Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Tuesday 23rd December:-

Well, it's been 2 weeks since I arrived back home from Sydney (pictured above). Apologies for those waiting for the final installment, but I thought it right to spend a couple of weeks deep in reflection before the final 'inspirational' summary??

Back to Sydney - Having finally reached Tim & Jo's house, late on the Friday night (day 12), it was great to wake up on the Saturday morning knowing that I didn't need to venture anywhere near the bike and I celebrated with a big mug of hot tea and a non-muesli based bowl of cereal. Great surprise as well - I didn't realise but Jen & Ad had flown all the way up from Melbourne for the weekend - great to see them again! (45 minutes flight as opposed to 82 hour cycle!)

It was a very chilled weekend in Sydney and it was great to finally relax:-

Kid's birthday party Sat am:-

very important of course here in Australia to stay rehydrated through the day:-

Male bonding around Manly North Head Sat pm:-

The newly weds:-

What the hell is that!?!:-

and I did get a little homesick when we wandered past Shelly Beach (add a little concrete, a few scallies and some smatterings of dog sh*t and you can start to see a little bit of Moreton Shore there, yes?):-

Why Tim & Jo like it here - I've no idea!?! I used to think Tim lived in 'Manly' because he was possibly struggling with his own sexual identity and needed to reinforce himself with as many positive heterosexual affirmations as possible... but I now realise that it is probably because Manly truly is a great spot to be based!

But after 3 and a half weeks away from home, I was desperate to get back and be with Sally, Tom and Lucy. So, after an awesome weekend in Sydney, Monday came and it was time to wrap this adventure up and head back to where I belong - back home to my family in Greasby!

I hopped onto Manly ferry, took approximately 100 pictures as I passed the Sydney Opera House:-

and made my way to the airport.

A quick scoot round the airport shops to load up on some Australian memorabilia (please tell me those aren't Liverpool football shirts?) and I'm good to go!

Now, for many, the prospect of being sat on a plane for 28 hours may not be their idea of a good time - but for me, I couldn't have been more excited! A successful trip away was now drawing to a close and 1 stag-do, 1 best-man's wedding duties and 1 bicycle tour later and well... I had nothing left to plan, nothing left to organise and nothing left to fret over - I was filled with an extremely warm feeling of satisfaction and contentment - 28 hours sat on a plane, seats with a surface area 30x greater than a bike saddle, maybe a beer or 3, read a book, watch a movie, catch a few zzzz's - oh yes, BRING IT ON!!!....

...but not for the 1st time on this trip, with the end in sight (10 minutes until boarding and 40 minutes until the flight was due to take-off) - the proverbial century just a single run away - and despite getting to the airport with over 3 hours to spare (a personal record in being organised, Sally you would have been most impressed), and....

...I missed my flight!

I'm not really too sure what exactly happened at 5.05pm on Monday the 8th of December... but it was a bit like that horse in the National 50yrs ago - got round the 30 fences no problem, into the home straight, victory assured and then, with no warning, inexplicably buckling with yards to go and collapsing to a heap onto the ground.

As possibly one of the fittest people in the airport that day, it was ironic (to say the least) to be told that I would NOT be allowed to board the flight as I was 'unfit' to fly...

Maybe it was the excitement of being only 40 mintues away from personal nirvana, maybe it was chronic exhaustion after a hectic few weeks, maybe there was a little dehydration issue from a weekend with several beers and some champagne knocking around, I've got a funny feeling that a tuna sandwich from the cafe an hour before may have had something to do with it, but whatever it was I suddenly cramped up, fell to the floor in foetal position frog-breathing for the next breath, perspiring profusely and (apparently) going as white as a sheet, before paramedics arrived ("quick, there's a guy having a heart attack" - the message they received!) - 10 minutes and 2 bottles of water later, and I was fine! but it was too late, I wasn't allowed onto the flight.... not without having a medical 1st to prove my fitness!!!

...and so, as Qantas flight QF31 accelerated down the runway, London bound, yours truly was being unceremoniously wheelchaired out of Sydney airport to the taxi rank whereupon I was driven around the Sydney suburbs attempting to find a medical centre that would be open at 6.30pm...

...at 8.40pm, I emerged from an 'interesting' (apparently medical) establishment, complete with diagnosis (colic!) and the all clear to go ahead with a 'fitness to fly' certificate - wahoo! and for all those females reading this, it's not easy being a bloke you know!

So, with pride slightly dented, I returned to Sydney airport and thanks to the Herculean efforts of Brad (the Qantas airport manager and my 1st Brad of the trip, to go along with 1 Bruce, 1 Rod but no Sheilas in the Australian 'I spy' name game), I boarded the next flight out of Sydney, albeit to a slightly off-axis destination:-

but nevertheless, heading 'sort of' towards home!

