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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

2 Responses to “Fair Dinkum from Melbourne!!! - Sydney to Melbourne and the end of my Oz journey”

  1. Paul Waddington Says:

    Ha, ha, you struggled to ride a mountain bike long before you started long-distance riding!

  2. Craig Foster Says:

    Yeah but now I have an excuse.