Leaving so soon.

10 Mar

Cambodia – Thailand

Arriving in the wealthier tourist trap of Siem Reap was a change from the dust and poverty of recent miles. We stayed for a few nights to rest and enjoy a pedal around Ankor Wot, an incredible place, even if the experience is shared with half of Japan. I would like to beat the inventor of the selfie-stick to death with a selfie-stick, but that would require me to own one which is not possible.

I digress.

It only takes a few too-drunk travellers and overcrowded tourist sites to rush us back onto the bikes and off into the peace of rural unknown. A days cycle north through more barren Cambodia lowlands we reached the north-west border town of Paoy Paet. As with most border towns I’ve ever come across it’s a little strange. The town smelled terrible, wherever we tried to hunt down dinner it seemed impossible to shake the stench of rotting matter. We ended up finding buffet in no-mans-land between the borders, and ensured we left with our moneys worth and a clothes peg.

The next morning we made the crossing into Thailand which was particularly straightforward but the lasting memory will be the smell. Between the border points is a huge waste dump which both countries seem to add to but neither take responsibility. The only positive being that the queues move quickly as people fight to get away. If intentional it’s groundbreaking thinking.

The far wealthier Thailand gave us some lovely flat, well-maintained tarmac to fly off from the border.

As fast-ageing man I’ve got a disc problem in my neck and suffer lower back pain. Based on these ailments cycling would probably be towards the top of things to not do. To help ease the pain i live on a strict diet of painkillers and then dance about on the saddle trying to find a comfortable posture.

In the first few miles of Thailand i began stretching my neck by extending my head over the handlebars and trying to lengthen the back of my spine then springing back up again. I did this about 5 or 6 times over and over. On looking up from my self-physiotherapy i suddenly noticed a large group of women by the roadside and another coming towards me on a moped all bowing repeatedly in response to my unintentional greetings. I replied respectfully before pulling over to crease with laughter.

Spending the night in the small but vibrant market town of Kabin Buri just off the main highway we settled down to huge plates of noodles and some sleep. Rising early we’d decided to head due north into the Khao Yai national park to get us off the motorways, but mostly because we were keen to hunt down some elephants.

After recent weeks of delta country the climbs into the park were an extremely unwelcome result of this decision. But a nice walk to a waterfall and night under the stars soon eased the pain. There was no access to food and the staff were a bunch of monkeys (see below) but it was great to be off the beaten track again and out in the wilderness of the Thai mountains.…

Making friends.

24 Feb

Into Cambodia. 

Pottering along more deliciously flat delta country little changed as we enter Cambodia.

The only thing that started to degrade were the road surfaces. The further away from the border more cracks began to appear, then potholes and soon just odds and ends of tarmac, enough to slow you down to almost standstill.

The next sentence is not one i use lightly.

At some stages in this third-world, recently war-torn country the road surfaces would become worse that we experienced in the United States of America.

Exactly. That bad.

We kept a strong pace as the target remained to reach Phnom Penh in a day, only because there was visa-based admin to achieve which could leave us stranded for a while. This would mean hitting over 200 km which is always a severe experience and never goes to the straightforwardness of the plan in your head. Sure enough daylight left and night fell when we were still 50 km short, and to add insult any sign of tarmac decided to leave with it.

Nighttime cycling in all countries requires focussed concentration on the immediate objects that your lights can find, providing enough time to react sufficiently. But in Asia that is just the beginning. When the lights dies, the road comes alive. It is breathstoppingly terrifying and hugely enjoyable.

Lorries scream passed you from front and behind, straight down the centre of the road, horns blazing, sometimes lights flashing wildly, normally lights broken. Unlit bicycles, dogs, chickens, cats, pigs, cows and mopeds appear out of the gloom straight toward you on your side of the road. For reasons unexplained nightfall becomes a suitable time to pull a cart or herd goats into the unlit carpet of blackness. Whilst families gather by the roadside and light fires, not to sit beside or cook dinner, just to burn stuff and watch the smoke plume into the road and add an extra barrier of uncertainty for the tarmac adrenaline junkies. Throw in a road surface with more holes that a hedgehogs t-shirt and you have a cyclists theme park.

Sure enough the Pho Soup lunch of 8 hours previous had long faded and we all started to feel rubbish. Slumping into a small roadside family shop we panned the walls for anything edible. After wolfing down hundreds of coffee wafers under the curious eyes of many family and friends, we jumped back on and kept going.

Suddenly i was approached by a moped with two young boys who started up conversation as i tried to appear cool whilst furiously concentrating on staying alive. They were both studying English and wanted a chat. We trailed each other for about 30 mins which helped the time fly by as i learnt both about the standards of education in Cambodia, and how to multitask.

We finally reached Phnom Penh city at 10pm and exhausted ordered as much food as the chef was willing to cook before climbing the stairs to bed.

The following morning we set of in search of the Burmese embassy which took some time to track down as both humans and technology pointed in all sorts of directions.…

Along the Mekong.

