Day 8: The Pacific Experience

What a day. With heatstroke hopefully in the rearview mirror thanks to mum, hydration tablets and medicinal-grade Vegemite on toast, I set off early to get a head start on the sun. Complete with my new long sleeved SPF30 sweat-wicking ultra-dork shirt and 11 litres of water on board, I was set. Also, note to self: get a rearview mirror.

It seems when cycling down the eastern seaboard of Australia, one is presented with two options: Open Google Maps, choose bicycle as the mode of transport and let it whip you against coastal hills until the pulpy messes where your legs used to be don't even care that there isn't a discernible shoulder on the road in which to ride OR choose the car route and opt for the Pacific Highway, a relatively flat and well maintained road that gives the traveller an unparalleled view of absolutely f**k-all.

With time now no longer an unlimited affair and my fragile flower of a body still a little wilted, I chose to make my way down the Pacific Highway, a 7 hour ride from Port Macquarie to the picturesque* Nabiac Caravan Park.


For the initiated, cycling the Pacific Highway goes much like this:

1. Frantically and constantly dart eyes in the oncoming 30 metres to check for sticks, discarded tyre retreads, road cracks and dead echidnas (n=5 so far).

2. Ensure optimum gear is selected for the slight incline currently being battled. Too low and you're short changing yourself. Too high and you stop and are forced to think about what you're doing with your life. Abandon gear and start again for slight decline. Repeat.

3. Enjoy the wide range of manoeuvrability afforded by a sum total of 60cm of highway shoulder. Remember, too far left and you lose control into the road barrier, too far right and you are at the mercy of the Tarago travelling along at 110km/h.

4. Keep an ear out for trucks. When one is approaching, hold a tight line to communicate to the meth-riddled driver that you aren't going to play Frogger with him. Ensure both hands are on the handlebars and brace slightly for the ensuing wind buffet. It will initially knock you to the left, don't overcompensate your steering too far or you'll swerve into the Lancer tailgating aforementioned truck. Finally, enjoy the brief moment when you are in the truck's slipstream.

5. Experiment with various methods of acknowledging the rare appearance of other cyclists. Initially I would have recommended the two-fingers-raised-from-handlebar method, but having transitioned through the subtle-salute, head-nod and knowing-smirk, I've finally settled on the Overly-excited-to-engage-with-another-person-wave-like-an-idiot approach. Your mileage may vary.

6. Curse Reginald T Pacific IV for deciding to put his highway through the path that actively avoids anything to look at. Then thank him, because if there was a view, it would certainly complicate the previous steps.

It has certainly been exciting seeing various milestones passed. Crossing the state border, transitioning from businesses claiming to be North Coast then Mid North Coast, passing the half way mark and today I've seen signs to Newcastle. Even the Newcastle Herald was stocked in the Nabiac IGA where I stopped to pilfer their air conditioning - I must be getting close. Today was the first day that I really missed being home, but I'm sure that it's nothing that sleeping on a rock by the side of the Pacific Highway can't fix.

Onto Heatherbrae tomorrow, followed by the Central Coast and then Syd-ah-nee!

Today's soundtrack: gave Serial podcast a second try, promptly discarded it again - It's like a parody of NPR. Switched to music by Kill it Kid, Oscar Peterson Trio and the /r/listentothis best of 2014.

Thanks for reading!


Days 6 & 7: Pooped

What adventure would be complete without a solid challenge. For the greatest effect, ensure that the obstacle is placed two-thirds of the way through the narrative and gives our protagonist something to overcome.

The day got off to a reasonable start. Continuing my slow but altogether enjoyable slide into madness, a chicken woke my up by pecking at my tent. The regular 'shoo's didn't do the trick but when a cow in the distance moo'd, I informed the chicken that his mum was calling him and he ran off. I found it wildly amusing, chortling to myself for some time before considering the absurdity of the entire situations and got myself packed up.

