After eight months on the road, cycling roughly 5000km from Tas to the top end on an $80 second-hand bike and visiting about 70 sustainability projects along the way, my journey has come to an end. I couldn’t have done this without support from a lot of people and I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped me along the way.
Finding a path forward for me and the planet.
Snapshots of life on the road. Stay tuned to see the journey unfold.
Stories of sustainability innovations and the inspiring people doing them.
I once saw a Buddhist movie where, instead of the typical Western ending where the guy gets the girl and they live happily ever after, the guy’s triumph was in finally overcoming his desire for the girl and letting go. It left a deep impression on me.
I’d imagined that my bike journey might end similarly, that I might stop when I felt I was done, rather than keep pushing myself on, fixated on some arbitrary end goal. It would be a kind of ‘letting go’, showing that I had learnt my lesson after my past years of burnout.
But no, that didn’t happen. Mainly because I just wanted to keep riding.
On my last day, I set off at dawn, winding through the forested hills. Just after sunrise I reached the end of the sealed road, as far north as it goes on the east coast of Australia (I’d started this journey as far south as the bitumen goes in Tasmania). No fanfare or crowds of media; just me alone in the middle of nowhere, on an empty road where the bitumen turns to gravel. Red dirt and eucalyptus scrub.
I made myself stop and dwell on the significance of this moment. I felt tired and glad to have finally reached here, though it had never really been about the destination. There was sadness too, as this marked the end of a journey and way of life that had changed me in many ways, and I was apprehensive about what comes next.
I sat and ate my breakfast there on the side of the road, then set off back the way I’d come.
West out of Cooktown following the Endeavour River and then a hilly ride north. Made the side trip to the aboriginal community of Hope Vale, where the lady at the arts centre let me cool off in their shower. Met a sunbaking frilled-neck lizard back at the turnoff, then continued pedalling north through the forest to camp at Isabella Falls.
Emerged out the end of the Bloomfield Track and into the aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal, in time for breakfast at Wujal Falls. Thumbs up from passing drivers as I wended my way north, the lush rainforest turning into dry eucalyptus woodland. Scorching heat and skinny dips in rivers to cool down. Rode past the infamous ‘Black Mountain’ and on to Cooktown.
Rode past Cape Tribulation and onto the Bloomfield Track: 30km of very rough dirt road, creek crossings supposedly with crocs in the water, steep ascents I could barely push my bike up and similarly hairy descents. Stopped by a forest stream at midday to eat, swim and true my rear wheel, but it was so pretty and peaceful I decided to call it a day. Bright blue Ulysses Butterflies flitting to and fro. Had a multitude of frogs hopping up the riverbank around me after dark.
Being on a bicycle, I was made to wait until last to disembark the river ferry. The road ahead lay like a tunnel through the lush greenery, disappearing around some distant bend in the trees. I set off down it excited to finally be entering this ancient wonder and national icon.
Stayed in a charming wooden cabin in a rainforest clearing, usually reserved for visiting scientists. My delightful host, the Rainforest Trust reserve manager, Golly, showed me their forest restoration sites, as well as other sights in the Daintree, such as beaches, waterholes, plants, insects and bouncing pebbles that seemed to defy physics. Cycled to Cow Bay for a day to see the revegetation work of Daintree Life and help plant some trees. Geckos chirping loudly in my roof at night.
A swim at Mossman Gorge, then on to the Daintree River, where I repaired a punctured tyre before crossing on the ferry. Entered a tunnel of greenery — the Daintree Rainforest — and had a hot and sweaty climb over the Kimberley Range. Hung out with the dinosaurs in the discovery centre to escape the heat before riding on to the Rainforest Trust headquarters.
The guys entered the water in their wetsuits and waded out with the long net, slowly encircling an area of the pond and then drawing the circle smaller. The driver of the digger parked on the bank lowered a large scoop net attached to its front arm into the now frothing water. When he raised it again it was full of flapping silver fish called ‘cobia’, each as long as my arm.
The Stoics — a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece — have been misrepresented over the years. We think of them as being about austerity and enduring life’s hardships, when really they were about happiness.
As I understand it, the Stoics saw that seeking to satisfy desires just leads to ever more desires that need satisfying, leaving you no more satisfied than at the beginning. They felt that luxuries and comforts are a kind of slavery because you are always afraid that someone or something will take them away.
They believed in virtue and simple living as the path to happiness, and learning to desire the things we already have. They had a concept called ‘Voluntary Discomfort’ where they would intentionally go without some ordinary comfort in their life for a while to strengthen themselves and renew their appreciation of it.
I think this taps into part of what I get out of this bike journey. Living simply, the simple things become more satisfying. To have a roof over my head, a hot shower, a real bed, or more than two sets of clothes, all now feel like huge luxuries. Simply to have the rain clear or to find a peaceful and pretty campsite; to reach flat road after lots of hills, or smooth bitumen after a long stretch of rough gravel, is enough to make me whoop with joy.
Eager to be on the move again, I pedalled north along the highway, at times skirting the water where the mountains meet the sea. Sweltering heat and humidity. Reached Port Douglas in time for a beach swim before bed in a backpackers — a whole dorm room to myself! Learning to sleep on my back to spare my broken rib.
Hanging out in the multicultural tourist mecca that is Cairns, where Caravella Backpackers kindly gave me a cheap bed. Met with the Sustainability Officers for Cairns Regional Council and for James Cook University, though stuffed up the location of one meeting and had to stay another day. Stocked up on op-shop books, swam in the lagoon and explored the botanic gardens.
Through rolling hills to Gillies pass. The switchback road down from the Tablelands to the coast turned out not to be the torturous death trap I’d been warned about, but a pleasant slalom with views over the valleys below. A relief to be on the flat again, cycling up the highway to Cairns.
Visited Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine, two volcanic crater lakes surrounded by rainforest, and rested hill-weary muscles at Lake Eacham Holiday Park — huge thanks to Virginia and Cameron for letting me camp in their gully for free.
Exploring the waterfalls and rainforest of the Atherton Tablelands, starting with the walks and falls around my campsite at Henrietta Creek. The rain cleared and fireflies came out the second night. Very hilly cycling through Millaa Millaa and Malanda, visiting waterfalls along the way, reaching Lake Eacham just before dusk.
Choices over which route to take, they seem to carry more weight when pedalling the whole way and the distances are so hard-earned. Always weighing up time and effort; the urge to see everything and the need to rest.
Do I take the scenic side road through Mission Beach? No, I stuck to the main highway. Had my first rain since reaching the tropics, a warm torrential downpour that soaked me to the skin as I pedalled on to camp at a riverside rest stop in Japoonvale.
Choices that sometimes eat me up inside with ‘what-if’s and the fear of missed opportunities, knowing I may not cycle these parts again. Learning to listen to my instincts and practice letting go, knowing there isn’t a right or wrong in this.
Do I attempt the scenic Tablelands or stick to the coast? At Innisfail I turned west and headed up into the mountains, pursued by more rain. I broke a rib when I had a bad fall onto rocks on a wet rainforest walk trail — hurts to twist or breathe deeply. Set up my tent in a rainforest nook between downpours.
We stood on a high platform looking out over the surrounding fields, with a light breeze blowing. Both nearby and in the distance were huge mounds, each the size of a football field. A truck moved along a far away road, eventually reaching one of the mounds and emptying its cargo.
Breakfast watching the sun rise over Hinchinbrook Island. Rode inland to camp and swim at Murray Falls, where I awoke the next morning feeling exhausted. Spent a day hardly moving, just lying under the trees reading, writing and swatting away the horseflies.
Cycled north through Ingham and over a mountain ridge with views across to Hinchinbrook Island. A local motorcycle group joined me for morning tea at a highway rest stop. Swam in a waterhole on the way, then pressed on to the seaside town of Cardwell for the night.
Chased waterfalls and swimming holes, first riding to Big Crystal Creek with its rock slides, then the next day to Jourama Falls. Moments of ecstatic joy to pierce my usual malaise, clambering up cascades to find private pools and swimming alone under towering waterfalls. Found a big cane toad rustling outside my tent.
I’m welcomed into the community meeting room by Kylee and join her chatting at a table with a few others. Several people are working on sewing machines at the back, with a sign behind saying ‘Whitsundays Sweat Shop’. It’s a joke, of course, as they’re all volunteers.
Kylee tells me how her mother Barb started the group to help reduce the use of plastic bags. Volunteers come together to make re-usable shopping bags out of recycled materials, which people can take and bring back later, or use again and again.
They’re part of a growing movement of Boomerang Bags groups around the country, replacing plastic and starting a conversation about shifting to re-use.
Since Barb began, the local butcher, chemist, health store and op-shop have come onboard to hand out their bags. The Townsville Women’s Correctional Facility has started a women’s sewing club with 20 to 40 women producing about 100 bags each month for Barb to collect.
The bags are beautifully made, but too heavy for my purposes. To my delight, two women, Christine and Anne, set about making a custom bag just for me: lightweight and able to be rolled up into a small handful, with the ‘Boomerang Bags Whitsundays’ logo on the front. I don’t think I’ll be bringing this one back.
Back on the ferry to Townsville, a city of kind and friendly people. Mick at ‘The Bike Pedlar’ gave me a secondhand bike stand and trued my wheel for free, and the op-shop wouldn’t even let me pay for the book I wanted. I climbed Castle Hill, visited the algae carbon farming experiments at James Cook University, and had fun with my wonderful hosts Paul and his daughter Charlotte.
I seem to swing between a restless urge to be on the move and a weary yearning to stay in one place a while. I’d come to Magnetic Island for the latter, and the Koala Village in Horseshoe Bay kindly let me camp for free. Stone-curlews wandering the campsite and screaming at each other throughout the night. Hiked to the WWII fort and around the bays.
Rode to Townsville and crossed on the ferry to Magnetic Island, having heard about a beautiful secluded beach that I could secretly camp at. Eventually reached it bruised and bloody from crashing twice on the long and rough track in, only to find some locals setting up for an all-night doof party there. Finally staggered in to a campground in Horseshoe Bay instead.
Cycled north-west with the wind, through burnt out forests and around Mt Elliot to Alligator Creek. Swam in the billabong and set up camp by the water. Apparently a freshwater croc lives in this one, though I didn’t see it. The nights are turning gloriously warm.