And what a great flight back - the Japanese, renowned for their politeness, respect and compact frames, meant that the flight was a far more pleasurable experience than being crammed in to a Boeing 747 with 550 pis*ed up lardy Brits! A 5 hour stop-over in Toyko, 12 more hours on a flight with 2 spare seats to the side of me to Heathrow, a 3 hr wait at Heathrow, connecting flight back to Manchester, 1 lost luggage bag and the necessary forms filled in, blow up Skippy kanagaroo at the ready, Australian hat complete with corks in position, and I walked through the customs doors to be greeted by my family!

A fantastic trip to Australia? - unquestionably YES! Great to catch up with old friends?- undeniably YES! but glad to be back home with Sally and the kids? Unbeatable!

and so here we are, back home in Greasby:-

The Ugg slippers, inflatable Skippy, chocolate TamTams, a red T-Shirt with 'Australia' written on the back and - all the way from Australia (cough, cough) - the Star Wars DVD trilogy for Tom (i.e. Dad) and all is well with the family!

11 hours after returning home, after a broken night's sleep with coughing and spluttering children up and down all night, and I am outside de-icing the car in preparation for the 20 minute drive to work. I have never felt happier..

1 hour later, in work and happiness rapidly diminishing back to normal levels, and I pause for reflection - 1342km on a bike in 12 days, with a bike loaded up to the hilt, was it really that hard? Or was it possibly one of the easiest 2 weeks I have had for a long time!

Yes, it was physically demanding and mentally draining. But, it allowed me to experience all the wholesome things about life - the beauty of the outdoors, the diversity of the nature, the power of the elements, the spirit existing within communities, the friendliness of good people, freedom from paperwork and phonecalls and emails, freedom from decision making (other than 'steak pie' or 'steak and bacon pie'?), a daily sense of achievement, the spirit of adventure, the basics of life - shelter, warmth, food, water - that's all I needed to think about for 12 days? just the necessities... getting from A to B in 1 piece, that's all I had to do...

The Australians call it Walkabout... a chance to escape from the routine, head into the empty wilderness and empty the body and soul of built up trash.

I would recommend it.

..although, maybe one doesn't need to travel to the far side of the planet to experience - Manly ferry one week, Mersey ferry the next:-

(Yes, the brakes were on!)

Eucalyptus trees one week, Xmas trees the next:-

Freeze your bits off on the top of Mt Kosciuscko one week, or 10 degrees warmer on the top of Moel Famau the next:-

Refreshing ice cold lager one week, heart-warming real ale the next!!

On which note, maybe this is a good point to stop, so cheers everybody

Cheers for reading, cheers for posting comments, cheers for being there in spirit - I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I did

Until the next walkabout?


Saturday, 6 December 2008

Day 11 & 12 - the final day?

Thursday 4th December, Day 11:-

An early start on the bike has to be postponed when I get up at 7am and quickly discover I can hardly walk (R achilles). I hobble downstairs and, instead, have a humungous breakfast of every possible conceivable breakfast item - maybe I just need to stock up on all the vitamins and minerals that a glass of orange juice, a bowl of muesli, a fresh fruit salad, some wholegrain toast and er.. a full greasy English breakfast fry-up can provide?

I ponder my options - there is a railway station here that has a direct train to Sydney... hmm. I have 220 -240kms left to cycle. Friday (tomorrow) is the deadline I have set myself - 1200 kms in 12 days was the original plan, although the distance will be at least 1300km. Tim (pal from Sydney) has arranged to join me for the final leg tomorrow and there is a meal and beers/wine ready for arrival Friday evening - I can't be late! I decide to visit the pharmacist for some ibuprofens.

Loading the bike up with the panniers, I realise that there is quite an important screw missing from the bike - I thought it was rattling around a bit yesterday? Bundanoon is only a small town, high up in the Southern Uplands of New South Wales... but it does bizarrely have a bike shop. I take the bike in to be fixed and spend a good 30mins chatting with Fiona, Geoff and Wendy about cycling here and in Europe. Yet again, more friendly Australians to add to all the others I have already met since being over here:-

By 10.15am the bike is fixed, the ibuprofens have kicked in and I am raring to go! I quickly catch the weather forecast - "Wind from the east this morning, 'freshening' from the north-east this afternoon, especially along the coast". What a surprise - the 1st 50kms this morning are heading east, then the next 70kms this afternoon are north-east, with the last 30kms running along the coast - marvellous...

The landscape changes today. Gum and eucalyptus trees make way for a more English-type vista, with lush trees, green fields, dandelions and winding hedgerows. The post boxes are still very much Australian though:-

The air is cooler and less oppresive, the scenery more varied and interesting than previous days and I enjoy the morning ride to Fitzroy Falls, deep in the Morton National Park:-

This place is amazing and I stop here to explore for an hour before heading north-east to Robertson, a small village located on the edge of the Illawara escarpement. Once famous for it's temperate rainforests and cheese production, it is now more famous for...

