Archive for the ‘Brisbane to Sydney Tour’ category

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November 21, 2015
Medowie to Sydney
Distance: 200km
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.

First night ride! Mmm... that luminance

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.

An unlikely charm of an industrial zone

Copenhagen style bikeway in one of Newcastle's suburb. I'm impressed.

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!

What you can't see is the awesome ocean view on the left, which I can't see either :(

Stopped and walked over the dunes just to see the ocean. Not bad.

Looking back at the road, the view ain't bad either.

Coastal scrubs are fragile, hence the fence

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.

Close to Gosford, a bike path appears, which I was grateful. Unfortunately, the rest of the path doesn't look this good

Sydney can be brought even closer, sooooo tempting!

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!

Gosford on a Saturday morning

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.

First climb. Not much shoulder to ride on and I took this photo when the traffic was briefly quiet

Second climb. A lot more pleasant, and all road users are made aware of the popularity of cycling here.

An old steel bridge over Hawkesbury River that connects to Brooklyn. Third climb starts immediately after the bridge

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!

Thank goodness for a pie shop in the middle of nowhere. Look at that queue!

View from the pie shop. The motorway can also be seen here (bottom right).

Loving the cool weather thru out the day!

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.

I asked that hi-viz cyclist if all riders have to go up here. It's the only way, he said. Sigh.

And so that was the 5th climb I did today!

A caged bike path

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!

Mission accomplished!!!

I swear Sydney Opera House looks 100x better after riding the 1000km journey from Brisbane!

Strava ride profile

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.

Another adventure checked :)

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November 20, 2015
Taree to Medowie
Distance: 142km
Total distance: 810km

Of all the good things that a touring cyclist can carry, the greatest of all would be the ability for good decision-making. Secondary to that would be the ability to rescue oneself from a bad decision. Failing that, of all the assets that one can afford to leave behind, do not leave behind common sense! Yesterday I made a decision to modify my route due to extreme temperature. Today, I was faced with another tough decision, as the temperature has just gotten even worse.

Whenever someone asked if I'm alright today

The planned route for the day covers a distance of 228km. With a peak temperature of the day expected to exceed 40°C, it made sense to skip all detours and just stay on the highway. The detours would have taken me to The Lakes Way where I got to ride next to a couple of lakes system, which include Wallis Lake, Smiths Lake, Myall Lake, Boolambayte Lake, and Bombah Broadwater. The signage for The Lakes Way was printed on a brown background, which indicates an official point of interest. Sounds fantastic I know, but apart from the greater distance, the infrequent townships in this area also made it risky to ride on such a hot day. It may or may not be cooler riding closer to the ocean (depending on wind direction). I’ve decided not to take my chances. By keeping to the highway, I shaved off a whopping 53km of riding which means my total distance to Newcastle slashed to 175km. After 3 consecutive days of riding 200+km, this was very welcoming distance-wise.

About the only time I enjoyed my ride was the first 2 hours

I left the motel at 5:30am to a nice and cool 19°C. At one point, I thought of time trialling my way while the early morning temperature remains low but my legs protested. Yesterday’s speedy 70km run to Taree didn’t just come at a cost of nothing. I soon encounter an 80m climb at the 7km mark which completely kills off this idea. From then onwards, it was highly undulating thru out. Despite the hilly terrain, I was able to maintain a 25km/h average speed until my first rest stop at Coolongolook at 45km. Pretty happy with my effort so far. At about 8:30am, the temperature shot up from 24C to 31C in a span of just 9 minutes! Had an opportunity to stop at Bulah Delah township at the 75km mark, but I must not waste any time while my body can still cope with the current temperature. My mind was completely occupied by worries and thoughts of anything heat-related – I hardly get to enjoy the ride. I got to 95km before I took my second rest stop, at about 9:30am. The temperature now reads 35°C. This was the first stop where I completely drenched myself with water. This method of cooling helped immensely, but this was as far as I got, as I didn’t know how else to keep my body cool. Little did I know at that time that from this rest stop onwards, each time I got back on the road, I never got further than 12km before needing to stop again to cool myself.

I don't fit in here

How do people re-apply sunscreen on sweaty skin?

Not quite Uluru, but pretty close weather-wise!