It’s become routine now. As the sun drops low, I erect my tent on the flattest bit of ground I can find. I lay out my sleeping mat, sleeping bag and camping pillow on the right and slot my bags in on the left. There’s room for all my stuff and everything has its place.
Tall enough to sit up in, I end up whiling away many hours in here as I take refuge from the elements, the insects or the bothersome humans. Between my phone, my notepad and the books I’ve picked up at op-shops along the way, I’ve got all the entertainment I need.
As I lie on my sleeping mat I look up and watch the multitude of insect life on the inside of my tent fly (but outside the mesh), likely attracted to my torchlight or the smell of food.
The surrounding night is filled with the sounds of crickets chirping, fruit bats squabbling, brush turkeys rustling in the undergrowth and tortoises splashing in the billabong. On another night it might have been the wind in the trees or the trucks and road trains howling along the highway.
I’ll fall asleep after reading for a while, and then at 5am tomorrow, as the dawn chorus announces the new day, I’ll pack it all up and hit the road, ready to do it all again.
A few days in the peaceful cane farming town of Ayr, where columns of black smoke were a common sight on the skyline and ‘black snow’ fell on my second day here. Visited the largest biomass energy operation in the country, and then Australia’s most sustainable fish farm. Many thanks to Cathy at the local caravan park for letting me stay for cheap.
Heat shimmers on the horizon as I pedalled through dry scrub and grasslands. Relentless swooping by magpies and blue-eyed honeyeaters — one would finish its run and another would start up soon after. Ate my food in roadside ditches where I could find shade and camped at a busy truck stop. Finally crossed the Burdekin Bridge into Ayr.
My bike safely secured in the corner of the warehouse, I climb into the passenger seat of the van and buckle up. Paul hands me a clipboard with my induction questions on it, which I work through while he drives us through the suburban streets towards downtown Brisbane.
We’re doing the ‘city run’ today, though others will be going much further afield. We’ve set off with an empty van, and our aim is to come back with it empty as well. It’s going to require a juggling act that I’m curious to see.
My chain broke while amongst cane fields. Got going again eventually, my chain slightly shortened. Sniffling, sneezing and woolly-headed with a cold as I pedalled past a giant mango and to the quiet town of Bowen, surrounded by arid scrubland, mangroves and tidal flats.
Cycled through Proserpine and on to Airlie Beach, a resort-filled tourist town. Bought a new bike stand, but it broke within half an hour. I miss my old second-hand one terribly. Joined the fortnightly sewing meetup of a local group fighting against single-use plastic bags by creating and giving out upcycled re-usable ones.
Sailed down the country road with a beautiful tailwind — yeehaa! Then realised I’d gone 5km down a wrong turn and had to cycled back into the wind. Through winding hilly roads back to the Bruce Hwy, then north to a quiet spot by a river — finally a nice place to sleep and rest a couple of nights. Fellow campers loaned me extra blankets.
I rest my bike against the fence while Sasha goes inside and slides open the shed door. It’s supposed to be closed today, but I’m being given a special look inside.
It began with the local Byron Spirit Festival, she tells me, when they wanted to reduce their waste, particularly the huge amount from disposable single-use items. They invested in a thousand sets of re-usable bamboo plates and cutlery for the food vendors to use, but after the festival what were they to do with them all? Sasha thought: why not let other people borrow them for other events?
This idea grew into what’s now ‘The Library of Stuff’: a community library of good quality items that can be borrowed by its members. Inside the shed are shelves filled with useful things: power tools, gardening gear, camping equipment, toys and games, plus boxes full of bamboo plates and cutlery. Sasha is now acquiring more items and will soon need a bigger shed.
‘Why buy when you can borrow?’, Sasha says, believing that people buy too much cheap throwaway stuff. She’s the founder of the local group ‘Mullum Cares’, who are behind these projects to reduce waste and overconsumption in Mullumbimby. They recently started another initiative called ‘Conscious Camping’ where camping gear is loaned to festival-goers, to prevent another big source of waste.
Camped by a stream in the rainforest and spent most of a day in Finch Hatton Gorge sitting and writing by the waterfalls. Hadn’t factored in the cold of the mountains (I had donated away my warm gear when I reached the tropics), but was loaned an extra sleeping bag for my second night.
I’m on a new quest: to find a peaceful night’s sleep, after too many nights sleeping next to busy highways, train lines or nightclubs. Pedalled west towards the mountains, which were obscured by brown haze from nearby fires or the dust of the cane harvest, and into rainforest. Another bike stand bit the dust — the third to break on this journey.
Rolled into Mackay very tired and went straight to visit an advanced Materials Recovery Facility for the city’s co-mingled recycling. Huge thanks to the Gecko’s Rest hostel who kindly gave me my own room for free. Resting, clothes washing, opshopping and a haircut. Have started seeing warnings of crocodiles about.
One day a strange letter arrives in the classroom. Inside is an invitation from a mysterious source known as ‘E.M.’, along with a Hobbit-like map of a place high in the mountains, with features such as ‘Possum Jungle’, ‘Spinach Falls’, ‘Lost World’ and an area marked simply ‘Unexplored Territory’. Near the centre of the map is the Earthkeepers Training Centre, along with a small hut labelled ‘E.M.’s Lab. Who is E.M., and what is this thing the class has been invited to? The students are curious, and excitement slowly builds as the date approaches.
I’d been warned about the empty space on the map between Rockhampton and Mackay. Over 300km of dry scrub, grazing land and canefields, without a good place to re-supply. Three of my longest days of cycling: 105km, 80km then 100km, with temperatures over 30 degrees.
A few days layover in Rockhampton before I attempt to cross the long emptiness to Mackay. ABC journalist Katie gave me a free room at their motel and I spent a day barely leaving it — so novel to have my own private space. Local councillor Neil took me for tree planting and a tour of local projects: a mountaintop cultural walk, fish motels, and a quarry restored into a park.
Cycling through dry yellow grazing country with mountains in the distance. Camped by a stream in a horse paddock. Have followed the train line for days now, and the regularly passing freight and coal trains blast their horn as they pass through settlements, no matter the hour — I don’t know how anyone sleeps. Crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on my way into Rockhampton.
Pedalled through Tannum Sands to the industrial city of Gladstone. Massive coal ports, smelters and refineries, and one of Australia’s top ten botanic gardens. It was interesting to finally see this city that I’d heard so much about as a climate campaigner. Did cleaning in exchange for a free night at a hostel.
I’ve seen the definition of burnout evolve over the years. When I first read about it, they’d talk about symptoms such as dissatisfaction and emotional fatigue, and suggest ways to manage your stress levels. But it was the lingering after-effects that I grappled with the most.
One thing that baffled me was how similar my symptoms were to those of friends I talked to with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They each had different causes: child abuse, a train crash, domestic violence, and workplace vilification after being a whistle blower; and yet we all shared symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbance, depersonalisation, withdrawal, emotional numbness and physical illness.
It’s only recently that I’ve seen burnout described in the literature as a PTSD, or closely resembling one, and I found it incredibly affirming. The idea of burnout leaving a residual trauma that can take years to recover from made sense to me. It seems that even though the traumatic stress is a chronic one, rather than acute, the body’s physiological response is very similar.
Perhaps we shouldn’t let these labels define us, but I’ve found them helpful for normalising my experience and for putting the pieces together; to understand what’s really going on and work out the best strategy for moving forwards.
I found this TED talk by Dr Geri Puleo to be a fantastic encapsulation of this topic and the recovery process. Let me know of any other resources that you’ve found useful.
Another bicycle tourer: Peter from Germany! We both immediately stopped and bonded like kindred spirits. Sad to say farewell and ride in separate directions. Back on to the Bruce Hwy, and to a campsite in Bororen. Spent an hour in the dark trying to find the cricket chirping loudly by the head of my tent. Failed.
Craving nice scenery and social contact, I pedalled out to Agnes Waters and 1770, the birthplace of Qld. Found pretty beaches, rivers and forest walks, and cheap camping behind a hostel. Funny seeing myself switch from misanthropic to gregarious when I’m feeling well.
Sometimes the simplest days are the most memorable. Cycled through dry farmland and forest to Rosedale. Passed up a derelict caravan park for the hope of camping by a nearby river, but ended up on an unglamorous patch of dirt in the bush by a large puddle of water. Beautiful stars, and bats skimming the surface catching insects.
I’m one of those weird millennials who opted for a bicycle as the only vehicle I own. People assume it’s for environmental reasons, but there’s a financial and mental freedom that comes with life on a bike, and not being encumbered with a car.
I think there’s a mistaken belief out there that cars will always get us there faster. It might be true for really long distances, but there have been many times I’ve cycled across town and arrived as quickly as my car-driving friends. Add the extra time spent at work to earn the money to pay for the car, plus registration, insurance, petrol and parking, and it would seem that choosing a car is not so fast afterall. Then there’s the time needed to pay for the gym membership, and the extra time spent getting that exercise later.
When it comes to longer distances, my bike can be loaded on to a bus, train or plane, making the world my cycling oyster. Or one can cycle the whole way — whether you call it ‘the art of slow travel’ or ‘the art of free travel’, it has its own unique rewards.
Learning to live from my bicycle on a long journey such as this has offered me a freedom I’d never imagined. Every morning I set off, not knowing where I’ll end up that night. It’s liberating simply knowing that, no matter what happens in life, I’m able to load up my bike and ride off across the countryside, confident that I’ll have all I need.
Besides all this, there’s nothing quite like nimbly sailing down the road on a bicycle with the wind in my hair, feeling like I’m flying.
Moments of loneliness and self-doubt that come and go. Cycled through dry forest and farmland to Bundaberg, a large, dry and dusty working town. Interesting to finally see these places with names I’m so familiar with.
The Bruce Highway was good to me this time: a wide shoulder and easy pedalling to Childers. Morning tea in the serene gardens of Bamboo Land on the way, where the eccentric owner kept running around firing his shotgun to scare away the fruit bats (and perhaps the tourists). Seeing some red dirt now. My brother was passing through and camped the night behind the local pub with me.
We stood and watched the air in front of us become thick with smoke, the odd human figure appearing and disappearing within it like mist wraiths as they moved up and down the lane between the cane fields. ‘Do you think we should get in there and help?’, one of the workers I was standing with asked. ‘Nah. I think they’ve got it covered’, the other replied.