3 Feb

Two things stand out as i sit and have a think about the day gone by:

1. A massive rat scuttling casually across a ladies feet and her showing no formal reaction.

2. A beautiful girl with long black hair and piercing eyes staring at me as I pedaled passed then reclining back seductively displaying the most impressive display of armpit hair I’ve encountered in my 30.9 years upon this earth.

I’m disappointed in myself at this limited recollection.

 

Cycling north-west along the Mekong delta we moved through towns and villages with continual home-based restaurants waiting for hungry workers to appear. Picking one at random we pulled over for lunch, leant the bikes up and approached the kitchen to see what was on offer. After a few seconds of browsing the fly-ridden bowls none of us could make out what the main ingredients were, potentially cold eel, cold pigs intestine or cold frog seemed the norm. A new rule was announced, we will only eat things we can name by sight. So we chickened out (ironic as we would have loved some) and in a few more metres found a market and sat down for some rice and soup. Pathetic i know.

In the afternoon we continued up river moving through a region that produced huge mats with the yet unwoven fabric set out on the roads to dry, the entire town in the same business. The next town was milling wood, in all different methods, set out methodically on the road to dry. The final town made tea, every house, smelling incredible as it also set out on the road to dry. It’s fascinating to see all this industry and skill, but you do with they wouldn’t all dry it on the road. Avoiding livelihoods on a heavily laden bike is not easy.

Finally we boarded a huge car ferry to cross the river to Long Xuyen, and as usual we got much attention. Hundreds of mopeds crammed together, every single one just staring at us for the short journey. It’s so nice to be smiled at and laughed with all day, yet also tiring to be the constant centre of attention, and thats coming from a bloke with a drama agree.

I think I’ve said the word ‘hello’ more in the last two days that in my entire life, and that can only be a positive thing.

We made it to the border crossing and awoke the beast that was ‘Deputy Chief of Visa Service’, a very unhappy man (potentially annoyed at his deputy status). Once he had awoken from his slumber, taken time to apply his shirt and tried to over-charge us, he grudgingly stamped our passports with a sense of dedicated melancholy . The rest of the border guards were excellent and we sailed through after a quick check from a medical officer who put a machine to our faces that gave him a reading which he nor we understood the meaning of. And on we plodded.…

Turning the corner.

28 Jan

Time for something a bit different.

Asia.

With some well-earned recuperation over the festive period and a few weeks catching up with my fast-growing family in Perth I boarded a flight to Vietnam, turning the corner and starting the long pedal home.

Ho Chi Minh is a fun place to start the next leg.

The usual Asian assault on all fronts; smells, personal space, endless selling, everyone on an urgent mission to get to something somewhere. The stampede of mopeds is terrifying but within minutes you re-adjust and fall in love with life in unorganised chaos.

Pete and our new recruit Mr Scott Beasley would be flying in shortly so I took some time to explore and continue to enjoy using my feet as a mode of transport.

Sat in one of hundreds of tiny plastics chairs by the road side I gulped down delicious Pho for breakfast then tucked into a pint of tomato juice, my mind half enjoying watching the city roll into life and half wondering if Pete will fit in these chairs. The pint of tomato juice turned out to be Bloody Mary so sitting turned to rocking by the roadside, and wishing it wasn’t 7am.

I took a walk to the War Remnant Museum and spent hours taking in the gruelling truths of the Vietnam war or ‘American War of Aggression’. Although the display is as one-sided as feasibly possible the photos and facts don’t lie, and tell tales that mirrors the most ghastly atrocities us humans have come up with to date. At the very core It really is a staggeringly pointless and prolonged piece of the most brutal acts in recent modern history.

After a stiff drink to recover from my late-morning hangover i spied a scene of such visual gold-dust that i immediately grabbed an emergency plate of noodles and a bench. The city parks have communal gym equipment, the usual cycling machine, sit up benches and various other devices. It seems they are very popular and every machine was in use, but not by lycra clad gymnasts or body builders. Oh no. Quite the contrary. Eighty yr old ladies in full formal dress casually beating out a few miles on a rowing machine. Grand kids looking on impressed. A man in business suit (tie, tie-pin, cufflinks included) cycling away like an ethical Lance Armstrong. An old man with a singular tooth, cigarette in mouth and sandwich in lap as he smashed out seemingly endless biceps curls. Kids sat patiently holding the shopping as their petite young mother works on her quads in an ankle length dress. An hour flew by as I enjoyed the most unlikely gym scene. I would of joined in but i was wearing shorts.

Wandering home I was interrupted by a large group of students who asked if i’d be happy to sit and chat as they enjoy practising their english. I had little else on so we sat for hours until night fell talking about Vietnam, food, the world, cycling, university, their families and lives.…

The end of Australia.

23 Jan

The final assault on the north coast got no easier.