Only 10km down South, I came to a service centre. Ah finally the rescue is here, an icy cold drink or two (or three)! With absolutely no hesitation, I steered towards the shop, thru the intoxicating stench of petrochemical. An elderly gentleman asked if my bike was petrol-powered. I said no. Then asked if it was battery-powered instead. I said no. “Good on ya mate!” he said, and walked away immediately. Guess he wasn’t too keen to talk to a crazy retarded rider. A packet of milk, a bottle of coke, and another bottle of water took care of my hydration needs. Another round of clothes-on shower before hitting the road again. Next rest stop was the township of Karuah (118km) where I stopped for a lunch of buffalo wings at the local IGA supermarket. I was too embarrassed to ask if I could stay in their air-conditioned supermarket, so I just sat down on the carpark walkway kerb to have my lunch, with the company of a couple of dozen flies. The flies weren’t interested in my food, instead they were eager to land on my juicy salty nearly well done skin. I was amazed at how these flies can even survive in this heat, let alone flying persistently chasing small rewards, c’mon give it up already!

Karuah River crossing. Lots of fishing boats here.

Sitting on a carpark kerbside eating buffalo wings while frantically shooing flies wasn’t exactly the best condition for nourishing new ideas. Not sure how, but I managed to think up something exciting – mental imagery. It’s a mental exercise practised by some professional athletes to improve their performance, by simply imagining themselves performing the act prior to competitions. My modified version of mental imagery do not improve performance as such, but imagines a different situation from the reality to hopefully trick my brain to execute the activity as if the condition was favourable. My wishful condition was a strong overcast above me, with moderate to strong cool wind with signs of storm approaching although it won’t quite reach where I am, as is often the case riding in Brisbane. I swear it worked, momentarily at least. I felt the wind brushes on my skin started to feel slightly cooler. I could hear a faint thunderstorm. I waited in anticipation to feel the first drop of rain on my skin, however tiny it might be. I kept my eyes closed to aid with my false sense of reality… until I lost it completely when a fly tries to creep into my ear. Back to reality it is then, sigh.

My motivation to leave Karuah was the desire to get the air flowing again. Temperature under the shade at Karuah was 35°C, back on the road under the sun it rose up to 39°C. It still feels hotter riding under the sun despite the increased airflow, D’oh! After a scorching hot 10km, I came to a rest stop with a public toilet, hooray! A couple looked a bit puzzled as they see me walking out of the toilet completely drenched from head to toe. They must have thought the toilet was broken or something. Back on the road, and my display now reads 41°C – this was all unchartered territory for me. I began to have some serious doubt whether I can hold on to this much longer. Lucky me, just 3km from the last rest stop, another rest stop mysteriously pops up! This was at the turn off to Medowie Rd at 132km. Once again I performed my routine drenching but this time I decided to stay a bit longer under one of the sheltered picnic bench. While seated, a couple came and offered me a bottle of water and a cold bottle of orange juice, which I gratefully accepted! A bit later, the same generous couple gave me an apple and a banana! I was so touched by the kindness of strangers. Had some flashbacks moments to the times riding at the Nullarbor where I was spontaneously stopped by some kind travellers that offered me food and water. As a traveller, I have come to realise that people are inherently kind. I’m sure that most travellers, especially touring cyclists, would arrive at the same conclusion.

Sydney looks achievable!!

Spare some thought

Life savers from the kindness of strangers!

So it was decision-making time. To get to Newcastle, I now have two route options. I could stay on the highway and ride the 40km distance, or head South towards Medowie to ride closer to the ocean (potentially cooler) but with an additional 3km to Newcastle. A friend of mine Terry, while sitting comfortably on an armchair in his Brisbane home, informed me that the shoulder on Medowie Rd and subsequent roads weren’t too bad, as seen from Google Street View. Option number 3 was to stay at this rest stop until it cools. But it was getting too hot to even rest in the shade, therefore I’ve decided that I must get to an air-conditioned shop ASAP. My brother in Sydney informed me that the nearest shop was 9km away at Medowie. My weather app informed me that the temperature was expected to remain high and only fall into sub 35°C after 5pm. It was just past noon when I arrived at the rest stop. There was no way I can survive a 5 hours wait at this rest stop. I had to relocate, quickly. It was windy at the time, which helped cool my body even though it was hot wind. I braced myself to make that 9km journey to Medowie town. It was horrendous – by far the toughest 9km ride since I left Brisbane! I did my best to prevent my body from overheating by squirting water all over my arms, chest, and thighs at 1-2km intervals. I didn’t have much in my mind besides chanting repeatedly “I MUST make it to Medowie” while looking at my odometer.

It took forever but I arrived at Medowie without too much drama. As soon as I got into town, I went straight to the nearest café but was disappointed to find that they didn’t have air-conditioning. Got myself a milkshake anyhow to cool off. It helped but wasn’t good enough. The temperature now reads 43°C and apparently still on the rise. With 34km left to Newcastle still, I made a last minute decision to ditch this and just call it a day at Medowie. The nearest accommodation was only 200m away, and lucky for me, there was vacancy for a motel room! Took a refreshing cold shower and slept with the air-conditioning at full blast before waking up at 6pm to find that the temperature outside was still uncomfortably warm. I believe I made a good decision to end the day’s ride here at Medowie and rewarded myself with a hearty steak meal at a local pub. It didn’t matter that I have to make up this distance the next day. All that mattered was I survived to ride for another day!

