Adelaide to Melbourne (nov-dec 2019)
I am not sure why it has taken me over 3 years to write the final instalment of our adventure.
Perhaps it’s because the world changed, and our entire journey was suddenly so far from anything we could dream of doing. Or maybe it’s just that home comings are hard to write about. It felt a bit too raw and too new when I first arrived back.
A few weeks after our return vast areas of Australia were on fire, Melbourne was shrouded in smoke, and I did not possess the calm and reflective qualities it takes to write a home coming post.
And then it was March 2020 and Astrid and I, like all health care professionals, were swept up in a tide of need that continues to this day.
But I will try now to bring the last few weeks of our journey into focus, because it deserves to be told. And I hate unfinished projects.
We landed in Adelaide after a short stint in Singapore (enough to gorge ourselves on street food). Unfortunately, I hadn’t cleaned my bike as well as I thought I had, and Australian Customs had a field day with my dusty gear. There was a lot of unpacking and disapproving looks, but finally we were granted entry into Australia. We were both shattered from the long flight but had to put our bikes together before pedalling into the city. The difference of the drivers was immediate. As was the price in coffee. We rejoiced over different things, from the small to the more fundamental; public BBQ’s, public toilets, public taps, cared for public spaces and being able to ride home at night.
Our first few days were spent recovering and orientating ourselves with friends Michael and Phil. After the initial thrill of being ‘home’ wore off I felt somewhat morose. Perhaps it was that suburban Adelaide wasn’t quite doing it for me, or the sense that our journey was ending, or a feeling of disconnection from the land (I longed a little for England in the days just after arriving back). Whatever it was, I couldn’t shake the blues. Years as a cycle traveller however had taught me, not only are these feelings temporary, but that movement helps.
There is something about the stroke of a pedal, the feeling of wind on your face and the sense that you are going somewhere that helps the joy return. This was enhanced by being able to cycle out of Adelaide on predominantly bike paths and then camp in some bush land. It was here in the familiar setting of the post ride day – tent set up and us sitting on the ground chopping veggies, that I really began to feel like I had landed. With the golden light filtering through the eucalyptus leaves and a cacophony of sunset bird noises (Australia really is a bit like living in a zoo) I felt like I could breathe. It was all familiar scents and sounds, if somewhat novel. I have always felt a strong sense of connection to land and place, and here, in the bush it felt like some reconnection to this country had begun.
What followed were blissful holiday pedalling days in which we visited the wineries of McClaren Vale, dumpster dived for BBQ lunch and camped in lovely hidden spots. Our first destination was Kangaroo Island, where we took the world’s most expensive ferry by distance, to meet the wonderful Liz and Scott. Anyone who has been following our blog for a while will recall these amazing wandering wallies had pedalled the Oodnadatta track back in 2013 and our paths had crossed in Mataranka, where we had shared days off and a tub of ice-cream.
Now we were finally visiting them in their lovely lagoon side bush property. We caught up on the years over home brew and delicious meals. Liz and Scott kindly lent us one of their cars and we were able to explore the island in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to, given some time constraints. We camped and swam, sampled brews, and hiked many trails. Sadly, much of what we saw was to burn ferociously in the 2019/2020 fires in a few months’ time. With hindsight it now feels that both with the fires and covid looming on the horizon that we were seeing out the last months of a different world
We left KI refreshed and ready for the cycle east. It is a strange time as you near the end of a journey, you know everything is about to change, but it remains quite unfathomable. Our days were still spent pedalling, stopping in towns to scout their dumpsters, or buy cheap goods from Aldi. At night, we slept on the edge – hidden in a park, some bushland, or if we were lucky a free camp. One day we were baked in 40 degrees plus, followed promptly by rain and jackets the next day.
In time we reached the Coorong, derived from the aboriginal word karangk which means ‘narrow neck’. It has been home to the Ngarrindjeri people for thousands of years who have cared for its lands and waters. Now a national park, it forms part of the Murray River mouth and is a vast expanse of lagoons, sand dunes, wetlands, and beaches. Beautiful and desolate in the best possible way, with mind blowing sunsets and excellent camping it was paradise for two nature loving bike travellers. I felt myself to really begin to fall back in love with the land; there was so much wildness and room to breathe.
We celebrated Astrid’s birthday here and the very next day bumped into the swag family. It is not often you find two fully loaded tandems resting on an embankment on a mostly deserted road in Australia! This inspiring family (Nicola, and Andrew along with kids Hope and Wilfy) had cycled around Australia and like us were on their last few weeks of their trip. We immediately connected and shared lunch behind a bush next to the road, followed by deciding to cycle together for the next few days. It is always such a joy meeting up with like-minded cycling folk and we had much to chat about. It was a joy to share the road with such a super family.
From the Coorong we raced eastwards towards the border and the Glenelg river. Here we spent a lovely few nights catching up with Ki, going for walks and swimming in the river. While the Glenelg borders Victoria, it is so far west, Astrid and I hadn’t previously spent much time there. It’s always a joy to have old friends meet us on the road and a nice way to ease back into being on home soil.
And then, just like that we were back in our home state Victoria. The end really was closing in. Through state forest, farmland and finally a rail trail we continued eastward, excited for what lay ahead but also savouring this slow life. The weather caught at one point, and we sheltered from fronts in bus stops until just before Warrnambool we found a delightful camp with our old favourite of a table and even a little shelter. It was our last night alone of our entire journey (as we were meeting friends to cycle with) and it felt like an apt place to mark an ending.
