For the love of Bruce!

Gladstone to Townsville (Alligator Creek Campground)

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Gotta love riding!

We are sitting with the ladies, the kettle is on, the tunes are playing in the background, and the bush turkeys and wallabies are milling around.  We woke with the sunrise, meditated under a tree and have had an early morning nudie swim in the rock pools.  Today is an auspicious day – it’s the midwinter solstice, Jani for Latvians, Pee on the Earth day and the day before we take our “big left”.  Yes, tomorrow we turn left and start the desert leg of our journey!

So grab yourselves a cuppa, a beer or a glass of wine, and I’ll fill you in on the adventures of the last two weeks.  They have been a lovely mix of long days in the saddle and rest days exploring beautiful places.   We left Gladstone and the positive energy of Matt from A1 cycles, and crossed into heavy industry and noisy transport.  We have learnt to block out the noise and drivers by listening to music or podcasts while doing the ks.  I’m learning about the amazing world of permaculture and Jude is getting better acquainted with world history.

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A cheeky wine to celebrate our anniversary.

We stopped for the night at the Raglan Tavern and celebrated our 3 and a half year anniversary with a pub meal and a bottle of wine.  The wine (and some earplugs) helped with our sleeping, as we were camped about 15m from the Bruce Hwy and 30m from the railway line.  The next morning we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and covered the 55ks to Rockhampton in record time.  We lunched in the botanical gardens and then had a look around town.  Everyone had told us that Rocky was a hole not worth visiting, but we found it to be a beautiful town with stunning old buildings and a friendly vibe.  We also loved the random cow statues and that it was a public holiday due to the Rockhampton show.  It’s amazing what Australians will give themselves a public holiday for.

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Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn.

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Riding passed the beautiful old buildings of Rockhampton.

We also deserved a public holiday from the bikes, so we continued on to the beachside town of Yeppoon.  Turned out to be not really our kind of place, but we spent a couple of days eating, reading, swimming at the beach, and sharing wine and great conversation with new friends Ann and Tibor.  We circled back to Rocky along the coast road, taking in the stunning ocean views, swimming at the beaches and eating tubs of ice-cream in one sitting.  It’s amazing the things that you can eat when you cycle for 6 hours a day!  Back in Rocky we explored the local art gallery, hung out at the library (to use their free WiFi) and had a beer at the gorgeous Criterion hotel.

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Sunset at Yeppoon.

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Paragliders at Yeppoon.

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Going for a ride on the beach at Emu Park.

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Yum, a 1litre tub of frozen yoghurt!

We had decided a few days earlier that we would catch a train from Rocky to Mackay.  Not a decision one makes easily when on a quest to ride to Scotland.  But we wanted to spend more time exploring nicer places in Queensland rather than pushing out the ks on the Bruce Hwy.  In addition, everything that we had read and heard from cyclists and drivers, indicated that this is the worst stretch of the Bruce Hwy by far.  The alternative route was desolate, full of ghost towns, memories of backpacker murders and road trains.  Neither option seemed appealing.  So much to Jude’s delight, as she loves trains, we spent a few hours heading north faster that we would have on the bikes.  Arriving at Mackay at 2am we were tired and in need of more sleep.  The station master was a lady with one of those ‘cat’s bum’ faces, and needless to say that when we asked if we could sleep in the corner of the station till sunrise, her mouth puckered even further and a disdainful ‘no’ was directed towards us.

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Jude is excited by our train trip.

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Sneaky camping in Mackay

It’s a strange feeling riding through a town you don’t know at 2:30 in the morning.  Some stealth camping was performed at the local information centre, and later that morning we explored the town of Mackay.  Most places were closed due to the Queens birthday holiday so we headed west along the Pioneer Valley.  It was a beautiful afternoon of riding through the cane fields and small towns, surrounded by the rivers and mountains further along.  I’m not usually a fan of monocultures, but the cane shining in the afternoon sun was picturesque.  The bottom third was a golden colour, the middle third a vivid green and the tops a stunning mauve.

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The sugar cane fields on the way to Finch Hatton gorge.

 We spent the next couple of nights at the stunning rainforest campground near the Finch Hatton Gorge.  We again spent our days eating, reading, skinny-dipping in the pristine creeks and waterholes (‘clothing optional’ read the sign and we needed no encouragement), exploring the gorge, and enjoying the company of the awesome people camped around us.  We had a communal campfire, and when it was raining we sat around in Dave and Eli’s ‘Taj Mahal’ tent with candles and incense burning.

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A nudie swim in the beautiful creek.

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We love it!

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Swimming in the rockpools of Finch Hatton Gorge.

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A river crossing at Finch Hatton Gorge.

It had drizzled consistently for the last few days, and on the morning we left, the rain really set in.  The picturesque landscape of a few days back was transformed into a vision of matt grey.  Further up the valley, out of the grey, loomed the warning sign that the next 4.5ks was steep.  And steep it was.  I remember being sore, soaked through to my undies, and charging on hoping that the top would come sooner rather than later.  Since then, we have run into people who drove passed us that day, and all of them commented on how we were powering up the hill, big smiles on our wet faces and seeming to not have a care in the world.  By the time we got to the campsite everything was wet, we cooked our food in the toilet shelter (being the only place out of the rain) and laughed at the way Queensland presents itself.  “Sunshine State” – I don’t think so, and the latest “The Smart State” – even less so!

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The steep climb sign on the way to Eungella.

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Cooking at the toilet block at the campsite in the rain.

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It did finally stop raining.

We slept in till 7 the next morning and could not believe it when we put our heads outside the tent – blue sky!!!  A leisurely breakfast of pancakes and tea, was followed by a 17km hike through the Eungella National Park.  We were in greenie heaven!  Trees, palms, ferns, fungi, and more shades of green than Derwent could ever release in a pencil colour.  From the lookout we could see all the way down the Pioneer Valley and the road we had cycled up.   On the way back to our home for the night, we spotted some platypus and turtles in the creek.  Awesome!

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The beautiful Eungella National Park.

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The beautiful Eungella National Park.

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Looking down the Pioneer Valley.

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The beautiful Eungella National Park.