Something was always against us. The heat would rise into the 40s so we would start early in the cool of the morning, cycling all day and hoping to make even more distance in the cooler evening, but each night as the sun would drop the wind would rise which was much worse than a bit of sweating. The highway rarely took us anywhere near the coast, instead we saw trucks, gas stations, slept in parks and under bridges. It just wasn’t very christmassy.

The heat got so much i found myself hallucinating in the midday sun, talking to a songbird on my handlebars. No seriously. Sometimes it went on for ages. I would also struggle to stay awake in the heat of the afternoon and find myself singing Les Miserable at the top of my voice to keep my mind alive. On reflection maybe that was why the lorries were honking at me.

Normally there is plenty to keep your mind busy on north Queensland highways. Endless stench of road kill, snakes, magpie attacks (terrifying), bugs, pot holes, tiny strips of hard shoulder to balance on and gigantic lorries, give you enough to think about during the day. But each time night time came, as so often, it would present a canopy of stars that wrapped a small plaster over the exposed wounds of the day.

We stayed with kind and extremely hospitable families who helped keep us going, and were given free nights in a campground and a pub, all of which boosted our fading morale and reminded us of why we were doing this silly bike ride.

We finally reached Townsville and Magnetic Island on the northern shore of Australia’s east coast on December 23rd, conquering this huge continent in a little over a month of cycling.

It was a mistake taking the east coast route when there is so much more beautiful landscape to enjoy away from trucks, abuse and roadkill of the highways, but we are cycling around this world to raise money for charity so completing a crossing of the continent made sense. And it’s history now.

Australia brought with it a period which was the closest to breaking i have ever been.

But then that’s what i wanted from this trip.

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Broken.

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Camels. Loads of em.

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Road melting heat.

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Magnetic Island.

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Merry Christmas,…

Tougher times.

23 Jan

North of Brisbane we rested in Noosa for a night before heading off again as a two once again.

Jackie had decided, quite rightly, we were moving too fast and she wasn’t seeing enough of Australia. Pete and i need to reach the north by Christmas, a timing which is increasingly tight so we are racing up the coast much faster than we would like. This unfortunately means long days, lots of highways, little resting, stopping and seeing, and also losing Jackie as she carries on her adventure alone.

Sad to see her go we had a final celebration in the beautiful coast town of Noosa before Pete and i sweated out the vodka into the increasingly green, lush and stinkingly humid Queensland countryside.

The rolling green hills and dairy farms presented stunning scenery eclipsed only by our ill feeling. The humidity kept climbing whilst the rain kept falling. In the afternoon we were particularly knackered having fought wind, rain and dirt roads, both feeling ill and tired. Out dirt road then turned to gravel road and we also got a bit lost,  so decided to wave down the next car that passed for help.

We waited.

Two filthy, drenched, sad, hungry, ill Englishmen, covered in mud, stood exhausted as the car window slowly lowered.

It  revealed the face of a beautiful young mother with a friendly and kind smile, sitting in a warm car with homemade baked good on the passenger seat.

A while passed and neither of us had yet spoken.

She was amazing.

“Are you guys ok?”

This jarred us into action and i stuttered to ask directions to the next town.

The angel lady told us where to go, we nodded consistently, and then she was gone. Off into the distance with her warmth and kindness following her.

Neither of us took in a single word of her directions so we ploughed on and hoped for the best.

Sure enough we soon came upon a creek with bridge in construction and carried our bikes over, before more miles of rain until we finally reached the town of Gimpie. We retired for a drink to wait for nightfall so we could pitch out tent somewhere subtle and met a group of young local lads on their Friday night out. They were a nice bunch and drove to find us the next morning to invite us for a breakfast of steak and eggs. Great people.

Today we needed to cover some good distance and it all started very well – free breakfast, sun, tail wind, flat and good roads.

Suddenly a spoke goes, and a puncture, gear cable breaks and a stray stick rips a front pannier off.

Then it was lunch.

Rain starts falling. Then pelting.

Another puncture, another spoke.

We were now really behind schedule so cycled into the night and into the relentless rain.

Lorry after lorry screaming past, often blaring its horn at you to get off the road Where were we to go? After four hours our lights start fading and things start to get more serious.…

Storming up to Brisbane.

23 Jan

Setting off in glorious sunshine we moved off from Coffs Harbour and got back on the highway, stopping at the town of Grafton for a late lunch and water re-fill.

Whilst we were packing away our cheesy bacon buns (which have become a staple for all meals) we heard a crackle outside. It appeared that during our shop the world outside was fast coming to an end. We don’t have storms like this at home.

We took shelter under the roof overhang of a warehouse next to the river as the biblical storm rumbled on, each lightening bolt sending a small electric shock through the metal shutter we leaned against. Our cover soon became futile as the roof produced holes and the wind blew the rain straight in our faces. A few hours later and the only things that had gone was our sandwiches.

It would be stupid to head out into the darkness and lightening now, so we found the cheapest place in town and got some rest.