The following day we pedalled along the rest of the Port Fairy to Warrnambool rail trail and made ourselves at home in the luxury of the big 4 caravan park while the weather outside raged a little. Our friends Erica and Daniel (from London) were scheduled to arrive on the afternoon train and cycle the remainder of the journey with us. It was bloody lovely to see them both. Erica and I had last hung out in Athens which seemed like such a lifetime ago. Later we all met up with the Swag Family (who had rolled into Warrnambool a few hours after us) for a last dinner before our ways parted.
It’s always slightly stressful to take the uninitiated on a bike tour (Daniel had never been cycle touring before). Especially one that had a time schedule and less then ideal weather. However, as we all pushed off into the gusty and intermittently rainy day, I felt positive; the energy was good, and we were all ready for some adventure and prepared to support each other.
There was an early flat, some sheltering from the rain, epic views, some ninja dancing, and the perfect campsite to end the day. A good start to our cycle gang of 4.
The following day proved slightly more challenging. It was cold and windy, with fronts of rain and a long climb at the end of the day with no suitable camp spot to be found. Both Astrid and I were jumping off the bike and scouting desperately in the fading light. Behind us I felt Daniel was understandably ready to call it quits. Erica was stoic but after 24 hours of travel and now 2 days of cycling I felt like they both must be utterly exhausted. Finally, we managed to squeeze into a pine plantation and find enough space to put up our tents. To try and make up for the slightly miserable day Astrid and I cooked us all curry and delivered it to them in bed.
The following day I got up before dawn and left to race to Apollo Bay to meet my parents. It was an epic ride and one where I pushed myself to go fast and only take short breaks. The scenery was utterly delightful; tree ferns, mist, small gullies and sweeping views out to sea. Hugging mum and dad felt epic. Wow, I couldn’t believe it was happening. Sure, we’d visited a few times while away, but this felt different, it was a homecoming. We shared lunch and then the others rolled into town in excellent spirits. Erica and Daniel had smashed the epic climb, seen koalas and everyone was in top form. Beers followed and then we all went to the little cabin we had rented, and Daniel cooked us a delicious Italian meal.
Holiday mode then ensued. The weather picked up and the biggest days of pedalling were behind us. It was more slow mornings, swim stops, and afternoon beers and less homeless in a pine planation kind of vibe. We met another friend, Rich who took us to an amazing place to camp on the property he was living on. This coincided with mine and Astrid’s 10-year anniversary and we celebrated with a long meandering breakfast where Astrid gave me the most thoughtful homemade gift she had managed to somehow create on the road. What an amazing decade it has been alongside this strong, creative, and compassionate human.
As we meandered along the great ocean road it struck me how different this road was on the bicycle. In theory this was my backyard. I’d driven it countless times, camped in the surrounds, surfed, stopped for coffees and beers. But it felt as if I was seeing it for the first time because riding it felt much more intimate and meaningful. I felt like I didn’t know it at all. It was a rediscovering of a familiar place on a different level.
Our last wild camp was in the bush with a fire and a great Italian meal and a glass of red. Perfect. Then it was off to Anglesea to meet my friend Alice on the beach with her kids for fish and chips. Pablo, who’d ridden with us out of Melbourne long ago in 2013 also rocked up on his bike, followed by Kev who was also part of the original day one crew. Together we all cruised into Torquay and then on to Pablo’s place in Barwon Heads. Tony, Bree and River – friends from London who had moved to Ocean Grove also dropped in and it was a beautiful mesh of worlds; our life before London colliding sweetly with our London loved ones. What a fabulous, heartfelt evening. It was hard to grasp that the next day was the final day of this chapter of our lives.
It felt surreal as we packed up our tents the following morning, caffeinated ourselves, munched some food and pushed off. Astrid was our navigation beacon and did a fabulous job as we wound out of Barwon Heads, into Geelong and out the other side. We rode through industrial estates, bike paths and roads parallel to the highway. At one point we contemplated cutting through the Werribee shit farm (it was the way one of our mapping apps suggested) but thought better of it due to the likelihood of coming across locked gates. We slipped into greater Melbourne on the bike path that follows the freeway, it was hard to capture the sign, but it felt significant. At Werribee itself we stopped for ice-creams – it was a warm day and we had been on the road for hours. Still, we pushed on as a little group of cyclists who probably didn’t look like they were at an end of a significant journey. Pablo met us somewhere in the western suburbs, having ridden from a family event in Melbourne. It all became gradually familiar the closer we got and then as we crested a bridge the city spread out before us. It felt like we had arrived. We took a moment.
From there it was not long before we were pedalling passed the Zoo and met by Misch and YK with champagne and fanfare. We hugged and laughed, and it was delightful. Our crew grew bigger as we rode the familiar bike path through our old haunts of East Brunswick, Fitzroy and Northcote. At St Georges Road we turned north (how many times have I cycled this path?!) and wound our way through the familiar streets of Thornbury.
Collectively we rolled down Gooch St and there they all were spilling out from Tanja’s home onto the street with champagne, noise, and laughter. We were engulfed with love and hugs, and it felt amazing. We were home. Tens of thousands of kms behind us, continents crossed, mountains traversed, London lives lived. We were home. A few kilometres from where we had left from in the same suburb. Our loved ones surrounding us. It was utterly surreal, delightful, overwhelming.
Thank you to everyone who has been part of this adventure. So much love xxx Jude and Astrid