In retrospect, it seems like a common sense to cut my journey short riding in this weather. But at that time, it was a decision that requires extensive thought

Good decision must be rewarded! XD

Strava ride profile

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November 19, 2015
Coffs Harbour to Taree
Distance: 229km
Total distance: 668km

On a solo self-supported long distance ride, you’re out there all on your own. Everything from finding your way around and searching for food and shelter is all self-reliant. Except that, this is not true at all, not in the modern days of cycle touring. We have technology backing us up! With an offline map app on my smartphone, I never have to worry about getting lost and not find my way out. With a comprehensive weather app, I know in good probability what’s coming towards me (or what I’m running into). With dynamo hub generator, I never have to worry about any of my USB-charged electronics running out of batteries. I get to manage my energy use effectively with the aid of a power meter. For as long as I have Internet connection via cellular data or Wi-Fi, I was able to have full access to social media and engage in two-way communications with friends and family. Riding for long hours are both physically and mentally challenging, why make it even harder by not making good use of technology?

Coffs Harbour was a nice coastal town. Unfortunately, my memory of this beautiful place was partially contaminated by the horrible experience staying at the youth hostel. At least the weather was delightful when I returned to the road – nice and cool sub 20°C. This went on for the first 2.5 hours of riding. The first 28km was also fantastic to ride, as I get to avoid the A1 Highway, I rode on Pine Creek Way followed by the Old Pacific Hwy instead. Back at the main highway, the construction work appeared intermittently. Had my first rest stop at the (closed at that time) information centre at Nambucca Heads (50km). I was starting to get a little nervous about the looming heatwave. The hottest day was predicted to be the next day, but the temperature for the day was expected to rise up to 39°C. It didn’t help that I had on my plans to ride 252km to make it to Taree. No, that’s not going to work. I must aim to minimise my mileage in order to reduce my exposure to this dangerous heatwave. Had a good look at the map and identified a route that would cut down the distance as much as 23km. That’s at least an hour worth of riding, which means an hour less in this heat, yup I’ll take that please! BUT, this wasn’t an easy decision as I would have to ride fully on the highway and forgo visiting a number of potentially interesting places, namely the coastal cliff of Pacific Drive and Tacking Point Lighthouse at Port Macquarie, Lake Cathie, Queens Lake, and the entire length of the scenic Ocean Drive. What a shame! But I made a promise to my family and myself that in a case of conflict, I must take the safer option.

Love my ginormous helmet visor!

Fully appreciating every meter of bike lane before being dumped into highway again

But of course, bike path is even better!

Had a bit too much food at Nambucca Heads, so took it easy by tootling along the existing bike path until it ended 4km down South. As soon as I got off the path and back onto the highway, the remaining 175km journey to Taree was 100% on the highway. Daunting. And potentially very boring too. How does one find motivation in a situation like this? I wasn’t collecting for any charity, nor attempting any speed record. This ride was merely meant to be an enjoyable personal vacation. For times like this I begin seeking inspiration from others – of people whom I admire for achieving unbelievable feats. I have deep admiration for Andrew Cadigan, the Oz On Foot guy who completed an extraordinary 15,000km solo walk around Australia. We crossed path back in 2011 at the Nullarbor, me on my trike, and Cad on his feet. Cad walked an average of 50km a day and when we met, I rode alongside him for several hours. We shared our stories on the road and talked about many things in life. One of which I held strongly in my memory – Cad made a connection that the many miles of walking on the road every day in a sense actually reflects what life is in general. To be able to see the big picture of life is to suffer in a harsh environment, where our survival is dependent on the very basic elements of life – food, water, and shelter. Everything else is trivial. How could I have not made this connection earlier? I’m all good for food and water, but I’m desperate for shelter, at least later in the day when the temperature is predicted to approach a potentially life-threatening level. With that thought, I found a new meaning and therefore was fully determined to make it to Taree.

While touring in 2011, I crossed path with Andrew Cadigan in the arid land Nullarbor

Temperature rose quickly – by 10am, my temperature sensor read 35°C. I was counting down the distance left to the next major town Kempsey. Every now and then, I had to stop to make way for trucks moving in or out of the construction site. After 30km of riding since Nambucca Heads, I decided I needed a break just to stay in the shade for a little longer. It wasn’t easy finding a suitable place to stop that is both shady and at least 10m away from the highway. Saw a gravel side road at 84km and quickly turn in. Flies are a real problem here. I was sitting on the gravel road munching on snacks while constantly waving my hand to keep the flies off my face, until I realise I might be accidently sending help signal to drivers on the highway. No problem there, just turn my body away from the highway and continue my fly shooing. Back on the road as soon as I was done eating, and made a non-stop blazing hot journey towards Kempsey, bypassing the town, and finally stopped at Kempsey South Service Centre next to the highway at the 120km mark. I particularly enjoyed riding that long bridge over Macleay River even though there was absolutely no shade. But the joy was short lived, as I had to tackle two slow climbs after that and a very slow and sweaty final climb just before the service centre. Just like the day before, I seek refuge in the Macca’s here and stayed for more than an hour.