The ride was quickly underway after a topping off my coffee and bacon levels at a cafe overlooking Nambucca Heads. By 10am, the sun was already beating down ferociously and by midday I had already been through 9 litres of water.

At the 70km mark, I was met by my mother with a hamburger, a sports drink and an offer to take my panniers to Port Macquarie where I would be staying at her house. Needless to say, I needed little convincing on any front and I'm eternally grateful.

Throughout the afternoon I became aware I wasn't nearly as hungry as I usually would be and was considerably more tired. I eschewed dinner and bid mum goodnight, looking forward to a night in a warm bed, only to be awoken a couple hours later (and each 20 minutes thereafter) to let my body decide which end it wished to evacuate itself from.

It seemed that the sun had got the better of me and I have got myself a rather nasty touch of heatstroke. Fortunately I am staying with mother-dearest so I opted to have a day off from riding to concentrate on maintaining a comfortable proximity to the bathroom. When I finally had things under control using a combination of naps and questionably potent pharmaceuticals, my sister escorted my fragile self into town to find something a little more sun appropriate than a singlet. Naturally, McDonald's was enjoyed by all - what I can only assume is a surefire sign of recovery.

Now a day behind, the plan is to head to Nabiac tomorrow, then onto Newcastle, from Newcastle to Gosford and then Gosford to Hornsby, where I plan to promptly collapse into a train home.

Today's soundtrack: Roderick on the Line Podcast and the toilet cistern.

Thanks for readying!


Days 4 & 5: Ride Thru

I'm going to combine day 4 and day 5's post into one because for the last 2 days, all events that aren't riding a bike, drinking and peeing seem to be a bit of a blur.

The morning of day 4 saw me continue to master packing an entire campsite into a bicycle, a kind of reverse Mary Poppins affair. Fortunately for me I'm getting pretty good at whipping up coffee, baked beans on toast and a Nutella chaser. Unfortunately for any neighbouring campers, it's 5am when this occurs and I'm about as graceful as a flamingo playing the gong.

I was forced to traverse back through the winding 20km unsealed road that led me into the previous evenings national park beachside campsite. I believe the road was commissioned by MC Escher and is actually uphill both ways but I'm yet to confirm this.

Once I hit the Pacific highway, I settled into a nice groove and pedalled away. A note on distance signs: Once you read them, your brain is conditioned to react as if you were in a car; 'oh, gosh, only 20km to go, I better put my make up on, etc' (or whatever it is that you cardwellers say). When on a bike, this does a horrible job of both setting unrealistic expectations and at once shattering them like a cheap Driver Reviver biscuit. I now realise it's best to ignore them and continue pedalling, because that's all I've got to do anyway. I can simply go as far as I can in a day and that's that. Performing mathematic acrobats and imposing conversions and quotas does nothing for the fact that there are only so many hours (and hamburgers) in the day and there is never going to be an outcome of looking at a sign that isn't 'just keeping riding'. I'm certain that there is a gem of wisdom in this somewhere (and the subsequent best-selling business book) but as result of aforementioned exhaustive riding, I might have to save that for more lucid moment.

I eventually rounded on Grafton Showground and carved out my little corner for the evening. I was happy to do a sink full of washing and chip away at the pacific highway caked on my body with a hot shower and I crashed happy with my day.

Day's soundtrack: Douglas Adams' 'The Salmon of Doubt' audiobook

Away early again for day 5, I had the wonderful experience of going through drive thru at Grafton McDonalds on a bike. There were many laughs, mostly by me rather than the less-than-impressed staff and it turns out that bikes - even fully loaded ones ridden by what looks to be a homeless person - can't use drive thru. My thanks to Jess, the shift manager who made an exception for me and permitted me my excessive bag of food.

I'm pleased to say that I pumped out a great day in the saddle and that sadly the quality of my riding seems to be inversely related to the quality of adventures that I can include in these posts. Today was probably the first day I'm conscious of huge grins and a general sense that I'm both doing something I love and doing pretty well at it. On a deserted road, during a particularly punctuated point of glee, I even tried singing at the top of my lungs. Turns out I'm actually an absolutely atrocious singer. Like, really really terrible. Already this trip has been a true learning experience.