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A platypus.

To quote an old saying – what goes up, must come down.  The same goes with cycling hills, and it sure was fun!!!  We stopped for morning tea at the most gorgeous little café where we indulged ourselves on tasty treats to fuel us for the long ride ahead.  We spent the day riding through more cane fields shining in the sun, and dirt tracks through rainforests.  We ate lunch by a cute little creek and had the mandatory nudie swim.  I don’t think the big smile left my face the whole day – by far my favourite day of riding in Queensland so far.

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The crazy road we pedalled up and flew down.

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Riding the back roads.

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Cane, cane and more cane.

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And more cane…

Woke the next morning happy that we had not been found by the bogans who were driving drunk through the dirt back roads during the night.  Ah Queensland, the smart state.  We were also very excited, as today was the day that we would be catching up with friends in Airlie Beach.  We did a big push to Proserpine and relaxed on the couches of the Whitsunday Gold coffee plantation sipping lattes in the sun.  It was difficult to leave and pedal the last 25ks into Airlie, but the catch up with Ash, Soph, Eli and Dave was priceless.  We pitched camp together and then headed down to the beach for some cheeky afternoon beers.  Airlie is a backpacker town, and is really geared towards getting everyone very drunk.  I can’t remember the last time I bought a jug of beer for $8, but that set the momentum for the night.  Much to our delight we also caught up with Rich and Justin, friends from Melbourne who were in Airlie for the week.

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Sunrise on the backroads.

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Jude fuelled by coffee and custard cream filled croissant at the Whitsunday Gold coffee plantation.

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Beers at the beach with Eli, Soph, Dave and Ash.

Besides drinking quite a bit of beer, I think we had our biggest day of eating as well.  Jude figured out that in the space of 24 hours she alone ate a huge bowl of vegetarian pasta, a banana, chocolate, 9 slices of bread with a variety of toppings, a croissant filled with cream custard topped with chocolate, spring rolls, a full serve of Thai green curry with rice, 2 slices of pizza and a bowl of Cold Rock ice-cream.  And I do believe that she mentioned that she was still hungry when we went to bed…

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Part of the fuelling process – a big custard cream croissant!

The next day was a day of sloth.  We spent the morning drinking cups of tea and reading.  The most strenuous thing we did all day, was go to the beach and have a barbeque.  Jude and I are currently reading books about sea-faring, so we bought a bottle of rum and pretended that we were pirates.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find a parrot.  Cold Rock also made another appearance, with a group of us sharing a big tub with 5 flavours of ice-cream and 4 treats smashed into it.

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Wishing we were pirates.

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Sunset at Airlie Beach.

It’s amazing how addicted I have become to the riding.  By the next day I was feeling ansty about being off the bike, so while the others drove to the local waterfalls, Eli and I cycled the 60 plus k round trip.  The falls were beautiful and the water very refreshing (read cold!).   Eli did an awesome job of cycling, as she hasn’t been on a bike in years.  And despite wanting to get off often and just lie down, she is now considering joining us for the Asia leg of our journey.  We spent a wonderful evening catching up with Rich, Justin and Nic, and being around people from home made us very happy, but also nostalgic for all our friends at home.  You are all loved and missed very much every day!

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Rich joined us for the ride out to the Bruce Hwy.

 To make it to Townsville on time to do our ‘big left’, we had to wish all our friends a fond farewell and hit the road again.  Rich joined us for the ride out to the Bruce Hwy and it was sad to wave goodbye as we headed off towards Bowen.  The Big Mango greeted us on arrival in town, and the mango sorbet was so good after a few hours cycling in the heat of the afternoon.  We headed to the beach for a dip in the sea and there we met Bob cruising around on his fantastic bike.  We chatted cycle touring and travel for a while, and then he invited us to stay at his place for the night.  We watched the sunset from the lookout just behind his house and spent the evening talking about anything and everything, and looking at all the interesting things he had recently come across on the net.

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The Big Mango at Bowen.

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Watching the sunset from the lookout behind Bob’s house.

Even with this perfect life, sometimes things go a little pear shaped.  It started perfect enough riding through the market and vegetable gardens of the area.  We bought a massive bag of tomatoes for $2 from a roadside stall.  Then things went a little pear shaped.  We had our first flat of the trip, not normally a drama, but a 20 minute job turned into an epic two hour episode in the heat of the day.  I must give a big thumbs up to our Schwalbe Marathon tyres as they have been awesome considering the distance and terrain we have covered.  After pushing on to make up the distance we had lost, we camped the night in a rubbish infested road stop right next to the Bruce Hwy.  Finally, the throat infection I had woken with, ended up becoming a crazy chest infection.

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Our first flat of the journey.

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The fruit stall where we were loaded up with melons.

But the morning dawned in sublime hues of red, pink, orange and purple, and we pedaled off to complete our first 100km day of the trip.  A roadside fruit stall in Home Hill had us eating fantastic rockmelon, and the owner Alan, would have had us carting five varieties of other melons on the back of our bikes, if his lovely wife Francis had not intervened after the first two were gifted.  After a few hours riding we were very excited when the turn off for Alligator Creek came into view, and were even more excited when we spotted Ash and Soph in the campground.  We had done it – our first 100km day!  We celebrated with a swim in the rock pools and waterfalls, and I found myself a lovely lady spa to relax in.  All was wonderful, until on our return we discovered that the bush turkeys had massacred one of the melons we had carted for the last 80ks.  Not happy turkeys!  But a BBQ and music by candlelight had our night ending perfectly.

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Our camp at Alligator Creek.

 So as you finish up your cuppa, beer or wine, time has passed here as well.  We area about to kick off our Jani celebration – we have beer, cheese, vainags (wreaths made of leaves and flowers worn on our heads), Latvian tunes, a guitar and four voices to celebrate this amazing day! Ligo!

 All my love as always, Astrid.

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Ash and Soph celebrate Jani with style.

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Ligo, ligo!