Make way for the road work machineries!

I was instructed to ride beyond the line of witch hats. Last time I did that it didn't end up well for me.

Not easy for me to find a rest stop like this!

A source of great relief

As soon as I got out of the service centre, the temperature hit the highest level for the day at 39°C. A bit smarter this time – just before I left, I filled up both my bottle and hydration bladder with 1:1 water to ice ratio so that it would remain cool for much longer. Riding on the highway, signs popped up once in a while showing the kilometres until the next service centres and major towns, so I made plan to have my next rest stop at the 160km mark, yet another service centre with Macca’s! This was starting to feel like I’m on a car trip, stopping only at service centres eating fast food because the objective is to simply travel from point A to B as quickly as possible. The highway construction work continues, complete with narrow sandy shoulder, but I think I was starting to get used to it by now. With only 6.5km to get to the service centre, I came to another river crossing, a huge one in fact – Hastings River. I could already tell from a distant that this was yet another old steel bridge. Not surprisingly, I had to get off and push my bike across some overgrown grass to get onto the bridge path. Since I’m already stopped, I took the opportunity for a 10 minute break. I sat on the ground in an awkward pose as I tried my best to keep most of my body within the shadow of a small road sign. I felt really demotivated at this point. My only source of comfort is sipping the cool water from my hydration bladder buried in my seat bag (helped insulate it from the heat). Once again, it all comes down to the basic needs, which evidently becomes more important to me now more than anything else. Only 6.5km left to an air-conditioned shelter with plenty of ice water, I kept reminding myself, as I pulled myself together to bridge this distance gap (and over this ridiculous bridge too).

Cyclists deserve better!

Managed to shoot this from the bridge in between the violent vibrations caused by passing vehicles

The fast food restaurant was surprisingly packed. One man spent a good 5 minutes looking at my parked bike. It’s quite entertaining watching people’s reaction when they see a recumbent. Anyway, I made sure to fully rehydrate and refuel myself before stepping out from the comfort provided by one of the best human invention ever – air-conditioning! Felt a lot better now. It was 3pm when I got out and the temperature dropped to a tolerable 30°C. Another mood lifter was the highway from here onwards was dual carriageway with a car-width wide shoulder, hell yeah! Being the opportunist that I am, I time-trialled the remaining 70km to Taree non-stop with an average speed of 28km/h!

Finally, Taree! What a huge sense of relief!

When I got to the pre-booked motel at Taree, I was so knackered I had great difficulties climbing the stairs while carrying the bike up to my room at first floor. After a very refreshing shower I went into the reception office and asked if there are any shops that sells food nearby, doesn’t even have to be a restaurant. I was informed that there is an Indian, Italian, Chinese, and Thai just right across the road. Oh my goodness, my life is perfect! Bought myself a very satisfying Thai seafood meal, a variety of drinks and more food from the supermarket, and an ice bag for the legs. The ice treatment is looking quite promising. I reflected on the day and concluded that it was a good call cutting the journey short and having long breaks at the service centres. My third day of riding covered a distance of 229km and yet another 12-hour day on the road. This would be the longest distance I had to do in a day and I’m so glad I survived it.

Strava ride profile

Andrew ‘Cad’ Cadigan was an inspiration to many. I was fortunate enough to meet him and more so during his epic feat. Sadly, Cad suffered critical head injuries in a motorcycle crash just a month after completing his walk, and passed away a few months later. He may be gone for good but he still lives to this day in the memory of those touched by his overwhelming determination and his strong will to survive. Thank you for the inspiration Cad :’)

The inspiration lives on

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November 18, 2015
Ballina to Coffs Harbour
Distance: 219km
Total distance: 439km

The Eastern coast of Australia is densely populated. Riding in this small strip of fertile soil is unlike most parts of Australia, which are harsh and largely uninhabited. Food, water, accommodation, and medical supplies are readily available so it’s comforting to not have to worry about these basic life supports. Yet, this is hardly a cycle touring utopia. The heavy motor traffic and high number of impatient drivers are enough to put off many touring cyclists from riding these roads. For those brave enough to ride them, it is probably because they had to, and I doubt many actually enjoy it. Day 2 was the first day I had to endure many miles of highway riding.

