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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.