The World's BIGGEST potato! I shake my head with a hint of dismay... before taking the obligatory half a dozen photos from various angles of course.

I stop at the CT (community technology) centre and chat with Monica, the manager, whilst using the internet and updating the blog. However, time passes by and before I know it, it is 5pm! and I still have 60kms to get to Wollongong. That'll leave me 130kms on the final day tomorrow, ouch, hardly the relaxed amble along the Champs Elysées that I would have ideally envisaged.

I pedal hard through the hilly Jamberoo National Park and by dusk catch a 1st glimpse of the Pacific Ocean! I am 20kms south of Wollongong and heading along the treacherous Princes Highway before finally arriving in Wollongong at 9.30pm.

I have to give it to the Australian's. When it comes to anything with an incline, they don't flaff around with their words. I have cycled along half a dozen 'Hill Roads', struggled up several 'Big Hill's, and when it comes to mountains, they give them names such as 'Mount Difficult' or 'Mount Buggery' (it's true - you can Google them!). But whilst being renound for their straight-talking-no-bulls**t approach to naming, it is also good to see that the Aussie's do also have a sensitive side...

"Hello, is that 13 1114? Yep, Hi - Saw your advert on the side of the road? Yeah, I've got a really sore backside... Reckon you can help me out??"

...and whilst we're on the subject of strange signs:-

...a little harsh I feel! I've met some very nice Australian's since I've been here

But, back to today. I hang out in the centre of Wollongong and grab some food. It's Friday night and the boy racers are in town - suped up cars with lowered suspension, huge spoilers, neon lights and the coolest signs in town - the stick on P plates, haha, welcome back to city life!

I decide not to stick around but carry on in the dark and cycle another 20kms north, along the beach, before finally arriving at a motel in Thirroul at 11.47pm. The tent trick works a treat once again and I negotiate a good rate, including breakfast, before watching some mind numbing TV until 2am

START:- Bundanoon, 10.17am
FINISH:- Thirroul, 11.47pm
DISTANCE:- 126.42 km
CYCLING TIME:- 8hrs 03mins 19s
AVERAGE SPEED:- 15.7 km/h
MAXIMUM SPEED:- 71.3 km/h
TOTAL DISTANCE:- 1233.6 km
TOTAL TIME:- 75hrs 27mins 22s

Friday 5th December, Day 12 - the final day?

I wake early. I can sense the anticipation. The FINAL day, the end in sight (Sydney suburbs are only 50kms away) and, for the 1st time, I feel that I am going to make it! A buzz tingles down my spine. It has been a tiring journey, a constant battle against the elements and the terrain. To average over 100 kms a day sounded straight-forward. But the hills, the heat, the headwinds, the weight of the bike & panniers, the freak storms, the cold, the tiredness, the inadequate preparation, the injuries, the dehydration, the lack of shade, the emptiness, the quiet, the isolation, the loneliness and not forgetting the magpie attacks (don't laugh, it's true) - they have compounded to make some days feel like a life sentence!

I focus on cycling up to the Sydney Opera House... it's an image that I have dreamt about for several weeks, but over recent days have feared would not happen... but today I am going to achieve my goal!!

...or so I think?

The days starts well enough with a beautiful 18km ride up the coast. To my right, pristine white beaches and the Pacific Ocean surf. To my left, the steep vertical escarpment of the Eastern edge of the Great Dividing Range Mountains, the 4th longest mountain range in the world (?!) stretching more than 3,500km from the northeastern tip of Queensland, down the entire length of the eastern coastline, through New South Wales and into Victoria:-

The road is exceedingly undulating, but adrenaline powers me along as I head to Otford train station to meet Tim. It will be 40kms from there, through the Royal National Park (2nd oldest national park in the world, apparently..) to reach the southern suburbs. Another 35kms should bring us to the harbour and to the end of the road - the Sydney Opera House

...but fate deals a cruel blow as I round the final corner before arriving at Otford station, when an acute snapping sound forces me to a skidding stop. I look down. A couple of spokes have broken and the rear wheel, from nowhere, has suddenly buckled into a mangled mess of metal!

Bugger... I don't know what to do but the bike can't be be ridden, the wheel won't make a complete revolution anymore. I glance at the watch. After a late start this morning, it is already 12.15pm. 90kms to go, and a bike that won't move. Tim arrives shortly after, all keen for an afternoon's cycling on a precious Friday afternoon off work. I break the news to him that after 1,250kms of zero problems, I am going to have to return to Thirroul to get the wheel replaced. On the plus side, we are only 100m from a train station (the chances of that happening in Australia are minute). Several trains pass without stopping (this is a minor station ) before we hop on the 1.30pm train back to where I started this morning. Kate, in the bike shop, does a stirling job in squeezing us in and fixing up a new wheel, despite a heavy workload and at 3.50pm we re-arrive back at Otford St - right 90kms to go, half through undulating bushland, the other half through the busiest city in Australia, and it'll be dark in 4hrs! We set off:-

After another hour, Tim starts whincing - not too sure what he is up to here though:-

but the pot of Vaseline is out... Caption competition anyone?