I had a little sleep in to make up for the sleep deprivation two nights ago. Hence, I hit the road a little late at 6:10am, but hey Queensland was still only 5:10am! The planned route led me out of Ballina, onto the Pacific Hwy briefly and exited to Pimlico Rd at the 7km mark. I was aware that I could only avoid riding the highway for 10km, but grateful that this alternative road exists. With almost no traffic, Pimlico Rd was very pleasant to ride on even though it was a bit rough. The road then joins the highway at Wardell, followed by an old steel bridge crossing with its uncomfortably narrow footpath. I admitted for breaking the law for riding on footpath several times but rest assured it was all done in the name of safety of others and myself!

If only the entire highway was like this

Pimlico Rd felt like a typical Brisbane suburb street

Narrow path on an old steel bridge at Wardell

First rest stop at 50km, in a rest area called New Italy. There’s a free museum here and apparently a public toilet that I failed to locate after spending 5 minutes searching for it. The highway cuts across several forest reserves. Tall trees on both sides of the highway provide a nice cover against the morning sun. At Harwood (85km), I came to another narrow old steel bridge. This time the path was at the opposite side of the road, poorly maintained and with an entrance full of overgrown grass. Same deal when I arrived at the other end of the bridge. Sigh, do people in this town not bike or walk across this bridge?

New Italy Rest Area at the 50km mark

Concrete!! Extremely welcoming after countless miles of bumpy road surface

A decent infrastructure that was poorly maintained :(

The rough road surface had been solely responsible for much of the rattling and things coming loose on my bike. One of which was my headlight mount. I can see it bopped violently as I hit small bumps or just from surface irregularities. This particular instance though, as I completed the bridge crossing, I noticed it bounces weirdly. Gave it a good tightening and moved along. All was good until just a few kilometres later the plastic light mount cracked and eventually split into two pieces as soon as I touched it. Argh! Not quite yet a disaster, luckily, another mounting hole was available on the plastic bracket. Took a rest break at Ferny Park at the 92km mark. Looked at the map to see that I only have about 40km or so to get to a major town Grafton. It must have been the strong desire to seek refuge from the rising temperature, as the remaining distance to Grafton took me only 1.5 hours to wheel down.

My bike is falling apart :(

Not a bad view from the picnic shelter at Ferny Park. But it's no fun riding under the cloudless sky on a hot day

A note to any touring cyclist passing Grafton, the Macca’s here makes a good pit stop. It’s literally just next to the highway and the air-conditioning is bliss! The employees were happy to top up my bottles and provide ice water, which I happily gulp down to my heart’s content. The temperature recorded by my GPS device was 32°C just as I arrived at Grafton. Naturally, I took more than an hour lunch break here, also to serve as a reward for having done 133km in the morning. The temptation to stay on for even longer was strong, but I must resist as I still have 86km to get to Coffs Harbour before I can call it a day. When I got back to my bike, I found it lying on the ground! OMG, did someone tried to steal my bike!? Upon closer inspection, everything was still there, although a few items like my sunglasses, gloves, and helmets were scattered all over the ground. The lock was still unbroken. I then concluded that the wind was the culprit. The outcome of the fall was a damaged retractable nylon cord where I used to secure my hydration hose to the left side of my seat. Now that it’s broken, I can no longer drink water from the hose while riding. Not a major problem, I was still able to reach for my water bottle instead. Only day 2 and the unexpected failure count on my touring rig are up to 4 now! A real adventure is never smooth sailing ey ;)

The ice lasted 15 mins tops but every little bit of cooling helps

Eventually (albeit reluctantly), I left Grafton on a Southeast bound journey. Only 15 minutes into the ride, the temperature now shows 37°C! I was stopped only 7km from Grafton at a sheltered rest stop to splash some water onto my head and body. The ice water from Macca’s got warm pretty quick. An old couple seated there gave me the strangest look. No time to entertain them, quickly got back onto the highway and powered thru to overcome two long climbs and then stopped again after 25km. Long stretches of the highway was under construction. This makes riding the highway many times more unpleasant. The shoulder width was cut down in half and littered with gravels and sand. The air was filled with dust and loud noise everywhere generated by the machineries. The only plus side to this was the reduced speed limit from 100km/h to 80km/h and sometimes 60km/h. I also noted a significant number of drivers that chose to ignore the new speed signs. I think my eyes spent nearly half the time mirror checking.

36.4!! What am I doing out here???

