A day in the outback

It had been a while since we took a route that meant we could not actually ride our bikes but we had found one at last. Despite John joking that I always find the hilliest and most difficult journey believe me – this had not been intentional.

We only had a short ride today – just 35km or so between Crescent Heads and Port Macquarie. We had a backpackers room booked and these would be our first real beds since leaving Brisbane. With free WiFi and a town to explore we did not want to arrive late.

Aware we were taking what the map noted was an unsealed road we checked out what to expect from a local – the turn off we were looking at was right next to his house. Having been informed that the first 16km were ok, and despite being warned that we may need to change gear to get out of the potholes, we were undeterred. As it turned out these would be the least of our problems.

We hit our first gravel track after just 4km and while it slowed us down a little it was not as bad as we were expecting and we were still riding at 17km per hour. The gravel soon ended and while the small stretch of tarmac was short lived we were still in good spirits. The tricky bit lay just around the corner.

We were on Plumers Road, an unmaintained route through the national park. While there were brief glimpses of the ocean at what, we were told, were fabulous surf spots much of the route was lined with deep trees. We were in the bush. While there was a reasonable climb up the gravel track, known as Big Hill, again, compared to what was coming this was a dream.

Having come over the hill we approached a campground and a choice of roads. We stopped to check the map and asked some locals going past in their 4 x 4. The mosquitos were on us, the sun was hot and apparently it was sandy ahead. Still, we were half way now and I was not going back.

When riding into Ghanzi, Botswana, our day finished with a 3km push down a sandy track. I gritted my teeth, took off my shoes and despite remaining cheerful I was very pleased to put my bike down. There were many grumpy folk in camp that night…….yet looking back now this was not so bad.

In contrast to that day, completed as part of a supported tour, the sand was deeper, the distance just over double and I was no longer simply pushing a 17kg bike. This time I had the additional four panniers and my tent – around 50kg all up.

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John pushed on ahead – he’s really not a fan of these situations – I was slower at the back. While I can’t say I enjoy this type of riding I have to admit to loving the adventure. It was tough going but we were heading for comfy beds and a warm shower. After around 7km the sand ended and we were able to ride the last section to Port Macquarie. We had a short ferry journey through Settlement point then back on land we were able to begin our hunt for cake and coffee.

I’m a little more nervous now of the 4 x4 routes so close to the ocean but I hope there’s few more back roads to come yet.

Meet the locals

One of the major benefits of riding a bike as we travel the globe is that we meet a lot of people. Not being shut away means folk chat to us – cyclists, cafe owners, other campers. Some are intrigued by the “one year, five continents, twenty thousand kilometres” on the back of my cycle top and there are some take pity on us -  unsure of why on earth we are doing this but keen to know more. It’s always much easier to converse when language is common yet, despite occasional difficulties, these interactions often make our journey.

Regardless of which country we are in the knowledge of the folks who live there is always the best. They will always be able to share thoughts, comments and information that it is impossible to get from maps and guidebooks and this has certainly been the case once again as we started our trip through Australia.

Large towns and cities are often the most difficult to navigate but we were fortunate to be able to follow Kev out of Brisbane. His knowledge of bike lanes was brilliant but even better, arm signals and hill warnings meant we were never caught off guard as John and I followed through rush hour traffic. That day we finished our ride just as it was getting dark. We had reached Burleigh Heads …. the seaside. Fantastic.

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The following day it would be Chris, at the local bike shop, who told us about a great route off the highway. Despite some decent climbing this was a much better option and we had been warned about the steep climb (14%) as we made our way to Murlingarhh. Our final destination that day was Byron Bay, a hippie place again next to the sea. Despite having never been here before I had happy memories. Many years ago one of my best friends called me from here to announce her engagement…, well, I had to send them a postcard eh?

Sadly our run on happy locals had an intermediate blip. As one car sped past screaming so as to make me jump they were followed just a few seconds later by a second car. This time it was a young girl shouting “fuck cyclists” (sorry folks) as she passed. While one can only assume she was trying to impress friends I can only wish her the best of luck…… with friends like these…?

Fortunately these folk are few and far between and it was only the next day when our faith in humanity was restored. Having stopped for a wee cheap meal at a local bistro we only asked about local campgrounds and then the invite came. Before we knew it we had a place to stay, steak on the barbie and bacon and egg for breakfast. Having arrived as strangers we left Maria and Richards place as friends.

It’s funny. As we travel people often ask whether we are worried about meeting the bad guys. So far….it’s only great hospitality that blows us away.

I’ve often said 98% of folk are good and we just need to avoid the remainder. So far we’ve done pretty well. Here’s to the locals…where ever they may be.

Milestones

Our last cycle day in New Zealand would take us to Middlemarch on the Otago rail trail. Not only was it the desination for the end of our riding here we would also reach 25, 000km. Two days later I would celebrate my 39th birthday in Dunedin. However, despite these targets there was a much more significant milestone on my mind.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog will know my story and those probably closest to me or indeed with a good memory will recall that following the cancellation of a supported world cycle tour, my second trip with one of the other participants was then put on hold following a devastating call from my mother. That call, on March 7th 2012 brought news of the return of her breast cancer though this time it had spread and the initial diagnosis gave a two month to two year timescale. While further consultations were much more promising as you can imagine this led to significant changes to the trip.  With family time now even more critical we mix travel and with visits home. Yes, it costs more but the cost of not doing this is a much greater price to pay.

Right now we’re all almost two years on. I am still riding my bike with John, who is now much less of a stranger and my ma is attending regular checkups. While we have just heard that chemo tablets are the next treatment to try and painkillers are occasionally needed against increasing back pain my ma could still set out for a 20 mile walk no problem. Of course one can never forget those initial conversations but if such news is still not taken with some sense of optimism then it really does become the death sentence. We could have cancelled our trip; dealing with bad news could have led in itself to ill health, yet, I hope what all this shows is that will, determination and flexibility can lead to incredible outcomes.

While I talk at times with other tourers who have been able to travel continuously and wonder what my trip may have brought had I been able to ride that way my overwhelming feeling is that regardless of that first call my mother has in the most part been well and the terrible milestone we were led to expect had not materialised.

Long may that continue.

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