Towards the tropics

Brisbane to Gladstone 

I’m sitting in a bike shop in Gladstone, sipping instant coffee as I write this. Astrid is off trying to get ‘the plug’ fixed. Tomorrow we will ride into the tropics, another mile stone. Brisbane already seems so long ago. The ride out of the city was a stark contrast to the tears, tantrums and hypoglycaemia of the ride in. Due to a combination of google bikes and Tim’s local knowledge, our ride out of sunny Brisbane consisted mainly of bike paths and small roads. An added bonus was that we have discovered podcasts. Of course I knew of their existence beforehand but had never gotten around to downloading any. I must admit I am slightly out of control now, it’s a bit like letting a kid loose in a lolly shop. There is so much out there and I have a thirst for knowledge, especially in history, politics, some quantum physics, literature and permaculture. My one regret is that I did not do an arts degree prior to doing ‘something you can actually get a job in’. I think education for the joy of learning and the benefits that stem from that experience, which cannot necessarily be instantly measured in economic (shock horror) terms is something seriously under valued in our country. Anyway, I digress, but my point is that as well as this trip being about adventure in what we are seeing and experiencing, I am endeavouring to use this time to read the classics and further educate myself in the areas that spark my imagination. Hopefully in time this will solidify my future academic direction.

After a day of re familiarising myself with the French Revolution we made our camp at the foot of Mt. Beerburum, in the Glasshouse mountains. These mountains are quite bizzare, as they rise like giant monolithic structures out of a seemingly flat landescape. They are in fact volcanic plugs. I have been waiting to use that word. Voclcanic plug, like Gondwana supercontinent, are my new favourite words. Anyway, when you camp at the foot of a mountain you are basically compelled to summit it at sunrise. If you didn’t, it would be rather lame, especially when the summit is only 700m on a sealed path. And the sunrise was rather spendid.

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Glasshouse mountains

What followed was not. A day of convoluted google bike directions, motorways that didn’t allow bikes on them, roads that had no on ramps and generally unsatisfying riding through built up areas. We even failed in making it to the Sunshine Coast brewery. When days like this happen, it’s a real reminder about letting go of how you thought the day should turn out and moving on. Luckily things took a turn for the better later in the day, with some pleasant riding along the coast and an awesome tailwind. We finished the day with a treat – $5 bottle of wine and a delicious variation on one of our one pot wonder meals. Things don’t tend to stay glum for long.

The weather here is already so much warmer than even a week ago. I know part of it is due to being back on the coast, but also because we are heading to the tropics. One thing that is so different about travelling slowly like this is that you get to notice the subtle changes that occur with a gradually changing climatic zone. You don’t just fly into some tropical destination from a Melbourne winter and feel suddenly overwhelmed with humidity and warmth.( not that that isn’t awesome in itself) Here the environment slowly alters before your eyes, such as the differences in vegetation, warmer and warmer evenings, cane toads and my personal favourite  the hilarious bush turkey. The big bonus is the food! We are finding very cheap pineapples and avocados on the side of the road.

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pineapple and espresso happiness

Following our $5 wine in the forest night we headed inland away from the Sunshine Coast. I don’t want to slam the Sunshine Coast, it’s probably a lot nicer in the sun. And it does have nice beaches. It is however very built up and we cycled through suburbs of mostly empty beach houses and apartments. And they say there is no rom for refugees in this country. The waste and decadence made us both a little uneasy. I mean, although I would probably never have one, I do like visiting friend’s beach houses but perhaps they are rather unnecessary.  Ah, first world problems. Anyway, moving on. I guess Noosa and the sunshine coast in general probably once possessed that laid back, seaside village charm, that has been eroded by commercialisation and yuppies.

Once inland we were back in the quieter kind of country that agrees most with cycle touring. Lightly trafficked roads and farmland, interspersed with forest. At about the time we usually think about stopping, a reserve on the site of an old school appeared. Reserves, quite simply are gold. They usually mean a covered table, water and toilets. And in QLD there is a distinct lack of ‘no camping’ signs. After 2 nights of scrambled bush camping, the reserve may as well have been the Hilton. We settled in, drank tea, read books and watched the sunset over a field of cows.

What followed was a day of decidedly uninspiring cycling through immense pine plantations. The moody fast moving clouds dumped rain on us as they saw fit and log trucks thundered past (usually giving us enough room). Our camp was in a mossie infested part of the forest, we made thai curry and dived into the tent as soon as possible to watch ‘Spooks’. Somehow the uninspiring cycling from the previous day seemed to permeate the mood the following morning.  Both of us felt lethargic and slightly morose and by the time we reached Maryborough, a mere 22km away it all came to a head. The root of the issue was since we have crossed the border into QLD we have been doing big days in rather uninspiring country. And it’s not only that, the distances themselves are much bigger than in the southern states. All the coastal towns are massive detours and the alternative is quality time with Bruce (Bruce highway A1). We don’t want to just ride the highway, but we also need to be in Darwin by August 1st as family are coming to visit, and we need to work on our yacht option to Asia. Of course, like everywhere you could spend months exploring this particular region of QLD. Somehow we have to find a balance between the places we would like to see and covering distance. We were in a rut about Queensland and needed a change of tactic. It was decided to sod the 65km we had planned to do that day, and stay put in Maryborough. Almost as soon as the decision to have a rest was made, our moods improved. We had a lovely day exploring the former frontier town, going to the museum and having a beer at the pub. A local even offered us his vacant block to camp on.

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The rain really settled in the next day as we headed up the Bruce highway, but we did find avocados for 25 cents each. The promised land! Food is of central importance on this trip.  I have rather tragically even downloaded the Aldi app onto my phone, as it tells me the location of the nearest Aldi store. I am a total convert!  It certainly makes your dollar go ALOT further and it’s incredible how much I can eat these days. If you left me alone with a loaf of bread and a jar of Aldi chocolate spread, I promise you I could polish it off in 15 mins. I am seriously fantasising about going to an “All you can eat” restaurant before we leave Australia. I reckon we will do it and I can’t wait.

Day 7 of not showering dawned for the first time in days without rain. We had made camp at a free rest stop, which are heavily frequented by grey nomads and appear to be relatively common in QLD. Signs say they are for ‘the convenience of the travelling public’. I say awesome. This particular one was right next to a cute pub too. Bonus. We rode fast over gentle inclines, past cane fields, in light traffic to Bundaberg. We skipped the rum factory as neither of us are keen on Bundaberg rum and instead had the pleasure of a triple gold find of Big W ($2.99 350g Belgian Chocolate) Aldi (all good things come from here) and 65 cent pineapples from a servo. A good day.