Looks like I've entered a brumby region. Unlike me, they weren't stupid enough to come out in this weather condition

Massive road construction work. I didn't take any photos at the horrible stretches as a full concentration was required

This rest stop had a service station and a café. Gulped down a 500ml milk carton and a 500ml soft drink. The brain started playing with numbers. I still had 54km to go and this should take about 2.5 hours. But the 32km I did since Grafton was incredibly difficult with the heat and construction work. I can’t imagine myself spending another hour riding in that condition. Back to the map then, in search of a better motivation. Aha! Motivation located! And it’s only 15km away, that’s where I exit the highway into an alternative road in the town of Corindi Beach. That should take care of the highway stress, and riding near the sea, the cool sea breeze should take care of the heat problem. Am so glad to find out that my prediction was accurate! After Corindi Beach, the alternative road took me across a series of coastal towns. One of which was Woolgoolga (191km) where I stopped at a Woolies for a very delicious thirst quenching icy cold bottle of Coke. It’s the simple pleasures like this that would stay forever in my memory.

Past Woolgoolga, the road, aptly called Solitary Islands Way, stays parallel to the highway and eventually runs adjacent to it. Had an odd encounter with a young adult male riding on what looks like a beater bike trying to race me. Ordinarily I don’t respond to a situation like this but why not have a little fun and show this bloke what a recumbent is capable of ;) He soon became a tiny dot in my mirror and never saw him since. The road further South becomes a lot smoother and has bike icons stamped onto the shoulder indicating a bike lane. There was little to no traffic on the Southern section of Solitary Islands Way – I’m guessing cars would prefer taking the highway instead. The road finally ended at Korora Basin and I got dumped onto the highway again. I was only 8km from my destination so didn’t make a big deal. Besides, it was dual carriageway with plenty of shoulder. The only dodgy section was the narrow climb up a hill where The Big Banana resides. But a bike path (covered in fallen leaves and twigs) took care of that! Plenty of traffic lights crossings as I got closer to Coffs Harbour town centre.

Solitary Islands Way is THE way to go!

A semi-decent path next to the narrow and busy highway is better than none. Oh, and The Big Banana in the background.

I arrived at the backpackers an hour or so before sunset, where I booked a bunk bed for the night. I rode the same distance as day 1, at 219km, and just like day 1, I was on the road for 12 hours. How I managed this feat was beyond me! After check-in, I took a walk along Harbour Drive towards the sea and absorbed the sunset view of Muttonbird Island and the marina in the foreground. Walking on cleated shoes was awkward so I decided to go barefoot. The knee pain was still present, so I got myself another ice bag. Back at the hostel, it was packed, noisy, and the air was filled with awful smell of cigarettes, alcohol, and sweat. I knew at this point that I should have taken a room at a motel or a motor inn instead. This was basically a party house, I couldn’t fall asleep until around midnight with the constant door opening and closing and the party noise. I also wasn’t feeling comfortable leaving my bike outside the premise. I came to realise that for a ride like this, when a quiet and peaceful night is needed, it’s best to just stay away from youth hostels.

Kids were seen playing in the ocean as the sun sinks into the horizon. Shows you how hot the day has been.

Looking East towards Muttonbird Island

It was a pleasant walk :)

The state of the hostel room was in stark contrast to the peaceful walk on the clean street

Strava ride profile

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November 17, 2015
Brisbane to Ballina
Distance: 220km
Total distance: 220km

Brisbane being only 100km away from the NSW state border, it means that on the first day itself I’ll be losing an hour as I cross over to NSW with daylight savings observed. Not a big deal, I just had to start riding an hour earlier than originally planned. So I pedalled off at 4:40am. Made the 5km odd journey to Brisbane CBD because that’s the only definitive way to claim that I’ve actually started the journey from Brisbane ;) As usual, for a major ride like this, I didn’t get much sleep the night before – think I slept for only 2 hours or so. It was the constant mind chattering, but I think the excitement wins over the anxiety this time. I had some level of confidence that I would complete this ride, and a little bit of confidence is all I need really. Brief snapshots at Redacliffe Place followed by Goodwill Bridge and I’m off for the 1000km adventure!

Goodwill Bridge at about 5:10am

I feel good, no, I feel GREAT! I could barely contain the excitement, but I must not be distracted. I rode the SE Bikeway until the path ended at 17km mark, where I got onto the motor-heavy Logan Rd. I was clearly not focused enough when I took my first wrong turn only a few kilometres later. Am very grateful for the off-course navigation alert on my Garmin. While stopped at a shopping centre carpark to assess my route, I quickly put on some sunscreen. It was a humid morning and this was when I realised I should have applied the sunscreen earlier as the spewing sweat on my skin now displaces the sunscreen. Onto the mildly undulating Pacific Hwy that runs parallel to the bicycle-prohibited Pacific Motorway. Many tradies in utes and 4WDs spotted in both directions. Some appeared to be quite impatient. I tried applying lane control here but failed miserably when the drivers forced their way thru to close pass me despite tight roads, blind corners, oncoming vehicles, etc. Made a mental note to never ride on this road again at rush hour.

