Australia Blog 18
I thought I would split my post between a travelogue summary and then a cycling report. The travelogue summarises my thoughts about Australia and my cycling report includes some statistics and detail about the riding.
For whatever reason I never took to Melbourne; every one tells me it’s marvellous. Its an impressive city on the Yarra river and both the buildings and the water are tall or imposing. Like all cities it belongs to the under 30’s. They populate its streets and the food, shops and spaces belong to them. Melbourne is ethnically diverse. I well recollect Australians at the next table chatting away in Mandarin or Cantonese and I later heard that Melbourne is the largest Greek town after Athens. Diversity is the reality and future but it wasn’t the Australia I came to see. I wanted to see how it made a living, the life it’s non-urban communities lived, its landscapes and foibles.
I eventually put the city behind me and got into the Victoria countryside. Here were fields and animals. Everything was parched but this was the vista I expected. Small towns with a pub, a few shops, a fire truck building and a community centre were the norm and I ploughed north. After Wangaratta I deviated off the beaten track and ended up in Walla Walla. This was small town Australia. Hard working, no frills, a little bit down on its luck and miles from anywhere. I started to get the feel for the country and its people. Leaving Victoria was by the direct Hume Freeway a large artery of a dual carriageway heading north and then east toward Canberra and Sydney.
My luck ran out with the weather. When it rains it isn’t drizzle but hours of heavy falls. Riding beside this road with its spray and unnerving drafts from 34 wheel trucks made me climb off and catch a bus from Gundagai to Sydney. I hate to do this but I saw no point in suffering for the sake of it. Sydney was magnificent. Lots of history, fine architecture, a staggering harbour and sunshine. From here the ride north, in New South Wales, was hard but early morning games of school boy cricket and joggers or recreational cyclists on outside seating drinking coffee made me think there might be something to this life.
The ride up the coast took me back onto another freeway – The Pacific Highway. A wonderfully made and direct road but I had the difficult decision again: either ‘get up the road’ or make detours to see the beach and settlements. I tried to make alternate days of sightseeing. Hawks Nest was simply wonderful. I wrote a review on an App saying “I may wish to be buried here”. A beautiful coast, a wondrous campsite, a fine selection of shops and all of it nicely off the beaten track. As Queensland approached everything got a lot more green and verdant.
So much of Australia reminded me of urban USA. The American trucks (Kenworth and Freight Liner), the love of pick ups, services from H & R Block (accountancy for small business), Greyhound buses, K-Mart, U-Haul and the endless signs to ‘something’ Creek or comical signs to places like ‘Bald Knob Road’ in the middle of nowhere. Despite the coast with so much fish the diet was very American – no fish, burgers, chips, bacon and fried anything. With a bit of thought then if you remember that Australia was starting to populate and receive white immigrants in the 19th and 20th Century it stands to reason it would have parallels. Add to this the big distances between towns and the hard agricultural life you can see why the similarities are there.
All that said the Australians have a rich British heritage. Our bonds go beyond the initial settlement, language, wars fought and relatives back in Blighty but our common sports, view of the world, music, humour, pies (!) and an affection for our Royalty. The news stands were full of glossy magazines with stories about the supposed competition between Kate and Meghan. In fact there is a great interest in the UK generally. People knew about our politics and woes in general.
Plodding northwards I came into the hinterland of Brisbane. This starts 40 miles south of the city. I mentioned the people. I was always treated courteously and there was never any serious hostility. However, no one went out on a limb to demonstrate any interest or hospitality in this lone Brit labouring on a heavily laden bicycle up the roads of their country. Of course Brits are ‘ten a penny’ here but not many are on touring bikes pitching their miniature tents next to large camper vans. It’s worth adding that on my ride I never came across another cycle tourist. By this stage whilst I was enjoying the ‘race’ then I clearly hadn’t put aside enough time to see many places properly. This timetable was a result of time pressures created by my initial rescheduling from January to late February. It is a regret but as things turned out I may be glad I saw so much.
Brisbane is a modern and striking city. I did whinge in the blog about my hostel’s district being in an area of spiteful impossibly steep hills. When there I decided to actually chill and an afternoon with Karl drinking beer was a highlight of the trip. Back on the bike the vicissitudes of urban cycling came to the fore; a gazillion traffic lights, kerbs, park paths etc. I was delighted to eventually get clear and went to see Caloundra and Noosa. At Caloundra I found the campsite with the best facilities (see the blog). Oh, if they were all like that. The sun came out and I experienced no more rain.
My stay in Kin Kin was back to the rural Australia I wanted to see. All I didn’t find were locals wandering around with corks dangling from wide brimmed hats. it was rustic and interesting. Shortly afterwards I called time due to Covid-19. Frankly I got out in the nick of time thanks to my wife. Had I stayed longer I would have had a difficult and arduous job to get back to the UK.