Our push towards 1770/ Agnes Waters the following day was pleasantly interrupted by a break at the ‘Tiny Teahouse”. I was reminded later about another difference between cycling and driving these highways. When you drive it is so easy to see a sign for something (such as the tiny teahouse) and go ‘should we?’ and while you are deliberating at 100km per hour it flashes past and you think ‘oh well.’ I have certainly done that in a car. When you are cycling you see the sign get slowly bigger, until you can decipher  it and then you start fantasising about tea and cakes. By the time you reach the actual turn off, you are sold. Perhaps this is not the greatest if you are trying to save every penny but you do get to have some unique and delicious experiences  The Tiny Tea House rocked. Our goal that day, in terms of cycling was the Fingerboard Roadhouse which we reached around midday. Here we did a quick repack, chained up our bikes and successfully transformed ourselves from smelly cycle tourists to smelly backpackers with funny bags. Part of our solution to tacking QLD’s vast distances, was to think a little (at least for a cyclist) outside the square and hitch hike. It took us 10 mins to get a ride, we were soon set up in a camp ground in Agnes Water and not much longer after that we were swimming in the ocean. Hitchhiking win. This experience certainly opened my mind as to how to get around a 60km detour and even a way to explore an area if we ever want a break from the bikes.

cyclists to hitchhikers

cyclists to hitchhikers

Our time at Agnes Water/1770 was truly superb. A place I would recommend for all of those who like charming coastal villages with enough travellers to keep it vibrant but not yet ruined by over commercialisation. We made friends with Ash and Sophie, a great couple who are on their way around Australia. Like us they have quit their jobs to explore the world for a while. Meeting them made us collectively relish our freedom again and reflect on the things we would otherwise be doing (waiting in a hospital corridor perhaps?). It was so great to meet some people our age, this is not a negative comment on grey nomads as they are excellent, but just that I think we have been missing hanging out with people of our generation. Sophie and Ash were so kind to us and we all went to watch the sensational sunset at 1770 and then they cooked us dinner and shared their beer. In fact, I think we were all pretty happy with having met each other and stayed up late into the night talking until ‘Tiny,’ a local joined us. He is a muso and soon he was playing the guitar while some of us sang. Sadly this was interrupted by a grumpy grey nomad (who didn’t have the decency to ask us nicely to be quiet) but proceeded to yell at us to ‘shut up or he’d call the cops’. Obviously our folk songs were offensive to his ear. Sigh. Generation clash perhaps?

Sophie and Ash, our awesome new friends

Sophie and Ash, our awesome new friends

After reluctantly packing up our stuff the next morning we had a change of heart and decided to stay another day. I’m not sure why we ever considered leaving. Ash and Sophie were such fun, the weather and location were sublime. Instead, the 4 of us headed to the beach to swim and read for the day. There we met one of Ash and Sophie’s friends, Guy. We had randomly run into him the night before. Guy has built his own catamaran and sailed from the Goldcoast with a mate. He is one of those truly inspirational people whose simple attitude to life really rung true with us, and he has certainly got our brains turning over. Astrid has talked about learning to sail before, but I didn’t know much about it and kind of thought it was something that rich people did. Sometimes you just need someone to spark your imagination, like the guy that inspired me to really try cycle touring. There are so many ways to live this life and they certainly don’t need to involve being tied to a job and piles of money. Guy just reminded me of that again. That night we made friends with another young dude travelling on his own until he meets up with his girlfriend. We all had a BBQ together and then Astrid and I had a sleep over in Ash and Sophie’s tent (as we had stupidly packed ours before deciding to stay). They drove us back to the Fingerboard Roadhouse the following day and we agreed to meet up again in Airlie Beach in a week or two. We are both looking forward to it!

sunset 1770

sunset 1770

We had planned to ‘smash out the kilometres’ once we were dropped off, and smash we did. Thankfully we are travelling with a prevailing southerly wind and it was this wind that helped push is to 75km in 3.45 hours. Our home that night was the Boyne River rest stop, another free camp site thanks to the local council. Wow did that place fill up! So many variations of caravans and buses. We had a gold experience with John, a lovely grey nomad. He plied us with pineapple, heated water for us so we could wash, and cooked us dinner. He was slightly odd, in that he didn’t eat with us, but set us up in his van with our food  because he ‘didn’t associate with young ladies’ and waited outside until we finished eating. Odd perhaps, but kindness comes in all forms.

So that brings us up where I am now, in the bike shop in Gladstone, exactly 2 months after we left our home. What am amazing trip it has been so far and what lies ahead is unknown and exciting.

Jude

From B to B, and beyond…

Bellingen to Brisbane

Many years ago when purchasing a bike from Markus at Walker’s Wheels in Montmorency, he said to me “Astrid, learn to love the hills”.  At that point in time I did, just the downhill part though.  But in the last few weeks something has changed.  I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but there is something really satisfying about a big hill climb.  Yes, I’m dripping with sweat looking like I have spent the last two hours in a Finnish sauna, my legs and arse are screaming for a reprieve from climbing 1000 vertical metres, but I’m ecstatic when we reach the top of the escarpment and the gateway to the Dorrigo Plateau.  Sitting up there, gazing over where we have ridden for the last week, I know Markus would be proud, because I am.

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Happy to hill climb!

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Even happier to hill climb!

Dorrigo National Park is part of the World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforest, a forest that (despite intense logging in the surrounding areas) has maintained it’s connection to the time when Australia was part of the ancient Gondwana supercontinent.  My eyes have never experienced so many shades of green and I could feel the timelessness of the forest as we sat and meditated under trees that are hundreds of years old.

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From the skywalk at Dorrigo National Park

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So much green.

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The timeless Gondwana rainforest

This feeling of elation came to a crashing end for me in Dorrigo.  It’s the way with cycle touring sometimes – one minute you’re up, the next you’re down, with no explanation.  Luckily I have the best girlfriend in the world who buys me a beer when I’m not coping and then cooks me dinner.  That night the first frost of the season occurred.

