November 21, 2015
Medowie to Sydney
Total distance: 1010km
Ever since completing the Sydney to Perth cycle tour back in 2011, I promised myself to one day complete a circumnavigation of Australia. Doing it in one go would be nice but other things in life get in the way too easily. As such, doing it piece by piece over the span of a few years is the next best thing, the first piece being the 2011 tour. Four years later, I have yet to make any progress, until now. I chose Brisbane to Sydney as my second piece as it is the easiest section, logistically speaking – Brisbane being my current home and my brother lives in Sydney. Bail out points everywhere – trains, buses, ferries, private vehicles, are all there ready to be summoned if required. My inner sense of adventure is far from dead, but it may just well be if I put this off long enough. I wanted to do this quick, life is too short to simply stand and wait for an adventure.
It’s day 5 and IT IS THE FINAL DAY of riding! Woke up feeling confident that I will arrive Sydney today. But I was aiming for a little more. Earlier in the week I agreed to attend a dinner gathering at 6:30pm with 3 of my former schoolmates who were all happen to be in Sydney, one I have not met for more than a decade! The original plan was to ride a distance of 172km, but yesterday’s ride ended prematurely which means I had to make up the distance today, with the new distance now 200km. With 3 major climbs, the total elevation tops the list as the hilliest of all 5 days. Also taking into account the potential traffic and navigation issues riding in Sydney metro area, I knew I had to start my ride early if I were to make it for the dinner.
It was just before twilight when I left Medowie, at about 4:15am, which makes this the first and only time I rode in the dark for the entire trip. The moment has finally arrived to show off my brand spanking new B&M Luxos U headlight working in its full glory! But what a shame, no one was around to witness! The roads to Newcastle took me across two long bridges, across Hunter River, both the North and the South Arm. Approaching Newcastle, I rode through a huge industrial area, which was nice and quiet on an early Saturday morning. I skipped Newcastle town centre by continuing South via B63. It was on this road that I encountered an unexpected steep hill climb! Why didn’t I see this coming!? Ah of course, my planned route was to get into the town centre, so this road wasn’t part of my original route. The climb was relentless, and sneaky too, the reason being there’s a false flat at every corner that made me think I was getting near to the peak. Oh well, that makes a total of 4 major climbs then for this final day ride.
A gentle descent follows and then it was time for a quick rest stop at the 42km mark at a service road on the Pacific Hwy. Note that even though I was back on the highway, it’s no longer the most major and busiest road (role taken over by Pacific Motorway), thankfully. Later, I came to this suburb called Belmont. Brisbane has a suburb with the same name, which made me wonder why so many repeated town names across different states here in Australia. Did you know that there’s a town called Perth in Tasmania? Why not use aboriginal names instead? At Budgewoi Peninsula, I got to ride next to the coast but the ocean view was entirely blocked by a coastal sand dune all the way. I could only hear the waves from the road. Out of frustration, I stopped at one of the beach entrance just so I can get my ocean view. I was not disappointed!
Just before crossing the bridge to The Entrance, I was flagged by a driver. He drove past me, parked abruptly at the roadside, then got down from his car and signalled me to stop. Instinctively, my ears were all prepared for something abusive. Something along the line “You know you shouldn’t be on the road!” or “Are you on a death wish?”. As I was stopping, I memorised the registration plate, just in case, you never know. Turns out he was just another curious passer-by, about what I was riding, phew! He was extremely curious, loaded with many questions, and said that he’s been thinking of getting a recumbent but never got a chance to see one up close. A medical condition rendered him unable to properly ride an upright bike. So I gave him the details of the nearest bike shop that sells recumbent (in Sydney) and also my email if he needs to hear more about first hand experience.
Had a proper rest stop at a service station at The Entrance town centre. Well, as proper as I can get, since I can’t find any other shops that’s opened. It was only 9am and I have already covered 93km. Satisfied with the progress made but even more happy with the weather today – strong overcast and a very comfortable 18-22°C. Checked the forecast earlier to see that the weather condition would remain stable thru out the day, which means the heatwave has officially ended! Traffic on the road (now Central Coast Hwy) becomes progressively busier approaching Gosford. I rode on a semi-decent shared path next to Central Coast Hwy for as long as it remained semi-decent. Quite a few local riders were out and about. Lucky for them to have the heatwave ended before the weekend. The shared path ended at some point or becomes a footpath (can’t really tell), so I got back on the road, only to be honked and yelled at while waiting for the lights by an impatient driver waiting at the back. Not wanting any trouble, I got off the road and waited for the lights at the pedestrian crossing instead. I didn’t expect to witness such impatient driving behaviour this far from Sydney. My mind started imagining worst case scenario and started contemplating if I should just hop onto the train as I get closer to Sydney to save myself from running into more of these impatient drivers.