The storms continued on and off for days, even as we took a rest day in the town of Byron Bay it was a continual mixture of blues skys and black skys.

As we reached the gold coast region says cleared for a while and we spent another few nights camping by the beach, but as we approached Brisbane the huge (and record-breaking) storms they had recently experienced were still hanging around.

We spent a day in the pouring rain, electrical storms cracking either side, deafening thunder, winds blowing rain from all directions and hail beating down on your helmet. Reaching the stage of wet when it becomes so relentless and futile it’s no longer frustrating, you have no choice but to smile and enjoy the ridiculousness.

I rolled up to very old friends, Ben and Bryony’s house in the state of a drown rat and enjoyed some time to revive, rest and catch up with friends.

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Going rural.

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Going more rural.

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Going sweaty rural.

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Beachside evenings.

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Gold Coast.

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It rained again shortly after this.

 

 …

Onwards and up.

23 Jan

Onwards and up the coast we rattled towards Forster where my old friend Dubbie was waiting for us with Lamb chops, beers and Chiropractic advice. A perfect combination.

On route to Forster we took a ferry-man’s advice to take a route off the beaten track and ‘go bush’. Pushing the bikes passed a sign marked ‘no access’ we had been assured that after 5 kms of a rough track we would be rewarded with an old mine access road that would get us round a few big hills and take us through some beautiful bushland.

We passed miles of burnt out bushland from the huge fire that had burned only a few days previous, creating a bit of smoke and a weird atmosphere, yet picturesque in is uniqueness. Fires are still such a massive problem in this country with the news currently filled with fires across Victoria and Western Australia, some naturally/accidentally occurring and some definitely not.

Eventually finding our path we plodded into the wilderness, with a mixture of pushing and pedalling we forced our way through thick bush along a path barely visible after years of neglect. We all began doubting the accuracy of our mans advice as we scraped through the forest land, increasingly requiring more fighting and less pedalling. Spotting the odd kangaroo and a lot of huge Goanna lizards kept us interested. By lunch we had made it to an open and flat-ish dirt road on which we rolled away the afternoon before meeting up with real roads again for our undulating and wet last push into Forster.

The next day we had little choice but to rejoin the direct highway north.

It was not much fun.

Due to the record breaking storms just north of us in Brisbane the headwinds were brutal. And cycling on the highways means ’16 wheeler’ lorries passing by your right ear constantly, with a protective hard shoulder increasingly rare. One coming towards you creates a current of air that, once passed you, has a small delay then rush of headwind that knocks your helmet back. Of course the same happens when they pass you, you get sucked in then spat out with a delightful but terrifying tail wind. After weeks of this we got used to what designs of lorry produce the best and worst impacts so you know which times to fight the winds and when to give in and change down a few gears. Might write a book on it someday.

We spent the night sleeping behind a Shell Garage in the town of Kempsey after we had rolled around town looking for a spot until the cover of darkness arrived.

The following day we passed through the town of Macksville just before lunch. This was the hometown of Phillip Hughes the Australian cricketer who had sadly past away on the field only a week previous. By complete coincidence we had worked out that we might be passing through town on the day of his funeral, which ended up being the case.…

Home and Away.

11 Jan

Leaving Sydney.

The punishing sun rudely lit up my sweaty english brow. Grudgingly i engaged one eye to assess the unhappiness of my situation before finally lifting my alcohol-drowned sodden face off the hot pillow. I looked across with disgust into the long mirror.

Celebrating the arrival in Sydney had been and gone several times. The next stage could wait no longer.

After a final few hours of recovery i pealed myself onto my noble stead and set off into the midday sun, Eddie reliably rolling along the bay roads mocking me with his health and vitality.

North of Sydney gets aggressively pleasant. A short ferry ride across the harbour and some nice undulating coastal kilometres to spend an evening watching the sun set over Palm Beach. A place of such unquestionable beauty that the influential and life-affirming body of work ‘Home and Away’ is filmed here. Exactly.

Sleeping under a park bench we were woken consistently by drunken wedding attendees, before morning light rose, bird life kicked into chorus to seal the fate of any further unconsciousness.

We were due to catch a short ferry across the bay at 9am so ducked into the local cafe and enjoyed a bacon sandwich and long chat with the lucky locals who enjoy this setting on a daily basis. Retirees, photographers, advertisers, all a lovely bunch who’s enthusiasm and encouragement gave us an energy boost to begin this next stage to Brisbane.

Jackie, our friend made in a field in Kansas has decided to begin her next adventure in Australia so has joined us for a few weeks. Equipped with boundless energy, an immense sense of adventure and skin thick enough to repeal our endless abuse, she makes a fine addition.

The target this evening was Nelson’s Bay to meet up with Pete who had gone ahead, but it was a stretch and not looking likely as we rattled along a beautiful old rail track south of Newcastle, still a long way off. However, on fielding a call from Pete who explained that he’d secured a roof with 3 beds for the night and suddenly we had no choice but to keep going, as little excites the cycler more that a real mattress. Other than a tail wind or 20% off lycra.