We are making reasonable time, but it is unlikely we will make Sydney Opera House until it is dark. I may have had a buckled wheel, but other than that it has been 1,300kms without a puncture and without having to even pump up my tyres! Tim, however had a puncture in the bike shop (admittedly my fault) and then another on the Prince's Highway, heh-heh

At 7.15pm, we catch our 1st glimpse of the city - it appears to be absolutely miles away, but at least it is in sight. Tim leads the way as we tour through the southern suburbs, taking in such delights as St George's River, Botany Bay.... and the Sydney airport freight terminal!? The light is fading fast, but the city skyline slowly but surely gets more and more magnified.

At 9pm we are close to the city centre - it is Friday night and the place is alive and buzzing! My heart beats faster and faster, I can't believe we are so close... we dart and thread, twisting and turning between buses and taxis, jumping red lights, mounting pavements, anything and everything to get there:-

Even Tim, who spends his whole working week down here adjacent to the harbour, is excited as we veer round the final corner, through the masses of people wining and dining, across and down 1, 2 more pavements and BANG! dun-dun-darghhh - there she is..

in all her full resplendant glory, the most iconic and recognisable building in the whole world (ok so I'm getting a little carried away!).. the SYDNEY - OPERA - HOUSE!

There ensues some hardcore fisting action (?), a few photos:-

and realising that this is the end of the road... a small tear

...well maybe not quite the end of the road. The goal was to cycle from Ad and Jen's house in Melbourne to Tim and Jo's house in Sydney, which is still 16kms away. Time is pressing. We cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge and proceed through the hilliest city known to man, jeez these hills are steep. Tim has a brief scare as he hits accelerates in the pitch black darkness and unfortunately slams into a hidden raised kerb square-on and flies over the front of his handlebars into a crumpled heap on the floor - I also crumple onto the floor, but from laughter, sorry mate that was bloody funny!

Pride bruised, but nothing more, Tim is back on the bike - there are only a few kms to go and we are surging along on pure adrenaline.

And then at 10.48pm, 12 days and 1342.8km after setting off from Ad's house, with 72 minutes left to spare, we arrive at Tim's house and (tears welling up once again) the end of this Melbourne to Sydney cycle journey:-

It's finally over... and I am ecstatic!

We celebrate with a couple of ice cold beers and some fantastic homemade pizza, courtesy of Jo (Tim's wife) - and it feels good... it feels SO good

START:- Thirroul, 10.30am
FINISH:- Tim and Jo's house, Manly Vale, northern Sydney, 10.48pm
DISTANCE:- 109.2 km
CYCLING TIME:- 6hrs 48mins 27s
AVERAGE SPEED:- 16.0 km/h
MAXIMUM SPEED:- 68.8 km/h

TOTAL DISTANCE:- 1,342.8 km
TOTAL TIME:- 82hrs 15mins 49s

Thank you all for reading and for supporting this blog. You're positive comments and words of encouragement have kept me going, particularly through those days in and around Canberra when things weren't great

I fly back tomorrow and will look forward to boring you senseless with all the stories! I will be writing one final entry into this blog upon my return.

But for now, thank you and Good Night!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Day 10

Wednesday 3rd December, Day 10:-

It's a beautiful morning as I set off from the Loaded Dog pub in Tarago:-

This morning I am heading to Goulburn and after an hour or so I pass the 1,000km milestone (or kilometrestone):-

Now, almost all Australian cities/towns/villages have some sort of claim to fame, whether it be the 1st this, or possessing the longest that, or the biggest the other, etc. (I remember visiting a village in Tasmania once that lay claim to having the most 'south-easterly' post office in the whole of Australia - wow!?!). Anyway, Goulburn's claim to fame is that it was Australia's first INLAND city?? Developed nearly 200 yrs, a railway was built here because of these things:-

We are now deep into sheep-shearing country! and more specifically the Merino sheep - famous for its wool, sent from here back in the 19th century, via the railway, to Sydney and on to be exported all over the world.

However, whilst there are plenty of sheep around, there are a few cattle 'lying' around as well (yes, it is real):-

I think this one must have been cycling a long distance! - it reminds me of what I musy have looked like lying next to the Merino highway yesterday - motionless with legs as stiff as a board. There is a funny smell around here? Not sure why...

Anyway, I cycle the 35kms into Goulburn and head for the tourist information centre. Whilst walking around in there, my eye catches a postcard and I'm forced to do a double-take... I examine the postcard, and gasp as I recognise the picture - I must have been here before on my travels here back in 1997?! I take the postcard over to the desk and make an enquiry to the lady there. She gives me the information I need and I head the 4 kms out of town to reacquaint myself with....