Thick fog and fogged up glasses cycling to Maryborough, where the author of Mary Poppins grew up. Took a rest day and toured the town, learning that Maryborough was once known as the bicycle city, and was one of the first cities in the world to ban motor vehicles in the town centre, until the 1960s. Every day there was a huge bicycle migration as thousands of workers knocked off work in the industrial area at 5pm and cycled home (via the pub, of course).
So often the choice: take the highway which is flatter, faster, and has a wide shoulder, but is boring with lots of traffic; or take the alternative route which is unknown. A long, hot day on the alternative road from Gympie, through farms and pine plantations, eating my food on the roadside. Camped down a forest track on a soft bed of pine needles.
Laughter all round, as the kookaburras sang the dawn chorus at 4am. Had my first puncture of the trip half an hour down the road — my spare inner tube finally earned its keep. A steep and sweaty hike up Mt Cooroora, overlooking the town of Pomona, then north along the Old Bruce Hwy to a rest stop just short of Gympie, my tent surrounded by caravans.
Climbed Mt Coolum by Coolum Beach before morning tea, then pedalled north to check out the famous tourist mecca of Noosa Heads. Inevitably there were tourists everywhere. Did the walk around Noosa Heads National Park before cycling out to camp amongst the trees by Lake MacDonald.
Things seemed bigger than usual after I was dropped back at Beerwah. I cycled past a big pineapple on my way to Nambour, a three-storeys-tall cow near Yandina, and a mighty big hill that I had to push my bike up to where I was staying on Mt Ninderry. A couple of days resting and writing at my kind hosts Nell and Eli’s house. Saw a big snake.
I write this piece having just had an anxiety attack. A kind man invited me to his eco-village and gave me a lift up into the mountains with the promise that he’d drive me back down again a day or two later. Being completely reliant on this other person, I soon felt trapped, and the feeling of distress was nearly overwhelming.
Earlier sunrises and hotter days the further north I go, so have started waking up at 5am. Cycled through the Glasshouse Mountains — remnants of old volcanic plugs — and climbed Mt Beerburrum on my way to Beerwah. A kind man Merv took me up into the mountains to the Crystal Waters Eco-Village, where Regine showed me her permaculture house and garden.
Wended my way through the northern suburbs of Brisbane and said farewell to the last state capital on my journey. A large causeway bridge took me across the water to Redcliffe, then along the mangroves of Deception Bay to a camp on a nearby horse farm. Winds howling through the night.
The engine slides quietly into the station and Mick the driver and Tara the conductor step out and welcome me aboard. I stow my bike and then join Mick in the driver’s compartment as he sets the train moving again and tells me about its design.
Thanks to a hard fought public campaign and the help of a local philanthropist, they were able to resurrect a 1949 heritage diesel rail car, along with 3km of coastal track linking two suburbs of Byron Bay, and convert it into the world’s first solar-powered train. One of the diesel engines was replaced with electric motors, along with inverters and a Lithium-ion battery bank. All lights were switched to LEDs, and the train equipped with regenerative braking.
We arrive at North Byron station where Mick plugs the train in for a 20min recharge and shows me the fast charger units connected to the 30kW solar array on the train storage shed roof. He also shows me the flexible solar panels that line the roof of the train, generating up to 6.5kW.
The coordinator Caroline joins me for the ride back to Byron Bay, chatting about the project. It showcases what’s possible, and it’s taking cars off the road. It’s also a fun way to travel, especially knowing that it’s running on sunshine. One day they hope to extend the line, as well as build a ‘rail trail’ cycle path alongside it.
A week in the maelstrom of Brisbane, crisscrossing the city by bike, car, van and truck. I joined the pickup and delivery runs of two organisations rescuing food waste, and a third tackling food miles. I also visited two research institutes developing alternatives for liquid fuels: hydrogen from solar-powered electrolysis, and biofuels from algae.
Many thanks to my wonderful hosts, Trevor and Sue, who have the first registered solar power station in Qld on their roof, and Gemma, Enton and David.
Many thanks to Foodbank Queensland for putting this fun video together, and for all the wonderful work they do.
Cycled through dry yellow farmland from the base of the mountains to Gleneagle, where I stayed with a fun character Ned. He gave me a bed in the same room as his own, in his half-built house made from old shipping containers. At the start of this journey I had such a huge need for personal space and wouldn’t have been open to this, but it seems I’ve come a long way. Then up the busy highway into Brisbane.
Joined environmental educator Lizz running ‘Plastic Free July’ classes in a kindergarten and primary schools around Beaudesert. Travelled to a high mountain ridge south of Rathdowney for three nights at the ‘earth education’ centre, Wild Mountains. Eucalypt forest with koalas on one side and lush rainforest with catbirds and lyrebirds on the other. Evenings around the fire and a hike to the QLD-NSW border.
I excuse myself to go and explore the property, and eventually find what I’m looking for: a small garden within the garden, with flowerbeds, pathways and a little hut at the back. It’s partly enclosed by a cute wooden fence and a gateway entrance brandishing a name that my nieces back home, like most Australian children and many around the world, would recognise instantly: ‘dirtgirlworld’. To think that right here is where it’s filmed.
Slipped over the border into Queensland without fanfare. No celebratory trumpets; not even a street sign telling me where the border was. Up to the Gold Coast then turned west, riding inland along winding hilly roads to Canungra where I camped by a small stream. Pedalled on through dry farmland to Beaudesert, to be crammed in to the caravan park. Have caught a cold somewhere.
A short cycle to Fingal Head to stay with an old friend Anna and her partner Michael for my last nights in NSW. Michael helped with work on my bike. I’ve been on the road for almost five months now — one more state to go.
Rain clouds loomed as I followed the beach north through Pottsville then cut back inland to the cane fields. Repaired a broken gear cable on the roadside. Slept in a dusty shed at a sugar cane farm, where the owner Robert has managed to increase the soil carbon content by 400%, sequestering an extra 15,000 tonnes of carbon. Watched them take soil samples, burn cane fields at dusk, and be interviewed by Landline.
The Northern Rivers seems to be a hotbed for sustainability initiatives, making it slow-going as I visit many of them. Cycled through the forest to Mullumbimby to check out a ‘library of stuff’ and explore yet another model for doing community renewable energy projects.
It seems to be a recurring story with the environmentally-conscious people I’ve met on this journey, who describe their difficult transition.
They grew up with a clear path and purpose that society provided for them, but after ticking all of society’s boxes and it failing to deliver the happiness and fulfilment that it promised, they started to ask: what’s it all for? Learning about the environmental problems our world is facing, caused by our modern way of living, they realised that perhaps we’re doing it wrong.
No longer willing to follow the conventional path set out by society, and no longer able to derive meaning from it, they were set adrift, rudderless. Feeling lost, their life became a search for a new path, purpose and place in the world.
Some describe learning to accept that there is no intrinsic meaning or purpose in life except that which we create. Many talk about navigating their way through existential depression and finding new purpose in activism and environmental work; in being part of the solutions instead of part of the problem.
I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life searching for purpose, and coming up with projects and distractions to fill the gaps. Sometimes I wish I could take the ‘blue pill’ and go back to a life of blissful ignorance. But I recently heard someone describe this wave of existential crises as an important stage in our human evolution and the development of a global conscience — this is our generation waking up.
Stayed for the morning after Splendour to see the waste aftermath of the festival, then cycled back down the highway to Byron Bay, which seemed to be full of recovering festival-goers. Stayed in my first backpacker dorm room for the trip and spent a day visiting a community-owned energy retailer and the world’s first solar-powered train.
I’m not usually a fan of big festivals: the crowds, the extravagance, and the behaviour of some of the revellers. I think having an extra purpose for being at Splendour helped make it more meaningful and fun — plus having a media pass that let me go almost anywhere. Spent time with Dirt Girl and Scrap Boy as they did tree planting and performed their sustainability acts. I also tagged along with the Splendour Enviro Team to see the strategies they used to reduce the festival footprint.
Back to the coast and along the Pacific Hwy to ‘Splendour in the Grass’, Australia’s largest music festival. As part of the Dirt Girl World media team, I watched Dirt Girl perform for the kids at Little Splendour, joined them on the team bus and stayed at their accommodation with them. Thank you so much to their producer, Cate, for letting me be part of it all.
I stand in the open maw of a huge tunnel that stretches into darkness, the floor grubby and stained, and the damp air filled with the smell of decay. I think of all the banana peels, chicken bones and everything else that spent time in here, slowly transforming. The huge vault is part of a much larger facility, apparently one of the most advanced of its kind. The scale of the operation is incredible, and all for a substance that I hadn’t realised the importance of.
Forest became farmland as I reached Casino, where the Discovery Holiday Park kindly let me camp for free. Pedalled onto Lismore to see Australia’s largest floating solar farm, and stayed with its volunteer director Nathan in his funky eco-home near Newrybar.
Strange to be on my bike again after time off. The dog I looked after tried to follow me up the street. Cycled back upriver then north to Whiporie to visit Dirt Girl World — the set, the producers and Dirt Girl herself — a kids TV show tackling sustainability education.
Time out house-sitting for a friend in Yamba. Walked the dog, binge-watched Netflix and read escapist fantasy novels. Took me a few days to stop myself from working, and over a week before I could face picking up a pen again. My Mum and brother come to visit, and I spent time with childhood friend Anna and partner Joe when they returned home.
While in Sydney I cycled to Neutral Bay to visit Lain and her mobile cafe, Tonic Lane. Sitting on an upturned milk crate, she told me her story, and how she became concerned about disposable coffee cups.
About 60,000kg of plastic waste from coffee cups is directed to landfill each year. Due to their thick plastic lining, they can’t be recycled, and whilst they’re often put into the recycling bin with good intentions, this can cause the whole bin to be contaminated and sent to landfill.
Tonic Lane started charging customers for disposable coffee cups, and then in 2017 became the first cafe in Sydney to ban them altogether. With the help of supportive friends and customers they built up a mug library — customers can take a mug or keep-cup and bring it back later. Lain calls it ‘The Mug Movement’, and appeared on the ABC’s ‘War On Waste’ for it.