Mt Stapylton Weather Radar in the distant

Pacific Motorway looks relatively quiet compared to the Old Pacific Highway

After riding for about 30km, I noticed my derailleur post is tilted slightly towards the drive side. Ugh, not a good sign – it means that the boom was not fitted securely into the frame tube so the boom rotated when pressure was applied. I can even feel the asymmetry on my legs as both my feet were pointing slightly to the right. It has happened before a while back and to have this problem occurring so early on for this ride was really disappointing. Decided to fix it later at 40km when I stopped for a snack. Not the best decision. By that time, my right knee was starting to hurt due to the prolonged leg twist. I don’t know what else I can do to fix the boom rotation problem other than tightening the clamp. For the record, I never got to permanently fix this problem for the entire ride. I later learnt that not applying too much force pedalling and retightening the clamp every 50km or so seems to keep the problem from developing into a catastrophe. That was problem number 1. Problem number 2 was my seat bag occasionally touches the rear tire, which resulted in a hole on the bottom fabric of my seat bag! The reason this happened was because of the increased load in my seat bag, it sags so much that it rubs the rear wheel whenever I hit a bump. I reluctantly threw out some water to lighten the load. Next, I shoved my lightweight jacket in between the seat bag and my seat as a stopper to prevent the bag from sliding down further. I’m guessing with this summer-like heat I wouldn’t need the jacket anyway. Regarding the water, I just need to remind myself to stop more frequently to top up my bottle and hydration bladder. Problems solved!

One of the many theme parks in Gold Coast

As it was still peak hours, the traffic condition never got better until Nerang. Climbs become progressively steeper as I approach Nerang National Park. My knee pain didn’t go away but didn’t get any worse either. Oh well, only had to endure the pain for the next 950km! My next rest stop, Carrara at 82km, marks the end of the undulating terrain. The glorious beach city of Gold Coast is known for its great surfs and theme parks. But as a recumbent rider, there was only one attraction – the flat and smooth bitumen. Secondary to that was the ocean view from Miami onwards. Not long later at 112km, I crossed the state border into Tweed Heads and found myself sitting in a new time zone where the new time is now 12 noon. Might as well start adapting to the new time by calling it a lunch break! Searching for food was easy. Just as I decided to have a lunch break, a Woolworths supermarket comes up, so naturally that’s where I got my food. Took note of the high number of senior citizens out and about. A few curious eyes on my bike, rather unsurprisingly. One was very impressed seeing a recumbent for the first time and even commented that I should lock my bike securely. In reality though, no sensible bike thief would be interested to steal a recumbent.

Took a break under a tree shade at Burleigh Heads

Currumbin Creek

At Coolangatta, goodbye Queensland!

And hello New South Wales!

Somewhere in Chinderah I took a wrong turn again. Garmin alerted me of my mistake so I quickly made the U-turn and enter the road plotted in my route. Turns out the correct way is a road reserve! Grassy and gravelly, and importantly, a road sign indicating a dead end. Hmmm, can’t fully trust these online maps anymore. Thankfully, the detour added only half a kilometre. At Casuarina Beach all the way down to Pottsville, there appear to be a dedicated bike path next to the road which I happily rode it. Apparently it also goes up North all the way to Chinderah via Kingscliff, more than 20km long! How could I miss this in my route planning? Anyway, upon arriving at Pottsville (141km), it felt pretty hot even though it was only 27°C. Wet my helmet and head sleeve at a public toilet before getting back on the road. I stopped again at Brunswick Heads after only 24km as I was starving and wanted some savoury food. A crappy meat pie from a service station somewhat did the trick. Hopped onto a shared path after that and not long later the Pacific Motorway. Bicycles are allowed on motorways in NSW, which means more route options for cycle tourist like myself. Riding on footpath in NSW though is illegal, which suggests that the NSW government sees a cyclist more as a vehicle rather than a wheeled pedestrian. This short 6km section of the motorway until the exit at Woodford Ln was superb with wide and smooth shoulder.

Tweed River on the right, I got lost a couple of minutes after this shot

That awesome bike path next to Tweed Coast Rd

That spider must be high

Look at THAT!!! Cudgera Creek at Hastings Point

Puffy white clouds, blue sky, and green pastures. What more can you ask for?

