Through Capital Country

I was very lucky that for my entire time in Melbourne I had people to stay with in and around the city. It’s a place that I have greatly enjoyed in the past so I was looking forward to a few days off to recharge and get some jobs done. First up I spent a night with an old school friend very close to the centre and it was great to have a base to stock up on supplies and also to get my bike into yet another shop to remedy the issues talked about in my last post. Luckily I immediately trusted the judgement of the guys at the very well established Cecil Walkers; it helped that they recommended the components that my research had suggested would be best for the job. I booked everything in and then took the train out to the city of Ballarat. Here I stayed with the Duthie family who had first met when they cooked me dinner out on the Nullarbor. It was fantastic to catch up and I spent another great evening in their company, playing Lego with grandson Patch. The next day I was able to see the main tourist attraction in Ballarat, the excellent Sovereign Hill gold mine before heading back to Melbourne. I then stayed two night in the suburb of Ringwood with Bill and Marilyn while everything was delivered and assembled on my bike, before steeling myself to hit the road again. The hospitality had been incredible and as usual I was slightly loathed to leave. But Brisbane was calling. I had four weeks and over 2000 km to cover needed to keep moving forward.

The first stop out of Melbourne was Traralgon, 158 km to the east. I had a great day on the road to get there. Initially I battled the traffic but soon hit the cycle lane on the edge of the freeway and with a fantastic tailwind, covered the distance in just over 6 hours. Here I stayed with Bryan and Jean. I had first met them when they rescued me on the Eyre Highway when my wheel completely failed. It was fantastic to see them again and as before, they made me feel like part of the family. The way I have been treated by people who I have only recently met has been astounding. The generosity continues to amaze me and has certainly changed the way I think. I try my best to fit in with and make it easy for the people I’ve stayed with. But no matter how hard I try, I’m still disrupting their routines, and taking up their time, space and food. At least in the future I will be able to pass forward some of the help I have received. I had a great day I’m Traralgon. We travelled up into the surrounding hills for some beautiful views and a picnic and even managed to squeeze in a few holes of golf. But as always, I had to say goodbye. It had been wonderful to stay and get another day of rest ahead of what would be a tough stretch over the Great Dividing Range to Canberra and then Sydney.

I left Traralgon heading for Lakes Entrance. It was another day of 160 km and mercifully the wind was still behind and the terrain was very flat. I got lucky with the weather, avoiding showers, and covered the distance in under 7 hours. Continuing east, I was heading for the town of Cann River where I would turn inland and climb into the hills. I was expecting another flat run but the trip across to Orbost was pretty up and down and at the tourist information there, they informed me that there were some serious hills to come. They weren’t joking. I covered around 130 km with over 1000 m of climbing. This isn’t a crazy amount but it certainly takes it out of you on a 40 kg bike. I finished the day with another of those remarkable moments. I found a spot to sleep down by the river. The water was cool and clear with only a gentle current. I was able to wade across to a small sandbar and relax, water dancing around my feet and enjoy a beautiful sunset. One slight concern was some serious pain and inflammation that was beginning to develop in my right Achilles’ tendon. The next few days in the hills were really going to put this to the test.

From Cann River, I turned north. I’d reached the southernmost point of my trip in Australia. I knew I had a long day of climbing ahead so only planned to cover 90 km to the town of Bombala. About 20 km into my day I was passing a small group stopped by the side of the road when I heard a shout asking if I wanted a cup of coffee. I was never going to turn this down (my second most important rule is never turn down food)! I stopped and joined them. It turned out Ray and Keith were both 70 and completing the last leg of their lap of the state of Victoria. Supporting them were their wonderful wives who would drive ahead and set up a coffee and cake break around 11 and lunch later on the day. They too were heading for Bombala and asked if I would like to join them for the rest of the day. I was delighted to have the company. To have the distraction of some conversation and some competition – in my head at least – when grinding up some long hills was a real treat. It also took my mind off the increasing pain in my ankle. I passed 5000 km for my trip. It was a fairly incredible moment. To think how far I had come, both literally and figuratively, since leaving Perth, was pretty cool. We reached Bombala and I was able to camp next to the river here as well. I didn’t manage to spot a platypus though. I joined the others for dinner and they were wonderfully generous in insisting on paying for mine. We were heading the same way again the next day so met in the morning and hit the road. It was only 90 km to Cooma but there was still more climbing to do. I reached the highest point on my trip in Australia at 1100 m as we crossed the Great Dividing Range into New South Wales. The day was hot and windy but generally uneventful. One moment of light relief was when we were stopped by a police officer after a complaint had been made by a truck driver that we weren’t cycling on the shoulder. For starters, there wasn’t a shoulder. And you’re in a truck. How about you cycle and I’ll squeeze past you in a 30 m double trailer lorry! We pushed through an ever-increasing headwind for the rest of the day but made Cooma with no further incident. The scenery was mountainous but burnt yellow and brown by the intense sun. It seems impossible that this area is one of the main ski regions for Australia in the Winter. It had been three days in row with over 1000 m of climbing so with just 130 km to Canberra I was really looking forward to a break. My Achilles was really concerning me and I wanted to be able to ice and rest it.