She’s now switched from her coffee shop to the mobile cafe bus, so she can spread the sustainability message further. There’s a basket by the door for customers to put dirty mugs in, and the customers I talk to seem to love it. As a next step she’s exploring switching her bus to run on biofuel and solar.
I face a conundrum. I’ve pulled up on my bike in the pedestrian mall outside Darren’s office, just in time for our meeting at 11am, and this is not the kind of meeting to run late to. But his office is on the 14th floor, and I’m faced with a set of glass revolving doors at the bottom of a tall corporate office tower. There’s no way I’ll be able to take my bike up with me, and neither can I leave it on the busy street loaded with all my possessions.
Followed the Clarence River downstream, past flat farmland and my first cane fields, all the way to the sea at Yamba. I’m housesitting here for a while, to take a break from all the riding and writing, and won’t be posting during this time. Hopefully I’ll come back recharged and ready for the road ahead.
Something that surprised me on this trip is just how bad I am at discerning how tired I am. I’ll find myself asking, ‘Why am I even grumpier than usual?’, ‘Why am I now struggling with doubts and indecision?’ or ‘Why am I dreading having to do more writing?’
I suspect that being tired impairs my ability to judge that I’m tired, and it’s especially hard when it creeps up on me slowly. I’ll forget that I’ve only had snatch breaths of rest here and there over the last few weeks, and that fatigue accumulates.
But then, similar to the thinking around taking ‘just one more’ cookie from the cookie jar, I’ll push myself for just one more day, and then one more after that.
When giving a community talk recently, I was asked: ‘How do you know if you’re burning out? What are the early warning signs?’ Such a great question! I’ve seen plenty of answers to this online; lists like ‘Ten signs you’re fatigued/exhausted/burning out.’ But these all require that I first ask myself the question — and then am able to stop.
On to Coffs Harbour, then along an inland road through hills, farms and forest to the small town of Glenreagh, for a starry night and foggy morning. Rode on to the Grafton Regional Landfill to see how household food and garden waste from across the region is being turned into compost at a municipal scale.
Stayed in the forest with a hidden community founded in 1981. Having lunch with two of the original settlers, Bill and Janelle, in their off-grid mud-brick home, I was keen to understand: Are ‘intentional communities’ a pathway to more sustainable living, or are they just an alternative lifestyle choice? I’m still unsure.
Escaped the monotonous highway to explore the waterways and rock art of Nambucca Heads, before pedalling on to a nearby national park in search of a community hidden deep within the forest.
A rest day in Port Macquarie staying with lovely host Ali, a waste coordinator for the region. Pedalled on to Kempsey then Macksville, discovering the kindness of Visitor Centres: one let me camp behind their building, another arranged for me to use a council-run campsite for free.
Moments of joy on the highway, like having a fairy wren sit on my hand. Braced myself for a long day riding in the rain to Port Macquarie, but instead I had mostly sunshine and a tailwind.
There was a scene in the movie ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ that made me cry. It took me by surprise, as it wasn’t a sad or emotional moment in the plot: the apes had escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge and reached the safety of the redwoods forest. I had previously read a book about the destruction of almost all of North America’s ancient redwoods — the largest and tallest trees in the world — and when I saw these beautiful towering giants on the screen, the tears suddenly started to flow. ‘What is wrong with me!?!’, I wondered. It was like an upwelling of some kind of suppressed ecological grief.
On this journey I have met numerous environmental activists who have shared similar stories with me, and tried to convey the distress and despair they feel over the size and urgency of the big environmental problems we face. It seems to add to their stress load and wears them down.
It’s hard to explain and there often doesn’t seem to be the words for it. Near Newcastle I met with environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who pioneered the research field of ‘psychoterratic’, or earth-related mental health conditions. He introduced words into the literature like ‘Solastalgia’, meaning the mental or existential distress and melancholia caused by environmental degradation, locally or globally.
A day and a half sitting under a picnic shelter in Coopernook State Forest, waiting out the rain. Writing, reading, and watching the butcher birds.
Cycled past Smiths Lake and along the narrow strip of land between Wallis Lake and the sea. A sneaky overnight in a riverside park north of Forster, then on to Taree for an afternoon of writing in the library. Camped in a cow shed at the showgrounds, where luckily they’d recently put down fresh sawdust.
Arriving at a quiet and pretty campsite, perhaps amongst some trees or by a river, with some soft flat ground to pitch my tent on, can make a long day of pedalling all feel worthwhile. Finding a really nice spot, especially if I have it all to myself, is enough to make me cancel my plans and call it a day — maybe two.
I’ve stayed in some duds, such as where I’ve been wedged in amongst cars and campervans in a crowded paddock. I’ve also camped where I’m not supposed to and been chased off the land in the middle of the night, which isn’t fun.
A lot of my journey is thus determined by where I can camp legitimately (or at least confidently) for as cheaply as possible, as well as where I can stock up with food and water along the way. My route has become a giant connect-the-dots of grocery stores, public water taps and campsites.
The forestry track took me on a 20km short (long) cut through the forest of Myall Lakes National Park, coming out near Seal Rocks in time for lunch. Discovered the pretty Neranie Campground by Myall Lake — all for me. A chance for a skinny dip/wash in the cold lake.
I wheel my bike across a small boardwalk toward the house amongst the shrubs. Yes, this seems to be the one — it looks just like the tiny model that I saw a few days earlier, except life-size. In my hand is the key; the place is mine for the night.
Climbed Mt Yacaaba on the headland before breakfast, then set off through the shifting sand dunes and lakeside forest of Myall Lakes National Park. Determined to be alone, I took a forestry track and camped by Boolambayte Lake.
Riding north from Newcastle, I’m now on unfamiliar coastline; a blank area in my mental map of the state, the town names all sounding odd. Felt the roar of the low-flying fighter jets in my bones at Williamtown. Saw humpbacks by the rocks at Boat Harbour, pelicans everywhere, and a lone jabiru in the waterway at Tea Gardens.
A two day stopover to meet two interesting people: James Whelan, an experienced campaigner and director of The Change Agency, to discuss burnout and self-care within the environment movement; and Glenn Albrecht, a professor of sustainability and environmental philosopher who has grown the language of mental health conditions related to environmental destruction.
After pedalling up some big hills in the wrong direction, I finally found my way out of the Munmorah state forest and followed the Pacific Hwy past Lake Macquarie and through Swansea. Tired of the traffic, I was happy to discover the Fernleigh Track, a sealed rail trail for 15km through forest into Newcastle.
On a quiet back street of Sydney I come across an old queen-sized mattress slumping forlornly against a street art-covered wall. It’s clearly been dumped by someone. It’s not a totally unfamiliar sight, but I pull over on my bike anyway to consider it. What will happen to it? Where do old mattresses go to die?
Cycling along the beaches and lakes of the Central Coast, past Tuggerah Lake, Budgewoi Lake and Lake Munmorah. Discovering that libraries will often let me eat inside while I charge my devices. A long day, followed by a cold night at Frazer Beach.
Locked myself out of my friend’s Sydney apartment with my bags still inside, so didn’t get going til midday. Rather than take the infamous Pacific Hwy, I followed the coast north to Palm Beach, racing to catch the late ferry across the Pittwater estuary. Had the pretty Putty Beach campsite to myself for two nights, just me and the brush turkeys.
I arrive at the outskirts, the traffic thickens, and soon I’m swallowed up by the city. I look forward to resting in a warm house, away from the wind, the rain and the cold, and part of me just wants to curl up on a couch and binge-watch Netflix for a week.
But there’s lots to do, people to see and projects to visit. Sustainability projects tend to be clumped in the cities and so I’m busy organising heaps of site visits and places to stay for the duration.
My hosts are all very kind and generous, but I feel uneasy relying on the hospitality of others for so long, and it’s hard to truly relax when you’re a guest in someone else’s home.
I soon become restless, the open road beckons, and I yearn to be journeying on. At last, my visits all done, I load my bike and set off again. I slowly disentangle myself from the suburbs, dreaming of a quiet campsite in a forest or by a beach.
A week in Sydney, visiting old haunts, catching up with old friends and checking out several projects. Planted lettuces in a pocket city farm, stayed in one of the world’s most sustainable houses, toured Australia’s tallest timber office building and hung out at the cafe that banned disposable coffee cups and launched the Mug Movement.
Cycling in the rain: I’ve found the thought tends to be worse than the reality. Dramatic coastal roads, and then the misty forest of Royal National Park. Crossed on the ferry to Cronulla, followed the cycle paths around Botany Bay, and finally arrived with soggy wet shoes in Sydney.
Trust a recovering workaholic like me to turn a therapeutic bike journey into a work trip. Living on the road, I lose track of the days and don’t take weekends off. Juggling the riding with the writing and organising and visiting projects — each is rewarding, but I push myself too hard and at times it’s all a bit overwhelming.
But I think maybe this is partly what this journey’s about. To shine a light on some of the behaviour patterns that make me more prone to burnout. To see that, with no master but myself, the expectations I feel on me are all in my head; the pressure to work hard is coming from me alone. To learn to not become overly fixated on imaginary goals, to let go, to forgive myself, and to give myself permission to stop.
I’m learning to deliberately slow down my journey, cycling shorter days, so that I have more time to rest and write. I’m learning to take the more scenic routes, even if they’re slower, and try to enjoy the sights along the way.
And when I get it right, I wake up looking forward to hitting the road, the projects I visit feel more inspiring, and I can’t imagine living any other way than from my bike.
A major challenge on this journey is managing my gut health. Some days malaise clouds my mind and the colour drains out of the world. Took a break from writing for a few days.
Cycled north past seaside towns and the Port Kembla steelworks to stay with my former manager and discuss burnout and self-care. Stayed in a micro cabin at an eco-home in Woonona while visiting a mattress recycling social enterprise, the Sustainable Building Research Centre, and an urban organic farm employing young refugees.
‘It’s a bin.’ ‘Yes, it’s a bin.’ ‘Was it worth it?’ We’ve just travelled forty five minutes to see this place in Gungahlin, in the north of Canberra. My friend Katie, who’s place I’ve been staying at, has come along as an excuse to travel on the city’s new light rail for the first time. I think she’s also secretly curious to see this bin that I was willing to travel so far for. ‘Kind of. It’s a pretty cool bin.’
