Many people give me that all too familiar baffled blank look when I tell them I cycled across the Nullarbor. Like any goal in life it’s a simple matter of dividing the fear of the unknown from real fear. Once the real fear (lack of food, water and accommodation for 1400km) has been identified you rationally set about a strategy to over come it. So the magic solution was to hit a supermarket and clear its shelves of all dehydrated goods as if preparing for the war which would nourish me (a culinary journey it was not!) for 2 weeks. Water was a case of impersonate a camel, stocking up with 12 litres (2 days) of water for the longer stretches during roadhouses 250km and embrace a camping bonanza with wombats, emu’s, kangaroo’s, and poisonous snakes and spiders for neighbours.
Completed route, Perth-Adelaide-Sydney-Canberra-Melboure. 5052km (The length of Irelnad 10 times)
Km’s and towns are irrelevant when you cycle across the desert, the next water stop is your only appointment. With bottled water twice the price of petrol and my water intake being a spectacular 7+ litres a day, I learned to acquire a taste for toilet water. Bore toilet water (from a tap not the actual toilet) and a Puritab “to be sure to be sure” tastes rather like petrol at first but after 100km at 54deg road temperature it magically turns to champagne! Life is delightfully uncomplicated in the desert with only three appointments a day…breakfast, lunch and dinner. The rest of the day is spent in a semi meditation pose pedalling whilst watching a wildlife movie unfold in front of you as camels, wombats, parrot birds, budgies, hares, Emu’s , kangaroo’s and snakes head about their days business oblivious to the gentle hum of the bicycle.
I will truly cherish my morning coffee’s sitting like an ant in the vast expansive landscape with the soundtrack of kangaroos “thadump thadump thadump” in the background whilst a wombat ambles past. Encounters with snakes and spiders were less than endearing however.
Apart from cooking and cleaning (the latter didn’t occupy much of my time due to lack of water) my only other activity was cycling. It was a truly uncomplicated life and a time of freedom I will always cherish.
There ARE camels on the Nullarbor....i haven't mastered the art of getting my camera out at speed for wildlife just yet!
First and latest bike to cross Australia.
It’s rather disconcerting to be viewed as an object rather than a human. In Asia where sport for pleasure and travelling for fun is a foreign concept one can comprehend their curiosity. But in a developed country where it is presumed one speaks English why can they merely not ask to take a photo of the nutty cyclist? or bid a simple greeting rather than slowing down and staring from their tinted windows with an ostrich mentality….yes I can see through your window! To give the Australians their due they were mainly foreigners in campervans. None the less it’s a little too often I feel like an animal on a jungle safari path….that said for lack of other “keen” female cyclists I guess I am an endangered species on the Nularbor!
The glamorous life!
Kate, Missile and digger!
600km into the Nullarbor
The cuisine on my route was possibly the only drab point on my journey. When you think of a journey across the desert you expect to be stocked up with lots of nutritious foods to compensate for the insane amount of cycling….not logistically possible! My chief criteria for fodder is its ability to expand with water, it’s speed at cooking (can’t carry much gas) and it’s weight. Many of you may think that pretty much eliminates all food but the resourceful cyclist finds a way. So for all you food lovers here was my shopping list for the nullarbor. Receipes available on request!
-4kg quick oats.
-1kg dehydrated milk
-8 x dehydrated potato
-8 x dehydrated peas
-8 x packet soup
-4 x tuna
-Herbs,spices and condiments: salt and cinnamon
When available and feeling flash with the cash an ostentatiously priced onion was bought in roadhouses in an attempt to bring an air of reality to the meal!
Before you all send me food packages in sympathy I must admit that once again the locals came up trumps and I was invited to many a BBQ at various campsites on my journey. When offered to join a BBQ after 9 days on the Nullarbor I could barely restrain my salivary glands to positively RSVP. Their encouragement to eat more had its down sides however and if modesty cannot be achieved, I have learnt it is easier to cycle on an empty stomach as opposed to a stuffed one! Hindsight is always a great thing…..