Heading out from Grafton, I passed a cycling couple. Thrilled to talk to anyone , let alone fellow 2-wheeled travellers, I pulled up aside and said hi. I've learned that the etiquette is to let a cyclist know you're behind them, pull up beside to complement their steed, and then ask them where they're headed. Lo and behold, they were cycling from Brisbane to Sydney! Upon inquiring which stops they had planned, they were exactly the same as mine! Clearly this meant we were now in a race so we curtly wished each other well, I mentally took back my nice words about what was actually a pretty ugly bike, and then I sped off. Each subsequent - and frequent - stop of the day was spent worrying about when they would overtake me and I'm not ashamed to say that today's record mileage was in a small way thanks to them. If you're reading this, thank you, and I hope you have a safe, picturesque, and slightly slower ride than me.

The old body is holding up quite well but I decided it was high time to invest in some chamois cream. At any one time, a bike rider is in contact with his or her bicycle in a maximum of precisely 5 points. One of those points is not one that benefits from broken skin and the word 'tender' gets thrown around rather a lot. I've also developed a pinched nerve in my neck due to actively scrunching my shoulders for 8 hours a day and I'm sporting some rather impressive tan (burn) lines but altogether one piece - a solid win in the cycling world.

I've set up camp just north of Nambucca heads and am making great time back to Sydney. Tomorrow sees me stopping in at my dear mother's in Port Macquarie, where I expect to collect a hearty meal, a loving embrace and some unsolicited - but not unwarranted - sun safety advice.

Today's soundtrack: Dan Ariely's fantastic 'Predictably Irrational' audiobook

Thanks for reading!


Day 3: Oliving the Dream

I'm thrilled to announce that this ride is officially reverse sponsored by McDonalds and sketchy North Coast service stations. They thank me for my generous donations and have pledged to accept my ongoing support.

Day 3 of the ride was certainly more eventful than what has passed of day 4 so far. I'll start of with a stern warning: camping on the beach is absolutely nothing like the brochures. Specifically, sand. Everywhere. In everything. What I imagined would be a morning filled with a coastal breeze gently waking me, a soul-finding dune-side yoga session, picking the fruits of the nearby Extra Shot Piccolo Latte trees nearby and a general sense of zen, quickly turned sour. Following rainfall overnight, every inch of my gear decided to take a souvenir of Casuarina Beach in the form of a fine, powderlike sand. The simple act of rolling up the tent turned into a soul-crushing abandonment of civility and a general sense of 'to hell with everything'.

Having brushed, washed, dried, rebrushed, cursed at and given up hopes of ever getting sand off all my gear, I set off on what I hoped would be my biggest ride yet. The previous days had been enjoyable but not a far as I would have liked so an early start and a questionable amount of caffeine put me in good stead.

As the mercury rose and my now accepted charade of ride-stop-drink-ride-stop-pee-ride-repeat was well underway. I eventually passed through Byron Bay (which seems a lot like a bad parody of itself) and picking up a few supplies (basically just Nutella and various methods of transporting Nutella to my face).

On the other side of Byron, I ran into my first spot of trouble with Google Maps. For those who don't know, you can change the mode of transport depending on preference and the bicycle route opts to avoid hills and major roads. Well, after a steep descent, 'avoid major roads' was exactly what it did. In fact, took the liberty of avoiding all roads and instead deposited me in a privately operated olive farm with no discernible exit in sight, except for the way I came, now a steep 2km climb. After numerous irrigation dam crossings mumblings of "it's an adventure"s to myself, I was spat out into another private road and faced with pushing my bike and 30kg of gear up a 2km hill. Let's just say there's no verifiable way of an objective third party saying confidently if it was sweat or the tears of a broken man.