The final stretch into Canberra was a tough day. I said goodbye to Ray and Keith and set off on my own. The headwind continued and the temperature climbed well into the thirties. I knew if I could get the first 90 km done then I would be treated to a long downhill run into the capital. This thought helped keep me going steadily, as did 1.5 litres of coke just when I was flagging! I entered the Australian Capital Territory and then dropped out of the ranges into the big basin where Canberra sits. It was a wonderful relief. I easily made my way into the centre and enjoyed a late lunch sat outside the new parliament building, which I have to say, is pretty spectacular. I was staying with an old school friends parents so headed to their place in the northern suburbs. It was an absolute delight to arrive there. The house was beautiful and to catch up and stay with people I had known for ages was a real treat. I was able to completely switch off and relax. A lot of Australian people criticise Canberra but I found it to be a charming small city. It is never going to be another Melbourne or Sydney but that doesn’t matter. It is clean, safe and very easy to get around. The beach is two hours one way and the mountains are an hour the other so it has the best of both worlds really. The city centre was lively and busy and I enjoyed a good night out there. Plus the suburbs are just lovely. At the heart of the city is the Australian War Memorial. At first glance this is a beautiful monument but in the space underneath is an absolutely fantastic war museum. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I spent nearly five hours there without even getting close to being bored. Some of the exhibits are staggeringly moving. It makes you realise the difference that these peoples’ sacrifices have made and are making to the world. If you get the chance, you really should go there.

I left Canberra after three great nights, including an Aussie barbecue on the deck! I didn’t want to leave but time was a still tight to make it to Brisbane so I had to be on my way. Thankfully the pain in my ankle had begun to subside. It would bother me for the rest of my time in Australia but with the majority of the climbing now done, this was the worst it would get. The day I left the temperature got up to 42 degrees and in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been cycling in it. I was heading in the direction of Goulburn, just 90 km away, but the heat was ridiculous. The wind was a hot northerly and I was crossing the tablelands, a flat, empty plateau. I drank about 5 litres in the four hours I cycled, including some extra water given to me by a very kind motorist that stopped to check I was ok. At each rest bay with a rainwater tank I soaked my head and shirt in an attempt to keep cool. Even so, by the time I made Goulburn I was very dehydrated and extremely hot. It is the only time in the whole of Australia that I feel the conditions were dangerous. Much further and I think I would have been in trouble. As it was I found a campsite and got my tent up just before a huge storm broke. This was a stroke of luck and I eventually had a good evening, meeting Merv and Norma who I would later go on to stay with in Brisbane. Yet more generosity!

The following day was a big one for me. The morning was a steady pedal through more wine country. I passed through a series of nice small towns before hitting the Macquarie Pass and my first views of the Tasman Sea. The Pass itself is crazy as you drop off the edge of the world, through the jungle, and lose 700m in about 5 km with numerous hairpins to negotiate. As I reached the bottom the sky darkened and the last few kilometres to the coast were cycled through a torrential downpour. There was thunder and lightning streaking through the sky and by the time I reached Shellharbour I might as well have just cycled into the sea. The rain eventually abated. I got my tent up and headed for the beach. It was a very strange moment for me. I had done it. I had crossed Australia. For me this was huge but for everybody else on that beach it was just another day. It almost felt like an anticlimax as I desperately wanted someone to share it with. But there was still a certain elation. That evening, in another stroke of luck, I met Karen and Paul who cooked me dinner. It was great to have the company and to not cook. I would also go on to stay with them again on the Gold Coast. Two wonderful couples in two nights!

The final day of this stretch was spent heading for Sydney and Bondi Beach. I passed across the very cool sea bridge, built to stop the road being wiped out by cliff falls. This was followed by a huge climb as I regained a lot of the height that I had lost the day before. From there it was a motorway into the chaos of the city. The traffic in Sydney was more of a battle than ever before but despite a few navigational hiccups I made it to North Bondi. Having been here in early 2014 I knew what to expect but it is still an incredible spot. The atmosphere is buzzing and I enjoyed my late afternoon throwing myself around in the huge waves coming into the beach. It was good to be back!

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