Yalata proved t be an interesting town. I was warned of the “light-fingered” habits of the local aboriginals and was warned under no circumstances to stay there. Considereing I did my Architecture thesis on Romani architecture, if you know me you know I’m not shy of exploring other races, tribes and what nots. True to the stereotype the locals were beer swigging beneath a “no alcohol community” banner whilst half heartedly attempting combating flies. They were a friendly bunch, open for a chat and informed me that they had taken a vote on the alcohol consumption allowed in the town and each person is allowed a quoata per week in the local shop….or as many light beers as you chose! The children were full of the joys of spring and seemed a rather healthy bunch with glowing eyes, bright teeth and shining hair….all seemed well there but there was no denying that overriding hint of depression tainted the air. I know little of the situation in the town and was there for too short a time to comment but boredom seemed an overriding factor in the daily lives of the adults.
They spoke in their local language but for my benefit they switched to English which I ywas very touched by. The topic of the conversation was “guess the father” of the girl who was 7 months heavily pregnant at the tender age of 16. Neither the expectant mother nor her mother seemed the least bit put out by the taunts of the locals youths at their identification inabilities. As to whether this is a common situation I was too shy/polite to inquire.
Although many a night was spent with my shadow and the flies for company, there are also a lot of state “bush camps” along the desert road. Campsite is a rather exaggerated description but they were however often in a delightfully shaded area well of the road ….at least visually but not audibly. Some even boasted a water –tank which I got so excited about one would think it was a free bar. Other amenities include bins, picnic tables and occasionally a WC which suffers pungently from drought….but one cant have everything! In terms of socialising in the desert these bush camps were the equivalent of your local pub on a Saturday night!
Mungo National Park.
Its hard to know what day it is when you are travelling but in the desert with no access to electricity, radio or newspaper its damn impossible. That said judging by my diary entry Day 8 of the Nullarbor crossing was a memorable one as I wrote “ Today the bottle of ketchup ended…a travesty in the culinary department of this expedition.. I then adopted plan B and optimistically added the already stale buns to the soup in the hope of bringing them back from the dead but still a great degree of mastication was required. On the upside it made me eat slower fooling my stomach into thinking it was full….sadly the trick ended 10km down the road however” It was an eventful day….
Day 9 was also not without it’s moments with this further extract from my diary “I awoke to the sound of a kettle whistling this morning where I immediately tried to attach the sound to a bird. Moments later I realised it came from the caravan parked beside me…...i’m not used to such mod-cons!”
The desert isn’t instantly gratifying but is constantly changing in an intriguing way. Only by the speed of a bicycle can you train your eye to spot and cherish the finer details. On reaching Penong this point was never truer as I spotted a solitary sheep. Not of any significance to the average person but to me it signalled that I was entering farmland and thus exiting the last of the Nullarbor plain. Coming from a sheep farm I never thought I would get excited at the sight of a sheep but this comic ewe appeared strangely domestic –almost demure- amidst its raw harsh landscape….most importantly however it meant a shop was near!
Looks like a screensaver doesn't it?
Once exiting the desert it was clean sailing through Port Augusta to Adelaide. The city of churches isn’t quite a mega city but truly cosmopolitan in comparison to the towns I’d passed through in prior weeks where the CBD was a bar-come-grocery at best. A recurring theme in my travels is an “episode” of some form during each journey. Pedalling away merrily outside Adelaide I had my head down struggling against the headwind. Lucking up briefly I glimpsed a truck tyre headed my way. Performing admirable acrobatics I did my best to avoid its wrath but it clipped my rear tyre and sent me head first chewing the dirt. When i had composed myself and dragged myself from the ditch, mid thought of "ok what now" a St.John of Ambulance pulled up and swiftly relocated my dislocated shoulder. Drama averted. It's at times like this it's hard not to believe in guardian angels!