I’ve reached the sea! Many thanks to my kind hosts Tom and Evelyn in Shellharbour for giving me a quiet place to eat, sleep and write for a few days.
Sore hands from continually braking coming down the escarpment at Macquarie Pass, to camp at the bottom in a hidden clearing by a stream. A strong urge for some forest time, searching for lyrebirds and waterfalls, before finally pedalling on to Shellharbour.
I walked into the facility and my heart lifted. The giant machine was still there as I remembered it. My many hours spent years ago in this laboratory felt so recent. I’d heard that Australia’s nuclear fusion research machine, the H-1 Heliac, has been sold to China, and so had mentally prepared myself to find an empty space where it once sat. But it’s still here, albeit in pieces, as they prepare the multi-million dollar precision instrument for transport halfway around the world.
Having fought against a piercing wind all morning, it was a relief to finally pull up on my bike at the farm gate. A series of white sentinels decorated the nearby hilltop, backed by a bluebird sky. The dirt driveway led me across a paddock and up a rise to the farmhouse, where I was greeted by Carl and his enthusiastic dog Turbo.
‘Turbo likes to chew things’, he warned me as I parked my bike on his back verandah, though I figured my heavy duty panniers were fairly dog-proof.
Piercing cold winds riding up into wind farm country to visit Carl, a landholder of the Gullen Range Wind Farm. The next morning it was snowing, and maintenance workers asked if I needed psychiatric help when they found me cycling amongst the wind turbines in the snow. Ferocious winds had me riding at a slant to the massive Crookwell 2 Wind Farm, then on to a cold night’s camp by Pejar Dam.
I met Frank at the Bike Recyclery in Canberra, where he volunteers, and a few days later I cycled to his home outside the city to learn about his life there. After some intense years as activists, he and his partner Sam retreated to his parent’s bush property to start a new life — one that matched their values of environmental sustainability.
Living on very meagre incomes, they eat food they’ve either grown, gleaned or foraged. They maintain a vege garden and orchard, forage for edible wild plants, dumpster dive, eat roadkill meat (they explain to me how to know when roadkill is still fresh), and receive excess produce from bakers and farmers that would otherwise be thrown away, often in exchange for jams and preserves they’ve made.
They built a house out of recycled materials and have embraced intergenerational living. They’re trying holistic land management techniques to regenerate their property after years of overgrazing by kangaroos. They’re also turning their home into a community training space.
Frank and Sam call their place Another Way Of Living, or ‘AWOL’, and it was fascinating to learn about this alternative way of living lightly.
Back on the road and my bike feels great. My deepest thanks for all your donations to help me continue my journey. Cycled east to stay with a young couple trying an alternative approach to eco-friendly living. Heading north on the freeway I came across another couple who earn money picking up bottles on the roadside, each now worth 10cents. Camped by the dry plain of Lake George.
Time to rest and repair. A massive thank you to Katie for looking after me for so long, for the movie nights and fun adventures; and to Doug for spending many hours making my bike roadworthy again with a lot of care and attention. While in Canberra I investigated the new Container Deposit Scheme and met with groups at ANU doing nuclear fusion research. I also made use of the city’s recent public transport upgrades, including the bike racks on buses, and the new light rail.
We step up to the edge and look down over a vast pit. Dozens of birds of prey circle overhead, and groups of pelicans have taken up residence on several of the mounds below. Trucks can be seen emptying loads of human detritus into a distant part of the landfill, which Greg tells me is the largest between Melbourne and Sydney.
All this waste is now being used to produce enough electricity for 1,900 homes, and I’ve come here to see for myself how they’re doing it.
I broke my rear wheel rim coming over the Snowy Mountains, and my old worn out bike chain and gears have reached the end of their life. I’m now stuck in Canberra until I can get my bike repaired. Most bike shops turn their noses up at my old vintage rig, but fortunately Frank from the ‘Recyclery’ helped me out with a great secondhand rim, and I’ve found an excellent retired bike mechanic who can build me a new rear wheel and replace the chain, gear rings and rear cluster for a discounted $120. But I’m running out of funds. Can you help me continue this journey by chipping in or sharing ‘Pedalling Forwards’ with your friends and networks?
I’m incredibly fortunate to have had so many people donate to get me started — I wouldn’t have made it this far without your support!
So far I’ve cycled over 3,500km and reached Queensland’s central coast, but I’ve now run out of funds. I’ve got the rest of Queensland left to cycle up, and before the summer heat and monsoons hit. Can you help me complete this journey?
Are you able to:
1. Donate to keep me pedalling forwards,
2. Share my website or Facebook page with others, and/or
3. Connect me with funding sources who might be willing to support my journey?
I’m also able to give media interviews and community talks, in person (if it’s on my route) or via video link.
I’ve come this far. It would mean so much to me if you would help me get to the top.
Cycled in to our nation’s capital in time to vote, and queued up at perhaps the busiest polling booth in the city at Old Parliament House. I’m so disconnected from politics while on the road, I’d almost prefer not to know the outcome. I’ve seen many incredible sustainability initiatives on this journey, and in each of them people are chipping away and making a difference despite the politics.
My face and eyeballs frozen and my fingers like popsicles, cycling through thick fog. Suddenly the fog cleared, as though I’d passed through a curtain into sunlight. A long ride up the Monaro Hwy to the south end of Canberra.
Tested the limits of my warm sleeping gear, shivering my way through the night camping by Lake Jindabyne, where it reached -3 degrees. Riding away from the Snowy Mountains and into rolling dry farmland, I camped the next night north of Cooma and was just comfortable at -2 degrees.
I enter the cafe and see a number of people sitting at tables around the room. The lady at the front desk welcomes me and asks for my name and what I’m here for. ‘A broken bike mirror, a pair of torn wool leggings and some torn hiking pants’, I tell her. ‘Ah, you’re doing the bike journey!’ They’d been expecting me, and are going to make sure I’m well looked after.
Only a few slips and falls as I hiked to the top of Mt Kosciuszko, where it was -5 degrees with a 50kph windchill. Having grown up in a small desert town, it’s been a dream of mine to trek through ice and snow; and to have reached here on a bicycle is like a dream upon a dream.
‘Yippee!’ — excited relief to finally emerge out of the forest, after a relentless switchback climb all morning, and reach the pass at Dead Horse Gap. At 1582m, it’s the highest I’m likely to ride to on this journey. Then down the valley to Thredbo.
Thick fog as I began the long winding ascent towards the mountain pass. Dripping in sweat on the unrelenting uphills, and my face frozen on the downhills. Below zero degrees camping by a mountain stream with views of the snow-capped peaks.
Didn’t make it far before I was wet and cold, with more rain and poor visibility ahead. Sought shelter at the Khancoban Alpine Inn, who were so kind as to donate a room for the night.
Waiting for better weather before I attempt the mountain pass. My hosts Tom and Thea in Corryong were wonderful, and grow a tree arboretum as a hobby, but they took time to trust a stranger. They let me camp on their lawn the first night. The second night they let me stay in their spare room, but didn’t want me inside if they weren’t home. They then invited me to stay a third night, took me for a drive up Mt Mittamatite, and left me to look after the house when they went out — ‘Well, I know you now’, said Tom.
Tilak, from South Bhutan, was a child when his family and others from his Nepali-speaking ethnic group were forced to flee the country. After years of persecution by the Bhutanese government, who wanted to create a pure Bhutan, soldiers came into their villages and forced them from their homes.
Pedalled on up the valley, following the meandering Murray River towards the mountains. Camped by the water at Jingellic. Nights getting colder as I ascend, and a cold next morning cycling through fog to Corryong.
Headed east to Lake Hume and the Hume Dam, with its 60MW hydro power generator, then up the Murray River valley. The tall trees, which have been mostly submerged since the dam was built almost 100 years ago, now stand stark and exposed, with the water levels less than 15%.
I’m sitting having a cup of tea on the verandah with two Matts: Matthew Charles-Jones and Matthew Grogan; the two lead drivers of their community’s transformation. One, an outdoor educator and builder turned clean energy specialist; the other, a lawyer and farmer. Matt C-J seems the more reserved and introspective of the two. In sharing their story he spent the last day and a half weaving a rich tapestry for me, and then today Matt G provided the drawstring that pulled the folds of cloth together.
After the rain had passed I pedalled back and forth between Albury and Wodonga, crossing the mighty Murray River and the VIC-NSW border each time. I visited a Bhutanese community farm, a cafe that repaired my bike and clothes, and a huge landfill producing power from waste.
At midnight I received a phone call. “Nick, I missed the last train!! What do I do!?” It was Claire from the apartment two storeys above me, slightly tipsy. “Where are you?” “I’m at Mukonoso Station!” That was 10km away from where we lived in Shin-Osaka and the only vehicle I had was a bicycle. What could I possibly do? “Wait there, I’ll come and get you!”
So began a memorable late-night bike adventure across Osaka, Japan, with Claire sitting on the back of my mama-chari (Japanese ‘mum’s chariot’) for the fun-filled ride home. Fourteen years later I’ve cycled in to see Claire again, now living with her new family in Wodonga, Australia. Thank you Claire for the fun memories and for letting me stay!
Torrential downpours and flooded streets. Taking shelter in Wodonga from the wild weather.
Two nights and a day in the pretty town of Yackandandah, staying in a straw bale cottage and learning how a local group transformed their town’s energy supply. A huge thanks to Matt, Michelle and their son Tarn for hosting me, and for the lovely fireside chats. I then pedalled on to Wodonga on the Victorian border.
A sealed ‘rail trail’ most of the way to Yackandandah, and my hosts there told me they’ve just secured funds to complete the final leg. If only we had these all over the country.
I cycle the perimeter of Sunshine Hospital. A multi-storey behemoth the size of a large city block, it’s one of several around Melbourne that are part of the Western Health group. Past the Emergency Department and ambulance rank, I finally find the main entrance, lock up my bike and head in. I’m early, so I take a seat in the busy waiting area.
Over the forested mountains, starting with a relentless uphill climb to a pretty camp at Tolmie, where I slept in the camp kitchen to escape the cold. Views from the lookout and arrest site of Harry Powers, one of Australia’s most famous bushrangers and Ned Kelly’s mentor. A cold and wet day, and very happy to descend to the flat green farmland of the King River valley, following it to a riverside camp near Wangaratta.