A long and frustrating evenings cycle into wind and on dangerous roads finally got us to Nelsons Bay at 10pm this evening where Pete awaited with beer, crisps and beds. Unquestionably three of mankind’s greatest achievements.

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Perfect.

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Palm Beach.

 

 …

Sydney do well.

11 Dec

Approaching Sydney from the south the hills turned to undulations, the wind dropped and the speed increased. On the penultimate days we hit 200 kms and giving us a fighting chance of making Sydney on time with a simple task of 180 kms left on the clock.

Sleeping off the road outside the industrial town of Nowra neither of us slept a wink with loud traffic, cows, goats, birds and anything else that felt like making a noise. At 4am i looked up and saw Pete straight upright, eyes wide open, clearly succumbing to the inevitability of a night of no sleep. We nodded to each other and began packing everything away ‘lets just get to Sydney’ he said.

We sped down the freeway along the ocean side on a beautiful blue sky day. Families relaxing on the beach, fathers pretending not to enjoy playgrounds, surfers fighting waves, young cricket teams competing in the parks, gaggles of friends sipping flat whites whilst sunday cyclists speed past my ear “you go in front, ill catch you up” I’d shout, they look back and laugh politely.

We ate up the kilometres, and enjoyed watching the world pass by on a beautiful day along the Pacific shore. A final steep climb into the Royal National Park and we were now just a few hours from Circular Quay and some good rest. Although a cycle lane on the M1 Freeway might not be picturesque, i can assure you it is a delightful mix of terrifying and fast. At a later stage the cycle lane leaves all together and you are left on a 4 lane motorway with a token picture of a bike every few kms. But at this stage we didn’t care.

Seeing the Sydney skyline and finally the bridge and opera house was a huge relief from the past 8 days, some of which were the hardest miles we have covered since we set of all those months a go. An opportunity to catch up with old friends now awaits.

Australia has shown it will be no pushover, although we haven’t come far at some points it almost broke us.

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A tree.

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England?

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By day.

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By night.

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Time to get to Sydney.

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Freeway ablutions.

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In 8 days. Not bad for a Pomm.

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Please stop taking photos so i can go to bed.…

Welcome to Australia.

11 Dec

Stuck in your lowest gear you clamber slowly up the next hill trying to find a rhythm in the headwind. Suncream and sweat sting your eyes and drip metronomically onto your knees as the ruthless sun beats down. The road ‘pops’ beneath you as the melted tar forms bubbles beneath the tyres. Flies will start landing on your sodden shirt, then legs, ears, lips and eyes. You attempt to swipe at them with one hand as the bike swerves. Shaking your head seems an easier solution, then standing up and sitting down. This dancing is exhausting and infuriating. At some point you give up and just scream at them. They don’t hear you. This process continues for the 15 minute climb until the summit is reached, immediately you press from lowest to highest gear, speed increases and rids the flies, you speed down the other side for 30 seconds of blissful rest. Immediately back into lowest gear and another 15 mins of hill, heat, wind and flies. You reach a point where each short descent becomes worse than the climbs, because you know exactly what lies at the bottom. From morning to night this will not change. Welcome to Australia.

We have 8 days to cover the 1,200 kms required to reach Sydney, it’s a stretch but if the wind, heat and hills are kind to us it is achievable.

Wind. Heat. Hills.

These are the only things I’ve noticed about the past 3 days.

Moving on from Lakes Entrance we headed into the wilderness and the endless climbs of the national parks. Endless. Never coming to an end. Ever. Nope.

Stopping at the small town of Cann River we could hardly make the tent upright before collapsing with exhaustion.

And then it got worse.

The following days were some of the most difficult yet.

Climb after climb from 8am to 10pm, in the searing heat. And the wind confidently trying to push us back to where we had come from.

We jumped off the road under darkness and made camp in the bushes where we couldn’t be spotted from the road. Awaking early it was clear that we had been fooled by darkness and exhausted impatience, as motorists waved at our very obvious tent plonked on the hillside in full view of the entire county.

Crossing over into New South Wales at lunchtime we enjoyed the knowledge of progress but it did little to lift morale. Any hopes of getting to Sydney in 3 days time were slipping fast from our grip.

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This whole thing was a bad idea.

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3 days to go.

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Perfect.

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 …

Australia: A new beginning.

11 Dec

Here we go again.

A new continent. And she’s a biggie.

We set off from my elder brother Charlie’s house in the suburb of St Kilda, Melbourne and headed towards the south-east coast along the sea front.

Most cities we’ve visited people will say ‘this place is bike mad’ as the sport of cycling gathers popularity worldwide, but as Charlie and I pedalled along the ocean road there was an explosion of lycra and thigh muscle like I’ve never seen. Zooming along in huge packs were hundreds of them, more lycra than an aerobics convention and every part of the uniform matching in colour, branding and spotlessness. Heads would turn from each peloton as they spotted a slow, bearded fella with plenty of luggage in a dirty t-shirt and board shorts. The only part of my uniform that matches is the smell. I’m happy to keep it that way.