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Morning of the first frost in Dorrigo

With the name Dorrigo Plateau, I had assumed that it would be rather flat riding.  Well, you know what they say about assumptions.  We spent the chilly morning riding over large rolling green hills, and while we were eating peanut butter sandwiches in Tyringham we were approached by a local celebrity, Buffalo.  Buffalo has two main loves in life – brumbies and beer.  That afternoon he drank generous amounts of beer and introduced us to many of the brumbies he has saved from the cullings performed by the national parks service.  Jude even had the opportunity to ride a World Heritage listed celebrity brumby bareback.  Lucky girl!

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Buffalo and Jude ride the brumbies

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Jude and the World Heritage listed celebrity brumby

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Lucky girl!

As we were enjoying some fabulous up and downhill stretches in the late afternoon, an unlikely bike drama occurred – one of the mounting poles on my saddle snapped.  I have a sneaking suspicion that my bum has been planning this revenge on the bike seat for weeks.  After a bush mechanics fix, we continued down the mountain and arrived in the lovely town of Nymboida as the sky was turning from pink to mauve.  After such a long day, we were feeling a little out of sorts and walking into the Nymboida Coaching Station Inn was like walking into paradise.  A very big thank you to the fantastic staff and locals who took us in and treated us like family!  We were able to put up our tent on Russel Crowe’s heli pad, they had hot showers for free, a $10 Friday night meal deal, delicious cold beer, a roaring fire, a private tour of the museum and great conversation.  The next morning we didn’t want to leave, so we spent a few hours sitting and talking with Jules and Pete in the beer garden overlooking the river.

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Paradise – the Nymbioda Coaching Station Inn

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Relaxing in the beer garden

With joy and love in our hearts we pedalled out in the early afternoon and headed for Coutt’s Crossing and Richard’s house.  Here we spent a pleasurable afternoon and evening chatting, drinking tea and wine, listening to music and eating home-made macaroons and pizza.  From here the riding was easy, with a couple of days spent riding along flat country roads going through the towns of Grafton, Casino and Kyogle.  And then the hill climbing began again.  Six and a half weeks after leaving Melbourne we climbed the Lion’s Road and crossed into Queensland.  The contrast was stark – in NSW we had been climbing through another section of the stunning Gondwana Rainforest to reach the border, then on the Queensland side – nothing.  The whole forest on that side has been logged and kept as farmland.  The next five kilometres consisted of many 16-18 degree angle inclines that we had to ride up and down until we reached our campsite for the night.  Tired but elated, we had a nudie swim in the river and fell into bed excited that we had reached Queensland and looking forward to exploring it.

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The way to the Lions road – named as the road was built by the Lion’s club.

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Lookout over the valley we just rode up.

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Ah, Queensland.

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First night’s camping spot in Queensland – note the deforestation to the top of the hill and then the mass amounts of trees at the top denoting the border with NSW.

The next morning we looked at the map and I must admit I had no idea how big Queensland actually is.  It’s huge!  As the drizzle set in, we were determined not to be daunted by its size, and headed off in the direction of Brisbane.  As Jude has mentioned before, when you’re constantly out in the elements, the weather can have an effect on your moods.  So can the daily need to find a safe and comfortable place to shelter at nights.  After riding for several hours through the rain, we luckily found a park with a shelter where we could put up our tent for the night.  Our luck continued when the lovely lady in the caravan near us made us hot chocolate and brought us biscuits when it got dark.  Small kindnesses can make all the difference.

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A shelter for our shelter.

The next day we rode into Brisbane.  I like the excitement of making it to a capital city, but I hate riding into them.  Especially when you don’t know the roads, or the back roads.  I also had my first experience of having rubbish thrown at me by a car driver.  Despite these annoyances we made it into town and popped out in Southbank right at the fake beach on the river.  I couldn’t help myself and had to go for a swim.

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We made it to Brisbane!

We have spent the last few days in the lovely home and company of Tim and Bec.  I was recently asked what comfort I miss being on the road.  My answer is a kettle and the ability to make a cup of tea whenever I want one.  Much to my delight, we have drank copious amounts of tea, relaxed, bought avocado’s for 50 cents each, indulged on tropical fruit, rode our bikes around town, drank microbrewery beers, been to the markets and explored the brilliant artworks in GOMA.  Tomorrow we set off on the road again – cue Willie Nelson song…

Until next time, all my love, Astrid.

Lakes, beaches and into the ranges

Newcastle to Bellingen

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Newcastle

It’s always a little hard to leave friends and the comforts of inside living. Even though we love living in the tent and being outdoors, having a break from searching for a place to sleep, lighting the stove every time you want a cup of tea and one pot wonders is nice. But the nature of our trip is that we need to move on, so we bade farewell to Riki and Newcastle and headed out on the highway towards Nelson Bay.

Although we had pushed to make it for the early afternoon ferry, on arrival at Nelson Bay we had found that only the 3.30pm one was running. Tragically this meant that we had to lie on the beach and snorkel until it was time to leave. The ferry trip across the bay and up the river was truly beautiful and I could sense we would be in for a real treat over the next few days as we explored the Myall Lakes National Park. On arrival at the picturesque Tea Gardens, the light was fading and we were wondering where to camp, when in typical fashion, we were approached by the ferry lady who gave us the heads up about where we could camp for free.

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Tea Gardens Ferry

And then we had the great flood of 2013 as we have started calling it. Due to mild paranoia, bought on by the incessant signs about the things you can’t do in NSW (flying kites and camping are often forbidden) and the “security” guy from a few weeks ago, we decided to take extra precautions and set up somewhere quite hidden. This involved bashing through some bush and setting up after dark. We briefly considered the possibility of the tide (there were mangroves kind of nearby) but concluded we were definitely far away enough. I dismissed the strange holes in the ground.

So we were lying in the tent, watching Silk. I kept hearing some strange dripping, it sounded like water on water but I was only half paying attention. Astrid briefly thought that her feet felt a bit strange but we were both concentrating on the show. Then all of a sudden it clicked for Astrid as she put her hand onto the floor of the tent.