Followed the Great Victorian Rail Trail, through Yea (pronounced ‘Yay!’) and Bonnie Doon to Mansfield, camping halfway at the abandoned Cathkin railway siding. Alternated between the gravel rail trail (to escape the traffic) and the main road (to escape the gravel). Saw lots of other bike tourists, a mostly dry Lake Eildon, and fungi that can punch through bitumen!
It’s a funny feeling, that moment when you see impending disaster and somehow know there’s nothing you can do about it. I was coasting downhill on my bike, and the car coming up the side road was moving too fast to stop at the stop sign. My subconscious did the calculations and realised it was on a collision course.
I’d come to Commonground to talk with Alicia Crawford, an activist and campaigner who lives in a tiny house here with her husband and daughter. Alicia has a similar burnout story to my own, and is now passionate about the intersection of activism/social change and personal well-being. It was also the Easter Gathering here, and so I joined everyone preserving fruit and carting firewood for the winter. My bent bike wheel remained a dilemma, and a friend Duncan drove all the way out from Melbourne to try to fix it for me!
I was hit by a car just outside Broadford. I was okay, as the front of my bike took most of the impact, and the young Nepalese driver and his family stayed for a while as I tried to fix it. By removing my entire mudguard I was able to limp on, despite a bent front wheel. Eventually I was picked up by a friend and taken to an ‘intentional community’ on a nearby bush property called Commonground, to join the Easter Gathering.
Undulating downhill through forests and farms to Flowerdale. I’ve been missing the simplicity and solitude of being on the road. Set up camp early by a stream, to write and wander and skim stones.
‘Would you like to go for a spin?’ Austin offered. Before us sat a very ordinary-looking delivery truck, looking like a white box on wheels. ‘Ooh! Yes, please!!’
After buckling in, he eased the truck out of its parking bay, gliding silently across the factory floor then out onto the street. As we drove around the suburb he explained the various features and handling. I’d never been much of a car person myself, preferring pedal-powered transport, but I appreciated what this truck represented.
I turn off the cycle path into a small lane between two apartment buildings and chain my bike up outside one of them. I’m here to try and gatecrash a tour. Already there are a few people milling around, and several more slowly trickle in.
Back on the road. From Melbourne I cycled north into the mountains and against a fierce headwind to Kinglake, to visit an ‘Earthship’. Daryl’s home and community were devastated by bushfire, and so his new home will be a self-contained, bushfire-proof bunker made of salvaged timber and glass, mud brick, cob, glass bottles, car tyres and rammed earth, with solar panels, rainwater tanks and a built-in food-producing greenhouse fed by greywater.
A lot of admin work goes into making a trip like this happen, including contacting sustainability experts, researching projects, and organising and scheduling site visits. Thank you so much to Carolyn, Laurence and Jayt for giving me such lovely places in Melbourne to stay and do this work as I prepared for the next leg of my journey. It was also nice to use a computer for the first time in ages.
I’ve heard Tasmania described as ‘a cyclist’s paradise’, but the interlacing bike lanes and cycle paths of Melbourne felt like heaven in comparison. I visited a leading example of sustainable architecture, a hospital that’s dramatically reducing its waste, a factory producing electric trucks and vans, and the CERES community bike shed (where I showed my bike some love). I also met with Greg Foyster, the author of the book ‘Changing Gears’, about a bike journey exploring examples of simpler living.
The first crack of the rifle just made the geese lift their head in curiosity. It was only when the second shot felled one, that the remaining three ran off in alarm. They stopped again a short distance away, not seeming to understand the nature of the danger. We were hiding in a line of trees nearby; Paul with the rifle, and Gareth, myself and the two young girls (daughters of Paul and Gareth) watching.
The Tasmanian chapter of my journey has come to an end. I wheeled my bike onto the ferry and said farewell to Devonport — and hello to Melbourne!
Life on the farm: geese hunting, comical cows, and homeschooled kids; it was hard to leave, and I ended up cycling in the wind and rain to Devonport and arriving after dark. Slept in another kind family’s lounge room — it’s been over a week since I used my tent!
The phone rang at 7am. “Hello?” I try to sound as if I’m not in my pyjamas and sleeping bag, even though it’s still half an hour before sunrise. It’s Mike from the factory phoning to tell me I’m welcome to come and visit. So prompt! I had only sent them an email last night thinking it was too short notice.
A relief to be in flatter country. Had a pleasant ride west through gently rolling farmland and small historic towns to Deloraine, then north to stay at a special dairy and grain farm to learn about sustainable agriculture.
/ˌanhɪˈdəʊnɪə/ – noun – Inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities.
On my cycle up Tasmania I met a doctor who taught me the medical name for a symptom I’ve had for a long time: ‘anhedonia’.
This doctor had worked all over the world, including in developing countries and even in Antarctica, and he experiences anhedonia as a symptom of his depression, which he’s been dealing with on and off for years. He asked his psychiatrist if there’s such a thing as ‘existential depression’, as he’s been going through an existential crisis since his retirement and questioning “what’s it all for?” But the psychiatrist was doubtful.
On my way down the Tamar River I stopped to escape the rain and joined a young homeless man at his fire. We traded stories, and I learnt how he walks from town to town, of the kindness of the road workers and the amount of food he finds on the roadside. I reached Launceston and spent two days hanging out with friends, plus lunch with a gut specialist and a nutrition specialist to discuss the burnout and IBS epidemics, and a visit to a 6-green star apartment building.
Two restful days at a friend Bev’s place in George Town, where I visited an industrial waste plastics reprocessing factory — my first foray into the world of plastics recycling. I also searched for Little Penguins in the dark under the lighthouse and a starlit sky at Low Head.
I’ve had a few requests for more selfies. Who’d have thought there’d ever be a shortage of these in the world? If you were wondering how I look, well, I can tell you that I look like a bit of a dork, especially dressed in my cycling outfit (it’s the height of bike touring fashion, I swear!).
It’s not that I’m against taking pictures of myself, but I’d rather be behind the camera than in front of it. This journey has become a bit of an art project for me. I enjoy the challenge of crafting each article and composing nice photos; and I try to select only the best photos to share, which tend to not have me in them.
I’m flattered that you’d want to see pictures of me — thank you! I’m sure I’ll share some selfies eventually; perhaps ones where I’m looking particularly dashing, or where the scenery is stunning enough to compensate.
Todd stopped the car to let me take a photo. To our left is a pine plantation; a dark imposing wall of sameness. “Death”, Todd told me earlier; that’s how he views plantations, because they clear and kill everything. To our right is a native eucalyptus forest, looking vibrant and healthy. “That”, he says, pointing to the native forest, “was all pine plantation.” He says this almost casually, as though it’s not something unfathomable. How is that possible?
Very cold nights. Cycled through lush mountain forests and rolling farmland. Thrilling downhill runs that had my eyes and nose streaming, followed each time by another mountain to sweat my way up. Finally reached the flatter north coast and cycled to George Town at the mouth of the Tamar River.
Several people had walked past my camp spot looking for platypus, but only one person said they’d seen one, and just a brief glimpse.
At dusk I found a quiet spot by the stream to watch and wait. But I soon grew bored and started fiddling on my phone. When I finally glanced up again, there was a platypus floating on the surface only ten metres away. It seemed to be watching me. Do I dare try to take a photo? Then it dived and was gone.
I was extra vigilant for the next half hour, staring intently at the water, but I saw nothing. Soon I took out my notebook to do some writing. When I eventually looked up again, there was the platypus just cruising along the surface right by me. I was getting the hang of this. It was like waiting for a pot to boil — better to not watch too intently.
Two nights with a couple, Todd and Astrid, who spend their time growing their own food, playing violin-guitar duets together, and re-growing native forests. Todd took me to see a vast area of destroyed forest that he’d restored. From there I began my cycle through the mountains, camping in Weldborough.
Pedalled north, through Bicheno and Scamander to near St Helens, and crossed on to the other side of my paper map: into north Tas! Stayed with a lovely family who’ve built a quirky collection of cabins and cottages on their eco-friendly farm.
Stormy nights and hiking in Freycinet National Park. Gale force winds nearly blew me off the top of Mt Amos, and walking a mile on boggy beach into a howling headwind is not as much fun as it sounds. Pretty views of Wineglass Bay, and lovely visiting my childhood neighbour Chella in her nearby cabin.
I was following a series of white posts along a barely discernible trail through the forest, often losing my way. A fine drizzle was making everything wet, and my shoes were sodden. Spider webs strung with droplets of water crisscrossed my route, and mist obscured the surrounding hills. Everywhere the sound of dripping water and the rustling of my wet weather gear.
Around the bay to Freycinet. Along the way, to my dismay, I found my food had gone astray — ‘twas at the place that I did stay! It made my day, when some tourists they, brought it with them on their way. My Chinese study did finally pay, as no English could they say.
More searching for the critically endangered Swift Parrot at Little Swanport in the morning, then riding into the wind to Swansea.
From the Maria Island ferry I pedalled on to Little Swanport to check out two unusual examples of people protecting critical habitat on private land. Two days of traipsing around private forests — first hosted by a lovely couple, Tom and Jane, then camping by the Little Swanport River — and feeding the local leech and mosquito population.
On Day 18 I took my bike on the ferry to Maria Island with the hope of seeing a Tasmanian Devil, which are listed as endangered. They’re nocturnal, so I set up camp by the old convict settlement and set off after dark on a long walk through the forest at night.
It’s my last morning here and I’m sitting having breakfast in Alan’s small cabin. I ask if I can write my story about him. He seems amused at this, and asks ‘why him?’
My rearview mirror broke when my loaded bike fell over with a crash — very sad. Hilly farm roads, and then a long rough track through the forest that nearly rattled my bike to pieces. A relief to be on bitumen again. Camped behind the pub at Triabunna, wedged in amongst caravans.
Cycling north again, past Port Arthur and the tesselated rocks of Pirate’s Bay. Pushed on into twilight through a strong headwind and sprinkles of rain to Bream Creek, to be greeted with a warm fire and nice view.
No flying devils, but big hills and lots of roadkill (wallabies, wombats, possums) on my way down the Tasman Peninsula. Spent two nights at the eco-village in Nubeena learning about the benefits and challenges of ‘intentional communities’, and the details of how they work.