Apart from bad drivers, I was also thinking about the forthcoming climbs past Gosford, that 3 dreaded climbs. Do I still have it in my legs now that they’ve clocked 900km in the past 5 days? It started to drizzle when I arrived at Gosford (116km), but the roads were wet so there must have been quite a bit of rain here this morning. Just then, the golden arches appeared before my very (or weary) eyes. I laughed, as Macca’s has truly become a cyclist refuge centre! Here, I had a few text exchanges with my brother about the climbs as he used to frequent this area on his road bike. Not a problem for you, he said. That’s very nice to hear, but given my current state, I wasn’t too convinced. Took me a while to build up the courage to finally decide that I was going to give it a crack. At the very least, the downhills should be refreshing for my tired body. Just before leaving Macca’s, I caught myself in the toilet nearly performing the head-to-toe wetting routine. The heatwave had done more damage than I thought!
Climb 1 of 3 made an appearance in less than a kilometre after Macca’s. The rain has stopped at this point, but I’d take rain over heat any day! The climb was steep enough to warrant the use of my 24t chainring. With fresh legs though, I could probably get away with 36t. Riding conditions however was quite poor – narrow shoulder and heavy traffic. A short lookout loop on the left provided a nice temporary relief (no views though – obscured by trees). The climb ended at the entry to Pacific Motorway and immediately after that, traffic was almost non-existent! More importantly, I got to ride in a forest again. This was very welcoming after many miles of noisy and smelly motor traffic, hoons encounter, and generally riding in fear. A speedy twisty descent follows and I arrived at the crossing of Mooney Mooney Creek. The second climb kicks off right after the bridge. I noticed a significant number of motorbikes travelling through this area, a few even made repeated runs up and down. I also noted the complete absence of cyclists here, but I think that has something to do with the time of day – it was past noon when I was there. Earlier, I gathered from Strava that this place is quite popular among cyclists, and I can see why now. On each of these climbs, I made sure my 3s average power did not exceed 200w, and best kept at around 150w, with careful selection of gears and cadence. This takes a conscious effort, and any distractions are good at this point. My knees were hurting more than ever, but the pain was still tolerable, no painkillers taken so far.
Another fast descent took me to the Hawkesbury River Bridge, lies adjacent to its big brother that supports the Pacific Motorway. The Southern side of the river was a town called Brooklyn, looked potentially interesting but maybe next time! The third and final climb was the hardest of all – a solid 200m of climbing with an average 5% gradient. Again, with fresh legs, I would never regard 5% as hard climb. I was made aware by my brother earlier that there is a famous pie shop at the top of this climb that makes a good rest stop. Needless to say, that became my main motivation for this climb. Food is ALWAYS a good motivation for a long distance rider. I now face a tough decision – should I go for my all-time favourite peppered steak pie, or curry pie for a stronger flavour? Never mind that, for some unknown reason, I got a cheese steak pie instead when I arrived. Flushed it down with ginger beer. This could have been the perfect rest stop, IF there were no pesky flies! On a positive note, those flies forced me to waste no time, as I got back on the road as soon as I was done eating. Time for some stats – I had done 156km by the time I left the pie shop, which sits at 200m above sea level, and the destination point below Harbour Bridge in Sydney sits at sea level. Only about 45km left and a net loss of 200m await – you have no idea how amazing that feels!