“Jude, I think we are on water.”

I put my hand on the floor, it felt like a waterbed.

“Fuck.”

I opened the door, sure enough, water. We were floating on ankle deep water.

“Bugger!”

We jumped into strangely coordinated action. Astrid said she will never forget me dragging a tent across ankle deep water, completely naked.

Luckily nothing was wet inside (thank you footprint and awesome Mont tent) and we found a dry spot not far away.  Lesson about suspicious holes in the ground in the vicinity of mangroves learnt.

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Jude in a tree

After the great flood of 2013 we arose to the kind of day that infuses you with an immense sense of wonder and joy. We cycled through cool, subtropical forests as the sun slowly broke through the canopy. To our left we had the still reflective Myall Lakes, to our right, the ocean. It wasn’t long before the sun’s rays overcame the coolness of the morning and we walked over immense, ancient sand dunes and swam naked in the warm ocean.

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The gorgeous dunes

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Perfect for a morning nudie swim..

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And to our left, the still reflective lake. Amazing.

In the afternoon we were confronted with a google bikes error and found ourselves learning how to mountain bike, over rocks and pools, through thick vegetation on fully loaded touring bikes. It’s these unplanned challenges and distractions that make up the fabric of a trip like this. I think we giggled to ourselves for the whole 3 hours it took for us to do those 20km. The hilarity was compounded when a local informed us later that there was a well maintained dirt road we could have taken to exactly the same place.

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The “road”

On this adventure, change is a constant thing and this environment comes with it’s own set of stressors. The things that wear us are much more immediate then those you find in the city. Things like the constant exposure to the elements, not knowing if you are going to find somewhere suitable to sleep, trying to stay under budget, not eating enough, fatigue and missing home. So one day I can be having a golden day in the sun, the next sitting on the footpath in some random town feeling morose. As a couple this means one of us has to step up when the other is struggling and this in turn strengthens our relationship to each other. To know that it’s okay to have a cry (probably about nothing, most likely a lack of food) while snotting into a coffee is indeed a comforting thing.

And after these somewhat harder moments something good usually occurs. Like meeting our first fellow cycle tourists. More about them later. Or being warmly welcomed and invited to share a fire, conversation and a few drinks at a forest campsite. The good things always outweigh the tiny things that are sometimes a bit hard on this adventure.

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fellow cycle tourists, Victor, Sharyn, Jason and Tony

It had to happen eventually. After what seemed to be weeks of golden sunshine we finally awoke to a moody sky and soon after we rolled out of camp, the rain joined us. But we were riding through subtropical rainforest, on deserted dirt road so things really weren’t so bad. And then we found coffee and learnt about a microbrewery up ahead. We also met up with the other cycle tourists again, a group of 4 travelling from Sydney to the Gold Coast. We arranged to meet up with them that night and the headed full pelt towards Black Duck Brewery. We spent the afternoon tasting brews and listening to local musicians. One guy even made up a song in our honour about ‘bicycles, breweries and bakeries’. Later we met up with the other cyclists and shared stories about the road and consumed large amounts of food. A very good day.

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Black Duck Brewery, Port Macquarie

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Through the forest towards the coast

We were hitting the dirt road the next day and the others were off to the highway so we bade them farewell. The dirt road in question, was at least in part an actual 4 wheel drive track. That meant a lot of sand and water and for us a fare bit of pushing. We were headed for a rest day at south west rocks, this in Jude and Astrid fashion meant, not actual rest (who would want to do that?) but going diving. A perfect campsite was located at Smokey Cape and we spent the next day diving Fish Rock Cave.  This was an incredible experience as we got to swim through a cave, see grey nurse sharks and my favorite, a giant, ancient turtle. I nearly used all my air when I saw it, I was that excited.

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“4 wheel driving”

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Smokey Cape

After our non rest day we were both feeling a bit tired and dejected as we rode along the drizzly highway the following day. Things were slightly glum but at least we had a ‘warm showers’ host the following night with the promise of a break from the tent. The weather cleared anyway and we found ourselves camping in a beautiful hidden spot, just off the highway that night. The following day was a short ride into gorgeous Bellingen, a town I would move to in a second if it was in Victoria. What can I say, mountains, beach, good coffee and a really strong sense of community. Here we met the wonderful Kerrie, one half of our warm showers host. She showed us around the beautiful area she lives in and cooked us the most amazing thai fish curry. Her partner Ian helped us with the road ahead and we felt very spoilt (we even had a bath overlooking the rainforest!) and revitalised.

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magical bath

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clean clothes and passionfruit, Bellingen

 

 

Valley Grrrls …

Sydney to Newcastle via the Hunter Valley

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Looking over the Hunter Valley

Dream on it. Let your mind take you to places you would like to go, and then think about it and plan it and celebrate the possibilities.

                                                                                             Liza M

It has been four weeks since we began this journey.  We are living our dream now, and it is  the most amazing experience of my life.  Recently I have realised that it’s the distractions that make a journey great.  Whether it be a place, side road, people or experience.  The road to Sydney had seemed familiar, our destination set. The road beyond, unknown.  We could take the most direct route, but what fun would that be?  As always – local knowledge is a great asset.  Our new route to Newcastle took us though ridge and valley country.  Yes, this meant more undulations, hills, ups and downs. Amazingly, we are now used to this.

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Sunrise over Bobin Head

We began with a beautiful afternoons ride with Glen (our local), through Bobin Head and a night’s camping on a ridge top overlooking the national park in the north of Sydney.  The next morning we had an unfortunate start, by riding through Galston Gorge during peak hour.  All Sydney-siders are by now staring at the computer screen in horror – you rode through Galston Gorge!!! during peak hour!!!! Yep, and it sucked.  Very narrow road, no shoulder, stone wall one side/steep drop the other, and obnoxious drivers.  Very unsatisfactory to the daughter of a civil engineer, no more needs to be said.  Luckily, the road from there on was fun.  The sun was shining, and we rode through fertile land full of flowers and vegetable gardens.  We stocked up on local produce from street side stalls and a little shop/shed that used an honesty system.  From here, we bought the best fig and ginger jam ever – and yes, we have almost finished the whole jar in 4 days!  Riding makes you develop a ferocious appetite, and Jude does believe that we will soon have consumed our weight in bread.