I was standing in a room surrounded by knitwear. Shelves and racks filled with sweaters, school jumpers, beanies and animal toys, all neatly folded or hung. For once I wasn’t hot and sweaty from riding my bike here; I was laying over in Hobart for a few days rest and had taken a local city bus to this factory to learn their unusual story.
I loaded up my bike, and rode down to Hobart’s ‘School Strike 4 Climate’ rally. It started with a 16yr old Swedish girl boycotting school last August. She sat outside Swedish parliament holding a sign saying “Skolstrejk för klimatet” or “School strike for the climate”. This sparked a movement, with students now striking in around 100 countries, and about 150,000 Australian students taking part. I’ve never seen so many school students protesting before. From there I rode out of Hobart and headed east on the next leg of my journey.
Resting in Hobart. I’ve also visited an innovative campus bike hub here, a community solar installation on a textile factory employing people with intellectual disabilities, an urban permaculture house, a 6 green star rated building, and a workers cooperative salvaging and re-selling waste from the tip — each fascinating in their own way, but how to write about them in an engaging way not always clear.
Following Sophia’s instructions, I push my bike up the long driveway and arrive at a padlocked gate. A small box with a combination lock provides the key. After wheeling my bike through I lock the gate again and return the key to the box. A pretty track leads me through the eucalypt forest until it eventually opens up onto a meadow. Sitting in the middle of the meadow is a very tiny house.
Hills and end-of-long-weekend traffic the last leg north along the coast to Hobart. Came across the tallest shot tower in the Southern Hemisphere at Taroona, with a view over the Derwent River, then a nice long glide downhill to the outskirts of the city.
Funny how I can feel loneliest when surrounded by people.
I was lucky to receive a free ticket to the indigenous cultural festival, Nayri Niara. I’d been looking forward to it and had cycled to the southern end of Bruny Island to camp there for a night. It was an amazing event, with dance groups, craft workshops, storytelling circles, seminars, and some live music acts later. But after attending some sessions I just felt this restless urge to escape the crowds. As I was sitting on the hillside with the event happening below, I felt like an outsider and I kept thinking: “I could be riding my bike right now, and journeying to beautiful quiet places.” So I left, and raced the length of Bruny Island to just make the last ferry at 7:15pm.
Maybe this all sounds weird, but I’m learning what makes me happy, and I like myself more for having followed my instincts. I think this is partly what my journey is about. Camping at Trial Bay that night, I sat at the end of a small jetty in the dark looking up at the stars, and felt good.
A steep climb on foot to the top of the Fluted Cape for a picnic breakfast in the cold wind and mist. I then cycled to Allonnah to stay in an award-winning Tiny House in the forest.
Crossed over to Bruny Island on the ferry and cycled down to camp at the isthmus — the narrow neck of land that connects north and south Bruny. Racked by indecision about what order to do all the things I came here to do. Decided to head to Adventure Bay for an interview with a man involved in a ‘virtual power plant’ trial, and a stroll along the pretty beach.
It was a long winding ascent up dirt road, and I confess to walking my bike up most of it. According to the person who put me on to this place though: hills equal gravity and gravity is my friend for the thing I’ve come to see. It also started to rain, which seems appropriate and auspicious.
From Huonville I pedalled around the coast past Cygnet and up the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. A merry evening of singing and joke-telling by the water at Gordon with a pair of Maori campers named Tinga and Tushay. Tushay kindly repaired a big tear in my trousers using her sewing machine. Big climbs up hilly dirt roads the next day to visit some micro hydro systems on two amazing off-grid eco-homes.
I rolled into the school driveway feeling apprehensive. Groups of students sitting on the lawn were giving me odd looks. This was only the second day of my bicycle journey, but already I was grubby and smelly from life on the road and probably looked like a vagabond. It didn’t help that the high-vis vest I was wearing was covered in smears of black grease from when it had fallen onto my bike chain earlier.
Cycled further up the Huon River to Huonville, where I’m grateful to have received a tour of Huonville High School. A few key teachers and students here were able to win funding from a wealthy sheikh in Abu Dhabi to retrofit an old school building into a sustainable energy hub. From solar panels and wind turbines to a pedal-powered cinema — it’s remarkable what they’ve achieved. That night I met lots of seasonal fruit workers camping at a local hostel.
Humid and hilly up the Huon. From Ida Bay at the southern end of Tasmania (as far south as the bitumen goes in Australia), I wound my way north along the coast and up the Huon River to Port Huon. Stopped to chat with an older Italian bike tourer. Some nice Korean tourists offered me pears and noodles. Pretty orchards, fields, forest and river coves, and views of the salmon farms.
Rode with a convoy of e-bikes in the morning to an event where I got to test drive a few different electric vehicles. Later my wonderful host Jo kindly drove me down to the southern end of Tasmania, as far south as the bitumen goes in Australia, where I’ll start my bike journey. Camped under the haze from the still-smouldering forests.
I’m spending a few days in Hobart to meet with some local sustainability experts. With their help I’ve been pulling together this map of my bike route and interesting sustainability projects I could visit. It’s exciting to discover there’s so much happening in this space — it’s like a smorgasbord of innovations to explore.
I’ve arrived in Hobart, and re-assembled my bike. Looking back over the past month, it’s hard to believe I’m here. This started as a far-fetched idea that I couldn’t afford, but then so many people extended their support to help make it happen. It was unexpected and incredibly heartwarming — my deepest thanks to all of you. I’m nervous about what’s ahead, but also eager to start riding.
The guys at ‘Cycles Bespoke’ have been amazingly supportive. Bike touring is one of their specialties, and they did most of the labour pro bono to build me a strong new rear wheel and get my bike prepared for my upcoming trip. They were also fully onboard with my desire to repair existing parts or use secondhand parts where possible.
The most contentious part of planning this bike journey has been the idea of me writing openly about burnout and my resulting health challenges. Some people have supported the idea, while some others have outright condemned it…
I was a pretty lousy bike mechanic when I set off on my bike trip last November. But after a month of many breakdowns and roadside repair jobs I learnt a thing or two, by necessity. When it came to Christmas, I offered to service my family’s bicycles as a present for each of them. My ulterior motive was that it would be a way for me to learn even more about looking after my own bike. It also turns out to be quite therapeutic.
Trying to resist the temptation to buy new gear for my upcoming trip, when secondhand is usually fine. I’m sticking with my $80 secondhand bike; my hand-me-down iPhone with the cracked screen; clothes, bags and cutlery from op-shops; a needle and thread for repairs; secondhand bike parts; and some items I’ve scrounged and “borrowed” from family (haha, they probably won’t get those back in the same condition). But there are just a couple of specialised items I’m buying new — long-term investments in rugged lightweight gear to save weight and space — such as a pair of lightweight hiking trousers that can take a beating; and small, well-sealed, refillable soap and shampoo bottles.
I was so overjoyed to find this guy Daniel, I did a little happy dance. Have a look at what he’s holding.
The bike shop and I have been searching high and low for a wheel rim of the right size for my vintage bike. I’m needing a strong new rear wheel built for my upcoming trip — one that can handle the load — but no suppliers had the right size rim in stock anywhere in Australia.
Daniel is a bike enthusiast in Margaret River who collects and refurbishes old bikes. Plus, he’s kind, friendly and generous; his enthusiasm for bikes is infectious; and he’ll happily share some great stories from his past bike tours. He happened to have this 27” double-walled rim in his shed, which he gave to me for free, as well as a front bike rack that was designed for my bike — thank you so much, Daniel!
I once made the rookie mistake of putting a soft and broad mountain bike saddle on my road bike, leading to an embarrassing visit to the hospital emergency department. On my last bike tour I was using a secondhand road bike saddle, but I’d get pins-and-needles and numbness after long hours riding. It turns out I need a firm, narrow saddle with wide enough flanges in the right place to support my “sit bones”. The bike shop has got me trialling this demo saddle in preparation for the upcoming trip.
So here I am saying I want to visit one innovative sustainability project after another as I ride up the east coast of Australia. What do I even mean by an ‘innovative sustainability project’, and how do I go about identifying these places to visit? The hunt for these projects starts now, as I begin to plan my route.
Learning from those who’ve gone before me: The book ‘Changing Gears’ tells the story of Greg and his partner Sophie, who cycled up the east coast of Australia and visited various examples of living more simply, such as intentional communities, dumpster divers and off-the-grid permaculturists. It’s an entertaining and insightful read.
We’re struggling to find a new wheel rim of the right size! Can you help?
A specialist bike shop in Perth is supporting my upcoming journey by getting my bike ship-shape, doing the labour pro bono. They’re building me a new strong rear wheel that can handle the load, but being a vintage bike, none of their Australian suppliers have the right size wheel rim. We’re searching everywhere and putting our feelers out. Are there any cyclists out there who have access to a 27” double-walled touring bike wheel rim with holes for 36 spokes?
Some light summer reading… Preparing for the upcoming bike journey.
It’s official. I’m definitely going. I’ve bought my ticket to arrive in Hobart on the 26th Feb, and will aim to set off on my bike at the start of March.
I now have a website for the project! I’ve spent several days grappling with the challenges of using WordPress. But I’m learning, slowly. It’s still a work in progress, but feel free to give feedback and suggestions. A huge thank you to Joe Taheny for helping me get this far!
The new project is coming together — a bike journey to heal the planet and myself. Thank you so much to everyone who has given suggestions and words of support.
As recommended, I’ve put together a crowdfunder for it: www.gofundme.com/pedallingforwards
I’ve never been good at asking for money. But if you think you might get some entertainment out of this, or if you’ve got nothing better to do than throw money at dreams, then I’d love it if you could help me make it happen.
This whole bike expedition began in January as a mere notion I had, which seemed too far-fetched at the time. So I posted it on Facebook, as follows:
“I have an idea. It’s not fully formed yet, but I’m hoping you can help me with that…”
It’s been quite a special journey for me. It turns out I cycled about 1,250km over the 31 days, meandering here and there. Thank you so much everyone for following along and keeping me company on the road. Whilst it’s the end of this journey, it’s now the start of another.
I’m feeling ready to go home. After a morning hike on Day 31 to Hellfire Bay and back along possibly the most scenic bit of coast I’ve seen in WA, I met with my sister and her family who were passing through and came to pick me up from Lucky Bay (it actually brought tears to my eyes seeing my little nieces racing along the beach to meet me).