When I hit the blue mountains I was reacquainted with my unfamiliar fiend of late…rain! Unzipping my tent one morning in my groggy state I presumed I was on a boat with a thick mist surrounding me and the ground not yet visible….a leisurely breakfast was called for in anticipation of being able to see further than my hand and for motorists to be able to see me at all! For once a plausible reason for a lingering breakfast!
With Christmas looming, decorations melting in shop windows and an invitation of a break from my one pot wonder stove treats I made a dart for Sydney to join my cousin for Christmas dinner….the “dart” aspect being more metaphorical than physical! Despite my best efforts the headwind was to win over my stomachs demands. After 6 days of persistent headwind (I think you are noticing a pattern at this stage) I had to admit defeat when my recently dislocated shoulder decided to wander after an excessive day of crosswinds.
When one chooses a location for Christmas day a hospital normally doesn’t feature in the top 10 list. Secretly I was a little excited at the prospect of Santa making a visit but to my disgust I awoke to my neighbouring patient coughing and not to the sound of Santa’s sleigh. Who would have known Santa was so ageist and only visits the children’s ward….I guess its recession cutbacks by the elf’s! Oh well after the concoction of valium and codeine the whole day was a bit of a dreamy blur anyway!
Oranges in the citrus capital outside the Barossa Valley.
Some girl and Shivy an erm....employee of the Brothel.
With a few days of physiotherapy and promises of no “extreme physical activity” (a loose term I think!) I hit the road again -Sydney bound equipped with my exercise plan for my shoulder and an eagerness not to spend New Years in my tent with possums for companay! A humble description of my final day towards Sydney through the Blue mountains would be that I may have underestimated the gradient of the mountains. That said after the pancake flat desert the slightest incline had me gasping for air. I had been warned they were “bloody steep” and “struff, you’re game! Are you looking for a heart attack” and to be fair they were not quite the exaggerated descriptions I had hoped for. 140km later after having to stop sporadically on more than one occasion for monsoon type rain which limited my visibility to my nose, I eventually entered the Sydney suburbs at the unsocial hour of 11pm.
Rather a lot of this scenery on the hay plains!
Immediately one realizes that Sydney is home to many aspiring racing car drivers as they use the streets as a racing track making the cyclist less inclined to admire the view and more inclined to keep their eyes on the asphalt. Arriving on a Friday night during Christmas holidays meant that the majority of my verbal GPS (passers by) were predominantly under the influence and had me embarking on a wild goose chase which after an hour had me utterly disorientated. One would think the harbour bridge and the opera house would be orientation enough for the half blind but when a case of the knocks (hit the wall as they say) overcame me all rational thinking failed and rendered me useless. It’s bazaar that I always get the knocks so close to my destination….as if the body knows it’s almost there! I used to compare the 7/11 shops in Thailand to a skin rash overtaking the country but I quite literally ate my words as I scoffed muffins like “Tic Tacs” and a coffee later I was off as the crow flies through the tunnel towards Bondi….the fact that there was no toll for bicycles should be indication enough that bicycles were not allowed but I was beyond caring at the point. To further add to the drama at about 3am (an unholy hour to planting yourself on someone’s doorstep as a guest) I arrived at my cousin Rory’s place in Bondi……to date the most ungraceful/unplanned entry to a city. I really could have spent my time better perusing maps while lounging in the hospital!
The infamous harbour bridge!
Fearing I would become decadent if I stayed any longer in a room to myself, with a bed , not to mention reacquainting myself with mod cons like a fridge, TV and microwave. With a little resistance in the form of a drawn out moan I was reunited with my gilted, neglected tent and hit the mountains again en-route to Canberra. First night outside of Sydney I made Campeltown and found the campsite full (damn scouts) and ended up pitching my home next to a kind farmers shed….but more memorably beside a busy main road and a stream.(every camper knows a stream means midges) Attacking mosquitoes, swarming midges, squawking unidentifiable birds, howling dogs, chocking truck engines and rain hammering on my wilting tent…..not a receipt for a perfect nights sleep. Boy did I turn to putty in Sydney!
