. Interestingly it feels like yesterday. I get the feeling time is starting to accelerate as the miles mount up. I’m sad to be leaving and a few times yesterday I’d climb over a hill and feel moved that this was the end of my journey through Australia. I’ve had people question whether I’ve seen enough in Australia. I’ve missed out a lot of the sights that the tourists usually aim for but that isn’t what I came for. It’s people that interest me and in that respect I couldn’t have asked for more. I think I took the correct descision with regards to my route. 2000 miles in the Outback was perfect and then the variance of the east coast for the remaining 3000 miles. It means I got to see most facets of Oz from the outback of Central Australia, the tropics north of Rockhamption, down through the sub-tropics and then the forests and hills of the south-east coast line as well as most of the major cities. It’s the Oz people who have been the stars though. Kind and open in a way that’s a lesson to Europeans.

Obviously I’m also excited about New Zealand. I new challenge, new people and new experiences. If it’s as enjoyable as Oz then I’m in for a treat. I’ve also done some research into the North American leg of my journey and I’ve decided on cycling up the American Pacific coast, cross into Canada and then run parallel to the Canadian border till I reach my goal of 16,000 miles and then take it from there. 16,000 miles would put me half way across Canada which gives me the choice to keep going or get a plane home. Guess it depends if I have a tailwind or not.

Anyways best go as I have city things to do.

Catch you all in New Zealand.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

It’s a ripper - Greetings from Sale - Brisbane to Sydney

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Yo guys,

Umm yeah, Brisbane. In years from now they’ll make a movie staring the son of Kurt Russell where he has to get into Brisbane on a bicycle and out again in 24 hours before being killed by someone in a V8 ute with “Black Beauty” written on the back. I haven’t decided yet if Brisbane is the worst city I’ve ever cycled through. It’s in competition with Athens but I don’t know, the Greeks are chaotic by nature. Athens is an expression of their culture so I can kind of forgive them. Plus in Athens I didn’t get the impression the car drivers were trying to kill me. More they were trying to kill everyone and I was in the cross fire.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Brisbane felt personal. It felt personal on a number of levels. There’s a cycling magazine in England called Cycling Plus and they have a feature where people send in the most stupid cycle lane design they encounter on their travels. It seems the people who designed Brisbane’s cycle lanes read this, maybe missed the point of English humour and thought it was how cycle lanes should be. After being “politely” instructed by numerous car drivers that maybe I’d be better off on the cycle lanes/pavements I thought I’d give it a go. So it was cycle lanes that just end with you on the wrong side of the barrier, cycle lanes that end up on roads where cyclists aren’t even allowed so you have to track back miles, cycle lanes constantly interrupted by traffic lights where you have to dismount from the bike and walk across the road.

Then there’s the drivers. Obviously taking their lead from the council they’ve also developed a pathological hatred of cyclists. Kids lean out of cars and try and scare you into falling under the wheels of following trucks. People beep violently if you’ve had the temerity to get in their way. There’s also a clever little cyclist killing trick of making the far left lane for left turning traffic only except when it isn’t but which is kept a secret. So you stay in the left lane only to find out it’s a left turning lane and so every car behind now wants you hung, drawn and quartered or you get in the second lane to find out the left lane is actually a straight on lane and so find yourself in the middle of the road with a bunch of V8 utes screaming up your inside. Hours of fun. I say hours literally because Brisbane a big city. Everyone wants a couple of acres so it sprawls for miles. Hopefully you’re getting the impression I wasn’t keen on Brisbane. I’d rather tackle Bangkok blindfolded than cycle through Brisbane again.

One more thing happened to me in Brisbane that really sealed my dislike for the place. The newspaper had asked me for a Christmas photo of me in a Santa hat. I cycled past a fancy dress shop, popped in and explained I was cycling round the world to raise money for cancer and would they mind letting me use one of their Santa hats for 3 seconds just to get a photo. The guy behind the counter said yeah and charged me 17 dollars for the privilege. Thank you Brisbane.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Eventually I escaped Brisbane and headed south for the 1000km journey down to Sydney. Brisbane left me feeling pretty down but the beauty of this journey is that there’s always something positive around the corner to lift you. Leaving Brisbane involved a great little climb over Mount Tamborie. The locals had all warned me about tackling this climb. Trucks avoid it I was told, 90 degree climbs and plenty of hairpins as a bonus. I was considering chickening out and going the long way round but I thought I’d try out one of the lessons I’d learnt that hills are relative. If people live on a flat then every hill becomes a 90 degree climb. Turns out this maxim holds true and the hill was maybe a 7 km 1 in 10. Just perfect and when I got to the top my mood was lifted by fantastic panoramic views of the entire Gold Coast.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I headed out towards Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Surfers Paradise looks to be a complete misnomer. The place should be renamed to Paris Hilton’s Paradise as it’s just blingtastic and oozes nouveau riche. Massive houses and gold Mercs are two a penny and as with many of these places, not really suited to a dirty touring cyclist. I kept heading south trying to find the point where the madness of development and bling stopped so I could find a place to camp for the night.

Eventually I found my way across the Queensland border and into New South Wales. An instant and welcome change was that signs started to appear warning car drivers to be careful about cyclists. As soon as you cross the border the hard shoulder of the Pacific Highway becomes a 10 foot wide cycle lane which is a complete contrast to the “NO CYCLISTS” signs you’re faced with north of the border. This also has an effect on the way car drivers treat you. Now you belong on the highway and the drivers respond accordingly.