Having missed the ferry to cross over the inlet we had a long wait which was easily filled with pies and bike mechanics, two things Australians seem competent at. A later ferry meant a later end to our first day, but well worth it for the glorious welcome from Weens and Emms who laid on a huge platter of food followed by a luxurious stay in a campsite with posh bathrooms. Heaven. I hope all of Australia is like this.

We set off late the next morning after another belly full of deliciousness and headed East along the coast towards the national parks that make-up the south-eastern corner of Australia. Some undulations and a small tail wind made for a pleasant days cycle reaching 100 kms at the town of Yarram.

Food, posh bathrooms, tailwinds. There is a lot to like here.

At Yarram we said goodbye to my brother, always great to have a new team member for a few days especially if it’s a brother you very rarely see. We waved him off, both envious that he was headed back to home comforts whilst we were left to consider moving on or making camp in the nearest bushes. In a bid to boost morale we hung about for a few drinks and soon met Nigel and Mum with whom we ended up staying on the biggest blow up mattress the world has ever seen. We laughed late into the night drinking port and firing up an old foot massager that did far more damage than good.

Today it was time for us to press on and start making some serious headway, cycling through cloud and sunshine, cross winds and tailwinds, hills and flats, knee pain and back pain, nothing could make up its mind. I stopped at a mechanic to ‘borrow’ a drop of chain oil and asked how far Lakes Entrance was, they laughed and said we would never make it tonight and should rethink. But we’ve been doing this a while now and after a long day of 170 kms we rolled into town under darkness, exhausted.

The route took us through miles of lush green dairy farms, disturbing thousands of perplexed looking cows and wishing them a pleasant evening later on when i started getting delirious.…

Arriving down Under.

3 Dec

I’d like to formally dedicate our flight across the Pacific to the chemist that popularised Valium. I’m a nervous flyer, another reason to cycle.

Having re-built the bikes to questionable standards on a small patch of grass outside Arrivals we set off into a strange new world called Melbourne, Australia.

The first kilometres were an exciting new change to that of the past 3 months. New smells, new climate, new wildlife, new drivers. This was only the first 20 kilometres, imagine what might happen when the drugs wore off.

Arriving at a large office building it was pretty special seeing my brother for the first time in years. A great way to start this new adventure, especially as he will be joining us for the first few days on our route to Sydney.

The following few days were spent seeing Melbourne and getting prepared for taking on a new continent. A new country is not as straightforward as you may think, especially since we had got so used to some norms of the previous months. What are the wild-camping / trespassing laws? How strict are the police? Are there any cycle routes? What are reliable sources of drinking water? Do McDonalds still do free wifi? How much is parmesan cheese? Do crocodiles eat Englishmen?

A few days finding these answers and we were ready.

In final preparation I negotiated the purchase of a fresh pair of socks and strolled ambitiously towards the exit of the shopping mall, gleefully considering how impressively I had overcome jet lag over this huge time-difference. Confidently attempting to descend an escalator that was very much in ‘up’ mode, I fell sharply to the ground and took a small child and her mothers shopping with me.

One more nights rest and I should be ready to hit the freeway.

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The end of America.

2 Dec

 The final assault.

I’ve never completed something of this make-up or magnitude before.

A task that’s entirely multi-dimensional in what it requires of you, whilst extremely simple and straightforward. A task that’s completely personal (even lonely) yet its success relies on huge numbers of people you’ve never previously met. Something that takes an age to complete, requires little to no expertise, only a strong dose of desire and dedication.

In the months and years that passed before we started this bike ride I knew it was crucial to loudly announce my plan to cycle the world to anyone who would listen. This is because, once done, once you have openly displayed such grand plans, you are vulnerable to ambition and pride. There is no turning back. And that was the only way to ensure I would definitely do it..

But from the moment you pedal those first metres, the knowledge that you can’t return without completion of the feat you signed up to is terrifying. Arguably you create a situation where someday it might be braver to give in than to keep on trying. After months of talking and being a phony adventurer, the moment we set off I knew I wasn’t coming back without the prizes I had promised. This is a must-win game.

This is why completing a crossing of North America is so important. Completing a continent gives this thing integrity, and lends some meaning to all that aspiration all those months before. It’s not all promise and blind ambition any more, we will have a victory under our belts that cannot be taken away.

We rode hard into a strong headwind towards the Pacific Ocean with none of the shouting or impatience of days passed, instead a level of contemplation, thoughtful reminiscence of these past 3 months. Expectations for this vast and exciting continent verses its delivery.

We breached a beautiful green hillside with cows grazing and rich, dark-green pasture, English enough for a small pang of homesickness. I looked left for no reason and saw it sitting there. A calm silk carpet of blue. The final jagged edge of America laid out across me.