Eventually civilisation was rejoined and I was rewarded with rolling hills and the uncharacteristicly wide shoulder of the Pacific Highway. After 3 hours of eventless riding (interspersed with the regular eat/drink/pee schedule), the 50km/h speed limit of a town ahead rendered traffic at a standstill. Needless to say, I adopted the smug smirk and sense of entitlement that only a cyclist can adopt and whooshed passed the standstill, even threatening a tickling of the feet that dangled from a wicked camper.

Finally arriving at the turn off to the Black Rocks campground, the next hour's riding was a mixture of racing the setting sun and flipping a coin between the loose gravel on the sides of the unsealed road or the bone crunching corregation of the centre strip. Let me tell you, drifting both wheels of an over-corrected fully loaded touring bike is not something I wish to repeat any time soon.

I also saw the first glimpses of what could become full-blown batshit craziness. I've taken to referring to my bike (a Vivente branded tourer) as 'Vivenne' and praising her work aloud after particularly strenuous climbs or deftly handled corners. I even rather fancy tapping the top-tube between my legs as one would a horse to let her know she done good. Also, it would seem, I refer to my bike as a her.

Arriving in time to dry and shake the morning's god-awful attempt at tent rolling, I was approached by a small group of campers who not only offered me some of their spacious lot, but also bacon, sausages and an ice cold beer. Truly glorious.

I admit to cheating here a little, I type this half way through day four but as I alluded to previously, today's ride has comprised of just... Well... Riding!

Thanks for reading!


Day 2: Lost Ground

The second day is always the hardest to get started, so it was no surprise when my valiant steed met me with some resistance. A complaining knee, the dull remnants of my dehydrated headache and of course the teeth-sucking tenderness brought on following a day in the saddle. Luckily, as the old saying goes, it's nothing 4 slices of bread, 3 rashes of bacon, 2 hash browns, 2 sausages, hot chips and 2 coffees can't handle and by 6am I was on my way (yesterday I burned 3300 calories, today 3800, so it's pretty much free-for-all on the food front).

I cashed in my brutal climbs of yesterday in exchange for glorious descents into the glittering Gold Coast. With the heat tipping over the 30 degree mark for the second day and my sunburn causing mum's words to ring in my ear, I made a stop-off at my grandfathers in the canal complex of Mermaid Waters to replenish water/mince pie stocks.

Grandpaternal adoration aside, today's ride didn't get me as far as I would have liked, which led me to examine the anxiety caused by the threat of a slipping schedule. In addition to not factoring in the lost hour crossing the NSW border (woo!) I also reminded myself that perhaps holding myself to the pre-allotted pee breaks and a strict I-must-be-here-by-this-date-or-else mentality is probably counter to the whole idea of bicycle touring. With this, I swung back 5km to a gorgeous beach, went for a swim and sat suspiciously until sundown to pitch my tent with reckless abandon.

I thought it might also be worthwhile to expand a little on my bike setup, specifically how I charge my various electronic wares. In the front wheel, I have a dynamo that generates a small amount of electricity as it spins. This is then routed up the fork and split between my lights and a USB port. Due to the nature of iPhones requiring a constant current to charge, I run a battery from the USB charger and charge my phone from that. This has been an absolute boon and removes the anxiety caused by using a phone for music, GPS, ride logging and - occasionally - as a phone. The port and switch are by a company called 'Lightcharge' and the Dynamo is the standard model from Shimano, both highly recommended.

Soundtrack for the day comprised of finishing the audiobook of John Green's The Fault in our Stars (B+) and starting the 3rd edition of Stephen Fry's autobiography. So far so good, the only definitive comment i can make on the book is that I thoroughly enjoy the way he says 'silly'

Also, in complete contradiction to the fancy-free attitude claimed above, it's my aim to put in a big day in the saddle tomorrow and see if I can make up some of the mythical 'lost ground'. Revelations be damned.

Thanks for reading!


Day 1: Happy New Year!

After waking up on the first day of 2015 with a drier mouth than one would hope, the bike already safely disassembled and boxed up and the bags packed, I set flight to Brisbane for my big adventure.