My journey around the world was not intended to break any records but on arriving at the Irish Embassy in Canberra it would appear I am the first Irish citizen to successfully collect their passport by bicycle….ah it’s the small feats that keep us going! I have an allergy to Red tape and form filling which seems to worsen the more I travel and had my passport not been there I fear I would have broken out in hives!
I left Canberra through the mountains of Wee Jasper (it was the name that intrigued me to be honest) but quickly realized I really had lost my mountain legs on off road gravel tracks since their finely tuned days in Asia. My first reaction to the route was that the road engineers were obviously feeling suicidal, matricidal and mulicidal…As I leant on my handlebars as if it were a Zimmer frame I felt I could actually hear my heart beating. That said a road without the menace of road-trains would be my road of choice despite its vertical orientation.
Woke up thinking I was on a boat but the mist eventually cleared to give me this before I pedalled off!
Thankfully the route through the mountains to Melbourne is abundant in National Parks…and in the cyclist eyes National Parks mean accommodation by way of their incorporated campgrounds. One morning outside Wodonga I had the audience of the Winniebago brigade who had camped beside me. Quite tongue tied at a solitary cyclist they chose to analyse as opposed to converse as I set about cleaning up camp. Well they might stare as I am frequently impressed at my daily miracle of fitting a quart into a tiny pot. Although my possessions are meagre I still carry a kitchen (stove and pot) home (tent) central heating (sleeping bag and silk liner) communications department (laptop and pone) sound system (ipod) entertainment (books and external HD) and my publication team (SLR camera and video camera) not to mention my bathroom (washbag) and wardrobe (2 changes of clothes). A true Mary Poppins if you will!
Sadly the roadsides of Australia are carpeted in ice-coffee, cola cans, energy drinks and takeaway wrappers. In Asia the food was a representation of the environment and culture you were in. When near the Mekong river fish was on the menu, in the mountainous regions they became more resourceful when decorating their plate of rice with budgie, blood cubes, spiders and anything else with a heart beat and certain religions wiped the menu of various meats. The language of food tells a lot about the country. The Australian roadside cuisine seemed to be a representation of consumerism and a fast paced life. That said the majority of the traffic is from road trains and is therefore not a fair representation of the population but it did stand as a startling representation of consumerism in comparison to Asia. Sadly I quickly discovered I am a consumer by nature myself and after staring at ice-coffee bottles for hours on end I had developed insatiable cravings which unfortunately had no chance of being satisfied in the dessert! Mercifully enough there was no mad industrious ice-coffee seller on the Nullarbor where the economics of supply and demand would have left me bankrupt!
George lake never quite materialized into the blue blob on my map....turns out its a dry lake!
Strewn on the side of the roads throughout Australia were shreds of truck tyres. Not an alarming sight at first but then when one stares at them all day you start to wonder how they get there. Mid thought I hear a banging-flapping sound coming from a truck coming up my rear. The truck driver put the road train on shut down and stopped about 500m in front of me. With the casual ease of a driver who obviously has had much practice of flinging shredded tyres by the wayside, muttered “Damn roo’s” and jumped back in his cab. As I chocked on the burning rubber I could see the kangaroos bones protruding from the tyre. A case of swings and roundabouts really -the kangaroo gets hit by truck and then their bones rip the tyres of the truck!
The locals are particularly fond of highlighting the extremities of their country. To their credit they are right. There are indeed many species of wildlife to be cautious of, flooding, drought, bushfires. The extremity I was constantly reminded of was how vast the country is “ah this country is so vast, you backpackers have no idea”….evidently cycling across the country didn’t qualify as a means to appreciating the vastness of the country!
I really can’t emphasise enough how the Australians ironed out any creases in my journey. They truly have an inherent characteristic to sooth any travellers woes and acted as my support crew throughout my journey.(literally and metaphorically in their caravans and winniebago’s) Their generosity and true concern for my well being was very touching on more than one occasion, they will never know how much an encouraging “Good on ya” or “Fair play, you’re keen” comment means on a day with gale force winds and searing heat!
Another day, another sunset!
Yet another epic sunset