Making progress

Past Ewingsdale, my bike points East where I comfortably rode in my own shadow. Approaching Byron Bay, I saw more and more people on bikes, cruiser style bikes mostly and hardly anyone wore a helmet. One even carried a surfboard while riding. The Byron Bay vibe was clearly in the air! Eventually I got onto an adjacent bike path even though the traffic was light and slow moving because why the hell not? I pretended to blend in amongst the local residents but I probably stick out like a sore thumb! The path led me to the back of some residentials and I saw these weird car icons stamped onto the path which means cars are allowed to use the path, what??? Soon I arrived at Byron Bay town centre and it’s pretty obvious now I stick out like a sore thumb! The reaction I got from people was a bit more than usual so I maintained a poker face and couldn’t be bothered stopping to refuel. But I must admit it was quite nice to watch people chilling out at the beach, just having a good time with friends, or strangers. Rode past a group of twenty something seated in a circle with this dude playing some jazzy tunes on an acoustic guitar. Vivre la vie!

Seriously, why is this still call a path when cars are allowed on it???

The 100m climb up Cape Byron Lighthouse reminded me of my tired legs. Thought I was the only one crazy enough to ride a bike up, was surprised to see 5 other riders that did the climb in the time I was at the lighthouse, all on ordinary town bikes mind you! The stunning vista reminded me why I took this climb, it was worth every drop of sweat. With only about 30km to Ballina where I have a motel room booked prior, I took my time to soak in the view and enjoy the sea breeze. Silly me, I underestimated how much time I needed to make that relatively short journey to Ballina. I have completely forgotten about the afternoon rush hour, riding becomes stressful once again, now with bumpy roads and narrow shoulders thrown in. That 30km took me more than 1.5 hours, including a brief rest stop at Pat Morton Lookout. The coast road from Lennox Head onwards was sharply undulated thru out.

Cape Byron Lighthouse

View from up here never fail to amaze me!

Windy up here too!

Pat Morton Lookout, what am I seeing?

This! :)

Eventually I arrived at Ballina at precisely 12 hours since I left Brisbane, and clocked 220km. After a quick shower, I took a short walk to the town centre to find food. Disappointingly, I discovered that my knee problem extends to the walking motion too. Had dinner, shopped for breakfast for the next day, and grabbed an ice bag on my way back to the motel. This would be the first time I iced my legs after a long ride. Time will tell if this good old treatment works. Although I do carry them, I have so far resisted from taking any painkillers. I wanted to check out more on the route that I planned for tomorrow, but fell asleep with my smart phone still on my palm. Overall it was a good first day of riding. A great sense of freedom was felt, and this very personal feeling brought me back to the great memories of the 2011 tour across Australia – as if I had travelled back in time.

The Machine performed solidly today but the engine needs a bit attention

Strava ride profile

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Nearing the start of the summer, the mercury can only travel upwards in the coming months. Summer in Brisbane can be very unpleasant for cycling, let alone long rides spanning the entire day. Not much time left now to fit in one long ride before it gets too hot. For reasons I’ll explain later, I had to do this ride, and I want it done soon, maybe in December? NO, sooner! Okay how bout the end of November, so that I can get a couple of weeks to condition my legs. But wait, only 2 weeks for training, who am I kidding – it won’t make any difference. Next week it is then! So that was basically my thoughts process on a Saturday morning that led me to the decision to ride that 1000km journey to Sydney, commencing only three days later on Tuesday. Phew, that was easy! But of course now comes the hard part, to actually act on it…

That's the plan!

The number of days planned for this ride was 5, averaging 200km per day. Any shorter would require sacrificing some sleep, as I don’t believe my current physical fitness is up for a fast ride like that. Any longer would be costly accommodation wise as I don’t intend to camp since not one of my bikes is currently equipped to hull camping gears. Speaking of carrying capacity, since I won’t be camping, I can travel lighter and faster that way. The ideal bike for this ride is of course my carbon high racer, Carbent Sea Dragon. One large seat bag and two smaller frame bags should be enough to carry one set of cycling apparels, a set of normal clothing, toiletries, sunscreen, backup lights, powerbank, bike tools, pump, a couple of tubes and a tire. Food and water was kept to a minimum as I pass many townships along the journey so I can refuel frequently.

The bike was setup for long Audax rides, so nothing much else needed to be done to make it suitable for a credit card cycle touring. I did however made a few changes, actually they were more like general upgrades. The dynamo headlight was swapped with a higher model B&M Luxos U that comes with USB plug that I use for charging my Garmin GPS and smart phone. The GPS was also upgraded to a newer model Garmin Edge 520 with Open Street Map installed for full navigation support. My existing 44-32-22 triple chainrings were swapped with larger and surprisingly more lightweight 48-36-24, which should reduce the times I run out of gears on the high end. I didn’t measure the overall touring rig weight, but my guesstimate is around 20-22kg – quite a bit less than my 50kg touring behemoth back in 2011!

By far the best upgrade on my high racer!