My departure necessitated finding a large cardboard box on a weekend. I asked a question on a Facebook forum and someone came back with the suggestion I ask Qantas at Brisbane Airport. $40 lighter I collected my box on a Sunday and got it back to the hotel for packing. Viva Facebook.
I’m so sorry I saw little of Queensland. I wanted to see a koala and kangaroo. The people in the north seemed more engaged (and social) and the coast was as breathtaking as usual. I hope to be back, whether that’s on 2 or 4 wheels is a question, but not for now.
In the blog I keep a lot of technical detail to a minimum. You have to be a bike rider to want to read about miles, gears and panniers.
I rode a total of 1,230 miles (1,976 km) in 17 days cycling. (I had four rest days and did some cycling around the towns but I’ve excluded it here). That’s an average of 72 miles a day (116 km) at a speed of 11.5mph (18.5kph). I climbed an average of 738 metres a day (2,421 feet). The average temperature was 26º C (79ºF).
My cycling style was to go as fast as I could but I never ‘worked’ when riding. I just pedalled easily. There was no point in exerting too much effort with so far to go. Naturally I was concerned not to strain anything or cause injury. On climbs I would reach for the gears. (It was not easy to stand on the pedals in any case, the bike is so unbalanced; you would be swinging around like a pendulum).As I explain below I went well and happily threw my leg over the cross bar the next morning for another 7 hours.
I have a system and it’s proven in North America and Europe. It worked fine here. The bike was fully serviced before departure and the gears, tyres and wheels were new. I had no problems other than a problem that I set off with. Under load when on the lowest gear ie. small chain wheel and largest rear gear, I had the chain rubbing against the mech. I never really rode the bike back in the UK after servicing, due to the weather, to discover this issue. A shop in Brisbane removed two chain links and climbing was thereafter less problematic. The new wheels were excellent and did’t need truing after ‘running in’ or spending two hours on a rock strewn track.
Some of my kit is weary after so many tours. Stuffing things into panniers creased or jammed doesn’t add to their life span. I’m still amazed that my Big Agnes tent works so well after all the days it has been stuffed into its sack wet. My sleeping mat failed and needed replacing. My silk sleeping bag liner ripped and I’m getting to a stage where my cycling shoes are making me look like a tramp and they’re not water repellent! This is alright if it is a hot climate and they dry out but in colder places it’s not a great sensation the next day.
On all my other cycle tours I’ve had a thoughtful stance on nutrition but failed badly. Heat and exertion suppresses appetite. You need to eat. I have stood in many large supermarkets unable to find anything I want to eat apart from fruit along with a cold drink. Thanks to Cam Blake (‘The Master’) at Leeds Becket University I elevated eating to something as sacrosanct as taking medication. That is, you have to do it in the prescribed doses at a certain time. I didn’t religiously eat when I should but I tried to eat on the hour and get at least one hot meal a day. My panniers were full of sugary sweets, energy bars, gels, fruit and porridge! I planned to stop and eat when I could and when I did I dropped all my UK dietary good habits. This meant being happy with fried food, dairy, red meat and most things I would worry about being unhealthy. The objective was calorie intake. It worked: I cycled 7.5% faster than my last similar trip, I lost no weight overall and suffered no debilitating daily muscle weariness.
I mentioned navigation challenges in the blog. These were many. My Garmin 830 has several filters. Halfway through Victoria I managed to sweep them away. However the device was prone to send you the long way round with no mitigation for climbing. The worry came when I ignored one route when leaving Hawks Nest because it was longer than Google. In fairness it was saving me from unpaved roads and mosquitos. Google Maps as an App was consistent but had a few errors. One was sending me to join the Bruce Highway a long time before I was actually allowed to join the road. Road signage was often useful especially in urban areas. As with all signage then it is apt to disappear when you are slavishly following it. Paper maps may have helped but how much information can you use when on the road?
I’d scoped where I might camp in advance. However just before I departed I downloaded an App called ‘WikiCamps’ to my iPhone. It was sublime. Offering solutions everywhere and lodgings that ranged from a piece of grass with a shower through to backpacking hostels. I’m assuming this is available for other countries. Peerless.
The road surfaces were fine. Of course some were more coarse than others. Potholes were an absolute rarity and progress was seldom slowed by the roads. As for my safety with the traffic then I have to state that I ride defensively (to the side of the road, wear bright colours, check before turning, lots of hand signals etc.) with a rear view mirror attached to the arm of my spectacles. I’m not easily frightened. When incidents arose I was more angry than frightened.
Drivers in large empty areas drove like Lewis Hamilton. However I never felt threatened. On the Highways I was occasionally a little uncomfortable with the genuinely massive trucks and irritated when they failed to give me much space (when they had the chance to change lane). Car drivers were usually vigilant but trades in pick ups and smaller delivery trucks were usually commandeered by lesser human beings. In the blog I mention a couple!
For the next trip I would simply service the bike, keep to the same nutrition plan and haul the same kit. I may carry out more of a forensic research of the route.
If anyone has any questions then let me know.