...the big Merino! - the biggest sheep in the world!! (Goulburn's 2nd claim to fame)

But that's not all, Goulburn also has something else - Australia's oldest surviving industrial complex - wahoooo!! The fact that it is a working brewery makes me decide that this place warrants further investigation, so I take a trip to Goulburn Brewery. I am in luck, the man who owns it is in the reception - Reverend Father Michael O'Halloran! I chuckle to myself and proceed to take the tour. Part of the entrance fee is a complimentary tasting... which I duly take part in. The stout is lovely and I order a pot to have with a spot of lunch before heading off:-

I am trying to make it to Bundanoon this afternoon, another 80kms away. It is very hot and very sunny - not the sort of day condusive to lunch-time drinking followed by a dehydrating cycling exercise. Never mind - I pedal on... and on... and on... My waterbottle level goes down... and down... and down... until suddenly I am in the middle of nowhere and I am clean out of fluids. I had been banking on Bungonia having a shop, but it doesn't and I realise that I have another 18kms to go until the next village - that'll mean I will have cycled nearly 90kms in searing heat with only 2 water bottles, 3 swigs of a variety of Goulburn Brewery's finest and a pot of stout, hmm...

...fortunately I still have the other half a pack of sour snakes from the other day, and I ration myself to 1 every km. As each sour snake hits the back of the mouth, I manage to generate just enough saliva to keep me from collapsing into a dehydrated coma! Eventually, arriving at Marulan I spend $15 on drinks...

30kms to go. The legs are obviusly tired, but it is the right achilles that is giving me a real problem and I find I can't stand up to pedal due to the pain. That makes hills even more difficult and I find that I walk up the majority of steep inclines:-

With 8 kms to go to Bundanoon, just as I am losing the will to live, a car overtakes me, screeches to a halt and 4 people jump out. The guy driving comes running over to me waving his arms and shouting at me - 'oh great, that's all I need - abduction!', I think to myself, although the idea of sitting in the back of a car and being driven off somewhere does have SOME appeal.

As it happens, he's saying "we're cyclist, we're cyclists!", and we proceed to have a great chat about both my own trip and their trip they have just completed in Europe along the River Danube. Having not spoken to many people to today and feeling a little dispondant, I really valued their passion and enthusiam and it spurred me on for the final 8 kms, before finally arriving into Bundanoon!

START:- Tarago, 7.30am
FINISH:- Bundanoon, 7.40pm
DISTANCE:- 132.15km
AVERAGE SPEED:- 16.9 km/h
MAXIMUM SPEED:- 55.2 km/h
CYCLING TIME:- 7hrs 48mins 00s

TOTAL DISTANCE:- 1,107.1 km
TOTAL TIME:- 67hrs 24mins 03s

Day 9 photos

A few pics from Canberra, day 9:-

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Day 9

Tuesday December 2nd, Day 9:-

(no photos, sorry - on dial up internet!)

I'm up at 5am and following a quick goodbye to the lads, I'm pedalling by 6.11am. It was freezing last night and my sleeping bag was damp (probably from the Dead Horse experience - and if you are new to this blog, that's not what it seems - please read day 6!). It's a clear morning, but cold and I have 4 layers on!

Early morning tends to be pretty calm wind wise. This is so for 45minutes, but then the North-westerly rears up again and my heart sinks - back to battling along the Monaro freeway. 55kms north still to go to Canberra, ouch

The road continues with its excessive undulations, and after 42kms I can take no more and pull over and collapse on the side of the highway. I drift in and out of consciousness - a combination of a poor nights sleep, general tiredness and 5 bottles of XXXX! I lie there for 15mins until I am woken by "You OK?" - a bloke has stopped on the highway to make sure I'm not dead! I sit up, brush the 200 insects/arachnids off and contemplate what to say.... "Yeah fine, cheers" - he can tell I am lying, but he acknowledges and drives off.

I force myself back on the bike and battle the next 13kms into the centre of Canberra.

Canberra is clean, modern, efficient and spacious with wide boulevards and open spaces. It gets bad press as being dull and full of bureaucrats, but I take an instant liking to it - probably because I can stop pedalling for a while!

I go straight to Capital Hill, where the Australian Government is based, and I book onto the tour. It's air-conditioned and it doesn't involve expending energy so I am happy. I treat myself to a birthday lunch in the government cafe and sit outside on the roof eating chicken pasta.

Still got 70kms to go to Tarago, my destination for this evening. I spend 3 more hours swanning around the capital, putting off leaving for as long as possible. Eventually, I can put off the inevitable no longer and I set off again and head north. The wind has moved around to the west and there is some respite...