I felt my heart exhale. My shoulders dropped. No tears or whoops. Just relief and silent satisfaction.

We sat on the beach, stared into the ocean and shared a beer.

Of course the target that had plagued our minds since we first set foot on this soil was San Francisco and the following day we took on the undulations of the California coastline in the sunshine. Rising and dropping in the ocean breeze, the body felt strong as if it knew that a rest was imminent. My knees seemed to wonder what all the fuss had been about.

Safe in the knowledge that this battle had been won, all we needed now was those big beautiful golden gates. ‘Come on San Fran’ I continually muttered to myself as we rose and fell through the narrow lanes, ‘come on’. We raced the final hour and belted it through the flats of Sausalito then scrambled up a small climb and there it was.…

The final stretch – California.

28 Oct

We crept up Spooner summit to reach our first view of the stunning Lake Tahoe beneath us. A winding descent then followed, allowing us to catch glimpses of the pristine lake below before finally lunching on its shores.

For the first time in months the cars got smaller, shinier and more often. We were nearing the coast. Nearing the end.

Passing over our last state border into California, we said goodbye to the final casino door situated right next to the border line as gambling becomes less legal a metre later. We stopped and rested for a night in the city of South Lake Tahoe, staying with our host Karin (a semi-pro mountain biker and tremendous cook) before moving on further west across California. Tahoe is stunning, not just the lake but surrounding snow-capped mountains make this a playground for the adventurous.

Leaving Tahoe we climbed into the Sierra Nevada range to cross our final mountain, the Carson Pass. Knowing this was our last mountain in the USA seemed to make it no easier, just a bit longer as the excitement to reach the top grows with every switch back turn. The descent through pine tree forests with moss green carpet floors was magnificent. We headed towards sea level for the first time in a month, zooming down empty tree-lined forest roads, the sun forcing its way through in flickers. Awesome.

Coming back down to sea level the temperature rose as quickly as we descended to Americas floor and began to undulate through Californian vine yards. We spent the night with Peter and Gale, a retired couple we met in Nevada who treated us to a warm shower, home cooked deal and a lovely evening.

We continued to move deeper into wine country staying a night in the college town of Davis, the friendliest cycling city in California and possibly the USA. Bikes everywhere. Each person seemed to have at least three.
From here we moved deeper into the wine region towards the infamous Napa valley – sailing through rich Californian country side, a little browner than usual due to a the current drought, but this nor the rain showers could ruin a beautiful day. We were put in touch with Tim and Stephanie who hosted us for the evening. A delicious dinner with added cocktails and great company. We owe much to the incredible hospitality we have received in California.
It’s from here we make our final assault on the Pacific. In less than 2 days we will be in the arms of San Francisco and will have completed a crossing of North America.
This past 2.5 months has been incredible, challenging physically, mentally and emotionally, beyond anything imagined. The end will create both elation and sadness that this has finally come to a close.
Either way after 7,500 kms my knees, bum and brain are ready for a rest.
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Carson city
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A Twix on Tahoe.
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Our final and most understated border crossing
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Idiot.
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Lake Tahoe duck.
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The final mountain pass.

The loneliest road in America.

26 Oct

Basin. Fault. Range. Basin. Fault. Range. Basin. Fault. Range.

Just keep pedalling for 700 miles.

The last 6 days we spent crossing the Nevada desert along Route 50, known as the ‘loneliest road in America’.

It’s clear to see why this name was assigned, the road goes due west across Nevada, has little/no traffic and one small town every hundred or so miles. Other than there is arid desert and the odd snake.

The one thing it isn’t. Something we were not prepared for. Is flat.

Turns out the Nevada ‘desert’ is has more mountain ranges than any other state. Potentially my least favourite fact.

Climb, decent, flat, climb, descent, flat endlessly to the horizon. But the most painful bit is that you can see the road for sometimes 50-70 miles ahead so hours are spent pedalling away whilst things get slowly closer at an agonising speed.

It’s punishing but also spectacular in its own unique way.

We passed through the small towns (pop 100-200) of Ely, Eureka and Austen, all steeped in mining history with beautiful old buildings from a bygone age. These small communities thrive off people passing through and are built for the needs of truck drivers and miners. We slept in parks or where we could find a patch of grass, talked to locals and tried to get a feel for life out in the emptiness. We met a lot of people enthusiastic about our trip, some would go on to ride with us for a few miles, find helpful contacts along our route through California, or simply return from the grocery store with presents of Snickers bars or pot of Nutella.

It was the town of Austen where a gentleman asked where we were headed, a conversation we have around 20-30 times each day.  Unless in a rush we always try to stop and chat, whilst people will give the customary shocked face at how far we’ve come or how far we still have to go. I told this old gent our target was San Francisco, he waited a moment, thought about it and replied ‘almost there, not far now’.

It was the first time we had had this response. And he was right, with only just over 1000 kms, we were almost there, not far now.

