What’s certain is that the five-week tour will start with a lap of Tasmania.
Clockwise starting at Devonport.
That’s okay, but that’s not really the start. To get to the real start there’s some backtracking to do.
Let’s first reverse the overnight ferry from Devonport TAS back to Port Melbourne VIC. At Port Melbourne there was a brief visit in the evening to a bike store to secure a cycling casquette (cap) adorned with some Australiana spirit.
Prior to that was the short cycle from Café Racer where the afternoon had been spent recovering from the warm-up; a 30km bike path ride from Melbourne Airport. All on a new Cyclo-cross bike laden with 30kg of equipment, clothing, spares, essential information (like where Café Racer is on the beach at St Kilda) and some technology gizmos.
After all, why wouldn’t you stop at Melbourne’s most popular beach and mythical cycling café after re-assembling your bike following 30 hours in a tin can flying from Munich, Germany? No time for sleep, yet.
Chris the Underwriter
Now, that’s the real start of this five-week cycling journey taken by Chris, a 37-year old who spends much of the year in Munich as an Underwriter in Aviation Insurance. Just testing the algorithms and data modelling first hand maybe? On the longest of long-haul routes no less! Already you have to admire the commitment levels.
Fortunate to meet Chris a few weeks ago as he soaked up the atmosphere at Café Racer in his very first hours in Australia, the opportunity to enjoy a coffee and talk bikes was shelved momentarily to air the highlights of what was just about to, or actually was unfolding before my very eyes: The planned route.
A Strong Start
It’s good to set a strong start, well a start that will be relatively flat and assisted by prevailing winds. Getting on that ferry, the plan spoke of a clockwise lap of Tasmania, starting in some flatter terrain before careering around the south and then west coasts where by week number two the legs should be well prepared for the hills. A sound plan.
The lap represented the anchor, a way of building fitness, capability, a test-bed with a certain finish. Two laps of Tasmania were not part of the plan.
In the Distance
Looking into the distance, visions of an additional loop back on the mainland would take in a coastal tour of one of the world’s premier roads, the Great Ocean Road, a right turn at the Twelve Apostles, a wave by the Grampians, a few breaths taken over four of the seven peaks in Alpine Victoria before scooting forward to Sydney for the final 30 hour tin-can back to Munich.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), data cubes and topographical imagery said that five weeks at an average of about 100 kilometres per day with a frothy looking four-day reward at the end in Sydney would fit just nicely.
[The sidenote here is that as at the day of this report, around three weeks of the five have passed by. Who would be so brave as to question the progress of a Munich based Underwriter I ask you?]
Tour Diary 101
Day one and day two you now already know. Day three, algorithmic horror struck. The cycle computer died. Followed quickly by the GPS navigation device. If you’re a data junkie, counting sheep is child’s play. Preparing for dreaming consists of creating three-dimensional graphs of how fast, how far, temperature differentials extrapolated against hydration and fuelling.
Imagine yourself for a moment caught in the middle of a Rubik’s cube unable to look out and check how many moves were left to get the colours all lined up and the quickest method to get there.
From Day 3 to Day 6 the standard behaviour of looking down to check how many kilometres had passed by, check current speed to determine estimated time of arrival and see what the temperature was carried on in the hope that an electronic miracle had occurred. By Day 7 all checking behaviours had been eradicated and Chris thought “not that those figures make me any faster”.
It’s no light issue though when your first solo tour around the southern regions of Australia is time constrained and a relatively full schedule of kilometres awaits the start of each day.
Equipment difficulties can usually be overcome with patience, time, money or opportunity but the mental factors don’t heed such fancies. Think about checking your speedo for three days without any feedback. Torturous in some ways. You know it’s not there and it affirms it with every look. It’s the opposite of a MyFaceSpacePage ‘Like’.
In unfamiliar data-less territory, Chris pressed on and noted that it was a helpful lesson in acquiring some of the mindfulness practice that had echoed through his ears whilst he enjoyed the visual feast that Tasmania’s route around the east provided.
The lack of GPS in the end failed to be an issue. Maps and guidebooks set the path and sundown presented the end of the day’s ride. Sometimes earlier if the destination town was really welcoming. As he quipped, “There’s only so many roads in Tasmania!”.
Rhythm and Melancholy
Settling into a rhythm, a rhythm that saw him battling headwinds every day (not part of the original plan), progress was slower than KPIs would have perhaps enforced. A nightly review of the map, the book and the next day’s plan put things in perspective though and without pains, the tour would go on.
Getting closer to ‘the zone’ each day, it was like the tour finally had all the ease of a subtle down hill roll. Free kilometres!