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The honesty shop

From the ridges, we descended via the River Road into the valley and along the edge of the Hawkesbury River.  With the river flowing along our left and the occasional cliff face to our right, we meandered our way through many sleepy towns to Wiseman’s Ferry.  The quick ferry ride took us to the other side, and after a large day of riding we sought the refuge of a forest to rest.  Unfortunately, the millions of mosquitos did not agree, and we were mauled before we were able to put up our home, and escape to an afternoon of reading and chocolate biscuits.

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The Hawkesbury River

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Overhangs on the River Road

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On the Wiseman’s Ferry

We awoke to a cacophony of bird songs and a misty morning in the valley.  After a cup of tea, we took a chance and found (with a little help from some locals) that we could cycle out of the little lane we had camped on, up the hill and on to the main road.  We continued to cycle through the valley, passed the St. Jude’s church for sale and crossed into the gorgeous town of St Albans.

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Scones at the pub St Albans

That evening, a major mountain bike race was to kick off in town and the organisers offered for us to stay and participate if we wanted to.  We seriously considered it, yet decided to move on.  But not before a coffee/tea and a serve of scones from the local pub.  The tavern is the most adorable pub I have ever been to – even at 9am.  And the scones were a secret gift from the motorcyclist we were chatting to.  If you ever meet a cycle tourist on your travels, a cheeky treat bought for them on the sly will be a kindness appreciated and remembered forever.

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The MacDonald River near St Albans

From St Albans we passed through the St Albans common, an open farmland based on the english commons.  The valley was stunning and the riding was divine. Eventually this lead to the gravel climb up to Bucketty.  Many of the mountain bike ride competitors stopped us and admired that we were cycling this road with our heavily laden bikes, and we still receive comments from locals who state that their cars can hardly make it up that road.  It does feel good.

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St Albans Common

From here we headed down into the next valley following the old convict route looking at the remnants of the original road, culverts and buildings.  A champagne at the Laguna wine bar was refreshing.  We would have stayed for the band, but we have become nannas and the thought of going to bed after 8pm was too much to cope with.  So we rode the extra few km’s to Wollombi where we put up our tent up in the tavern’s backyard (for free) and could go to bed when we wanted.  Later in the evening we did partake in the local delicacy of Dr Jerds Jungle Juice and had fifty different local opinions imparted to us about which road we should take the next day.

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Cheeky champagnes at the Laguna wine bar

The road to the Broke area won, and after 30kms a wine tasting at Krinklewood bio-dynamic winery was brilliant. I had the best Rose ever and then we were given free-range on the property’s veggie garden.  With an armful of organic produce, we cycled through the rest of the Hunter Valley and tasted the wares of another winery, distillery, chocolate shop and cheese shop.  That night, we ‘sneaky’ camped in the local national park and feasted on the gourmet produce we acquired that day.

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Riding in the Krinklewood winery

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The Krinklewood winery

It was exciting to wake up on the morning of our four week leaving anniversary.  To answer our number one bike touring question – yes, my bum still does hurt after four weeks. Not every day, but I’d say every three days.  I recently purchased some lycra which has helped, but a daily inspection by Jude and paw paw cream works wonders.  Jude, on the other hand, rarely has any issues and believes that the ‘skins’ she rides in have a great effect.

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A cup of tea and a triple cream brie sandwich to start the day

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Arriving in Newcastle

We stuck to the back roads into Newcastle and covered the 50km’s to Riki’s house by lunchtime.  It was great to stay with a friend again, and their house is just lovely.  We had our shower for the week and washed our clothes.  Then we had a driving tour of the history and suburbs of Newcastle.  This town is awesome by car or by bike, and last night we sampled wonderful micro-brewery beers at the Albion hotel – Riki’s favourite watering hotel.  Here we met Evan and Susan, and were invited into their lives.  To our delight we shared a wonderful evening sharing stories, food, wine, Australian music and their scenic view of Newcastle harbour.  It seems I end this blog with the story of a great night having dinner with amazing people, but that is the truth about cycle touring life.

Hope that your life is as joyous and wonderful, with all my love, Astrid xx

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With Riki in her home town

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Newcastle Ocean Baths

Along the coast to Sydney

Tuross Head to Sydney

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Martin Place, Sydney

Week three started with mixed emotions about getting a lift part way up the coast so that we could still make it to Sydney on time for Misch’s birthday. This adventure has never been about cycling every single kilometre. In fact, in the grand scheme of things the actual cycling part has never been the main focus. You won’t find us swaddled in lycra, sipping lattes and comparing how many kilometres we can ride per day or how fast. The cycling is more about a mode of transport that reflects our shared philosophy about travel, rather than the actual act of pushing down on the pedals. That said, I was rather uncomfortable about getting a ride. There is something very satisfying about looking back on where you have come from and realising my legs did that. But being on the road is about adapting and ridding yourself about preconceived ideas about how things should be. We could have turned down Lei’s offer of a second night in Turross Head, but for what? So we could pedal an extra part of the highway to prove something? To who? Ourselves? Our family? So we could look back and say, yeah we pedalled all of it.  Or we could say yes to an opportunity and spend time with some wonderful people and leave feeling inspired and revitalised, which is exactly what we did.

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Lei, our wonderful couchsurfing host

Once back on the bikes we were confined mainly to the Princes highway, riding through forests in the typical undulating fashion of NSW. I spent quite a lot of time composing letters in my head about the inadequacies of NSW roads and how they have really failed cyclists, providing no hard shoulder/no shoulder at all. Cycle touring the east coast of Australia is quite popular  (there is at least 2 cyclists ahead of us and 2 behind) and getting more so. Yet the way the roads are built in a lot of parts really discourages cycling and that in my opinion is backwards and a major missed opportunity.

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My “council worker” outfit to tackle the princess highway, courtesy of Lei and Jen.