We pushed on to the Casino town of Fallon to celebrate Pete’s birthday. It was not Vegas’ younger brother as we’d hoped, but a pretty down-beat place. Nonetheless we enjoyed a few drinks and got to know some locals with interesting views on the world. When our heads clear tomorrow we begin the final stretch to Carson city, finally closing in on our final state.

Nearly there.

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A Nevada summit.

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Another one.

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A night one.

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Aren’t deserts flat?

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Just flat and sandy, no?

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Bored yet?

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No?

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OK one more.

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And one for luck.

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Did he seriously take a picture of every single one?

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Yep.

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Even this one.

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And this.

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I’ll stop.

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I’ve made my point.

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Done.

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Stealth camping.

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So close.

Speeding into Nevada.

26 Oct

We left Cedar city in a cloud of smoke. Tyre smoke. 

Our first ever strong tale wind propelled us forward so we shot due north with the quickest 50 miles we’ve ever done. Why can’t it always be like this?

After an un-earned lunch we turned left and went from 32 kmph world cyclists to 6 kmph people with bikes.

The wind that was once a perfect tail was now an angry cross and we spent the afternoon being blown off the road. A sudden forceful push into the sand and bushes that line the road, stop, re-set, drop gears, push down hard, get a rhythm, steer into wind, hold it, steer again, nope, off, clip out, repeat.. All you can do is laugh at the futility. Or scream expletives. Option 2 is more satisfying.

As evening arrived the wind dropped and we tried to make hay, there were 50 miles left in the day and it was already 5pm. We made the executive decision to push on towards the border and pedalled through the dark arriving at the town of Garrison (pop 48) at 11pm. We pitched up next to a mormon church, i cut my finger and then fell asleep.

I awoke shortly after to the sound of sprinklers hitting the tent and a blood-stained sleeping bag. When morning came we were told off for camping on church land as tent pegs might pierce the sprinkler system. We gestured towards the fence where our belongings were hung to dry and reassured him that the sprinklers were on excellent form.

Time to go to Nevada. Luckily it’s only 8 miles away.IMG_3166

With customary bullet holes as standard.

Crossing into Nevada was another landmark as we reached Pacific time zone, we were now on San Francisico time. The first challenge was a 75 mile stretch without services. As we reached a suitable spot to make lunch we realised the fuel bottle had been broken when it had fallen from the bracket on Pete’s bike, lunch was now off the menu.

After munching down a Twix we continued on, the following hours being slow and delirious we both felt fairly awful. On finally reached the town of Ely tonight we made camp behind a police station next to the car pound. Not the most picturesque but not having eaten properly in 24 hrs the focus was on calories not countryside.

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Night pedalling in Nevada.

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Nevada mining town railways.

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Never seen them most so fast. And us so slow.

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Cold and tired. 

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Pound camping.

Leaving Canyonland.

23 Oct

We awoke to 42mph gusting headwinds. I bought an extra banana and sank a third packet of porridge in preparation. It didn’t help.

When the wind is that strong cycling is hopeless. Walking is only a little slower. It sometimes feels like the wind is a live enemy, you can scream expletives and it will suddenly yield for a moment, so you hit a higher gear to pick up the pace and immediately it whips back in your face, mocking you for such naive optimism. It’s brutally frustrating, going no-where but deeper into exhaustion.

We climbed up to Bryce canyon where we made camp, with a plan to rise early and push hard to Cedar city the following evening where we had a couchsurfing host with the promise of a comfy floor and warm shower. Camping at the top of Bryce canyon temperatures fell well below freezing and i began to run out of clothes to put on. After a shivery night we woke early and went to watch the sun rise over this spectacular canyon, famous for fields of (sort of) red stalagmite spears that arise from the canyon floor. Hitting the road we trundled back down the side of the canyon and it was well passed 11am before either of us regained feeling in our hands and feet. Pathetic englishmen.

We climbed up into the Cedar mountain range for our final views of the Utah desert before descending into Cedar City this evening on route to the Nevada border over the following days.

Before meeting Hannah and Christina this evening I don’t feel like we made much connection with the people or communities of Utah as we have in other regions, a shame as we are soon to leave this state. But the sights have been extraordinary, something i will never forget and would urge anyone to experience.

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Unexpected problem.

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Last view of Utah.

 …

Taking breath.

23 Oct

Taking breath.

We continued up this (seemingly never-ending) climb into the Grand Staircase National Park, knees creaking and legs slowly turning in rhythm, to finally reach the summit at 2pm. Then things got interesting.

The scenery from the summit to our camp in Escalante tonight was the most impressive and spectacular i have experienced in my lifetime. Breathtaking. By this i mean there were points when i would turn a corner or ride a stretch where the awesomeness or shock caused momentary gasps for breath.

These photos do it little justice, but canyons that go for hundreds of miles and roads that drop off each side into the depths were just awesome. And a bike was the perfect weapon on which to experience it.

The most unforgettable day.

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Lunch.

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Hmm. Straight on i think.

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