The stats sure looked promising, but I was rolling into the land of Sydney drivers, and we all know what that means. Every time I passed a train station, I found myself asking, should I? Anyway, while riding on the city-bound Pacific Highway, I made some observations on the traffic pattern and devised my own survival strategy. There were tons of traffic lights on this road, so the traffic comes in waves. It was also mostly downhill, so if I make use of my high gears I can keep on pedalling, in between those waves, to cover a significant distance before the traffic caught up to me again. Even when the traffic did caught up, on the downhill, I could sometimes move at 50km/h, which wasn’t too far from the 60km/h speed limit. Being a weekend, the left lane of the multi-lane highway was made available for on-street parking. Even though the parked cars appeared sporadically, drivers tend to avoid the left lane entirely, and drivers that do choose to use the left lane, usually intend to turn left into a side road soon after. So most of the time, the left lane was vacant for me to use. Pacific Highway was quite undulating, so on ascents, I just hopped onto the footpath especially when there were already parked cars on the left lane. This strategy worked for most of the journey until I got much closer to the city centre where riding on the footpath becomes more awkward, as I found myself being paranoid about coppers around. Eventually I arrived at a proper bike path but sadly only lasted 400m until I arrived at the bottom Harbour Bridge. This was when I first found out that for cyclist who wants to get onto the Harbour Bridge, one must get down from the bike and push it up stairs! There’s a ramp next to it to roll the bike wheels but still, for such an iconic bridge, one wouldn’t think of providing such an inelegant way for transporting bicycles. An officer of some sort stood at the top of the stairs, which made me think for a moment that payment is needed to use this bridge. Luckily not, and then comes the actual path on the bridge, where I immediately noticed the ugly inward facing metal fences on both sides, for preventing jumpers I think.
Somewhere along the Harbour Bridge, I took a long gaze over my right shoulder, beyond the fence and was in awe with the many heads and bays that are characteristic of this natural harbour city. Just then, I was struck by a moment of disbelief, and to realise what I have just done – after 5 long days pedalling from Brisbane, I have finally made it to Sydney! My mind earlier was so immersed in road and traffic conditions, drivers, infrastructure, terrain, I have completely lost sense of why I was here, in this busy city that looks every bit unattractive, until now. The sight of the harbour, the city skyline, and later on, the Opera House, reminded me how beautiful this metropolis is. My journey ended right after crossing Harbour Bridge, at Hickson Rd just under the bridge. There were many tourists out and about, and a number of wedding couples doing photo shoots. Both the Harbour Bridge and Opera House can be seen in the background, making this a popular spot for a photo shoot. A blanket of clouds and a strong Westerly greeted my arrival. The time read 4:30pm and I have ridden 200km on my last day for a total of 12 hours 15 mins. No one here knew what I have just done, except for the Vietnamese dude selling ice cream from his truck. As I was paying for my soft serve cone, he asked where have I ridden today. Told him I started from Brisbane 5 days ago, but he didn’t look amused. I concluded that he’s either a super strong rider that can probably do this distance in much shorter time, or simply a non-rider with absolutely no idea how far it is to ride any distance. Sat on the grass for a bit, updated my social media, and then I was off again, one last time on the bike, on a southbound journey to Surry Hills, where my friends and I will be meeting for dinner. The 3km journey took me across the city and 30 mins of fear-filled riding. Should have taken the train instead. A friend offered me to use the shower in a gym nearby where he was a member. Our laughter-filled little reunion dinner in an exotic restaurant made a fitting end to a thousand-kilometre bike ride!
At dinner, I was asked if I had booked my return flight to Brisbane. The answer was no, as I wasn’t confident that I would make it to Sydney. The sense of achievement was intense, but I will never repeat this ride, not unless it’s in the name of charity (or record attempt?). The stress and risk of highway riding was simply too great to do this simply for personal enjoyment. I miss the touring days in 2011 where I wasn’t all too concern about the distance I covered in a day, and if I liked a place, I just stayed for longer or even camped for an extra day or two. The idea of doing this Brisbane to Sydney ride was intended to be more of a vacation than a personal challenge, but had somehow reversed its role by the end of the journey. True, the weather is the ultimate game changer. I could have done a bit better in my planning to avoid the extreme heat. Compared to the same time last year where I completed a 1200km ride in 4 days, this time I was no where as fit as then, and obviously made the ride more challenging. However, the past few years of Audax riding has definitely helped in preparing myself for solo long distance rides like this. Energy conservation, navigation ability, traffic awareness, and mental endurance are some of the most invaluable skills gained from riding with the Audax community. Despite all this, confidence is not something that can be taught, but if you have it, you’ll complete many great rides with it. But if you don’t have much of it, just like myself, that’s when a supposedly smooth sailing ride morphs into a crazy adventure.