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.
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.
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.
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.