The clatter of chain slapping, derailleur twisting and spokes imitating popcorn drew a nice close to that sunny wind-in-the-hair carefree moment. The call of Hobart would not be heard for a little longer.
Taking a hipster approach, the CX bike became a CX single speed tourer, with a wobbly rear wheel now six spokes lighter. At least mobile, the next overnight stop and a bike shop returned the bike to the Tassie lap in original specification. A little worse for wear, dropouts bent for life and a derailleur hanger sporting new curves – a replacement was not available. It was to be onwards and upwards, literally!
The west coast brought Strachan onto the radar, topographically very rich terrain and a spattering of towns alive and those not so much. Hanging onto the glory days of mining prowess and a full community of businesses, homes and motor vehicles, Chris felt the power of those mines that had been ripped into the side of hills. The dirt now submitting to green sprouts of recovery that contrasted the ‘business for sale’ signs, ramshackle buildings and what appeared to be deserted homes and cars.
Powerful moments interrupted by the passing of other very different warning signs too.
New travellers have keen eyes and this one is no different. Amongst the many road signs indicating twisting roads, animals, slippery when wet etc, Chris has become all too keenly aware of reducing his speed. Before the actual speed indicator sign. Not quite a favourite (yet!), the pre-warning road sign that says “Lower Your Speed” in anticipation of the actual change in speed sign (50, for example), is to this particular Cyclo-tour man, especially strange! Australia, we’re a bit different you might say. And litigation shy.
Picnics and Playgrounds
Kicking up the pace a bit, Cradle Mountain whizzed by in all its brilliance, as did the daily ritual of setting up camp. A mixture of holiday camping grounds and state camping grounds, every day the tent was pitched. Holiday grounds provided an array of facilities, including showers, screaming children and robust parents. State parks shirked the family spirit and showers in favour of staging picture-perfect sunrises for one.
Along the way Chris encountered a fellow Tassie-lapper, a French belle who had originally planned an extensive motor-powered tour of Oz with her accomplice. Six-weeks into that the motor got too much, she left her friend, walked into a bicycle shop and hasn’t stopped pedalling 40kms a day since. Four months is the plan apparently, subjugated by a bit of WOOFing. Amelie, not her real name, also made the decision to suspend any kind of tent-pitching and instead spends rest time cocooned in a bivvy (bivouac) which, as she found out one rainy eve, is not waterproof. A tent almost sounds like luxury!
Busting out of the natural wonders of Tassie’s west coast and high mountains, into tall poppies and a return to agricultural civilisation, Chris was happy to see life and work taking place next to the roadway once again. The solace and unending beauty that nature delivered had woven its magic and now he was ready to tackle the next leg and week three of the tour along one of the favourite touring roads, The Great Ocean Road.
Setting up for the trek, many an informed voice told Chris, don’t head east to west from Melbourne, the winds are always blowing the opposite, west to east! Having just battled 2 weeks of unplanned headwinds, plans were adapted.
The decision to ride west to east from the Twelve Apostles back towards Melbourne certainly put in jeopardy any ideas of circuiting the Grampians as originally planned. No matter, fun was to be had either way. Except, yes, you guessed it; the winds again did the opposite of prevailing, swung around and fanned his face all the way to Queenscliff.
Leaving a few more memorial broken spokes in the bin along the way, the ferry to Sorrento brought a welcome change to the whirring of gears and black carpet.
High summer brings the crowds to the Mornington Peninsula all along the way to Portsea. And traffic. For the first time in a while, the CX got up to speed and waved goodbye to the summer traffic jam. Campsite after campsite flew by, after all those headwinds and hills the legs had well and truly hit form.
As the kilometres and minutes progressed, the unusual occurred, the wind stayed well and truly at Chris’s back and hooted him along the bay. The day’s 100km plan quickly turned into 180kms and at 5pm the call went out to the accommodation, “I’m arriving early!”. Minus another two spokes of course.
Spot of Luxury
Just shy of three weeks on the road and every night spent under the pitch of the orange tent, the tailwind continued right from Mornington to Melbourne directly into a proper bed, private bathroom and a real kitchen. Luxury a day early. With repairs necessary on that pesky rear wheel, Chris decided to go all out and make it two days of luxury.
As the foreign yet welcoming feeling of a night in his own bed took hold, discussions with the tourist office personnel lifted spirits even more as generous amounts of information flowed for the final Alpine peaks leg of the tour.
A week to ten days, or 700 – 1000kms of good riding still lay in wait before the frothy looking Sydney fest.
Knowledge and Knowing
Chris heralded the passion and knowledge of the tourist office staff, indicating it eclipsed the well thumbed cycling specific Australian travel almanac. Local spoken information alerted him to the important elements when on a bike -public toilets and showers, which meant running water and a place to refill water reservoirs. The details of water tap locations being a standout from the tourist reps.
