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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For two months I’ve avoided the Hume Hwy, thinking it would be horrible. Forced to use it from Goulburn to Moss Vale, it was actually okay. Sure, there’s traffic and the view is bland, but it was mostly smooth sailing on a wide shoulder with a nice tail wind. Escaped the wind that night by tucking my tent in under a pine plantation.
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.
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.
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.