...at 8.15pm I draw into the small, rural, unassuming town of Torago. I head straight to the 1 pub and order a 'little Cascade'. Whilst I miss my pint of real ale, you can't beat an ice cold schooner of Aussie lager at the end of a hot and tiring day! The menu has a mixed grill with steak, chops, sauasges, eggs, chips, etc, etc. for $25 - bargain! I order 1, but the barman tells me Tuesday is chef's day off - doh! He agrees to 'cook' me a cheese toastie though.

The pub is quiet and I chat with Peter (barman) "it's where Toyota filmed the Toyota Torago advert" he tells me. I'm impressed.

I do my usual 3 questions to try and get a bargain rate room:-

"Looking to put my tent up, any ideas where I can?"
"You actually do rooms here, do you?"
"Not that I'm interested, but what do you charge for a basic room?"

"$35? I'LL TAKE IT!" (15 pounds with brekkie, bargain)

...there's no way I can be bothered with the whole tent thing tonight!

START:- Michelago, 6.11am
FINISH:- Torago, 8.15pm
AVERAGE SPEED:- 16.7 km/h
MAXIMUM SPEED:- 76.7 km/h
CYCLING TIME:- 7hrs 40mins 23s

TOTAL TIME:- 59hrs 36mins 3s

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Day 7 & 8

(1st of all, many thanks for all your comments and best wishes - I look forward to them everyday and they are very much appreciated!)

Sunday November 30th, Day 7:-

I LOVE Thredbo and want to spend at least a week here! It is like a mini Chamonix, busy with skiing in the winter and walking/biking in the summer.

Today though is a "rest" day...

ah, maybe chill out with a coffee and the newspapers?


Maybe read one of the 4 books I have brought with me, but failed to read one page yet?


How about 9 holes at Australia's highest golf course?

erm?.... No

I know, let's climb Australia's highest mountain?


I make a quick enquiry - apparently it is -5 degrees at the top, but it should warm up to -3 degrees later on! The memories of yesterday are cast aside and we take the ski lift up part of the way. This in itself is a surreal experiance? Last week, sweltering heat in dry, arid farming land with kangaroos and flies - today, on a chair lift, going over ski runs, hat and gloves on and not a marsupial or insect in sight.

There is a checklist at the top of the chairlift and the beginning of the walk:-

Er?... No, no, no, yes, yes, no, and no!

We walk the 13km return route to the top, where in deed it is freezing cold and visibility is non-existant. For a few moments, we are the highest people in the whole of Australia, yeah!:-

After the walk, Mark and Phil pack and head back to Melbourne - it's a 7hr drive for them. It's been great having them around and I have thoroughly enjoyed their company.

I am at a loose end once they have gone and decide to polish off another 35kms and head down the valley to Jindabyne. The wind is with me and it is a comfortable ride down. I book into the Snowy mountain backpackers, and head out for a steak and chips and a glass of Tooheys.

START:- Thredbo, 6.20pm
FINISH:- Jindabybe, 8.20pm
DISTANCE:- 37.56 km
AVERAGE SPEED:- 21.2 km/h
MAXIMUM SPEED:- 73.9km/h
CYCLING TIME:- 1hr 46mins 18s
TOTAL TIME:- 44hrs 27mins 9s
Monday 1st December, Day 8:-
Today is the 1st day of Australia's summer!
However, it's grey, raining and blowing a gale - marvellous!
I'm up early and on the bike before 7am. Time is pressing and I still have along way to go!
taking into account the extra distance at the start and end (door-2-door remember now) and the 20km detour in Wangaratta, I reckon that the total distance will more likely be 1,300kms. That's almost 600kms more to go in only 5 days...
Today is a day of 2 halves. The 1st 65kms, the wind (from the NW) is off my left shoulder as I head east. Despite constant undulating terrain, I polish off the 65kms to Cooma in 3hrs. At Cooma I turn to head North - 120kms north to Canberra!
It is bloody hard going with the NW wind. I guess it is gusting up to 60kms/h and it keeps blowing me across the road. The road is single lane all the way and has huge logging trucks and other 40m lorries thundering along. The terrain is a repetetive cycle of 3kms up, 3kms down, 3 kms up, 3kms down, etc. There is no shelter at all from the wind and I struggle for nearly over 4.5hrs to cycle 65kms. The scenery is beautiful with mountain ranges to either side, but I am oblivious as I concentrate on maintaining my course on the L side of the raod. By 8pm, I am physically and mentally exhausted and for the 1st time, I consider packing in. The wind is unrelenting and if it remains from the North over the next few days I won't make it to Sydney. My bike and gear weigh about 40kgs. That's over 30kgs more than what old Lance rides. No wonder they can steam up the hills. They want to try having 20 Le Creuset Omlette Pans strapped to the back of their bike! Then they would see how tough it is...
At 8pm I pause and chew over the options. The sun is setting and the sky turns an amazing colour.
I'm stuck in the middle of the highway in the middle of nowhere, its getting dark and my spirits are exceptionally low...
I keep pedalling, my feet ache, my achilles tendons are killing me, my legs are sore, the knees stiff and the backside, well - I lost the feeling there about a week ago!
A sign shows that there is a fuel stop in 2kms at a place called Michelago. I pedal on and arrive 15mins later.
Feeling sorry for myself, my day is about to take a huge turn for the better! I pull into the garage and there is a Motel just up the hill. I wander up and there are 3 blokes outside drinking beer and cooking on a gas stove. The owners of the hotel are away, but the guys reckon I can pitch a tent up outside no worries and they invite me over for a beer.
I then proceed to have a fantastic night with Kenny, Gadget and Frank, 3 swimming pool installers from a place called Parkes - 3 of the nicest genuine Australian blokes you could meet. They insist I have a plate of chicken and veggies that they have been cooking. "Help yourself to beers" - music to my ears and I work my way through 4-5 Castlemaine XXXX Golds as we sit, talk and laugh until midnight - it's my birthday tomorrow and I could not imagine a better way to 'party'!