Anyway, was lovely to be back on the bikes. We camped wild again, although one night we were woken by “security” advising us we were camped illegally (we were in a beachside reserve, and yes there may have been several no camping signs) but he didn’t fine us or move us on. Note to self, perhaps more stealth is required next time. After the rough weather of the weekend the sun shone brilliantly, infusing everything in that soft, golden light that is unique to autumn. Our spirits were high, we took a detour to Jervis Bay, just to have lunch on the beach and swim. It’s amazing how the weather really influences your mood when you are out in it all the time.

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Jervis Bay for a lunchtime swim

In Nowra we tried to go to Hopdog microbrewery (the only one since Bruthen) but it was closed. Instead we received a spontaneous hug from Gwen, a lovely lady who started chatting to us on the street and was really excited about what we were doing. This out pouring of kindness and of hospitality  we have received over the last few week is not something I expected from my fellow country women and men. I am not sure why, I guess I always thought it was something that happened in other cultures. It’s quite heartening to discover this generosity of spirit in my own country.

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Climbing out of Kiama

In Kiama we finally rid ourselves of the Princes highway to follow bike paths into Bulli. Well, kind of. I had heard about this bike path and envisioned kilometres of car free riding with stunning views of the coastline. To be fair, we got some really beautiful views. We also got arse breaking climbs through suburbia, questionable “scenic” detours through industrial ports and long sections on the road/footpath. At least there was a brewery almost right on the path in the Gong. And the last 10km into Bulli was on a fantastic bike path with stunning views.

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what is this?

Arriving in Bulli we were pretty exhausted, having done 2 big days by our standards. So it was wonderful having the chance to stay with Kaija, in her beautiful little house that instantly felt like home. We had 2 really amazing days in Bulli, which is such a cute little town, nestled between the sea and the escarpment. There was cooking, walks and  listening to beautiful music while Kaija and Ann practiced and we ate freshly baked scones. One night we watched the full moon over the beach, drank champagne and sang all the songs about the moon we could remember.

Full moon, Bulli

Full moon, Bulli

On a whim, Astrid and I decided to stay a third night to see Mia Dyson at the Heritage Hotel, which was around the corner from where we were staying. Kaija was away for the weekend so we had a night of playing ‘house’ by ourselves which I guess is going to become pretty rare. We had a fabulous night. Our time in Bulli was very special.

 

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“flying”

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Buli Moon

 As a result of indulging and staying another night we had come to an agreement that we would pack the night before and leave early. At the moment it still takes us a while to pack up! So we were out of the house and on our bikes by 7am, the sky was the clearest blue and the sun was bright in our faces. A truly stunning morning to be pedalling towards Sydney. There was basically no traffic (another reason we wanted to be away early, as the road ahead was narrow and likely to be heavily trafficked with tourists by 9am) except for groups of road cyclists. They passed us on the hefty inclines, greeting us with encouragement as we inched our way up. Although the going was tough, the views were well worth the effort and I enjoyed every moment of the climb up to bald hill. What made it even sweeter was the resounding cheer we both got from all the road cyclists when we finally did reach the top.

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Towards Sydney!

The next section of the road took us through the Royal National Park. And what an amazing road that was. Smooth, mostly downward trending, through lush jungle like forest and only other cyclists for company. The road of my dreams! Astrid had started chatting to one of the road cyclists (amazingly keeping up with him) and he offered to meet us at the end of the national park and that he and his wife would guide us all the way into North Sydney where we would be staying. Before this we had planned to take the train, which I was kind of not entirely happy with. So it was agreed, Jim left us to go and meet up with his wife and we turned onto an off road track. This was another highlight, winding it’s way along a river, trees reflected in the still, glassy waters and only the birds for company.

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Lady Carrington track, Royal National Park

In Sutherland we met up with Jim and his wife Janelle, wolfed down some lunch and coffee and were off again. We followed Jim and Janelle through suburbia and along picturesque bike paths until we were staring at the remarkable view that is the Sydney Opera house and the Harbour Bridge. We had made it! The first milestone of the trip achieved. And again due to  the generosity of people who had been strangers only a few hours before, who had taken their whole Saturday to show us how to ride into their city. Thank you.

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Jim and Janelle who helped us all the way into the city

The few days we  had in Sydney were very special. There was relaxing, spedning quality time with Misch and Key as well as a very awesome party.  We were even gifted 2 bottles of wine by Wendy Whitely (wife of the late artist Brett Whitely). This came about because  some idiot school children had trashed the beautiful public “Secrete Garden” she has created on derelict land in Lavender Bay. She was cleaning it up on her own and looking rather flustered and upset. So we offered to help and she was so grateful she insisted we take some wine. This was consumed the next afternoon as we enjoyed a picnic in the Secret Garden, along with a phenomenal amount of cheese.

Retirement Village chic 100th birthday party

Retirement Village chic 100th birthday party

It was hard to leave Sydney. The weather was splendid, the harbour and the views spectacular but most of all it had been so wonderful to spend time with Misch and Key. (Thanks Erin and Matt for letting us stay in your wonderful apartment.) When we left Melbourne, we knew we had Sydney to look forward to and spend time with them. It made the goodbye in Melbourne less final. But now the real goodbye was upon us and it made leaving very sad.

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Coffee and sunny autumn weather. Perfect.

The first milestone is behind us, it feels quite incredible. The road ahead was uncertain until we met Glen, a keen cycle tourer who immediately gave us fantastic advice about the route we should take out of Sydney which was completely different to our tentative plans. So that’s the way we are going to go, heading inland towards the Hawkesbury and the Hunter Valley and then on to Newcastle.

And just a quick aside about this nomadic life. I feel like I have taken to it more than I expected. It feels so good to cycle almost everyday. In fact, it feels a little like going to work (without incidental overtime, management hassles and the stress of trying to finish on time) that you really love. And the ‘days off’ are sweet because they are exactly that, days off. Without the cycling, the lack of structure and purpose would probably render me a little unsettled. A bit like I felt when I was unemployed. It’s liberating at first but then you get a bit lost because all you have is spare time and that begins to lose it’s meaning and value . That might sound odd but I think that’s why I am feeling so settled in this new life.

Jude