Zooming far above the Eastern Seaboard of Australia, I was struck that being in a plane is going to be a damn sight more comfortable than performing the return trip on two wheels.

My god this blog is already the most self-indulgent bullshit I've ever written, please forgive me.

After touching down and anxiously confirming that Virgin have in fact not left my bike in Sydney and I wouldn't have to walk home, I dragged the bike box out into the obscene Brisbane heat and set to assembling my rolling home. This took longer that I would have liked but I eventually pushed off at 1pm amid frantic checks that I haven't left anything behind. This would become a recurring theme.

The day's course followed bike paths and secondary roads including following a gorgeous creek and beautiful hyper-Aystralian country roads.

Even with 3 litres in as many hours and multiple magnesium hydration tablets, a cracking headache settled in and the too-familiar twitches that signal incoming cramps set in and would make themselves at home for the rest of the day. I was also reminded where I was after riding over the bazillionth cane toad/brown snake corpse.

Following petrol station/McDonald's-hopping, I reached the base of Mount Tamborine at 6pm and resigned myself to a well-earned Wagyu burger. It was beginning to get dark and the previous hour's riding included keeping an eye out for a clearing to camp. With the knowledge that I had to go over the mountain at some point and a renewed chip-fueled vigour, I hunkered down for another hour of brutal uphill and made it to Tamborine Mountain Camping Park.

With a headache like firecrackers searing my brain, sunburned and covered in sedimentary layers of sweat, salt and road grit, I was overwhelmed with a sense of 'it'll do'. Just as I found a site and unfurled my tent, the sweetest kid on earth toddled up to me and asked me if I'd like to borrow his headlamp to assist setting up camp in the dark . I almost wept. After calling mum and refusing to give her exclusive scoops on the days adventure for fear of cannabalising blog views, the final smile of the day came as I reviewed Strava (the app that records distance, maps, calories, elevation, etc). Because it was the first day of the year, I had set about 40 records for almost every segment between Brisbane Airport and Tamborine.

I type this over a scrumptious big breakkie the next morning, having risen early and devoured the rest of the mountain. The plan for the day is to head overland to the Gold Coast and see how far I can make it down the coastline before hopefully camping on the beach around Brunswick Heads.

Thanks for reading!


The Gear

The obligatory I'm-about-to-go-touring photo

My home for 10 days will consist of:

  • Vivente World Randonneur steel touring bike (link to specs)
  • Ortlieb 49L Waterproof Rear Rackpack
  • 2x Ortlieb Rear Classic Roller Panniers
  • Ortlieb Handlebar bag
  • Lyzane 3L water reservoir
  • 2P Dome Tent
  • IQ gloves
  • Big Agnes sleeping pad
  • Kathmandu sleeping bag
  • Macpac rain cover
  • Specialized MTB shoes
  • Fox full-bib shorts
  • Kathmandu drysack
  • Light My Fire Lunchkit 2.0 (bowl, fork/spoon, cup)
  • Silk sleeping bag liner
  • Instant coffee and condensed milk (the definitive taste of camping)
  • Collapsable sink
  • Concentrated washing liquid (soap, washing up liquid, shampoo, engine degreaser, etc)
  • Propane tank and stove attachment
  • Lantern
  • Mini microfibre towel
  • Toiletries, first aid kit and insect 
  • GoPro with helmet mount
  • 2x eternal batteries (charged via Dynamo hub with a eWerk USB adapter, used to charge iPhone and secondary lights)
  • Every single USB cord and plug combination known to man
  • Lock with extender
  • Various clothes
  • Not pictured: 4-5 1.5 litre water bottles

The list above does in fact represent the result of some culling and I'm yet to weigh it all but test rides have been heavy. As I type this, I realise it's probably on the excessive side, however the prospect of packing too much for my big first tour and returning as the wise 'you-take-too-much-young-grasshopper' tourer really appeals to me.