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.