An overcast Day 30. I set off east again, past the full-scale replica of Stonehenge and into Cape Le Grand National Park. Morning tea at Le Grand Beach and then climbed Frenchman Peak. Pedalled on to Lucky Bay for dinner and sunset on the knoll overlooking the bay. Had kangaroos loitering around my tent in the dark that growled at me when I tried to get past.
Day 29: Cycled the 40km tourist drive past beaches, views of the Recherche Archipelago, wind farms and the Pink Lake, which is no longer pink. The nicest beaches I’ve seen on this trip. My bike stand snapped off, so future photos might have my bike lying down. Took refuge from a thunderstorm in a caravan park. I’ve spent more money on accommodation these last few days than I have for the rest of the trip combined.
Day 27 & 28: Rest days in Esperance, treating myself to a bunk at the YHA. I’m coming to appreciate how these are just as important as my riding days for going the distance. Had my bike wheel repaired professionally, explored the town, went to the markets and the community Carols By Candlelight, and fell asleep on the port tour.
A bright, sunshiney day on Day 26. Repaired the broken spoke at Munglinup Roadhouse using my last remaining spare, then set off down the main highway, mostly through farmland. A while later another spoke broke. No more spares, so I trued the wheel and limped on. About 55km shy of Esperance a second spoke broke. Game over (for today). The first car I flagged down, a builder named Reg, gave me and my bike a lift, going out of his way to drop me at a bike shop in Esperance.
Day 25: Vomited in the night due to food poisoning. Felt rough in the morning, but keen to move on. I set off north then east, through the tiny community of Jerdacuttup, where I interrupted a school concert when seeking to fill my water bottle. Not in the mood to respond to the waves from passing drivers today. Another broken spoke, followed by rain, wind, and the spray from passing road trains. The bike gods are testing me. Finally limped in to the Munglinup Roadhouse, had a much-appreciated hot shower at the truck stop and crawled into my tent — bike repairs would have to wait til morning.
I made my way out of the Fitzgerald River National Park and back to Hopetoun on Day 24, begging some water off some passing Swiss tourists on the way. Washed my clothes by swimming and showering in them at the beach, then holed up in the local library to rest, read and recharge phone batteries. Put needle and thread to work mending clothes at my evening beach campsite.
A nice old man named Frank (octogenarian nomad; ex-infantry; every third word is “bloody”) took me for an early morning drive on Day 23 into parts of the Fitzgerald River National Park that I can’t access on my bike. Had a swim after breakfast at Barrens Beach and a sweltering hot climb up Mt Barren, then cycled to Hammersley Inlet and lay in the warm, salty estuary, which is so shallow you can walk across it. A sheltered campsite by the water with trees to string my hammock between.
Day 22: I’ve reached the sea. After cycling through coastal scrub and farmland, and shepherding traffic to help an unappreciative bobtail lizard cross the road, I arrived at Hopetoun. Had a picnic by the beach and explored the town, and then set off into the Fitzgerald River National Park to see what’s there. The arrival of hot weather must have triggered the mating flights of the ant queens, because the evening air at Four Mile Beach was filled with flying ants. I took refuge in my tent.
Day 21: “Thunk!” — the sound of another spoke breaking and my heart sinking at 5:30am just out of Lake King. Everything was closed til noon on a Sunday, so I decided to push on the 70km to Ravensthorpe, minus a spoke and with the other spokes adjusted to compensate. Poorly graded road through grain fields and mallee scrubland, fingers crossed the whole way. An afternoon of rest, repair and camping in the Ravensthorpe town centre, an agricultural hub on a major crossroads.
Over a final hill on Day 20 and the massive Lake King basin was spread out below; a patchwork quilt of small salt pans and pink salt bush, with a causeway across the middle. Then “ping!”, another spoke broke. Always on the rear wheel side that needs a big spanner to repair. I’m getting better at roadside wheel truing though, and limped across the lake to the town. Trees filled with raucous baby lorikeets practising flying (and crash landing) during dinner. Girls working at the pub lent me a spanner and told me of a secret woodland camp spot.
Sunrise and breakfast at the actual Lake Grace on Day 19, one of WA’s largest inland salt lakes. Then back to the town to pack, and a long, hilly ride on a very straight road through grain fields and mallee scrub to Newdegate. Happy to discover that the amenities blocks in many of these small towns have showers — especially for smelly bike tourists like me, I presume. Found a hidden spot to camp by another salt lake a little further on, this one full of water.
Rolled in to Lake Grace and the local caravan park just after dawn on Day 18 and took the day to rest legs, recharge batteries, shower, shave, wash clothes, and explore the town. Lake Grace is the site of one of Australia’s few inland mission hospitals, which serviced a vast area and was a hub for the early Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Day 17: Dust devils in the fields, heat shimmers on the horizon, and lots of flies. I’m into salt and mallee country now, with lots of big white salt pans and fields of salt bush. And, of course, more grain fields. I met with ‘Kangaroo Steve’ again north of Pingrup at a site he releases kangaroos on, and we checked out how they were faring and filled some water troughs. An unglamorous campsite in an old sand mine just short of Lake Grace, though another very starry night.
Day 16: I’d stayed the night in Borden with a man known as ‘Kangaroo Steve’, who looks after rescued kangaroos. He had kangaroos everywhere, inside and outside the house (they’re not allowed in the kitchen though), and he would regularly get a bear hug from a big red named Rocky. I cycled on through the grain fields to another tiny town, Ongerup, where I repaired a broken spoke with the help of the local mechanics. Set up camp in a patch of open woodland under the clearest sky. And then the stars came out.
Lunch on the summit of Bluff Knoll on Day 15, the highest peak in WA. I then said farewell to the Stirling Range and cycled into the never-ending grain fields to the north to see what I could find. Ooh, a Dutch windmill!
Day 14: A steep scramble up lots of loose scree and boulder fields to the top of Mt Toolbrunup, WA’s second highest peak. The pointy summit gave 360 degree views while eating morning tea. A girl came and launched her drone as I was leaving. One mountain is enough for me in a day, so I trundled mostly downhill towards Bluff Knoll and set up camp. It was nice just riding through the pass with mountains on either side.
Back on the road and off to the mountains on Day 13, and I managed not to break anything. Cycled from Albany to the Stirling Range, and set up camp at Moingup Spring near the base of Mt Toolbrunup.
Day 11 & 12: Rest days in Albany. Sleeping in til 6am, eating, reading, eating, relaxing… and some sightseeing. The ‘Field of Lights: Avenue of Honour’, a homage to the ANZACs on Mt Clarence, was quite special. Thanks so much to Ingrid for being such a great host!
On Day 10 my chain broke! Thank goodness I’d met that bike guru in Mt Barker who’d given me the tool for it and taught me what to do. What might have been a showstopper was now just a roadside repair job, and I was soon back on the road, albeit with a slightly shorter chain. I climbed up Castle Rock, the more touristy end of the Porongurups where they’ve hung a platform off the side of the mountain top, and then pedalled on down to Albany to camp out on a friend’s floor for a couple of nights.
Day 9 saw me mostly on foot, hiking up various peaks in the Porongurup Range to enjoy panoramic views and gale force winds — and making good use of all my wet weather gear. Afterwards I spent a couple of hours weeding flowerbeds in exchange for a bed for the night at a nearby inn, as I wasn’t keen on camping in the cold and wet.
Alternating sunshine and showers all of Day 8, and the Stirling Range mountains appearing on the horizon. I had a very fortuitous encounter with a bike enthusiast in Mt Barker (the town), who immediately closed his office, cycled with me back to his house, served me tea, then serviced my bike in his workshop and loaded me up with more spare parts — amazing! I cycled to the top of Mt Barker (the hill) to see the rain-obscured view, and then on to the Porongurup Range, finally arriving at dusk.
Out of the forest on Day 7, and in amongst wheat fields (sometimes as far as the eye can see) and sheep paddocks, broken up by patches of grassy woodland. I was confused by a flock of sheep when they raised their heads up, up and up — they were alpacas. My gear cable snapped shortly before reaching Frankland, but a nearby vineyard operator saved me by scrounging a cable off an old rusty bike in his shed and crimping it to my one. My bike is starting to look like a real mish-mash of odd parts. Set up camp beside Lake Nunijup.
Day 6: Not much cycling, but some important lessons learnt. After getting repaired and stocking up on spare parts in Manjimup, my trusty steed and I are back on the road. We got a lift out to where we left off, and set up camp at Lake Unicup.
I was halfway to Frankland along a quiet country road on Day 5 when a rear wheel spoke broke and the resulting wheel warp stopped me — and I hadn’t brought any spares! Disengaging the rear brake and adjusting some other spokes to compensate allowed me to limp along a while longer, but I knew I was risking more breakages. Decided to hitch a ride back to the nearest bike shop in Manjimup (the next one wasn’t til Albany), but there were almost no cars to flag down on the quiet road. Then suddenly a massive truck pulls up and out pops a friend from my hometown — how serendipitous!
Day 3: A long winding road through the karri forest, with big hills that turn your legs to jelly on the way up and set your heart soaring as you fly down the other sides. Ending up at a pretty pool in the forest for the night.
A shorter early morning cycle on Day 4, mostly through rolling farmland, orchards and vineyards, to the historic timber town of Manjimup, where I had a rest day and explored the town. Saw ‘King Jarrah’, the timber museum, and the epic four-storey slide in the local park, which I couldn’t resist. I was lucky to be given a bed for the night at a farm outside town with two lovely people and their pet galah named ‘Sam’.
My second night on the road I camped in the forest by Workman’s Pool near Nannup. Had a swim and snoozed in my hammock (I had doubts about bringing the hammock, but am glad I did). Woke up to a freezing cold morning.
Spent the first night of my bike journey in a converted bus on my Uncle’s farm in Witchcliffe, near Margaret River. It’s an amazing piece of work; and it can still be driven (around the farm at least)!
Setting off on my big bike adventure. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years. No real plan, except to travel and live off my bike for a while, free camping each night. First stop Margaret River, then Nannup, Manjimup, and beyond, until I feel like stopping (or I break down). Wish me luck! And come say hello if we’re crossing paths.