I will never forget how good these blokes have been to me, salt of the earth fellas, willing to share what they have with a stranger in need. Kenny even gave me one of his work sweatshirt when he sees me shivering away (it gets cold here at night time!) - the motto on the sweatshirt is "No hole is too big a problem"... I wonder if this is laddish Australian humour, but then realise it refers to his swimming pool business - they are contracted to dig the holes to put fibre-glass pools in. He tells me to keep it! Top, top fellas - thanks a million, you don't know how much the whole night meant to me and I go to bed happy and positively refreshed for the challenge that lies ahead.
START:- Jindabyne, 6.51am
FINISH:- Michelago, 8.20pm
DISTANCE:- 130.91 km
AVERAGE SPEED:- 17.5 km/h
MAXIMUM SPEED:- 69.1 km/h
CYCLING TIME:- 7hrs 28mins 31s
TOTAL TIME:- 51hrs 55mins 40s

Monday, 1 December 2008

Day 6

Satuday November 29th, Day 6

Over the years, I think it is fair to say that I have had my fair share of close-to-death experiences. But whilst the passage of time has pushed these events to the back of my mind, at the end of day 6, the events of today have caused me to pause and reflect again on some of those moments from the past 10-15yrs...

Clinging on to a ridge of rock for dear life on the edge of volcanic crater in the Tongarirro National Park in New Zealand, as hurricane force winds tried their best to send Clive and I over the edge; hiking 25kms through the Philippine rice fields in the dark, with a steep cliff on one side, carrying no water, suffering severe dehydration and drinking what we could from from stale muddy puddles (Clive again); Diving off the Great Barrier Reef, misunderstanding our instructions and swimming south for half hour 18m below sea level, and with the East Australian current eventually surfacing practically out of sight of our boat a couple of kms away ("The only thing that saved you was the weather!"); offpiste skiing in the French Alps, through trees and forests, high up in the hills above Chatel, light disappearing fast as night approached, to suddenly pop out of the woods on the top of a vertical cliff precipace! (thanks Mark); Dehydration again in Mallorca following 6hr hike over Tramuntana mountains with only 500mls of water between us (Rob and I) - to be saved by that orange tree (18 oranges in 20 minutes is still a record I believe!)

I could go on...

I should have guessed that today could go a similar way from the moment I emerged from my tent 1st thing this morning. Within a 100yds of where I was pitched, there were 4 kangaroos beating each other up:-

Hmm, time to pack up and get out of here. I load up on carbs 1st with a huge bowl of muesli (no milk though, so use water, yuk!) and a bowl of curry noodles, before Mark and Phil arrive armed with a bacon and egg batch for me, mmm, lovely - these guys have been a welcome addition to proceedings!

Having sort of learnt a lesson from yesterday, Phil has decided on a t-shirt AND a fleece today, and has also purchased a Gatorade drink! He sets off and Superman's his way off up the hill and, once again, is quickly out of sight. Mark has been lumbered with the road bike again and does his best to peddle up the hills, but understandably struggles.

All though is well and we all meet up again at Tom Groggin (home of Man from Snowy River) a few hours later. It has been uphill all the way and we still have about 700m of ascent until the highest point at Dead Horse gap (1580m high and 13 km away) and then it should be a leisurely 5km cycle down to Thredbo.

Phil decides that cycling is too easy and says that he will ditch the bike and run up?!? He sets off and Mark and I follow on the bikes. The weather is a little showery as we leave, but this is ok as it keeps us cool as we slog on up the hill. The showers soon stop and for 2.5 hours we meander our way up, admittedly walking much of it. It is hot and I am quickly drenched with perspiration.

At 13 kms, the road is still heading up? Strange - we can't be too far from Dead Horse Gap now...? The sky is also getting grey again and a few large drops of water begin to fall.