I started meandering along the coast line, kicking in to the small towns if I felt like a break from the highway or saw a famous name I recognised. I cycled through Tweed Heads and Byron Bay my idea of what Oz beach life would be like. Byron Bay was important from a personal perspective because it’s the most easterly point on mainland Australia and meant that from now on I’d be heading in a westerly direction and away from the cursed wind that’d been torturing me every day for 3 weeks. Instantly my mood lifted. Riding the bike became a pleasure again instead of a constant grind into a vicious headwind.

It’s amazing how giddy a tailwind makes you. Next thing I’m riding along thinking that maybe, just maybe I’ll do more than the 16,000 miles I’d set out to do at the start of this. This got me thinking about taking a different route through North America. My original idea was to head straight across the southern states from San Diego to Florida but I’m now considering heading up the West Coast of America into Canada and then heading East and running parallel to the border until I reach my goal of 16,000 miles and then decide if it’s time to come home yet or stick a loop in. As always we’ll see.

I’d been doing some calculations on my mileage and it was looking like I’d be halfway round the world on Christmas Day. I didn’t need to do anything special for this to happen, just keep putting in my usual daily miles. I knew Christmas day was going to be tough for me and thought it an amazing coincidence that I’d pass the halfway mark on the day I’d most need something positive to focus on.

I met a guy in a rest area just south of Coff’s Harbour. He was sitting in his car doing massive bongs and invited me over to join him. I declined his offer of the bong explaining that if there’s anything that’ll stop me doing any miles, it’s doing bongs in a rest area. He was a cool guy though and offered me a place to stay when I got down to Sydney. He also recommended a place to stop for Christmas Day. A place called South West Rocks which he explained had a great little campsite in the national park for a few dollars a night.

On Christmas Eve I headed for South West Rocks not really having any idea how far it was but kind of hoping it wouldn’t take me over the 8000 mile halfway mark. As luck would have it I reached the campsite on 7998 miles. In the morning I woke up and headed out of the campsite and noticed a sign saying it was 2 kms to the South West Rocks lighthouse. It felt like fate that my half way mark would be exactly at a lighthouse which would have served so many travelers throughout the years. I headed up the hill and exactly at the top and I mean exactly to perfection, I crossed the half way mark in front of the lighthouse.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I took some pictures, hassled some kangaroos and sat contemplating how I felt. I know it’s just a number but being half way is significant. I remember when I was a third of the way and it was somewhere in the outback. It was 43C and I remember thinking that even with all the miles I’d traveled, all the difficulties I’d had in the outback, I still had to do it again, twice over. Half way felt different. What lay ahead was the same as what lay behind and I’d conquered what lay behind. Also it felt like I was now heading home.

As expected I spent Christmas Day on the bike. It wasn’t too bad though as I had a lot of calls from people wishing me well and the customary drunken call from all my mates drinking the Black Horse dry while singing Christmas songs. Santa brought me all that a long distance cyclist could wish for on Christmas Day. I even had a monster tailwind. Other good news was that we’d made the front page of the local newspaper which was a great little piece with plenty of mentions about Macmillan and quotes from friends. The link below is for the article on the Brighouse Echo website.

http://www.brighousetoday.co.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=986&ArticleID=1940807

From South West Rocks I had another 300 miles or so to Sydney and with the tailwind it was easy cycling all the way although I started to encounter my first serious hills for a long, long time. As I approached Sydney I decided to stop off at an internet cafe and do some research about the best way to enter the city on a bicycle. I found a website by some Aussies who’d done the run from Brisbane to Sydney which had some good details about the best way to get in there. I cycled to the ferry near Woy Woy and then across Broken Bay to Palm Beach, then a short ride to Manly before catching the final ferry which brings you into the terminal between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I don’t know why but coming into Sydney on the ferry was emotional for me. I guess Sydney is special from an English perspective because it’s one of the most famous cities that’s on the other side of the world from England. It’s also a fantastic looking city and I was arriving at sunset with the sun dropping down behind the skyline and the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge starting to light up. I guess the ferry also gave me more time to reflect what had gone before and what was needed to get me to this point. I took all the clichÈd tourist pictures, sat around and watched the city go by. After a few hours I decided to head out of the city and made the wise choice to train it a few kms out of the centre to Sutherland and make camp for the night near the National Park. I left Sydney feeling much more positive about the city than I had Brisbane and I think it’s a lesson learnt that I don’t always have to try and tackle big cities on the bike.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

My original intention was to spend New Year in Sydney but as with everything I cycled too fast and arrived too early. I hit Sydney on the 28th and spending 4 nights in a big city at that time of year would be both expensive and impractical. The other issue was that my flight for New Zealand is booked for the 13th of January and it’s 1000 kms to Melbourne and allowing for hangovers, I’d have realistically left Sydney on the 3rd which would have meant 1000 kms in 10 days. Granted I’ve done that a fair few times but there’d be no allowances for any breakdowns. The bikes done a lot of miles now and while it’s been fantastic I can sense a few things aren’t 100% so I figured getting as close to Melbourne before taking by foot off the gas would be the best option. The other thing is that I knew nothing about the terrain which lay ahead and if the hills I’d encountered north of Sydney were to continue then 1000 kms in 10 days would be a tough call. So I left Sydney and headed for Melbourne and the final part of my journey through Australia.

Catch you all later,

Lot of love,

Craig. XXX