The one oversight that has burned a memory for this adventure and that has caused a total re-write of the forthcoming final two weeks that indeed started with a lap of Tassie is the radical change to the mainland loop.
The Alpine region suffering ongoing bushfire intensity has caused the closure, and at the very least a threat, to the key passages that would take Chris to Sydney as planned.
Australia’s summer season has bitten. Another night in the bed of luxury started to appear even more enticing…as a day and a half of planning got thrown out the window.
Views and Insights
No matter, throwing a wonky wheel at it, the alternative route to Sydney via Gippsland just became incredibly attractive. A reduction in altitude, a gain in kilometres, potential for more prevailing tailwinds and many many more views of Victoria’s southern and eastern coastline was just about enough to secure a departure in a day’s time. After a decent breakfast, a darn fine coffee, possibly a latte(!) and a tour of Melbourne’s finest street art that is.
Chris’s tour has been more than thousands of revolutions of the cranks and pretty sights though. Maybe when we sell these holidays to ourselves we think, ‘gee, I’d like to ride there and find out what that place is all about’.
One thing Chris mentioned was the key difference between jumping out of a hire car in a foreign land and stepping off your bike at the same juncture. Both are vehicles in the sense of transport, but the bike very rarely did not end up in a local identity asking, “where ya from?”, or “how far ya been”, or a comment echoing the “gee, that’s far, I couldn’t do that”.
The bike takes us places physically, mentally and maybe even spiritually in the sense of taking the soul on a journey that daily life prevents from bubbling up.
Touring by bike has opened conversations, doors and possibilities for Chris that a tonne of guidebooks and hours of tourist centre questioning would not unearth.
On the Great Ocean Road he met another cyclist making his way along the coastal ribbon. Klaus was riding a bike with a seven speed internal hub of which only three gears worked, coupled with all the stopping power of a rear foot brake because one day he just decided that he didn’t need the front brake and took it off.
Not bad for a guy who also caught two wild camels to pull his Subaru that had long dispensed with an engine. Klaus has apparently been on the go since 1994 or was it 1984, who knows, it puts adventure and nomadic achievements into a completely different category.
What is it about this journeying and is Chris another nomad likely to extend 5 weeks into five years?
It’s not his first tour. With six years of kilometres in the legs, Chris is aware of what it takes to overcome the attack of the “what for’s?”.
He’s participated in the Tour Trans Alps a couple of times, even face-planted on the descent on the first day after a tyre blow-out, but you know, continued and finished the race.
As preparation and training over the years he’s visited Mallorca 11 times to train on the quiet back roads and rural streets, to enjoy very early good weather in European terms and take advantage of the combination of flat and mountainous areas that offer excellent variety. No wonder it’s the chosen training ground for many Pro Teams in pre-season.
Previous to the current Oz tour, he’s been to New Zealand twice. First travelling the lands by car and then on a second four-week visit last year, by bike.
It hasn’t necessarily been a planned approach, but it can be seen that every experience has equipped him better for the latest adventure: Confidence building, de-risking, conditioning, all evolving organically with each experience.
Looking at the horizon, Chris will most likely tackle a more exotic location than Australia next, one where he doesn’t speak the language and the challenges of interaction and chances for things to go wrong escalate. It’s step by step though.
Chris made a really fascinating point too. In the discussion about destinations, one of the key considerations was how to manage the level of exoticism versus the ability to share what it provided during the adventure.
It’s a good question, how can you manage your brewing fever of excitement and experiences as they occur if you travel by bike solo?
The result of not being able to share them, especially if you are in a highly exotic location with a total language barrier and limited data/network/telephone access, is escalating loneliness, or an assault on your acceptance and coping strategies. Food for thought…
And this is the very exciting thing that a tour by bike provides, besides amazing views, beautiful twisting roads, challenging ascents and demanding descents.
It uncovers layers: Layers of introspection, layers of discovery, layers to explore.
If you want to!
In the time that Chris has been roaming this great southern land, during the wonderment that has been afforded his eyes, an even deeper layer of queries has been circling and revolving in parallel. These themes are for another time, another place though, because this adventure, perhaps as for each and every one of us, will go on well beyond the final baggage carousel.
The other certainty, beyond the now completed lap of Tasmania, is that being on a bike wherever and however that may be, is a great vehicle for learning about a destination or place, our sense of community and our sense of self and what we’re being called to do.
We can only hope and look forward to more updates from Chris in the future as he continues to share his passion for cycling around the globe and on the net. Or give it a crack ourselves!
Thanks for sharing your story first-hand and for the very first time Chris, it’s a privilege to hear it and live it in real time. Bon courage for the final push!
*All photo credits to Chris J.