Within 30 seconds the temperature drops considerably, the heavens open and before you could say "I wonder where my waterproofs are?" we are absoulutely drenched! It is, from nowhere, suddenly absolutely freezing cold! (amazing what happens when the sun disappears when you are 1.5km above sea level). I pedal on ahead of Mark in attempt to generate some heat, but my thin base layer and 'waterproof' smock are soaked through and suctioned tight to my body. I cycle on for another 1km, still no sign of the top. I catch up with Phil. He looks like a drowned rat. He thinks we are finally at Dead Horse Gap? There is a 'viewpoint'. Phil reckons that he can see the silhouette of a 'dead horse' across the valley?? I look out but visibility is less than 100m. I conclude that Phil must be losing it and I wonder whether he has the classic hallmark signs of dehydration and early hypothermia?? Lightning and thunder suddenly flash and crash concurrently, and the freezing rain hammers it down. Hmm, this is starting to get a little serious. The feeling in my hands is draining away fast. Mark has taken the sensible decision to turn back and drop to a lower altitude. He will return for the car and meet us in Thredbo. A car goes past and I flag it down for Phil to jump into. Phil declines - his Australian man-pride at stake! I am in a catch 22 situation, the slower I am moving the less heat I am generating, but the faster I go the colder the effects of the 'wind' are. It is every man for himself now...15kms, 16kms, 17km... still no sign of the top. I have never pedalled so fast uphill before in my life. My hands are completely numb and I struggle to press the levers to change gear.

At 19kms from Tom Groggin! the road plateaus and finally I see the Dead Horse Gap. I, for some stupid reason, fumble about with the camera to get a snap (bloody tourist):-

I have been thinking and dreaming about this point for the last 6wks! But I am not elated, just extremely, extremely cold.

The rain is still pounding it down, the thunder and lighting still right above us. I am concerned for the other 2, but I can't stop otherwise I'll freeze to death (like the horse from which the name arises). Cars do occasionally pass and I know that Phil can hitch a ride if need be. Hopefully Mark is halfway down by now to get the car?

The downhill section is even worse. I can't see due to the rain and spray and the fingers are so numb I can't apply the brakes. I somehow stop, open my panniers and grab something to wrap my hands in. 2 pairs of boxer shorts (clean, I think?) are at the top and I wrap my hands in them before setting off down the hill again. It is no good, I still can't squeeze the brakes hard enough to stop me from careering uncontrollably downhill.

But then I spot something in the distance... a small glimmer of hope in the survival stakes! It is a tourist information sign that appears to have a small roof-shelter sticking out a couple of feet (bit like a bus-stop). I muster up one last mesmeric squeeze of the hands to apply the brakes and pull-up alongside, dump the bike and jump underneath where there is fianlly some protection from the incessant downpour. I can't believe my luck. I would never have been able to make it down another 5kms. I strip off all my clothes and put on as many dry-ish clothes as I can from my panniers. I shiver and shake uncontrollably, the teeth chattering at 300 chatters/min. Around the shelter, the rain shows no sign of abating.

No sign of Phil... it is 20kms from where he started running. The map said 13kms! That would equate to a half marathon, at altitude, climbing 700-800m, on top of a 22km uphill ride before that! I am staring to fear the worst for him!

I get the stove out but the matches are damp and I can't get a spark, damn... I get the gloves out and it takes me 5 minutes to put them on, there is no feeling whatsoever in the fingers.

Suddenly, like an apparition in the mist, I make out the outline of Phil about 200m away and I scream at him - I have never been so delighted to see someone. He runs over and I expect him to have frostbite and be delirious... but guess what, he is 'fine'???? This guy is a freak! That said, he does accept when I offer him a couple of dry t-shirts and a towel.

Right, it's just Mark now. Having ridden about 1km downhill and severly struggled, I wonder how he has coped going back down to get the car. We wait for what seems an eternity. Phil now has his hands firmly wedged where the sun don't shine. Even his hands have gone numb! Eventually, a 4x4 Mitsubishi Pajero appears coming down the hill, we wave like Robinson Crusoe at a passing ship and Mark drives over and pulls up alongside - RELIEF - We are safe!

And then, as quickly as the storm had suddenly raged up and engulfed us, the rain ceased, the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine shone down on us... I felt the prescence of a warm emotional spiritual force wrap itself around me...

With the change in weather, I ease myself back on the bike and, with brakes on most of the way I freewheel the 5kms into Thredbo village where Mark and Phil have booked us into The Alpine Hotel.

I have never felt so good in all my life!

START:- Geehi campsite, 9.30am
FINISH:- Thredbo, 5.00pm
(trip computer stopped working due to rain, so some estimation)
DISTANCE:- 46.5 km
AVERAGE SPEED:- 9.3 km/h
TIME:- 5 hrs

OVERALL TIME:- 42hrs, 40mins, 51s